From: Weed Area Water Alliance (W.A.W.A.)
Press Contact: Vicki Gold 530.926.4206 ~firstname.lastname@example.org
On June 23, long-time citizens of Weed and a newly formed citizens group, Weed Area Water Alliance, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Sacramento against the City of Weed and Roseburg Forest Products Company in response to their recent signing of a Water Lease Agreement. The lawsuit challenges the claim by the City that approval of the Water Lease Agreement did not require full review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the federal Clean Water Act.
“As we allege in our Complaint, there is no question that a CEQA review is clearly necessary,” stated Philip Gregory of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy in Burlingame, CA, counsel for the Plaintiffs. “We allege Roseburg Forest Products and Baxter Industries, adjacent to the Roseburg property, are former EPA Superfund Sites. Under the law, it would be both irresponsible and illegal for the City to proceed without proper environmental review.”
The water infrastructure of the City of Weed delivers gravity fed water from Beaughan Springs. Beaughan Creek’s path flows through the Roseburg property in unincorporated Siskiyou County, then through the City of Weed and beyond as an important tributary to the Shasta River and the Klamath River. Given that these are waters protected by federal law, they are protected by the Clean Water Act.
Roseburg Forest Products, an Oregon corporation, is reputed to gross $1 billion dollars annually, compared with the City of Weed’s annual budget which is between $3-4 million. Weed is still recovering from the significant loss of 153 homes during the September 2014 Boles Fire. Only 50 homes have been rebuilt. The Complaint asserts the anticipated increase of water rates by $30/month is a significant burden for the citizens.
“We brought this case because extending the current lease for 2 years will allow the City time to comply with CEQA and to better protect its citizens,” observed long time resident and former Mayor of Weed, Dave Pearce. “We feel a court will agree with us that the domestic and municipal uses are the highest and best use of the purest mountain spring water. Industrial use for watering logs and for the co-generation plant should not take precedence over the public’s access to this water source. Additionally, allowing Roseburg to export water for Crystal Geyser Roxanne to put in plastic bottles is likely a contributing factor to Roseburg’s unwillingness to continue supplying water to the City. Apparently Roseburg is counting on the profit from pure Beaughan Springs water both from the City and Crystal Geyser. Roseburg should not control our water, the most important resource of any community.”
Over 100 citizens appeared at City Council meetings to protest the creation of the new Water Lease Agreement, to object to the limited review of the CEQA Notice of Exemption, and to request that Roseburg extend the existing lease for 1-2 years. According to the local residents, this proposed extension would allow time for the City to perform proper environmental and legal reviews to determine a course of action to protect the safety, health, and welfare of the community. During the Water Lease Agreement negotiation process, the City’s longtime consulting water attorney resigned. Privately, Roseburg apparently has refused all requests to extend the lease so that proper environmental review could be conducted. Instead, Roseburg allegedly threatened to shut off the water if the City refused to sign the new Water Lease Agreement.
In addition to its obvious environmental impacts, the new Water Lease Agreement will reduce the City’s historical use of 2.0 cubic feet/second (cfs) of water by 25% to 1.5 cfs for 10 years with a possible 5 year extension. The Water Lease Agreement also obligates the City to seek alternate water sources within 6 months and to begin acquisition proceedings within 2 years followed by expensive public work projects to set up the plumbing and delivery systems for those sources.
According to Joe Berry, Secretary/ Treasurer of plaintiff Weed Area Water Alliance, “Our Complaint was filed because the City did not do its job to protect the future of the citizens of Weed. While the City is obligated to find new water sources, it is not even clear that suitable sources can be found at any affordable cost. Drilling new wells is unpredictable, in terms of quality and quantity of water.” Berry went on to point out: “The history of industrial contamination in the area makes quality a critical issue even if new sources can be identified. There is no question environmental review is required because adding new expensive infrastructure for high-volume pumping has potential significant consequences for the public and for owners of properties adjacent to identified new wells. The entire contiguous watershed of the Shasta Valley and Klamath River could suffer serious consequences.”
The history of the water lease arrangement is as follows: since its incorporation as a City in 1965, Weed provided Roseburg and its predecessor, International Paper Company, with drinking water, industrial water, and water for fire protection. Roseburg pays only $30,000 annually of the total City Fire Protection costs of $300,000. Although Roseburg’s mill is located just outside the city limits, the private corporation has benefited for decades from taxpayer funds. Millions have been spent by the City rebuilding the old redwood pipeline infrastructure with a 12 inch steel pipeline providing water to both Roseburg and the City.
Previously a company town, Weed has had beneficial use of the water for domestic, commercial and municipal purposes for 107 years. The City previously held a 50 year lease with Roseburg for $1 per year in exchange for accepting at no cost the domestic sewage from Roseburg’s mill. The new Water Lease Agreement is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2016. However, in the new Agreement, Roseburg requires the City pay the private corporation $97,500 annually increased by 2% each year after the first 5 years.
“In addition to this skyrocketed cost, which must be covered by ratepayers in this economically challenged and fire-ravaged town, the Water Lease Agreement includes provisions requiring Weed to accept future industrial waste (not just domestic waste) for the first time in history,” observed plaintiff Holly Hansard. “As our lawsuit points out, costs for upgrades of the City’s sewer system could reach $20 million. An important cost factor is the need to address the toxic chemicals known to be associated with the mill site and co-generation plant. This expense should be borne by Roseburg, not by the citizens of Weed.”
Roseburg also requested Storm Water and Industrial Waste diversion as part of the Water Lease package. Under pressure from the public, Roseburg backed down and the Storm Water component was not approved. The City Council felt that Roseburg was forcing their hand and approved the Water Lease Agreement under duress, yet the City’s rush to sign the Notice of Exemption from CEQA failed to protect the citizens and the environment.
“Based on our analysis in the Complaint, the Water Lease Agreement incorrectly assumes that the water in question is actually owned by Roseburg,” Gregory pointed out. “This assumption is not at all clear based on a legal analysis, especially since the existing plumbing and infrastructure from the well are owned by the City. Our lawsuit points out, accessing water from Beaughan Springs will cost Roseburg virtually nothing; it will cost the citizens of Weed millions. Drought and climate change have and are impacting the entire state. Depletion of groundwater has caused wells to run dry. Water is Gold and water privatization is an idea whose time has passed.”
Links and coverage: A copy of the Complaint can be found at the Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy website.