The Barbed Wire - October 18, 2019

October 18, 2019
RCRC Affirms the Need to Make Significant Changes to PG&E’s Rural PSPS Events
Rural Broadband Update
Water Infrastructure Update
5G Update

RCRC Affirms the Need to Make Significant Changes to PG&E’s Rural PSPS Events

Earlier this week, Marybel Batjer, President of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), sent a letter to William Johnson, Chief Executive Officer of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), and other Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs), outlining directives and immediate corrective actions following the largest Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) in California history.  Matt Kingsley, RCRC Chair and Inyo County Supervisor, drafted a letter in response, thanking President Batjer for her leadership, and expressing RCRC’s support of the outlined directives, deeming them “vital to protect public health and safety, and avoid unnecessary impacts to Californians.”  

“Our members have suffered the lion’s share of destruction caused by catastrophic wildfires over the past decade, and communities within our counties have experienced most of the state’s PSPS events,” said Kingsley.  “Communication and proper planning is key, particularly as we continue to learn more about the potential for profound impacts on California’s communities during PSPS events…  It is imperative that IOUs work more closely with local government and public safety partners.”

RCRC has been actively involved as a party in both the Wildfire Mitigation Plans Proceeding and the De-Energization Proceeding, and do not underestimate the risk of wildfire danger and appreciate the role that expertly-informed, tailored PSPS events could play in avoiding catastrophic wildfires.  However, as Chair Kingsley outlined in his letter, RCRC wholeheartedly agrees that the execution of the recent large-scale PSPS event was a failure. 

The current notification and execution of PSPS events and subsequent restoration of power unnecessarily endanger lives and property, as well as the operation of critical infrastructure.  These impacts are even more acute for low-income residents and those who rely on electricity to power medical devices.  Furthermore, rural areas are often populated by a higher percentage of elderly persons – many of whom are dependent on fixed incomes – and their local governments may lack the resources to fully mitigate the impacts of PSPS events on critical infrastructure and sensitive populations. Counties operate many critical facilities that pose a danger to public safety should they experience de-energization.

RCRC applauds a number of directives outlined in President Batjer’s letter.  In particular, RCRC believes that major utility improvements are needed in the following areas:

  • Ensuring reliable access to meaningful information about PSPS-impacted areas and service restoration times;
  • Improving communication and coordination with counties;
  • Improving identification, notification, and mitigation of needs for populations with access and functional needs;
  • Improving accuracy and availability of maps;
  • Enhancing transparency of the PSPS declaration process;
  • Reducing service restoration times; and,
  • Identifying costs resulting from PSPS events.

Chair Kingsley’s letter can be accessed here.

Rural Broadband Update

This week, Representative Antonio Delgado (D-New York) announced a package of two bills aimed at addressing flawed broadband mapping practices and increasing broadband speeds for rural communities.  

The first bill, the Broadband Speed Act (HR 4641), would require internet service providers to annually report data to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that shows the actual speeds they are capable of providing, as opposed to what they can potentially provide. This will help the FCC determine where advertised speeds match actual speeds. The second bill, the Community Broadband Mapping Act, would allow local governments, electric/telephone cooperatives, economic development/community groups and small internet providers to collect information on local broadband service. This will enable communities who are currently incorrectly designated by the FCC as having service to take action to have the information necessary to dispute that status with the FCC.

Water Infrastructure Update

This week, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Donald “DJ” LaVoy announced that USDA is investing $201 million to improve rural water infrastructure in 31 states through the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant program, including in two RCRC member counties.  

Calaveras County will receive $5,000,000 in loans and $1,000,000 in grants to replace more than 13,000 manual read water meters with radio-read meters.  Additionally, Squaw Valley Mutual Water Company, in Placer County, will receive $4,223,660 in loans to help replace 6,500 feet of old cement, water lines with new pipes, and booster pump stations.  The investment will also make additional upgrades to the infrastructure facilities to ensure safe and clean water delivery to all their rural customers.  The funds will be distributed through the USDA’s Water and Waste Disposal Loan Grant program, designed to invest in projects that improve drinking water, stormwater drainage, and waste disposal systems in rural communities

5G Update

AT&T is urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to exclude 5G from its required upgraded data mapping collection.  "There is broad agreement that it is not yet time to require reporting on 5G coverage” AT&T said in a statement to the FCC.  

AT&T and other mobile carriers want to hide 5G coverage maps from the public while subsequently marketing the pace and breadth of their 5G rollouts.  “Service standards for 5G are still emerging, precluding reporting of service-level coverage for 5G networks (other than the 5G-NR submissions already required)," AT&T wrote.


Announcements regarding hearings, grants, and public comment notices of importance to California's rural counties.


Beyond the Brink: California’s Watershed

The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) co-sponsored a new educational video, “Beyond the Brink: California’s Watershed,” to highlight the importance of headwaters and watershed management.  The 26-minute video is produced by Jim Thebaut and The Chronicles Group, and is a collaboration with several entities dedicated to improving the health of California’s forested watersheds.  RCRC Senior Legislative Advocate Mary-Ann Warmerdam is also featured in the film.

Headwaters serve an important role in California’s water management system.  Healthy forests have multiple benefits, including increased water supply reliability, improved water quality, reduced impacts from catastrophic wildfires, increased renewable energy supplies, improved response to climate change and enhanced habitat.  RCRC and ACWA are founding members of the California Forest Watershed Alliance (CAFWA), a nonpartisan, urban-rural coalition representing water interests, local governments, the conservation community, agriculture, and the forestry sector, created to promote the restoration and improvement of California’s forested watersheds.

Links to the full version video and promo can be accessed here.