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Modoc County - A CUPA in The State of Jefferson


Modoc County - A CUPA in The State of Jefferson

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Modoc County - A CUPA in The State of Jefferson

202 West 4th Street, Alturas, CA 96101
(530) 233-6310

Located in the far north east corner of California where the west still lives, Modoc County is the twelfth largest county and the least populated in the state. Truly a rural county with two people per square mile, compare that to LA Countys 2,344 people per square mile, so it is easier to socially distance here. There is even a CUPA up here in the wild west. Modoc County Environmental is the CUPA for the county and I recently had a chance to chat with the Director Warren Farnam and his CUPA sidekick Chris Murray.

Every CUPA has their own challenges, typically with staffing or inspection frequency. Some have dozens of inspectors and that is just for the six CUPA programs. It was truly eye opening for me to hear the Modoc County story. I mentioned Warren and Chris were the CUPA guys, well they are also the food inspectors, septic, water well, land use, animal control and code enforcement guys covering 4,300 square miles. Environmental Health staff consists of the Director, one senior staff, one admin staff and a part time technician to implement 22 programs in the county. It is a challenge just to keep up with the changes to the CUPA program let alone 16 other programs that all require training and technical expertise, not to mention the different interpersonal skills required.

Modoc County Environmental Health has the typical rural challenge of implementing not only the CUPA program but also many mandated critical public health programs that keep us all safe and healthy, whether its is a clean restaurant or clean water we all rely on them. So with two staff and a relatively small inventory for all business, balancing the mandate with the funding is a huge challenge. Actually setting reasonable fees that can fund all of these programs is impossible so smaller counties rely on the State rural reimbursement and realignment funding from the local budget to make it work. Changes to the CUPA program over the years have impacted every CUPA but smaller agencies that could easily handle hardcopy files had to switch to electronic reporting. This change tripled the staff time spent on data input. We all know that data can be important but there is a steep price to pay for the rural agencies that have less staff and fewer resources, it can bury them. Like many mandated programs the CUPA program has added elements like the Aboveground Storage Tank program in addition to increased annual training requirements for UST certification. Especially for smaller agencies, these additions all take staff time and bring them closer to the breaking point, where they will no longer be able to adequately implement all these regulatory programs.

Implementing so many diverse programs requires a special skill set. Modoc Environmental Health relies on outreach and education to achieve compliance. Working to help the business owners understand the requirements and ultimately comply. The 1998 UST upgrade requirements virtually wiped out the mom-and-pop gas stations, now there are only six service stations in the county and three of them are on tribal lands. That is why helping operators is critical to keeping things running and the gas flowing. Regulating any business in this tightly knit community means the operator could be your neighbor or little league coach. The approach to compliance and keeping well staff trained on the ever-changing regulatory requirements are important.

Modoc relies on the CUPA conference to fulfill the annual training requirements, attaining the number of hours can be a challenge. Warren and Chris are regular conference attendees and in addition to the training they value networking opportunities that bring state and local staff together which can create long lasting contacts that can provide critical assistance when needed. They did zoom into this years virtual conference but found it harder to attend all the sessions they needed, mainly because they were still in their office, they also really missed the networking and are hoping for an in-person conference again soon.

I recently had the chance to drive through Modoc on a post vaccination road trip. What a treat it was to explore the many beautiful natural wonders and such wide open spaces, that must be why they call it the last best place. The Lava Beds National Monument, the Lava Beds Wilderness, the Modoc national Forest and the many hot spring and lava tubes make this a very special place to visit. Like many of the distinctly unique areas of California, the residents here appreciate the natural beauty and take care of it because they depend on it. Although it may be a bit out of the way a trip to Modoc will be well worth it and you can be sure that the staff at Modoc Environmental Health will be on the job working to keep the community healthier and safer.