Disadvantaged Community and Tribal Involvement Program
Assessing Community Well-Being In The Sierra Nevada
Under the Disadvantaged Community and Tribal Involvement Program, and as a part of California's Proposition 1 funding for water supply, distribution, and infrastructure, the Sierra Institute for Community and Environment is working to promote the inclusion of underserved, underrepresented, and low-capacity communities into Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) planning across the Sierra Nevada region of California. Standard methods to identify and characterize disadvantaged communities often fail to fully account for all of the unique burdens faced by rural mountainous communities, such as episodic smoke from wildfires or prescribed burns, poverty, and unemployment, failing infrastructure, low organizational capacity, and more. Using a variety of socioeconomic and community capacity indicators, we have worked to assess community well-being in these areas using indicators that are better suited to the context of low-population and rural communities.
As part of this effort, we have developed a methodology to represent and characterize conditions in rural mountain communities, as standard methods to identify disadvantaged communities often fail to fully account for all of the unique burdens faced by these areas, such as episodic smoke from wildfires or prescribed burns, poverty, and unemployment, failing infrastructure, low organizational capacity, and more. Using a variety of socioeconomic and community capacity indicators, we have worked to assess community well-being in these areas using indicators that are better suited to the context of low-population and rural communities.
Public workshops were used to both identify local communities, as well as to subsequently assess their capacity relating to financial, social, cultural, human, and physical capital.
A quantitative socio-economic assessment was also conducted using five metrics drawn from US Census Bureau statistics:
- Housing Tenure
- Poverty Status
- Education Level
- Public Assistance
Finally, results from the community capacity and socioeconomic assessments were combined to create an overall score of community well-being.
Why This is Important:
Common methods used by state agencies, which are used to determine community needs for the allocation of grant funds based on these needs, don’t equitably represent rural regions. For example, for the purposes of Proposition 1 funding, the Department of Water resources defines a "disadvantaged community" as an entity with a median household income of less than 80% of California's overall median income. This reliance on a single indicator can skew results in low or heterogeneous population areas, excluding rural areas from funding opportunities designated for disadvantaged communities. CalEnviroScreen is an alternative tool used by other state agencies as a means to determine community needs and combines public health and socioeconomic indicators with environmental metrics. Under this tool, there are no high-scoring or disadvantaged communities in rural mountainous areas. Lack of measures for constituent air, water, and soil pollution are treated as if there were no pollution burden, despite the fact that lower-capacity areas often lack the ability to collect this data. This, among other deficiencies, is another example of failures to account for rural mountainous areas in standard methods of community needs assessments.
Data for this assessment was collected in collaboration with Regional Water Management Groups in the Mountain Counties Funding Area, as well as community members across the region. We thank them for their input and involvement in this work.
Check out our interactive mapping tool of the results below! Or Click Here to view additional data layers of the community capacity, socioeconomic status, and community well-being metrics. Make sure to check CONTENT located on the left side panel of the ArcGis page to view all data layers.
COMMUNITY WELL-BEING & WATER AND WASTEWATER NEEDS ASSESSMENTS REPORT
In 2014, California voters passed the water bond (Proposition 1) allocating $7.5 billion to fund watershed projects for the health of ecosystems and people. Part of the water bond includes funding for Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM), which is a multi-stakeholder effort to address water issues at a regional scale through the formation of Regional Water Management Groups (RWMG). Prop 1 includes funding for the IRWM Disadvantaged Community (DAC) Involvement Program, which is designed to increase the participation of underrepresented, underserved and low-capacity communities in IRWM planning. This includes Tribes, non-English speaking communities, economically distressed areas, and dispersed rural populations often poorly informed or excluded from water management decisions.
The DACT Involvement Program Information
The Sierra Institute for Community and Environment (Sierra Institute) is coordinating the Disadvantaged Community and Tribal Involvement Program (DACTIP) for the Mountain Counties Funding Area (MCFA), a region that includes nine Regional Water Management Groups (RWMGs) covering most of the Sierra Nevada. One of the preliminary activities of DACTIP is to identify disadvantaged communities by assessing not only their income but also utilizing multiple socioeconomic and community capacity indicators to address water-related challenges.
Why Include disadvantaged communities in IRWM management?
Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) was established as a way for communities to collaborate as a watershed to address regional issues. Though IRWM meetings are open to the public and many RWMGs have made efforts to engage disadvantaged communities and Tribes, DAC involvement remains limited. Additional effort is needed to include DACs, as many individuals are unable to afford to travel to meetings, volunteer their time, or may be hindered by the technical language used to discuss water management challenges. More work is also required to overcome cultural barriers, such as language gaps with non-English speaking communities, misunderstanding of Tribal governance processes, and lack of trust from historically disenfranchised communities.
The purpose of the DAC Involvement Program is to require that IRWMs expand their efforts to engage all groups in IRWM participation and project planning, and allocates funding so that they can afford to do so.
Challenges in the Mountain Counties Funding Area
The California DACT Involvement Program provides funding for twelve areas across the state to meet the diverse water-related challenges of each region. Encompassing the majority of the Sierra Nevada, the MCFA faces unique issues related to water systems and IRWM participation. The region is predominantly rural, which makes it more difficult for residents to travel to IRWM planning meetings or participate in other water management opportunities. Much of the region struggles with poor internet connectivity limiting the flow of information and ability to participate in meetings remotely. Unique water-related challenges in the region include: dependence on a single water source, drought impacts on private wells, aging infrastructure, and low capacity to repair systems due to a shortage of skilled engineers.
The MCFA is also in the unique position of managing over half of California’s drinking water. Headwaters of significant watersheds are located in the area, and the issues threatening these upper watersheds have impacts that extend beyond IRWM boundaries. The health of the upper watersheds is closely tied to wildfire and forest management, which involves its own set of funding and implementation challenges. The DAC Involvement Program will help build the capacity of communities in the MCFA to not only meet their water-related needs but to become more capable stewards of the Sierra Nevada for the benefit of the state as a whole.