(Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of Q-and-As featuring candidates for local offices. Respondents were given word limits.)
It’s known as a model water agency and is realizing a hefty revenue stream thanks to investments by Yuba County residents more than 50 years ago. The Yuba Water Agency exists to control flooding, manage water reserves, operate a power generating program and more.
Two candidates are vying for an at-large seat on the board: incumbent Charlie Mathews and challenger John Nicoletti. Following are a few questions posed by the Appeal and candidate responses:
1. Please tell us a little about yourself – you are free to list any background or credentials you feel are relevant.
Mathews: I’m a lifelong Yuba County resident. My family’s roots run deep with California and Yuba County water issues as my father was a governor appointee to the State Reclamation Board and chaired the Cordua Irrigation District. He and I designed much of today’s irrigation connections in the North Yuba area.
Nicoletti: I have been involved in the local community for all my years, including as chairman of the Yuba Water Agency, with experience in both private and public sectors. I volunteered during the ‘86 and ‘97 flood events and patrolled the levees as a levee commissioner during the Oroville spillway incident.
2. Tell us about any concerns you have or future challenges you see for the water agency as it applies to flood control.
Nicoletti: Strong dams, reliable water supply, and safer levees are critical to the safety and prosperity of Yuba County. We have made great investments in flood protection, but as atmospheric rivers of tropical rain come charging at our Sierra snowpack, no system can eliminate all risk. We must be proactive by investing in maintenance and upgrades. The 26 miles of the District 10 levee must be brought up to the 100-year standard. We have begun construction of a new levee at the goldfields. We’re leading the state in levee technology.
Mathews: I’m concerned that environmental limits will prohibit us from keeping the flood channels clear of trees and brush. When vegetation grows to the extent that you see on the levees north of Marysville on Highway 20, for example, we would not be able to thoroughly inspect the levees in the event of high waters. Rebuilding the gravel training wall on the Yuba River to protect Marysville’s north levee was a concern that is being addressed by the Agency. Also, of concern are homeless camps being perched, in some cases, into the levees causing degradation and comprising our levee system.
3. With the dramatic increase in revenue YWA has realized after taking over power generating facilities on the Yuba, how do you think the agency can best serve its constituency. And are you sure your ideas are allowable under the laws governing how the agency can spend its money?
Mathews: Yuba County residents built the dam that is now producing millions from water and electricity sales and they should have input on how the monies are spent. I strongly advocate for an advisory committee made up of Yuba County residents to advise the board of directors on the best projects to fund, making their community the best place to live, work and play. Legally, the Agency Act allows funding not directly related to flood or water projects to be paid to the county for disbursement, within limits, because the county has fewer restrictions on projects it can fund.
Nicoletti: I was there the night that power generation was transferred from PGE to the YWA. With new revenue comes new responsibilities. For that reason, I support ensuring strong dams, reliable water supply, and safer levees as our top priorities. There is more to be done to minimize our flood risk. Economic development comes to those that are ready. Let’s focus on the health and education of Yuba County residents. This isn’t a get rich quick scheme, we’re playing a long game. It took 60 years to get here, and we now have our eye on the next 60 years.
4. Why are you the best person for this position; or what distinguishes you from your opponent(s); or what will your priorities be, if elected?
Nicoletti: I am accessible, inclusionary, and listen equally to every resident’s voice. I make clear and rational decisions based on best practices and science. I focus on practical achievable applications and will never propose unrealistic ideas for votes. I am devoted, loyal and active in my community. I support dozens of local groups and causes with both my time and my personal funds. Prior to the past four years, YWA was very involved with our local farmers. I commit to re-engaging those relationships. I believe my experience, skills, and dedication to this community make me the best-qualified candidate.
Mathews: There is much more to the YWA Board of Directors than deciding how revenues will be spent. I have history, knowledge and experience about the water issues we face now and in the future. I knew many of the original planners and designers of the New Bullards Bar Dam and remember their concerns for its use, future flood control and water development. I enjoy a great legacy in this regard and believe I am uniquely qualified to contribute, on a board level, to the future operations that will protect Yuba County residents from flooding and inadequate water development projects.