Tehama County’s Justin Jenson Maintains Cool in Bloodthirsty Crowd, Then Smacked with $33,000 EPA Fine

The Well Registry Survey Public Workshop and Mud Bog Boogaloo took place Wednesday evening and it was as contentious as one might expect. Shout out to Justin Jenson who maintained his cool in the sometimes hostile environment. Seriously, facing 300 people, half of them curious and the other half angry, cannot have been fun. My hat is off to you, Justin.

The Well Registry Meeting at the Red Bluff Community Center – photo by George Johnston/Red Bluff Daily News

The meeting was opened with a welcome from Stephanie Horii of the Consensus Building Institute, a non-profit organization with expertise in facilitation, mediation, capacity building, citizen engagement, and organizational strategy. They work within and across organizations and stakeholder groups. Yes, I copied that off their website. I’m not sure consensus was achieved, but it’s nice to have it right in your name as a goal.

Stephanie Horii of cgi.org – screen grab

Jenson gave an overview of the Registry Program, relevant background, and why the Groundwater Commission thinks it’s necessary. Then he opened the floor to questions and comments and affable ZZ Top lookalike Speero Tannous from Public Works crisscrossed the room with a microphone.

Justin Jenson – screen grab

Speero Tannous – the man with the mic. Screengrab

People rarely show up at meetings like this to say what a good job everyone is doing and they stayed true to form Wednesday. Most people were polite, although not happy about the 29 cent per acre fee on their taxes and potential future water fees, but some were downright angry and yelled about the Communists coming to take their water. Many threatened to leave the state and one can only wonder who is begging them to stay.

One of many who railed against Communism – screen grab

There were many common misconceptions that I’m not sure were cleared up. First, the Sustainable Groundwater Sustainability Act (SGMA), was signed into law in 2014 by Jerry Brown. When Jenson mentioned Governor Moonbeam’s name, loud groans from the crowd signaled blame was being shifted from the local Groundwater Sustainability Agency to Linda Ronstadt’s old boyfriend.

Linda Ronstadt and Jerry Brown – Newsweek magazine

To be clear, 84 year old Jerry Brown is not responsible for the 29 cent per acre fee on your tax bill – our own Tehama GSA is. Our Groundwater Commission decided a three-year project to create a database of all the wells in the county would be the most effective way to…what, exactly? Identify areas that are most vulnerable? We know where those are, thanks to DWR’s Dry Well Map. Place a temporary moratorium on deep production wells in those areas and focus on recharge projects. Boom.

I am not against the Well Registry. We should have one. But it’s just basic data entry that should have been done by Environmental Health all along. At least for the past 40 years. Take those records and compare them to information from DWR, the assessor’s office, tax collector, anywhere wells are recorded. To burden the public with finding this information and charging them for the pleasure is ridiculous.

Additionally, the GC should not be sitting around waiting for the registry to be done before taking action to stop the overdraft of our groundwater. And maybe they’re not waiting. Maybe they are secretly pursuing other roads to sustainability. We’d sure like to hear about those.

The meeting was available as a “listen only” Zoom, but I streamed video from my phone onto my Facebook page. If you’d like to watch it, go to . The sound isn’t bad, but the camerawork leaves much to be desired. As of Friday morning, 3,000 people had viewed it.

And that, my friends, was all I was going to write about water, until an alert reader sent me a link to a recent EPA decision which found Justin Jenson in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The EPA alleges, and Justin has admitted, that Jenson violated CWA Section 301(a), 33 U.S.C. § 1311(a), by discharging fill material into waters of the United States without obtaining from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers a permit issued under CWA Section 404, 33 U.S.C. § 1344.

What does that gobbledygook mean? (I don’t even know how to type the double-vision squiggly Ss symbol.) It means Jenson, Groundwater Sustainability Executive and Deputy Director of Tehama County Public Works, illegally rip rapped his property along the Sacramento River, shoring up the bank so he wouldn’t lose land to the meandering waters. He removed vegetation below the high water mark and replaced it with dirt and rock, destroying the habitat of at least 4 endangered fish species along 90 linear feet of critical habitat. Jenson has been fined $33,000. Ouch.

Apparently the former owner of the property had started the permit process with the Army Corps of Engineers, who were still in consultation with relevant federal agencies regarding potential impacts.

The work took place during a week in November of 2021, according to the EPA’s Final Order, which you can read at . Heavy machinery was used to discharge 90 cubic yards of dirt and rock to shore up the bank, about half of it underwater. You know, where fish used to live. I wonder where the Deputy Director of Public Works could find heavy machinery? Tweeeeet! Unfair Implication Foul. There’s no way Jenson would have committed this violation using county property, would he? 20 yard penalty to the snarky columnist for even thinking that.

But how could a man in Jenson’s position(s) not know it was illegal to perform unauthorized bank stabilization activities? Or did he know and thought he wouldn’t be caught? Either way, it is not a good look. His background is in Construction, so…

This is the man we are entrusting with helping to figure out the sustainability of our groundwater, although he has no background in water management and doesn’t respect the river he chose to live alongside. He is also the overseer of important county public works projects. The worst part is he’s a nice guy and I like him, although I doubt that feeling will be mutual when he reads this. We disagree on the direction in which the GSA is headed, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friendly.

Oh well, ya win some, ya lose some.

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Liz Merry

Liz Merry was born in Brooklyn, raised in the Bronx, then transplanted to the Jersey Shore. She moved to Chico in 1984 and married her comedy partner, Aaron Standish, in 1990. They have lived in Manton since 1994.

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