LTE: Planning Commission Punts

Published on September 2nd, 2016

By Wendell Peart, DVM
September 2, 2016
As seen in:
Amador Ledger Dispatch

On Tuesday evening, August 23, 2016 the long awaited Amador County General Plan update was forwarded by the Amador County Planning Commission to the Amador County Board of Supervisors for consideration.  At the meeting, the public was informed that all items of concern could be found online and any more discussions would not be heard.
For the meeting, I had prepared a presentation on “water supply during drought” which I intended to make during the customary public comment period.  Rather than allowing public comment, the Planning Department staff wrote, “Commenter states a Drought Safety Standard to address the shortage of water during drought should be part of all EIRs and then lists Mitigation Measures that staff submitted addressed the future water supply during drought.”
Interestingly, the Staff did not explain the merits of a Drought Safety Standard. Why is this?  But first let’s give some background as to what caused the inception of a Drought Safety Standard. It came from none other than a member of the water community, Bob Reeb, 1990 Manager of the El Dorado Country Water Agency who wrote in the UC Davis Magazine ‘July August 1990 issue, “Outdated Water Plan Puts Drain on Future Needs.”
Reeb wrote: “Environmental protection and water supply development must be balanced. There is a limit to the number of people California’s water resources can support. No one has quantified that limit. Perhaps someone should.”  So just what is a Drought Safety Standard?
The Drought Safety Standard can be expressed to mean the maximum population growth of an area would be predicated to the lowest level of water in the reservoirs serving that area over an extended period of drought. It would limit the population that can be supported by the amount of water that is available in the reservoirs at their lowest level over a 4-5 year period. As to the amount of water each person would receive, this was spelled out in an email sent by the State Water Resource Control Board on 4-24-14 that stated: “The State Water Resource Control Board expects to allow limited diversions of no more than 50 gallons per person per day for public health and safety needs where there is no other supply available for emergency human health, and sanitation and safety needs.”
With this information available to land use planning agencies and knowing the amount of water at its lowest level in the reservoirs over an extended period of drought, say 4-5 years, the planning agencies are now able to predicate their planning to the above criteria.
The past models of growth management wherein building permits were issued with the thought that California’s water supply would always be available regardless of the rainfall was best described by an article, “All Must Do More, Regulators Need A Cultural Change” by the  Editorial Board of the Sacramento Bee. The Editorial Board wrote: “But when the governor and others talk about this being a new era, they aren’t talking just about making ends meet until things get back to normal. Normal is gone. We need to re-engineer the way we manage water in every factor, and fast. “A Drought Safety Standard will go a long way to satisfy the new era that “Normal Is Gone.”
Insight as to what to expect from the Judiciary regarding matters of the water supply and drought is found in a Placer County Superior Court Ruling Case No. S-1100 issued May 20, 1992, a petition for writ of administrative mandate issued May 20 1992. This was a case regarding the Roseville Community Hospital Replacement Project EIR (Case No. S-1100). This important ruling reinforced the importance of a Drought Safety Standard with the following statement; “the aim of CEQA is to force decision-makers to face the facts squarely and not avoid thorny issues. The judge felt the planners were not facing the facts squarely in not considering the merits of a Drought Safety Standard. The judge also wrote, “It is a meteorological fact California is subject to drought/flood cycles, and that is the environment in which the project is being built.  Ignoring the existence of periodic drought in calculating the effect of a project on water supplies is as inadequate and shortsighted as ignoring the statistically inevitable 100-year storm in planning for drainage capacity.”
It is puzzling to read. The AWA has “an adequate supply of water, even if the next three years are dry” would seem to rest on the belief the Agency has a guaranteed supply of water as evidence by a letter sent to me , date 4-16-97 by the General Manager of the AWA. “Since The Amador Water Agency has very early priority rights and is backed by guarantees by PG&E this allows us a large safety margin before our customers would be affected by drought.” If this is so it appears that the Agency has taken the position that its Senior Water Rights are immune from being compromised by the State Water Resource Control Board. Is it possible that the AWA can ignore the needs of the SWRCB?
The AWA position does seem at odds with the needs of the SWRCB. The Sacramento Bee printed on 4-09-15 “The State Water Resource Control Board has warned water rights holders to expect restrictions on their water right to divert water from rivers and streams.”…“But with conditions worsening, the water board said last week it might issue curtailment notices to the state’s most senior water rights holders—those claimed before the establishment of the state’s water rights permitting process in 1914.”
On June 26, 1995,  The Ledger Dispatch printed an article, “Amador County’s Faulty Drought Land Use Planning in which there was an interesting sentence that read: “A memorandum of  11-18-96 to the Public Works Director from the Land Use Agency Director demonstrates a frightening lack of knowledge of how to address California’s historic drought and there have been many.” Does the above leave one with the feeling, that in spite of the concern of the editorial staff of the Bee insofar as Amador County’s Land Use Planning process is concerned everything is normal?
Wendell G. Peart, DVM, Former Member Amador Water Resource Advisory Committee is also a member of CAPS,.

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