Stop Westlands’ war on Valley environment now
Westlands Water District’s war on the environment began the day the largest water district in the United States was formed. The really fascinating aspect of the history of Westlands is that it has always had very few water rights. But the lack of water rights hasn’t stopped Westlands from grabbing water from those who do have water rights through political chicanery at the highest levels. Though it’s been convicted of securities fraud and managed to dodge debts owed to taxpayers for decades, The San Luis Drainage Resolution Act (HR 1769) would be the biggest opportunity yet for Westlands to steal water, pollute the environment, and avoid paying what it owes to American taxpayers. Read to the whole story here, and be sure to contact your Senators.
Twelve kids facing eviction
After eleven years in the same house, the Munn family of Modesto is facing eviction. Trouble began when the owner died. His survivors first offered the family first right of refusal and an opportunity to buy the house. In the midst of negotiations, the family was suddenly ordered to leave the premises. Mr. and Mrs. Munn and their twelve children will move to temporary quarters in a motel on Monday, November 6 and will be in court the next day, trying to revive negotiations to buy the house. They are hoping to stay in Modesto, where Mr. Munn works, and are looking for a landlord who will accept their large family with a rental around $1300/mo. Watch an interview here.
Races Stanislaus County School Districts
We are not endorsing in every race, but The Valley Citizen recommends the following: AREA 5: Juan P Vazquez HART RANSOM: Matt Dobbs and Sandy Riggins DENAIR: Crystal Souza Sylvan Union: Christine Harvey MODESTO CITY SCHOOLS AREA 7: Adolfo Lopez and Matthew Harrington
Rivers belong to all of us, says Peter Drekmeier
“Not all farming is created equal,” says Peter Drekmeier in the Sacramento Bee, and he’s right. Farmers, doubtless intoxicated by the money and power they’ve generated during the almond boom, have decided they want ALL the water from our rivers. Peter Drekmeier, of the Tuolumne River Trust, points how some cold hard facts that may make water-grabbing farmers uncomfortable, but should help give us all a better perspective about the value of our rivers to everyone, not just farmers. These same rivers provide drinking water, economic benefits other than farming, and are key to the survival of the San Francisco Bay and the San Joaquin Delta. Read Peter Drekmeier’s comments here.
Debate bounce for Cox
TJ Cox’s “jobs and the economy” message must have resonated with many of the audience members at last Wednesday’s candidate forum in Turlock on September 20. According to a survey conducted by Our Revolution Turlock, Cox received the biggest post-debate bounce of all the candidates. Cox’s impressive record of creating good jobs in a region beset by unemployment and poverty obviously went over well, as did his promise to seek state and federal money for a congressional district he feels is poorly represented by Jeff Denham. See the results of the poll here.
New look for Valley Citizen
Because WordPress sometimes moves on, so must the Valley Citizen. Our old format has developed some glitches that can’t be corrected, so we’ll be moving soon to a new format. We’ll try to make things even more user-friendly, and try to keep most of the same features. Meanwhile, bear with us when you notice some odd visuals and text where it shouldn’t be. The old format is no longer supported, and it’s starting to deteriorate. Hope to have our new look soon.
Stockton suit against Delta tunnels
The City of Stockton has joined a host of other entities in a suit against the proposed Twin Tunnels project on the San Joaquin Delta. Touted by Governor Jerry Brown as a water conservation measure, the multi-billion dollar project has long been opposed by environmentalists. Now, cities and counties have joined in opposition, including Sacramento County, the City of Antioch, and multiple irrigation districts. Read more here.
Denham votes against rivers
Jeff Denham’s record on the environment is at least consistent: he’s against it. Last year, he tried to remove “Wild and Scenic” protective status from the Merced River. Early in July, he voted in favor of HR 23, a water grab by farmers south of Denham’s own district. Advocates for fish, wildlife, and the Delta and San Francisco Bay ecosystems, have called HR 23 “one of the most aggressive attempts ever taken by the political allies of farming interests to divert maximum flows of water south from the Delta.” Fortunately, California Senators Kamala Harris and Diane Feinstein oppose the bill, which would set river and wetlands restoration efforts back forty years, making the San Joaquin River run dry once again. Read more here.
Nunes: “I can do whatever I want…”
Like Donald Trump, many of today’s Republicans see political dominance as a license to indulge whatever desires might seize them at the moment, including serial lying. But in a rare example of a Republican chastising a fellow Republican, Senator Richard Burr, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has accused Valley Congressman Devin Nunes (CA 22nd District) of creating a false narrative about former national security advisor Susan Rice. Nunes responded by saying, “I can do whatever I want, I’m chairman of [the House Intelligence] committee.” Full story here.
Speaking of Devin Nunes…
Most likely because of its combination of insider knowledge and (sometimes brutal) candor, On the Public Record is still our favorite water blog. Recent commentary on the harm done by Congressman Devin Nunes is a must-read. Nunes was among the very first Valley politicians to establish himself as a card-carrying Trump toady, but well before Trump, Nunes joined Jeff Denham and other Valley members of congress in the chorus line of climate change denial. On the Public Record has an excellent summary of Nunes’ folly and the harm it does here.
Denham’s “bipartisan” claim goes viral
Congressman Jeff Denham’s claim that the repeal of Obamacare was a “bipartisan” effort has made headlines nationwide. Denham made the claim during a town hall meeting in Riverbank. While in his district, the congressman has been stalked by a growing group of protestors who are determined to expose his pattern of saying one thing to constituents while doing another thing in Washington D.C. His mendacity even made Politico Magazine. See the Denham story here.
Time to balance the water books?
Modesto’s Vance Kennedy, a retired hydrologist, has long argued we need to begin our management of local groundwater by doing a “mass balance.” A mass balance measurement is simply an informed estimate of how much total groundwater is available at a given time. It also includes calculations of how much is used and how much is recharged. This simple accounting measure, obvious as it is, meets with resistance up and down the Valley, probably because those pumping groundwater want to keep pumping until it’s gone. Now, UC Davis and the Public Policy Institute of California have begun collecting and compiling mass balance data for the San Joaquin Valley. It’s an impressive and much-needed effort. As one would expect, we’re usually in a state of dire overdraft. Details here.
The real skinny on dams and water
Every time there’s an above-average water year, cries resound for more dams. Among the loudest voices is that of Devin Nunes, a Valley congressman. But are more dams really the answer to our need for storage? Most people who’ve studied them closely realize dams for the most part represent antiquated technology and there are better storage alternatives in the form of wetlands and groundwater recharge. One of the best discussions of dams and their shortcomings is here.
More Enron accounting in water
Hard on the heels of the Westlands Water District financial scandal comes another. California state controller Betty Yee has announced multiple improprieties after a review of the nearby Panoche Water District’s administration. Perks for employees included free housing, tickets to A’s and Raiders’ games, and items from the Ralph Lauren fashion line. The really mind-boggling number is $3 billion dollars in public money was likely involved since January, 2015. Full story here.
Denham Trumps Health Care
Jeff, “Mr. Reach Across the Aisle,” Denham has once again shown his much-promoted willingness to work with Democrats is false advertising. Denham just joined his Republican buddies in their campaign to end the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Keep in mind that in all their ranting against ACA, the Repubs have never offered a viable alternative. Their opposition is about reducing taxes on the super-wealthy and nothing more. Denham is happy to play along. Valley citizens need someone who represents their interests, not another one percenter. Full story here.
Gotta read this farmer on rivers and groundwater
We took a lot of flak when we argued increased river flows would help recharge groundwater. Now we’ve got a lifelong Valley resident and farmer arguing the same thing. Protests against increased flows ignore fundamentals of hydrology, biology, and sustainability. Maybe it will take a plain-speaking farmer like Walt Shubin to inject a healthy dose of truth into what has become a poisoned argument. Read Shubin’s comments here.
Valley Citizen Hacked
Sometime in the last few weeks, The Valley Citizen was hacked and the subscription feature disabled. It appears the comments function was also compromised, but only insofar as it allowed more spam messages. After several days, we were able to install a security system that should prevent more problems, at least over the short term. As we all know, hackers are persistently creative. If you stopped receiving alerts for new posts, it was the result of the hack. Once again, you can now use the subscribe feature and get updates when we post a new article. The subscription is free.
Clinton wins Stanislaus County
In yet another bizarre result of the strangest election ever, Hillary Clinton won the Stanislaus County vote count by a narrow margin of one-hundred eighty-nine votes. With all precincts counted, Clinton had 21,327 votes to Donald Trump’s 21,138. Last election, Barack Obama won Stanislaus County. Interesting, given county leadership is overwhelming Republican. Maybe someday we’ll make a real effort to get out the vote and learn the county is far more progressive than anyone thinks. Maybe.
Science and a restored delta
Nature is remarkably resilient. The more scientists learn about the importance of interrelationships in ecosystems, the better we understand how to restore and maintain sustainable living on an increasingly crowded planet. Now there is a science-based plan for restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, one of the most important and necessary ecosystems on earth. Read more here.
Flows are not just about salmon
Too many Valley citizens have bought into the people versus salmon story, where every drop of river water gets dedicated to saving a few fish. The real story is more complicated, but absolutely necessary to understand if we’re to get the most public benefit out of our water. Think it’s only about fish? Think again; we have an entire bay and coastal ecosystem at stake. Read more here.
San Joaquin will flow
For the first time in more than sixty years, the San Joaquin River is expected to flow year-round in 2017. The restored flows are the result of a decades-long lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council and part of an effort to restore salmon runs along the river. The San Joaquin spans three-hundred sixty miles and is California’s second longest river. At one time, half a million salmon used the San Joaquin, which was once deep enough to support cargo-filled paddleboats. Read more here.
Is Fresno the new Flint?
In certain sections of town, Fresno homeowners complained for years about the dirty water coming from their taps. Like many Valley residents, they worried about the sporadic discharges of brown and smelly water that came from their faucets and shower heads and were frustrated when public officials were slow to respond. Now that the Public Utilities Department has begun testing the discolored water, technicians are discovering high levels of lead in some of the water. Read the developing story here.
Judge denies director’s appeal for fees
In a judgment issued September 19, Judge Roger Beauchesne has denied Oakdale Irrigation District (OID) Board Member Gary Osmundsen’s appeal for reimbursement of fees incurred when he was charged with a conflict of interest involving OID’s fallowing program. Osmundsen was seeking $14,892.50. Judge Beauchesne ruled that Osmundsen’s claim to be the prevailing party in the case was unsupportable, because “The litigation did not advance sufficiently in order to meaningfully designate a prevailing party.” The judge added that, “The alleged conflict of interest issue is currently being reviewed by the Fair Political Practices Commission.”
More OID Conflicts?
The closer you look at the Oakdale Irrigation District’s (OID) reliance on outside water sales, the more you find a tangled web of hidden agendas, outright secrecy, and conflicts of interest. Now it appears OID Director Gary Osmundsen may be involved in another conflict involving the district’s fallowing program. OID is also offering sweetheart loans to a select group of farmers. Seems OID hasn’t learned from its sweetheart deal with Trinitas Partners. See the latest at Protect Oakdale’s Water.
Denham flips Bee the bird
It didn’t take Jeff Denham long to tell the Modesto Bee where to get off. As we predicted, the Bee’s threat to withhold its endorsement for long-time favorite Denham unless he publicly dumps Donald Trump was met with what amounts to the middle-finger salute. Denham even went as far as to applaud Trump’s stand on California’s water problems. Trump, most everyone will remember, made headlines by denying California was in a drought. But then, that’s right on a par with Denham’s and Republicans’ anti-fact and anti-science program anyway. Read Denham’s swift rejoinder here. Oh, and don’t be surprised if the Bee backs down.
Big win for fisherman
On July 25, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided in favor of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association in litigation about the Bureau of Reclamation’s decision to deliver millions of acre feet of water annually to San Joaquin Valley farmers. The court decided the Bureau of Reclamation had violated the National Environmental Policy Act. The decision will have far-reaching implications for agri-business in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Read more here.
More on Laura’s Law
Why don’t more counties have Laura’s Law? It’s a good question and the most common answer is lack of funding. However, it appears there’s funding available when counties know how to take advantage of it. And of course, seems like there’s always money for jail time. One thing is clear: More and more people want their county supervisors to enact Laura’s Law. Here’s a story about Sacramento County’s failure to act, and the fallout.
Homer hits a homer
Panhandling, controversial as it is, has consistently been ruled a legal expression of speech by U.S. courts. Recently, anti-panhandling signs popped up in downtown Modesto. While it’s easy to understand why merchants wish to discourage panhandlers, justifying the signs in legal terms requires legal, moral, and ethical contortions worthy of a circus performer. Modesto’s Joseph Homer managed to point out some of the problems such contortions in a recent letter to the editor in the Modesto Bee. Find Joe’s fine letter here.
Must read on homelessness and health
The wait in emergency rooms is almost always extended by the number of homeless people needing treatment. It probably doesn’t take much thought to realized that homelessness itself contributes to poor health, but it also makes it harder to get and take medication, maintain personal hygiene, and eat properly. It’s often hard for homeless people to even find water. Daniel Weintraub just offered an excellent analysis of the need to house homeless people so that we can save time and money treating their health problems. Read Daniel Weintraub on health and homelessness here.
Westlands: Enron of water?
Westlands Water District, one of Oakdale Irrigation District’s favorite water buyers, has been fined by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for “misrepresentations and omissions” in a 2012 bond sale. Turns out the country’s largest water district has decided it can’t afford to pay for its share of the Delta tunnels project. The SEC decision says Westlands misled buyers with inaccurate representations of debt ratios. Read more here.
Great letter Kim
Once in a while a letter to the editor captures the essence of a problem and the beginnings of a solution all at once. That’s clear in Kim Galbraith’s letter to the Bee, published February 14 and available here. Complaints about needles, defecation, and trash in our parks aren’t really addressed by rousting the perpetrators. Kim suggests a simple approach to the problem as a start to fixing it.
Mercury in the water?
A statewide survey of mercury levels in fish-eating birds has revealed potential dangers to the birds’ reproductive success. The news is especially alarming because past studies have shown mercury levels in fish in many of our lakes and reservoirs are high enough to endanger human health. The study was funded by the State Water Resources Control Board, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Geological Survey. Read more here.
A word to the wise from Dr. Kennedy
We were pleased to see the Bee print Dr. Vance Kennedy’s concerns about flood possibilities this year as a record El Nino builds off the Pacific Coast. Dr. Kennedy has been concerned for a couple of years that planting tens of thousands of acres of orchards on hilly ground in eastern Stanislaus County could lead to sedimentation in our rivers and streams which has the potential to produce record floods. The message: If you are in a low-lying area, buy flood insurance. Read the entire story here.
Stapley opens door on water sale
It didn’t take Modesto Bee reporter Garth Stapley long to ferret out a few more details on the Oakdale Irrigation District’s (OID) secret water sale. Stapley also got some reactions and comments from local farmers and political leaders, none of whom were pleased about the water district’s back room deal. Read Garth Stapley’s report here.
Update on OID water sale
The Manteca Bulletin has the most complete story yet available on the Oakdale Irrigation District and South San Joaquin water sale. The sale is being touted as a boon to fish and farmers in the southern San Joaquin Valley. One issue that is sure to arise is the secrecy of the sale and whether it violated the Brown Act. The article says more water was available than the districts had estimated, but local farmers have insisted they knew OID had the water all the time. More here.
Don’t miss The Messenger
On November 21 the State Theatre in Modesto and Stanislaus Audubon will show The Messenger. This award-winning documentary film is a visually thrilling ode to the beauty and importance of imperiled songbirds, and what it will mean to all of us on a human and global level if it they are lost. The film focuses both on the peril to birds as well as solutions. It does so with breathtakingly beautiful photography, mostly of birds in flight. The first showing at 4:30 on November 21 will be a fund raiser for Stanislaus Audubon and will include a presentation of how the film translates to some Modesto-area birds. The film, but not the presentation, will also be shown November 22 through 25.
McNerney blasts tunnels plan
Congressman Jerry McNerney has joined scientists, environmentalists, fisherman, and farmers in opposing Governor Brown’s Twin Tunnels Plan. In a systematic undressing of the flimsy arguments that have attempted to clothe the tunnels plan in facsimiles of reason, McNerney points out the tunnels do nothing to increase water supplies and everything to ruin one of world’s most productive ecosystems. More here.
More on Westlands agreement
As expected, the Obama administration approved an agreement with Westlands Water District that forgives a $350 million debt to the people, enables transfers of water to toxic soils, and continues subsidies for corporate agriculture. Congressman Jerry McNerney and others have vowed to fight the agreement. More here.
Worst water giveaway yet?
Westlands Water District has long held special status in the complex water rights hierarchy. No matter how junior its water rights, it somehow manages to acquire massive amounts of water even during droughts. Now the federal government has made yet another deal that amounts to a giveaway of a priceless public resource to private enterprise for even more environmental degradation. Read C-WIN’s summary here.
Gotta read this from OtPR
After reading Vance Kennedy’s method for doing a “water-in minus water-out” accounting (see below), you MUST read the graphic description of how an industrial-sized well is causing subsidence near the California Aqueduct in Fresno County. The story is at On the Public Record, the go-to site for California water insiders. The amount of detail is incredible. Read the story here.
Dr. Kennedy’s water wisdom
One of the most time-honored ways to stall is to claim there’s a need for “more data.” That’s been going on with the groundwater crisis for years now. Those who want to avoid a simple “water-in minus water-out” accounting of groundwater depletion always argue they need more data before taking action. Award-winning hydrologist Dr. Vance Kennedy says it’s easy to know when pumping groundwater is unsustainable and we should get the facts out now. Learn the science behind accounting for groundwater loss here.
The newest super crop?
Almonds are by far the super crop of the 21st century. Global demand has pushed prices into the stratosphere, and though much has been written about water demands for nut orchards, almonds actually consume less water than crops like alfalfa and rice. Lately though, many farmers have been taking a closer look at olives as a possible crop of the future. The craze for artisan olive oils looks like it has legs, and now that savvy buyers have realized the value of California-grown olives, the market is growing rapidly. But the really sweet thing about olives is how little water it takes to grow a good crop—much less than almonds. Read more here.
More from the Maven
One person has done more to inform people about water in California than any other and that one person is Chris Austin, better known as “Maven.” Maven’s website, Maven’s Notebook, is the finest water news aggregation anywhere. She also does some on-site water news transcription of events only she covers, has compiled a vast store of water-related photographs, and has become the most trusted water guru in the west. She was just interviewed by Water Deeply. The must read interview is here.
Scary groundwater facts
By now most everyone knows about subsidence in the San Joaquin Valley—sinking land surfaces due to overdrafting groundwater. That’s scary enough, but there are lots of other frightening facts associated with today’s groundwater pumping frenzy. Those who defend pumping claim that groundwater levels move up and down over time. That’s true only when recharge replenishes discharge. Over the last few decades, the trend is down—way down. Read more here.
It’s not London Bridge that’s falling down…
It’s your bridges, and yes, it’s, “bridges,” plural. Accelerated pumping of groundwater is accelerating subsidence, the sinking of land mass that accompanies overdrafting. In some places the soil surface is dropping two feet a year and as it drops so do bridges and canals. One of the worst places nearby is on Russell Avenue, near Firebaugh. The bridge is falling down and so are portions of the Delta-Mendota Canal. Costs will be in the millions, borne mostly by taxpayers. More here.
Need water? Check the Classifieds
Oakdale Irrigation District (OID) farmer Grover Francis is among those who believe at least some of his fellow farmers will run out of water this year. Over a hundred farmers formed a protest group when OID put a ceiling on their water allocations while giving Tier II member Trinitas Partners ten inches of water. Trinitas was supposed to get water only if there were “no impacts” on senior members of the district. Francis figures some farmers will need the 260 acre feet he’s not using this year and he’s advertising in the Classified section of the paper. Full story here.
A lesson in paper water
“Paper water” is water that exists on paper only. Usually it’s a figment of a developer’s sales pitch, but it’s also figured in plenty of agricultural fantasies, especially those that involve permanent crops like almonds. Ever since the state required developers to establish sustainable water sources for large projects, paper water has become more important and deceptive than ever. At Drought Math, David Coffin offers a great lesson in how paper water drives development in Los Angeles. Read it here.
Modesto’s unknown water sales
The City of Modesto is one of the few in the San Joaquin Valley to have abundant surface water, the result of building a water treatment plant years ago. But even Modesto citizens have been ordered to cutback water use, and most would be surprised to learn Modesto water is sold outside the region. Hydration Sources LLC bottles and sells Modesto water. Most of the water is sold within the state, but 20 percent goes outside California. For some Modesto residents who’ve let their lawns die, knowing their water is sold outside the region is causing a slow burn. Read the whole story here.
Depleted aquifers threaten national security
Overdrafting is depleting the nation’s aquifers so fast that it’s threatening national security. Three of the major aquifers in the U.S. are in especially precarious condition, including our own Central Valley aquifer. The state added groundwater regulation for the first time last year, but many observers think the new rules offer too little too late to save the Central Valley aquifer. Read about the dire situation of our aquifers here.
Great overview of Delta water issues
The San Joaquin Delta is the focal point for much of the controversy about water in California. Rarely does anyone offer an opportunity to contextualize the partisan debates about who gets Delta water and why, but Erica Goode has provided one of the best recent summaries in an essay that appeared in The New York Times June 24. For anyone wanting a foundational understanding of the Delta’s water history and problems, Goode’s investigation is a good place to begin. Read her story here.
Westlands in secret water deal?
Friends of the River (FoR) has notified the Department of Justice and other federal agencies that it believes Westlands Water District has entered into a secret agreement in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. According to FoR, a new, “water supply to Westlands would be permanent and also arbitrarily receive a much higher water delivery priority.” Is it just a coincidence that Westlands hired Devin Nunes’ longtime Chief of Staff May 1? Do we have yet another case of political chicanery out of Westlands? Wouldn’t surprise anyone who’s familiar with San Joaquin Valley water politics. The letter from FoR is scathing and credible. The entire letter is here.
Is The Maven a genius?
We don’t know whether The Maven’s a genius or not, but given her brilliant contributions to the California water knowledge base, she deserves accolades of the kind reserved for geniuses. It’s not surprising to find she’s multi-talented, but the range of her abilities and experience may surprise even those who’ve followed her for years. An interview with the creator of Maven’s Notebook is here. Must reading for water wonks and anyone interested in citizen journalism.
Sabatino to run
The irrepressible Carmen Sabatino will enter the next race for Mayor of Modesto. The perennial candidate surprised everyone when he became Mayor of Modesto in 2000. He proved more than capable and balanced the city budget every year he was in office. His candor and crusade against an entrenched establishment brought on a backlash in the form of trumped-up criminal charges that ruined his chances for reelection. Sabatino will oppose incumbent Mayor Garrad Marsh and City Councilman Dave Lopez.
The status quo is unsustainable
As the drought intensifies, plain speaking about water tends to disappear among flurries of hyperbole, misinformation, and finger-pointing. Sarge Green, Ellen Hanak, and David Zoldoske offer a clear path to better understanding why agriculture needs groundwater regulation. Short and to the point; read it here.
Mark Bittman understands food better than most anyone and has a rare talent for communicating his knowledge. Whether he’s writing a cookbook or summarizing the many evils of “animal concentration camps,” Bittman always delivers a sane and progressive view of food and eating. His latest column in The New York Times offers a keen analysis of the place of almonds in our complex food chain, including wise commentary on water use in California. Read it here.
A little crude but informative
A new water blog features several articles from The Valley Citizen and some useful primary documents about such things as the Oakdale Irrigation District’s (OID) annexation of Trinitas Partners. There’s also some news about upcoming elections for some of OID’s board members. Given recent controversy about Trinitas, water sales, and water allocations, this looks like a promising resource for those who follow local water issues. The formatting is a little crude, but posting primary documents is a great idea. Of course, we like to see our articles linked as well. See the new Oakdale water news site here.
Our new subscription feature
Some of our readers have had trouble using the RSS Feed function (orange button in header) to subscribe, so we’ve added another subscription feature. It’s in the same column as “Around the Region.” Just scroll down until you see “Subscribe to the Valley Citizen.” Enter your email and you will be notified whenever we post a new story. Be sure to check your spam at first; you may have to add the subscription function to your contacts list. After that, you should receive notice of new postings in your inbox.
Learn more about loss of rangelands
Dr. Jaymee Marty is supremely well qualified to talk about loss of rangelands and the effects on biodiversity, vernal pools, and grasslands. She will be speaking at a free presentation Friday, May 15, at 7:00pm, at the College Avenue Congregational Church, 1341 College Avenue in Modesto. These sessions are always well attended by Audubon and Sierra Club members and are open to the public. Socializing begins at 6:45pm.
On the Public Record strikes again
One of our favorite sites is On the Public Record. It’s a gathering place for water insiders for a good reason: the writing is trenchant, informative, current, and lively. This is one of those sites where the comments add facets and dimensions to the issues even while they carry them forward. Check out this latest post, including some extended commentary on Trinitas, Stanislaus County’s new ag giant. Read “Turning the tables on almonds” here.
Oakland Tribune Harpoons Governor
Governor Jerry Brown continues to take heavy broadsides for his Twin Tunnels plan. One of the latest comes from an Oakland Tribune editorial that claims the Twin Tunnels’ real purpose is to service the water demands of Big Ag in the southern parts of the San Joaquin Valley. Brown persists in pushing the plan, despite thumbs down from the EPA, fisheries, Delta farmers, and a host of other interests. The Tribune argues the Tunnels are tied to the interest of mega-farmer Stewart Resnick and others like him. Read the full broadside here.
Sinking even faster?
If you’ve got that “sinking feeling” you have a good reason if you live in the San Joaquin Valley. The area from Los Banos to Kettleman City―some fifteen hundred square miles― features the largest known expanse of land subsidence in the world. Portions have sunk almost thirty feet. The culprit? Overdrafting of groundwater. Recently, parts of Merced County were sinking almost a foot a year as farmers pumped groundwater in unprecedented quantities to compensate for the drought. Now comes news we are sinking even faster than ever. Read about it here.
Super sane ag and water report
The American Farmland Trust (AFT) usually has a balanced and informative viewpoint on the importance of distinguishing prime farmland from less productive and sustainable farmland. As surface water sources get cut back, more and more farmland has been fallowed and more and more groundwater depleted. Greg Plotkin’s short essay for the AFT offers a thoughtful perspective on current farmland and water issues. Read it here.
Bruce Frohman on egg prices
We common folk who shop for our own groceries were dismayed early in the year by the spike in egg prices. In January, the price for a dozen of the lowest grade eggs at the local bargain supermarket was about $2.85. Prices peaked around $3.50 per dozen, about the regular price for the most expensive “cage free” eggs.
Egg producers decided to pass on the added cost of production from a new California law that required more space for hens in cages beginning January 1, 2015. Consumers revolted. According to a local grocery clerk, customers stopped buying eggs. Egg producers quickly discovered that the demand for eggs is elastic. If prices rise too quickly, demand falls substantially.
Prices at one local market have since dropped to $1.98 for the lowest priced dozen eggs. The clerk says eggs are, “flying off the shelves.” Whether last year’s sales of as low as 88 cents per dozen occur this year remains to be seen. Below a dollar a dozen, higher operating costs may force some producers out of business.
Think we’ve got it bad?
Is Tulare County the model for our future? We better hope not. The long-time center for agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley, Tulare County has 1013 dry wells. Farmers are spending as much as $750,000 to drill 1800 feet in a search for water that may not be there. A growing number of county residents are using bottled water and makeshift showers. As the drought persists, we better hope we don’t face the same conditions soon. Read more about water in Tulare County here.
Save the date
The Stanislaus Audubon Society (SAS) will show a one-hour movie depicting local birds and wildlife at Modesto’s State Theatre on Sunday April 12 at 3:00 p.m. Filmed entirely in Stanislaus and Merced counties, David Froba’s, “Wings Over Our Two Counties,” follows the seasons and leads you on a treasure hunt through nature in Del Puerto Canyon, Modesto’s Thousand Oaks Park, the National Wildlife Refuges near Vernalis and Merced, and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
There are stunning close-ups and engaging action. Bald Eagles at Woodward Reservoir dive bomb ducks. An Anna’s Hummingbird aggressively feeds its young in a tiny nest in a Modesto backyard. Hundreds of White Pelicans with nine-foot wingspans soar over the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge on Beckwith Road. Several species do mating dances and a number lustily sing for the camera, while grey foxes and coyotes lurk in the understory. Enjoy our natural heritage and in the process learn the basic skills of birding. You will never walk your neighborhood or drive your roads the same way again.
This film will be a double feature with another one-hour documentary, “Birders: The Central Park Effect.”
All about the Delta
Chris Austin, better known as “Maven,” may be the most knowledgeable water authority in the state. Her “Maven’s Notebook” aggregates California water news and is read by virtually everyone with an interest in western water issues. Maven has just posted a superb photo essay about the San Joaquin Delta. This is a concise but comprehensive review of one of the most important ecosystems in the west. See Maven’s great work here.
Must read on water and the Delta
No matter how perilous our water situation gets, most people don’t react until the well runs dry. Pat Mulroy has the credentials, the experience, and the authority to communicate just exactly how dire our water crisis really is and how important the Delta is to our water future. Her keynote address at the March 19 Water Policy Conference is a MUST READ. The ever-reliable Maven has the entire text and commentary here.
Like local sports?
In many of our Valley towns, high school football is by far the most popular entertainment available. Not only do the town’s residents attend their home teams’ games, they spend the off-season rating players and the teams’ chances for league success. Some local teams consistently achieve state-wide prominence, much to the pride of their loyal fans. Now, Rich Estrada, former high school sports maven at the Modesto Bee, has created Black Hat Football, the ultimate fix for rabid fans of local pigskin and turf madness. Estrada is THE go-to guy for local football insiders. Join his legions of followers here if you want the most up-to-date info on local high school football.
Key to pumping groundwater?
One of the most successful groundwater management plans in the state is in Orange County, in one of the most arid regions of California. The secret? In Orange County, the more you pump, the more you pay. It’s really that simple. While paying to pump a finite resource might seem to be a no-brainer, here in Stanislaus County the only cost for groundwater is that associated with installation, operation, and maintenance of the pumps. Sounds crazy and is. For more on Orange County’s model plan, look here.
Essential almond news
Even in the midst of what may become the worst drought in a century, almond orchards are sprouting like weeds. At first glance, the ongoing installation of even more water-gulping orchards is madness. But big Ag is counting on political machinations, the last reserves of groundwater, and public apathy to keep pulling off the conversion of public resources to private gain. Carole Krieger has the details here.
More demand on groundwater coming?
In December, the Bureau of Reclamation warned Stockton East Water District that it might not receive its full allotment of water this year. As January ends without rain, prospects for Stockton East look even worse. New Melones Reservoir is at 39% capacity, with this year’s rainy season beginning to look much like last year’s. The impending deficit may mean pumping groundwater will be the only resort again this year. Read more here.
Bee to lose veteran journalists
The Modesto Bee will lose veteran reporter Joanne Sbranti and long-time staff photographer Debbie Noda within the next month. The two veteran journalists have accepted buyouts and will leave just as the Bee seemed to be restoring journalistic excellence under a new general manager and publisher. Sbranti’s recent groundwater stories have represented the best journalism seen in the Bee for years, and Noda is the last in a long tradition of superb photographers that included stars like Al Golub and Adrian Mendoza. Valley citizens owe a great debt of gratitude to these veterans of journalism’s Golden Age.
“How better?” says Jay Lund
Jay Lund, one of the most thoughtful voices on water in California, is arguing for a new environmentalism. He’s probably right when he says the public is tired of the old environmental frame of “good guys” vs “bad guys.” Lund says the future will see a new environment altogether, one that integrates natural and urban environments into new patterns of sustainability. The rule should be “how better,” says Lund. Read his comments here.
Ten percent? Are you kidding?
The water year for 2014 ended as the third driest ever. It followed two years of near-record drought and put huge demands on groundwater reserves. The Department of Water Resources just announced that customers of the State Water Project have been allotted ten percent of their contracted water for 2015. That figure could rise with a wet year, but even extraordinary rainfall won’t be enough to relieve stress on groundwater reserves. Maven has the whole story here.
“The worst place for water right now is California,”
says Jay Famiglietti. Famiglietti’s is one of the most urgent and intelligent voices on California’s mounting water problems. The UC Irvine Professor is a realist about the state’s dwindling water supply, and doesn’t think desalination or improved wastewater treatment plants will provide quick fixes. Nonetheless, he remains optimistic our water problems can be solved and is brimming with positive ideas. An excellent introduction to the man described as a “water warrior” is here.
Where’s the Bee fact checker?
Almond production has become a major San Joaquin Valley issue ever since the groundwater crisis. California produces eighty percent of the world’s supply, and almost all of that comes from the San Joaquin Valley. Given almond production consumes large amounts of water, some have begun questioning whether so much water should be committed to one crop. In recent commentary, Richard Waycott, CEO of the Modesto-based Almond Board of California, made an odd statement. According to Waycott’s Bee column, “the domestic market remains the largest market—by far—for California almonds.” Maybe Waycott should send this news to the Los Angeles Times and Western Farm Press,. Both sources claim “70% of California’s almonds are sold overseas.” If 70% are sold overseas, we’d like to know how it’s possible that “the domestic market remains the largest,” unless, of course, Waycott means the largest “single market.” In that case, exports would be to foreign “markets” with an “s.” Facts anyone?
Really worth a look
Whoever he or she is at On the Public Record, we wish s/he would post more often. On the Public Record offers an insider’s view of California water issues, probably because it’s written by someone so deep inside s/he writes anonymously. The latest three posts are must reads, and good examples of the insight and wit of someone who routinely blows away the smoke and mirrors routines of water game hucksters. Comments section features major voices in California’s water dialogue.
Pretty much says it all
In an open letter to Supervisor Jim DeMartini, former City Councilwoman of Hughson Barbara Swier says all that needs to be said about mining water in the foothills of eastern Stanislaus County. While the Stanislaus Water Advisory Committee has spent over a year doing things like parsing the definition of “sustainable,” Stanislaus County Supervisors’ lack of action has gone from puzzling to infuriating. Swier’s not the only one who’s had enough. Read her letter here.
Best report ever on the river?
John Sutter finally completed his 417 mile voyage down the San Joaquin River via kayak, at least where possible. There was a lot of walking because the river dries up for miles at a time. Sutter’s report may be the best effort yet to depict the awful realities of a river exploited to death. This is gripping journalism and a must read for all Valley citizens. Read it here.
EPA rips Twin Tunnels’ scheme
In a 43-page letter packed with critical comment, the Environmental Protection Agency has pointed out what critics said all along: The tunnels scheme harms the Delta and its many beneficiaries to deliver precious water to corporate farmers and southern California growth promoters. Read more here.
Tunnels Scheme the new “Chinatown”
Carolee Krieger is about as good as anyone at describing what goes on behind the water curtain. Water has always been the quickest way to money and power in the arid south west, and it still is. The key is getting the public to foot the bill. Krieger nails the tunnels scheme for what it is—a $24.5 billion “Chinatown.” Read more here.
It’s official: California is living on “paper water”
For over a quarter century, insiders have referred to “paper water” when talking about the discrepancy between allotments of water from the state and actual water available. Now, a study by UC Davis has made it official: California promises five times more surface water than it can deliver. That’s right. The discrepancy amounts to a factor of five. Read the full study here.
Wanna know why Big Ag headed for the hills?
The pressure has been on corporate farming of almonds for years now as more and more people realize how Big Ag rigged the water game to transform junior water rights into a perpetual revenue stream. With water drying up and their markers called in, the profiteers have headed for the last good aquifers in the foothills, where they plan to drain them dry. For some concise background, read Carolee Krieger’s excellent summary here. Then you’ll know why Big Ag headed for the hills—time’s running out on their long lease on Valley water.
The really big water scandal
Ever hear of the Monterey Amendments? Most people haven’t. But if you really want to know what’s wrong with water allotments in California, the Monterey Amendments are a good place to begin. The people at the California Water Impact Network are doing a series that will explain the covert activities of the biggest players in the water game and how they have fixed the system to serve themselves at public expense. First installment is here.
Bee’s Water Wake-up Call
In a rare display of pointed criticism, a Modesto Bee editorial has chastised Stanislaus County Supervisors for failing to take action on the county’s severe water crisis. Bee editors also issued a strong rebuttal to Stanislaus Water Advisory Committee (SWAC) members who have been making erroneous public statements about groundwater and aquifers. This could be the beginning of the end for SWAC. Read the editorial here.
Judge: Groundwater Affects Surface Water
In a historic ruling that will reverberate around the state and especially in the San Joaquin Valley, a judge has ruled that the Public Trust Doctrine applies to groundwater. Pumping groundwater has demonstrable effects on surface water and thus it affects public water. Now a Superior Court judge has ruled that harm done to a river by pumping groundwater violates the Public Trust Doctrine. Full story here.
San Joaquin County Supervisors Oppose Tunnels
Ordinarily city and county leaders favor huge public works projects in their region for the income they bring to their constituents. But San Joaquin County Supervisors just took a unanimous stand against the twin tunnels proposal in part because of the harm it will do to the local economy. The closer the scrutiny, the more the twin tunnels project looks like another public-financed gift to corporate ag and southern California growth promoters. More here.
Kayak the San Joaquin River?
American Rivers called the San Joaquin River the most endangered in the United States, yet many people in the San Joaquin Valley know almost nothing about it. When someone decides to kayak its entire length, it should be news all around the region. Here’s a brief report from High Country News about John Sutter’s epic voyage. The pictures really tell the story.
Water rights? The state rules
Political opportunists never let a crisis go to waste. That’s why so many San Joaquin Valley politicians are using the drought as an excuse to grandstand about water rights. Probably the most absurd statements are coming from those who claim there’s no data to support the state’s claims of severe shortages. Absurdity aside, there’s never been any doubt that the state has full authority to restrict water use; that’s because water belongs to the people. A California Court of Appeal recently reaffirmed what most everyone should know anyway: The state has full authority over water rights and can define “reasonable use.” Legal Planet has the full story here.
Sacramento Bee gets it
While the Modesto Bee stays busy congratulating the Stanislaus Water Advisory Committee for failing to take action on the groundwater crisis in eastern Stanislaus County, the Sacramento Bee is calling for state regulation. Even though the Sacramento Valley is in much better shape than the San Joaquin Valley, editors at the Sacramento Bee recognize just how severe the crisis is statewide. They’re right: We need state intervention now. Read the editorial here.
Want well? Got $1,000,000?
It’s hard to know what’s more shocking, the price or the depth. Maybe both are incredible. Down in Fresno County, owners of a new orchard are paying a million bucks for a well that will be 2500 feet deep. The drilling frenzy has gotten even crazier than the last housing frenzy, and we know what happened when that bubble burst. Well drillers are busy twenty-four hours a day, and still can’t keep up. Read about the ultimate craziness here.
State suspends water rights for 2600 users
How bad is the drought? State government has ordered 2600 water users to stop diverting water from streams. Flows are lower and diminishing faster than most people can remember. The drastic reductions are the first of this severity since 1977. Even some urban use has been curtailed. Read the full story here.
Twain Harte Out of Water?
In one of many ironies associated with the current drought, the town of Twain Harte may run out of water before the end of the dry season. With an elevation of 3600 feet, this tourist destination in the Sierra Nevada would normally have ample water anytime. But this year the snowmelt that fills nearby Lyons Reservoir is expected to end six weeks early, and absent severe cutbacks on water use, Twain Harte will run out of water. Read the full story here.
WE MADE A MISTAKE!
We’re always happy to correct the record, and this time we made a big mistake. Thanks to an alert reader, we now know that the Modesto Irrigation District (MID) Board of Directors DID NOT VOTE 4-1 to allow owners of wells to hide information. That means part of “MID Water Policy is Unfair to Farmers” is incorrect. The Board did not vote to keep well data private. In fact, all well data is held by Stanislaus County officials. Some Board members want any farmer who sells surface water to provide data about use of wells and groundwater. Some members are against providing data. The issue will come up again May 13, so stay tuned. We apologize for the error. We are always grateful when offered the opportunity to correct the record. Many thanks to our alert reader.
Farmers and others to lose water rights
Just how bad is the drought? Any day now the state State Water Resources Control Board is expected to issue orders suspending water rights that go back as far as 1914. The measure is a sure sign that officials have given up on the possibility of more rain this season. They have also admitted there’s not enough snow in the mountains to serve the needs of the state’s water users. While some users will be able to fall back on alternate supplies, others will be altogether out of luck. Read more here.
Bee Minder Beemused by Bee
A regular reader of the Modesto Bee, the Bee Minder, a philosophical sort, finds himself puzzled by the epistemological implications of news about what’s not. We last saw him pondering Keats’ “negative capability” and its application to celebrity worship. “There’s no there, there,” he muttered. Later, he sent the query below.
Recently, in a front page article the Modesto Bee reported, “Police: Kaepernick wasn’t in room.”
On closer inspection, what the Miami police actually reported, according to the remarkably entertaining article by Matthew Barrows and Charles Rabin, is that they “do not believe 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was present when they responded to two 911 calls about an upset naked woman refusing to leave a downtown Miami hotel room.”
The lead alone is a post-modern show stopper upending the classic journalistic pentad of “who, what, when, where and why.”
Who (or not who): the celebrated local hero Kaepernick, believed not to be present by Miami police responding to two 911 calls made by no one in particular about an upset naked woman.
What: two 911 calls.
When: they responded (by now, everyone knows).
Where: a downtown Miami hotel room, that is, as later revealed, the Viceroy.
Why: um . . .
The Bee Minder (yours truly) wishes to know why the belief of the Miami police about something alleged not to have happened (what would Wittgenstein have made of this?) is worthy of front page coverage in our local organ of record?
Another must read on groundwater
Seems the only people in California not worried about our dire groundwater situation are some local well drillers and Oakdale Irrigation District’s Steve Knell. Despite lack of concern locally, the rest of the state seems ready for intervention in the form of strict restrictions on mining groundwater. There’s nothing like the ground sinking under your feet to spur some action, and that’s what’s happening to the land in the San Joaquin Valley, especially around Los Banos and Madera. The Sacramento Bee has an excellent report here.
Vance Kennedy in the San Jose Mercury News
Lisa Krieger’s exhaustive investigation of the water crisis in the San Joaquin Valley features Modesto’s own Vance Kennedy and a host of other water experts. Titled, “ San Joaquin Valley sinking as farmers race to tap aquifer,” Krieger’s article documents the severity of our water problems in the San Joaquin Valley. With superb graphics and dramatic photographs, Krieger’s story is a must read. It opens with a Bakersfield farmer probing 1200 feet for water, perhaps an omen of what’s to come closer to home.
Wood Colony story in the New York Times
Wood Colony and “The Tree” have made the New York Times. The story of the German Baptist Brethren who settled Wood Colony and the iconic walnut tree that may be the largest in the world are now in the most famous newspaper in the world. The Times story will put even more public sentiment behind the brave struggle of Wood Colony farmers to save their way of life. Locally, the story has dominated news for months. Now the story has gone national, and it’s hard to imagine anyone defending attempts to end the Wood Colony way of life. Read the Times story here.
Toxic Waste Update From Bruce Frohman
Caltrans plans to announce at the February 19th Policy Board Meeting of the Stanislaus Council of Governments that the agency does NOT plan to remove the toxic waste piles from the 132 Freeway right of way in Modesto. The announcement will be that the plan is to bury the toxic waste pile under concrete, which is impermeable only until it cracks. Given the history of Caltrans NOT living up to previous maintenance agreements with the California Department of Toxic Substance Control of the toxic waste sites within the right of way, Modestans will be able to worry about toxins leaching into the groundwater in perpetuity. The question to ask Caltrans is, “how often have you done this to other communities?” 16 February 2014
Latest on Wood Colony
Not often does an issue galvanize people throughout the region like the possibility of paving Wood Colony farmland. The Spare Wood Colony movement now has a newsletter. This is a prime example of what can happen when hearts and souls come together and commit to preserving the history and resources of very special places. Read the newsletter here, and don’t forget to spread the word. 21 Jan 2014
Over at Eye on Modesto, Emerson Drake has a nice rundown of the key players in the Chamber of Commerce’s plan to extend the boundaries of the Asphalt Empire. You’ll see some familiar names, but you may not be aware how tightly connected they all are. Don’t worry, Emerson’s not only got names, he’s got pictures. It really is a Rogues Gallery of the “Pave it Over” gang. Read Emerson’s report here. 12 Jan 2014
Petition to save Wood Colony
The Asphalt Empire is at it again. Under the cover of the “jobs, jobs, jobs” slogan, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce is proposing to pave over even more farmland than it already has. One of the areas included in the plan is historic Wood Colony. Because of its historic and symbolic status as a regional treasure, Wood Colony has become a focal point for public support for farmland preservation. The petition to save Wood Colony already has over three-hundred signatures. You can add yours here: http://www.change.org/petitions/modesto-spare-wood-colony.
Twin Tunnels Actual Costs
It’s no accident that spokespeople for the Westlands Water District are often featured in reports and commentary about the proposed twin tunnels project to divert water from the San Joaquin Delta. Many close observers fear that the tunnels will actually deliver even more water than is now consumed by a region that has wreaked havoc on farmland and has never had enough water. Here’s a San Jose Mercury News article that reports even Westlands Water District leaders are having second thoughts about the actual costs of the project.
Barker lights ‘em up
Brad Barker’s land use column in Thursday’s Bee is a must read, and be sure to scroll down to Scott Calkins’ comments below the column for the icing on the cake. Barker is right to focus on the Wood Colony segment of the new land grab, but watch how the Chamber of Commerce and its allies generously offer to give that part of the plan up in exchange for an even bigger piece of the pie. Around here, it’s called being “reasonable.” Anywhere else, it’s bait and switch.
Chief Carroll gives Ricci plan two thumbs down
The Modesto Bee published a bizarre proposal by Chris Ricci and Kimberly Humke on November 16. Headlined as a “Possible Solution for Modesto’s Safety Needs,” the suggestions under the headline seemed silly on the surface. Were we missing anything? Nope. Modesto Police Chief Galen Carroll blew holes through the proposal with a solidly-reasoned rebuttal available on the Modesto Police Facebook page. The must-read reply is available here. It’s titled, “Major League Baseball Versus Community Policing.”
Pacific Institute’s Gleick slams Delta tunnels plan
Peter Gleick, President of the Pacific Institute in Oakland and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, has just issued a scathing critique of the proposed Delta tunnels plan to divert water south. Gleick has worked on California water issues for more than twenty-five years. He’s committed to restoring the Delta ecosystem, providing water to traditional users, and improving water quality for fisheries and farms. The Sacramento Bee published his remarks November 6. If you are puzzled about just how supporters of the tunnels plan hope to make it work, so is Gleick. He’s got the stature, history, and knowledge to ask some very tough questions, and that’s what he did. Read his comments here.
Denham still attacking Wild and Scenic
Jeff Denham hasn’t given up his assault on the “Wild and Scenic” status of the Merced River. He’s supporting Tom McClintock’s HR 934, , which would put an end to the Merced’s special status and provide a wedge for water guzzlers like the Westlands Water District to demand even more water be shipped their way. Read Tim Palmer’s excellent analysis here, and send Mr. Denham a letter of protest. Denham has done enough harm this year by helping shut down the government.
NRA Takes a Big Hit
Governor Jerry Brown just signed Assembly Bill 711, a ban on lead shot for any use in California. AB 711 was fiercely opposed by the National Rifle Association, and represents one of the few defeats ever for the politically powerful group. Banning lead shot is especially good news for California raptors and the endangered California Condor. Consumption of lead shot from carcasses has proven to be a major factor in condor mortality. Getting the lead out of our environment is also a major victory for people. The California Audubon Society (Audubon California) played a major role in this historic ban. Check out the website here.
The Eggman eggs Denham
Michael Eggman let Jeff Denham have it last Monday, October 7, and many Valley Citizens are egging the Eggman on. The Eggman lit into Denham in a Modesto Bee Community Column. Denham already has plenty of egg on his face lately, as he’s chosen to side with a Republican leadership driven by the most extreme elements of the party. He’s also chosen to inflict pain on the many Valley citizens hurt by the government shutdown, including veterans. The Eggman is a candidate for Denham’s seat next election. Read what he had to say here. And Go Eggman!
What’s with DeMartini endorsement?
September 27, we ran a story about Carmen Sabatino’s endorsements in the campaign for a position on the Modesto Irrigation District Board of Directors. The endorsements included one from Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini. Today, the Modesto Bee’s Judy Sly has written that DeMartini denies endorsing Sabatino. Sabatino says he did indeed receive an endorsement, “but I didn’t get it in writing.” Meanwhile, Sabatino says he will replace DeMartini’s endorsement with an endorsement from City Councilman Dave Geer. According to Sabatino, this one’s in writing.
Refuge Manager Eric Hopson has sent a reminder that the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge will be closed for the duration of the government shutdown. The closure includes scheduled field trips, volunteer research efforts, and public visits. Please remember to respect fences and closed gates.
Must read Vance Kennedy on groundwater
Emerson Drake’s publication of city and county documents obtained by using the Freedom of Information Act is one of his best services to Valley citizens. Drake also often publishes important letters and comments in their entirety as they relate to local issues. Here’s a must read: It’s Vance Kennedy’s recent comments (in letter form) to the Modesto Irrigation District. Kennedy is on the groundwater crisis again. Emerson Drake has it here.
Better check out Vance Kennedy’s water warning now
At Eye on Modesto, Emerson Drake has a must read letter from Vance Kennedy to the Modesto Irrigation District (MID) Board of Directors. Dr. Kennedy is the retired U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist who probably knows more about local water and soil issues than any other three people combined. The short version of Dr. Kennedy’s message is the MID needs money and we’d better prepare for much higher water prices now. The entire message needs to be read and heeded now because Dr. Kennedy has a solution if we act fast. Read it all here. (27 August)
Tell Senator Galgiani you support the ban on lead ammunition
The dangers of lead shot are so well known that lead shot was banned for waterfowl hunting back in 1991. This year, because lead poisoning is now the leading cause of death for California Condors and extremely harmful to other raptors, California Audubon is seeking a statewide ban on all lead ammunition with Assembly Bill 711. The bill has received strong support from most Democrats, but California State Senator Cathleen Galgiani, who represents much of our region, has yet to register her support for this critical bill. Lead isn’t just bad for wildlife, it’s bad for people too. Let Senator Galgiani know you support a ban on lead ammunition in California. Her Modesto office is at 1010 10th Street in Modesto, 95354. Phone is 209-576-6273. (21 August)
You heard it here first: Sabatino to run
The irrepressible Carmen Sabatino has filed papers to oppose John Mensinger for a position on the Modesto Irrigation District Board of Directors. Sabatino easily holds the local record for most losses in political campaigns, but no one will ever forget his one victory in the Modesto Mayor’s race over ten years ago. Absent a major misstep or scandal, Mensinger should win easily, but Sabatino will doubtless provide plenty of fireworks and entertainment in what would have been an otherwise uncontested race. And at the very least, Mensinger will have to deliver a far stronger platform than if he had run unopposed.
Abell and Drake: Chamber bombs in Salida
Last Monday night’s meeting of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce meeting with citizens of Salida may not have been all the Chamber would have wished. Emerson Drake and Athens Abell offer differing takes, but in essence we get a seldom reported view of Chamber representatives as arrogant and condescending. Athens mixes in a lot of laughter (and other things, some fragrant, some not) with her report. Emerson’s not so light-hearted. Both are good reads and offer important views. (July 27)
Modesto’s dangerous journey toward another fiscal cliff
Just how dumb is sprawl? Take two short trips online and find out. First, go to Emerson Drake’s Eye on Modesto and read about the Chamber of Commerce’s grandiose overreach in planning Modesto’s future. Then go to the analysis by the people at Strong Towns. Read “The Growth Ponzi Scheme.” Modesto’s fiscal troubles will only get worse if we continue down the path toward dumb growth and sprawl. And thanks to Emerson Drake and Scott Calkins for the good work in trying to help us avert another drive off the fiscal cliff.
More bad news for the Delta tunnels
Touted as the “scientific” solution to the failing Delta ecosystem and diminished salmon runs, Governor Jerry Brown’s Twin Tunnels plan just took some devastating hits from a chorus of science-based agencies, including the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The ill-devised scheme is drawing more opposition with every day that passes, mainly because claims about the tunnels just don’t hold up. Dan Bacher has the full story here. (July 22)
Why don’t we hear this from the Bee?
Want an interesting contrast? Take a look at a recent editorial in the Merced Sun Star. Like the Modesto Bee, the Sun Star is McClatchy owned. Unlike the Bee, Sun Star editors are far more wary of development that threatens prime farmland. The Sun Star considers the consequences when farmers sell the land and water that make this the greatest agricultural region in the world and concludes the consequences are not good. Read the editorial here, then try to remember the last time a Bee editorial was concerned with the loss of agricultural land and water. (July 17)
Emerson Drake has the Chamber’s “jobs” plan
With his usual diligence, Emerson Drake has provided a copy of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce’s proposal for bringing jobs to Modesto. As usual, the Chamber thinks all there is to it is roads and “shovel ready” land. Even City Councilman Joe Muratore said recently he didn’t see businesses locating here in “this cycle.” Maybe that’s because there are better locations along Highway 5, and a more educated workforce closer to Tracy and Livermore. For those who prefer primary sources to news filtered through the Bee’s rose-colored lens, see the plan here. (June 12)
Vote on Delta plan meets fierce opposition
Even though it was approved by a 7-0 vote, the Final Delta Plan was met with fierce opposition by fishermen, environmentalists, family farmers and elected representatives. Many with a stake in the future of fish and Delta farming view the Delta plan as a sell-out to corporate ag and urban growth interests farther south. They believe the plan is linked inextricably to the grandiose Delta tunnels project, which will almost certainly divert even more water south. More here.
Bee water coverage biased says Dr. Kennedy
Vance Kennedy is among the most knowledgeable people about water in our region. He has a PhD in hydrology and worked for the U.S. Geological Survey. Although the Modesto Bee occasionally interviews Dr. Kennedy, given his knowledge, it’s stunning how seldom his opinion is sought on local water and soil issues. Lately, Dr. Kennedy has claimed the Bee is leaving out critical elements of the story about so-called farm water subsidies by the electric customers of the MID. What’s fascinating about Kennedy’s claim is the now-notorious Falling Water Charge memorandum suggested the MID has not justified its claims of water subsidies with any actual documentation. Emerson Drake has Kennedy’s most recent comments here. Read the Falling Water Charge memorandum here.
Emerson Drake has latest on Chamber’s ag mitigation blockade
While Stanislaus County has made real progress with its agriculture mitigation policy, the City of Modesto is doing its best to avoid protecting the best farmland in the world. Our Chamber of Commerce is lobbying hard to make sure none of our Councilmembers follows Mayor Garrad Marsh’s lead by supporting a mitigation policy for the city. Emerson Drake has the full story here.
California in violation of Safe Drinking Water Act
Those who track water issues closely have known for a long time that many locales in California lack safe drinking water. These locales include many small towns in the San Joaquin Valley. The residents of these towns are often poor farm workers. It turns out that our state government has been sitting on over $455 million designated for improvement of drinking water systems throughout the state. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency has found California in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The state has been given sixty days to address the problem. Let’s hope this will mean safer water for the many residents of the San Joaquin Valley who labor to provide us with safe and nutritious food but who go home to unsafe drinking water. Read more here.
Merced River makes endangered list
American Rivers, one of the world’s leading conservation groups focused on rivers, has placed the Merced River on its endangered list. Number one on the list is the Colorado River, which has been in peril for decades. Things have only gotten worse for the Colorado. The Merced River received special mention for the proposal to raise a dam on the upper Merced. The proposal is supported by Jeff Denham and the Modesto Bee. Read more here. (18 April 2013)
Interesting stats from Emerson Drake
Emerson Drake’s April 4 post at Eye on Modesto features some useful stats on campaign contributions as well as commentary on Modesto’s “Tin Cup” ordinance. Look especially at Dave Cogdill’s numbers. Cogdill is the City Council member most committed to the interests of realtors and developers, and he’s also spent the most money campaigning. Dave Lopez, who went over to the dark side when he endorsed Jeff Denham, also has some interesting contributors. Read more here.
Bee joins Denham’s attack on Merced River
No one should be surprised that the Modesto Bee has joined Jeff Denham’s attack on the “Wild and Scenic” status of the Merced River. The Bee has been the foe of rivers and fish for a long time, most lately when it supported the Modesto Irrigation District’s proposal to sell water to San Francisco. Going back to its support for a major university and city on the floodplain habitat of an endangered species (UC Mapes), when given the chance, the Bee has repeatedly taken stands against wildlife and nature. American Rivers has more here.
What? Water at $2,000 an acre foot? Yes.
When the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission offered the Modesto Irrigation District $700 an acre foot for water, many were stunned at what seemed to be a stratospheric offer. Now comes news of an agreement by the San Diego Water Authority to pay an eye-popping $2,000 an acre foot for water produced by a Carlsbad desalinization plant. The plant is projected to cost a billion dollars and will use reverse osmosis to produce fresh water. Widely viewed as a test case for the viability of future desalinization projects, the plant will be watched closely. Spokespeople for the San Diego Water Authority say they’re merely facing water-shortage facts when prepared to pay what seems to be an exorbitant price. Full story here.
Valley citizens support San Joaquin River in a big way
Anyone who thinks Valley citizens don’t love their rivers needs to check in with Stanislaus Audubon Society. The local chapter of the National Audubon Society participated in a statewide campaign to broaden public support for restoration of the San Joaquin River, which has been so overused that it runs dry for a sixty mile portion of its length. Stanislaus Audubon gathered cards and signatures throughout the second half of 2012 and wound up gathering the most of any Audubon Chapter. Working with Audubon rep Meghan Hertel, Stanislaus Audubon President Sal Salerno led the group in campaign which resulted in over 1000 cards mailed to Senators Boxer and Feinstein. Bravo.
Do fish really need water?
Opponents of increased flows along our rivers, including former Modesto Irrigation District General Manager Allen Short, continue to argue that declines in fish populations can’t be attributed to lack of water. Science says otherwise. Many northern California fish populations recorded all-time low numbers in 2012, and almost every scientist attributes the plunge in fish numbers to lack of water. At least one scientist actually predicted the precipitous drop in numbers. So who do we believe, hired mouthpieces or science? Read more from Dan Bacher here.
Denham Continues to Assault Wild and Scenic
Among the very first things Jeff Denham did when elected to the U.S. Congress was mount an assault on the “Wild and Scenic” status of the Merced River, and he’s still at it. Denham’s justification is “jobs.” Jobs aren’t enough to win Denham’s support for restoration of the San Joaquin River, however. One study found that restoration of the San Joaquin River would likely produce around 10,000 jobs, but Denham opposed the project. Most observers know Denham’s real constituency is West Side farmers, whose overuse of the San Joaquin literally drained it dry. More on Denham and the Merced River here. (Dec. 29)
Sinking farmland threatens salmon
A vast expanse of farmland near Madera has sunk two feet in the last two years as a result of pumping ground water. The subsidence is threatening restoration of salmon runs on the San Joaquin River because it affects dams and canals necessary for both irrigation and salmon. Federal engineers confirmed the sinking ground and are studying how to counter the effects. Farming on the Valley’s west side has been bedeviled with problems for years, but this latest severe drop surprised everyone. The Fresno Bee has the full story here.
Emerson Drake seeks action against Modesto cat killer
Love your pet? Don’t we all. Imagine a neighbor luring your beloved pet into a trap and then spiriting your friend away to a place of no return. Horrible as this sounds, Modesto not only has such a person, he actually brags about his deeds. Man of action Emerson Drake is no shrinking violet. Once he heard about the dastardly deeds of the Modesto cat killer, Drake sought for a way to prevent them. Looks like he’s going to get help from the Modesto City Council and Modesto Police Chief Gene Balentine. Read the full story here. Way to go Emerson!
They’re back—salmon return to the San Joaquin River
In what will go down as one of the more dramatic chapters of California natural history, salmon have returned to the San Joaquin River. Monty Schmitt, Senior Scientist and San Joaquin River Project Manager, reports that the monumental project to restore salmon runs to the San Joaquin River has begun auspiciously. Once numbering over 50,000 fish, the salmon run disappeared when excess diversion for agriculture literally dried up the river. After almost two decades of litigation, courts ordered the salmon runs restored in 2006. Read Schmitt’s riveting report here.
Brush bunnies coming back from brink of extinction
The formerly endangered Aleutian Canada Goose population gets almost all the attention every fall when it returns to its historic winter quarters near the confluence of the Tuolumne, San Joaquin, and Stanislaus Rivers. Less spectacular, the Riparian Brush Rabbit makes its year-round home in the same location. Just recently, the entire population of the little bunnies was limited to Caswell Park. Now, as a result of a federal recovery effort, the rabbits are scattered along the San Joaquin River at various sites in and around the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge. Local biologists and lovers of wildlife are hoping the bunnies will come back as well as the geese did, and one day be removed from the endangered species list. Read about their progress here.
Local land and water: Worth more than we know
Just in case you ever doubt just how valuable our local farmland and water really are, consider the situation further south in Tulare County. Decades of heavy applications of pesticides and fertilizers have poisoned the ground water. For farmworkers who live in isolated and politically impotent communities, there’s no alternative but bottled water. Even the public schools must budget for bottled water. Families with annual incomes as low as $14,000 must buy bottled water because the tap water is toxic. Contrast our situation, where our aquifer is not only sustainable but relatively free of toxins. Every day that passes adds to the value of these natural resources and the need to conserve and protect them. For the full story of just how bad things can get, look here.
High Valley winds are full of dust and danger
It’s easy to forget what happens when the wind blows here in the San Joaquin Valley, but residents should be aware of the health problems involved as well as of the ongoing deterioration of our potential to farm, as the wind is a major factor in loss of precious Valley topsoil. The Turlock Journal has posted a warning about potential health hazards from our coming storm and high winds. Valley citizens should remain aware of the ongoing dangers of high winds and dust. The next few days will be especially hazardous. Read the full story here. (November 8)
Westlands Water District pours thousands into anti-Delta campaigns
Think you’ve heard everything about the Westlands Water District? This is the District that is determined to keep draining the San Joaquin Delta so that farms on the arid and alkaline west side of the San Joaquin Valley can keep growing crops that are better grown elsewhere. The Westlands Water District is pouring thousands of dollars into campaigns that would elect politicians committed to peripheral tunnels and Delta destruction. Get the full skinny at the Daily Kos.
Water District in a sleazy ploy to halt film
The Westlands Water District is at it again. According to Restore the Delta, Westlands Water District, in an attempt to stop the showing of a Restore the Delta documentary film, passed itself off as the Tea Party. Restore the Delta has long been an antagonist of Westlands, reminding anyone and everyone just how dependent Westlands is on corporate welfare and how its water demands threaten the health and welfare of millions of Californians. Read the full story here. (10/05/2012)
Saltwater in Westley? Yes, and more all the time—
Those who still think we have more than enough water need only consider what’s happening in nearby Westley, where almond growers are facing catastrophe in the form of intruding salt water. Naturally salty west side soils are becoming saltier as the result of irrigation. Now, in some places, the salt is having disastrous effects on crop production, including almonds and cantaloupes. West side farmers are also facing the likelihood of reduced allotments as more fresh water is needed to mitigate salt water intrusion into the San Joaquin Delta. The full article is here. Note remarks by nursery owner John Duarte, who was a strong opponent of the Modesto Irrigation District water sale proposal. (09/27/2012)
Want another good reason to go organic?
Hard on the heels of studies that show widespread contamination of groundwater in several Central Valley counties come new rules for farmers. The Central Valley Water Regional Control Board has estimated the cost of implementing the new rules at $100 million. The problems, mostly caused by heavy applications of fertilizers and pesticides, affect farms in four counties: Kern, Fresno, Tulare, and King. The relatively good condition of groundwater in both Merced and Stanislaus Counties should be yet more evidence that these economic wonders deserve preservation from urban encroachment now more than ever. They may be among the last of our regions where conditions remain ideal for farmers. See the full story here.
Poisoned water? You really don’t want to know—
Among the lesser known facts about water in the Great Valley is just how much is unfit to drink. Toxic water is an especially severe problem in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Now, recently released research shows just how bad the water is farther south. A close read of the UC Davis study is enough to put fear into anyone who lives in the Tulare basin, where decades of intense fertilizer and pesticide application have poisoned much of the drinking water. West of the Valley, Salinas County also has severe problems.