The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors met virtually again on Tuesday and discussed a variety of topics ranging from the expected (local drought conditions) to the far-flung (the ongoing uprising in Cuba).
Fourth District Supervisor and board chair Virginia Bass was in attendance at the beginning of the meeting but left shortly thereafter, saying she needed to deal with family medical issues.
In an update on local conditions surrounding the drought, Ryan Derby, the county’s Office of Emergency Services manager, said that over the past couple of weeks, he and his fellow members of the county’s Drought Task Force have seen conditions that are “substantial and harmful, both to human health and the natural environment.”
Recently updated data from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that the entirety of Humboldt County is now in severe or extreme drought conditions.
“This year’s serious drought conditions represents a public health threat beyond our shortage of local water supply,” said Melissa Martel, director of the Department of Health and Human Services Division of Environmental Health.
Harmful algal blooms have been reported at several popular swimming holes, including a report of someone getting sick after swimming in the South Fork of the Eel River, Martel said. Testing on the South Fork Eel in Cooks Valley and near Standish Hickey has shown elevated levels of toxic bacteria in algal mats.
On the Trinity River, just over the county line, two dogs recently died after spending time in the water, Martel said. Big Lagoon likewise has elevated toxins due to cyanobacteria. Safety precaution signs are posted in both locations, as well as at swimming holes on the Eel.
These harmful algae blooms are occurring earlier than normal due to rainfall that’s about half the typical amount, and Martel said runoff from burned areas near Ruth Lake are likely responsible for blooms on the Mad River.
Seasonal wells are likely to be impacted due to the drought, and the county is asking people to report dry wells to the county Division of Environmental Health or the California Department of Water Resources.
John Ford, the county’s director of Planning and Building, gave an update on how his department will go about establishing a three-phase regulatory scheme for well permitting. The first phase will examine pending well permits to address concerns about groundwater resources. In Phase Two county staffers will examine all existing permitted wells, identifying their locations and depths. And Phase Three will involve long-term studies to address the issues raised in Phase Two, Ford said.
Derby also brought up illegal stream diversions used in illicit weed grows, as seen in a barrage of recent busts. Such water theft is of particular concern because it’s often coming from waterways that are home to protected species of coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead trout. These fish populations are already suffering from sediment and habitat fragmentation, Derby said.
First District Supervisor Rex Bohn inadvertently stirred up a hornet’s nest when he brought forward a proposed resolution of support for Cuban freedom fighters. Bohn said he had numerous people from the community request that the board sign such a resolution, adding that while he certainly doesn’t want to reenact the Bay of Pigs invasion, “I would like for things to be going a little bit better in Cuba.”
The ensuing public comment period was dominated by fiery denunciations of the United States’ treatment of Cuba — especially the U.S. government’s ongoing embargo/blockade and human rights abuses at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp — along with a litany of our own country’s shortcomings, from our treatment of native populations to our foreign wars an interventionism and domestic woes such as homelessness, inadequate health care, mass incarceration and more.
A couple of speakers called in to support the resolution, as well, with one, Dennis Mayo, saying the Cuban people are “slaves to a hammer and sickle” — a reference to the old flag for the Soviet Union . But the vast majority of speakers criticized the proposed resolution as hypocritical and motivated by partisan politics.
Undeterred, Bohn made a motion to pass the resolution, saying he had no intention of instigating a bash on the U.S.A.
Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson said that while he supports democratic and economic reforms in Cuba and elsewhere, he considered the resolution part of a Republican-led public relations campaign aimed in part at shoring up support for the ongoing embargo/blockade.
Bohn’s motion died for lack of a second.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone then attempted to modify the motion, suggesting the resolution be changed to one supporting removal of the U.S. blockade of Cuba and increased humanitarian aid to the country. That motion likewise failed due to the lack of a second.