Calaveras exits water plan group

Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat /

Calaveras County will withdraw from a planning effort required to secure state grants for watershed projects on the Stanislaus River that has made slow progress for Tuolumne County interest but borne no fruit for Calaveras.

A 3-2 vote by the County Board of Supervisors to fund continued membership in the Tuolumne-Stanislaus Integrated Regional Water Management Plan failed to reach a necessary four-fifths majority to draw $4,960 from contingency funds to pay for an increase in annual dues to the organization.

The IRWMP is the mechanism required by the state Department of Water Resources to qualify for grants for infrastructure projects that improve water quality and reliability and prevent flooding . It brings together local governments, water providers, other agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and nongovernmental organizations to develop long-range goals and plans within a particular watershed.

Though Calaveras has had success with its involvement in the counterpart Upper Mokelumne River Watershed Authority, Supervisor Merita Callaway, the board's delegate to the Tuolumne-Stanislaus IRWMP, said it has been a more tedious and thus far fruitless haul farther south.

The group began with an unworkable 100-percent consensus requirement to approve projects for submittal for grant funding, Callaway said, which has since been reduced to a two-thirds majority. Supervisor Gary Tofanelli, Callaway's IRWMP alternate who attended the latest meeting on her behalf, said the group, remains dysfunctional.

"In my opinion, it has not changed," he said. "It doesn't seem to me that they have in mind … to get this thing where it needs to be to even be competitive (for grants)."

Callaway was more hesitant to give up on it.

"You have to start somewhere," she said, adding that there is no alternative route to securing funding through the state.

Tofanelli said the group has thus far come up with just 11 projects, mostly for the Tuolumne Utilities District, and none to benefit Calaveras County or its residents.

Supervisor Darren Spellman, who joined Tofanelli in voting no, took exception to the NGOs' equal voting power in the IRWMP, particularly environmental groups like Sierra Club.

"Special interests, that are unelected, can put the kibosh on things," Spellman said. "Their agenda is not an agenda. Their agenda is to derail any project … and take us back to the Stone Age. If they get the unelected special interest groups off the board, then I'd be in favor of it. We should be there."

Supervisor Steve Wilensky expressed dismay that the group has not been able to duplicate UMRWA's successes and productive working environment.

Wilensky said the Forest Service could stand to benefit greatly through the IRWMP for restoration projects in the Calaveras Ranger District.

Contact Sean Janssen at sjanssen@uniondemocrat.com or 890-7741.

11882872
The Union Democrat
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