[env-trinity] Trinity Journal: County urged to address water use

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Wed Dec 16 08:10:07 PST 2015


County urged to address water use
By Sally Morris The Trinity Journal | Posted: Wednesday, December 16, 2015 6:15 amSounding the alarm that Trinity County is experiencing less and less water to go around for all users relying on it, the Northwest California Resource Conservation and Development Council is seeking county buy-in to create new water use policies and permits for future development.The Trinity County Planning Commission has been directed by the Board of Supervisors to recommend a process for looking at potential updates and modifications to water policies in the county’s outdated General Plan, subdivision and zoning ordinances, some of which date back 40 years when water scarcity wasn’t viewed as an issue.More recent studies have indicated otherwise, and the Planning Commission last week received a report on the most current findings in a 2014 analysis by the Five Counties Salmonid Conservation Program of the non-profit Northwest California Resource Conservation and Development Council.The current report is an update of a study on water resources in the mainstem Trinity River below Lewiston Dam completed in 2009. Based on data collected prior to the recent drought, that study concluded some communities (Weaverville) were already at risk of not meeting all demand for beneficial uses of water and others (Lewiston, Douglas City) would be with population growth, even in years of normal precipitation.The 2009 study included 14 recommendations for updated planning efforts to address water use in the county. The latest version is more forceful. Director of the Five Counties Salmonid Program Mark Lancaster said last week time has run out since 2009 and action must be taken now to create sustainable water policy that places greater scrutiny on new permits and development.Included in the recommendations is an update of the county’s General Plan elements that contain any reference to water resources; expansion of the existing Critical Water Resource overlay zone and the conservation and development measures it prescribes; update of subdivision standards dating back to 1984, adding a proof of water requirement; and development of water conservation measures for landowners seeking discretionary permits to build.Lancaster said that of more than 14,000 residents in Trinity County, over half are served by a public water system, but 44 percent are not. Public systems are limited to a few communities and everyone else is relying primarily on surface water.The analysis looked at a wide variety of historical data, existing parcels and permitted water systems, subdivision potential, soils/vegetation types and precipitation records over the past 120 years.“What it told us is the weather has become more erratic over time and in the past 20 years, it’s become an increasing pattern of extremes. What it means for people and fisheries is that when we were planning our land use and reservoirs, we were looking at a weather record that was a lot more stable. By 2009 we were trying to tell everyone we had a problem. In the five years since, we have seen growth we did not anticipate and water conflicts getting worse,” Lancaster said.He said people who rely on surface streams have seen their creeks go dry as never before and fish kills have become more frequent. Out-of-district water purchases from the Weaverville and Hayfork water districts have increased significantly over the past two years by those needing to truck their water in. He added there’s also been a substantial increase in well drilling permits with more issued in one year than in the past 20. Increased water diversions and nutrient input to streams are creating additional impacts.Lancaster said the marijuana cultivation boom in Trinity County did not create the water supply and quality problems, “but given the intensity with which they arrived, we simply haven’t been able to get best management practices out to the growers to offset the impacts. Ability to respond and regulate has not been as fast as the impacts, and the increase in homeowners who can’t get by without importing water does not make for sustainable agriculture or a sustainable community.”Under current conditions, he said “we’re at risk of seeing coho salmon go from ‘threatened’ to an ‘endangered’ listing, and that’s why this is so critical.” The county would lose the fall fishing industry under an endangered listing.Trinity County Director of Transportation and Planning Rick Tippett said the water policy task was directed to the Planning Commission before other tasks were also directed to the planners including development of a commercial medical marijuana cultivation ordinance by March.“The water is important, but maybe we need to dive in around March or April during regular Planning Commission meetings,” he said, noting special meetings are being scheduled in January and February for marijuana workshops.“I disagree with you. This is more important than your marijuana discussions because this is the marijuana discussion. You can’t do one without the other,” Lancaster said, adding that because the county Planning Department is short on staffing capacity, the 5Cs program staff has already drafted some proposed water policy language for the commission to consider.Commissioners agreed to hear the water item again at their next regular meeting, Jan. 14, to view proposed draft policy changes and discuss a timeline for additional sessions on the topic.30-30-30
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