Books, drugs, data and more
Sam Quinones’ Dreamland has been out since 2015. It’s still the best overview of the opioid epidemic anywhere—how it got started, how the pharmaceutical companies pushed it, and how gangsters capitalized on it with black tar heroin from Mexico. Now, the rest of the media world is catching up with Quinones and offering more specific detail about the mind-staggering extent of a marketing scheme that the drug pushers—aka Big Pharma—knew was resulting in financial ruin, addiction, and death. One of the more illuminating data sources is at The Washington Post. Readers and researchers can find out how many pills were pushed and by whom in their own states and counties. It’s fascinating stuff. Data for Stanislaus County are here. Other Valley counties and the nation’s entire data base are also available.
Turlock considering allowing homeless tent camp
Turlock city officials are considering allowing a homeless camp for a portion of the city’s estimated 250 homeless people. Though no one thinks allowing homeless people to camp in tents at designated sites is an ideal solution, it’s proving to be an effective interim solution for people who would otherwise be in downtown streets, neighborhood parks, and along our rivers, canals, and freeways. Like most other cities, Turlock is struggling with an order by the 9th Circuit Court, which ordered that people with nowhere else to go can’t be cited for sleeping in public places. Homeless encampments remain controversial, and the Turlock proposal is no exception. Read more here.
Bad as it is, Valley air is getting better
Even though air quality in the San Joaquin Valley ranks among the worst in the nation, it’s better than it used to be. In fact, a recent study argues that the reason the notorious Valley Tule Fog has almost disappeared in the northern part of the Valley is due to improved air quality. UC Berkeley scientists say the correspondence between air quality and fog explains why the fog is worse in the southern San Joaquin than farther north. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District says air quality has improved most noticeably over the last 15 years. Though it’s still a hazard to human health, the air does seem to be getting better. Read the Berkeley study here.
Fresno Grizzlies losing sponsors
The Fresno Grizzlies minor league baseball team has lost at least two major sponsors because of an ad featuring Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a group photo with Fidel Castro and Kim Jong Un. The group is described as “enemies of freedom.” Sun Maid, Tecate and Dos Equis have all disavowed the ad and severed ties with the Grizzlies. Tecate and Dos Equis are owned by Heineken. Spokespersons for the Grizzlies have said the ad was aired because of an employee error. Read the full story here.
Bad air costs Valley $6 billion
The southern San Joaquin Valley has the worst winter air particulate levels (PM2.5) and summer ozone levels in the United States. The northern part of the Valley is better, but still hazardous to health. The pollution has punishing effects on Valley residents in the form of high incidences of childhood asthma, heart and lung disease, and a host of other maladies. Over the last ten years, most regions in the U.S. have surpassed the Valley in measures of air quality improvement. Nonetheless, Republican Congressmen in the southern Valley have been trying to weaken Federal Clean Air standards since 2017. For a keen analysis, read Tom Frantz of the Fresno Community Alliance here.
Denham takes lobbying job
Turns out those rumors Jeff Denham would run again for congress in California’s District 10 were ill-founded. Denham has joined the hordes of other “retired” politicians and taken on a job as a lobbyist—the job description won’t be much different than his role as a congressman. Insiders think Denham will continue to work to bring water to wealthy political influencers in the southern San Joaquin Valley and offer advice on how to weaken or eliminate laws protecting wildlife and nature, most especially the Endangered Species Act. Denham will be working for K&L Gates, a global law firm as a “government affairs counselor.” Read more here.
Newsom administration bans popular pesticide
A pesticide used widely throughout the San Joaquin Valley has been banned by the Newsom administration. Chlorpyrifos, used on a range of crops including almonds, is believed to harm brain development in babies. Recently, the Trump administration has sought to lift restrictions on the popular pesticide imposed during the Obama administration, but California will phase it out over the next two years and disallow aerial spraying in the interim. Read more here.
Homeless count keeps growing
Stanislaus County’s “Focus on Prevention” program is five years old now. The program was initiated to prevent and reduce homelessness. The latest “point in time” count, conducted in January, showed 1923 homeless people, a record since the count began. The previous high was 1800. That was in 2009, during the Great Recession. Even though this year’s count has more volunteers and better methodology, insiders are saying it is still too low. Despite what is being touted as an economic boon, homeless numbers keep increasing, despite attempts to reduce them. Read the full story here.
Stapley scorches Modesto Irrigation District
Some of us lamented Garth Stapley’s promotion to Editor of the Modesto Bee’s Editorial page, not because we thought Stapley didn’t deserve the job but because we lamented the loss of the Bee’s best reporter. Turns out Stapley is still on task as a superb investigative reporter. Stapley’s long investigation of the Modesto Irrigation District’s favoritism in billing has another chapter, this time on the Editorial Page. As usual, it’s a fact-filled look at the very questionable billing practices of an agency that should be serving the public interest, but isn’t. Read Garth Stapley’s fine report here.
Denham to run again?
Former California Congressional District 10 Representative Jeff Denham is amassing a war chest and appears prepared to run again against incumbent and Turlock native Josh Harder. Republican Ted Howze, who was eliminated during the primary campaign in 2018, has already announced his candidacy. Both Denham and Howze promoted theories that the general election last November was tainted by illegal votes. After a difficult primary that included a field of powerful Democrats, Harder went on to beat Denham by almost 10,000 votes in the general election. Though he’s already raised more money than any other Democratic representative in the nation, Harder will almost certainly face a well-funded candidate as Republicans are desperate to regain a seat in a region they controlled until Harder and TJ Cox scored upset victories over favored incumbents. Read more here.
Harder slams DeVos for hypocrisy
Newly elected Representative for California’s Congressional District 10 Josh Harder hasn’t wasted any time getting to work. He’s already made more high profile visits to his district than former rep Jeff Denham did over a year’s time, and Harder has also been promoting legislation that would help Valley citizens. He’s fighting hard for the issues he said he would, including education. And in a recent video, he slams Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for her hypocrisy while cutting literacy programs. Read more here.
Selling out to Westlands Water District
Donald Trump’s acting Secretary of the Interior is David Bernhardt, former lobbyist for Westlands Water District and dedicated foe of sustainable fishing and farming. The Trump administration’s plan for the San Joaquin Delta and San Joaquin Valley rivers is to ruin them so Westlands corporate farmers can continue growing nuts for export. The plan isn’t just a threat to endangered species, it puts sensitive salmon populations on the fast track to extinction and treats our rivers as little more than irrigation ditches. Read more here.
Naramsen Goriel steps up to power
After many years of suppression and silence, the Valley’s young immigrants and minorities are speaking up. Naramsen Goriel’s recent comments in the Modesto Bee are the latest sign that a new generation of Valley citizens isn’t afraid to speak truth to power. Inspired in part by the Women’s March, Goriel has realized the value of standing strong against the divisive tactics of Donald Trump and his allies. Trump’s fear-mongering grows and gains strength when good citizens fail to oppose it, and it weakens when they challenge it. Read Mr. Goriel’s comments here.
Susan Eggman to run for senate
Susan Talamantes Eggman, current Assembly representative for California’s 13th District, has decided to run for State Senate after all. Only last year she announced she had decided not to run in part because of the poor health of her spouse, who had surgery for a spinal tumor. Current 5th District Senator Cathleen Galgiani terms out next year and has pulled papers to run for state controller in 2022. Eggman has been a very popular Assemblywoman and will be a favorite for Senate out of the gate. Read more here.
Harder hits the right note (again)
Most anyone who followed Josh Harder’s brilliant campaign last year knew he would apply tremendous energy and focus once in congress—he’s one of those people whose cruising speed is several levels above the recommended maximum. But Josh Harder also has a special gift for zeroing in on problems that need fixing and doing his best to fix them. His latest project is an effort to expose the pernicious effects of lobbying on government funding. In a recent OP/ED, Harder vows to make government funding more open and more directed to actually helping people rather than a few narrow interest groups. Read Harder’s note from inside Congress here.
“The threat of climate change is both ominous and abstract”
Congressman Jerry McNerney in California’s 9th District is one of our most-informed leaders on energy and climate. An engineer and former consultant for traditional energy utilities as well as clean power sources, McNerney is well-versed in the science and economics of energy and climate change. While he doesn’t get as much national attention as some proponents of clean energy and aggressive strategies to address climate change, McNerney offers some of the soundest reasoning on the political, scientific, and economic consequences of failure to act now. His recent article in The Humanist is a must-read for anyone who wishes to well-informed and up-to-date on the looming catastrophe of climate change. Read it here.
Harder stands firm
Despite what many believe is a risky position, Josh Harder is standing tall on his campaign promise to support Medicare for All. So-called “Blue Dog” Democrats, including Fresno’s Jim Costa, are still claiming the costs outweigh the benefits. But if Josh Harder understands anything, he understands economics. He’s got a degree from Stanford and an MBA from Harvard. What Harder knows and the Blue Dogs won’t admit is we already pay more for health care than any other industrialized nation. Medicare for All will actually save us money. Read more here.
Time to lose half a million acres of farmland?
While insiders have been saying for years that the realities of water supplies should dictate how much land we farm, public discussion rarely ensued. Now, realistic proposals for fallowing farmland are finally out in the open. The Public Policy Institute of California has released a study arguing that we should fallow 500,000 acres of farmland if we wish to manage water supplies fairly and efficiently. While the proposal to fallow that many acres is certain to be controversial and even inflammatory, it’s long past time to face water realities and address them with sustainable policies. Read more here.
Despite decades of talk and proposals to do something about it, air pollution is still a major threat to public health in the San Joaquin Valley, even in the northern portion, where Modesto and Merced routinely rank in the top ten cities in concentrations of particulate matter. One of the major polluters, Chevron Incorporated, continues to do business with little restraint from penalties and only occasional bad publicity. Severe asthma, high incidences of lung cancer, and shortened life spans apparently aren’t reasons enough to clean up our bad air. Read more here.
Newsom tosses tunnels
In a radical departure from the vision of Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsom has rejected the California Water Fix and its plan for Twin Tunnels. Instead, Newsom favors one tunnel and a holistic approach to growing demands for water during a period of climate change and uncertain water supplies. Environmentalists have so far been optimistic about the new approach which represents a blow to southern California water interests as well as to corporate AG in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Read more here.
Harder forwards bi-partisan bill for vets
Despite lip service to veterans, both political parties have failed to provide them adequate compensation for the harm many suffer in service to their country. Mental illness is especially rampant among vets, and too seldom acknowledged as a factor in divorce, bankruptcy and homelessness. Now, in the very first weeks of his term, Congressman Josh Harder has pushed and passed a bill that would provide significant help for mentally ill vets and their families. “The Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act allows veterans and their families to access free childcare when they use VA Medical Centers and Clinics.” Harder’s bill makes it easier for vets to access care and provides timely support for their children as well. Read more here.
Latino vote made a difference
Despite conspiracy theories from the likes of Ted Howze and Donald Trump, November’s surge of Democrat wins is easily explained by one word—turnout. And a key factor in turnout was the Latino vote. For years, and especially in the San Joaquin Valley, insiders have despaired at getting out the Latino vote. Even popular astronaut Jose Hernandez didn’t inspire Latinos in his 2012 run for Congress. But in 2018, Latinos came out in record numbers. Some attribute the turnout to the “Trump Effect,” but Democrats also devoted tremendous effort to getting out the Latino vote, an effort they will need to sustain to stay in office. Read more here.
RIP Dr. Allen
Charles Van Dyn (CV) Allen was one of Modesto’s quietest but most influential movers and shakers for decades. He got less recognition than most because he was modest, operated in a field that for many years got little attention, and preferred moderate progress to radical bombast. Today, health care is on the front burner of attention, but Dr. Allen was a pioneer in realizing decades ago that the San Joaquin Valley didn’t just need good doctors, it needed to find a way to lower health care costs. He did everything he could to address both problems; he was a major force in the establishment of the Memorial Medical Center as a non-profit and he recruited hundreds of doctors to Modesto from all over the United States. Though modest, he was not afraid to take a firm and public stand for truth, and did so as late as last fall, when he called out Congressman Jeff Denham for misleading statements about health care. One of Modesto’s greatest contributors to community welfare, Dr. Allen died on January 19. Read more here.
Bee doubts Berryhill can serve
In a powerful editorial, the Modesto Bee suggests newly-elected Stanislaus County Supervisor Tom Berryhill should step down. Berryhill, who has been absent from public view for most of the last year, recently broke his hip and has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He had a heart transplant in 2006. Berryhill missed well over half the votes over his last couple of years as an Assemblyman in Sacramento. Given the need for a pro-active supervisor in Berryhill’s critical District 4, the Bee has a point. Read more here.
Brown rebukes sheriff’s attack on “sanctuary state”
Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson has blamed the killing of Newman Police Officer Ronal Singh on a California law passed in 2017, but on January 6, Governor Jerry Brown offered a strong rebuttal to that theory. Brown said that the killer’s arrest dates preceded the passage of SB 54, the so-called “sanctuary” policy. Critics of Sheriff Christianson have accused him of politicizing a horrible crime during a period of high emotion. Supporters say Christianson is just pointing out the burden law enforcement bears because of bad laws and policies. “I think people now are looking to blame somebody because of the terrible things that happened,” the governor said in the interview, “but it had nothing to do with the law of California.” Read more here.
Will OID double down on dumb?
Just off a big loss to the Oakdale Groundwater Alliance (OGA) in Fresno’s Appellate Court, Oakdale Irrigation District’s (OID) Board of Directors are apparently eager for another hefty payout to water attorney Tim O’Laughlin, followed by an almost certain defeat. OID Directors are considering suing the state for thwarting OID’s practice of abandoning its water rights so it can sell water to buyers far south of the San Joaquin Delta. The state has warned OID repeatedly that its tactics for water sales are clear violations of the rules, but OID refuses to learn its lesson. Just as was the case in the suit against the OGA, OID is looking at an almost certain loss and another big expense. Read more here.
Inside TJ’s big win
While Republicans from Paul Ryan on down to Jeff Denham and Ted Howze keep insisting there must have been dirty pool involved in the come-from-behind victories of Democrats like Josh Harder and TJ Cox, insiders knew all along that Harder and Cox applied relatively simple tactics to bring about their upset wins. First and foremost, both Harder and Cox were gluttons for work. Second, both had superb ground games, mostly because they inspired hundreds upon hundreds of volunteers to help them get out the vote. Of course, there were other factors as well. For an inside look at TJ’s stirring comeback from way down in the vote, here’s a great story.
Josh Harder close up
The Modesto Bee has two excellent reports on Josh Harder, the recently elected representative for California Congressional District 10. Harder surprised many local political insiders when he upset incumbent Jeff Denham, but in retrospect his combination of high intelligence, drive, and dedication to public service became more and more obvious the longer he campaigned. Garth Stapley’s excellent report offers more than just a glimpse of Harder’s private life, and Harder explains some of his goals for the district in a well-edited Bee video. Read Stapley’s report and watch the video here.
TJ takes the lead
Following a long-established pattern of Democratic Party votes coming in late, the count in California Congressional District 21 now favors challenger TJ Cox over three-term incumbent David Valadao. On election night, Cox was behind by over 4,000 votes. Soon afterwards, most news organizations and pollsters called the race for Valadao. But Cox has gained ground every ensuing update and now leads Valadao by just over 400 votes, with several thousand votes left to count. Ace pollster and statistician Nate Silver thinks the trend favors Cox, but believes the election could be decided by as few as 100 votes or less. Like Jeff Denham, who lost to Democrat Josh Harder, Valadao was a firm supporter of Donald Trump, who now seems to have poisoned the Republican brand in California. Read more here.
Cox trims Valadao’s lead to 447 votes
Though most everyone called the race in California Congressional District 21 well over a week ago, David Valadao’s seemingly insurmountable lead over TJ Cox has dwindled to 447 votes. Shortly after Election Day, Valadao led by almost 5,000 votes and was declared the winner. Every update since then has cut into his lead and the latest updates have cut it significantly. There is still uncertainty over exactly how many votes are left to count, but it’s clear there are thousands. Nate Silver has predicted the vote could be decided by as few as 100 votes. Read more here.
Modesto and Columbia Colleges to Strike
After being threatened with termination for exercising or planning to exercise their right to strike, the members of the Yosemite Faculty Association are planning a two-day strike in late November. The strike would include faculty members at Modesto Junior College and Columbia College. Professors at both colleges have reached an impasse with the administration over “regressive” proposals during negotiations that have gone on for many months. Current offers by the administration offer worse compensation than was offered last year. Read more here.
Another drought threatens Valley drinking water
During the drought years of 2012-2016, the state recorded over 2500 failed wells. There were probably more that weren’t reported. A recent report shows that in the event of another drought—a near certainty—wells in the eastern San Joaquin Valley are among those most likely to fail. Domestic wells that provide drinking water for homeowners and small communities are especially threatened as they are typically drilled to much shallower depths than agricultural wells. As is the case with fires, well failures are associated with higher temperatures, which are widely seen as signs of global warming. A new study urges pro-active responses now. Read more here.
Harder versus Denham up for grabs
Supporters of Jeff Denham erupted in cheers and demands for payoffs on election wagers when results were posted for Tuesday’s election. Unfortunately for backers of both Denham and his opponent Josh Harder, the early results represented less than half the vote total and showed Denham with a very narrow lead of 1287 votes. If history is prologue, the vote in California Congressional District 10 could stretch on for weeks. It’s always possible that one candidate could take a significant lead, but as of now, it’s too close to call. See Nate Silver here for a statistician’s view of close races, including CA-10.
More Denham lies
Over the last couple of weeks, supporters of Jeff Denham have gotten ever more desperate. First, there was the appearance of a group of raucous “Proud Boys” at the Josh Harder Ag Roundtable in Hughson. These guys made the category “drunken lout” a step up. Then came a stream of bogus letters to the editor, easily exposed by the Modesto Bee’s Mike Dunbar. But then the letters kept coming, including a bogus letter complaining about Dunbar’s exposure of bogus letters! We’ve known all along that Jeff Denham lies about water and health care. Now it looks like the habit is contagious and has been taken up by his supporters. Read Mike Dunbar’s latest exposure of Denham supporters’ lies here.
Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Endorses Harder
When she announced that the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare had officially endorsed Josh Harder, Catherine Dodd added that Harder had filled out a complicated questionnaire and received an A+. “Jeff Denham received an “F,” she said on October 24. Dodd was in Modesto not just to endorse Harder, but to sound the alarm about the Republican attack on Social Security and Medicare. She said that, “This is the closest we’ve come to losing Social Security and Medicare.” Dodd said that the Republican Party’s attempts to balance tax cuts for the wealthy with cuts to Social Security and Medicare were a serious threat and noted that Jeff Denham votes consistently to slash Medicare funding.
Silver now showing Harder at 72.2% probability
Statistician extraordinaire Nate Silver will be the first to admit that polling isn’t always accurate. That’s one reason he adds what he calls “non-polling factors” into his mix of predictions and probabilities. Silver’s latest prediction for California Congressional District 10 has Josh Harder with a 72.2% probability of winning. Jeff Denham is at 27.8%. While there have been few polls altogether, recent polling suggests Harder is pulling away from Denham. Read Silver’s latest report here.
Senior citizens favor Harder by large margin
One of the most reliable demographics to vote consistently, senior citizens are also among the most informed on current events and issues. And in California’s Congressional District 10, senior citizens favor Turlock native Josh Harder over Republican incumbent Jeff Denham by 17 points, according to a survey by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). The survey of 601 respondents showed Harder with 51% and Denham at 34% with the remaining voters unsure or refusing to say. The survey has a margin of error at 4% and is in line with more recent surveys showing Josh Harder pulling ahead of Jeff Denham. See the survey results here.
Josh Harder raising record dollars
Democratic candidates in general are raising record-breaking sums around the nation, but candidate for Congress in California’s Congressional District 10 Josh Harder has entered the stratosphere. Only Kentucky’s Amy McGrath has raised more than Harder. She’s at $3.65 million for last quarter. Harder was right behind her at $3.5 million. Those are numbers more typical of Senate races, and could bode well for Democrats in the upcoming elections in November. But Republicans aren’t likely to let Democrats run away with the election, either. Rumors are that Harder’s opponent, Jeff Denham, will receive a $6 million boost from the Republican Party, in hopes he can hold his seat in congress against the up-and-coming young challenger from Turlock. Read more here.
Jeff Denham largest beneficiary of money from indicted congressman
Even though Congressman Duncan Hunter has been indicted on corruption charges for using campaign money to pay personal expenses, Jeff Denham is still refusing to return the money Hunter donated to his campaign. Hunter is another of the southern California Republicans supporting Denham’s efforts to fast track the Delta Tunnels and make it easier to send northern California water south. Hunter’s PAC, “Peace Through Strength,” donated money to three congressman, with Jeff Denham receiving the largest amount. Read more here.
Is Jeff Denham afraid of Josh Harder?
People who saw first-hand Jeff Denham’s bizarre outbursts of shouting, interruptions, and failures to address questions during the September 22 debate with Josh Harder are wondering whether the candidate from Turlock has Denham unnerved. How else to explain Jeff Denham’s bizarre behavior, which resembled a pre-teen trying to cover for stealing from his mother’s change purse after being caught red-handed? He was very close to a rolling fit. Very early on, Denham’s stage presence went from puzzling to embarrassing. He did not look, act, or sound like a public official. He was undignified, uninformed, and unhinged. Unfortunately for Jeff Denham, it’s all on tape. Watch the video here.
Berryhill owes voters an appearance
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but on the same day Frank Damrell swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco to help raise $50,000 for hydrocephalus research, a Modesto Bee editorial noted that Tom Berryhill hasn’t been seen in public in weeks. Even before he announced his run for supervisor, there were rumors about his health. But now that we’re in the final weeks of the race for supervisor in Stanislaus County’s District 4 between Damrell and Berryhill, Berryhill owes it to voters to at least make an appearance and assure people he’s healthy enough for the job. He hasn’t campaigned at all and there are rumors he’s suffered a broken hip. Berryhill had a heart transplant in 2001, and appeared healthy afterward, but his absence from public view when he should be visible has caused increasing concern. Read the Bee editorial here.
Wish there were more from OtPR
On the Public Record (OtPR) by magnitudes offers the most consistent insightful and sane commentary on Central Valley water issues. It’s a shame we don’t have more of it. As we were reading today’s (August 20) post, it occurred to us how desperately we need OtPR precisely because that anonymous, pseudonymous person behind the mask is one of the last sane people on water we have the privilege of reading, however seldom. We do need reminders, and not just once in a while, that living rivers, if we had any others than to the far north, would have their own thousands of fervent advocates. We need reminders of what we’ve lost and still stand to lose. We need you OtPR. Read the latest here. And if you haven’t yet, read the older posts as well. Simply the best.
Harder speaks truth on water
It didn’t take Josh Harder long to figure out Jeff Denham’s true loyalties on water. Congressman Denham has been working with his buddies David Valadao and Devin Nunes to send northern California water south for years. Now, the state is trying to take our water to make up for the deficit caused by Big Ag in the southern San Joaquin Valley. We need a congressman who is working for us, not his donors from out of the district. Read Josh Harder’s most recent stand on water here.
Denham votes “yea”
Jeff Denham is still telling people he’s against the Delta tunnels, but on July 19 he voted “yea” on H.R. 6147. That’s the bill with a rider that prevents lawsuits against the tunnels. Oh, and there’s another rider that prevents litigation against water projects in general. If all this sounds confusing, don’t let it. It’s right in line with Denham’s claims to fix immigration. Republicans, after promising to vote on immigration reform before the midterm elections, just decided not to. What does all this tell us? It’s election time for Jeff Denham, that’s what. See Denham’s vote here.
Denham gets called out
July 20, representatives from the Sierra Club, Friends of the River, Indian tribes and Restore the Delta held a press conference outside Jeff Denham’s Modesto office and criticized Denham for his implicit support of the Delta tunnels and attempts to eliminate due process for California water projects. Denham has been telling local constituents he’s against sending water south at the same time he’s supporting Republican friends like David Valadeo in their attempts to bring more water south via Delta tunnels. Read the press release here.
Was Evin Yadegar shot while pulling away?
Steve Ringhoff studies some criminal cases closely and he’s been watching the case of Evin Yadegar’s death by shooting even more closely than most. Yadegar was shot by a Stanislaus County shefiff’s deputy in a Ripon neighborhood during a bipolar episode involving a slow speed chase. Ringhoff, while poring over some of the documents released to the public, discovered commentary on a video of the shooting by the attorney for Hanibal Yadegar, Evin’s husband. The commentary suggests Evin Yadegar was shot while pulling slowly away from law enforcement officers. If true, it is a major turn in the case. Read Steve Ringhoff’s full story here.
OID: wheels of justice grind slow
It’s hard to keep up with all the violations, infractions, and environmental depredations at the Oakdale Irrigation District (OID), in part because the wheels of justice grind slowly. Way back in 2015, charges were brought against incumbent OID Board member Al Bairos for violating campaign funding regulations. Initially, Bairos refused to cooperate with investigators. Now, authorities at Fair Political Practices Commission say Bairos is guilty of failure to disclose campaign contributions and should be fined $16,000. Garth Stapley has the full story here.
Harder’s endorsements soar
Josh Harder’s campaign continues to garner coveted endorsements, with the latest coming from the Modesto Bee and Dr. CV Allen, one of Modesto’s most highly regarded citizens and an early force in the establishment of Modesto’s Memorial Hospital. Dr. Allen has written Bee OP/ED columns critical of our current health care system and was persuaded Josh Harder is the best congressional candidate to work on a fix. The Bee editorial endorsed Harder over several other candidates while ripping Michael Eggman for claiming to be a “local farmer” when he actually sold his farm last year. Read the Bee editorial here.
TJ Cox campaign rolls on
TJ Cox has followed his post-debate poll win with an endorsement from the Patterson Progressive Alliance. Cox had an almost 2-1 advantage over Josh Harder in polling taken after debate number three in Modesto on January 5. Third and fourth place finishers were Virginia Madueno and Sue Zwahlen, in that order. Richard Anderson’s video of the debate can be seen here.
TJ Cox exposes tax scam
If anyone understands taxes, corporations, and jobs, TJ Cox does. Cox is running against Jeff Denham to represent people in Congressional District 10 (CA-10). He’s spent his life looking for and finding solutions to many of the Valley’s intractable problems, including health care and jobs. Cox has helped create over 1500 jobs in the Valley, and he’s also working on ways to make housing more affordable. He’s got an excellent analysis of the Republican tax scam in an OP/ED in the Modesto Bee. Read it here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.