MCSD wants in on groundwater planning

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

McKINLEYVILLE – The county’s intent to form a stakeholders group for managing groundwater in the Eel River Valley has drawn the interest of a seemingly unlikely participant – the McKinleyville Community Services District (MCSD).

Local implementation of a recently-approved state groundwater law was discussed at the Oct. 6 Board of Supervisors meeting and Helen Edwards of the MCSD said her agency wants to have input on how it will be carried out.

The state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was enacted last year in response to ongoing drought. The county will begin the process of following new state groundwater management requirements by forming a working group to develop recommendations for a sustainability plan.

The state has developed a priority system for addressing potential groundwater depletion. The only county groundwater area that rises above a very-low priority ranking is the Eel River Valley, including the communities of Ferndale, Fortuna, Loleta and Rio Dell.

Edwards said that although the MCSD’s coverage area has a low priority ranking, its officials “very strongly” believe that they should participate in the planning.

The MCSD board formed a committee to address implementation of the state law, she continued. “We would like to be in on whatever groundwork is laid and however the plan is structured,” Edwards said.

She told supervisors that the MCSD board believes the plan developed for the Eel River Basin should involve countywide participants because it will set a precedent for future plans elsewhere in the county.

Hank Seemann of the county’s Department of Public Works said the working group effort will be a big chunk of work even on a targeted scale. “We’re going to have our hands full capturing the interests in the Eel River Valley and we’re concerned about being spread too thin,” he told supervisors.

Seemann added that the MCSD area gets its water from the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District and groundwater is not used significantly. The Eel River basin is ranked by the state as a medium-priority area due to its reliance on groundwater for irrigation and water supply.

Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said the MCSD nevertheless wants to participate in a process that could set the pace for groundwater management beyond the Eel River Valley. “Once it gets applied to one area, that same framework is going to carry over,” he continued.

Board Chair Estelle Fennell said the input process will be inclusive but has to focus on the area that is ranked for mandatory action.

“We’ve got to nail down and address the concerns the state has identified with regards to the Eel River, because that is a medium priority area,” she continued.

Sundberg was the only supervisor to vote against a motion to authorize the Department of Public Works to form the groundwater working group.

The state law requires that groundwater sustainability plans be drafted for medium- and high-priority areas. If a local agency is not formed to helm the process, the state takes over.

The county is opting for local control and the soon-to-be-formed stakeholders working group will convene on the law’s implementation and funding aspects along with developing recommendations.

The deadline for forming local agencies for all the state’s high- and medium-priority areas is June 30, 2017 and groundwater sustainability plans must be developed by 2022.

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