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When It Comes To Water…You Need The Facts

Without a doubt most County residents know little if anything about something called the Mendocino County Water Agency (MCWA or “Water Agency”).

It was originally formed in 1987, with the Board of Supervisors sitting as its governing board. Its responsibilities included such things as researching new sources of water supply, reviewing additional surface storage options, and working on watershed improvement projects.

Around 2008 when the County was faced with another budget crisis, the Water Agency was quasi-tombstoned until 2021 when the Supes voted to take a look at possibly resurrecting it. To that end, the BOS OK’d a $307,000 consultant-driven process that occurred in the spring of this year to study the feasibility of raising up the nearly defunct Agency.

In my opinion, the same effort could have been performed, but without the same price tag, by a BOS-appointed committee modeled on the Well Extraction/Water Hauling Ordinance Committee that recently delivered a tentatively approved set of rules now under review by the Planning Commission. But reliance on consultants and the resulting taxpayer expenditures are topics for another day.

A special Board of Supervisors Standing Committee, the Public Health, Safety, and Resources Committee, held a meeting this Monday, Aug. 15. I attended via Zoom and made the following recommendations to its two members, Supervisors John Haschak and Glenn McGourty, regarding the proposed resurrection of the County’s long-dormant Water Agency.

Here’s what I recommended:

As a member of the former Water Agency Steering Committee, convened under the auspices of GEI Consultants, Inc., I would like to take the opportunity to share a few ideas and recommendations with you on water related issues as they pertain to the status of the Mendocino County Water Agency.

For the past year, the County has been discussing the issue of resurrecting or re-establishing a functioning Water Agency that will better serve and represent the multiple water interests on a county-wide basis.

One of the major impediments to meeting that goal is that what County officials don’t know about basic water-related information and data far exceeds what they do know.

It would be extremely difficult at this time to move forward with structural, organizational, governing, and financial plans for a Water Agency when so little is known about rudimentary but essential water-related information and data.

It’s a fact that the County of Mendocino does not own a single water right to a single drop of water.

Neither does the County produce a single drop of potable water or untreated water.

Water production is overseen and managed by local government-public water utility professionals who are experts in water-related matters.

They are the most valuable resource the County has available to rely and depend on for their expertise and professional insights and assistance in developing both water policies and solutions to major problems during these difficult times.

One starting point that most stakeholders would agree is fundamental is that the Water Agency should be a clearinghouse of information.

A second, and equally foundational objective for the Water Agency, would be its role to assist County water districts and municipal water departments with preparing grant applications for capital and operational projects.

These are tasks that can be and should be put into action immediately.

Information Collection & Collation

All you need to start this process is an informational request letter to water districts and municipal water departments and you’re off and running.

As the information is being collected, it would also be collated into a computerized filing system consisting of main folder for each water district, with nested folders for the info and data,

The collection and collation work would be done by both the current MDOT employee assigned on a pert-time basis to the Water Agency, along with volunteer assistance from water districts and municipal water departments.

Here are examples of some of the information to be collected and collated:

SWRCB Operating Permit & Conditions, Water Sources (ground or surface), Water Source Assessments, Investigations, Studies, and Reports On Water Sources, WTP and Distribution Operational Manuals, Preliminary Engineering Reports, CEQA and NEPA Reports, Division of Water Rights Reports, Storage Types and Capacities, Annual and Monthly SWRCB Reports, Annual DWR Reports, Prop 218 Rate Studies, Schedule of Water Rates, Service Charges, and Fees, Well Driller Logs, Well Sounding Logs, Water Conservation Plans and Ordinances, Mutual Assistance Agreements, LAFCO Municipal Service Reviews, Annual Audit and Management Reports.

Capital and Operational Projects

Another task to be performed would be to request all water districts and municipal water departments to provide a prioritized list of at least three capital and operational projects.

The prioritized project lists would be reviewed and ranked by a five-member Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), with each member appointed by the respective District Supervisor. The TAC would forward its recommendations to the Board of Supervisors for final approval.

Needless to say, it’s all the more imperative we get started immediately on “Water Information Collection and Collation”, and “Capital and Operational Projects” given Gov. Newsom’s just announced multi-billion dollar plan for water supply, storage, groundwater sustainability, etc.,

Thank you for your consideration of these matters.

* * *

Both Supervisor Haschak and Supervisor McGourty agreed with the recommendations. One of the goals with the collection and collation of all the water-related data that’s in the possession of all the water districts and city water departments, is to map out the entire County detailing water sources, water production and consumption totals, storage capacities, populations served, etc.

This is the very kind of critical information needed but now lacking that will allow us as a county to intelligently formulate plans and create workable public policies addressing water resources and drought.

(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher,, the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. Listen to his radio program “This and That.” every Saturday at noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live:

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