Casitas votes for fish ladder
By Jesse Phelps
For the moment, it seems the
political currents are flowing in favor of the endangered southern
The board of directors of the Casitas Municipal Water District
voted 4-to-1 on Wednesday afternoon to accept the mandate of
the National Marine Fisheries Service and begin construction
of the fish passage at the Robles Diversion.
After months of meetings, both public and private, and over threats
of water shortages and rising prices, the board reluctantly conceded
it had run out of alternatives. "I don't believe the board
has any options," said general manager John Johnson.
"You've talked to your attorneys.
This is a mandated action."
Once again, their meeting was well-attended, but this time most
came in support of the board and its difficulties, rather than
to express displeasure. Sharon Troll works with repeat offenders
in Ventura and she said she felt the lake was an invaluable resource
for her charges.
Board member Jim Coultas thanked those who expressed their sympathies
with the board's position. "I'd just really like to thank
the members of the audience," said Coultas.
"Many of the questions raised
here are ones we've wrestled with for the last four years. You
people are starting to feel some of the frustrations that we've
felt trying to deal with these alphabet agencies."
Board members continued to express their displeasure with the
mandate, maintaining that they felt coerced by outside agencies.
Coultas said he'd looked up the word "coerce" in the
dictionary, which gave him the synonym "compel." Said
Coultas, "I personally feel compelled to approve this."
That feeling, at least, was unanimous. Most of the board members
said they felt compelled to act against their own best interest
and several raised the issue of loss of local control to federal
authority. Board president Chuck Bennett posed the conundrum
thus: "We are giving up control of our lake," he said.
"There's going to be legal action. There's no escaping it.
We are in a box here and we're going to have to try to fight
our way out of it."
If Casitas raises rates, members of the community have threatened
legal action against the agency. Meanwhile, Johnson said if Casitas
refused to acknowledge the biological opinion and continued to
delay, he and the members of the board could be subject to legal
action from the government, with a strong potential for jail
Board member Bill Hicks said he would be willing to pay that
price, even with first hand knowledge of the discomfort. "I
feel strongly about it enough to go," he said. "I've
only been in jail once and it wasn't fun, let me tell you."
Hicks was vehement with his nay vote at the end of all the discussion
when votes were called for, saying, "No. Hell No."
The rest of the board reluctantly agreed it was time to move
Coultas said he understood the importance of restoring the fish.
"It's a very important situation," he said.
I'd personally love to see the
steelhead recovered. I think the fish ladder's a great idea,
I think it can work. The only problem I have is the volume of
water that's necessary to the bypass and the scientific evidence
that says that's how much it is. Let's proceed with it. It'll
definitely be the responsibility of this board to take as many
conservation measures as possible."
The decision was hailed as an enormous victory for the fish by
environmental activists. Attorney John Buse of the Environmental
Defense Center said, "That's the important thing.
We really have to focus on this
as a really the first and maybe the broadest measure I've seen
in Southern California particularly to protect steelhead. It's
He also found fault with Casitas' notion that local control was
being over-ridden by the all-powerful federal influence.
"The idea that this is an
affront to local control, for a federal reclamation project that
only exists as a result of the federal government, is outrageous,"
he said. "I really can't understand that at all."
Paul Jenkin, director of the Matilija Coalition, agreed that
the fish had won a major battle. "From my perspective,"
he said, "This is great because it's really the first step
in the restoration of the river and our natural resources here.
And the ultimate removal of the Matilija Dam couldn't happen
Buse was impressed with the board's, and Johnson's, agonized
deliberations. "Time will tell as far as the doomsday predictions,"
Buse said. "I think that certainly they managed to do the
Chicken-Little scenario. They out-Chicken-Littled any environmentalist
that I've ever heard, as far as the doom and gloom."
The Ojai Valley News
to the news