Tuesday, August 9, 2016
[Trinity County] Grand jury urges water sustainability
The 2015-16 Trinity County grand jury took an extensive look into local water issues, identifying many concerns over supply, quality and lack of regulation, summarizing its findings and recommendations in a final report approved in June.
Attributing some of the problems to a long-held attitude of abundance when it comes to water as well as a complacent, laissez-faire approach, the grand jury concluded that Trinity County residents “must find the means and the will to study each water source, the present and future demands thereon, and ways and means to insure sustainability in the future.”
Enumerating some of the serious situations occurring, the grand jury report said water from private wells is not regularly tested unless by the owners and a proliferation of wells has affected the supply of others while the county has issued well permits “as if it were a matter of right requiring no regulation.”
It found streams that have reliably produced domestic water have dried up early or been polluted upstream by unregulated agriculture and that a growing business of transporting and selling water from private and public water providers has arisen, creating additional issues including large numbers of dry properties being turned into large marijuana grows not possible before.
It said the county and the water providers are out of sync regarding who should be able to obtain water, transport it, for what purpose and in what amount, enabling cultivation of marijuana on properties that otherwise would not sustain agricultural use.
Of the community water providers in Trinity County, the grand jury said they appear to be operated by competent managers “who are properly credentialed and well intentioned,” but some could stand to conduct business in a more open and transparent manner, embracing the Brown Act rules for disclosure and production of public records.
It concluded that excessive groundwater and stream extraction can cause overdraft, failed wells, deteriorated water quality, environmental damage and irreversible land subsidence that damages infrastructure and diminishes capacity of aquifers to store water for the future.
The grand jury addressed the importance of water to the county’s recreation industry and associated income, as well as its fisheries and wildlife, saying it “found no evidence that the county has been managing water resources for sustainability.” It found no significant efforts to map or analyze water resources and few regulations protecting riparian zones from pollution.
Regarding wells, the grand jury said county regulations “appear very outdated,” particularly when the number of wells drilled has risen from 35 a year to 300 a year during the past five years with the majority in areas where marijuana cultivation is the primary activity.
The report delved into historic and new California water laws, recommending prompt action by the county, starting with a carrying capacity study by an independent team, to preserve local control or predicting that, by default, “the state will take over.”
Included in the grand jury recommendations were suggestions to water providers to examine their records and policies regarding providing water to persons or properties not within their service boundaries to determine what their authority is for doing so and to resolve any conflicting policies regarding transport and sale of bulk water for agricultural purposes.
The grand jury also recommended a countywide review of policies, regulations and practices regarding well permitting, compliance with all state laws, and regular testing of well water quality and quantity.
It also urged the Board of Supervisors to promptly adopt a county grading ordinance to protect water courses from excessive sediment loads that can negatively impact fisheries and result in endangered listings for salmon and steelhead.
The entire grand jury report was published in a special section to The Trinity Journal on July 20 and can also be viewed online at the county website www.trinitycounty.org.
Responses have been requested from the Trinity County Board of Supervisors, Trinity County Waterworks District #1, the Weaverville Community Services District, Trinity County Planning Department, Environmental Health Director, Code Enforcement Officer and the county’s Administrative Officer.
July 27, 2016
The Trinity Journal
By Sally Morris