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Alaska man shifts water export plan to Humboldt

Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Alaska man shifts water export plan to Humboldt

Plan calls for buying Mad River surplus for San Diego, Monterey

January 9, 2003


An Alaskan entrepreneur who abandoned plans to export water from two North Coast rivers using seagoing bags said Tuesday he wants to use the same technology to transport water bought from Humboldt County.

Ric Davidge caused a furor last year when he proposed pumping water from the Albion and Gualala rivers into giant poly-fiber bags and floating them to water-scarce San Diego. A consortium that Davidge belongs too had used virtually the same technique to ship fresh water between Turkey and Cypress.

But widespread opposition from local residents and county and state agencies, plus the high cost of environmental studies, persuaded him to drop his North Coast plans last month.

Now Davidge, a former Alaska state water official and assistant secretary for the U.S. Interior Department under President Ronald Reagan, proposes buying 20,000 acre-feet of water a year from the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District, which has about 22,400 acre-feet of water for sale.

Davidge said he wouldn’t have to haggle with some of the same regulatory agencies over the new project, which would not be required to have state water permits.

“We would be just another commercial buyer of water using existing infrastructure,” said Davidge, who has changed his company’s name from Alaska Water Exports to Aqueous International.

The Humboldt Bay district has been seeking buyers for water that became available in 1999 when Simpson Paper Co.’s pulp mill closed and ended its contract with the district, said Carol Rische, general manager of the district.

Operational changes at the Samoa Pacific Corp.’s mill, which buys water from the district, also have left surplus water for sale.

Rische said the district has received only a preliminary proposal from Davidge. She declined to provide details of the plan, saying she first wants to discuss the idea with the district’s current customers in a meeting next week.

“We will roll it out to our customers to see if we should consider it,” Rische said.

The district would need to amend its water right permit to sell water that would be used outside of its boundaries, said Fred Zinchiak, a spokesman for the state Water Resources Control Board.

The proposal calls for pumping water from an existing well on the Mad River, transporting it to Humboldt Bay and putting it in fiber-poly bags larger than a football field. The bags, which would float in the salty seawater, would be towed by boats to customers down the coast.

San Diego and the Monterey Peninsula have been identified as potential customers for Aqueous, but the company hasn’t signed any deals with them.

The Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, which is doing an environmental study on ways to get new water sources for the region, will consider Davidge’s proposal, said Henrietta Stern, project manager for the district.

But Davidge would have to overcome several obstacles before the district would negotiate to buy the water. One of the biggest hurdles would be getting federal permission to carry out water delivery operations in Monterey Bay, which is a national marine sanctuary, Stern said.

The state Coastal Commission also would have to approve the project. The commission opposed Davidge’s previous efforts to obtain water from the Albion and Gualala rivers.

You can reach Staff Writer Ucilia Wang at 462-6473 or uwang@pressdemocrat.com.

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