Let’s Pretend

by Mark Scaramella, June 23, 2011

“There wasn’t much interest. Nobody who might benefit is interested — as soon as it rains, we don’t need it. And that’s been our water policy for the last 40 years.”

Supervisor John Pinches was referring to the County's shelved plans to develop Scout Lake in Willits as a supplementary water supply for the perennially thirsty North County town.

But Pinches may as well have been describing all of inland Mendocino County's water policy — let's pretend.

The Board of Supervisors is about to approve the Environmental Impact Report for the Ukiah Valley Area Plan, a plan in preparation for two decades. One might expect that such a long look at the Ukiah Valley's future would include a sensible water component.

Nope.

A letter from Philo resident and Sierra Club member Dan Myers to the County Planning Staff nicely states what's glaringly missing:

“The Ukiah Valley Area Plan (UVAP) Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) fails to support the preferred alternative in that its water supply assessment expressly denies the possibility of meeting the water demands of that alternative. The DEIR is also deficient in that it fails to address any agricultural water demand of Ukiah Valley Area Plan.

"The plan's water assessment talks only about water as it relates to prospective development of residential, commercial and business properties, leaving about half of the area of the Ukiah Valley high and dry while the draft environmental impact report identifies agricultural land and rangeland as 55% of the total area of the plan, exceeding the sum of all residential, commercial, and industrial land."

Former 2nd District supervisor Frank McMichael seconded the report's absent water component: “…it is my belief that we have a critical circumstance for water for existing development within the Valley and until and unless new sources of water are accomplished, the development [described in the Ukiah Valley Area Plan] should not be allowed. The primary evidence for this is evidenced by the need to reduce water consumption for existing development during the last drought. The letters provide greater explanation of this viewpoint.

“Existing development is presently consuming all of our presently available local water. During dry years, present development will have its water supplies severely curtailed. There is no presently available ‘new’ water for any new development. It is absolutely critical that the DEIR acknowledge water capacity must be available prior to any development. Potential new water projects have been discussed, however, any realistic prediction of successfully completing these projects indicate that it will be at least 20 years or more before availability of new water occurs, if at all.

“Citing possible future projects such as raising the Lake Mendocino dam or development of other reservoirs as potential mitigation to the present circumstances would be insufficient and unjustified. Citing groundwater as a potential source would be equally unjustified in that it is clear that the State considers all groundwater in the entire valley as underflow to the Russian River which has been fully allocated for nearly two decades.

“There is extremely limited capacity within the Ukiah Valley Service District for existing zoning. Zoning changes that will allow higher density will only exacerbate the existing circumstance. Lack of sewer capacity and lack of future ability to obtain more capacity is a significant impact. It should not be treated lightly by indicating that [water and sewer] service agencies should develop more capacity.”

McMichael also points out that “there is no septage capacity within the Ukiah Valley or adjacent areas. Some haulers are traveling to Lincoln, California, a journey of over 200 miles, for disposal of septage. This is a significant impact.”

The history of Mendocino County planning is to ignore water realities to “pretend there’s plenty,” as demonstrated last year with the Garden’s Gate residential project south of Ukiah. There was no water available for that project and not even hoked-up paperwork pretending that there was. Nevertheless, the Board approved the project even though their own residential planning rules require that a permit applicant certify the availability of water for any new home construction.

* * *

Supervisor Dan Hamburg declared the Navarro River water assessment, for which there’s no money to complete, to be “hugely important” to Anderson Valley. “Some people say things are fine, others say it’s horrible,” declared Hamburg, as he avoided taking a position. “It would be nice to get a scientific study done on that to clarify the situation.”

Informed that it would cost a mere $15,000 to have livestock specialist John Harper at the UC Extension complete the study of the "hugely important" Navarro, Supervisor Hamburg dropped the subject, commenting later that the County needs to “revitalize” its water agency.

* * *

Toward the end of the June 7, Board meeting supervisor Hamburg urged his colleagues to put the September 18 (Sunday) Boonville Fair Parade on their calendars and recommended that the Supervisors appear as a unit.

“Maybe people will be throwing rotten tomatoes at us — you never know what’s going to happen out there,” said Hamburg.

Supervisor John McCowen, perhaps a bit too agreeable about the rotten tomato scenario, added, “We also had the Sheriff along to provide a little security.”

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