Federal Water Heads South Via City-Approved Deal; Public Comment Period Moved to Meeting’s End

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A Glenn County water district that typically pays $20 for an acre-foot of water has gladly agreed to shell out $294 per acre-foot in a deal that will net the city of Redding about $120,000 while illustrating how California’s water wars are starting to heat up.

The three-way deal between the city, the McConnell Foundation and the Kanawha Water District (just west of Willows) was approved by a 4-1 vote of the Redding City Council. Councilman Patrick Jones cast the dissenting vote, saying he had “an uneasy feeling” sending water south when many in Shasta County have a need.

The McConnell Foundation has rights to 5,100 acre-feet of water through its ownership of the Gore Ranch in southern Shasta County. It put the water on the market at $250 per acre-foot and the desperate Kanawha district jumped at the offer for 2,724 acre-feet.

There is a catch, however. Terms of the foundation’s contract with the Bureau of Reclamation for the water stipulate that any water sold outside of Shasta County is subject to a 1.786 “transfer reduction factor.” In essence, the district would be paying for 2,724 acre-feet of water, but would only receive 1,525 acre-feet.

The deal approved on Tuesday calls for Redding, which is not subject to any transfer limitations, to purchase the water from McConnell at $250 an acre-foot and turn around and sell it to Kanawha at $294 an acre-foot. The district would receive the full 2,724 acre-feet and the city will pocket the difference for serving as an intermediary.

The sale would have taken place with or without the city’s involvement, City Manager Kurt Starman said.

Public Works Director Brian Crane described the agreement as a “win-win-win” situation that benefits both the city and the Kanawha district and keeps Central Valley Project water in the north state.

Michael Alves, manager of the Kanawha Water District, expressed his gratitude for the transfer agreement and said it comes in the nick of time. The 59-year-old district has always relied on Central Valley Project water for irrigation but this year, for the first time, the federal allocation was reduced to zero.

“We have no water,” Alves said. Tuesday night’s agreement will provide the district with about half of its normal volume, but it should be enough to keep walnut, almond and pistachio trees alive during the long, dry summer.

Sharon Chandler of Redding objected to the transfer and questioned why the McConnell Foundation didn’t sell its rights to the water-starved Bella Vista Water District instead. John Mancasola, McConnell’s vice president and in-house counsel, said the foundation offered water to both Bella Vista and the Shasta Community Services District. Both districts declined the offer.

“This is capitalism, folks,” Mayor Rick Bosetti said. “It’s the law of supply and demand.”

In other action Tuesday, the council:

–Voted 3-2, with council members Jones and Gary Cadd dissenting, to move the public comment portion of council meetings from the beginning to the end.

Councilwoman Missy McArthur proposed the switch, saying the 30-minute comment section had devolved into an uncivil mess of name calling and personal attacks. That behavior, once it becomes available on the city’s website and broadcast on Redding’s community access channel, damages Redding’s image and discourages prospective investments.

Several speakers argued for the current arrangement and criticized McArthur. “This is a bogus attempt to stifle free speech,” said Gary Hollahan, a tea party member who routinely addresses the council during the public comment period.

George Clarke wanted to know how McArthur had become the city’s “decorum judge” and suggested politics were behind her effort. “You’re just trying to get Francie (Vice Mayor Francie Sullivan) elected so no one will show up and speak.”

Chris Darker, business manager of United Public Employees of California (UPEC) Local 792, also voiced support for the current setup while noting “the grandstanding and entertainment needs to be taken out.”

The shift is not crimping any 1st Amendment rights, McArthur said, it’s just changing the time they can speak. The change also frees the council to take up city business sooner, she said, adding that most residents come to council meetings to hear and/or speak on agenda items.

Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at jonpaullewis@gmail.com.

Jon Lewis
Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at jonpaullewis@gmail.com.
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