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County residents educated about Watermaster District
Yreka's Siskiyou Daily News  by Jamie Gentner January 15, 2008

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 Writer

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 County.

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 budget crisis.

"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 them.

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 $200,000.

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 costs.

"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 process along."

Bailey said Aanestad jumped at the opportunity to help Siskiyou County water users overcome the "political realities we deal with in Sacramento."

"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 that work."

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," Francois said.

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 meeting, etc.

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. 1.

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.


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