I think that this hearing was a great opportunity for both sides to hear each other out.
I am feeling better about our representatives understanding our position,
and I understand that at this point, there is no choice but to move forward.
Concerns that Antelope residents brought up:
If the city is consistent with billing for sewer the way they bill for water,
people in the county would pay double for service.
Many homeowners have had their wells tested and the results
do not indicate high nitrate levels.
One man said that he had lived in another area where a sewer system didn't lessen nitrates, and the cause was determined to be from an agricultural source...
after all the expense.
Business owner Gary asked the question: If the state were to force us to move forward on this and then later it was determined that this did not reduce nitrate levels, would the state refund our money?
Why were inactive wells tested and included in the study? One supervisor asked how old the data used for the study was and suggested updating it with new studies.
I think that the highlight of the day was one man's "Cowboy Logic." I have to say that I love cowboy logic...you just can't argue with common sense. Mark first cleared a misconception some may have that the fairground is polluting the soil with nitrates.
The fair has test wells on different parts of the grounds, and these are at varying levels. All of these wells have tested to be within safe ranges. He asked about data on the correlation between Lake Red Bluff and nitrate levels. He also wondered about the weighted vote system: who would be voting for the fair and the schools within the district. The state?
Questions that were answered:
Non-returned ballots will not be counted in any way. Only property owners who send in their ballots will have a say as to whether they want this.
Some of the wells tested in the report were inactive wells.
Studies have not yet been conducted with regard to the correlation residents see with nitrates and the dam...although it would make sense to look at the state's data.
Here is a statement from the Fish Passage Improvement Project's Environmental Impact Report: "Groundwater in the immediate vicinity of Lake Red Bluff is greatly affected by the annual filling of the lake. This change in the surface elevation of the Sacramento River corresponds to a change in the groundwater hydraulic gradient as evidenced by groundwater elevation measurements recorded during the gates-in and gates-out periods."
Of course, maybe we shouldn't rely on this document, since it also states:
"Groundwater quality is generally excellent in the region. In the most recent summary of groundwater conditions conducted in 1991, total dissolved solids (TDS) in the
Red Bluff area was classified as less than 200 mg/L, which is better than below drinking water standards. No evidence of elevated levels of boron, nitrates, arsenic, or selenium has been found in the groundwater in the Red Bluff area."
There was a great turnout today at the supervisors' chambers where Antelope residents were given the opportunity to address supervisors and city councilmembers with their concerns. Likewise, councilmembers and supervisors had the chance to explain to us why they would move forward with the project. Basically, they said this: The regional water quality control board required them to present a plan to reduce nitrate levels in the soil, and the state gave them a grant to fund it. If they were to refuse to present this plan to the state, the state would require them to repay hundreds of thousands of dollars of the funding they were given. Additionally, if they did not present the plan to the state, the state might choose to require property owners to hook into sewer systems without allowing them to vote. The public works spokesperson said that the state told them to present a sewer plan and did not ask for any other alternative to reduce nitrates.
At one point in the hearing, the public works representative mentioned conducting an informal poll to send along with the proposed plan. One of the supervisors stated that it was pretty clear how we felt about it. I believe that as this process moves along, both sides of the table are better informed, although it appears that our local govt. does not have a say in this matter. It will be up to property owners to return their ballots and hope that the state does not have any surprises for us up ahead. If there are, I expect our councilmen and supervisors to stand up to the state on this and present our side regarding our agricultural community, the dam gates, and the high cost for homeowners. I would also expect them to pull out the data that came from the 2002 state report regarding the fish passage and the effect of the lake on our groundwater.
I would like to say that although I love living in an agricultural area, the downside is the high level of fertilizers used. Orchard owners who depend on ag for their living need to grow trees as quickly as possible by using fertilizer. Why is this nitrate source being overlooked? We need new studies using new data that will definitively state whether the nitrates are from human septic or agricultural sources. This issue is very familiar with longtime Antelope residents who recall the 2003 meeting about a sewer system at Berrendos gym. At that 2003 meeting, one Antelope resident asked what would happen if the people voted against hooking up with the city. The regional water quality control spokesperson said, "It is within our authority to shut down septic systems. It's the last thing we want to do, but there comes a point when we have to exercise our charge" (Brinkley 2003). At today's hearing, one supervisor suggested that the state, after having funded this study, might simply walk away from it and do nothing. No one I have spoken to in Antelope wants to ignore the problem of nitrates; we simply want to see what impact that Lake Red Bluff has had on it. We also want to know the source of nitrates. It would be great if the state at least decided to wait and conduct a study on the connection they saw between the dam and our groundwater in 2002. Wouldn't that be nice. California is broke. However, nothing our state does makes any sense...there is no cowboy logic at that level and it's no use trying to predict what they will do.
In Antelope, we are left with the feeling that the state has us over a barrel, or in this case, over a sewer pipe, and we have no choice but to wait.
There's nothing you can do in the meantime, unless...hmmm. Well, I have a thought, but it's quite satirical...it has to do with planting some elderberries around my septic tank and turning my front lawn into a sanctuary for the endangered valley elderberry longhorn beetle. After all, this beetle was addressed in the mitigated negative declaration report and there was great concern that these beetles might "suffer reduced fitness through physiological stress or a reduction in their food base" due to implementing sewer equpiment. This beetle probably had a greater chance at halting this project in the early stages than we did. Environmentalists are the only ones with money...and they're the only ones who have power over the state. Sad that a wood-boring beetle has the right to not have his habitat disturbed, and yet some people will have to walk away from theirs due to the cost of an upside down mortgage if this goes through. If you happen to have an elderberry plant by your septic, you will likely have to pay for it to be transplanted to another place if it shows any indication that an endangered beetle is living on it. However, no one will be paying to transplant you if you can't afford this sewer system. If you can't afford to buy food because you're paying too much for sewer, the state will not be concerned about the reduction of your food base. If you suffer reduced fitness through physiological stress because your home has been disturbed and invaded, there will not be measures taken to create a buffer area around your home, there will not be fencing and signs posted around your home, and there will not be any worker education programs to learn more about reducing your stress. Does this seem backwards to you? It seems that the state does not understand that taxpayers are an endangered species, that it would be wise to protect them. Plan to vote no on this project. We will need every ballot to be returned as we are unsure of whether the state will have a weighted vote with regard to schools and the fairgrounds.
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Is this information regarding our no-evidence-of-nitrate-in-the-groundwater old data? It's from 1991, but it was used to create this August, 2002 report regarding fish passage, even though we've heard about nitrates since 1985, and even though in 1992 concern over nitrates prompted the county to set development to one acre parcels. Hmmm...so in 2002, the state chose to use information from 1991 for its report. Interesting. It appears that the state can pick and choose what information it wishes to use. Can we say that by "Red Bluff area" it means the city and not the county? I don't think so, as the document also refers to the area as being agricultural, having fruit and nut trees.