County residents educated about Watermaster
Yreka's Siskiyou Daily News by Jamie Gentner January 15,
Daily News Photo Jamie Gentner - From left, District 2 Assemblyman
Doug LaMalfa, California Farm Bureau Federation Attorney Tony
Francois, SOSS Director Bill Krum, Sen. Sam Aanestad's field
representative Nadine Bailey and Siskiyou County rancher/farmer
Jack Cowley sit on a panel that informed Shasta and Scott valley
water users of the special watermaster district that was created
through LaMalfa's AB 1580 on Friday in Yreka. Daily News Staff
SISKIYOU COUNTY - Those instrumental in passing Assembly Bill 1580
- which creates a special watermaster district to be known as the
Scott Valley and Shasta Valley Watermaster District - and who
supported the bill through the process insist that the
implementation process will be completely transparent.
To achieve that, they gathered in Yreka and Fort Jones on Friday,
Jan. 11, to conduct public meetings that explained the background,
budget and possible future of the district.
About 150 people attended the meeting at the Yreka Community
Theater at 10 a.m., and about 85 residents showed up at the Fort
Jones Community Center at 3 p.m.
Attendees heard from Save Our Shasta and Scott Valleys Coalition (SOSS)
Executive Director Ernie Wilkinson; SOSS Director and Scott Valley
rancher Bill Krum; District 2 Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa; Nadine
Bailey, a field representative from District 4 California Senator
Sam Aanestad's office; California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF)
Staff Attorney Tony Francois; and CFBF Staff Attorney Carl Borden.
First, Krum explained the background of watermaster service in the
area and a preliminary budget for local service.
In the 2002-2004 tax years, the Department of Water Resources (DWR)
received about $170,000 for watermaster service - half from the
water users and half from the state.
But in 2004, state law was changed so that the state would no
longer pay for half of the bill, and the cost of service went up
to just under $400,000.
When people from Siskiyou County heard of the change, they lobbied
for change in Sacramento. Thanks to their efforts, Krum said, the
state agreed to pick up the cost again for those in Siskiyou
The DWR was also able to secure a grant from the Bureau of
Reclamation to cover extra costs, so the water users' costs
haven't gone up.
But now, the cost is over half a million dollars, and the state
will no longer pick up half the cost, especially with their own
"You've dodged the bullet the past couple of years in this part of
the state, "LaMalfa said during his speech. "But that won't happen
forever. The state budget is crumbling before our eyes. We're
fighting as hard as we can in the Legislature, but, ultimately,
this is just crumbs in the budget."
Bill Mendenhall, a supervising engineer with DWR present at the
Yreka meeting, said the costs have been increasing because, in the
past, DWR was making up for the excess amount through local
assistance programs no longer available.
The costs were there, he said, but water users were not seeing
Krum finished by telling the crowd that if they stayed with
watermaster service at the state level, they would be looking at a
six-fold increase in costs, whereas it has been estimated that the
local district could provide watermaster service for around
Francois spoke next about the experience Lassen County had when
they decided to switch to a local district. He said one of the
important differences in local control is the absence of overhead
"The people here locally can do this based on their true costs.
There will be no state entity trying to cover their overhead,"
LaMalfa said when he took the stage next. "I can live with that,
and that's why I'm here to help with whatever can move this
Bailey said Aanestad jumped at the opportunity to help Siskiyou
County water users overcome the "political realities we deal with
"The bill puts this issue in your back yard so you don't have to
drive to Sacramento and be one of a million people asking
something of the government," Bailey said. "You'll be working with
locals, and the senator encourages you to look hard at how to make
Part of the process of making that work is petitioning the court
to make the special district the watermaster service provider.
"The legislation created the district, but you, as water right
holders, decide if you want the district to be the watermaster,"
The watermaster is a court official that is responsible for
ensuring that water rights are enforced. If the district were
given this power, they would be held to the same laws as other
districts - holding open meetings, providing an agenda before the
The special district would be governed by seven board members,
which the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors will appoint.
They are currently advertising the positions and will likely make
their appointments at their Feb. 5 meeting, Francois said.
To petition the court, Borden explained, 15 percent of diversion
owners must submit a representation agreement to Ellison,
Schneider & Harris, LLP - the law firm hired by the CFBF to take
their case to court.
Agreements were handed out to those at the meetings, and Borden
explained how to fill them out and submit them.
All diversion owners in the valleys will receive a copy of the
petition, and Borden said all petitions should be returned by Feb.
But while 15 percent is the number that is legally required, the
officials speaking at the meeting said they want more.
"We're not looking for just 15 percent,"said Jack Cowley, a former
SOSS director and current Siskiyou County rancher/farmer. "We are
looking for 100 percent support of this switch over. The local
district doesn't want to be a water cop - local control means
local input. So think about it, see if you agree, and if you do,
sign that petition."
To see the bill, visit LaMalfa's Web site: www.assembly.ca.gov/La_Malfa.
For more information about the new district or process, call
Wilkinson at 468-2896 or Borden at (916) 561-5659.