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Arcatans: Bag water bag idea

Eureka Times-Standard

Arcatans: Bag water bag idea

By James Faulk The Times-Standard

February 11, 2003

ARCATA — “No. No. On second thought, no.”

Mayor Bob Ornelas was clear in his opposition to a proposed plan to export Mad River water in a bag nearly as long as three football fields, as was the rest of the City Council Wednesday.

A number of residents — gathered to hear a summary of the proposal from General Manager Carol Rische of the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District — also voiced their disapproval.

Rische, who gave a 20-minute presentation on the matter, said the issue on the table is “whether we should even consider it.”

Ric Davidge of Aqueous Corp. has proposed buying 13.2 million gallons of untreated water per day from the water district and shipping it to points south in giant, 800-foot-long bags pulled by tugboats.

Residents and the City Council told Rische of their opposition. Councilwoman Connie Stewart will convey their feelings when she participates in a task force that will be convened later this month to discuss the issue. The group will be made up of Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District customers, including Arcata, Eureka, Blue Lake, McKinleyville and several other community services districts.

In a hyperbolic declaration, Ornelas got laughs from the crowd when he indicated there could even be links between the proposal and terrorism.

“There may be ties to al-Qaida, I don’t know.”

Stewart backed off from Ornelas’ terrorism comments, but pointed out that the residents of Arcata approved a utility user’s tax so that the city would not be forced to attract a large big-box store for its sales tax.

In the same manner, residents would, if necessary, shoulder another burden if money is the issue, rather than see the water shipped out of the area.

“Water, I don’t believe, is a commodity,” Councilman Dave Meserve said. “It’s a human right, an ecological right.”

Councilman Michael Machi said he too was opposed to any plan to sell the water.

“My first off-the-cuff remarks are, one, go jump into the Mad River, and two, back up your bag during flood time — you can have that water,” he said.

Ornelas said the sale of “excess” water in this proposal reminds him of a fairy tale, one in which people wanted to harvest “excess” old-growth redwood trees, and “excess” fish species in a bid to create jobs — now the jobs are gone, the trees are gone and the species are dwindling, he said.

Resident Spring Lundberg asked the council to oppose the proposition.

“I would ask the council not to support the proposal by Aqueous, to not acquiesce,” she said.

Minerva Williams said turning water into a commodity was wrong.

“I don’t like the idea of water as a common commodity — are we going to sell the air, the breath of life, next?”

Paul Cienfuegos of the Committee on Democracy and Corporations said that because the company is international in scope, signing a deal with the company may bring the issue under the jurisdiction of international trade laws, where the district could be severely penalized if it wanted to pull out of a deal.

He pointed to a case in Canada where the country had been sued under international business law, and ultimately settled out of court, for pulling out of a contract with a transnational corporation.

River advocate Denver Nelson said that if the water was sold, the area would appear hypocritical because on one hand it’s fighting for water in the Klamath and Trinity rivers but on the other hand is selling surpluses.

As one of the lone voices raised in tentative support, resident Rudy Ramp said he is not opposed to developing a plan on the export of water. Ramp said that using it as a commodity could help decrease the county’s dependence on the timber yield tax.

Stewart said she could be outvoted at the upcoming task force meeting, and as a fallback position she would ask that Aqueous fund any research that is to be done on the subject.

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