County sinks pipeline study

Photo by Ashiah Scharaga

Paul Gosselin, director of the Butte County Department of Water and Resource Conservation, will instruct work to stop on a pipeline from Paradise to Chico.

Chairman Steve Lambert interrupted his colleagues at the Butte County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 5), accusing Supervisors Tami Ritter and Debra Lucero of engaging in “political theater” before a crucial vote addressing the future of a study examining a proposed water pipeline from Paradise to Chico.

Following nearly an hour of public comment on the matter, Ritter and Lucero had begun presenting their concerns about the scope and nature of the study when Lambert jumped in, saying there was other business to get to that day and asking his fellow supervisors why they would “go through this process” if their votes were already decided.

“So, what you are doing is cutting off public discourse,” Lucero replied.

“Because the public has a right to know,” Ritter told Lambert several minutes later during a similar exchange from the dais, eliciting applause from the gallery.

The pointed exchanges came as the board once again considered funding a study that would determine the feasibility of a pipeline running down the Skyway and connecting the Paradise Irrigation District (PID) with California Water Service Co.’s Chico branch. Proponents say the project could help keep PID afloat as Paradise rebuilds and curb Cal Water’s reliance on groundwater moving forward.

The board on Tuesday ultimately voted 3-2 in favor of funding the study, but because the item was a budgetary adjustment requiring a four-fifths majority, the motion failed. Ritter and Lucero cast the dissenting votes.

The board had previously voted Sept. 10 to contract with Davis-based construction engineering company West Yost Associates to conduct the pipeline study. Ritter cast the only nay vote at the time, and work on the study had since started.

But Lucero, at a Board of Supervisors meeting Oct. 22, indicated she was considering changing her vote because Cal Water had not released groundwater study documents to the public, and the scope of the pipeline study had not been fully fleshed out (see “Tense negotiations,” Newslines, Oct. 24).

Cal Water released more than 350 pages of study documents before Tuesday’s meeting, and Lucero said she had been reviewing them after only being able to print them the day before. Nevertheless, she switched her vote to nay, expressing further concerns over the scope of the study, the stakeholders consulted and questions surrounding the possible permanent nature of the intertie project.

Paul Gosselin, director of the county’s Department of Water and Resource Conservation, told the board he would instruct West Yost to immediately cease work and send the firm a 30-day termination letter. Gosselin said the matter would have to come back to the board for a budget adjustment to cover the cost of work done thus far, which was estimated at about $25,000. The budget adjustment, according to Shari McCracken, the county’s chief administrative officer, would be required to cover those costs with grant money instead of general fund dollars.

The original cost breakdown for the study involved $72,000 from the county through Proposition 1, the state’s Groundwater Grant Program, and $71,800 split between PID and Cal Water.

The board left open the idea that a broader pipeline feasibility study could be commissioned in the future. A wide-ranging public meeting to discuss water issues, including the proposed pipeline and uses for the county’s “Table A” water allocation through the State Water Project, was scheduled for Dec. 17.

During the lengthy public comment period Tuesday, proponents of the study urged the board to continue funding the work, which they said only would determine whether the proposed pipeline project is feasible or not. They said a pipeline could help keep PID solvent after its two years of “backfill” money from the state—about $14 million—runs dry.

Mike Greer, president of the Paradise Unified School District board, told the supervisors that he supported the study. The school district, Greer said, is undergoing its five-year plan, and the study could help with budgeting.

“Paradise Unified School District is the community,” he said. “If we can’t have our families up here—our students up here—and if there’s a question about the water and how expensive is it going to be, it’s going to really make a difference on how fast Paradise can re-establish itself.”

Paradise Mayor Jody Jones said the issue at hand amounted to Paradise being in control “of its own destiny.”

The state, Jones said, wants PID to explore consolidating with another entity, likely Cal Water. Without the study and possible pipeline project, she said, PID may be forced to.

“We don’t want that,” the mayor said. “Deciding what is in the best interest of Paradise and [PID] is really not the job of the Board of Supervisors. It’s our job. My job, and the … irrigation district board’s job.”

Some speakers, however, opposed the study, claiming it was a “water grab” by Cal Water. Others lamented not being consulted in the process.

Chico Mayor Randall Stone told the board that he opposed the study in its current form. The city of Chico, he said, has not been consulted, which “should tell you something right off the bat.”

Stone said the ratepayers most impacted by the study have not been included in the process, and they should be.

“I’m very uncomfortable moving forward at this point,” he said. “I would feel much better if the feasibility study at least were incorporating what the impact would be to our community and to our ratepayers.”

Ryann Newman, member of the Miocene Canal Coalition, criticized the scope of the study, citing its lack of inclusiveness. She requested that her group be included as participants.

“Neither Cal Water or PID have advanced any solutions with respects to the Miocene,” she said. “To be brutally honest, from our perspective, any agency eyeing water rights and water conveyance systems off the Ridge should be able to do far more than sit silently and watch us fight with our hands tied behind our backs.”