SANDY FERETTO — REDWOOD TIMES Ralph Emerson, GSD general manager, is participating in the Humboldt County Drought Task Force.
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GARBERVILLE >> Ralph Emerson, general manager of the Garberville Sanitary District (GSD), has been attending the Humboldt County Drought Task Force meetings that were convened this summer as part of a directive from California governor Jerry Brown. The task force has met three times, most recently on Tuesday, Sept. 16.

Emerson explained that the state wanted the agencies and organizations that handle water for the public to produce drought contingency plans.

“Part of the contingency plan is a drought task force within the counties and that is where the different participants can exchange ideas on how to deal with the drought, how to conserve water, how to store water, what the concerns are, whether it’s fish and wildlife, whether it’s plants, all facets of the negative impacts of drought,” Emerson explained. “The drought task force is a recommendation for how we can help each other and get ideas.”

Emerson said that GSD staff has been working on a contingency plan that will be proposed to the GSD board of directors as an addition to an ordinance.

“In the event of another drought year, we will be able to enact that ordinance,” he said.

Although the Humboldt County Drought Task Force meetings are not open to the public or the press, Emerson said he will give reports on the meetings at GSD’s board meetings, which are open to the public.

Agencies represented at the county Drought Task Force meeting in September included Indian Health Services, the Division of Environmental Health, the California Department of Water Resources, Cal Fire, Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department, California Office of Emergency Services and the State Water Resources Control Board. There were also representatives from the office of state senator Noreen Evans, the Yurok Tribe, GSD, and the county administrative office.

UC Cooperative Extension representative Jeff Stackhouse reported at the meeting that the new California groundwater legislation is giving the responsibility of organizing the monitoring to local Operational Areas (OAs). He reported the state will monitor to make sure local OAs are working within the guidelines. Bob Vogt will be organizing this for Humboldt County, according to notes from the task force meeting.

Jane Reich, from the chief food safety inspection unit of the California Department of Public Health/Food and Drug Branch (FDB), which is charged with regulating bottled and vended water for human consumption, supplied the task force participants with an informational sheet about private water source operators and water haulers. Operators of private water sources must apply for and receive a Private Water Source Operators (PWSO) license prior to selling or distributing water for human consumption, according to the FDB information sheet. A private water source must be protected from contamination and monitored to ensure it meets all drinking water standards. Water haulers who transport water for drinking, culinary or other purposes involving the likelihood of the water being ingested by humans must meet the applicable laws and regulations for safe and sanitary water. Licensed water haulers receive an FDB issued registration sticker for each tank approved to haul water.

Emerson expressed concerns about lack of oversight of water hauling of non-potable water, and surface water diversions. “I was wondering where the water going up and down the road was from,” he said. “Because if you could control that you could control a lot of the problems, especially if they’re pumping it illegally out of surface water locations.” Emerson said he has brought the issue up at the Drought Task Force meetings.

In response to questions about non-potable water hauling, public information officer Tim Moran of the California State Water Board emailed that “Permits and Licenses issued by the state Water Board have defined Places of Uses. A permit or license holder can petition the Board to change the Place of Use. If water is being diverted under riparian right, the place of use must be within the watershed and usually contiguous to the stream in which the water is diverted. The place of use under a pre-1914 appropriative right can be changed without Board process pursuant to WC section 1706, if no injury occurs. The place of use for percolating groundwater is not currently regulated. All water use is subject to reasonable beneficial use and should not create injury to other rights and environment.”

Emerson said he would like to see a county water task force.

“Other counties have water element groups that participate in ways to find and protect the water they have,” he said.

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