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Water bag proposal likely to be put on hold

Eureka Times-Standard

Water bag proposal likely to be put on hold

By James Faulk The Times-Standard

Saturday, February 22, 2003

EUREKA — Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

That was one paraphrasing of the message a wholesale customer task force will recommend that the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District board of directors give to Ric Davidge of Aqueous Corp.

Davidge had proposed that the district sell the company 15,000 to 20,000 acre feet of so-called surplus water which would be shipped south in 800-foot-long bags pulled by tugboats.

He sought a letter of intent from the district, and he will likely not get it, at least for a while.

The task force met Friday to discuss the proposal and provide input from their governing bodies. The group includes representatives of Eureka, Arcata, Manila and Blue Lake, as well as the McKinleyville, Humboldt and Fieldbrook community services districts and Samoa Pacific Cellulose.

Only two of the entities were totally opposed, Arcata and Manila. The rest urged the district to go ahead with looking at the idea, but several said to proceed with extreme caution.

The task force is only an advisory body for the district board. Its recommendation will ask that the district look at the legal issues involved before moving ahead on this proposal or any other.

The deal to sell water to Aqueous Corp. could bring the district into the arena of international trade law, and it may surrender some of its rights as a result. That issue needs to be examined, the task force will recommend.

The district should also look into how such a deal would affect its long-term water rights, and how the selling of additional water out of the Mad River would affect the environment.

Several members of the public spoke on the issue. Few if any were adamantly in favor of the idea, although some did urge the task force and the district to look into its merits.

Others told the task force to walk away from the concept as quickly as possible. Some even said local rate payers may be willing to pay more for their water in order to keep it local.

Any study at this point would likely be paid for by the district. If Aqueous paid, many feel that might be construed as a commitment which could hinder the district later on.

District board Chairman Vern Cooney said that after the research is done into the various legal and environmental issues, then a request for proposals might be an appropriate way to develop the export, rather than committing to the Aqueous plan.

Eureka resident Glen Ziemer said in his observations of California water politics, smaller agencies routinely get taken advantage of.

“Big dogs regularly eat little dogs and spit them out,” he said.

Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District is “a little dog,” he said.

Tim McKay of the Northcoast Environmental Center said the process should be more democratic, and go before the voters as a referendum.

Ted Loring said the district should at least collect the facts about exporting water

“I think it would be a mistake to dismiss out of hand an idea just because it’s strange or threatening,” he said.

Several concerns need to be addressed before moving ahead, including environmental impacts as well as possible inclusion of the deal under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“Please, collect the facts,” he said.

Paul Hagen of Arcata said the biggest rule in water politics is “water always flows downhill to the biggest pool of money.”

He said that if the district does decides to look into the Aqueous proposal, it could become a “tar baby” that it can’t drop.

Mark Lovelace of Arcata said Aqueous wants to push the district into making a quick decision that it would likely regret.

“They see us as a Third World economy that can be bought or sold for a few beads.”

The district board will meet to discuss the issue in March.

Although not represented at the meeting, the Trinity County Chamber of Commerce has sent a letter to the district stating its concerns.

The chamber worries that the sale of water could affect levels of Ruth Lake, a valuable tourist attraction in Trinity County.

“The existence of a recreational opportunity (Ruth Lake) available for businesses to be able to support themselves has been the only reason we haven’t lost everyone in the Ruth Lake and Mad River areas of the county,” the letter reads.

The letter asks that the district look to address how lake levels would be affected, among other issues.

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