Garberville’s Water: How the Board Is Grappling with Cannabis (and Other Issues)

This original handwritten contract started the Garberville Water Service District’s obligation to cover the Connick Creek Subdivision. It was signed by Pat and Fred Hurlbutt.

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.

Water and marijuana
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.

Where’s Tina?

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.






  • Under “Don’t be late paragraph”, 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.”, repeated twice.

  • I thought that county ordinance was that marijuana grows could not exist within (or be served by) municipal water districts. This solves the problem.

  • Stop Kissing Ass On Dope Growers

    Further killing of our river to service big-time weed growers?! Those permits should not be granted. I’m drawing out of a huge spring on my property and I still have to demonstrate storage so I don’t pull in late summer. Make these people do the same! No permits should be issued to anybody who’s pulling that quantity of water out of our precious rivers!

    • Remember that springs are the cold water supply for the river we are trying to protect. I’m glad you’re using storage because forbearance is so vital to river health. I am interjecting because as I’ve followed the industry and it’s water use over the last decade, frequently people fail to realize that using springs directly impacts river flow and temperature.

      • How would using a spring that doesn’t run off your property miles from a creek impact water temp? if your spring is in a ravine or a slope that feeds a tributary it could, but they lump all springs into the same category. I absolutely agree with not drawing water in the summer I’m just curious what you take on it is.

        • I’m not well studied enough in hydrology to address this fully. I am, however, willing to speak with a hydrologist familiar with our geology and get more details. But suffice to say, with few exceptions the water table in Southern Humboldt is all connected. We don’t have many aquifers that are separated from the hydrology of the river.

          • That’s where you are wrong. Out hydrology is NOT Connected. It’s Disconected. This is one of the many misconceptions of the area. Our geological makeup is primarily Franciscan Shale (meaning Chaos in Latin) When referring to Aquifers in the region, they’re all disconnected with the exception of the eel river valley that has a continuous vein of alluvium that carries water throughout the valley. A moratorium has been placed on that aquifer years ago.
            As for Southern Humboldt and the surrounding mountains, it’s all disconected – low volume veins of water traveling through breaks of the geology supplied by their own individual storage cavities recharged by rain water and rain water only. Surface springs that do not feed an outlet most likely evaporate without ever entering any non existent aquifers that supposedly supply cold water to the South Fork if the Eel.
            Everything we think we know about water in SoHum is wrong. 100% supplied by rain water saturation.

        • It’s all interconnected. I used to doubt hydrologic connection of non-jurisdictional springs before, but nature is pretty amazing and can do some pretty crazy things. That unconnected spring could be connected to a larger ground water source, which the bulk of which could be feeding other cold water springs that are connected to streams and rivers. So when the groundwaters upper, unconnected springs, are tapped lower springs could be effected. Also there’s added possibility that that spring could support local wildlife as a water source during the dry months.

          With that said, I think it’s a good idea to require Ag users to develop some amount of water storage for the driest parts of the years. The problem is for the average rancher or crop farmer this equates to HUGE volumes of water storage, much more than even the largest of cannabis farms. A rancher with a small grass field could flood irrigate more water than a large cannabis farm can in a month, and they have ZERO forbearance period requirements, nor is any agency looking at stopping their huge water usage from local streams and rivers. Same goes to crop farmers. The uneven handedness of regulation really gets me.

          Anyways, I think cannabis users of water should still develop stored water for their operation so that they can have 60 to 150-days of water stored from the winter periods. It makes the industry look better and it makes the industry “practice what you preach”. Also, stored water is an insurance, for fire and water shortages alike.

          The real question is where are we going to put all this water storage… are we really going to clear and develop more land permanently to store water in tanks, bladders, and ponds? Food for thought.

      • Stop Kissing Ass On Dope Growers

        Thanks for responding to my comment! My spring produces quite well and barely slowed down in our historic 5 year drought! But it does not reach the creek below that feeds into the South Fork Eel. I know this land and I try to not destroy. I get why the Water Board wants water storage for everybody. I only take part of the flow from my spring because other critters need some too (and the fish). In the drought I even cut back on my medicinal garden. Yes- I was depressed that so many INCREASED their water use and greedily made huge amounts of cash with NO regard for others…. But now that permits are only issued for grows with water storage- Why would there be permits issued for grows that directly use the South Fork Eel water in summer?!! There should be none issued at all for those types of users! The struggling fish need every drop they can get. I am sick of the constant accomodation of for-profit weed growers! Enough is enough!!

        • Stop Kissing Ass On Dope Growers

          Wow! Just Googled those Connick Creek properties and saw their grows. Pretty friggin big! And they do that with water pulled directly from our river?!! That’s not cool….Why doesn’t the sheriff just go out there and chip up their plants? The County needs to tell them “No. No permit for that. Sorry.” And we all know they made lots of money while they pulled that water out during the drought. I have zero sympathy and I hope others feel the same way by now and will speak up.

          • Trillium Hummingbird



            All water is connected to all other water! If you store runoff, it can’t end up in the river, your spring, or ANY aquifer.

            Get real! Humans disrupt everything! Growing pot in Humboldt is NOT a natural process. If the gods had intended you to be high, there would be a heroin bush outside your home, weed growing everywhere, whiskey streams would flow!

            If you want an “organic process” then grow your own and STOP SELLING IT! Nobody in California gave you the right to farm using a municipal water source at a domestic rate!

            In fact, quit smoking that dope! It’s making you whiny and very stupid! And ruled by the Gary Wellborn’s of the world…

            • Another water diversion from the South Fork Eel River that no one likes to talk about, is the water used by Reggae on the River. This water is pumped from a well, on-site (below the floodplain) at Reggae @ 25 gallons per minute. They also constructed a 780,000 gallon rain catchment pond last year. The funny thing about that rain catchment pond, on July 26, 2017, when the County Department of Environmental Health (Amanda Ruddy DEH) inspected Reggae’s public drinking water; said the on-site rain catchment pond at Reggae was empty. Maybe some of these crack KMUD investigative news reports can find out why? I have asked the MCC Reggae staff with no answer, only crickets.

              I also found out, Reggae has not been submitting their required annual compliance reports (2014, 2015 & 2016) to the Water Quality Control Board in Santa Rosa; in regards to the 3 on-site leachfields they constructed in the river bar for wastewater from public showers, hand washing stations and vendor/kitchen sink disposal. They dispose of more than 65,000 gallons of this human wastewater into the river bar each year. Maybe the same SoHum investigative reporters can get answers about this too?

              I grew up and respect/love the South Fork Eel and its wildlife habitat, maybe people who live in SoHum could care just as much, after all, its a listed state & federal Wild & Scenic River…

    • Trillium Hummingbird

      I agree.

      Properties used for cannabis cultivation should be charged an industrial rate for water. Period.

      If you live in Garberville and have a backyard grow, you should be charged per acre foot for your water use at a much higher rate than a residential user. The same in Redway, a different district.

      Also, Garberville, no person serving on ANY public board, should be seated on ANOTHER public board, since the opportunities for corruption and conflict of interest are too great.

      If public agencies are to be operated as businesses, no person should receive special considerations, regardless of circumstances.

      If you have a great need for water, drill your own well! If you want to produce huge quantities of ANY agricultural product, why should you be able to use water at a domestic rate?

  • “As you sow, so shall you reap”. never thought too much of this, until I attended GSD meetings about their annexation process and expanding their district boundary for water service, back in 2010 thru 2014; to include a much larger area and existing homes that were serviced under the table by the Garberville Water Co (GWC). You can Thank all the past GSD Board members for this during that time, the only one still left after everyone jumped ship from being on that GSD Board was Rio Anderson. And yes, this same debate and argument was discussed at more than a dozen GSD Board meetings in past years. It was nothing but a good’ol boy fest at GSD, with everyone at Connick Creek going nuts they were going to lose their water.

    Why doesn’t Connick Creek use recycled and treated water from the GSD wastewater treatment plant for ag production (cannabis)? Its right there? Millions and Millions of gallons each year, generated by Garberville ratepayers and guests. People all across California and the USA use recycled wastewater for ag production, why is Garberville any different?

    It’s so sad, all of this was discussed in great length. All of us who tried to defend the river, debated and argued all this new development and increased water usage, trying to explain there was no water in the river for more water use fell on deaf ears, including Broderson, once she was appointed…

    • Trillium Hummingbird

      Thanks Ed!

      Once again, the evidence of extreme corruption is presented…

      If persons living in Garberville EVER want to move forward, first they will need to remove the persons sitting on the boards of public agencies who are beholden to larger business entities, and the moneyed growers of SoHum.

      In a town so crippled by it’s inability to develop housing, medical care, general services and business, why would the people of Garberville allow the same 20 or so persons to control EVERYTHING?

      If you like corruption and special interest politics, then Garberville is the “greasy microcosm of greed” of choice for study.

      Wake up, sober up, tighten up, Garberville!!

      • YES!!!

        The microcosm in the macro, innit? Just a reflection of the bigger picture.

      • Trillium Hummingbird

        And: Gary Wellborn, the unelected SHCHD board member, also sits on the board of the Healy Senior Center.

        Are there ANY current board members at SHCHD who were ELECTED by the people of the district?

        Why do so few control so many?

        • The”so few” are the only ones who are civic-minded enough to volunteer for these thankless jobs& meetings. Do you sit on any Boards? Most of these folks are”all in” in our little community. They upgrade & keep SoHum from going under. People need to come back to some basics now that the price of cannabis is low. Maybe start up some landscape maintenance companies, conscious housecleaning services, mobile auto detailing, things that will be sustainable& helpful. There are good ways to make a good living that are way more fun than sitting all day in a stinky clipping room, gossiping about everyone.

          • Trillium Hummingbird

            In Garberville, “civic minded” usually means “looking out for myself and my friends”.

            No, not on a board, since the boards in Garberville are impenetrable by “outsiders” and even the ones supposedly manned by “elected” members, usually have only “appointed” members, like SHCHD…

            What a load of poop, “all in”. “All in for corruption, payoffs, dirty deals in secret, and ways to get others to pay for what we want.” In other words, “business as usual in Goobsterdam”.

            Self-serving is not the same as “public service”.

            I make a good living, have worked 41 years, still working to actually serve the needs of the public, and you, every day. See you down at the Hospital!

            “Mobile Auto Detailing”? THERE’S a necessary service…

            • Mobile auto detailing may not be “necessary” but as I stated, helpful. Anyway, you actually sound kinda whiny- seems like you need to retire after 41 years & move somewhere that makes you truly happy.

    • The other thing about that hand written note from GWC to provide “domestic” water service to Connick Creek, that note was used as a “Will Serve” letter to the County, when they were subdividing Connick Creek into parcels. The whole Connick Creek subdivision plan was a joke and very shady, they never followed through with any of the county requirements, including water and sewer connections, road improvements, fire prevention or even what they called an “Connick Creek Homeowner Association”, which never existed. What ended up happening, was after GSD purchased GWC and then had to annex Connick Creek into the GSD service district, GSD paid for everything to include them. It was the only reason Peter Connelly was on the GSD Board and resigned shortly after he had to start recusing himself from anything concerning Connick Creek, since he owned property and lived out there…

      In fact, during that whole GSD annex process with Humboldt LAFCo, is when the community found out that many other properties over by the sewer treatment plant had tapped into waterlines illegally, because there was no meter and everyone at GSD never wanted to say anything…

  • “…cannabis is now legal agriculture in California.’
    “…cannabis is now legal agriculture in California.’


    • Trillium Hummingbird

      Just make sure you pay your taxes, get your permits, and pay your water bill!!

      ALSO: Pay your doctor, lawyer, sex worker, separated spouses, child support, pickup payment, insurance, and your therapist.

      STAY on your medication this time, it will help you in the long run…

  • Who would think a grocery store would use the same amount of water as any commercial crop? I understand where he is coming from but that knee jerk reaction is the kind of defensiveness that shuts down productive conversations and progress. It’s not unreasonable to ask agricultural concerns to set aside water for the low flow months.

  • smoke-cranky and slightly unreasonable

    “Where’s Tina?” Will we ever hear? Is this about her sharing with the public the results of an audit that reflected poorly on GSD? Let me guess, it can’t be discussed because it is headed towards litigation? Closed doors? Somehow I don’t think Ralph E is going to be giving back his salary raises to help pay for his actions.
    Bill Roddy would have been all over this. In the nineties we had a good local paper… he also would have covered the difficulty that KMUD has with their fund-raisers raising enough to cover the 2/3 of their budget that is PAYROLL! Volunteer long enough and maybe you too can get one of their cushy overpaid jobs!

    • Thanks for the clues, I was wondering about Tina, too.

      Also have ‘smoke crankiness’…these are the final days, neh?

      • smoke-cranky and slightly unreasonable

        Unfortunately my crankiness influenced the accuracy and way I vented. Part one was poorly worded and may actually misrepresent the Tina clue. Part two should NOT have read that the difficulty was with KMUD meeting its salary payroll! but that its benefits haven’t exactly been working. Of its budget approximately 2/3 is for payroll. Something that is not widely known.

  • Thanks, Kelly, for covering the GSD. Scrutiny of our ‘public’ infrastructure is to be encouraged.

  • yes Hummingbird—–3 of the board members were appointed by Estelle after R.Emerson presented her with _Rio Anderson-Gary Wellborn -Richard Thompson to put on his board, then they granted him a 40 THOUSAND dollar year raise for overseeing 450 meters !! Making his income close to 120k per year. There is a women east of here that gets 110k a year for tending 4600 meters ! Mr. Emerson and his friends are doing rather well in this little town.This is a public agency where board members are SUPPOSED to LIVE in that district. Criminal. If you were to take this situation to court , you will be paying for GSD lawyers with your own money , and the GSD knows this. These three board members DO NOT live in the district they set prices for !! These appointed board members live in Benbow-Kimtu-Redway, respectively. One of these board members is a huge commercial cannabis grower voting to raise water prices for his competitors here in Garberville. Something does not seem right here people. This is happening because the residents in Garberville are not involved, go to a GSD meeting to find out how you are not really welcome at the meetings, in their own words, ” We do not have to answer questions at these meetings that are not on tonights agenda .” It is your water supplier , GET involved, the community is being ripped off.

    • That is all 100% true, but what needs to be added, is that fact that Humboldt LAFCo had the final say and approval of GSD, which included the whole GSD annexation and properties at Connick Creek. And who were the two Humboldt County Supervisors and sitting Humboldt LAFCo Commissioners that voted “YES”, well it was Supervisor Fennell and Bass. I know, I was there that day, in Eureka and argued the whole annexation request and application by GSD. Not one ratepayer was present or submitted written comments opposing the expansion of water service boundary by GSD!

      I was name called and bullied by many people before and after that hearing, being told that I was costing the GSD ratepayers 10’s of thousands of dollars, with the biggest fallacy being that I didn’t even live in Humboldt County! But the funny thing about rivers in Humboldt County, those waters belong to the people of California; “up to the first line of permanently established riparian vegetation”. Rivers are not cash cows for private individuals, Community Services Districts or Mutual Water Companies, they belong to ALL of us, including the wildlife habitat!

      So now, everything is coming full circle. These GSD Board members, LAFCo Commissioners and Staff need to be held accountable for their actions…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *