Oroville Dam - What is Next?


I got a question about Oroville Dam from a Facebook follower today, and coincidentally I’ve been reading some of the reports relating to the dam this evening. It got me thinking about how we deal with managing risks associated with very large engineering projects - that’s something I do in my daily work.

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock and missed the near miss we had last winter relating to the damaged Oroville Dam Spillway, the emergency spillway, and the evacuation of the entire region downstream of the dam… I recommend that you visit the YouTube channel Blancolirio, where commercial pilot, critical thinker, and citizen journalist Juan Browne has been vlogging about Oroville Dam since February. This is an excellent series, and Juan continues to follow the construction and enormous engineering challenges as the Department of Water Resources works to repair the spillway before our next winter season. I recently went back and re-watched some of the first videos in this series, and Juan does a really good job of reporting as events unfold.

It reminded me of the first weeks after the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown, when I was in Tokyo advising GE's Japan operations, and just how important it was to provide calm and accurate information to our employees in Japan.

The DWR’s Independent Forensic Team issued an interim report a few days ago summarizing many of their findings. Their full report will be issued later in the fall. But among the lessons learned are some principles that I’ve been living with during the 30 years that I’ve been working in waste management, emergency response and crisis management, and financing of very large engineering projects. Many of the project I get involved with are extremely expensive and planned to be around for generations. We finance these projects with the assumption that they are designed and built well, with revenues that will pay off the cost of construction (which is what my bank finances) over a long period of time, usually 20 or 30 years.

But even with all the planning and careful construction, any large engineering project has an intended lifespan, and we’ve gotten very used to keeping these projects in operation long past those initial design lifespans. That can be a good thing, but as with everything there is a cost.

So what are the lessons learned at Oroville Dam that overlap with my work?

  1. Physical inspections are never going to be enough to monitor an aging piece of critical infrastructure. We need these physical inspections, along with good sensing data where we can’t see critical features, but we need to combine that with periodic evaluations of the project design against our current knowledge and experience. That way we can assess where we may have to make improvements to reflect industry best practices.
  2. Simply complying with the regulations may not be enough to manage key life safety and engineering risks. Project owners MUST always consider that they may have to exceed regulatory requirements in order to ensure the infrastructure is safe and sound. That was a lesson that was drilled into me again and again when I worked on Navy projects and at General Electric Company, and I always include human health and life safety risks as a critical evaluation item in my work. As the IFT report states, “Regulators have an essential role in management of dam safety, but do not have the resources nor the primary responsibility for managing dam safety. That responsibility, both ethically and legally, rests with dam owners, and dam owners must, therefore, develop and maintain mature dam safety management programs which are based on a strong “top-down” dam safety culture.”

Here is a link to the IFT report.


Forest Lands and Watersheds


This week I spent several days with representatives from the Maidu community, government agencies, non-profits, and academia in Genesee Valley, Plumas County. We camped in a beautiful stand of trees during the hottest day of the year and got drenched in a thunderstorm and talked and laughed and learned together.  It was an honor to be invited to participate in this gathering.

I learned so much that it’s hard to capture in a short article.

  • Defining healthy forests can be thought of as starting with wildlife refugia - where intact old areas of growth still exist, and then expanding outwards to encourage recovery of forest ecosystems by managing succession of different tree species.  But the small plants are also so important!  I learned about huckleberries and other edible plants that used to be abundant in this area of the Northern Sierra and consumed by the Maidu.

  • The divisions and connections between urban and rural are not so simple, and we need to move beyond this kind of dividing line to focus on the role of the mountain watersheds in California’s future and success, regardless of where the water from our region eventually goes.

  • Managing a forested landscape can combine multiple objectives, like fire resilience, wildlife support, lumber production, or restoration to a different mix of tree species.  Bob Beckwith is gradually returning his property in Genesee to an oak-silver pine woodland using a lot of labor to thin out the fast growing pines, carefully choosing weather conditions for prescribed burns, and providing refugia for wildlife by leaving dead standing oak trees in place.  He’d like to see the Forest Service use more prescribed burns on the ridge above his property to remove excess biomass.

  • Communication is enormously important in both planning and monitoring the effects of projects that treat forest areas to make them more fire resilient.  Forest collaboration groups do the very hard work of figuring out what works at the ground level, from project to project, with the hope that we can identify broad sources of funding to expand these smaller projects across all of California’s upper watersheds.  Furthermore, the language we use to describe ecosystems and watersheds can shape our thinking about these places.

  • I also got a chance to hear lots of details about the Sierra Institute’s work on developing a pilot scale project using biomass to generate electricity and heat.  I have a lot of thoughts about that to share in a future article.

We talked and talked and talked about future projects that balance fire resistance with timber production and ecosystem restoration. These kinds of meetings are critical to California’s future, and we need to talk a lot more about how to best model the way and scale up projects to cover our entire forest landscape.

In California’s District 1, we need a representative in Washington who gives their all for healthy watersheds and forests and for healthy communities that support these watersheds.  I am ready to work hard for our watersheds and communities.  Thank you for supporting my campaign for Congress.


Immigration and Independence Day

Independence Day

Part of being American involves grappling with our complicated history of colonization and immigration. Some of my ancestors arrived in America on the Mayflower ship and others immigrated to the United States several hundred years later. Those arrivals to our country represent some of the strongest aspects of our society, as people who came here worked hard to create opportunities for their children, opportunities that accumulated over generations to make us the most affluent society the world has ever known. But our greatest strength has also been our greatest weakness, as those opportunities came at the expense of native people in America and slaves brought here to make our agricultural enterprises competitive against our European neighbors. Our affluence is not accessible to every American equally.

With all the changes we’ve seen in our society, this legacy has persisted in the way we think of immigration and labor and competition. We have continued to benefit greatly from the enterprise and energy of immigrants who come and work in every sector of industry in America. But we’ve also created a system where undocumented people provide critical labor at low cost and often poor work conditions. Every trip we make to the supermarket is touched by this system of labor.

As Americans, we need to reform our federal immigration laws to address this legacy and the reality of our economy. People who have come to work in farming and other low-paid industries and who have raised children and contributed to our success need a path to becoming full citizens. We can debate the costs and benefits to our social welfare system for these families, but the simple fact is that we have created the conditions that have brought them to the United States, and we need to take responsibility for that and claim these Americans for who they are now. And we need to develop programs to address the demand for low cost labor in certain industries so that we aren’t encouraging illegal immigration into the future.

Diverse people coming together to create enterprises, solve problems, and identify opportunities continues to be our greatest asset. It is our greatest chance to solve some of our biggest challenges in healthcare, the environment, and even defining for ourselves what work will look like in the future. We can work together at the federal level to accomplish the following:

  • Pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented families living in the U.S.

  • Protect immigrants from violence, wage theft, and discrimination

  • Be a place that welcomes and protects refugees fleeing violence, persecution, and war in their countries by implementing reasonable programs to screen and support refugee arrivals and assist with resettlement

Affordable and Quality Healthcare

Emergency Services at Plumas District Hospital

Emergency Services at Plumas District Hospital

On Facebook, a voter from Siskiyou County asked me what I think of Medicare or one payer insurance for all. Am I strong enough to fight for everyone in District 1?

There is only one real solution to providing healthcare without leaving behind a lot of people, especially people in our eleven counties in District 1, and that's to:

  • Extend the Medicare system to cover everyone equally
  • Make sure that we define a minimum standard of care that is a fundamental part of the social contract between the American people and their government

The real question is how we're going to get there from where we stand today. We're going to have to fight really hard against the erosion of the Affordable Care Act that the Republicans are proposing, but even more critically we have to protect funding for the existing Medicare programs and not allow the huge tax cuts that the house passed in their bill last week to become a reality. California's legislature is now considering a single payer bill, and we need to protect the federal Medicaid dollars to make that a reality so that California can be a model for the rest of the country. Step by step, we’ll get there.

I know that progressives don’t have a lot of power in Congress right now, but we can do our very best to make the process as difficult as possible for the Republicans to chip away at the progress we’ve made with the Affordable Care Act. And if that doesn’t work then we’ll fight some more and make sure we’re represented in Washington in 2018. And in 2020 and beyond.

I have two sisters who purchase health insurance through Covered California, and neither of them had insurance before that program started. I also have a nephew that has care thanks to the Medicaid expansion, and my two post-college kids are able to stay on my insurance while they are starting their careers with jobs that don’t have insurance benefits. Those are all improvements to real people’s lives thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

I will keep working toward a universal coverage program for as long as it takes us to get there.

Keep asking questions by email, on Facebook, and in person. I'll be sharing more positions on a range of issues in the coming weeks.

My Response to EPA's Regulatory Reform Request for Comment


Dear Director Pruitt and EPA Regulatory Reform Initiative:

The Environmental Protection Agency draws its mission from a range of federal laws, including the National Environmental Protection Act; Clean Air Act; Clean Water Act; Resource Conservation and Recovery Act; Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act; Toxic Substances Control Act; Safe Drinking Water Act; Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act; Endangered Species Act; Oil Pollution Act; Hazardous Materials Transportation Act; and many other laws and amendments to laws that have been passed by the people in Congress that represent me and all the other people in the United States.  The Administrative Procedure Act, passed after World War II, governs the way that federal agencies implement laws and develop the detailed regulations that allow us to translate Congressional intent into everyday activities.

In over 30 years of working with these environmental laws, I’ve participated in Congressional fact finding activities, prepared extensive comments in response to requests for public comment, and worked directly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through industry groups and citizen groups to solve technical and scientific problems raised during the course of developing and implementing our nation’s environmental programs.

How can any one person or company or industry possibly provide USEPA with direction and guidance on improving its regulatory program and eliminating overlapping or redundant regulatory programs in the space of one email?  One of the biggest lessons we’ve had to learn during the past 100 years is that managing environmental impacts from one set of sources often leads to problems in another area.  Removing pollutants from one environmental media can lead industry to start contaminating another media.

We have made tremendous progress toward not only protecting our environment but in remediating and undoing many decades of damage brought about by industrial activities that treated the environment as a free dumping ground for its byproducts.  Let’s not undo that progress by jumping into a repeal process that is not planned, does not allow for adequate participation, understanding, and analysis by stakeholders, and returns to an outdated concept of externalizing the costs and health impacts associated with environmental degradation.


Martha M. Walters
American Citizen
Quincy, California  95971

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has requested input on its Regulatory Reform project through May 15, 2017.  Please add your voice to balance those who want to roll back decades of environmental protection.


Speech to the Butte County Democratic Central Committee

This speech was given by Marty at the Chavez-King Annual Dinner in Oroville on April 21st, 2017.

Good evening. I am so pleased to join you tonight at this event honoring Cesar Chavez and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I want to talk to you this evening about the ways we can relate to these two great leaders, an agricultural worker and a preacher who led us to the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, who organized laborers and mothers and students to join together. How are the careers and struggles of these two great men relevant to us here in rural, Northern California?

Our Congressman often speaks about helping middle class people “who are paying all the freight” in our community. He doesn’t talk about the disabled who can’t work or those who are working more than one job with no benefits and scrambling to stretch their dollars from one week to the next. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, these folks are just as critical to our economy and society as the rice farmers and business owners and bankers. As Democrats, we have an imperative to represent all the people of our region from a place of respect, not just those middle class folks who are “paying the freight”. We need to better understand, so that we can help improve, the lives of our neighbors, family members, friends, and especially strangers who live in our mountain towns, our valley cities, our ranches and farms and cabins and suburbs. I was once one of those invisible strangers.

Thirteen years ago, I was suddenly faced with the prospect of raising my three kids by myself. Emotionally and financially devastated, I got on a plane with my young children and came to Plumas County, where my mom and my sisters and their families opened up their hearts and their homes to help us figure out what to do next. It was my first time needing a major amount of help rather than being the person helping out.

I’ll never forget the kindness of the elementary school secretary who enrolled my kids and told me about Healthy Families insurance and subsidized lunches. Or the patronizing lecture of the school superintendent who refused to help resolve a bullying situation. He suggested it might not happen if my children’s father were present. I swore that I’d hold on to those feelings forever, the inherent respect by some and the inherent disdain from others based on nothing more than the way I looked and the configuration of my family.

It took 10 months and many solitary hikes in the Plumas Forest to get back on my feet and embrace the role of mom and dad to my kids. I salvaged my education, got work, and found a place to live. And I had to do this while learning how to gracefully and gratefully accept help from a whole community of people.

I’ve had an extraordinary experience since that low point, opening myself up to erasing the sense of other and accepting help from the amazing people of Quincy, California, from retired bus driver Rose who stepped in and became a parent to my children while I traveled to Mexico for work each week, to neighbor Rob who helped my son learn to ride a bicycle, to my sister Cary who drove that same kid to the surgeon in Truckee after he broke his arm. My mom, who eventually bought a house across the street from me so that we could lean on each other. My siblings, who listened and shared all the trials and tribulations of raising kids and making ends meet. And this community that cheered when I got a coveted assignment to live and work in Japan and welcomed us home at Christmas holidays and summer breaks.

I know that environmental conservation and renewable energy can drive economic growth. I know that each and every one of us deserves healthcare at an affordable cost. I want my tax dollars to support social, health, and arts programs as equally as they pay for national security.

It’s time to pay forward all the help and support and hard work of the past 13 years, to reinvest in Northern California what Northern California invested in me. I want to show you that qualified, tenacious, tough, and empathetic women candidates are out here and ready to put our career experience and life experience to work in public service. I want to make Northern California a force in the world and bring the world’s resources back to our communities. I want to supercharge all the initiatives and efforts going on right now to transition us from a timber and resource based economy to a diversified service economy that also integrates our National Forests and forest products.

Started in 2013, the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina is a direct descendant of the nonviolent protests originated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez in the 1960s. The leaders of Moral Mondays brought the concepts of solving problems from a place of moral justice to even the most rural, white counties in North Carolina, demonstrating how we can erase the fear that comes from the sense of other. I’ve taken on this challenge of grassroots organizing over the past few years, starting a music education non-profit and an affordable, quality housing initiative for Plumas County. With all of us joining in on these engines of economic and social opportunity, I know that we can inspire and sustain a new generation driven by service, education, healthcare, and environmental conservation. My name is Marty Walters, and I want to represent you in Congress while we are making that transition.

My Pledge Against White Extremism


Humans are capable of extraordinary kindness and extraordinary cruelty, and the line between the two can be so close.  We live in a country that was built on high ideals of freedom and equality.  Yet while my mother’s ancestor, Patrick Henry, was working with our country’s founders to craft the Declaration of Independence, his Virginia plantation was relying on enslaved people to produce the agricultural products that would give rise to the American economy.  And while my father’s ancestors were busily contributing to the birth of industrialism in Massachusetts, native people in this land were being exterminated to make room for people like my family who wanted to expand and occupy America.  Years later, my mother’s ancestors and my father’s ancestors would fight each other in the Civil War, which ended slavery but did not end cruelty to the people who were not even considered people by my white ancestors.  By the time I came along, my parents had moved from Virginia to Hawai’i, and I grew up knowing next to nothing about my legacy, both kind and cruel.  

My experience was all about Asia and the Pacific Ocean, and I worshiped in a Japanese Christian church and attended public schools where there were few white faces and no one else whose ancestors had sailed to America on the Mayflower.  It was not until I had children of my own that I started to really think about the centuries of choices and actions that now rested on my shoulders.  Like it or not, I own the terrible legacy of slavery, of genocide, and white superiority just as much as I own the connection to the Mayflower and Patrick Henry that set in motion the opportunities that I benefit from today as a highly educated woman in business.

Putting aside every bit of politics and policy in this recent election, there is a critical question we have to answer for ourselves: can we allow a hate-fueled and extremist campaign to define us? We cannot dance that close to the line of cruelty without crossing it, we must be vigilant in our everyday lives and our everyday actions to sway ourselves, our families, and our community toward kindness and respect for all humans and away from extremism.  We do this by being truthful to ourselves and others.  We do this by asking ourselves, is this kind, this action I am about to take, these words I am about to say?  And we promote policies and actions by our leaders that are necessary to our integrity as human beings, to being on the side of kindness and not cruelty.  The president-elect has demonstrated over and over again his willingness to cross the line into cruelty, and I pledge to work against the extremism promoted by his campaign and the extremists who helped put him in office, every day I live, every action I take, and every decision I make.

Update April 24, 2017:

The Government Accounting Office published a report this month looking at extremist events since 2001 and why countering extremist behavior is inherently different from counterterrorism activities.   You can access the report via this link.  


As the report states:

Since September 12, 2001, the number of fatalities caused by domestic violent extremists has ranged from 1 to 49 in a given year. As shown in figure 2, fatalities resulting from attacks by far right wing violet extremists have exceeded those caused by radical Islamist violent extremists in 10 of the 15 years, and were the same in 3 of the years since September 12, 2001. Of the 85 violent extremist incidents that resulted in death since September 12, 2001, far right wing violent extremist groups were responsible for 62 (73 percent) while radical Islamist violent extremists were responsible for 23 (27 percent).

The solutions outlined by the Obama administration included building awareness of the issue, countering narratives of extremism both online and in other communications media, and emphasizing community-led interventions to identify and work with at-risk individuals.


Your Tree Internet Isn't Working For Me


Anyone who has spent time in Plumas County is familiar with our least favorite flavor of internet: the tree receiver. Why does it work beautifully sometimes, only to bog down to a standstill just when you really need it? Today's blog post focuses on what's happening with internet service (and a bit on communications generally) in Plumas County, and what we have in common with other rural areas.

Does Internet Service Matter?

This is a rhetorical question for any Gen-X or Millenial resident of our county, but it's a valid question.  Should we be concerned about the quality and speed of internet that comes to our homes and businesses?  The Pew Research Center has compiled some interesting statistics on internet use in the United States:

  • 84 percent of Americans use the internet, and for some groups such as young educated Americans, usage is at full saturation.
  • However, fewer people in rural areas are connected to the internet -- only 78 percent use the internet regularly. But this is huge increase over the year 2000, when just 48 percent of rural citizens used the internet.
  • While there are some income and age gaps, these gaps have been closing rapidly in the last 15 years, with 58 percent of senior citizens using the internet - they are the fastest adopters of internet use right now

Whether for personal or business use, the internet has nudged aside the fax machine, the express mail envelope, and even telephones in becoming our primary method of interacting with the world.

Why Won't AT&T Provide Me With DSL Service?

When it comes to rural internet service, the large telecom companies are not our friends or allies.  I've heard from a number of people who have recently moved to Plumas County, who were shocked when they contacted AT&T and were told they could not get DSL service to their home.  Maybe they were told the service was at capacity.  Or that only a limited number of accounts are available in this service area.  The truth is that the large telecom companies are actively seeking to exit their rural service areas, both for copper line phone service and internet DSL through the copper lines.  AT&T made a number of promises to our anti-trust regulators when it acquired Southern Bell in 2007, and more promises made during its acquisition of DirectTV.  I've tried several times to make sense of AT&T's official statement regarding its service to rural and underserved communities, and the best I can interpret from the vague language and obfuscations in this document is that in the future AT&T expects to provide service to us via mobile cellular service.  Of course, anyone with a mobile phone plan that includes data knows that cellular-based data service is expensive, with limits on the amount of data you can use each month without being forced to file bankruptcy.  And cellular tower service is very difficult to implement in rural mountainous regions, so there are many dead spots and areas with poor coverage.  And for those of us who live in Quincy, AT&T mobile phone service seems to be completely inoperable at least a few days a month, and sometimes for weeks at a time -- recently AT&T parked a generator and temporary tower in its parking lot on Lindan Avenue, which seems to be serving as a bandaid of sorts for its service in Quincy.  So the mobile-only option is not an option at this point in time.  Especially for anyone who relies on internet data to run their business, to work remotely for a company, or to stream a video or newscast.

Why Can't I Get the New Fiber Optic Service?

In July 2010, the Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative was awarded a grant (using money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) to install fiber optic cable through a portion of Plumas County.  The grant funds included placement of the main line plus connections to schools and government offices including Susanville, Portola, and Quincy, but it did not extend the line to Indian Valley or Chester/Lake Alamnor.  The grant also did not cover extension of that fiber line to homes and businesses, what is commonly referred to as the "final mile" of service.  The Cooperative's Plumas Sierra Telecom division has been working hard to expand its services and to get more grant money to help put that final mile of infrastructure in place.  So please support their efforts with your Supervisors and other government officials!

The State of Internet Service Today in Plumas County

Now that we understand a lot more about why internet service varies so much across our region, let's take a look at the various providers for each of our major towns.  It's difficult to get data on exact coverage areas and speeds available, so I used information gathered by Google to give you a snapshot of connection quality and speeds. The charts below also give you an idea of the peak traffic times throughout the day, which affect especially the broadband wi-fi connections.  Unfortunately, there isn't enough internet traffic in Indian Valley and Graeagle for Google to collect data for this report.

You can read a lot more about how video gets streamed over the internet and test the video quality for your internet service provider by going to Google's Video Quality Report here:  https://www.google.com/get/videoqualityreport/.  And if you'd like to test the speed of your connection to the internet at this moment, try out SpeedTest.net, which will tell you how fast data is downloading and uploading to the internet from your computer.

There are several companies who are offering satellite internet services to remote areas, including Hughes Communication.  The main limitation for satellite internet is that bad weather causes frequent outages, and most companies have a monthly limit on the amount of data you can consume on their service.  These services could work well for people who live in Plumas County during the summer and who do not have heavy data needs.


There are currently three internet service providers in Quincy.  Plumas Sierra Telecom provides fiber optic service and has the best service, speed, and quality, but it's only available to a few customers currently.

AT&T's DSL internet service, available only to those customers who started service prior to 2010, relies on microwave relays from Chico to a fixed station in Quincy and then into the copperline service to homes.  You can see that this service doesn't support high definition video streaming more than half the time, and it downloads at a maximum of 6 Mbs.

DigitalPath also relies on microwave transmission from Chico to various broadband wi-fi transmitters around Quincy.  Many of us have transceivers mounted high in a tree near our house in order to get line-of-sight connection to the wi-fi transmitters.  In addition to facing the same issues as the AT&T service, many DigitalPath customers experience frequent outages or slow service, usually due to weaknesses in the wi-fi transmission system.


In contrast to Quincy, Chester appears to have a much higher quality of internet service and ability to stream high definition videos through DigitalPath.  However, there aren't any broadband alternatives to DigitalPath in Chester currently.


If you're lucky enough to be connected to the PST's fiber optic network in Portola, you should be able to stream high definition videos and connect to the internet at high speeds with ease.

DigitalPath in Portola looks a lot like Quincy, although with less overall traffic and slower connections during mid day into evening periods.

Rural High Speed Connectivity Activism

High speed internet access relies on infrastructure built using a combination of public and private funds and incentives.  Because the large telecom companies do not get a large number of customers from the infrastructure in rural locations, they are not interested in supporting these areas, leaving it to smaller internet service providers and a patchwork quilt of technology and regulations to get internet into places like Plumas County.  Economic development initiatives should include an internet connectivity component to support and expand the infrastructure locally.

In early 2015, President Obama directed his cabinet to examine ways to expand broadband deployment across the United States, and in August of last year a report was generated that contained several good objectives for the federal government to achieve this goal:

  1. Modernize Federal programs to expand program support for broadband investments.
  2. Empower communities with tools and resources to attract broadband investment and promote meaningful use.
  3. Promote increased broadband deployment and competition through expanded access to Federal assets.
  4. Improve data collection, analysis and research on broadband

To read more about what's happening with legislation and rural communications, please check out some of the resources below:


Update, March 11, 2017

In 2016, Plumas Sierra Telecom acquired the assets of the former Quincy cable company and started to inspect and repair the old co-axial cables that were installed back in the 1990s through American Valley.  On March 1, 2017, they announced that their internet service, which connects the main fiber line into these old co-axial cable networks, is now available in East Quincy for the blocks immediately around 1st Street.  This is exciting progress!  Just keep in mind that while co-axial cable speeds are pretty good, you won't get the blindingly fast internet service that comes from a proper connection directly to fiber optic cable.  One common complaint is that as more people get connected and use a co-axial network, the slower the connection speeds get.

Another update, March 22, 2017

I met another remote worker in Plumas County today, Dave Loschiavo, and he shared with me a terrific article he wrote for Ars Technica about connecting up to fiber optic service from his home in Sloat.  Check out his perspective!