MENDOCINO Co, CA, 3/29/23 — After a consultant’s presentation, board discussion, and an extended metaphor about pancakes, the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to lend support to several water resiliency projects by helping communities around Mendocino County seek grant funding.
The county’s hired consultant, EKI Environment & Water, Inc. presented ten projects that the firm and the board’s appointed Mendocino County Water Agency Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) had ranked to prioritize support. Per a motion by Supervisor Maureen Mulheren, EKI will move forward with aiding the first five listed projects — as stipulated in the original contract with the firm — but will also aim to see all ten realized within the allotted hours.
That’s where pancakes come in. Multiple supervisors, particularly Mulheren and Ted Williams, wanted to see all the projects come to fruition and wondered whether EKI could move forward on all of them until the firm ran out of allotted funds and hours.
“If I go down to [Stan’s] Maple [Cafe] and get five pancakes and some butter to put on them, I get pretty thick butter,” said Howard Dashiell, the county’s director of transportation. “If I keep the same amount of butter and get 10 pancakes, I’ll just spread it thinner. So, as we work with the applicants, if we can spread the amount of resources [EKI has] identified for this task, we might be able to get a little bit of butter on 10 pancakes. Or I’ll have to call the waitress — in this case, come back to the Board of Supervisors — and ask for more butter [or] more money, in other words. But we can do that.”
While that’s technically true, CEO Darcie Antle cautioned supervisors against overextending the resources already allotted to this initiative in such a way that everyone gets started, but fewer projects are completed.
“Your butter is very thin and you have a lot of obligations,” she cautioned, adding, “If you really want to get projects done, you don’t want to pick too many projects.”
EKI representative Amir Mani agreed, saying, “If [local communities] can’t basically pick up a larger load of the grant application, I can’t predict if we can succeed getting all ten of them over the line. I can’t make that call right now with the scope that we have.”
The TAC, an eight-person board representing both coastal and inland water interests, ranked the projects based on weighted criteria including readiness for implementation, providing capacity for drought response, serving disadvantaged or underserved communities, increasing access and transparency to water data, and providing multiple benefits. Some 42 projects around Mendocino County were originally in contention.
In order, the first five projects are the city of Fort Bragg’s new reservoirs, Mendocino City Community Services District (MCCSD)’s recycled water system upgrade and wastewater treatment plant modernization, Laytonville Community Water District’s water treatment plant repairs, MCCSD’s smart water meter project, and the North Gualala Water Company’s Gualala River Flow Bank Project that will provide residents with drinking water.
Ranked lower: the consolidation of the Upper Russian River Water Agency, the city of Ukiah’s protection for the western hills headwaters, the Potter Valley Tribe’s rainwater catchment system at Trout Creek, and workshops around graywater systems and rainwater catchment by the Mendocino County Resource Conservation District. The Pinoleville Pomo Nation’s floodplain management and groundwater recharge project will likely no longer need county aid due to funding from FEMA, Mani said in the meeting.
Supervisors pointed out that larger cities like Fort Bragg and Ukiah might be better-resourced to seek funding for their projects, with less aid from consultants. But these cities have also aided struggling smaller districts throughout the community amid water shortages during recent severe drought years.
“Certainly I would like to see some contributing funds from the cities, but I think it’s our job to look out for water countywide,” Williams said.
This work is coming at an interesting time in county history: an extraordinarily wet winter on the heels of several years of extreme drought. Although water reserves around the county have improved, Mendocino County is fresh off more panicky times; and as Elizabeth Salomone of the Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation District recently told The Mendocino Voice, “We’re going to need above-average rainfall pretty much every winter to keep us afloat.” Existing infrastructure is proving inadequate for water security.
“We may not feel like we’re in a drought now, but we will be again,” Williams said.
The TAC also recommended considering a county-wide application to the State Water Resources Control Board Safe and Affordable Funding for Equity and Resilience (SAFER) program, which offers funding to implement sustainable solutions for more drinking water access. EKI found that some projects could be eligible for this funding individually, but not necessarily as a bundled county project.
EKI will now go forward in helping these cities, municipalities, tribes, and communities apply for funding to execute their projects. Fiscal details will be provided to the board as the projects progress.
Note: Kate Fishman covers the environment & natural resources for The Mendocino Voice in partnership with a Report For America. Her position is funded by the Community Foundation of Mendocino, Report for America, & our readers. You can support Fishman’s work with a tax-deductible donation here or by emailing [email protected]. Contact her at KFishman@mendovoice.com or at (707) 234-7735. The Voice maintains editorial control and independence.