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Water and cars on BoS agenda

An electric vehicle charging station outside a county building.
The electric vehicle charging station at the critical residential mental health facility in Ukiah.

March 21, 2022 — Today is the first day on the job for interim CEO Darcie Antle, whose one-year contract for salary and benefits totaling $338,000 was approved unanimously at last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting. Former CEO Carmel Angelo’s last day on the job was Friday.

The board also discussed crafting an ordinance or revitalizing existing rules to regulate water hauling in a way that would ideally curtail diverting water to illegal pot grows while not preventing access to drinking water.

And, in an effort to transition away from fossil fuels, the board agreed to start the process for a pilot program to enter a master equity lease plan with Enterprise Fleet Management to replace some of the 55 vehicles in the Social Services Department with hybrids by next year. Staff analysis projects a savings of about a million and a half dollars over the next ten years.

Twenty-three of the department’s vehicles are currently eligible for the new lease program, which will consider hybrid options whenever possible. The final draft of the plan is expected by July of this year.

The board has directed staff to transition to an all-electric fleet, but more charging stations will be necessary to run all of the county’s nearly 400 vehicles on electricity instead of fuel.

At this time, the county government has installed three charging stations with four working chargers at two locations. According to the staff report accompanying the item, it cost $36,000 to install two stations at the jail, both of which are expected to be out of commission for most of next year as construction on the new jail gets underway. The third station, at the crisis residential treatment center in Ukiah, cost about $20,000. Yearly maintenance and data storage at each station is estimated at about $3000.

County staff estimates that it would take three to five years to have charging stations at all county offices.

Water was also top of mind. Tomorrow’s forecasts for inland Mendocino County are creeping into the eighties, hinting rather broadly at a long, hot, dry summer. Supervisors John Haschak and Glenn McGourty, who are on the drought task force, agreed to form an ad hoc committee dedicated to figuring out how to re-establish a stand-alone water agency. Supervisor Ted Williams emphasized the main lesson from the morning’s budget presentation. “There’s no way to bring this back without a funding plan,” he pointed out. “And I think today we have negative general fund…and you could either propose making some cuts, adding an assessment or a tax, or finding another creative means to source revenue. But I think that the logical next step is, before we can say yes, we need to see where the money is going to come from.”

The board agreed to add members to a steering committee to work out how to fund the agency

McGourty and Haschak also presented the outlines of an idea to regulate water hauling, a water policy that Haschak explained residents of Covelo and Redwood Valley especially have been calling for. “We’ve heard about these water trucks going at all times of the day, all times of the night,” he reminded his colleagues. “Extracting from sometimes legal sources, sometimes illegal sources, but a lot of times, it’s just unregulated.”

The county already has ordinances regulating water extraction and the sale of drinking water.

McGourty proposed requiring water sellers to meter their wells and document water sales. Haschak also suggested hefty fines for violations, starting with $1000 for the first violation and climbing to $5000 after three violations. “Because we want to make it so people don’t just say it’s the cost of doing business and continue on,” he explained.

Howard Dashiell, the director of the county dept of transportation, assured the board that there is enough money left over from last year’s state grant to haul residential drinking water from Ukiah to Fort Bragg. Private haulers can then carry it to other communities on the coast. State-funded water haulers have to adhere to strict permitting standards. But Williams worried that even enforcing the ordinances that are already on the books could prevent children in his district from having enough water to practice proper oral hygiene. “We may put drinking water companies under,” he opined. “On the coast last year, we had water hauled from inland. I feel pretty bad about the line items for that. It was expensive. And I feel bad about the carbon footprint of hauling water across the county. This year, fuel prices may be double, and we may be looking at more wells going dry…I think what you’re proposing may fix some illicit cannabis nuisance problems in Covelo, but may punish Comptche...I know everybody should be following the books and have a well and maybe a use permit and so forth, (the) reality is that’s not where we’re at. We probably have a lot of water hauling, in the millions of gallons, that’s keeping kids brushing their teeth with drinking water, that could be impeded by this effort.”

Environmental activist Ellen Drell called in to say that she is part of a group drafting a proposed ordinance that she believes will address potential groundwater overdrafts, and urged the board to hold off on making a decision right away. The board agreed that the ad hoc committee should talk it over with more members of the community, including farmers, growers, and environmentalists, before making another proposal.