Forum explores ‘bottom line’ of water economics | SierraSun.com

Forum explores ‘bottom line’ of water economics

Christina Nelson

With only 750,000 of California’s 33 million people, the Sierra region often feels the sting that comes with a lack of political clout.

The region – an area that covers 20 counties in California and includes a small portion of Nevada – provides 60 percent of California’s water supply, which provides an essential resource to the state’s $32 billion agriculture industry.

“California agriculture is highly dependent on Sierra water,” said Jim Sayer, president of the Sierra Business Council.

And yet, the region receives a fraction of the money generated by the resource, and an even smaller portion of conservation related bond funding.

“One to one-and-a-half percent of all state conservation investments go into 20 counties,” said Steve Frisch, director of natural resources at the Sierra Business Council.

Describing their “triple bottom line,” the social, natural and financial capital of the region, the Nov. 20 forum described what the council has been doing for the last year, as well as what it hopes to accomplish in the future.

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Because of many changes in the Sierra, the region often experiences growing pains, Sayer said.

Population growth, increasing recreational visits, changing land uses, a shifting economy, new infrastructure projects and declining habitat and species all contribute to this phenomenon. But the region’s “competitive edge” is the quality of life it offers, Sayer said.

“I like to think of the Chinese character for ‘crisis’ because it contains two parts to it,” Sayer said. “One is threat, the other is opportunity.”

The small-town feel of Sierra communities needs to be preserved, he said, but change still needs to happen for these communities to flourish financially and socially, as well as to protect natural resources.

For example, although 11 percent of regional jobs are still in the timber industry, the Sierra region can no longer rely on extractive industries to maintain economic health.

“We once depended on resource extraction as the gold of the economy,” Frisch said.

Sayer said Nevada City is often used as an example of a Sierra community with a diversified economy.

In the 1950s Nevada City passed a historic preservation ordinance, which indirectly helped bolster the economy later – making it a tourist destination and attracting a high-tech industry cluster, Sayer said.

Intricately connected to its economic sustainability is the region’s natural resources and community participation.

As is the case in Nevada City, town planning that incorporates a level of historic preservation can be extremely important to a town’s economic health.

Natural resources also play an important part in the region’s economy, attracting tourists that fish in the region’s rivers and streams, hike its mountains and ski its slopes.

For more information about the Sierra Business Council, its programs and publications, visit http://www.sbcouncil.org.