After more than five years, a stakeholders’ group of Stanislaus and Tuolumne river interests has reached agreement on a list of projects for which they will seek an estimated $3.6 million in funding through the state Department of Water Resources.
The grant application is a major milestone for the Tuolumne-Stanislaus Integrated Regional Water Management planning effort.
The so-called IRWMPs have been encouraged in recent years by DWR as a forum for achieving consensus between local, state and federal governments and non-government organizations before granting the go-ahead for projects. That way, the hope is that costly and time-consuming litigation can be avoided.
The project list released last week includes:
• Tuolumne Utilities District: Phoenix Lake Preservation and Restoration Phase II, which would move TUD forward in improving water quality, wetlands habitat and storage capacity at Phoenix Lake.
• Tuolumne County Resource Conservation District: Water Quality Enhancement and Land Stewardship Project to raise awareness, teach sustainable management practices and construct water quality improvements on smaller privately owned parcels.
• Murphys Sanitary District: Facility Improvement Project to address insufficient
sewer treatment capacity and enable recycled water to be used for beneficial purposes.
• Groveland Community Services District: Big Oak Flat Sewer Lift Station Project would prevent potential failure and sewage discharge in a key part of the sewer treatment system.
• Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency: In-Home Water Conservation
Disadvantaged Community Project would focus crews on assessing water-use practices and installing water-saving devices.
• U.S. Forest Service: Upper South Fork Stanislaus River Watershed Restoration Project would restore degraded wet meadows and repair road culverts that are contributing sediment to aquatic ecosystems, resulting in enhanced water quality, water storage, flood attenuation, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.
• Tuolumne River Trust: Watershed Outreach and Stewardship Project will focus on increasing awareness about watershed health and water-use efficiency while involving the community in watershed stewardship through volunteer workday activities.
• Calaveras County Water District: The Douglas Flat/Vallecito Storage Pond Project will address insufficient sewage storage capacity to reduce potential groundwater contamination and utilize recycled wastewater for agricultural and other beneficial uses in the area.
“By working together we are now eligible for Proposition 84 and Proposition 1E State Bond funds,” said TUD General Manager Pete Kampa. “That helps us keep the costs off our customers as well as build support for good projects from a pretty diverse group of interests.”
“I am encouraged by the progress made here and I anticipate funding in the future to help in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties and provide benefits to the customers we serve,” added CCWD General Manager Mitch Dion.
Getting the various participants, including the general public, to embrace an integrated approach to planning and developing projects has not been an easy task, a news release from the group noted. The Calaveras County government withdrew from the IRWMP group last October, with a majority of the Board of Supervisors citing a savings of thousands of dollars in annual membership fees and a “dysfunction” of the organization as a whole.
Sierra Club of Tuolumne County President Jon Sturtevant particularly bristled at Supervisor Darren Spellman’s characterization of his organization as a special interest whose “agenda is to derail any project … and take us back to the Stone Age.”
“In the past, elected officials often made decisions in smoke-filled rooms instead of in the open. The charge received by IRWMP from the DWR was to have all stakeholders try to work together,” Sturtevant wrote in a later correspondence to The Union Democrat. “The goal of DWR was to reduce lawsuits and controversy. It is time to move into the future with an inclusive process.”
Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center Executive Director John Buckley said the process may have been “drawn-out” but is ultimately a positive.
“Rather than hurry the process and produce something that could be in any way vulnerable, the overall collaborative group has taken one careful step after another to reach the point where we are today,” Buckley said. “Water is an intensely controversial topic, and representatives of utility districts or conservation groups or agricultural or building industry group often have highly conflicting views on how to manage water across our vast region. To suggest that by working collaboratively we are now all singing the exact same tune about water issues and projects would not be accurate. There are still major differences of positions and beliefs.”
The ball is now in the state’s court, and its decision will have a major influence on the IRWMP’s future, Buckley said.
“What will be interesting to see is whether our (IRWMP) will continue to work so well together if the state ends up rejecting our carefully developed package of specific projects. Without a funding carrot dangling out in front of our … group, it might be hard to justify so many busy people devoting so much time to travel, meet and communicate in between sessions,” he said. “But if significant funding from the state can be shown to be a positive outcome of so much work, then that will be an even stronger incentive for all interested parties to keep talking and meeting. If that happens, then the years of meetings and struggles to come to agreement will all likely be worthwhile.”