Wednesday, December 6, 2023

The Grand Jury Report, Rate Hikes, The Search for Ground Water—Highlights from the Redwood Valley County Water District Meeting

A waterway in Redwood Valley[Photo by afletch4141 via their Flickr account]

The Grand Jury report on the Redwood Valley County Water District should be read by all customers, both residential and agricultural. The report is well written and makes a complicated subject easy to understand, summarizing the past, present, and future state of water in Redwood Valley. 

The RVCWD, created in 1964, has never been able to provide a secure source of water to its customers. Since 1989 there has been a moratorium on new residential water hookups and in 2001 a moratorium on new agricultural hookups. There is currently no ag water available. Residential customers are being supplied by the Millview Water District.

In 1956, Redwood Valley residents voted to reject participation in the Coyote Valley Dam. At that time, voters in the rest of the Upper Russian River Valley did approve the dam and the formation of the Russian River Flood Control District (RRFC), which administers the 8,000-acre feet of water in Lake Mendocino allocated to Mendocino County. RVCWD has a Memorandum of Guarantees with RRFC for excess/uncontracted water from the 8,000-acre feet. RVCWD has two outstanding voter-approved Federal loans which were used to build a water treatment plant, a network of residential and ag water pipes, and a pumping system. The outstanding loans total $7.3 million.

88.7% of the water in Lake Mendocino belongs to Sonoma County with the remaining 11.3% to Mendocino County, through a process that began in 1949. Had the residents of Redwood Valley participated in the Coyote Valley Dam project more water would have been made available for those residents.

Coyote Valley Dam, Lake Mendocino [Photo by J.D. Hardesty via the US Army Corps of Engineers]

California Senate Bill 88 authorizes the State Water Resources Control Board to intervene with small water agencies (such as RVCWD) that fail to supply an adequate supply of drinking water. RVCWD voluntarily entered into consolidation talks with other more secure sources of water in the area. The RVCWD held a public forum in June 2021 to discuss financial challenges and a study of rates. Only one person attended, and there were 14 letters of protest, out of 1,500 customers. Stakeholder apathy is common in Mendocino County regarding water infrastructure. The Grand Jury finds it in the best interest of Redwood Valley residents that the RVCWD board support consolidation, rather than have the State of California implement consolidation proceedings under SB 88.

The lack of ag water has eliminated 23% of RVCWD’s revenue. Some ag customers are asking to have their meters removed, which would further reduce revenues. The County has reestablished the Mendocino County Water Agency (MCWA), which will report to the Board of Supervisors, for oversight of all County water issues.

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The Grand Jury recommends that the RVCWD contact the US Dept. of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation to pursue full or partial loan forgiveness and/or develop a repayment plan. The Board of Supervisors receives regular progress reports on the RVCWD water crisis.

Redwood Valley County Water District Board of Directors Meeting Thursday, July 21, 2022, 5:00 P.M. 

The RVCWD Board of Directors met on July 21, 2022, at 5:00 pm at the District Office, 151 Laws Avenue, Ukiah, with a Zoom option available. All of the current directors were present: Ken Todd, Tom Schoeneman, Bree Klotter, and Adam Gaska, along with General Manager Jared Walker.

Discussion of Grand Jury Report

It was generally agreed that the Grand Jury Report was well written and contained recommendations for actions that mostly were already in process by RVCWD. The Board discussed whether the Russian River Flood Control District had any uncontracted water available that Redwood Valley might be able to purchase. Redwood Valley has the right to store up to 2,800-acre-feet but lacks a storage facility. The directors discussed the possibility of storing it in Lake Mendocino. The outstanding $7.3 million loan with the Bureau of Reclamation needs to be either forgiven or have a payment plan worked out. It was suggested that the Grand Jury Report be sent to Senator Feinstein, Congressman Huffman, and State Senator McGuire to obtain their assistance with the loan forgiveness by the federal or state government.

Rate Increases

The July bills to customers (in August) will contain a 6% rate increase. Some ag water customers have expressed their disappointment and have threatened to refuse to pay their bill because they are not getting water. When the water is turned on in the future, past due amounts will need to be paid before receiving water. Abandonment of their ag water connection can be requested, but due to the moratorium on new hookups, this cannot be reversed if they change their mind. Lack of ag water hookup may lower property value.

Presentation by Mike Silvestrini Co-Founder of Energea on Repowering the Redwood Valley Water Treatment Plant Solar Plant

The contract for solar power equipment at the Redwood Valley Water Treatment Plant is at the end of its life. The equipment is currently owned by MCP Solar Assets Partners II, LP, a private firm in Australia. MCP has no interest in maintaining this equipment or installing new equipment, as this project is considered too small by their standards. MCP reached out to Energea, a firm that builds solar plants in the US, Latin America, and Africa. Energea submitted a proposal to install a new solar plant. Energea is a crowd-funded company, with individual investors who support solar power investing their retirement or personal funds directly with Energea. Investors receive a 6.5% annual return on their investment. The water treatment plant is currently not in use because Redwood Valley residential customers are being supplied by the Millview Water District, and although not in use, it incurs several thousands of dollars in electricity bills per month. 

The options presented were: 1) let MCP take back their equipment at the end of the contract period, and switch to PG&E; or 2) have Energea install a new solar plant with no upfront costs and a guaranteed rate of $0.12 per kilowatt hour, on a 20-year contract. The cost of electricity from PG&E would be higher, perhaps $0.18 per kilowatt hour. Further analysis is needed to determine the exact amount paid to PG&E. Savings to RVCWD over the course of the term would be approximately $120,000. The old solar panels are outdated and possibly dangerous as certain laminates have been found to degrade and cause sparks. The old panels produce 140 watts and the new panels of the same size produce 450 watts. Fewer new panels would be needed, reducing the size of the footprint. The equipment would be monitored remotely by Energea, who would send a local representative for any required maintenance. Silvestrini has experience managing solar portfolios for Amazon and WalMart distribution centers.

LACO Presentation on Finding Groundwater

Jordan Blough and Rod Wilburn of LACO spoke about locating possible well sites in Redwood Valley, funded by grant money. The first step is geophysical surveys, with soundings to determine the composition of the subsurface without drilling. These surveys combined with existing data should give a good idea of where water is located. LACO will work with local landowners to gain access where needed. The contract with RVCWD is ready to sign and LACO is ready to start.

Consolidation with Other Water Districts

Jared Walker has been meeting with Sean White, City of Ukiah Water Director. The head of the State water consolidation efforts is also involved in the meetings. The State is insistent that Redwood Valley consolidate with other districts. The State will help with funding, which is expected to cost $40 to $50 million for additional storage, groundwater wells, miles of water lines, and upgrading many of the interties that connect the districts. The Board discussed hiring a consultant to assist with consolidation and to coordinate with engineers and water rights attorneys. Only drinking water would be included in the consolidation, not ag water. Perhaps the RRFC can supply ag water to Redwood Valley as a regular customer, as opposed to the current status of the surplus customer. It is unclear whether moratoriums on residential hookups in Redwood Valley would continue under consolidation. The process is expected to take approximately five years.

The Search for a Source of Ag Water

The Board discussed Ag water customer demand. If an emergency source of Ag water becomes available, how much would customers need and how much would they be willing to pay? It was suggested that perhaps Redwood Valley could purchase water from the Potter Valley Irrigation District, which could help Potter Valley fund its campaign to halt the decommissioning of Scott Dam. A survey of Ag water users is needed.

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Water Sharing in the Upper Russian River Watershed

A water-sharing program has been devised as a solution to the curtailment of water rights by managing demand with the limited supply. The goal is that all users who participate will have water into the dry season. The amount of conservation will be between 20-75%, depending on rights priority, water supply, and the number of participants. 

Election of Directors

There will be four director positions to be voted on in the November 8, 2022 election, two short-term and two long-term positions. Interested candidates must file with Katrina Bartolomie at the Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder’s office by August 17, 2022, for non-incumbents, incumbents must file by August 12. 

Next Meeting

August 18, 2022, at 5:00 p.m. The Board meets every third Thursday of the month

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Monica Huettl
Monica Huettl
Mendocino County Resident, Annoying Horse Girl.

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