[env-trinity] Advisory commission skirmish over Westlands water contract

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Sat Dec 7 18:18:05 PST 2019


Advisory commission skirmish over Westlands water contract
   - Dec 4, 2019
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Should the county weigh in on state and federal water issues?

They should if those issues involve Trinity County waters and fisheries, argued Richard Cole, a member of the Trinity County Fish and Game Advisory Commission, at the commission’s last meeting.

The commission makes recommendations to the Trinity County Board of Supervisors.

At the commission’s Nov. 13 meeting, Cole brought up the Interior Department proposal to award one of the first contracts for federal water in perpetuity to the Westlands Water District, the nation’s largest agricultural water supplier. Westlands receives water from the Central Valley Project, including Trinity River water.

Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation posted notice on its website Oct. 25 of the proposed contract and the 60-day public comment period, which has been extended and now ends Jan. 8. Other water districts are lining up behind Westlands to negotiate their own permanent contracts.

Westland’s contract would give it permanent claim to up to 1.15 million acre-feet of water a year, enough to supply more than 2 million California households, although federal suppliers in practice typically divvy up water each year based on available supply.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was long employed by Westlands as a lobbyist, leaving that position in 2016, the year before he joined Interior.

In Trinity County, the response of the other commissioners to Cole bringing this issue up at the Fish and Game Advisory Commission ranged from quiet to combative.

“How much money do you want to spend on suing people?” asked John Fenley, who represents the Trinity County Board of Supervisors on the commission.

When Cole wanted to know if the supervisors have been asked about this issue, Fenley responded, “I’m more concerned about keeping the county open through next year. I’m sorry, but I am.”

“The state needs to take them to task,” Fenley said. “Not Trinity County.”

“You don’t think Westlands has deep pockets?” Fenley added, suggesting that Cole go to the supervisors himself.

Cole asked, “We’re not going to be involved when it’s our water at risk here?” and Fenley brought up that Cole is involved in the Trinity County Democratic Central Committee and suggested that he channel his efforts through there.

There was little comment from the other commissioners on the topic. In fact, at one point commissioner Mike Dixon, who works for the Bureau of Reclamation as executive director of the Trinity River Restoration Program, abstained from the discussion and stepped away from the table.

Cole also brought up potential issues with the proposed Sites Reservoir, and the commission did vote to recommend the Trinity County Board of Supervisors request the impacts to the Trinity River be evaluated in the Sites Project documents.

Cole said he brought up the Westlands issue as part of information gathering to see who to talk to. The commission took no vote related to Westlands.

Conservation groups are demanding fuller disclosure of financial terms and an environmental review of the proposed Westlands deal.

Environmental groups say a permanent deal would let California’s water contractors forgo future negotiations before the public and environmental groups, further threatening the survival of some of the endangered native fish and other wildlife that also need the water.

A 2016 law allows Westlands and other water districts to lock in the water contracts for good if they repay the federal government for their share of the Central Valley Project’s costs.

Portions of an Associated Press report by Ellen Knickmeyer are included in this article.

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