Last Wednesday, there was an article in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat entitled "North Coast water plan greeted with howls," by the PD's Ukiah reporter Glenda Anderson. The piece was loaded with spectacular errors and much misinformation. The second sentence declared, "The proposed state regulations are intended to improve salmon habitat and primarily affect farmers seeking new or modified permits to divert water from rivers, streams and tributaries."
Not even close — unless your definition of "new" or "modified" is "not yet approved." There are applications pending for water diversions on Northcoast creeks and rivers that have been pending for years and the Water Board's new process is supposed to deal with them, however belatedly, however half-assedly.
Then Ms. Anderson says, "The proposed regulations — mandated by 2004 legislation — would regulate water flows in streams in connection with the administration of water rights."
They wouldn't "regulate" anything. They simply call for studies that show there's adequate water available for diversion before a permit is approved. Nothing in the Water Board's proposed policy "regulates" how much water is taken. And there are no enforcement provisions whatsoever.
Next, Ms. Anderson asserts, "The exception [to the proposed policy] is the main stem of the Russian River south of Lake Mendocino, which already has water flow rules in place."
Those "rules," such as they are, have nothing to do with the new policy, they were instituted because of the drought. And we can find no specific reference to them being an exception in the Water Board's draft policy. The "exception" Ms. Anderson refers to is apparently a claim by the Russian River diverters, mostly wineries and vineyards plus Sonoma County itself, that those rules are adequate — which they're not or the hundreds of pending diversion applications on that water would have been approved long ago.
Ms. Anderson also says, "The proposed plan would establish measures regarding the season for diversions, minimum bypass flows and maximum diversions."
First, no such rules are in place for the mainstem of the Russian which she says already has rules in place. Second, those proposals — a diversion season, minimum bypass flows and maximum diversions — were proposed 20 years ago by Water Board staffer Bruce Fodge; the wine people screamed bloody murder, which is why their applications have sat on the shelf all this time. It's their own fault, Glenda, get it? The wine people want to take as much water as they want whenever they want regardless of the effect on fish. 1. They already claim to be doing "fish friendly farming" (with no proof whatsoever offered in support of that windy claim), and 2. They're taking water away from each other, a rare instance of cannibalism as a good thing.
Next Ms. Anderson reports that "The regulations are expected to affect more than 1,400 pending water-rights applications."
The only way you can get the number of pending applications anywhere near 1,400 is by including the pending applications on the mainstem of Russian River, which Ms. Anderson previously said are "the exception."
Ms. Anderson also reports, "Some applicants have been waiting for nearly two decades for state authorities to process their water-rights applications. As a result, it's become a common practice to start diverting water while applications are pending."
"Common practice" is the wine industry's term for illegal water diversion. However, it's not even "common practice," it's the way the system works. You can build your pond (with a County permit exemption) and fill it with water without a "permit" and no governmental agency cares how much you take or where you take it from. If there's ever any question, all you have to do is say the illegal water in your pond is "run-off."
"During an aerial survey in Sonoma County two years ago," continues Ms. Anderson, "water-rights enforcement officials found 800 water storage ponds they did not know about. Some may not actually turn out to be unauthorized, [water board staffer Steve] Herrera said."
"Unauthorized"? What Ms. Anderson means here is "unregistered." If they were "unauthorized" why are they full of water?
One of the few correct statements in the article was attributed to a person who has never uttered a word in the past about illegal water diversions: "Prosecuting people who take water without a permit is rare, and unauthorized water diverters continue their practices without any real fear of enforcement, Ukiah City Councilman John McCowen said."
Mr. McCowen is right in this case. But he has never mentioned this problem publicly until he found himself in a runoff election for Supervisor against a real environmentalist, Estelle Palley Clifton. McCowen is using his friend and political advisor Mike Sweeney's former (present?) girlfriend to get his name in a water-related article so that he can sound like he cares about the problem.
Note: Ordinarily, it is the AVA's position that romance is a personal matter. In the case of Sweeney-Anderson, however, we advise Ms. Anderson to invest in a long stick with a mirror on the end of it to investigate the under-carriage of her vehicle prior to starting the engine. Sweeney made the bomb that blew up his former wife, Judi Bari and, prior to Bari, Sweeney had to be legally restrained from harassing another wife, the former Cynthia Denenholtz, like Sweeney, a one-time Maoist. Another Sweeney girl friend, known only as "Whisper" to Bari's "Shout," simply disappeared. We're worried about you, Glenda honey. The little psycho could go off at any time!
Anyway, The PD's Ukiah-based reporter then proceeds to "balance" McCowen's statement by reporting that "Farming representatives said enforcement is largely unnecessary for farmers, who they said tend to do what's right for the environment."
Har de har, Glenda. Good one.
Of course "farmers" say they "tend to do what's right." But even that "claim" is weasel-worded by the insertion of the word "tend." How would Ms. Anderson report on a bank robber's claims of unfair prosecution? Would she say, "The suspect said that most of the time he tends not to shoot anyone"?
Ms. Anderson's report concludes with "Concern also was raised that the proposed rules were too restrictive and costly, potentially forcing farmers out of business."
Oh, please. Nobody's being "forced out of business." The cost of the paperwork may go up, but that's only because the intransigence of the illegal diverters has dragged the process out so long that it's reached this ominously critical point in the first place.