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Supervisors support bill to fund local public drinking water systems

Clean, safe drinking water is a part of everyday living in Plumas County, but oversight costs exceed fees that can be collected from small water systems, according to Jerry Sipe, director of the Plumas County Environmental Health Department.

Sipe was before the Plumas County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, March 5, requesting its support of a letter backing Assembly Bill 402.

This bill pertains to sustainable funding for the local oversight of public drinking water systems, Sipe explained.

Environmental Health is the designated Local Primacy Agency (LPA). “And we are responsible for carrying out this regulatory oversight program for small public drinking water systems,” he said.

In 2013, the state Division of Drinking Water provided LPA counties with one-time funding to help offset costs. That funding will be expended at the end of the next fiscal year, Sipe explained.

AB 402 offers LPA counties an opportunity to participate in a sustainable, statewide funding stabilization program, Sipe said. The program, if approved, would pool water system oversight fees from large and small systems throughout the state. This would result in subsidized fees for small community systems.

Funding is then provided to LPAs through an annual work plan. “Any locally imposed enforcement penalties or fines would be remitted to the state, and counties could not charge fees in addition to the annual state charge,” Sipe said.

If the county decided to enact fines or penalties they would be remitted to the state, he emphasized.

Without the passage of AB 402, Environmental Health would be faced with difficult decisions regarding the LPA program. It would have to increase fees to cover the oversight costs, support the program with general fund monies, or give up local control and let the state Division of Drinking Water run the oversight program.

“None of these are attractive options,” Sipe told supervisors.

Sipe added that there are some advantages and some disadvantages to AB 402. But he is in favor of the bill and maintaining some local control.

Under AB 402, this is an opt in program. Sipe said that even though he is asking supervisors to send a letter of support, it doesn’t mean the county has to participate.

“The purpose of AB 402 is to continue funding local, effective and accountable drinking water oversight,” Sipe explained. “For Plumas County this may be our best opportunity to maintain local control of this regulatory program.”

Supervisors unanimously approved sending the letter. Supervisor Michael Sanchez immediately signed the letter and presented it back to Sipe to send to the correct state department.

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