Rich in natural resources, but with a small slice of the state’s population, the rural counties of California often band together to speak with a stronger voice on their issues of concern.
California’s Legislative Rural Caucus was formed in 2003 as a bipartisan group of 50 members from both the Assembly and the Senate.
The latest member of the legislature to champion the concerns of the rural counties as chair of the Legislative Rural Caucus is Assembly member Frank Bigelow (R-O’Neals), who was elected to the leadership position in April.
Bigelow was elected in 2012 to represent the 5th Assembly District. The district encompasses Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Madera, Mariposa, Mono and Tuolumne counties. The 5th district includes Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park.
Bigelow lives in O’Neals, Madera County, and is an owner of two family businesses, Bigelow Farms and Ponderosa Telephone Company.
As stewards of the greatest share of the state’s water resources, the ability of the mountain counties to continue to provide these resources locally and statewide is a serious question.
Bigelow has connected the Legislative Rural Caucus with the Mountain Counties Water Resources Association to create a link between the rural legislators and water resources leaders in the mountain counties.
Mountain Counties was formed in the early 1950s. Its mission is to unite agencies, groups and individuals whose interests include protecting and enhancing Mountain Counties’ water resources throughout the foreseeable future.
The membership area of Mountain Counties is similar to the 5th Assembly District, with the addition of some counties in the 1st Assembly District. Both the 5th Assembly District and Mountain Counties include El Dorado County. Others in the Mountain Counties are: Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, Madera, Mariposa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sierra, Tuolumne, Yuba and portions of Butte, Fresno and Lassen counties.
Public information is available on the Legislative Rural Caucus Website: rural.assembly.ca.gov. That Website lists Mountain Counties as a resource, and includes a link to the Website mountaincountieswater.com.
In a letter to Bigelow dated July 22 from Mountain Counties Executive Director John Kingsbury, he wrote, “It is critical that we help our state and federal decision makers fully understand that this region is part of the solution to the water crisis.”
He cited Gov. Jerry Brown’s pledge to Colusa farmers to “incorporate (certain historic water rights) as an iron-clad, legal, statutory and maybe even constitutional guarantee” into “anything we do with this Delta facility.” The Governor reiterated his promise on July 15 when he and then Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar outlined revisions to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.
At that time, Gov. Brown further stated, “The state is committed to fixing the Delta. It should make a similar commitment to protect the Delta headwaters in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.”
In describing his role as Legislative Rural Caucus chair, Bigelow said in an e-mail: “As the chair of the Legislative Rural Caucus I look forward to providing a stronger voice for rural communities in Sacramento. The needs of rural areas can, and have in the past, been either ignored or not prioritized by the State Legislature. I am committed to ensuring that the issues and concerns raised by constituents of rural California are accurately and effectively represented in Sacramento.
“The mountain counties which I represent in the legislature will benefit greatly from the strong voice of the bi-partisan Legislative Rural Caucus,” Bigelow said. “Unique healthcare, resource and water needs and preparation for natural emergencies are vitally important to our area of the state and the entire Rural Caucus. I look forward to working on behalf of the mountain communities with my colleagues in the legislature to make sure rural California is protected.”