Editor’s Note: The following column is an opinion piece written by Jim Shields, manager of the Laytonville Water District and editor of the Mendocino County Observer in Laytonville, where this was first printed. Anyone is welcome to submit a letter to the editor in response at [email protected].
LAYTONVILLE, 05/29/17 — At our Laytonville Water District meeting last week, the Board voted unanimously to send a letter to the California Coastal Commission recommending that it approve a grant request from the Eel River Recovery Project (ERRP).
In the letter, we set out some of our reasons for supporting ERRP’s grant application for its Ten Mile creek restoration project:
“Our goal, like most other similar districts, is to provide safe, high quality drinking water to our customers at an affordable price. Although our well system from which we draw our water is not connected hydrologically to Tenmile Creek, we are none the less very concerned about the acute water shortage annually that results in loss of surface flow and creates considerable hardship for some community members. Consequently, we would like to see the Eel River Recovery Project proposal to the California Coastal Conservancy Proposition 1 fund approved.
“Getting a whole community with separate water sources and water storage to cooperate in a basin-wide water conservation plan will take professional help and the contractors recruited by ERRP for this project have the appropriate skill sets. The work proposed by ERRP dealing with improving stream bank vegetation and reducing gully erosion can also help increase water supply. Streams with poor riparian conditions may meander, causing the channel to become wide and open. This can cause loss of pools and, in association with stream aggradation, may also contribute to dewatering. Gullies not only cause erosion but can drop the water table of grassy hillslopes and contribute to reduced base flows in summer. “
Ten Mile Creek literally bisects the town of Laytonville along an east-west axis, approximately two-thirds of the population living in what the water district calls the “West Zone.” The creek runs within 300 feet of the District’ water treatment plant located adjacent to Harwood Park and the Laytonville Rodeo Grounds.
All of us who work for the Water District — both employees and Board members — are very familiar with Ten Mile Creek’s “hydrological” problems. The main problem is quasi-legal overdrafting and outright illegal diversions of water from the creek by many of those who live along its banks. Needless to say, almost all of the illegal diversions are for growing ganja.
As I understand it, one of the objectives of ERRP’s proposed project is to work with the Ten Mile Creek community to build a new, more enlightened consensus about how we treat our watersheds. I told ERRP’s executive director, Pat Higgins, it was going to take a lot of organizing to get that done. I say that from the perspective of a former long-time union organizer and international president. I know how difficult it is to get people to change, or even think about changing long-established habits and practices. It can be done, but it takes time, and you have to build trust and respect among those you are trying to organize, whether that be getting them to join a union, or getting them to join together in adopting better and less destructive practices in our watersheds.
One way or another though, people are going to change they way the conduct their business in our rural areas, watersheds, range land, and forests.
As I’ve said for many years to all the folks who clamored for legalization of marijuana, be careful of what you wish for. Because with legalization comes regulation, and with regulation comes taxes, code enforcement, licensing, inspections, and ramped up scrutiny from regulatory and enforcement agencies.
The other thing I’ve said is that everyone who lives in Mendocino County benefits economically from marijuana. Pot dollars circulate throughout both the private and public sectors. I’m an example of someone who derives income both sectors. I own and publish a newspaper and I’m the long-time district manager of a local government water utility.
A certain percentage of the newspaper’s commercial and legal advertising, as well as subscriptions and newsstand sales are paid for with pot dollars.
Likewise with the water district, easily half of our revenues are generated by water sales to residential customer-growers and water transported by truck to growers in areas outside of our district boundaries.
Although legalization is in its early and still incomplete stages, people are beginning to feel the regulatory pinch.
Here’s an illustration of what I’m talking about. Growers who live outside of district boundaries are coming to us seeking what are known as “will serve” letters, which are documents that state we will “serve” a customer with our water, i.e., a legal source of water.
Why are folks asking us to provide them with will serve letters? Because they have been paid visits by agencies such as Fish and Wildlife or Regional Water Quality Control Board, and have been told that their present sources of water are either illegal or subject to usage restrictions, such as outright bans from May through October, which is the outdoor growing season.
The Laytonville Water District is fortunate in that we draw our water from an aquifer that annually fully recharges itself due to our high yearly rainfall totals that average nearly 70 inches. During the state’s emergency drought declaration, we were not subject to mandatory water conversation orders, although we did ban outdoor irrigation during the heat of the day. So we have plenty of water to share with outlying areas that have little or none. The end result is pot farmers who truck in our water are not illegally diverting water from streams and creeks.
To give you an idea on the scope of illegal water diversions in this county, here’s an illustration.
About 18 months ago, there was an Island Mountain pot raid conducted by Mendocino County authorities and state resource enforcement agencies, where it was estimated growers were diverting 500,000 gallons of water per day from the nearly waterless Eel River. To put that daily illegal diversion into perspective, the Laytonville County Water District, which supplies water to approximately 2,000 people every day, produces about 350,000 gallons per day during summer peak consumption. Annually, the Water District produces approximately 70 million gallons of water.
The Island Mountain pot gardens’ diversion for just a six-month period amounted to 90 million gallons; 20 million gallons more than the Water District produces in an entire year.
Imagine, with the thousands of grows — legal and outlaw — we have here in Mendocino, how much water is being stolen from watersheds by the marijuana industry.
That’s why we have to start cleaning things up watershed by watershed. That’s why work being done by groups like the Eel River Recovery Project is important. You have to start somewhere.
As I said, one way (voluntary compliance) or the other (punitive civil and criminal enforcement), people in the rapidly developing pot industry are going to be changing their ways. And that’s a good thing for everybody and every watershed.
Jim Shields is the MCO’s editor and publisher, and also manages the Laytonville County Water District. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org