TABLE OF CONTENTS
SCWA Enters a New Era
By David Keller, Bay Area Director,
Friends of the Eel River
SCWA has entered a new era by hiring Grant Davis as its new permanent General Manager. Grant had held this position for a year on an interim basis, following the February 2010 retirement of Randy Poole, long-time General Manager and Chief Engineer. The Sonoma County Board of Directors, aka Sonoma County Supervisors, hired Grant on February 15 this year after the second national search. The first hiring process last year, which included controversial interest in the position by then-supervisor Paul Kelley, was ended without a permanent hiring.
One of a select few
Grant Davis is the latest of only a very few SCWA General Managers since the agency's formation in 1949. He has the chance to make his mark by turning SCWA into a truly environmentally conscious water supply and watershed management agency, or continuing the long history of empire building under a new gloss.
The SCWA history and mandate has been typical of western water agencies: find, control and deliver as much water as possible, at the cheapest cost to the ratepayers and developers, while externalizing the real costs to the detriment of the environment. SCWA is one of the handful of water agencies in the state with the county Board of Supervisors (controlling growth and land use) also sitting as the Water Agency's Board of Directors (controlling water supplies and deliveries), thereby leading to many conflicts in goals and practices.
Gordon Miller was hired from the Los Angeles Flood Control District in 1953, becoming General Manager in 1957. He oversaw major expansion of the new SCWA, including the construction of new water aqueducts and enlargement of the system capacity to 75,000 acre-feet/year to serve more cities and an increasing population; the construction of Lake Mendocino and Coyote Dam (completed in 1959, over the objections to SCWA's water rights within Mendocino County); and the authorization of Warm Springs Dam on Dry Creek (later approved to become Lake Sonoma in 1982 after highly controversial lawsuits and elections). More water to supply new growth was a major focus of his management. Major flooding storms occurred in 1955 and 1964, leading to intense political demands for more flood-control projects. Miller retired in 1974.
Bob Beach, a civil engineer schooled in LA-style water empire building, took over in 1974, continuing the expansion of water supply and increasing its reliability. SCWA went on an aggressive campaign to gain more secure water rights and diversions from water stored in Lake Mendocino; approval and construction of Lake Sonoma (completed in 1983); and increasing diversions from the Russian River and groundwater basins. SCWA also increased efforts to make developable land safer through expanded "flood control" programs. The State Water Resources Control Board established Decision 1610 (in 1986), setting minimum Russian River flows, with SCWA diversions based in part on diversions of water from the Eel River to the Russian through the Potter Valley Hydroelectric Project. (The latter originated in 1908 and was expanded with the construction of Scott Dam and Lake Pillsbury in 1921.) Impacted fish populations and conservation efforts started to become significant regulatory and SCWA issues during this period (mid 1980s). The Public Trust Doctrine was recognized and strengthened in the California Supreme Court's decision reducing southern California diversions from Mono Lake (1984), providing an important tool in resource protection law. Bob Beach was relieved of duties after criticizing Sonoma Supervisors' handling of a wastewater contract as unethical and possibly illegal. His allegations were denied, but Beach picked his replacement, Randy Poole, in 1994 and continued to consult for SCWA planning.
Randy Poole was hired in 1995. Meanwhile the Sonoma County Supervisors created the Potter Valley Authority, with the intent of taking over the Potter Valley Project and water diversion rights from PG&E to buttress SCWA supply reliability and claims for quantity. PG&E proposed selling off the entire hydro project but was prevented by the California Public Utilities Commission (and public outcry!) from doing that.
Poole oversaw the continued attempts by SCWA and the Sonoma County Supervisors to increase the agency's empire reach, in part by expanding SCWA's water rights for diversion from the Russian River from 76,000 acre-feet/year to 101,000 af/y. These efforts initially failed after the defeat of the original EIR in an Appeals Court victory by Friends of the Eel River (2003). Attempts by Petaluma and other cities to reign in SCWA's expansionist policies, environmental damages and ratepayer costs were fought against by SCWA and the Board of Supervisors.
Within several years, Poole and SCWA came to the reluctant recognition that infrastructure expansion would not be feasible. It would require a valid assessment of the impacts on the Eel River fisheries of continued transfers of water through the Potter Valley Project, which would inevitably lead to demands for mitigations and plans that were very expensive if at all feasible. Furthermore, costs of the system infrastructure expansion itself (plumbing, storage, pumps, enlarged aqueducts, etc.) would exceed the ability and willingness of the water-contracting cities and agencies to pay for it.
In 2008, SCWA recognized that it had to change course. No longer could it be an agency primarily devoted to the ambitions of having more and more cheap water for an expanding customer base. Poole worked to increase the customer base through controversial approvals for the North Bay Water Reuse Project, which extended treated water reuse pipelines from Marin and Sonoma counties to vineyards in southern Sonoma and Napa valleys, as well as to restoration of the old Cargill salt ponds on San Pablo Bay, rather than focusing water reuse within the SCWA service area to offset Russian/Eel River and groundwater demands. This was one of Poole's last major project victories. A similar project to supply treated wastewater to agricultural and vineyard lands in the Dry Creek and Alexander Valley areas was shelved after major challenges from landowners.
Simultaneously, Poole demanded that water contractors make up for reduced SCWA deliveries by pumping increasingly from local groundwater, without any protections for the basins, while SCWA aggressively pursued challenges to the legitimacy of other permitted users of Russian River water. While these policies were being put in place, illegal and unpermitted pumping and diversions from the Russian River for grapes and other agricultural practices (including frost water pumping) increased tremendously, putting significant strains on the Russian and Eel rivers. The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) attempted to get more controls on those practices but was constantly fought by SCWA, the wine industry and their allies.In 2008, the National Marine Fisheries Service completed a Russian River Biological Opinion, which declared that existing SCWA practices in Dry Creek below Warm Springs Dam, at Coyote Dam and in the Russian River Estuary were placing listed Coho salmon and steelhead in jeopardy. Major changes, hugely expensive, are required, with work in Dry Creek alone costing over $130 million, and will take some 10 years to put in place.
Poole pursued a re-branding of SCWA to become the "greenest water agency in the West." He hired Grant Davis from The Bay Institute to help implement a series of projects, including achieving ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certification in operations and environmental practices. In addition, SCWA moved forward in projects using groundwater heating and cooling, expansion of water and energy efficiency, and investments in fisheries and habitat restoration. Randy Poole retired in February 2010 after several years of increasingly contentious leadership, with issues arising from his management style leading to conflicts with water contractors over transparency, accountability, costs and effectiveness.
Grant Davis became the interim General Manager for a year before landing the permanent position this year. The Chief Engineer position formerly held by Randy Poole was given to Jay Jasperse, an experienced SCWA engineer. Grant had been executive director of The Bay Institute, was an aide to Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey in water and energy issues, has a BA in Political Science from UC-Berkeley, and lives with his family in Petaluma.
Grant has his work cut out for him. Water contractors (cities) are increasingly frustrated with the demands for reduced consumption while water rates charged to retail customers are increasing. He is working more closely with contractors to keep them informed of future planning and expenses. He and Jay Jasperse led the SCWA through the development of a new Water Supply Strategies Action Plan, which defined short, mid- and long-term goals and projects for the agency and its customers, with a significant new emphasis on environmental protection and restoration, efficiencies in water use, reductions in demands, achieving "carbon-free water" production, wave energy generation, and minimizing future major capital projects.
The ability of SCWA to increase its supply and deliveries of water is now significantly limited by huge projected costs and the Biological Opinion's environmental mitigations and repairs needed to access more water from Lake Sonoma. The SWRCB has demanded that SCWA show plans for reducing withdrawals from the Russian River, which is deemed "over-appropriated," meaning that more water is taken out than naturally flows into the watershed. The SWRCB will be revising Decision 1610 to set new minimum flow requirements for the Russian River to provide better habitat and spawning success and to protect water quality. SWRCB is also embarking on new controls on the use of Russian River water for grape frost pumping, requiring a new set of practices that is being resisted strongly by the industry. Pressure is constant from Friends of the Eel River and other North Coast stakeholders to increase flows in the Eel River and reduce or eliminate diversions at the Potter Valley Project.
Davis said, "Our future depends on our ability to protect, deliver and reuse our water resources. Nothing is more important to me than ensuring the Water Agency is as well managed as possible and that the 600,000 residents that rely on the Russian River have the highest-quality affordable and reliable drinking water."¬İHe recently noted to water contractors that the increasing costs of the existing water supplies to cover SCWA expenses would pale in comparison with the costs of capturing and delivering substantially increased water deliveries if the agency and contractors were to choose to go down that path.
This is a far cry from just a couple of years ago, when SCWA and the water contractors were doggedly pursuing obtaining and delivering an additional 26,000 af/y to their customers.
Grant Davis has the challenge of helping to direct SCWA to become true stewards of our public trust resources, as a supplier of water for the next ten generations. He will need support, challenges and help from all stakeholders, and he will need to have a supportive Board of Directors to make this happen.
Will that succeed?¬İStay involved.