A good first step

Supes’ letter to feds underscores the threat to our community, water supplies

It’s been a few years since nearly a dozen train cars derailed and tumbled down a steep embankment along the Feather River Canyon, spilling their contents into the waterway below. Fortunately, those cars were carrying corn and not crude oil, especially the highly flammable Bakken variety.

Today, the threat of a potentially catastrophic spill remains. CN&R has been warning about this scenario for years (see “On track for disaster,” July 10, 2014). Environmental groups have taken up the cause and, more recently, the Butte County Board of Supervisors has begun taking it seriously.

As evidence, the five-member panel this week unanimously approved a letter addressed to the Federal Railroad Administration (see “Unlikely eco-warriors,” page 10). It calls for added safety measures and for the Department of Transportation to study alternative routes for train cars carrying hazardous materials. Such trains have the potential to contaminate Lake Oroville, the state’s second largest reservoir and the headwaters of the State Water Project, which supplies water to more than 25 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland.

The canyon in our backyard is classified as a high-hazard area by the California Public Utilities Commission, so concerns about oil spills aren’t hyperbolic. In fact, over the last decade, there have been numerous other spills, including one involving diesel fuel, at the site.

CN&R commends the supes for taking an official stance by reaching out to the Federal Railroad Administration. It’s a good first step, but keeping the pressure on the federal agency is essential to mitigating the threat to our community and state water supplies.