LAKE ALMANOR WATER QUALITY TESTING GETS A BOOST!

For a number of years the Water Quality Subcommittee of the Lake Almanor Watershed Group (LAWG), formerly known as the Almanor Basin Watershed Advisory Committee (ABWAC), has contracted for water quality testing at Lake Almanor. These efforts have been funded by contributions from our local homeowner associations and concerned residents. Recently we were successful in recruiting Scott McReynolds of the Department of Water Resources (DWR) to conduct this testing at no cost to our local community. The program has been significantly expanded, including a monitoring broad array of elements.

The DWR folks identified a need for water temperature data to correlate with the other data they will be gathering. This required a buoy to be placed in a deep water area of the lake. I am pleased to announce that the buoy is in place and ready to provide the location for DWR’S temperature monitoring “logger” string.

I have to say the buoy placement was a huge cooperative effort and I want to acknowledge those who played such a valuable part in it becoming a reality. First and foremost, the cooperation we received from PG&E was phenomenal. Joe Wilson & Scott Perkins managed to grant permission for placement and produced a permit in record time. The Plumas County Sheriff and his boat patrolman Rich Ross provided the means to locate the perfect spot via their boat, outfitted with depth & GPS gear. Aaron Seandal, Chair of the Water Quality Subcommittee, submitted the required permit information back to PG&E so that we could move forward with placement. Doug Maxfield of Big Valley Divers, Inc. made time in his busy schedule to acquire the buoy & related rigging, deploying it in position so that we could start accumulating the necessary data in conjunction with our other monitoring protocol. And, last but certainly not least, a huge THANK YOU goes to Jeff Greening who spearheaded and coordinated the entire effort!

Lake Almanor Projected Water Levels 2014
Lake Almanor Projected Water Levels 2014

It is great to see such a spirit of cooperation. As our lake levels rise and fall throughout the year (see the 2014 Projected Water Levels graphic), this information will give us a much clearer picture of water quality and temperature and how it impacts Lake Almanor. As Gary Freeman’s climatology data indicates, the character of the Almanor Basin and Feather River Watershed is changing. All of us, the residents of the Almanor Basin and PG&E, will benefit from this effort for many years to come. THANK YOU to everyone who made this possible!

ON MY MIND

The Board of Supervisors constantly hears concern expressed for the economic health of Plumas County and our communities. Believe me, this is one of the top concerns of the Supervisors as well. We would love to have large companies locate here and bring the jobs we so badly need. However, in this economy, this is most likely not going to happen anytime soon. That got me thinking about what we can do, which brings me to looking at the businesses that are already here and in most cases struggling to keep their doors open.

Around Christmas each year you will see encouragement to patronize our local businesses in the “Buy Local” campaign which asks us to spend $100 in local shopping over the holidays. You have all participated and have given our businesses a boost they so badly needed to get through our long winters. But, what about the rest of the year? Think about the difference it would make if we all spent $100 locally every month or even every other month. I am thinking things like new tires, auto repair, clothing, and professional services.

Looking at our local businesses and their needs started me thinking about our Chambers of Commerce. Chambers of Commerce have been in existence since the early 1900’s. Their functions and purpose have changed over the years with changes in business and technology as they adjusted to new and different demands. Our Lake Almanor Chamber of Commerce has been in existence since around 1939. That is a long history of service to our businesses and community.

http://pics4.city-data.com/cpicv/vfiles39644.jpg
A Mountain 4th

It is my observation that all of the Chambers located in Plumas County are struggling with lack of staffing, lack of members and lack of money to do the things they would like to do to promote our area. I’ve been thinking about the role the Chamber has played over the years. Some examples: they field events, such as the 4th of July parade & fireworks, that bring visitors to our area, their mixers give business owners and the public an opportunity to meet and share ideas and concerns, they provide a listing of local business members by category so if you are looking for lodging, a service or the like it is easy to access the appropriate information. They are usually the first place a person planning a visit or looking to move here goes to obtain information.

The Lake Almanor Chamber of Commerce currently has about 210 members out of approximately 400 businesses in the area. In recent years there have been efforts on the part of some members to break away from the Chamber and start other merchant groups/associations. While I can understand this movement, I can’t help but think there is such power in numbers and we have such a small population to draw from, it seems banding together, addressing any services that they find lacking and effecting change within the Chamber organization would be a better, more effective method to address those needs.

Many of us tend to think of the Chamber as purely providing service to business owners however, over the years I have seen the positive impact an active, healthy chamber brings to the residents of the community at large. This brings me to thinking about how we, as a community, can help the Chamber prosper thereby helping all of us prosper. First thing that comes to mind is we could volunteer to help at events. Recently some of the events the Chamber sponsored have been cancelled or are no longer Chamber events due to lack of volunteers. Not only would we be helping the Chamber but the events are fun and a chance to meet our neighbors.

Secondly, the Chamber has numerous categories for membership. If you own a business and are not currently a member please consider joining. They also welcome Nonrofit organizations as members. For those of us who benefit from having healthy, successful businesses to provide for our needs, there are ways to contribute as a “Friend of the Chamber”. Friends of the Chamber are described as “individuals and families who want to connect to, invest in and support the community organization that is working to enhance the quality of life in the Basin”. Sounds like that would fit most of us. Let’s do what we can to support our businesses and an organization that has been serving us for more than 70 years!

CONTINUING DROUGHT OR EL NINO FLOODS? WHAT’S GOING ON??

Gary J. Freeman, Hydrologist, has been studying and tracking climatology and changes in the Upper Feather River Watershed for many years. He recently presented a paper at the annual Western Snow Conference and has made that information available to us.
He points out: “while warming along with an earlier snowmelt has been occurring throughout California, the relatively low mountain elevation, “rain shadowed” topography of the upper North Fork Feather River has been more sensitive to the effects of climate change compared with the remainder of the Sierra Range to the south. The changes are very specific to topography. Even within the entire North Fork Feather River watershed above Lake Oroville, the Hwy 70 Canyon sidewater inflow area near Rock Creek, Cresta and Bucks Creek power houses, including the Bucks Lake-Grizzly drainage show little change, while the “rain shadowed-mountain barrier blocked” Lake Almanor and East Branch of the North Fork Feather appear to be on the other end of the “change scale”.

Lake Almanor Natural Flow & Precipitation
Lake Almanor Natural Flow & Precipitation

Take a minute to enjoy his observations and some excellent slides showing our trends over a period of years. After all; we may be in a drought now but come winter, we may experience an abundance of moisture brought to us by El Nino.

Gary Freeman – 2014

 

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO VIEW BOARD OF SUPERVISORS’ MEETINGS!

Plumas County Board of Supervisors meetings have been live streamed since 4 Feb 2014. More importantly, we now have most of the bugs worked out! I could really use some feedback from you about whether or not you see this as a valuable resource, that which could be done to improve upon it and, any other suggestions you might wish to convey. While streaming is quite useful to the Board members and staff, for reference to specific agenda items, it is for you that the system was implemented.

Plumas County Homepage

Proceedings are easily viewed while the Supervisors are meeting, in “real time”. However, suppose you read a newspaper article or heard about something the Board discussed, or a report that was presented and you wish you could have attended the meeting or watched while it was live streamed. It is not TOO LATE – all video records of meetings are archived and can be accessed through the Plumas County website. Click on the button titled “Live Board Meetings” in the table on the left of the screen, beneath the County Districts interactive map. This will take you to a listing of the meetings by date; select the appropriate date and then click on “View” which will take you to the video and agenda for that meeting. If there is an agenda item for that meeting that is of particular interest, click on that agenda item in the listing below the video to view that specific agenda item; you may have to scroll through the list.

Plumas County BOS Streaming Website
Plumas County BOS Streaming Website

At the 6 May 2014 (1:30 p.m.) meeting of the Board of Supervisors, for example, we received a presentation from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife regarding the removal of trout from Gold Lake in the Bucks Lake Wilderness area. The trout are being removed in hopes that the Yellow Legged Frog population (there are 10 of them in the vicinity) will migrate to the lake and take up residence. The Board room was packed to the extent it was standing room only inside the chambers, with many standing in the adjacent hallway – outside the chambers. This is not atypical of a hotly debated issue. Even if you attended the meeting in person, you may well have missed part, or most of what was said. If standing in the hall, you would also have missed the interaction throughout, always an important element of the process. To better illustrate this, you should visit the frog presentation & discussion – Agenda item 24.  While you might find this report and discussion of interest, you will definitely get a feel for why streaming (with archives) is so beneficial to you, when issues of interest arise. Or those you would like to refer to others.

As I have expressed in the past, while we as Board members appreciate those of you who attend our meetings and engage, there are many of you, who for a number of reasons (time, weather, distance to Quincy …) cannot do so. It is for all of you we have taken the long overdue step in providing streaming technology to you, wherever you may be, at your leisure.

In the near future, many of the other committees and commissions are planning to live stream their meetings as well, having seen the benefits in outreach and participation. Plumas County is finally joining the modern age!

Please take a moment to visit the website and let me know what you think!!! This is your government; we are making decisions on your behalf.

DROUGHT, FLOOD, SNOW, RAIN …

Today a friend sent an interesting article from the Wall Street Journal with this notation:

“You gotta love it – drought’s bad, rain’s bad, snow’s … The bureaucrats had better get going on the theft of water rights, boondoggle / pork laden projects …; this is bad news for their agenda! But wait – it’s just another phase of decades worth of cycles?”

I would say I have to agree with his comment. One minute we are anticipating food shortages and huge price increases due to the drought; the next minute we are to worry because the El Nino will cause all kinds of shortages and drive prices up. Meanwhile our State officials are proposing any number of Water Bond issues to raise funds to fight the drought and reducing or totally eliminating water deliveries to farmers and ranchers. Guess the State will continue to utilize whatever emergency allows them to change water laws they have wanted to change for years.

“Never let a good crisis go to waste.” – Winston Churchill

A wall of mud on an Orange County Calif. road in 1998, after a record-breaking El Niño caused heavy rainfall and mudslides. Associated Press
A wall of mud on an Orange County Calif. road in 1998, after a record-breaking El Niño caused heavy rainfall and mudslides. Associated Press

Mother Nature has a way of doing whatever she wants, whenever she wants. Weather is cyclical; I blogged a three-part series (Water) in anticipation of just this – “Markets Gird for Return of El Niño”! It would be good to get to the point where we are not always reacting to crisis and could take the time to plan well for change, remembering that we have spells of floods and drought and need to be prepared to deal with both.

A MUST ~ PLUMAS COUNTY VISITORS GUIDE

Have you picked up your copy of the latest 2014-15 Plumas County Visitors Guide? Or the 2013 publication. This excellent guide is produced and published by Mike Taborski and his talented folks at Feather Publishing. It is loaded with beautiful photographs of our area and articles that make you want to get out and see all that Plumas County has to offer.

Plumas County Visitors Guide

Their resource page lists facts such as population by area, annual temperature averages, contact information for such things as banks, airports, hospitals/clinics, libraries, schools, etc. You will find a calendar listing “not to be missed” events along with extensive guides to lodging and campgrounds.

I think this year’s edition is the best yet! You can pick one up at most all stores, businesses, and restaurants. This is not just a guide for visitors; you will find it a valuable resource as you plan your outdoor activities for the coming seasons.

Take a look – you’ll enjoy every page!

WHO WROTE THIS?

A friend recently forwarded me an article from the Wall StreetGetty Image Journal.  Most of the ideal propounded by the author seemed to me to be spot on!  He talks about his ideas for a free society; a society whose vision is based on respect for people and what they value.

He quotes Thomas Jefferson who warned that “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”  As I read the article I couldn’t help but revisit something that has been on my mind of late and wonder when it was that we started expecting government to take care of all our needs and the freedoms we have given over to government in return for that care.  Are we truly headed to a complete “nanny state”; or, are we perhaps already there?

Over the years, it has been my experience that government over-regulation and interference has acted to stifle innovation, cost many businesses out of existence, or cause entrepreneurs to give up before they begin.  I have also noticed that government usually does not do a very good job when it attempts to do things that are better done by private industry/business.  As the author says, “This is what happens when elected officials believe that people’s lives are better run by politicians and regulators than by people themselves.”

Read the article.  There are some thought provoking ideas expressed – Who do you think wrote it?

I would love to hear your thoughts on the issues raised by the author.

ELECTION BY DEFAULT

In a previous blog I announced that I am seeking reelection for a third term as Plumas County Supervisor representing District 3.  The last day to file papers to run for election in June was the 7th of March.  As of that date, I am the only candidate seeking that position.

It has been my honor to represent you for a little over 7 years.  I want you to know that I take that responsibility very seriously and will do my utmost to be your advocate and represent your interests for the next 5 years.

It is interesting to note, however,  that all Plumas County elected officials, with the exception of the District 5 Supervisor position, are running unopposed in this election.  On my good days, I like to think that is because we are doing a good job; on my bad days, I fear it is because people are simply so fed up with government at all levels that they do not wish to be involved.  It is disappointing and of great concern to me that no one was willing to seek any of the numerous positions currently up for election.  I can’t help but wonder why?

I have asked the League of Women Voters to consider hosting an election forum in our area so that those of us who will be your Plumas County elected officials, even though we are running unopposed, will have a chance to introduce ourselves and answer any questions you may have about Plumas County government. If the League is unable or unwilling to host such a forum, I will set one up giving you the opportunity to interact with your Plumas County elected officials on a personal, one on one basis.

I sincerely appreciate your questions or comments; they help frame my decisions on your behalf. You may use the comment link at the top of this blog, the Contact form or email me at sherrie.thrall@almanorpost.com.

I sincerely thank you for the support you have given me these past 7 years; it has been a privilege to serve my community and Plumas County!

THE MONSTER IN THE CLOSET – PUBLIC EMPLOYEE PENSIONS

Almost every child at some time fears the monster in the closet.  Well folks, we have a monster in our closet!  Our monster is the thing that will ultimately reduce your government services and potentially impact the future viability of many local governments. monster-in-the-closet       For years, local government was not required to show their obligation to pay for retiree benefits on their balance sheets; thus, most decision makers were unaware of the future debt they were incurring.

A few years ago that changed, when local governments were required to recognize their retirement debt obligation as part of their budgeting process.  We are required to show the debt obligation; however, we are not required to account for how we plan to meet that indebtedness. It must be remembered that Plumas County is required to have a balanced budget each year, that balances expenditures with anticipated income / revenue.

Past practice in Plumas County budgeting has been “pay as you go”; in other words, to estimate the current year’s requirement to pay for retiree benefits and build that into the budget, without looking to the compounding problem going into the future.  Last year, for the first time, Plumas County set aside dollars to be placed in an investment account whose earnings will help to meet the retiree debt load.  Due to extremely tight constraints, we were only able to establish an account with a small contribution; however, it is my intention to lobby heavily during this budget cycle for continuing to fund this account, if not to increase our contributions.

If we do not recognize this obligation and begin addressing it now, we will be facing dire consequences going into the future. We will see a large portion of our County labor force retiring due to the aging out of the “baby boomer” generation, without the increased revenue to pay for that growing liability. This will be further compounded by the obligations toward funding staffing hired to replace them!

This is not exclusively a local problem!  Governments all over the United States are in the same boat.  California is currently in a position where the average State retiree is receiving benefits that are far greater than the income the average citizen is currently earning. What part of this equation does not make sense?

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article discussing the situation on a national level – How to Become a Public Pension Millionaire .  In California, public employee unions are very strong; to the point that it becomes almost impossible for cities and counties to negotiate contracts that require workers to shoulder a greater portion of their retirement benefit contributions. Public pressure to maintain salaries and benefits for sheriff deputies, police and fire has compounded the problem.

Over time, many local governments, including Plumas County, have negotiated contracts with employee unions that saw the employer paying a greater portion of the employees’ share (in some instances 100%) in addition to the employer’s contribution to the Public Employee Retirement System costs. This has created a situation that cannot be sustained!

As it stands now, “it is truly a broken, unsustainable system…created with good intentions, yet with unfortunate consequences”. In future blogs, we will look at how this works, process and what must be done to fix it. We no longer have the luxury of “kicking this can down the road”!

SIERRA NEVADA CONSERVANCY

Chapter 1 – SOME HISTORY

I am currently a member of the governing board of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC) , my second term, representing the North Central Subregion (there are 6 subregions in SNC).   The Conservancy, a California state agency created by the Legislature (AB2600) in 2004, has a mission “to initiate, encourage and support efforts that improve the environmental, economic and social well-being of the Sierra Nevada Region, its communities and the citizens of California.”  The SNC has an excellent website where you can view information on Board of Directors, Grants that have been awarded, meeting information, minutes and much more.

Funding for SNC’s programs comes from the California Environmental License Plate Fund and Proposition 84 (Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coast Protection Bond Act) approved by California voters in 2006.  SNC was given $54 million of Prop 84 funds for grants and grant administration.  By March of last year it had awarded over $50 million to 296 projects throughout the Sierra Nevada.

It is the goal of SNC to support the Sierra Nevada region by funding local projects, providing technical help and supporting collaborative projects in partnership with local government, nonprofits and Tribal organizations.  Programs aim to accomplish the following:

Increased opportunity for tourism and recreation

Aid in the preservation of working landscapes

Reduce the risk of natural disasters, such as wildfire

Protect and improve water and air quality

Assist the economy

Enhance public use and enjoyment of public lands

Protect, conserve and restore the physical, cultural, archaeological, historical and living resources

Photo by: Katie Bagby
Photo by: Katie Bagby

For a number of years it seemed the Conservancy was funding mostly grants that placed land in trusts.  About 4 years ago, representatives of the North Central Subregion made a push for more funding of projects to promote good forest and watershed management practices.  SNC governing board agreed and recently, projects have focused on those goals.

This is the first in a series of blogs I will be writing about the Conservancy and its grant programs and focus areas of Healthy Forests and Abandoned Mine Lands. I see problems within that need to be addressed.

Stay tuned!