redwood forest background
Mendocino County Public Broadcasting
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Moving Forward Together
Local News

Water, cannabis, sub-station at Redwood Valley MAC meeting

A building with a sign that says "Redwood Valley Grange 382" and a mural on the wall. Flowers and signs for events are also present.
Redwood Valley Grange on the fourth anniversary of the Redwood Complex Fire.

May 12, 2022 — The Redwood Valley Municipal Advisory Council held a hybrid meeting last night on zoom and at the grange. The council agreed to form a committee that would educate community members about local water issues, and advocate for Redwood Valley’s interests as water resources dwindle.

The council decided to recommend that a cannabis grow not be allowed to increase its area of operations, due in part to a lack of information about where it would get its water.

Lieutenant Jason Caudillo from the Sheriff’s Department warned of a possible increase in criminal activity as the Redwood Trail progresses. Caudillo also said the future of the sheriff’s sub-station at the Measure B-funded training center in the former Jehovah’s Witness church on East Road appears to be uncertain, as the cost of repairing extensive water damage to an outbuilding mounts. Asked when the sheriff’s sub-station would open, Caudillo said damage caused by a broken pipe would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair, so “I do not have an answer for you.” The Sheriff’s Department paid one-third of the $389,000 purchase price of the property in 2019.

Too much water is rare in Redwood Valley, where ag water has been shut off, and the community only has rights to surplus water from the much-reduced Lake Mendocino. The water district has rationed water use to 55 gallons per person per day. Council member Adam Gaska talked about why he’s joining the committee on water issues, in a town that overlooks the lake. “Redwood Valley has zero right to that water,” he emphasized. “Twenty years ago, when Russian River really started signing up people for contracts, I remember Danny Thomas had written up this missive that had said, whisky’s for drinking, water’s for fighting. And I think I was like twenty at the time, and I’m like, it’s gonna get serious.”

Supervisor Glenn McGourty filled the council in about how much water is coming through the controversial Potter Valley Project, which is limping along with a missing transformer that curtails the amount of water that comes into the Russian River from the Eel through a diversion tunnel in Potter Valley.

“You will see Lake Mendocino come up a little bit, primarily because of the water that’s coming through the Potter Valley Project, even at the low rate that it’s flowing in at the moment, it’s still coming in, and will continue through most of the summer, but at a reduced rate,” he said. “Normally, we’d expect about fifteen to sixteen thousand acre feet to come through, and it’ll be more like four to seven thousand.”

The Municipal Advisory councils, or MACs, were formed in unincorporated parts of the county so that community members could have a venue to form cohesive approaches to planning concerns. They generally have the ear of their county supervisor, and they receive alerts about certain kinds of permits, so they can make comments to various governing bodies. They are not legislative bodies, themselves.

Gaska thinks the MAC is the best local venue to educate community members about a variety of complex issues, including water policy. “Our business is communication. It is people having a voice,” he said. “RVMAC, we can’t promise you anything. But we allow you the space and the time to be heard. Which is important, because then we also decide who else needs to hear that. Is it Glenn? Does Glenn need to hear that? Does Jason Caudillo from the sheriff need to hear that? And they’re here. That’s what our board does.”

Water played a significant role in the council’s lack of enthusiasm for a request from a cannabis permit holder to double the grow size to 10,000 square feet of outdoor cannabis. A map showing 14 hoop houses led to confusion about whether the request was to change the whole grow site to outdoor or grow some outdoors and some in the hoop houses. Council members Chris Boyd and Marybeth Kelly had additional reasons for opposing the permit’s approval.

“All of a sudden, we'll see huge increases in water trucks going up the road,” Boyd said. “And with all of these problems we’re having with water, we don’t need to add noise pollution and diesel pollution to the picture. So I’m not for this.”

“Not to mention the state of the roads,” Kelly added. “Road E is one of the worst.”

McGourty reported some of the things that the Board of Supervisors is considering as the county works on an ordinance to regulate water hauling. He favors requiring permits and business licenses for wells that are the source of water for water trucks, and giving Code Enforcement the responsibility of checking water truckers’ documents. But, he pointed out, many people with some illegal cannabis also need water for legitimate domestic uses. “So how do you separate that out?” he asked. “Do you say no to health and public safety because they have a cannabis grow? So those are some of the things we have to work through.”

Council member Sattie Clark said she believes that regulating water use, through policies based on rigorously gathering information, isn’t all about busting illegal cannabis growers. “We all need to be looking at our water in a more holistic sense,” she opined. “Because it’s kind of like, whoever takes it, gets it. And this conversation that we’re having about hydrological studies for new wells, et cetera, is really just good management of our water resources…we need clarity about where this water is going and whether it’s sustainable, whether it’s healthy for our community as a whole.”

McGourty encouraged the council to seek state money, saying that, while the county is broke, the state is flush with cash, and likely to spend some on small disadvantaged communities.

Redwood Valley has gotten some relief for a major disaster. After the fire of 2017, PG&E awarded the MAC a $10,000 community planning grant. Boyd said the MAC decided to spend $5,000 of that grant on a new heating and cooling system for the grange, which became a hub in the wake of the fires. “Part of what we discovered in going through the fire and the emergencies is that the grange is a central locus for the community when we go through any emergency,” she declared.