Water main topic at luncheon

More than 50 people gathered last week at The Pines Resort to ask questions of state legislators and county supervisors about numerous issues faced by Mountain Area residents.

State Senator Tom Berryhill (R-Twain Harte), Assemblyman Frank Bigelow (R-O’Neals), along with Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler, and District 1 Supervisor Brett Frazier, headlined the noon lunch provided by Ducey’s On the Lake, sponsored by the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce.

During brief introductions Friday, Aug. 21, the four government officials updated the crowd on their respective goals and issues, such as a shared interest in improved water storage, and more effective elimination of dead trees, a major fire hazard, in the Sierra National Forest.

Questions from the crowd largely reflected those concerns, particularly in light of the Willow Fire, the nearly 52,000-acre Rough Fire east of Fresno pumping smoke into the Oakhurst and North Fork areas, and a predicted major storm system this winter.

Several people asked how best to reduce the amount of fuels available in the forest, including Maryann McGovran, chair of the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, on whether Cal Fire had funds available to execute burn plans.

Bigelow responded there’s no additional money at this time, but a proposed half-cent sales tax increase in Madera County that Wheeler discussed, currently under review by county staff, is designed to help fund not only firefighting efforts but the sheriff’s department as well.

On water storage efforts, Oakhurst realtor Melanie Barker asked if there was any way to help contain the predicted El Niño winter - which some meteorologists say will hit California harder than the record system of 1997-1998, that dropped nearly 19 inches of rain in a single month inside Yosemite National Park.

Berryhill said he’s looking into fast-tracking a project such as the suggested Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River, so that future storms may help utilize rainfall that often flows into the ocean.

“There’s no question that if we get a Texas-style El Niño coming through here, we’re not going to have to be worrying about drought, we’ll have to be worrying about floods or worse,” Berryhill said. “We’re all very aware of that and we’re working very hard on it.”

Even if a new dam were to be approved for the first time in California since 1972, Bigelow said it would still be at least 10 to 15 years before construction could begin.

“Don’t you think it’s time stop talking about it and do it,” Bigelow asked. “We need to have funding, we need to have storage, so that we can capture the runoff when it comes. On top of that, we need to make sure we’re protecting ourselves from that rainfall when it comes.”

Berryhill and Bigelow opened their mountain tour in Mariposa, then finished with a public meeting and appetizers in Coarsegold after the noon lunch.