Hauling water from Ukiah to Fort Bragg to address the worsening water shortage on the coast was discussed by the Supervisors, staff and zooming public for several hours Tuesday afternoon.
Water Agency guy Josh Metz offered a preliminary outline of the project which left a lot of unanswered questions, like how the complicated, budgeting, funding, bookkeeping and reimbursements will be handled, whether reimbursements will be forthcoming, whether enough trucks are available, how long Coastal people who are out of water can wait for deliveries, etc.
Apparently, State grants are available to cover water hauling to the Coast but only for domestic water. Commercial water costs would not be state-reimbursable. Supervisor Dan Gjerde suggested that the County re-allocate some bed tax advertising money for water hauling for at least the first few weeks.
Visit Mendocino’s Travis Scott predictably replied that he didn’t want to reduce advertising spending on Mendo’s vitally important “brand awareness.”
CEO Angelo said that the only way to finance water hauling to the Coast in a hurry is to spend some of the PG&E money — then reimburse it later from grants or bed tax funds “as soon as we can reimburse it.”
At one point, Supervisor McGourty, whose annual grape crop benefits directly from Russian River water allocations, declared, “I am my own water company here,” establishing his conflict of interest on inland water matters even further.
Some estimates of water volume to be hauled were, ahem, floated. One estimate was as high as about 120,000 gallons per day for the entire coast. A Mendocino Water guy said 70,000 gallons per day just for the Water District there. Someone else said the Town of Mendocino needed maybe 22 truckloads per day and at least 10 truckloads per day just for the Water District in Mendocino. (Truckloads can vary from about 1800 gallons to over 3,000 gallons.)
Other bits of info included:
Ukiah can only provide treated/potable water and it can only be “long-haul” trucked for input to Fort Bragg’s treatment plant for (seemly redundant) re-treatment. Then short-haul trucks would have to get it from Fort Bragg and deliver it to whoever, yet to be decided.
There is literally no water to be purchased on the Coast as of last week (apart from a few private water haulers on a one-load at a time basis) because Elk and Irish Beach have stopped selling water. Fort Bragg had stopped selling water several weeks ago.
Presumably, if all these details can be worked out, Fort Bragg’s water system would be supplemented by the trucked-in Ukiah water and they’d be able to start selling it again.
The entire discussion had a very fragile, catch-as-catch can feel to it. A project of this many parts and of this scale over at least four months is totally new and unprecedented. People on the Coast are desperate and pressure will be on the County to perform and deliver every day.
There are lots of unknowns, and dozens of financial and technical plates to be juggled. There’s reams of paperwork still to be done, beginning with mutual aid agreements between the cities and the County and grant applications (which the optimists say will be approved by the state in only four weeks on an emergency or “accelerated” basis).
In other words, we can see lots of opportunities for Mr. Murphy and his famous Law to kick in. As one public commenter noted, “This is management by emergency.”
In the end, the Board approved the resolution as initially presented funded by remaining PG&E money with Supervisor McGourty abstaining without giving a reason. (He had previously said he didn’t like using PG&E money to fund the initial weeks of costs. He later said he thought the Board was moving too fast and there was doubt about reimbursements. He also said he wanted some kind of guarantee that bed tax money would reimburse the “short-term” PG&E money. No assurance beyond vague intentions was forthcoming.)
The Supervisors told staff to waive competitive bidding because of the declared drought emergency, meaning that Transportation Director Howard Dashiell can award contracts to water haulers on his own without the usual contracting delays.
CEO Angelo said the Board should clarify how they’re going to differentiate between domestic versus commercial water subsidies, but the Board deferred that question to a later date.
Ultimately, the Supes approved using up to $1.5 million of PG&E disaster funds to subsidize hauling water from Ukiah to the Coast. Separately, the Supes approved a grant application with $960,000 million in matching funds coming from the rapidly diminishing PG&E settlement money. Although individual board members said they intended to reimburse the settlement fund with bed tax money later, our experience is that the CEO is very good at coming up with reasons to convince her pliable board to leave existing allocations, including bed tax, alone, especially if the PG&E money isn’t spent very quickly.
After the vote to approve the program as presented, Supervisor Williams asked the Board to consider covering some of the higher commercial business water costs on the Coast because he was afraid some of them might just close down entirely — on top of the continuing covid impacts — creating business loss and employment loss.
McGourty suggested innkeepers impose a “water surcharge,” and that the tourism people do a self-survey of their water problems. Supervisor Mulheren wanted to set up a process to allow businesses to apply for water funding assistance. McGourty also thought consideration should be given to using more bed tax money for commercial water subsidies. But no action was taken.
Then the Supervisors disappeared into closed session to address the only other item on Tuesday’s special meeting agenda: the ongoing pointless budget/computer/lawyer dispute with the Sheriff. Chair Gjerde announced that they’d be in closed session and they were gone for over an hour and a half.
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Can Mendo Beat The Rain?
NO SOONER had we written up the Supervisors Tuesday vote to take bids for water hauling from Ukiah to Fort Bragg than we got a question from a licensed water hauler in Ukiah asking how to sign up or apply. He said he’d gone on the County’s website and could not find anything. So off we went to the County’s website. Of course, there’s nothing about the project there, even though they had days to prepare and everybody says this is an urgent process because nobody on the Coast can buy water and they’re desperate. So we went to the Water Agency webpage, but there was no email address or contact button, just a phone number. The phone number turned out to be Carmel Angelo’s phone number. The nice lady in the CEO office tried several times to forward our call to someone else, but nobody picked up. The CEO office lady then gave us a number to call later. We called later and another nice lady in the Transportation Department said she didn’t know anything about the water hauling project. She gave us the number for a Ms. DiFranco who picked up and asked us to hold for a while. She came back and helpfully said that the hauler had to first register as a county vendor. She had no specific info on the water hauling project. But she did know how to register and walked us through that process. Unfortunately, navigating the County’s extremely unfriendly and mystifying website is beyond the technical capabilities of any normal person like a water hauler. As we tried to follow along, Ms. DiFranco even giggled at the ridiculous complexity as she slow-walked us through the registration process.
THE STEPS ARE: go to County’s main page, www.mendocinocounty.org, find general services in the drop down menu, under that click on central services, then click on “do business with the County,” read a bunch of fine print until you find a sentence that reads “Click here for more information regarding registering as a vendor,” click there, which brings you to the “vendor information” page, read a bunch more fine print until you find a sentence that reads “we ask that vendors begin registering by clicking here” (none of this is highlighted or bold or in menus, you have to read a bunch of unrelated text to find the tiny “here” to click on), Click there, which takes you off to an entirely separate software system called pbssystem.planetbids.com which requires you to prove you are not a robot, which then brings you to the “vendor portal,” where — tada! — you can click on “register as a new vendor.”
BUT nowhere is there any specific info on the emergency water hauling project. There’s nowhere for a hauler to provide their availability, the rate per hour or load, the hauler’s license, their capacity, or the number of trips or trucks they can offer.
EVEN THOUGH the County staff had days to prepare for Tuesday’s emergency special meeting and the urgent and obvious need to get going, they had and have no press release ready to send out, no procedure for taking bids, no trip ticket system ready to go (logging truckers use trip ticket cards which track the pick up, the load, the delivery, and the sign off which then is the basis for the invoice(s). None of that has been given any thought.
HERE WE HAVE at least one hauler, with a licensed water truck, already registered to deliver water to Calfire for fighting fires, who is ready to start immediately. But he faces a gauntlet of webpages, and a team of completely unprepared staffers who have not been instructed or organized at all on how to get this supposedly emergency hauling project going to help the water starved Mendocino coast.
WE AWAIT THE PRESS RELEASE. The clock is ticking but the water is not moving. As one frustrated Coast resident said on Wednesday, “It’ll probably rain before the County gets us any water.”
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SUPERVISOR MULHEREN WASN’T MUCH HELP EITHER. She wrote on Wednesday:
Add motion to allow the Incident Commander (Howard Dashiell) to waive the competitive bidding process to allow for emergency water hauling due to County drought emergency allowing up to $1. 5 million to be spent on water hauling needs until a Grant can be applied for and funded.
Please make sure that you report your dry well to the State. This helps us receive grant funds. Here is the link: https://mydrywatersupply.water.ca.gov/report/
Adding, “After the BOS meeting I went for the first ‘Tidy Tuesday’ of the new ‘Litter League.” Only one other person showed up so thankfully the Ukiah Lions cheerleaders grabbed some bags and pickers and helped out as well!”
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A FEW OF RESPONSES to our item yesterday about the County’s embarrassingly slow roll-out of their “emergency” water hauling program:
Mike Luchetti of Ukiah: I'm a certified potable water hauler licensed through the state of California, I've been a county approved vendor since 2009. In late June I started this process to haul water to Mendocino. I called Ukiah city to get a meter, they said no. I called Willow Water district, they said no. I called Hopland Water, they said no. I waited a couple weeks and called Ukiah again — still said no water. They said call the Mendocino Drought Task Force. I called them they said can't help me and suggested I call State Water Resources agency, no answer. Due to covid only email, they said. I sent numerous emails, not one response. I finally gave up, parked my truck, and let the driver go to the Dixie fire. Two loads a day x 2500 gallons x 60 days now. I could have had roughly 300,000 gallons over there. Sorry guys, I tried.”
Supervisor Williams replied to Luchetti: That's right, almost all outside sales have been shut off. With the board action on Tuesday, as soon as agreements are signed by county and cities, the county will be able to shuttle water from City of Ukiah to city of Fort Bragg. Fort Bragg will be in a position to sell water to haulers. The partnership can be seen as mutual aid, the cities providing a solution to unincorporated residents. The cost at current need is estimated to be approximately$1 million per month.
Williams also said that asking County staff to hurry up or meet a short deadline is ‘“micromanaging.” Which is why so little gets done by Mendocino County and what is done is so tardy. And these are the same people the public expects to handle an emergency.
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LUIS ALVAREZ WRITES: “Water Crawling. Tip of the hat to you for actually attempting to sign up and examine the most important part of this exercise, the DETAILS! We had this very same conversation yesterday with some folks dodging potholes and homeless people on our local streets. The consensus amongst the group was that by the time Mendo County got organized to allow trucks to haul water to the coast the following would happen. First, we have liability with drivers, companies, Water Board and Covid. Where’s the legal water source, insurance, quality control of potable water, gas prices, who pays who, wait let’s apply for a grant, no just take it from the general fund, no take it from PG&E money, does the City pay or the County front the money and get reimbursed. Taxes? Oh look, it’s raining. Never mind. Its Mendo land with the stupes.”
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Can Mendo Deliver?
Mendo’s plans to haul water to the Coast took another tardy step forward on Friday when Mendo finally issued a press release and set up a webpage asking water haulers to send in informal bids. The plans include an estimate of delivering almost 50,000 gallons of potable water per day from Ukiah’s water treatment output to Fort Bragg’s water treatment input. Large (non-tandem) tanker trucks hold about 4000 gallons or so; smaller ones like the ones we see on Highway 128 every day now hold about 2,000. At 4,000 gallons, that’s about 12 six hour trips per day. At 2000 gallons, maybe twice as many. 4,000 gallons of water weighs over 32,000 pounds. So, heavily loaded trips to Fort Bragg will probably take longer than empty return trips. Mendo estimates six hours per trip on weekdays. This also means that they’ll need several dozen qualified and licensed drivers to do nothing but deliver water every weekday. Since the County is limiting bids to potable water haulers, we doubt that there are that many trucks and drivers available without importing trucks and/or drivers from elsewhere, which will raise the cost and slow the ramp-up of the program. Can the roads handle such heavy additional loads, especially the roads which are not state roads such as access roads in Ukiah and Fort Bragg? In addition, we do not detect any sense of urgency in the County’s program. They seem to think that putting out a press release and setting up a webpage will magically draw bidders to do the hauling. The minimum cost for these big potable water hauling rigs will probably be $150 per hour. At six hours per round trip (including loading and unloading time on each end and likely waiting in line), that would be a minimum of 12 trips times 6 hours times $150 or about $11,000 per day. At five days a week that’s a minimum of $55,000 a week for at least eight weeks, or something roughly like half a million dollars or more. Then there’s all the accounting for water, trips and deliveries and the tricky distinctions being made between residential and commercial deliveries and subsidies on the Coast. It will be interesting to see how the County tracks the program. History shows it will be weak. We expect that the much better organized Fort Bragg city staff will keep their own records and report on the program too. Of course, if the drought stretches out into November or later, costs will go up. But if the expected limitations on trucks and drivers slow the program down, as is likely, the costs will be proportionately less.
Coast resident Charlie Clark on Facebook asked one of our key questions on facebook Saturday: “Fort Bragg is retreating the water, haulers must be licensed by the state to haul drinking water? This will limit haulers and inevitably be more expensive. Licenses take time, is this a water emergency or not?”
Supervisor Ted Williams didn’t budge: “Haulers must be licensed. We looked at raw water hauling, but it adds sampling and testing hurdles. The cities are participating to help the unincorporated. Potable water hauling is the path of least resistance for now.”
Clark didn’t want to argue with the rationalizing Supervisor: “Ted, Best of luck. As my grandmother said decades ago, ‘The next great war will be fought over water.’ Be well.”
But we do: There should not be any need for additional “sampling and testing” if Fort Bragg is retreating the water. So unless there’s some life-or-death reason, this requirement will do nothing but slow things down and, as Clark says, limit the availability of haulers.
Kathy Wylie added: “This unprecedented drought calls for tough decisions and drastic action.”
Is Mendo up to that challenge?
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ON LINE COMMENT re: Can Mendo Deliver?
“Treated water” means non potable “treated wastewater” but they don’t want to use the word “wastewater” as so many people are repelled by the idea of their twice-treated toilet water coming out of their tap after the Summers Lane reservoir is filled with treated wastewater that will then be treated to be potable for the residents of Fort Bragg and the Coast.
I haven’t listened to the entire meeting. Was there any discussion about the following?
“…the logistics of moving the large number of trucks we’re talking about, up to 10 trucks a day, to drop the water and also having the local haulers picking up the water make it such that the City (Ukiah) would strongly recommend doing what we’ve outlined.”
What are those logistical problems and how can they be surmounted? Couldn’t they move the treated wastewater to their potable treatment plant to at night or schedule everyone’s arrivals?
There are people in this area who can solve problems but the local governments seem to be unwilling to solve them in a straightforward way. With a bit of effort put into logistics, the savings in money, time and road wear could be significant without delay in starting delivery.
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When Directives Become Suggestions
THE LATEST CEO REPORT includes the usual long list of “Board Directives” which were issued to staff over the last couple of years but not acted on, much less closed. Although at every meeting the CEO makes a point of telling the board that she’ll do whatever the Board wants, the CEO treats the Board’s “directives” more like suggestions which she may or may not respond to. Or if she does respond, at her own schedule and pace.
For years the Board has allowed their “directives” to languish, asking nary a question about what they were or where they went, despite their regular inclusion in the CEO Report. It’s amusing that the directives are even called “directives.” As if to drive home the point, the Board has never even asked that their directives be annotated as to status or completion dates. Some of them are pretty minor, of course. But others are significant.
It’s possible that some directives have been complied with and have been removed from the list. But if so, there’s no such list of those, nothing about closure at all, even though you’d think that they’d want some credit for them if they were done.
Take this “directive” which was issued back in March of 2019:
“Direction To Staff To Explore Feasibility Of Transitioning Our Local Emergency Medical Services Agency (LEMSA) Partnership With Sonoma County To Be A Joint Powers Authority. IT IS ORDERED that the Board of Supervisors Directs staff to begin discussions with Sonoma County regarding formation of a Joint Powers Authority to execute the partnership with our LEMSA. (Health & Human Services Agency).”
That’s it, no status, no dates, no info, no progress report. Nothing. It just lies there like a dead fish. Mendo continues to pay something like $600k a year for the Sonoma County “LEMSA,” while telling the Sheriff that he has to operate with the CEO’s assigned deficit budget because giving him what he wants would supposedly mean cutting somewhere else. Never mind that there’s always enough money for the Sheriff’s actual costs every year. This year, as Employee Union Rep Patrick Hickey pointed out on Tuesday, lots of jobs are vacant creating lots of instability in the affected departments, but because of that there’ll be plenty of money left over at the end of the year.
You might think that a list of dozens of un-acted-on “directives” like the ones in this week’s CEO report might provoke at least one Supervisor to dare an inquiry. Maybe the Board is just tired of hearing “Because of Covid…”?
THE CEO REPORT also reports that “One Mental Health Rehabilitation Specialist has been hired, trained, and has been responding to crises in partnership with Mendocino County Sheriff's Office. We are recruiting for two additional Mental Health Rehabilitation Specialists and are exploring ways to maximize utilization of the existing employee until these Rehabilitation Specialists are hired.”
This is essentially the same “report” regarding the highly praised and praiseworthy “One Mental Health Rehabilitation Specialist” funded crisis van operation that they’ve been making for the last six months since that one specialist was hired. We have no idea what the CEO/staff means by “exploring ways to maximize utilization of the existing employee.” You’d think “exploring,” much less maximizing the use of the one specialist would be normal management, not part of a report to the Board.
Nobody on the Measure B Committee (which authorized the crisis van staffing and funded it more than a year ago and which ordered a never-done six-month status report) or the Supervisors have ever asked how the recruiting is going or how much the crisis van is helping the Sheriff and Ukiah Police with mental health calls.
Knowing that the Fort Bragg Police Chief and at least one city councilperson in Fort Bragg would like a Crisis Van unit/specialist on the Coast, you might wonder why the Board doesn’t simply turn the recruitment and funding for the coastal crisis van over to the City of Fort Bragg and its police chief which is motivated and quite capable of getting it staffed.