Every Last Drop

by Mark Scaramella, May 17, 2017

The first meeting of the Board of the Ukiah Valley Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency Board was Wednesday, May 10. This is a state-mandated “Joint Powers Agency” formed in response to the California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) of 2014 and inspired by the recent drought.

People are starting to fight over water, but in Mendocino County some people are more equal than others, and they are thirsty.

The neo-groundwater guardians are charged with developing a “groundwater sustainability plan” by January 31, 2020. The basic idea is to prevent groundwater depletion in places like Ukiah where groundwater is an essential part of the town's annual supply.

However, as with many other water organizations in the Ukiah Valley, the new Agency Board is dominated by self-interested wine and grape interests who wormed their way into the process at the earliest opportunity to protect their carte blanche access to the Russian River and all other sources of public water.

The remaining Agency Board members are not wine people per se, but they can be relied on to go along with whatever the wine people want.

Carre Brown (Wine Rep and Farm Bureau Rep on the Board of Supervisors) is the Agency’s Board Chair. The other Board members are Doug Crane (a Ukiah “conservative” with no known wine connection) of the Ukiah City Council, Jerry Cardoza (retired parole officer, Millview Water District Board member; connected to wine via Millview District’s water contracts), Al White (grape grower and founding member of the Mendocino Chapter of WineFirst! and a member of Russian River Flood Control District Board); and Brandi Brown, the “tribal rep” from Hopland (no known wine connection).

There's also an as yet unnamed Ag representative who is sure to be another wine person. (Our guess for “Ag rep” is Glenn McGourty, a wine industry tool who gets paid public money to promote wine by the UC Ag Extension program.)

As if they don't already have total dominance, the Farm Bureau says they’re working on selecting three (wine) nominees for the Ag seat to be presented for approval to the already wine-dominated Board.

Among the legal requirements of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act are: “bring groundwater aquifers into balanced levels of pumping and recharge,” and “develop monitoring, management, and reporting of those data necessary to support sustainable groundwater management including: (1) sufficient land and water resource data to establish an accounting of the short- and long-term trends of the basin’s water balance; (2) measures of basin sustainability; and (3) those data necessary to resolve disputes regarding sustainable yield, beneficial uses, and water rights.”

"Beneficial uses"in the Ukiah Valley means: Grape growing and wine-making.

The “Plan” will then be reviewed and approved by the State Water Board.

Ukiah was correctly named in the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act as a “high priority groundwater basin” because excessive water use in the Ukiah Valley began with the wine industry, and the industry, by ensuring they dominate regulation, aims to maintain unimpeded access to all sources of water in the Ukiah Valley at the lowest possible cost.

The “plan” will be a euphemized version of this: “Everything’s fine as is,” larded with phony stats, a few spiffy graphs.

How can we be so sure that the entire process will be so wine friendly? At the end of the 40 minute organizational meeting, the dependably egregious Al White piped up with: “I can’t keep quiet! I just want to say that this agenda and the agenda summary and the way it’s put together is great! This was so helpful for me in going through the agenda and the summaries and the recommended actions and backgrounds and so forth. It’s just right! It’s really good! I really appreciate it!"

This is like a promise from Jim Jones to take care of the kids.

The only question will be whether the State Water Board approves Ukiah Valley’s Business As Usual Plan. But that question won’t come up until 2021.

If, years from now, the Water Board actually requires anything remotely resembling real “sustainability,” the wine people will be sure to sue the state like they did in 2014 when the the state required them to develop their own plans to protect fish in the Russian River. Of course they won in the local courts presided over by their friends. They ultimately lost on appeal and are supposedly now working on their “plans” to protect ground water. This process will probably end up taking longer than the Sustainable Plan this new “Agency” is in charge of.

The wine bloc is still working on their water management plans, and they will continue to do so ad infinitum. It’s a strategy modeled after Big Timber’s famous 90s tactic known to enviros back then as “talk and cut.” The wine industry’s version is called “talk and pump.” We give you all the meetings, and consultants, and bafflegab and paperwork you want, and you give us all the water we want. It’s a wine-wine! Er, Win-Win!

Marijuana cultivation also sucks up a lot of water. Surely the dope lobby will want their fair share of the Ukiah Valley’s limited agua. But the pot people are too distracted trying to puzzle out their own impenetrable rules to know that when they finally look up from their turkey bags, the wine people will have locked up the Ukiah Valley’s most precious public resource for themselves.

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