July 30, 2013 — Whiskey, they say, is for drinking and water is for fighting, and that famous old anonymous adage couldn’t possibly be any truer than it is right here in Lassen County today.
A few years ago the Honey Lake Valley Resource Conservation District assumed responsibility for the water master service — essentially managing the surface water resources of Lassen County — and the rhetoric and discord have continued to build in intensity and ferocity ever since. When the California Department of Water Resources transferred the responsibility to the district, it was hoped local control of the water distribution system would lead to better management of the resource.
That was a good idea then, and it’s still a good idea now if those involved can find a way to settle disputes in a fair and reasonable manner. Who in their right mind would imagine some bureaucrats could make better decisions about our local water use than those made by the water users themselves right here in Lassen County?
Clearly, if one listened to the catalog of comments at last Tuesday afternoon’s board of supervisors meeting, it’s obvious the water master issues have swamped the conservation district’s board — an agency created to administer conservation grants and projects such as, according to its website, the Lassen County Special Weed Action Team, which battles non-native invasive weed species; to implement a California Department of Conservation Watershed Coordinator grant involved in development of a Susan River Watershed Management Strategy, Pine Creek CRMP, and Lahontan Basins Integrated Regional Watershed Management Planning; participate with the Buffalo-Skedaddle Sage-Grouse PMU Conservation Strategy Work Group, established to proactively restore and enhance local sage-grouse habitat in order to avoid listing of the species on the Endangered Species list; and to work closely with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (to promote and encourage local landowners to develop conservation plans and implement practices that will conserve precious soil and water resources.
These responsibilities apparently have been slighted because concerns about water master issues have dominated the board’s attention. The disputes pit farmers and ranchers against each other and in some cases have reportedly destroyed family friendships that have existed for generations and reach back to the very founding of our county. Neighbors claim they’re not getting their allotment of water because another of their neighbors is taking more than his share. And to make matters worse, some of those complaining the loudest assert the district does not follow its own rules and regulations regarding the resolution of such disputes. In the midst of all this, some of the old timers remember the good old days when those in dispute simply would call the water master, have a meeting with their neighbors and work the issues out quietly in a fair and friendly fashion.
Enough already. It’s time for the directors of the Honey Lake Valley Resource Conservation District to take control of their board, their meetings and their district’s governance. It’s time for the water users to take a deep breath and give the system a chance to work as it should. They deserve a fair and equitable way to resolve these disputes, and it’s up to the board to provide that forum.
Let’s face it. If we can’t figure out how to settle these differences ourselves, these matters are surely headed to court, and then one day soon some bean counter in a far away city will make our decisions for us. That sounds like a losing proposition for everyone but the lawyers.
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