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Quincy, California
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June 23, 2010

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Page 7 Plumas County Grand Jury Report Water Quality and Abundance Specific Issue: The Grand Jury addressed the question: What does the County Government do to protect County residents from unsafe drinking water, and what does it do to determine that adequate water is available for future potable and safety uses? 'fll day I faced the barren waste without the taste of water," the old Bob Nolan song, "Cool Water" goes. Presently, 40 percent of the fresh water in the United States is polluted and not drinkable. Clean water is one of Plumas County's best resources and we need to protect it and monitor it for continued quality. Water is essential for the world, as we know it, to survive. People and governments have always tried to control it. Wars have been fought over it. Individuals and corporations have become rich through the possession and sale of it. Over the years, this State has had a rather "feast or famine" relation- ship with it. Those that don't have it want it, and those that have it, want to keep it. Here, in the West, the ele- ments of rain from nature tend to come in cycles. Those of us, who are 6 and 7 decades old, have seen many periods of drought accompanied, afterwards, by periods of excessive rain and floods. In times of excess our major rivers carry our precious commodity out to sea. Only time will tell if climate change will alter that pattern. Water can be very political, and at the same time, personal. This year's Grand Jury, 2009-10 is not taking either of those views. Water issues are interre- lated with many other issues in Plumas County. They cross boundaries with economic development, fire pro- tection, and with continued residential developments in our County. A few "watch dog" people in a sparsely populated Northern County probably can't change the "course of human events" that will direct the future of water control or usage in our State. Nevertheless, the Grand Jury's focus is on Plumas County, and how, as citizens of this County, we can best protect and main- tain the quality and the reserve quantity of our most precious natural resource, our water. Summary of Investigation: Water is the most precious of our County's natural resources, as this year's Grand Jury has found. It winds its way through many of this year's investiga- tions, like a clear mountain stream divides and yet binds together the people and places of this little part of the world called Plumas County. It helps answer the first portion of this Jury's mantra, "Who are we?" Without it there would be no towering forests, or mountain meadows, no deep blue lakes or crystal clear streams. Without it there would be no cities, small villages, or wide spots in the road, where our people settled. Water will also direct the second por- tion of our mantra, "Where are we going"? Without water there can be no developments, increased recre- ational opportunities, or the kind of jobs that will bring in, or encourage young people to stay and raise their families. The third driving force of this Jury is "Sustainable growth and quality of life." One can't imagine either of those without the life giving essence of water. It has to be the very large elephant in the room where any county agency is plotting our future. This Jury believes that this County's Environmental Health Division ("EHD") is doing a commendable job in permitting, monitoring, and controlling this County's usage and quality of water. They work within the bounds of not only County, but State and Federal statutes. When working with highly impor- tant facets of government, like overseeing things that affect our quality of life, the question always aris- es, "are they doing enough?" Because we are a small county and don't have the resources the larger counties have, does it mean we can't test for what other counties test for? Does it mean that we can't exceed our present State or Federal standards? With something like the overriding importance of water, we should. Planning Department's approval process to indepen- dently evaluate all aspects of the water quality and quantity proposed by the development to assure that the water source for the development is adequate and won't adversely affect another. This would lessen the chance of a development being approved without suf- ficient water, as has happened in the past. The problem that this Grand Jury found is that with larger developments, 200 units and above, there are decisions made regarding the quality and quantity of water by the Plumas County Planning Department and the California Department of Health with no involvement by the EHD to evaluate the legitimacy of those decisions regarding water quality and quanti- ty. Those who are held responsible for the decision must have a part in making the decision. Findings and Recommendations: This Grand Jury recognizes the EHD's jurisdiction over water quality and quantity as a highly impor- tant responsibility for the quality of life of county residents. It is in that recognition that our recom- mendations are directed. It is not that the EHD is not performing well, because it is. Our recommendations are this Grand Jury's attempt to simply improve the Finding 5: There is a history of developments gain- ing approval without demonstrating that the pro- posed water source is sufficient to provide for both residential water, and water for fire protection of the development. Recommendation 5: The Board of Supervisors should not approve any development without the EHD first evaluating and certifying that the proposed water source for both domestic and emergency fire protec- tion use is sufficient. Finding 6: Realistically, the water quality of our lakes and streams is fragile to say the least. There are multi- ple county agencies, departments and community groups that oversee that fact. This Grand Jury believes that maintaining the quality of above-ground water is also the task of each individual that lives here and those who come to enjoy the beauty and recreate. existing systems. Finding 1: Once individual private wells are permit- ted and approved, no other monitoring or testing is done unless the owner requests it. With 10,000 to 11,000 septic systems in the county, some of them quite old, can we assume the well water is not affected? Recommendation 1: Each Individual aquifer should be tested for contamination periodically on a sched- ule determined by the EHD. Finding 2: Private wells fed by aquifers within the County are only tested for coliform bacteria. Metal contamination and other microbial contamination are not tested. If mercury is found in lakes and streams, is it in our well water? Recommendation 2: The EHD should also test well water from each aquifer within the county for the fol- lowing potentially toxic metals: Antimony, Arsenic, Beryllium, Cadmium, Chromium, Copper, Lead, Mercury, Nickel, Selenium, Silver, Thallium and Zinc. This is especially relevant in an area such as Plumas County with a history of mining. Additionally, because of increased development and agricultural activity, testing should be done for a broader spectrum of disease producing microbes. Finding 3: Because of non existing recordkeeping during earlier years, there are an undetermined number of water wells existing within the county without documentation as to their location. Recommendation 3: The EHD should actively estab- lish and implement a plan to locate and document old and/or undocumented wells, lessening the chance of those wells contaminating our aquifers. Recommendation 6: The EHD and other agencies should develop a public relations campaign to raise awareness that our lakes and streams are fragile. Finding 7: Once a septic system is installed, there is no requirement for ongoing monitoring. There is no requirement for periodic pumping of septic tanks. Recommendation 7: The Board of Supervisors, through the EHD, should establish a countywide requirement for mandatory pumping of septic tanks when a prop- erty is sold, and actively inform residents of the need to pump their septic systems every three to five years. Background Information: In Plumas County the Environmental Health Division of the Plumas County Public Health Agency has the responsibility for drinking water protection and deter- mining sufficient quantities of water for individual wells and wells for development up to 199 connections. As indicated in their 2009 Annual Report, in 2005 their Division was certified as the Local Primacy Agency (LPA) by the California Department of Health. This allowed water system purveyors and operators a local contact and resource in helping to protect drinking water quality. Again, from their Annual Report, the EHD monitors 139 drinking water systems throughout the county. These include non- community systems, such as resorts and campgrounds, small systems serv- ing less than 15 connections, and community systems with up to 199 connections. Whenever drinking water does not meet established standards, the system oper- ator must advise its customers, and when there is an immediate risk to human health, the operator must issue a Boil Water Advisory. Finding 4: With new developments larger than 200 water connections, the EHD is not involved in evaluat- ing the quality or quantity of the source of water pro- posed by the developer and sanctioned by the state, until after the development is approved. As it is now, there is no one within the county who evaluates whether the state is doing an adequate job of assuring there is enough water available for the development Recommendation 4: This Grand Jury-strongly rec- ommends that the EHD be actively involved in the The EHD also partners with the California Department of Fish and Game, a sub group to the Almanor Basin Watershed Advisory Committee that monitors Lake Almanor water quality, and other water quality organizations to help protect lakes, streams and groundwater water supplies. One exam- ple of this was in 2008, when the EHD completed the 10th and final year of well testing aG a rcult of thc 1997 pike eradication project. In 2007, they began year one of a new ten year testing cycle for chemicals