Board Notes 110211
The Sierra County Board of Supervisors met in continued regular session in Downieville. Supervisors Schlefstein, Nunes, Huebner, Goicoechea and Chair Adams were all present.
Committees Report/Directors Report/BMs Report
There were kudos all around and thanks include a card with 27 signatures expressing gratitude for the new shed in Alleghany. In times like these, people sure are happy when something occasionally goes right.
Then, the mood turned darker.
One of the freedoms the government is protecting us from is the freedom to take the chance of smacking our quad into a Hummer in a tight turn on a gravel road. The Forest Service in the last few years has woven a net around our dirt roads, fenced us off from most of the wild lands, and curtailed reckless good times. It’s for our own good, and the good of the environment, and there’s nothing worse than that to make the boondocks feel like downtown. Inyo County is reportedly trying to negotiate some mixed use for one of their forest roads, which is taking the cooperation of the California Highway Patrol, who is our master not on just highways but all roads, and the Forest Service, master of our public land, and various other players. It doesn’t look good. Inyo County is being asked to absorb liability for the roads, and even if local and state participants agree, there is nothing to compel the FS to comply. Mr. Beals, Director of Public Works noted that Sierra Pacific Industries, which owns every other mile along some Forest Service roads, would likely complain if some roads were allowed to deteriorate from roads exclusively for auto travel to roads which allow off road vehicles. Not only are there safety concerns with logging trucks and flittering dirt bikes and quads, but there is a maintenance agreement and SPI would have to maintain every other mile of FS road themselves. It would be cheaper to go to court and sue the county and everyone in it.
The Board entertained a group representing the Yuba County Water Agency, National Marine Fisheries Service and American Rivers who did a “show and tell” for the Board regarding a plan to re-introduce Spring Run Chinook Salmon and Steelhead to the North Fork of the Yuba River.
The Yuba County Water Agency (YCWA) owns and operates New Bullard’s Bar reservoir, which provides flood control and supplies water primarily for agricultural use. The dam and reservoir also provide 350 MW of electricity and recreation including fishing for Kokanee and eight non-native sport fish. New Bullard’s Bar Dam is a 645 foot concrete impediment to migrating salmon, as it has been since 1971. The reservoir holds over 900,000 acre feet when full, and is primarily fed by the North Fork of the Yuba. The Dam is in Yuba County; most of the river is in Sierra County. It is due for relicensing in 2016.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) oversees the Chinook, which are, of course, threatened under both state and federal designations. NMFS was represented by Alice Berg, a locally known and respected biologist. NMFS interest in the salmon is reflected in the draft recovery plan, found HERE. Spring Run Chinook were once the most populous species in the Sacramento River. Steelhead are a kind of sea run rainbow trout, and once inhabited the high streams of the Sierra. Ten genetic lines of Steelhead have been listed as threatened or endangered by NMFS. Interestingly, the Steelhead were introduced around the world and are considered an aquatic invasive species in many areas.
In addition to commercial exploitation, large‐scale habitat degradation, blockage of historically available habitat and altered flow and water temperature regimes, other factors that may have adversely affected natural stocks of Chinook salmon and steelhead include overharvest, illegal harvest, hatchery production, entrainment, and introduction of competitors, predators and diseases. Fish populations also vary due to natural events, such as droughts and poor ocean conditions (e.g., El Niño). However, populations in healthy habitats typically recover within a few years after natural events. In the Central Valley,
the decline of fish populations has continued through cycles of beneficial and adverse natural conditions, indicating the need to improve habitat. From the draft, link above
It isn’t possible to simply build a fish way around New Bullard’s Bar Dam, since it is 350 feet high. So far no one has suggested flying fish to take on the damn, so the SRC are going to be captured and trucked around the dam. Such a system is used elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest where dams make it impossible for fish to move up and down rivers like God and nature intended.
As is usual with water in Sierra County, the people who would most benefit from having Spring Run and Steelhead re-introduced are downstream users and people from elsewhere who are philosophically or financially motivated to put threatened fish in our waters. In addition to the Yuba County Water Agency and the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta and Sacramento River ecological systems would benefit from having Spring Run Chinook returned to the system. Partners in the North Yuba Reintroduction Initiative include Cal Fish and Game, Trout Unlimited, American Rivers and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who owns Englebright Dam, which is below New Bullard’s Bar, but which proves less of a challenge since a fish way around the dam is possible.
Spring Run, Photo by Ralph Mullican, from HERE
The Supervisors heard the presentation from the group, who emphasized the plan was in the earliest stages, that there were many details to iron out, but that indications were good that SRC and Steelhead could be introduced. They were looking for partners in the county to simply explore the possibilities.
Supervisor Huebner suggested the Board send it to the Fish and Game Committee. However, Supervisor Goicoechea spoke eloquently against that idea, and insisted that something of this importance should be watched by the entire Board.
He spoke of the importance of our streams, of the frailty of agreements with state and federal governments. He spoke about the Endangered Species Act and said it was without consideration for people or commerce.
Supervisor Schlefstein also wanted to know the implications of putting threatened species in the river. There is an exception under ESA for re-introduced species, but it doesn’t last forever, just a decade or so.
Lee Adams took the floor and spoke of how Sierra County is treated by outside agencies and people who refuse to live here, but want to make their living from us. He implied the reintroduction might have negative consequences, and said “we’re becoming place names not communities with services.”
There is a great likelihood that, with such heavy players, the fish are coming to Sierra County regardless how we feel about it. Our local expert in things salmon, Don Russell of the Mountain Messenger Newspaper and Fish Wrap, doubts the project will produce the kind of salmon people can fish for. He fears it will be a “toy run” of just enough fish to be a problem.
Indeed, the image of people catching adult salmon and Steelhead and burning oil to truck them up around the dam, and later catching the tiny fry and bringing them down river, hardly seems like a natural, sustainable run. The presence of threatened or endangered species is something many landowners dread, and for good reason. The plan to save vanishing animals has the unintended consequence of making them a liability for landowners, who respond by reducing habitat for endangered critters to avoid having their property and livelihood forfeit for some niche animal. A run which couldn’t sustain itself in sufficient populations would ultimately negatively affect fishing, building, mining and other uses of the river and its tributaries.
The most compelling argument against trucking fish around the dam is that it ignores and resists evolution itself. Species come and go all the time; if there had been “Dinosaurs Unlimited” and scads of dogooders the dinosaurs would still have gone extinct. If the Chinook and Steelhead can’t live in the rivers the way they are, then either tear down the dams or let us have fish that will live in this environment, fish we can catch and eat, fish that won’t keep us from repairing our septic systems or building a new deck.
Lee Adams is right: “the cost for us for keeping the rivers pristine is no jobs”, no way of living, no communities. That might suit the Yuba County Water Agency, since the Forest Service has headquarters in Yuba County, and since the county turns a nice price on the water from Bullard’s Bar, and enjoys flood relief. Delta supporters would be able to count a few more salmon against the degradation human activities have caused there. The lifelong bureaucrats at NMFS would be able to tally some fish against their mandate. What the hell would Sierra County get out of it? In balancing the degradation done by downstreamers, we suffer. Someone gets rich, someone retires, someone gets their warm fuzzy feeling for protecting the fishies, and we get more regulation and more reasons for people to sue the County for trying to do business. If they absolutely slam this down our throats, we should at the very least scream to get a share of the booty. Pay us per gallon of pure water that escapes our hills to Bullard’s Bar. Pay us per Chinook or Steelhead that return. Otherwise, why should we cooperate while someone tries to micromanage evolution?
The project is still in the early stages, and public hearings will be scheduled. I’m sure these players will listen to local people and their concerns every bit as well as the U.S. Postal Service has recently done. I will say this: the people who still live in Sierra County are those too tough, or too in love with the place to be driven away. Our orneriness has been distilled down to the everclear. Stay tuned on this one.
If you poop in Sierra County, the chances are good that you use an OWTS, an Onsite Wastewater Treatment System. Elizabeth Morgan, our local environmental health guru, presented the Board with the latest draft of AB 885, the legislation to eliminate elimination in rural people. Initially, the law only applied to coastal areas, but why hamper only some of the state when you can make everyone miserable?
The original draft produced by the State Water Board was so odious that it received thousands of negative comments about it. It then scrapped the whole plan, and for awhile we were free to simply contend with existing laws on septic systems. It was a short while, though, because two groups, “Heal the Ocean” and “Heal the Bay” sued the SWB for not completing the draft.
In response, the SWB produced the new draft, which Elizabeth Morgan says is less draconian than the first draft. This draft uses a “tiered system” to determine what actions are required for a septic system. Currently, if your septic system is in and working well, you have nothing to worry about, you may go in peace.
But, if your system isn’t in yet, or needs work, then you slip in to another tier. Teir 1 means the county has no Local Agency Management Plan. Tier one has rigid requirements, so it would be best if the county creates a LAMP or better yet steals one from a bigger county to become tier two. Tier two requirements place the burden of some decisions on the local government, so we’re talking staff time to monitor and take responsibility for some systems. It allows more flexibility, for example in the size of the system, and most importantly it leaves a little tiny bit of wiggle room for the county to decide a system is as good as it can get, and likely won’t pollute ground or surface water. The County needs to be tier two. A tier three system is one where there is a likelihood of a negative impact on a water source. There is a fairly complicated process which determines the acceptable Total Maximum Daily Load to prevent further compromise of the source. While tier three considers impacted water sources, tier four considers systems which are already polluting. Pull out your wallet and kiss retirement goodbye if you have a tier four system, particularly one where there is a high water table or a stream that regularly gets tested for e. coli (big shout out to Sierraville!).
If you excrete, or think you might excrete someday, get to know the new draft regulations, which, thanks to Elizabeth Morgan, are available for you to review HERE. (PDF)
Interim by Fiat
The Board eventually went in to a loooooooong closed session. Among the things discussed and resolved by essentially doing nothing is the interim director for Health and Human Services. Currently, the assistant director is standing in, but that person has no degree, no license, and indeed, no credentials at all to oversee mental health and social services staff. While sources close to the issue say she’s very organized and generally competent administratively, the current AD wouldn’t qualify for that position in most counties, and certainly not to act as interim director. The Board should get a qualified director, meaning one with an education in mental health or social work and some experience providing services or, better, a license (which Dr. Roberts did not have). The Board should expect a qualified director to request a qualified assistant director in order to protect the county from liability, one who could reasonably be expected to serve should the director not be available, and one who might one day assume the position of director, should that be necessary. That kind of succession insures a knowledge of agency culture and provides a smooth transition, of the sort we now lack. Having staff not qualified to oversee licensed staff is negligent, and begging a lawsuit if something goes wrong, because the county failed to provide qualified training and oversight. Good luck, yea cops and cowboys, in choosing the next person to rule over our families and their health.
That’s about all. Good Luck!