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October 2000

MMWD Doing Sonoma Pipeline Hustle At High Speed


By Elena Belsky

A new pipeline that would bring more Russian River water to Marin just got put on the fast track.

On Wednesday, September 21, the Marin Municipal Water District Board of Directors voted in favor of an less strict "addendum" to the existing, nine year old Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project, rather than a Supplemental or Subsequent EIR. The move minimizes requirements for public participation, and reduces the cost and scope of updating the original project EIR of 1991 (which was done prior to the Endangered Species Act)-either of the other options would have required public hearings, and public input, including a "scoping session" to determine what type of concerns should be addressed, would have cost substantially more, and would have put the EIR update process on a slower timeline mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act.

The pipeline is seen by many as a tremendous incentive for continuance of Marin's current rapid-growth spurt, and the audience was almost entirely comprised of people requesting that a comprehensive Supplemental or Subsequent EIR be performed; most represented or were affiliated with established environmental organizations. Testimony was articulate, non-repetitive, and made a compelling case for a considering new impacts discovered within the last nine years, and a more thorough re-examination of the original project's potential impacts. Speakers referred to the questionable healthfulness of Russian River drinking water, the reliability and expense of the proposed delivery system, the environmental damage to the Eel and Russian Rivers to which Marin would be contributing, and numerous other concerns (see the last several issues of the Coastal Post). Only one speaker, who spoke without standing to the podium or announcing his name, dissented.

Interestingly, this meeting saw the first public discussion of Petaluma's refusal to sign on to the Sonoma County Water Agency's "blank check" agreement (Amendment 11), and ongoing legal challenges to SCWA's EIR, and how they might affect the MMWD pipeline project. Discussion was brief and somewhat confused. The MMWD lawyer, staff or directors did not have enough information to present a useful picture of the current upheaval in those areas. Nevertheless, lack of this information did not give four of the Board members enough pause to seek more information, or to prepare for various contingencies through a Supplemental or Subsequent EIR process.

All Board members stated that they wished to have as much information as possible before voting on whether to proceed with the project at this time. Yet much of the board's discussion centered on minimum legal requirements, avoiding getting bound by the California Environmental Quality Act, cutting the study costs, and political appearances of public involvement. The vote belied the political posturing.

At the end of the evening, with a cavalier smile, state Assembly hopeful Joe Nation made the motion that MMWD proceed with only an addendum to the existing EIR, rather than a process that would mandate public input and review. The vote was four to one. Only Board director Jared Huffman spoke strongly about committing to a full EIR, bringing the public into the process, and really taking responsibility for what the Water District is proposing to do to the environment. He was the lone "no" vote. The reduced-study addendum process could be concluded as early as this Winter. Once it is complete, the Board is expected to vote on whether to commence the pipeline project.

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