Multiple agencies investigate water appropriation

Several of the water bladders have been filled in the last month, even as severe drought conditions continue. A platform can be seen on the far end as a water truck is filled. Local residents have been commenting about the number of water trucks going in and out of the property on a daily basis.

GARBERVILLE >> On July 17 an application to appropriate more than three million gallons of water from the South Fork Eel River, a state and federally listed Wild and Scenic River, was filed with the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) by Jesse Jeffries for his property that used to be the Pancoast Ranch, on the river just below Garberville.

Last week SWRCB information officer Tim Moran told the Redwood Times that Jeffries' application is for a diversion for off-stream storage of 10 acre-feet per year, to be collected between Nov. 1 and April 1 of each year from the South Fork Eel River. Moran said the stated purpose of the appropriation is for "sale to the public." The application is being processed by the SWRCB permitting and licensing section based on their priorities for issuing permits, Moran said. One acre-foot of water equals 325,851 gallons.

Regarding whether Jeffries can continue to pump water from the South Fork Eel River before any permits are issued, Moran noted that since the Jeffries property is adjacent to the river, it appears to have riparian rights to water from the South Fork Eel, but until a riparian water right permit is issued, diversions from the river that are not consistent with a riparian claim is unauthorized. Under a riparian claim, water cannot be seasonally stored or used outside of the Jeffries' parcel or outside the watershed of the source stream. Moran said that no riparian permit has been issued for this property.

SWRC is still in the process of investigating as a result of complaints and will decide what action to take, Moran said.

Of the seven 210,000 gallon water storage bladders on the Sprowel Creek Road property, four have been filled since June of this year.

Senior planner Michael Richardson of the Humboldt County Planning Division said that in February Jeffries had applied for a permit to store 210,000 gallons of water on his property but the county deemed that amount to be in excess of domestic use needs and required a conditional use permit application.

Chief building official Todd Sobolik of the Humboldt County Building Division said last week that a stop work order was posted on Jeffries' property on Monday, July 21, by the Humboldt County Building Division for the seven 210,000 gallon storage bladders on the property. Sobolik said permits and a conditional use permit (CUP) are required for the installation of so much water storage.

Sobolik said when Jeffries originally spoke to him, Jeffries said the water was to be taken from a well.

Richardson explained when there are violations following complaints, the county usually sends a series of three letters to the property owner requiring a response within a given time frame. If there is no response after the third letter, the matter may be referred to the county code compliance division. Richardson said code compliance could then confer with county council and other agencies. Such matters may be brought to the Humboldt County board of supervisors if it is deemed a public nuisance. Richardson said that ultimately a lien could be placed on the property, or there may be fines.

Richardson added that the county departments try to work with the landowner in a friendly way to resolve issues.

Sobolik acknowledged that the government moves slowly. He explained that the issuance of the stop work order speeds up the county process somewhat. In response to the question of what a stop work order entails in a case like this and what happens to the water already collected, Sobolik replied that it is uncertain, but the division is working on the next steps.

Warden Shane Embry of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife told the Redwood Times in mid-July that CDFW was investigating Carl Jeffries, age 55, and Jesse Jeffries, age 33, for environmental crimes and that there would be charges filed with the Humboldt County District Attorney's office. (See Redwood Times, July 15.)

As of July 29, The Humboldt County District Attorney's office did not have a record of charges filed in this case. Calls to Warden Embry were had not been returned as of Friday morning.

Jeffries did not respond to requests for an interview.