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Stop the Mad Water Grab

Comments to HBMWD’s Task Force

by Diane Beck, Sierra Club Redwood Chapter
21 February 2003

To: Water Task Force, Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District

From: Diane Beck, Sierra Club Redwood Chapter Executive Committee member

Re: Davidge’s Mad Water-Bagging Proposal

My comments here are on behalf of the Redwood Chapter Sierra Club, with over 11,000 members in northwestern California. Around eleven hundred of these members reside in Humboldt County.

Presumably, you are meeting today to decide whether to advise the Water District to proceed with a study of Davidge’s proposal. And “advice” is all you can offer, since this Task Force is advisory only. All power lies with the District Board. And we have a problem with that. The whole process of considering Davidge’s proposal lacks the kind of open democratic process that we have come to expect, ask for, or demand of Humboldt County.

For myself, I hope that you are clearer about what you are being asked to decide in your advisory capacity than I am. For I have been to four of the District’s client meetings in the last 17 days, and I am uncertain. What began in Eureka as an up-or-down vote on further study of Davidge’s proposal in particular became last evening in Manila a vote on a study of out-of-county export of Mad River “excess” industrial water in general. So we are asking that the District place on the table with clarity, for you and the community at large, the issues on which it seeks your advice.

The Redwood Chapter is of the opinion that any excess industrial water should be returned to the Mad River, which is presently impaired by excessive sediment, temperature, and turbidity. There are good arguments for returning the water to the river, to enhance its quality and fisheries and other beneficial uses, as any fisheries biologist or environmental economist worth his salt could explain. Where it damn well shouldn’t go is to San Diego or any other place that promotes unsustainable development and sprawl, and cannot conserve and protect the water it already has. (San Diego is a particularly ironic destination for our so-called excess water. San Diego has a huge problem with its sewage as it is and is very reluctant to do anything about it. So what do they want? They want more water for more residential development which will create an even larger sewage problem.)

So, the Redwood Chapter Sierra Club does not think it is worth the candle to proceed with a study of Davidge’s “concept” proposal. If you decide to do the study, the Task Force can, perhaps, ensure that it is extensive and covers all relevant legal, environmental, economic, and regulatory concerns. Particularly, you ought to make sure that it is open to public input. We do not want to see the study even begin, out of fear that Davidge will misconstrue it to his future customers as something akin to a letter of intent.

What is worth the candle would be a thoroughgoing biological and economic study of the Mad River, the too-long-neglected step-child of our north coast rivers. Forty years ago, there was a reason for piping a tremendous amount of water to the pulp mills on the Samoa peninsula. Those reasons no longer exist. What this Task Force might concern itself best with is to suggest to the District creative ideas on how to benefit Humboldt County with all the unused industrial water.

Did anyone ever really expect the Eel and the Trinity and the Klamath to be so devastatingly dewatered when those deals took place 40 to 90 years ago? We have learned and we do know that we should not fall into the trap again by allowing the export of even more water. Concerning the “use it or lose it” argument put forth by the Water District, it seems to us–for now with certainty–that the river can use it and that anyone who disagrees will have a very hard job proving otherwise.

The Redwood Chapter Sierra Club and the coalition of which we are a part on this issue will be taking our concerns over the export of Mad River water to the Board of Supervisors very soon. The issue is of countywide concern. We do appreciate the situation that the Water District finds itself in. We just think that possible solutions have not been well considered at all.