Garberville’s Water: How the Board Is Grappling with Cannabis (and Other Issues)
On Tuesday, August 29, the Garberville Sanitary District reviewed its service to customers at the Connick Creek Subdivision and worked on developing its Commercial Cannabis policy during the August Board of Directors meeting.
GSD Staff serves the Community
Before getting to that though, the General Managers report includes this acknowledgment of staff:
“August 3 was a test for staff and our water treatment and distribution system because it was over 100*, Reggae on The River crowds in town, 3 separate fires and the power went out. Dan and Brian worked diligently to ensure tanks remained full, fire trucks had water and that we provided water for our customers. We purchased additional generators 2 years ago which allowed us the ability to keep booster pumps and treatment facility operating during the power outage. Mary stayed in the office to meet customers during the power outage and available to assist field staff.
Dan & Brian were involved with extricating a trapped man from a storm drain, which created an interesting start for their day.”
Connick Creek needs Pipe Upgrade
Connick Creek subdivision is west of the river and outside the District’s official service area but within the District’s sphere of influence. There are 9 parcels in the subdivision and two more parcels receive water through the same line. No one knew why those parcels, which are south of the Connick Creek subdivision, receive water service through that connection. One employee thought that it was included as part of the negotiations with the landowners neighboring the wastewater treatment plant. But, it turns out that isn’t the case.
Connick Creek was originally granted service in 1991, in a handwritten memo, by Mr. Fred Hurlbutt back when he operated the Garberville Water Company. In the intervening years, the privately owned Garberville Water Company was replaced by the public Garberville Sanitary District, and the District continued providing service to Connick Creek residents. In 2010 a formal contract was entered into after LAFCo intervened on the out of area service. In its most recent update of the GSD’s service area, LAFCo (which has jurisdiction over the creation and boundaries of special districts like GSD) approved the out of area service to Connick Creek but left the subdivision outside the district’s service area.
The 2010 contract covers water service to ten parcels, though only six are actually using GSD water at this time. With so many parcels on a mile of 1 1/2 inch pipe that is undersized for even domestic use on that many parcels, the folks at the end of the line have no pressure or water when people at the beginning have their valves open.
General Manager Ralph Emerson says “I have been approached by 4 property owners or potential property owners in Connick Creek during the past 30 days and because of the potential impact to the District, I wanted to address the concerns and requests.” Emerson writes:
The current customers are complaining about water loss, excessive water usage, no water pressure and the need to increase the distribution pipe size to accommodate the current usage, along with the projected increase in water demand.Our concern is that increasing the pipe size makes us vulnerable to losing all of the water from our water tank, in the event that the Connick Creek pipe is broken.”
According to Emerson, at least one landowner in Connick Creek is pursuing licensure to commercially grow cannabis. Emerson informs his Board, after consultation with legal counsel, that “Agriculture is one of California’s listed Beneficial Uses of Water,” and cannabis is now legal agriculture in California.
This reality is difficult to publicly plan for because some people still find cannabis to be repugnant. And materially, because of the water needs of cannabis, the District is concerned about the quantity that may be demanded of their district.
Board member Linda Broderson asked the General Manager if the existing line would be adequate if there were no agriculture involved. Emerson said no.
The General Manager suggested that he write a new contract for each of the landowners because some parcels have changed ownership. Board Member Richardson directed the General Manager to include that in the future new landowners will need to pay an $8,000 connection fee. Emerson will bring his draft back to the Board for review.
Cannabis Policy Considered
Next, Board took up considering the possibilities for its Commercial Cannabis policy. General Manager Emerson said, “I just got another request today someone who wants to open a cultivation business in town.” Emerson goes on to say the District has received three applications for non-cultivation cannabis enterprises and perhaps three parcels may want water for commercial cultivation at this time.
Cannabis cultivation presents planning challenges. It seems between 60-75 parcels in district service boundaries are zoned with some agriculture designation. If all these parcels opted to grow a thousand plants, the District might need to produce an additional 300,000 gallons of water a day in the driest time of the year. Staff estimated that at the current moment the District is using 40 to 50% of its water right. The District’s permit is contingent on river flow.
However, in addition to supply issues, Board Members expressed strong interest to protect the South Fork of the Eel. Broderson said “I’m concerned about the number of gallons involved…where is the protection for river? and safeguards for our residential customers ?”
Doug Bryan said “there is a giant tire sitting in the river” near the gravel mine and he uses it as a visual flow gauge. And Bryan described the flow changes “from up here on the tire, to way down here or to not touching the tire all” over the course of a day.
Emerson said that in talking to other District’s he finds many favor implementing increasing price tiers to encourage water conservation.
Board Member Doug Bryan recommends the Board plan for the water use. Bryan said commercial users should expect to have a forbearance period for the drought season. Bryan strongly favors establishing policy for these commercial users to receive a bulk of their annual water supply during rainy months and install on-site storage for themselves. Rio Anderson seemed to ask if that policy would be universally applied when he quipped, “Will grocery stores need to do that?”
Staff suggested the District install “ag meters” for “anyone wanting to grow any crop.” In many areas with more history of modern commercial agriculture, untreated water is piped and metered separately. In the GSD, the same potable water would be delivered to two meters. One meter would be dedicated to agriculture use; the other to domestic use. The stated reason is that when river conditions went below a flow rate or some quality standard, the ag water could be manually stopped. And Board Member Thompson noted, “We would get connection fees which goes to our infrastructure to deal with tanks and pumps and what’s needed.”
And in the next sentence, reflecting the changing community standards, Ralph Emerson said, “Many people I have talked to are begging us to get the number of grows down in town.” While saying implementation of land use law was not District business, Board Member Bryan seemed to express frustration that unpermitted backyard cultivation is not being enforced by the County.
Rio defers to his community
When asked whether the unintended consequence of pushing small growers out of town really benefits the overall hydrology of the river, Board Member Rio Anderson took the opportunity to tell the Board he feels people in the community rely on the income they generate and said, “We have a fiduciary duty to serve our community’s needs.” Doug expressed agreement with that and denied wanting to push anyone out of the District. Bryan elaborated that what he feels strongly about is getting water delivered to cultivators in the rainy periods for landowners to store for use during the forbearance period.
The Board formed a committee for further discussion and development of policy for Cannabis cultivation. Board Members Rio Anderson and Doug Bryan will join General Manager Ralph Emerson as committee members.
Accountant’s time counts first
In other business, the Board adopted Wyatt, Whitchurch and Anderson as their new accounting service. As an explanation for why the change was needed, Emerson explained:
“With the recent changes to GSD staffing, Ms. Corsetti has notified the District that the (number of) hours spent performing the monthly accounting tasks has risen to a point that she no longer has sufficient staff to be able to continue to perform these tasks.
Ms. Corsetti has given the District notice that they will no longer be able to provide monthly accounting services to the District….”
Don’t be Late
The Board moved to adopt its late payment timeline. The Ordinance now reads “Sec 9.5 Payment of Bills. Bills are due and payable by 4:30pm on the 25thof each month and if not paid a $5 late charge will be applied.”
During the discussion, Mary Nieto, the new office staff, said 95 late fees were applied in July.
Board Member Gary Wellborn proposed raising the late fee. Wellborn said, “Five dollars is a joke.” He also said, “It’s supposed to be a deterrent. It’s got to be painful to work.”
For purposes of timeliness, the Board approved the Ordinance as it stood and will increase the late fee in a future review.
And the Board set a meeting for a closed session on the 9th of September to consider potential litigation with employee Tina Stillwell. The Public Notice of the closed session meeting scheduled for September 9th reads,
Conference with Legal Counsel-Anticipated Litigation.Significant exposure to litigation pursuant to paragraph (2) of subdivision (d) of Government Code Section 54956.9: One Potential Case: The receipt of a written employment/labor law claim pursuant to the California Tort Claims Act dated August 11th, 2017, from Tina Stillwell.
The next meeting
And the next Public Board of Directors meeting will be September 19th at 5 p.m. the meeting has changed a week due to staff vacation needs.