MENDOCINO Co., 9/5/21 — There’s good news for coastal businesses looking for drought relief.
On Tuesday, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved covering 80% of the cost of hauling water from Ukiah to Fort Bragg for businesses in need for the first four weeks of a new drought aid program. The program covers 100% of the long-hauling cost for residences. It’s yet unclear how much the program will cost the county. “I mean 80% seems very generous on the county’s part to the commercial side,” said 3rd District Supervisor John Haschak, “but I could go for it for the first four weeks and recalibrate as needed.”
Based on a county model assuming 75,000 gallons are transported per day at a cost of 24 to 30 cents per gallon, the county could expect to pay between $459,000 to $573,750 to cover the long hauling cost for a month. The cost would be less if demand turned out to be below 75,000 gallons per day. “Actual demand is unknown,” said Josh Metz, who has been contracted by the county to coordinate the drought response. “And so the idea is that we would begin hauling the water, seeing what the water yields in terms of demand and then need to adjust potentially if there is more or less demand.” The county would also closely monitor where the water is going and how it’s being used to determine how to proceed after a month.
It’s not guaranteed that the state would cover 100% of the coast of hauling the water for domestic uses either. The county has applied for a couple drought relief grants from the state. The grant submitted to the Department of Water Resources has broader language that would allow for commercial users’ long-hauling costs to be covered alongside residential users, said Darcie Antle, the county’s assistant CEO. Any costs incurred before the grants are approved are being entirely covered by the county — the county approved using just under $1 million in Pacific Gas & Electric disaster settlement funds to jump start the program last week — but Metz said “there could be full cost recovery for the long hauling of water to the coast after it’s approved.”
During previous meetings supervisors brought up using revenue generated by the transient occupancy tax (TOT), which is collected anytime visitors stay overnight in county lodging, if no other funding sources materialize to assist coastal businesses. In an Aug. 27 meeting, 5th District Supervisor Ted Williams brought up that 75% of the TOT revenue is generated on the coast, $4.1 million of an estimated $5.5 million generated this year. On Tuesday, Williams said the visitor economy generates a lot of issues — trash, damaged roads, fire and emergency calls — and some of the TOT generated from that industry should go to addressing those issues.
First District Supervisor Glenn McGourty said the consequences of not subsidizing the water hauling for businesses could be catastrophic for the coastal economy, which relies on tourism and lodging, and the county by extension. “This drives the economy of the coast so it’s not just that you would subsidize water for the hospitality industry,” McGourty said, “but there’s also significant employment in the coastal community — not just around Mendocino, but all the way up to Fort Bragg — that depends on this industry doing well. Plus our own income through TOT and sales taxes is substantial.”
Supervisors have also brought up that the county and coast need to be investing in water storage in the long term. “As much as I would like to see some towns, especially the town of Mendocino, invest with local dollars, and hopefully some matching grants from the infrastructure bill, in a water system that would include extraction, collection, treatment, distribution,” Williams said, “I don’t see that as being feasible probably for installation in the next three years. The way government moves, maybe five years.” Fourth District Supervisor Dan Gjerde said he wanted to see anyone who receives a subsidy to commit to expanding their onsite water storage, though that wasn’t incorporated into the directions to staff in putting together the program.
In the near term, the county’s been having trouble finding a water hauler for a short-term contract. Janelle Rau, the county’s deputy CEO, said only one qualified water hauler has responded to the county’s solicitation, but that company is from out of the area, which will likely result in their drivers needing per diems, and it’s unclear how many trucks would be available. “The reality is you’re going to see that a lot of these haulers that are local are either not qualified, not certified or simply not interested,” Rau said. “And we will continue to do our best…but I just want to make sure that we’re being as realistic as we can in how we’re going to address this.”
The City of Ukiah also issued an announcement stating that water to supply the coast will be drawn from the Russian River — read more about that here.
The board is expected to receive an update on how the program is going during its next meeting on Sept. 14.