Tuolumne County on board with water plan

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors approved the Tuolumne-Stanislaus Integrated Regional Water Management Plan on Tuesday, unanimously buying in to what is meant to be a kind of blueprint for long-term water planning in the Stanislaus and Tuolumne river watersheds.

With that decision, the county likely will be part of the multi-agency consortium that will steer the direction of the water plan.

However, members of the board also said they want to see some possible legal questions worked out before they commit the county. And none of them were thrilled with a process that they said could hamstring the county on water rights and local control down the road.

"There are agendas out there, and we need to be on guard for those," said Supervisor Karl Rodefer. "But if we're not part of this process, we're really not on the train."

The legal issues mainly involve funding and commitment should the county join the Joint Powers Agency that will likely form to oversee and steer the plan as it changes.

Supervisors questioned on Tuesday what it will cost the county to participate, and they also wanted to know whether the county would be stuck in the JPA after they join it.

County Counsel Sarah Carrillo said those questions have yet to be answered in some cases, especially in the case of whether the county would he able to remove itself from the JPA after joining.

"I think there's a lot of things in here that need legal review and clarification," Carrillo said.

Supervisors also raised concerns about what they see as a catch-22 situation where the county is forced to choose between funding or local control. All have expressed concern the plan could be used as a tool to bog down development with lawsuits, or as an avenue for the state to impose more top-down water regulations. Yet removing the county from the process could mean they won't be at the table for important water issue discussions.

"The water game in California is a zero-sum game," said board Chairman Randy Hanvelt.

"There will be winners, and there will be losers," Hanvelt later said. "I don't think we can afford to accept the role of victim and sit on the sidelines. It's either engage or not engage. We can't take our ball and go home. We have to play."

The water management plan is the result of a 2006 state initiative to fund water projects around California. The law stated at the time that in order to access the $5 billion in state grant money, agencies, municipalities and districts would have to form regional groups and draft one of these long-term plans.

Each plan is supposed to lay out a list of priority water and sewer projects in its respective region and submit it to the program to qualify for grant money. Through the planning process, all involved are meant to work out any possible disagreements or issues ahead of time to prevent lawsuits down the road.

The Tuolumne-Stanislaus plan now lists $3.6 million in projects proposed for the Tuolumne Utilities District, Tuolumne River Trust, U.S. Forest Service, Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency, Murphys Sanitary District, Calaveras County Water District, Tuolumne County Resource Conservation District and Groveland Community Services District.

Local projects include dredging Phoenix Lake to improve storage and water quality, decreasing erosion in the Phoenix Lake watershed, reconstruction of a sewer lift station in Big Oak Flat, ecosystem restoration on the South Fork Stanislaus River, sewer improvements in Murphys and more.

In other news, the county Board of Supervisors:

• approved a proposal to rent and eventually sell a half-acre parcel of land on North Sunshine Road currently owned by the county to machining company MMI Sonora for $290,000.

• recognized George Segarini, who recently retired as CEO of the Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce.

• heard a presentation on the Tuolumne County tourism industry through the 2012-13 fiscal year.

The Union Democrat
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