AVALON — A county proposal to expand campgrounds at the west end of Santa Catalina Island has city officials complaining that the county is trying to ram through the plan without considering its long-term effect on the island's limited fresh water supply.
"The county has not been reasonable," said City Manager John Longley. "They have substituted power for law."
The $1-million project proposed by the county Department of Parks and Recreation would expand capacity at Little Harbor and Shark Harbor campgrounds from 150 to 200 campers and would provide a permanent nature center.
The county Board of Supervisors is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to require an environmental impact report for the project. Avalon officials want a study to be done, but the county Department of Parks and Recreation, which prepared a preliminary report, has recommended against it.
Develop Own Source
Dorothea Hoffman of the Department of Parks and Recreation said water is not considered a significant problem because the county would develop its own water source, which could include new wells if existing water supplies were not adequate. The expansion would require an additional 1.34 acre-feet of water, or 436,640 gallons a year more than is currently used at the campgrounds.
Fresh water has been rationed on the island since a drought in 1978. Southern California Edison Co., the sole purveyor of water on the island, keeps enough water in reserve to accommodate existing users in the event of a severe drought.
Edison district manager Angelo Kedis said no new allocations of water can be made unless a property owner gives up his existing allocation or a new water source is developed.
Kedis said Edison has determined that it would not be cost-effective for the company to develop new water sources because the city's permanent population is only about 2,400. As a result, developers proposing new projects must wait on a first-come, first-served basis for someone to give up an existing allocation. The campground expansion is No. 20 among the 34 projects on Edison's waiting list.
However, Kedis said, if anyone wants to invest in developing a new source of water they can do so and use that water for their project.
Cost Estimates Asked
Hoffman said the county has asked Edison, which also provides electricity for the island, for estimates on what it would cost to explore and develop water resources and whether a likely source is available.
If a new water source cannot be found, she said, the project would be delayed until water is available through existing sources.
"We cannot proceed without Edison's approval," said Hoffman. She said she expects to hear from Edison in about a month on whether water is available and what it would cost to provide it.
Despite assurances from the county and from Edison that the project would not go forward without Edison determining that enough water exists to maintain the reserve, city officials are still concerned and upset.
"No natural resource is more precious to life on an off-shore desert island than fresh water," said Avalon Mayor George Scott.
Scott said he was initially concerned that the county would try to get to the top of Edison's waiting list, but is now still concerned that if the county digs its own well it could affect the overall water supply by lowering ground water levels.
In a letter to the Department of Parks and Recreation last month, Scott angrily complained that the department was not considering the city's request for a full environmental impact report to determine the effect on the water table.
"It is tragic that the county can bulldoze us under, and selfishly plunder Catalina's natural resources without any regard for the systems we have worked so hard to put in place to create a fair and safe relationship between islanders and their natural resources," Scott said.
City Manager Longley said that although the city has no jurisdiction in the matter, the state Environmental Quality Act requires the county to address environmental impacts on neighboring jurisdictions.
'Authority to Proceed'
Joe E. Prather, a planner with the Department of Parks and Recreation, had responded in a letter to the city that the city's concerns had been addressed, and that since the site is under county jurisdiction, "We have the authority to proceed . . . if we so choose."
Longley said long-term environmental effects need to be explored. "The county says there may or may not be a problem," he said. "But that's what the environmental impact report is for--to give us an expert's evaluation."
Longley said the city has not decided what it will do if the county proceeds without a full environmental report. Among the options available, he said, are appealing to the state Coastal Commission or filing a lawsuit.