Forest trust proposes helping Plumas with watershed restoration

Promoting healthy watersheds, forests and jobs, a representative of Healthy Watersheds California, a Pacific Forest Trust (PFT) program, was before the Plumas County Board of Supervisors in January, seeking letters of support for funding through assembly bills.

While one supervisor had many questions to pose to Jill Harris, PFT project manager, another supervisor threw his verbal support behind the proposal.

“I have a lot of questions, that’s why I’m glad you came,” said Supervisor Lori Simpson, who led an invitation to the board for questions. “Who’s climbing on board this?”

Simpson said she didn’t see any letters of support especially from other boards of supervisors included with Harris’ presentation package.

The chart is prepared for the Pacific Forest Trust’s risk assessment on Northern California’s five-region watershed. It shows public and private lands and the amount of acreage involved. Chart courtesy of PFT risk assessment brochure

Harris responded that the proposal is relatively new. PFT is in partnership with Crystal Geyser Water Company in Calistoga, CalFire and the Michigan-California Timber Company among others to promote healthy watersheds, forests and to protect wildlife.

PFT also has the support of some Plumas County-based groups including Jim Wilcox and John Sheehan of Plumas Corporation, and Hannah Hepner of the Plumas FireSafe Council. It also counts as its partners Ed Valenzuela, Siskiyou County supervisor; Mary Rickert, Shasta County supervisor; Randy Moore, USFS regional forest, Region 5; and Nick Goulette, executive director of the Watershed Center, Harris listed following the meeting.

“I’ve also met with and received verbal support from Barbara Drake when she was interim Supervisor for the Plumas National Forest; Patty Grantham, Klamath National Forest supervisor; Deb Bumpas, Lassen National Forest supervisor; and Scott Russell, Shasta-Trinity National Forest supervisor,” Harris said.

Supervisors took no formal action following the presentation. Simpson strongly recommended that PFT and Harris hold a workshop for local agencies and residents who might be interested in the proposal. Harris agreed to a local public workshop but no date has been chosen.

Healthy watersheds California presentation

Pacific Forest Trust, established 25 years ago, is based in San Francisco with another major office in Portland. Harris is based in Yreka.

Its mission, which Harris read to supervisors, is “To sustain America’s forests for their public benefits of wood, water, wildlife, and people’s well-being, in cooperation with landowners and communities.”

Since its establishment in 1993, Pacific Forest Trust has conserved more than 275,000 acres of vital forest watersheds in California, Oregon, and Washington. Their efforts have helped to protect the natural spring sources that provide clean water critical to people, agriculture, recreation and wildlife.

Healthy Watersheds California focuses on five key regions of the northern state. These include the Feather, Pit, McCloud, upper Sacramento and upper Trinity River watersheds.

PFT through its studies points out that the source water infrastructure is degraded and poses a significant risk to the reliability, quality and security of California’s major water supply.

Four years ago, the state enacted Assembly Bill 2480 that not only defined watersheds, but also identified them as an integral part of the state’s infrastructure. Toward that end, the legislation recognized watershed restoration and conservation as essential components for a better, more reliable water supply. It also attached funding resources to assist in some projects designed to meet the state’s goals.

Associated with AB 2480, PFT researched and wrote what it calls the first comprehensive assessment of conditions and restoration needs of the five Northern California watersheds.

“Together, these reservoirs (Shasta and Oroville) provide drinking water for over 28 million Californians and agricultural water for millions of acres of farmland,” according to PFT’s Risk Assessment of California’s Key Source Watershed Infrastructure. And it is both of these reservoirs that Northern California’s water eventually enters for its distribution to other regions of the state.

“California’s reliance on them will only  increase with advancing climate change, as their northern region will remain cooler and wetter than the rest of the state, which warms and dries,” according to PFT’s study.

PFT sees AB 2480 as an opportunity to proactively and cost-effectively deal with threats of floods, fires and pest outbreaks associated with climate change. It can also reduce the risk to and increase water security.

As part of going after funding through AB 2480 and other sources, PFT is seeking partners who share the vision and understand the organization’s goals.

Fuels reduction

One of the main areas Harris focused on in her presentation to supervisors was that through land conservation easements, larger swatches of land could be managed to reduce fire hazards. Harris called current efforts “random acts of conservation.”

What PFT is “proposing is a regional approach rather than lots here and there,” Harris explained.

What has been happening with other agencies and even the federal government takes smaller areas into treatment plans.

According to Harris’ PFT information, in the Feather watershed, 35 percent of the land is privately owned.

Through property owners becoming involved in PFT’s conservation easement plans, watersheds can be restored, timber harvested and jobs maintained and created, according to Harris. “This significantly reduces the cost of wildfire,” Harris said about having larger areas involved in fuel reduction practices.

Simpson said she was concerned that log size harvested would only be up to 8-inches in diameter. Harris didn’t have a response to her concern.

“We sell logs, we sell chips,” Harris explained. “Our goal is to keep forests working.”

Through PFT’s plan, “ This analysis is intended to provide a comprehensive, cross-boundary planning framework for restoration at the watershed level, rather than as a prescription for site-specific, project-level implementation.”

“It identifies the type and scale of restoration as well as the overall location of that work, which is merited in each watershed, rather than identifying the exact acres where specific restoration activities should be implemented,” according to PFT’s risk assessment.

Harris said that if enough partnerships are found in the five-region area to gain grant funding from the state, PFT doesn’t need to be the implementation agency. It would direct financial benefits to the communities involved, she said.

Harris told supervisors in January that her work toward gaining partners is relatively new. She’s been meeting with people and groups in the eight counties within the five watershed regions. As supervisors and other groups learn of PFT’s goals, she said she is hoping that county residents will reach out to their legislators.

Springs for Life partnership

Springs for Life ForestWater Alliance is a partnership between Pacific Forest Trust and Crystal Geyser Water Company.

Ensuring “water security for millions of people by protecting forests and maintaining healthy watersheds that provide life-sustaining water,” according to information on the partnership as announced in April 2019.

By protecting forests and maintaining healthy watersheds is the goal for not only publicly owned forests but for privately owned forestland. “Together, these many owners are responsible for careful stewardship of the sources of our drinking water,” according to the plan.

“For Crystal Geyser Water, being the founding partner of the ForestWater Alliance is a significant commitment — from a beverage company whose primary resource is water — to join with a trusted and highly successful conservation organization to protect natural springs,” according to a press release from PFT.

Crystal Geyer Water Company has provided bottled water since 1977.

“Crystal Geyser is very proud to continue the legacy of our founders by pioneering a new venture in conservation,” according to Yasu Iwamoto, the chief executive officer for Crystal Geyser Water Company.

“Working together with landowners,  government agencies, local communities and businesses like Crystal Geyser, Pacific Forest Trust is able to leverage the resources needed to achieve our common goals for healthy forest watersheds and water security for people,” according to PFT President and co-CEO Laurie Wayburn. “We are grateful for Crystal Geyser’s leadership in helping us launch the Springs for Life initiative, and we look forward to engaging more businesses as partners for the ForestWater Alliance.”

A common goal through the partnership is to protect the security of water supplies especially in areas where watersheds supply vast amounts of water to people.

Agreements such as this one are important in that it brings businesses together with agencies such as PCT, according to PFT Project Manager Jill Harris.

“Healthy Watersheds California is a policy initiative, separate from our WFCE work,” Harris explained.  WFCE’s (Working Forest Conservation Easements) could be one of the activities used to keep watersheds whole but they are not the sole focus of HWC.

“Our partnership with CGWC (Crystal Geyser Water Company) and the Springs for Life ForestWater Alliance is yet another tool — separate from HWC though it embodies the same values — for Pacific Forest Trust to engage industry in supporting conservation of forested watersheds,” Harris said.

“If it helps, please think of Pacific Forest Trust as an organization (we are a private, nonprofit 501c3) that has a policy division, a working land/forest trust division, and an industry partner division. These focus areas/divisions all share the same mission and values.

Confusion with Crystal Geyser names

Mark Twain is attributed with the famous quote, “Whiskey is for drinking, water for fighting over.”

Supervisor Jeff Engel used that saying as he threw his support behind a proposal from Pacific Forest Trust’s Project Manager Jill Harris that could help protect watershed areas in five Northern California watershed regions including Plumas County.

And that commitment is shared with a number of companies including Crystal Geyser.

But what wasn’t initially clear is the difference between Crystal Geyser Water Supply and Crystal Geyser Natural Alpine Spring Water, Roxane.

“The Crystal Geyser which is part of Springs for Life is not related to Crystal Geyser Roxane, which is the one that has violations,” explained Wayburn when asked about the status of Crystal Geyser.

Most reports, news stories and other mentions do not differentiate between the two companies.

While a spokesperson for Crystal Geyser Roxane said there are different boards of directors for the two companies, they share common roots. They began in 1977 in Calistoga and share the brand name.

They are also owned by the same Japanese company Otsuka Pharmaceutical. Under that company’s umbrella is Otsuka Foods.

While Yasu Iwamoto is the chief executive officer for Crystal Geyser Water Company, he is also a director for Otsuka Foods, according to corporate information.

Harris, while now affiliated with PFT, left Crystal Geyser as a spokesperson in 2019.

Crystal Geyser “is captured at authentic natural springs,” according to the Alpine Spring Water web site. While Crystal Geyser Water Company claims environmentally friendly practices as proclaimed by its Spring For Life campaign, Crystal Geyser Roxane makes a very similar claim. In one campaign it claims to protect the environment through conservation and sustainable use. It also says that it is committed to replanting forests.

And people such as PFT’s Wayburn are anxious to separate themselves and their activities from Crystal Geyser Roxane. In mid-January that company was fined $5 million for transportation and storing of hazardous waste — arsenic dumped into water resources. The levels the company was found guilty of dumping was beyond levels considered as safe.

According to court records, the company created an arsenic pond between Death Valley and the Sequoia National Forest. The company didn’t disclose that the water was then pumped from the pond and delivered to water treatment plants, contained poisonous heavy metal. Charges were made in 2018.

According to Food Safety News, in April 2019 Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water was among 11 bottle water brands to have unsafe arsenic levels.

Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water Roxane owns private protected springs in Weed and Olancha in California; Arkansas, Tennessee, South Carolina, New Hampshire and New York.

Crystal Geyser has also had its share of fights, lawsuits and more over attempts to open bottling plants in some areas. Many residents and groups in Mount Shasta and the Winnemen Wintu Tribe have challenged Crystal Geyser. However in October 2019 the Siskiyou Superior Court struck down their lawsuit. This meant that the company could resume work in the Coca Cola water bottling facility outside of Mount Shasta. Appeals are planned.

In mid-July 2019 organizers including a water alliance and tribal council stated their opposition to a Crystal Geyser facility on the Cowlitz River 120 miles northeast of Portola and near Randle, Washington.

Opponents stated that not only would the estimated 325,000 gallons a day the company wanted would hurt the area, it would also damage the salmon population.

And other similar plants have come up against opposition not only in California, but Oregon and Washington.

What’s a conservation easement?

Conservation Easements have been around a long time. They are essentially a permanent conservation for private lands. They allow landowners to protect the land and limit certain types of land uses in perpetuity.

Often a land conservation easement is sold or donated to a qualified conservation organization. The Feather River Land Trust is an example of a local organization.

Pacific Forest Trust’s Working Forest Conservation Easements  are another example. These are voluntary agreements established with willing landowners.

“We are always interested in partnering with landowners by providing economic incentives to help them keep their land in timber production which is important to rural economies and ensuring they practice sustainable forestry and employ conservation practices for the benefit of wildlife and habitat,” according to PFT President and co-CEO Laurie Wayburn. “We do not currently have any projects in Plumas County.”

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