Before the California Assembly hearing in Eureka began Friday, Wiyot Tribe cultural liaison Cheryl Seidner summed up the important role water plays on the North Coast.
"Water is precious," Seidner said. "We need every drop we can get. It feeds the rivers and the streams and the lakes, even those that are man-made."
The informational hearing held by the California Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee focused on one of the five proposed water bonds slated for the Nov. 4 ballot -- the Clean and Safe Drinking Water Act of 2014. The $6.5 billion bond would replace a proposed $11.1 billion bond from 2009 to fund statewide water projects used for protection of watersheds and rivers, drinking water quality improvement, protection of the California delta, regional water management and water storage.
The author of the bill, committee Chairman and 63rd District Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, was present at the meeting along with 2nd District Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro and the three other committee members. Rendon explained the importance of the bond in light of Gov. Jerry Brown's recent statewide drought designation.
"We are tumbling on the edge of disaster," Rendon said. "California is facing a water crisis, and now is the time for us to start the work to protect our residents and our economy."
During the informational hearing, a tribal perspective panel addressed various topics such as funding river basin restoration projects to protect salmon, readjudication of water rights along rivers and tribal rights to water.
Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairwoman Danielle Vigil-Masten expressed her concern that certain language in the bond would result in conflict between tribes.
"We are concerned also that in the bond language it said it would restore the San Joaquin and the Sacramento rivers," Vigil-Masten said. "That's putting tribes against tribes once again. It's like dangling the carrot, so the tribes fight over money and water."
Karuk Tribal Councilman Joshua Saxon said the bond should be used to fund river basin projects to restore the "cornerstone" salmon fisheries.
"If we are serious about preventing the extinction of coho, preserving California's commercial salmon fishery and mitigating the damage that this region suffers as a result of the massive water diversion to the south, restoration dollars should be concentrated in Northern California," Saxon said.
After listening to the panel, Chesbro said that money allocated to preserve the fisheries will be for the benefit of the state, rather than just the North Coast alone.
"We're really good at talking about why salmon are so important to us ... the reasons for preserving fish is not just because they're important to us, they're important for the people of the state," Chesbro said. "In looking at how the resources get allocated to go where the fish need that restoration, that's an important factor to keep in mind."
The second panel to address the committee consisted of fishermen, environmentalists, water analysts, conservation advocates and local utility providers who were primarily supportive of the bond. One concern brought up throughout the hearing was the 50 percent cost share required for local water districts to receive project funding.
Five Counties Salmonid Conservation Program Director Mark Lancaster said implementing a cost share for water conservation projects is "always a very difficult thing for us to achieve."
Chesbro said that the cost share was justifiable, so that different areas of the state are not paying for improvements they will not benefit from, but acknowledged that the requirement can also be "unfeasible and cost prohibitive" to disadvantaged, smaller communities.
"The other exception that perhaps should be considered is very small water districts because their ability to capitalize the share is much more limited than a large water district that takes in a lot of revenue," Chesbro said during the meeting.
Humboldt County 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace said the cost share would "be a non-starter for many of the smaller special districts and other local agencies in our region."
"We encourage the committee to reduce this match amount to a more reasonable 25 percent, and further, to provide some mechanism to allow those districts who do not have the capacity to meet even that target," he said.
Another concern Lovelace said he had with the bond was that the North Coast -- representing 12 percent of the state's land mass -- would only receive 4.5 percent of the bond's $1 billion allotment for integrated regional water management programs.
"If the state wants to invest in water quality sustainability, it must invest in the rural areas, such as the North Coast, because we are where the water is," Lovelace said. "The North Coast is a vast region, comprised of seven counties ... this allocation must be revised to ensure the North Coast receives its fair share."
Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell said that while the North Coast has a right to its water, care should be taken to avoid creating conflicts between different regions of the state.
"I don't want to talk about a north-south divide," she said. "I want to talk about what we have in common, and what we all have is a need for clean water, reliable infrastructure, good fisheries and access for all."
If passed, Rendon said the bill would be the first water bond approved by California voters since Proposition 84 in 2006.
"If we do not approve a water bond this year, then many critical water projects and programs will remain unfunded and are expected to run out of money by the year 2015," Rendon said.
Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Will_S_Houston Twitter \