State bans new water hookups near Ukiahgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
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State bans new water hookups near Ukiah
Millview County Water District may have exceeded its allocation of Russian River water
June 12, 2001
By MIKE GENIELLA THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
State officials said Monday they've banned new water hookups in a Ukiah Valley water district, a move that raised the specter of possibly limiting development elsewhere in the valley because of inadequate water supplies.
The state Department of Health Services said it imposed the moratorium Friday on the Millview County Water District because of initial findings of a "comprehensive investigation" into whether overall water use in the Ukiah Valley exceeds permitted diversions from the Russian River.
In Millview's case, the state said water use apparently has exceeded its allocation by as much as 25 percent every year since 1995, forcing Millview to tap into supplies of other potential downstream users.
"We don't do this very often, but there are significant water issues involved," said Bruce Burton, the district engineer in the state agency's Santa Rosa office.
The fallout from the state move was immediate in the Ukiah Valley.
Doubts were cast over a number of residential and commercial projects under construction or on the drawing board, including the first major new housing development in the valley in a decade, the West Forks project along Lake Mendocino Drive north of Ukiah. The Millview district serves mostly unincorporated areas at the northern end of the Ukiah Valley.
The state ban reignited debate among local officials over who's to blame for the growing water uncertainties confronting the local economy and the 30,000 residents of Ukiah and Redwood valleys.
"This is an issue of extreme concern," said Mendocino County Supervisor Mike Delbar, whose district includes Millview.
As it is, inland Mendocino County already faces water curtailments because of planned federal cuts in Eel River water diversions into the Russian River. Although more than four times the amount of needed water is in Lake Mendocino, the bulk of that water is controlled by the Sonoma County Water Agency and beyond the reach of Mendocino customers.
A half century ago, when Coyote Dam was built, Mendocino County opted for a smaller share of the local-federal project because of its cost, allowing Sonoma County to become the major local contributor. But five decades later, the developing Ukiah Valley is beginning to be crimped by the limited available water.
"We've said it before, and we're going to say it again: If we're not there already, we're close to using up all the water allocated to valley users," said Lee Howard, a member of a local water district board that holds inland Mendocino County's rights to Russian River water.
Ukiah and five local water districts serving residents and agricultural users in surrounding unincorporated areas have been allowed for 50 years to draw free water under a permit held by the Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation District.
Howard complained, however, that few valley leaders want to publicly acknowledge the seriousness of the current situation and the possibility that use now has exceeded supply.
"Nobody wants to listen. All we want to do is kill the messenger," Howard said.
But Supervisor Delbar disagreed, saying there have been years of efforts at the local level to come up with solutions.
He said "shutting off the tap" is not the answer.
If the state decides to impose a broader moratorium on all new water hookups, Delbar said, "it will kill any growth in our local economy."
Burton, the state engineer, said the moratorium will remain in place until Millview conducts extensive engineering studies to improve its existing water delivery system, including new water sources and storage. In addition, he said, the district must implement a water- conservation program.
The state review also found Millview has no standby power system in the event of a major blackout, an earthquake or other natural disaster, Burton said.
Of immediate concern to Delbar and other political and business leaders was the effect of the moratorium on the West Forks development. Work continued Monday at the 125-unit subdivision because developers believe their payment of $125,000 in fees to Millview allows the project to be viewed as a current, not future, water user.
"Work started because the project received approval at the local level," Delbar said.
Jean Harmon, Millview chairwoman, said it is not the district's responsibility to dictate water availablity. "If we have it, and we believed we do, then we should allow the hookups," she said.
Burton said the state agency will review pending development projects on a case-by-case basis.
"The state is not interested in causing harm to legitimately approved projects. We realized there may be projects in the pipeline when we took this action," he said.
"If the district has committed to serve those connections, and has accepted payment for those connections, then those hookups may be allowed."
Even so, he said the water district will have to file for amended state water permits to meet Health Department requirements.
Delbar said developers should not be penalized because they began their projects in good faith.
"The quick solution to this problem is to implement as many water conservation measures as possible while we try to come up with an accurate determination of the amount of water usage in the district and across the valley," he said.
Delbar said individual water districts eventually will need to consolidate and a united effort made among valley leaders and water users to secure funding to raise Coyote Dam for more water storage, along with possibly developing other water storage facilities.
Delbar said he's aware critics of enlarging the dam may view the proposal as an invitation to runaway growth in the bucolic valley.
"But you don't control growth by turning off the tap. You do it through general plan updates and responsible planning," he said.
You can reach Staff Writer Mike Geniella at 462-6470 or e-mail
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