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Stop the Mad Water Grab

Letter from North Coast Restoration Jobs Initiative

February 21, 2003

Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District
828 Seventh Street
P.O. Box 95
Eureka, California 95502
Attention: Carol Rische, General Manager

Re: Proposal to Export Mad River Water from Humboldt Bay via Water Bags

Dear Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District and Proposal Task Force:

The North Coast Restoration Jobs Initiative, a ground-level committee of The Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment, would like to strongly urge the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District to cease its exploration of the Mad River water export plan proposed by Aqueous, Inc. and Mr. Davidge. As an alliance of labor leaders and environmentalists from Humboldt County, we feel the proposed plan places the Mad River watershed as well as our local economy and community in grave risk. We ascertain that these risks are unacceptable to the health and vitality of our community, friends, and neighbors. We believe the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District would be acting irresponsibly if it were to pursue this matter further, even in an “exploratory” format.

Free Trade Risks

The Aqueous, Inc. proposal places our community at severe risk to be prosecuted by the NAFTA international trade tribunal under Chapter 11. As illogical and counterintuitive as that seems, it is true. If a contract with Mr. Davidge was rescinded or his business enterprise was impeded in any fashion as a result of community and environmental health standards put forth by our local elected officials via the County’s General Plan or any other municipal, county, or state policy, the water district will be held liable for Mr. Davidge’s infringed profit. This liability will be an unimaginable sum of money that would result in inconceivable financial crisis in our community. Again, we feel this risk is unacceptable.

These free trade regulations, Chapter 11 of NAFTA included, have been plaguing communities, municipalities, and workers around the globe since their inception. At long last, they have come to Humboldt County. We must not risk opening the door to privatizing our watersheds and our water delivery infrastructure in California, and especially not here in Humboldt County where we have so much to lose. Such actions are not in the best interests of our community, workers, or the natural environment.

Risks to the Local Economy and Community

Aside from the financial risk posed to our community under current free trade regulations, there are additional concerns that we believe will adversely affect our local economy and community as a result of this proposal. We are cautious to believe that Mr. Davidge will actually deliver the jobs he has promised to our community if this sale were to be finalized. As labor leaders and environmental leaders, we take proposals to create new, living wage jobs in our community very seriously. That being said, Mr. Davidge’s proposal is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We will not be baited to support a horribly ridiculous proposal with false promises.

Furthermore, we feel water exportation is poor economic development and not in the community’s best interests. Exporting water from the Mad River will deplete the region’s rich natural capital at a nominal savings to the district’s customers. Your own numbers present the maximum savings at a mere $24 per customer each year. We believe positive economic development should focus on revitalizing and reestablishing those natural and social resources that already exist in our community, not trading away our most valuable commodities for a laughable price. Exporting water from the Mad River will foreclose local, sustainable uses of the water in the future. Again, this is unacceptable and a tremendous detriment to economic development in Humboldt County.

This proposal will need to clear a myriad of regulatory hurdles before it could be approved. As you know, the State Water Resources Control Board, the California Department of Fish and Game, California Environmental Quality Act regulators, Coastal Act regulators, and National Environmental Policy Act regulators will scrutinize this proposal. This process alone will take years at a considerable cost to the water district and its customers. We believe pursuing this proposal and voluntarily entering into a regulatory maze is an incredibly poor decision.

Environmental Risks

A strong and diverse coalition has emerged to raise the environmental concerns encumbered by Mr. Davidge’s proposal. We support this coalition and agree that these concerns are valid and present serious doubts regarding the viability of exporting Mad River water from Humboldt Bay. Specifically, we concur that:

  • Additional environmental risks to the Mad River cannot be tolerated, especially given the fact that the Mad River was recently listed as impaired under section 303 (d) of the Clean Water Act by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board due to excessively high temperatures. It is critical to point out that the “excess industrial” water the water district is planning to sell is currently flowing down the channel of the Mad River and through the river’s natural estuary. We strongly agree that resuming the withdrawal of the “excess industrial” water currently for sale would further impair this stressed watershed by decreasing flows and exacerbating high water temperatures.
  • Environmental risks to the Mad River estuary will be created by the sale of the Mad River water. The water withdrawal will further stress critical species currently listed under the federal Endangered Species Act such as the coho salmon, chinook salmon, steelhead, tidewater goby, western snowy plover, and bald eagle.
  • Humboldt Bay itself will be at risk as a result of the water export operations. Rupturing water bags and oil spills from the tug boats present grave risks to the bay that must not be overlooked. Such environmental catastrophes will be devastating to our local estuarine ecosystems and fisheries economy. Again, these risks are unacceptable and poor examples of well-planned economic development.

    We must not be naive. Mr. Davidge’s proposal is a horrible risk to our community. Please, do not proceed and do not export water from the Mad River.


    Jim Smith
    North Coast Restoration Jobs Initiative Labor Co-Chair
    President, Central Labor Council of Del Norte and Humboldt Counties
    Business Agent, AFSCME Council 57

    Tracy Katelman
    North Coast Restoration Jobs Initiative Environmental Co-Chair
    Registered Professional Forester

    Brian Bishop

    Bob Borck

    Andrea Davis
    North Coast Restoration Jobs Initiative Project Coordinator

    Cynthia Elkins

    Richard Gienger

    Mark Greenleaf

    Freeman House