Wary supes hear response to water lease letter before it’s even sent
What was agendized as a straightforward 5-minute item to review and have the Board sign a letter to the Walker River Irrigation District (WRID) regarding the proposed Water Leasing Demonstration Program ended up going much longer and into more detail than anyone anticipated. The letter, which was drafted to express some of Mono County’s concerns, addressed four main issues: 1.) Potential impact on fisheries downstream from Bridgeport, particularly concerning questions such as when the water is released and how it is managed; 2.) Impacts to the Bridgeport Reservoir; 3.) Leasing of water from Mono ranchers and 4.) How the public would be informed, voice their concerns and be engaged to provide their input.
Even before the draft letter from the County had even been sent, attorney Dale Ferguson with Reno-based Woodburn and Wedge, which represents the WRID, read from a prepared letter of response, saying there would be no lease deal until the District has met and approved an agreement, and no chance any agreement will be reached this irrigation season, and therefore no impact to any Mono County water rights holders this season. Next irrigation season, he promised no impact to Mono County without discussion with and input from the Board and its constituents.
Ferguson said negotiations with Lyon County [Nevada] are ongoing, and he said the hope is that a draft will be ready “in the near future,” but stopped short of elaborating any further on specifically when that “future” might be. He said the document would be issued with plenty of time allowed for public input, and not “a day and a half before being voted on at the very next meeting.”
Despite Ferguson’s assurances, the Board was still left with the uncomfortable, and unsatisfied, feeling that WRID would listen to them, nod politely and then go right ahead and do whatever it wanted. Supervisor Bob Peters told Ferguson the County would like a shot at the draft when it’s ready, asking for a sufficient amount of time to review the document before it goes to approval. “You’ve been working for 7-8 months on the document, but a large agency such as Mono County will need sufficient opportunity to review and comment on [it],” he said.
Peters added that, “Mono County shouldn’t risk being left out because someone on the Nevada side changed their mind.” He was for sending the letter, though not necessarily having it distributed on a widespread basis. Asked about a 30-day delay prior to sending the letter, Peters said, while not speaking for the entire Board, that he wouldn’t support such a move without a “rock-solid commitment” to allow the County to be part of the document’s process before it went to an approval vote.
Supervisor Hap Hazard wasn’t so diplomatic. “Every drop of Mono County water is under attack from some direction or other. We need to stay strong as a county,” Hazard stated. Regulations, he said, are already perceived as superseding individual water rights. “All [Ferguson’s] letter says is they’re going to talk to us, acknowledge us and then go off and make a decision.” The County, Hazard said, should be part of the drafting process, even though it’s an agreement between WRID and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), not commenting on it later. He backed signing and sending the letter.
“The letter is a representation of our position. I don’t see anything wrong with signing it and moving it along,” said Supervisor Vikki Bauer “Is there a problem with us sending the letter?” she asked Ferguson.
“It leaves the reader with the impression that you’ve asked for information and we haven’t provided you with it,” Ferguson responded.
In her staff report to the Board, Assistant County Counsel Stacey Simon, who has long been looking after the County’s interest in the process, as well as interfacing with the ranchers and the various other agencies involved, noted that most ranchers seem to indicate they want to take advantage of the lease program.
Responding to what some Board members perceived as a lack of consistent outreach and informational flow, Ken Spooner, WRID General Manager, said that could well be due to WRID simply not having enough detail to present much in the way of updates. Spooner said, however, that WRID’s outreach goes back to the deal’s earliest days with District 4 Supervisor John Cecil. “The process isn’t perfect,” Spooner told the Board, “but it’s the one that must be applied. Even if we wanted to ignore you, we couldn’t.” Spooner went on the say that when the lease program ultimately goes through California Environmental Quality Act analysis and other key parts of the approval process, Spooner said he wants Mono County, the various irrigators, Lyon County and all concerned “on the same page.”
The Board nonetheless voted 4-0 to approve signing and sending the letter to its general CC list, including “heavy hitters,” such as California state and federal legislators, and Nevada Senators Harry Reid (D) and John Ensign (R), for background, should they need it for future reference.