Clean Water

Posted by Susy in Uncategorized | Comments Off
water board0001

Chris, me, Andrea

Sometimes I compare life to a book with a series of chapters. But sometimes it’s like a Christmas gift I got as a child. It was a small blackboard (chalk), on a kind of easel arrangement that folded out so that it stood on its own. Across the top was a canvas with pictures—heavy paper maybe–that moved as I turned a handle on one side. The handle was wooden and red. Sometimes life is like that. Things happen, people are involved, and life goes on. But years later that handle may bring back some of those events, some of those people, and you look and say thoughtfully, “hmmm, that was an interesting time.” And move on. It’s different than re-reading a chapter because you have some of the sequence

I was appointed to the Northcoast Regional Water Quality Control Board in 1976 and served seven years, my position being vacant the first year (1975). At the time I was a Republican (changed that when I moved to Oregon later on) and was appointed by Jerry Brown. I was not reappointed for a third term by Deukmejian, a Republican. This is a voluntary job with the only payment being the satisfaction of helping protect the waters of the state and a per deum for a room and food and/or gas mileage if taking one’s own car.

As the mother of three young children, ages about six to eleven, this appointment seemed like the best of all possible jobs for me at the time. It allowed me to do some traveling and to use my brain for a larger purpose, plus I was able to help take care of the all-important resource of water. What I didn’t realize when I started was that I would also make some lifelong friends. My mother-in-law, Florence Morris, and my children’s father, were both a big help in ensuring that I could make these two or three day trips once a month knowing my children were well taken care of and keeping me feeling relatively guilt free.

When I first got on the board, I was the only female but was soon joined by Chris and Andrea. We were all very different from each other but became good friends. The meetings alternated between Eureka and Santa Rosa, with usually one once a year in the Mendocino area. And I remember at least one being held in Weaverville and one in Smith River. Sometimes I would fly from Redding to San Francisco and take a commuter flight to Santa Rosa. More often I would meet Chris in Eureka and we’d rent a car and drive together. Chris lived in Gasquet, along the Smith River. She loved to fish and loved that river. I remember eating lunch that she had fixed, roast chicken and a small glass of white wine from her ice chest, as we sat along the edge of the Eel River. Andrea lived in the Arcata area although she was often attending classes in Berkeley. The board considers water-quality issues from the Russian River to the Oregon border and from the coast to the edge of the Central Valley. So I learned about things affecting the watershed basins of the Russian River, the Noyo, the Eel, Redwood Creek, the Trinity, the Klamath, the Smith, and even the Rogue and Winchuck at the edge of the Oregon border.

We’d receive a large packet of information in the mail that included the agenda and reams of information about topics that were going to be discussed, particularly detailed if a public hearing were scheduled. Lots of reading to do.

This was a great time to be involved because so many things, like erosion from timber operations, were just beginning to be considered. One time we walked into a logging operation and then were helicoptered out by the company, allowing a view from above. I think this was the company that had gone ahead and pushed a road in before submitting a plan and then told us after the fact. Redwood Creek, notorious for erosion problems, was another problem in which we were involved. But, over time, discord became less as agreements were hammered out.

Waste discharge was another big issue. Many small communities didn’t have the funds to build sewage treatment plants or had plants that were inadequate. Giving them cease-and-desist orders allowed them to apply for grants so that instead of being punitive it actually helped them. I remember one meeting where we were faced with a sewage treatment plant where the boss had told one of his employees to open up the valve in the middle of the night to discharge raw sewage before it overflowed.

Non-point sources like agriculture runoff were just beginning to be looked at.

During my second term was when the Arcata Marsh plan http://www2.humboldt.edu/arcatamarsh/overview html was being considered and our staff executive officer was having a difficult time supporting it. He felt there wasn’t enough evidence to show the waters were being protected from discharge. Of course today this area is considered a show-piece for use of wastewater where the marsh is also part of the treatment. The area where paths wind through the wildlife area is part of the tertiary treatment. Some is dechlorinated and goes into Humboldt Bay and some goes back into the tertiary enhancement marshes.

During one of my years as chair herbicides were a big issue. I was fairly supportive of the opponents in my heart but I also had a meeting to run. One night, when we had taken testimony for hours during the day, and it was time for the board to make a decision, the anti-herbicide folks started interrupting us. It must have been close to 10 p.m. Takes a lot to make me mad but I’d had more than enough and gaveled them down. As one of my co-board members muttered, “It’s about time.”

water board

2 members absent. Back row: Steve Norwick, Spud McNamara, Front row: Chris Souza, me, Andrea Tuttle

Of the board members I worked with I still communicate with Andrea Tuttle; Chris Sousa died of cancer in 1984; Steve Norwick, a professor at Sonoma State, who used to get in touch with all of us about once a year, was killed while riding his bicycle (I discovered this online a couple of years ago when I wondered why we hadn’t heard from him for some time). I was closest to these three. One other person from that original board (Gene Senestraro) is still living in the Eureka area. He had a dairy farm and his input was always useful. David Joseph, the executive staff officer, is gone. I always had a lot of respect for his knowledge and abilities. A trail in the redwoods has been named after him.

I came across these pictures recently when I was doing some sorting. It all seems so long ago and yet also as if it were yesterday. Interesting times.

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