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Letter lets state know where Plumas stands on watershed concerns

Suggests it look toward the Pacific for solutions

Just meeting the governor’s deadline of Friday, Feb. 7, members of the Plumas County Board of Supervisors submitted comments on the state’s long-term water resilience and ecosystem health.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, through Executive Order N-10-19, and Nancy Vogel, director of the Governor’s Water Portfolio Program, invited comments on “a suite of actions,” aimed at the state’s long-term water goals.

“Plumas County is pleased to have the opportunity to submit comments,” on the January 2020 Draft Water Resilience Portfolio,” according to the board’s letter. “The county is encouraged to see the state is continuing its commitment to all stakeholders of being a wise steward of the California’s natural resources.

In the two-and-a-half-page letter, supervisors stated, “It will likely be noticed by the state that there is a common thread among stakeholder feedback, which is maintaining local autonomy and receiving or having access to much-needed resources.”

“Local autonomy is of the utmost importance for Plumas County,” the supervisors stated.

To meet shared goals and objectives, supervisors point out that the county needs the resources to take action.

Maintain and diversify water supplies

As the state invests in local ways to diversify water plans, supervisors see that local population centers and agricultural areas, the local economies and environments can be improved.

“In the headwater areas like Plumas County, natural ecosystems can be restored and job opportunities enhanced,” stated supervisors.

They also point out that large population areas along the coast can rely on their own water resources — the Pacific — and reduce water demands in watershed areas like Plumas County. A commitment to the best science practices should be encouraged to meet this goal.

“The day in which science, engineering, and innovation fails in diversifying the state’s water portfolio is the day that narrow ideologies and interests triumph over a water resiliency portfolio with statewide benefits,” supervisors wrote.

Protect and enhance

natural systems

Plumas supervisors reminded the state that the best way to protect natural resources is by not depleting them, especially when other natural resources are available, such as the Pacific Ocean.

Supervisors encourage the state’s Natural Resources Agency to support developing technology to promote practical ways to use ocean water. “Taking water from the north state and other states to allow millions of people to build in a desert is detrimental to both ecosystems,” they stated.

“The state’s leadership is appreciated and helpful, however it should not be overvalued,” supervisors pointed out.

Plumas County has long sought ways to meaningfully protect its economic foundation with watershed resources and stability. With that in mind, local supervisors call for the state to share a leadership role with regional and local stakeholders and professionals.

“Too often state standards and policies are too cumbersome and too expensive (especially for rural stakeholders) and are often underdeveloped and conflicting, thereby causing confusion and contention,” supervisors said.

Citing recent drought conditions, mandated conservation measures by the state were unequally applied and enforced between regions. “While landscapes and grass grew green in Southern California without consequence, Northern California’s compliant grass and landscapes diminished in drab shades of yellow and brown.”

“Finally, to look forward we must look back, and history suggests California’s water woes are complicated by failed policy, management, and maintenance over decades,” supervisors emphasized.

Supervisors pointed out that the Draft Water Resilience Portfolio “is silent on the subject and treats climate change as the only impending threat to the state’s water.”

To help remedy this, supervisors recommend that the portfolio address the limitations of past policies, management and maintenance of the state’s water infrastructure. “The purpose of this discussion is to not point the finger, but to point the way forward with improved policies, mandates and standards that are educated by past practices,” according to supervisors in their letter.

Build connections

While supportive of an infrastructure to share water, supervisors remind the state that physical connections can develop tangible consequences.

“Such connections and consequences are much more complex to craft and construct without negative impacts to other parties.”

Providing an example, supervisors pointed to 20 years ago when water shortages prompted water contractors to consider amendments to their water supply contracts with California. Associated with that, Plumas County received $4 million of $8 million toward an agreement in the Monterey Settlement. It is still waiting for the balance of the amount while lawsuits and appeals play out. “The Water Resilience Portfolio approach should offer real opportunities to mitigate and move beyond litigation so as to not hamstring stakeholder stewardship in opposite corners of the state.”

Supervisors also point to limited investment that negatively affects the county’s ability to operate and improve water infrastructure and natural resource management.

“Our successful 2016 Upper Feather River Integrated Regional Water Management Plan and suite of projects lays out in great detail the hopes and needs of water and watershed managers in our region,” supervisors said in their letter.

This plan includes drinking water, agriculture and forestry planning and is being implemented as funding is procured. Supervisors point to current projects, including the Proposition 1 Disadvantaged Communities for Indian Valley Community Services District, and the Sierraville Public Utility District. From Proposition 68 came the Sierra Valley Groundwater Sustainability Management planning grant for $3 million.

Supervisors also point out that the portfolio is “relatively silent” when it comes to protecting water rights. “The portfolio must respect and build upon the existing system of senior, are-of-origin, and county-of-origin water rights.”

Plumas is among those with established water rights and supervisors stipulate that downstream water districts and the state must respect them. Supervisors specify that language within the document must state this.

Be prepared

“Funding is a critical resource to prepare,” according to supervisors.

Funding is critical for remote, rural and economically disadvantaged headwaters areas that include Plumas County. “The role of local government and federal land managers in the headwaters areas is crucial for successful implementation of a Water Resilience Portfolio in the headwaters areas, as many communities are unincorporated and significant portions of land are owned and managed by the federal government,” according to supervisors.

And in another area, supervisors voice their concerns about climate data. Much of what water resiliency is based on deals with climate data. “The public and stakeholders should have a guarantee of data transparency to be assured that data is not cherry-picked for agency agendas.”

Data should be provided for inspection and discussion amongst all stakeholders, supervisors point out.

Plumas County Board of Supervisor chairperson Kevin Goss signed the letter.

Board discussion

“We’ve been good stewards,” said County Administrator Gabriel Hydrick author of the portfolio letter. “Trust should be placed with us.”

“I thought it was a very well written letter,” said Supervisor Sherrie Thrall as the Board of Supervisors considered approving it.

“Ratifying letters after they’re sent on policy is not good,” said Supervisor Jeff Engel. Engel did understand that there was a deadline involved in getting the letter to the state and allowing the county to be heard.

Thrall also said that she didn’t want to see a habit of ratifying letters after the fact.

The board did approve the letter.

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