Water graft

Submitted: Jun 15, 2016
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

graft2

[graft, grahft] 

 

 

noun

1. the acquisition of money, gain, or advantage by dishonest, unfair, or illegal means, especially through the abuse of one's position or influence in politics, business, etc...

--http://www.dictionary.com/browse/graft

 

 

 There are a variety of definitions for graft. This one is useful because it indicates that the graft may not be illegal, although dishonest, unfair, and "through the abuse of one's position or influence in politics, business, etc..."

California water law, however, is a morass of conflict between the public interest and an ever-shifting array of private interests.  The commonest result of this conflict is that "water runs uphill to money."

But when irrigation districts believe that they own the water they divert from rivers governed by the Public Trust and administered by state and federal agencies, they also cease to believe they are themselves public agencies governed by the same laws that any public institution must obey. In these moments of hubris, usually precipitated by promise of millions in water sales outside their jurisdictions, graft is likely to occur.

In the case of Oakdale Irrigation District, two new directors from urban districts and not members of the Good Old Boy Club that has ruled OID for decades, objected to being denied access to board deliberations concerning a shell game called "On Farm Water Conservation" or a fallowing program and publicly complained about it.

Attorneys for the OID board, O'Laughlin and Paris of Sacramento, specialists in water law, have argued in court that three of the five board members have the right to bar the two new directors from participating in any more board deliberations on this issue.

We have some questions: Can a board, even of a California irrigation district, legally bar two of its five members from discussing board business? Can a California irrigation district, a public institution with an elected board, be compelled to submit to a public audit by the state Auditor's Office?

Is this stink rising from the district evidence that somebody has something to hide? How much graft is routinely going on at Oakdale Irrigation District?

Oakdale ID has sold millions of dollars of water to Westlands Water District. As it happens, a remarkable case of graft is emerging there.

Jason Peltier, who represented Westlands among the other federal Central Valley Project contractors, was hired by the Bush administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at the Department of the Interior. About the time he left the federal government to join Westlands as assistant general manager to Tom Birmingham, Westlands loaned him $1.4 million at .84-percent interest to buy a fancy house on the Delta. According to the Associated Press (June 9), Peltier never paid back the loan, has since taken the position as general manager of the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority, and bought another house in Pebble Beach.

graft2

[graft, grahft] 

 

noun

1. the acquisition of money, gain, or advantage by dishonest, unfair, or illegal means, especially through the abuse of one's position or influence in politics, business, etc...

--http://www.dictionary.com/browse/graft

--blj

 

 

6-8- 16

Modesto Bee

OID sues two of its own board members

Three-member majority wants Santos, Altieri booted from lawsuit talks

OID attorneys will investigate alleged confidentiality breach

Farmers unhappy that fallowing program folded

Garth Stapley

http://www.modbee.com/news/local/oakdale/article82529737.html

 

Water leaders voted 3-2 Tuesday to sue to bar elected board members Linda Santos and Gail Altieri from closed-door board discussions regarding an ongoing lawsuit facing the Oakdale Irrigation District.

 

 

Santos and Altieri cast “no” votes but were outvoted by board members Steve Webb, Gary Osmundson and Herman Doornenbal.

 

Board members also agreed unanimously to investigate themselves for a leak presumably related to the lawsuit.

After the meeting, Altieri said, “Linda and I have followed our mandate of the people who elected us, and we will not be intimidated or bullied.”

State law allows leaders to meet out of the public eye when discussing matters such as legal action, and the OID panel huddled behind closed doors after Tuesday’s testy board meeting. It was held in an auxiliary building to accommodate a crowd of about 60, many of whom asked to go forward with a fallowing program – the subject of the lawsuit.

The district has provided judges with conflicting information about the program and has yet to publicly explain its status. “All previously contracted participants were notified” May 24 and 25 that it’s in limbo, a report said, after a judge last month ruled that the district must conduct more environmental studies before launching the program.

The board majority deserves blame for “badly mismanag(ing)” the program by not complying with environmental law, Santos said in a statement Wednesday.

“Instead of apologizing to the community for their mistakes, the district’s administrators and three board members are maliciously spreading misinformation and falsely blaming Gail Altieri and (me) for the program’s demise,” Santos said. “Now the board majority wants to shut us up by cutting us out of OID’s decision-making process.”

In technical terms, Webb, Osmundson and Doornenbal voted to go to court to seek a judge’s temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Santos and Altieri, “to preclude them from participating in further closed-session discussions” on the fallowing lawsuit.

OID lawyers last month had asked the judge to order Santos and Altieri not to speak with the suing attorney, but the judge said that request was “procedurally incorrect” and declined.

Examples of other agencies suing their own elected leaders include city councils in Riverbank and Patterson, which went to court to try to remove former council members Jesse James White and Sheree Lustgarten, respectively.

Some OID board members sparred in open session Tuesday over aspects of the lawsuit. In private, the board voted unanimously to have its attorneys “explore whether there was a breach of closed-session confidentiality by a (board) director and to bring back appropriate remedies for board consideration,” General Manager Steve Knell reported.

Santos and Altieri have said they were kept in the dark about OID’s fallowing program, and attorneys opposing the program used their declarations in the lawsuit. In open session, board Chairman Steve Webb said “the court case was going in our favor; every finding was for us, till you (Santos) and Gail decided to join the court case on the other side, then it seemed to shift a little bit.”

The women are not parties in the lawsuit, Santos noted. Both voted Tuesday against paying a law firm $30,000 for a month’s work, partly because one of its attorneys abruptly declined to engage in a verbal argument with opposing counsel just before the judge ruled against OID.

Osmundson drew loud applause when he suggested that the legal bill “could have been zero, if people weren’t suing us all the time.”

Osumdson is named as a defendant in the lawsuit because he applied to fallow land that he farms, then voted a couple days later to create the fallowing program, potentially putting $119,000 in his pocket. Without his vote, the program would have died in a 2-2 tie, with Santos and Altieri opposing.

Attorneys told him his vote would be legal because terms of the fallowing program would favor him no more than other participants, he and Knell have said, and Osmundson did not end up with a pending contract, a court document said.

“Gary Osmundson is as honest a guy as you’ll ever meet,” said a man in the audience who did not provide his name.

Some in the audience, including Frank Rivera, Nate Ludlow and Dustin Boothe, were upset because OID urged them to sign up for the program, then canceled it too late for them to grow anything. Participants were to get 20 percent of proceeds in cash and spend 75 percent on efficiency upgrades.

“I’m playing by the rules. My pasture’s dead. The water’s (gone) down the river and we’re not getting paid for it. There’s something wrong there,” Rivera said.

Others’ comments suggested confusion over the program’s status. Steve John, Robert Longstreth and Mary Alpers, for example, urged the board to forge ahead.

John Brichetto went after Santos and Altieri, saying they were in cahoots with critics, alluding to Louis Brichetto, a plaintiff in the fallowing lawsuit; the brothers have fiercely opposed each other in separate court matters. Karla Schwoerer scolded John Brichetto, saying, “to personally attack (Santos and Altieri) is not proper.”

Santos and Altieri were outvoted again in a 3-2 decision to support OID’s partner on the Stanislaus River, the South San Joaquin Irrigation District, in its sale of 10,000 acre-feet of water to the Stockton East Water District and a related document memorializing both districts’ responsibilities in that and other water sales.

In other matters, the board unanimously agreed to hold night meetings on the third Tuesday of each month and to have Knell prepare monthly newsletters. His office also began posting online meeting agenda packets with supplementary materials last week. Santos and Altieri had advocated for all those points in calls for transparency when campaigning before their elections in November.

 

 

From Minutes of the February 2, 2016 Oakdale Irrigation District Board of Directors Meeting.

 

http://www.oakdaleirrigation.com/files/02-02-16%20Minutes.pdf

 

PUBLIC HEARING ITEM NO. 2 PUBLIC HEARING TO ACCEPT COMMENTS PERTINENT TO THE CEQA INITIAL STUDY AND NOTICE OF INTENT TO ADOPT A NEGATIVE DECLARATION FOR THE OAKDALE IRRIGATION DISTRICT ONE-YEAR PILOT ON-FARM WATER CONSERVATION PROGRAM AND TRANSFER OF CONSUMPTIVE USE WATER

 

The Proposed Project is a one-year pilot on-farm water conservation program and transfer of consumptive use water. Up to 3,000 acres in the Oakdale Irrigation District (OID) could be voluntarily idled during the 2016 irrigation season. The consumptive use water, based on the evapotranspiration of applied water (ETAW) of the crop, saved by the idled lands is estimated to be up to 9,000 AF of water. This water would be marketed to the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority (SLDMWA) and the State Water Contractors (SWC). The revenues generated from the sale would be used to pay for on-farm water conservation measures on the idled OID lands. Those lands would be put back into agricultural production for the 2017 irrigation season. The Proposed Pilot Project water would be released to the Stanislaus River at Goodwin Dam during the April-May pulse flows for fisheries, then to the San Joaquin River, to be exported at the Jones and Banks Pumping Facilities.

 The complete CEQA Initial Study document is available for review at the OID office located at 1205 East F Street, Oakdale, CA 95361 and online at www.oakdaleirrigation.com. Written or faxed comments should be addressed to Steve Knell, General Manager, at the above address. Phone number (209) 840-5508 or fax number (209) 847-3468. Written comments and those received at the public hearing will be reviewed by OID and responses will be incorporated in a final Notice of Determination anticipated to be considered by the Board of Directors at the March 1, 2016 Board meeting. The project comment period ends on February 19, 2016.

 Robert Frobose stated, “First off I would like to point out to you when you guys voted on this you guys don’t; the Brown Act requires you to list things accurately on the agenda. On Farm Water Conservation; that is not an accurate description of what this is. What this is a on-farm fallowing program and a water sale out of the area because you clearly said, Steve Knell said, that they plan on selling this water to Westlands. So it is out of completely out of this area and that should be; the public should know what it is. Secondly, there isn’t even any water yet this year. We got; Melones is what 28%? The other thing is, is there, I don’t OID Board Minutes February 2, 2016 Page 3 see how you guys can say that there is no environmental impact. Because when you fallow; your letter that came out said you were looking to fallow 3,000 acres and when you fallow that much ground there is an impact. You guys know that, Steve Knell said over and over and over that flood irrigation recharges groundwater. So you take 3,000 acres that are going to be non-irrigated that has an effect on our groundwater.” (This is a verbatim transcription of Mr. Frobose’s comment.) There being no further public comment; public comment closed at 9:10 a.m.


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11-3-15

‘Old guard’ Oakdale Irrigation District incumbents ousted

Frank Clark and Al Bairos turned out of office after 14 years and 9 years, respectively

Gail Altieri and Linda Santos capitalize on frustration with OID leadership

 Garth Stapley

http://www.modbee.com/news/politics-government/election/article42889287.html

 

Voters soundly rejected two long-serving incumbents in the Oakdale Irrigation District, preferring challengers calling for transparency and an end to “good old boys” leadership, according to unofficial results late Tuesday.

 

 

Gail Altieri and Linda Santos appeared to stun board members Frank Clark and Al Bairos, respectively. With three of five precincts reporting, Altieri was leading with 60 percent in Division 1, and Santos with 61 percent in Division 4, where four of five precincts had been counted.

 

“The people have spoken: Business as usual is not what they want,” Altieri said.

A third incumbent appointed in April to fill a vacancy, Gary Osmundson, captured 75 percent of the vote to easily outdistance challenger Daniel Medina, who did not mount a campaign.

To the south, Michael Frantz scored a landslide victory to keep his Turlock Irrigation District seat, winning 84 percent to challenger Tracy Sunde’s 16 percent.

OID’s balance of power might not shift if Osmundson continues to align with remaining board members Steve Webb and Herman Doornenbal. Osmundson has not broken with the majority in his half-year on the board.

Santos and Altieri acknowledged riding a wave of OID customer frustration.

 “This is a mandate of the people: It’s time for a change,” Santos said. “They are not happy with how things have gone.”

The women had criticized the board and its general manager, Steve Knell, for being tone deaf to longtime customers while making secret deals selling Stanislaus River water to wealthy outsiders.

OID has reaped more than $50 million transferring water in recent years, enabling canal and equipment upgrades while drawing scorn from county leaders for not doing more to quench the thirst of local agencies. Neither challenger swore off such water transfers, but said local needs must first be met.

Santos called for better relations with the Modesto Irrigation District, whose canal system – adjoining OID’s – could facilitate transfers to other agencies.

MID has enjoyed stable leadership in the past couple of years. Board members Larry Byrd and Nick Blom kept their seats Tuesday because no candidates emerged to challenge them.

Although OID delivered more water at cheaper prices than just about anywhere in California, Altieri and Santos capitalized on voter dissatisfaction with the old guard, which struggled with public relations. Problems included OID ignoring federal election law by not resizing voting districts after the 2010 U.S. census and the board’s habit of dining at taxpayers’ expense while conducting no public business. Leaders also promised that OID customers would get all the water needed in dry years before selling any to a huge new almond company, then changed terms, infuriating some growers.

The latest black eye came two weeks ago when OID announced a $5.75 million sale to Fresno-area buyers. The district claimed a collaborative victory for fish interests and OID’s bank account, while Santos and Altieri accused leaders of forcing farmers to cut back while plotting in secret to sell the excess at season’s end, with no public discussion or vote in Oakdale.

Altiera and Santos pledged late Tuesday to be responsive to customers.

“I want what’s best for everyone in the community,” Santos said.

Altieri said, “The community needs honesty, integrity and transparency and that’s what they’re going to get.”

She added, “I commend Mr. Clark for all the years of hard work he’s put in on the board. I have no ill will toward him at all.”

Clark previously had served 10 years as a school trustee, and 14 years on the OID board. Bairos served nine years.

Altieri, 71, and Santos, 62, are the first women elected to the OID board in its 105-year history.

 

 

6-9-16

 

Associated Press

A powerful California water agency provided an executive a $1.4 million loan to buy a home

Ellen Knickmeyer

http://www.dailyjournal.net/view/story/3890a03abba54f549584139b51f6bc4c/US--California-Water-Loan

 

SAN FRANCISCO — A California public water district that earned a rare federal penalty over what it described as "a little Enron accounting" loaned one of its executives $1.4 million to buy a riverfront home, and the loan remains unpaid nine years later although the official has left the agency, according to records and interviews.

 

 

Westlands Water District says its 2007 loan to deputy general manager Jason Peltier — now at $1.57 million with a 0.84 percent annual interest rate — is allowed under agency rules on salary.

 

But experts in governance say the deal raises red flags, not just over the unpaid loan and its generous terms but over whether Peltier and Westlands complied with laws mandating disclosure of the use of public funds.

"Show me the statute that allows this," said Peter Detwiler, long the top consultant, now retired, to the California Senate on local government finance.

"Where else could you borrow $1.6 million dollars for 0.84 percent?" Detwiler asked. "Who wouldn't want a real-estate deal like that? Sweet."

Westlands, which sells water to big farmers and other landowners in the country's largest public irrigation district, came under scrutiny in March, when federal regulators levied a $125,000 penalty against it over bookkeeping that a Westlands' general manager had described as "a little Enron accounting."

The Securities and Exchange Commission had concluded Westlands misled bond investors about its financial condition.

A heavyweight in California water politics, Westlands currently is negotiating two multi-billion-dollar deals with local, state and federal agencies that would reshape water distribution in California, the country's agriculture leader.

Peltier described the loan from Westland's reserve funds as a good deal for the water agency and for him.

"It was what was attractive to me, and I guess it worked for them relative to where their reserves were," said Peltier, who has since bought an additional house at the California golf-resort town of Pebble Beach while his loan to Westlands for his home on "Millionaires Row" along the Sacramento River has remained unpaid.

Governance experts say public agencies sometimes provide home loans to help recruit executives, but say Peltier's appears unusual because it was extended for years at a fraction of the interest rates of commercial mortgages, the district's various actions on the loan were not disclosed publicly although Peltier is a public official, and the loan will continue for years after he stopped working at Westlands.

"Each of the individual features is a bit unusual. Taken together these features are very unusual," Fred Whittlesey, a consultant on employee compensation based in Washington state, said of the circumstances of the loan.

"Free money is usually a great deal," Whittlesey said. "But it may not be appropriate in an employment arrangement."

The story on the loan is this, according to Peltier and records from Westlands and the U.S. Interior Department, where he worked before Westlands:

In March 2007, Peltier, whose Interior job included overseeing California water issues, notified the department he was looking for a job elsewhere. Two months later, he signed a $1.4 million purchase agreement for his home with a new, "state of the art" $115,000 boat dock and a $100,000 swimming pool.

Peltier said he had already signed the paperwork before getting the Westlands job offer. Westlands hired Peltier June 25, 2007, as chief deputy general manager, and a short time later loaned him the full $1.4 million home price, agency records show.

Terms initially required Peltier to repay the money within a year, when he sold his old house in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. But Peltier said the home didn't move after the 2007 housing crash, and records show he signed repeated one-year loan extensions.

In 2012, he and Westlands revamped their agreement giving him until 2021 to pay off the loan, with a final payment of more than $1 million, according to district records. Peltier made monthly payments of about $5,000 from January 2013 to February 2015.

Peltier, whose salary was about $200,000 according to state records, finally sold the house back East in February 2014, and left Westlands for a job at an affiliated water agency in summer 2015, with the Westlands loan still unpaid.

Current Westlands Deputy General Manager Johnny Amaral defended the transaction.

"Unfortunately, Mr. Peltier, like millions of other Americans, was unable to sell his property in Virginia because of the collapse of the housing market and the bridge loan was converted to a long-term loan," Amaral said in an email.

Westlands officials declined interviews.

The Associated Press had asked Westlands under open records laws to provide all documents on the loan, including any showing whether the district disclosed the deal publicly.

In response to written questions, Chief Operating Officer Dan Pope said the home loan was allowed under a district rule that gives officials the authority to set salaries. There was no public record of the district board's loan decision, Pope wrote, because it was made in a closed session.

The AP could find public mention of the loan only on the website of a federal agency that oversees municipal bonds. Posted there were Westlands' annual audits, which from 2010 on reported a $1.4 million loan to an unidentified management-level employee.

Peter Scheer, head of the California-based non-profit First Amendment Coalition, said Westlands as a public agency should have disclosed all of its actions on Peltier's loan, noting that the public has a right to know those details. Scheer's group has been supported by donations from some news organizations, including the AP.

California law requires public officials like Peltier to file annual financial disclosure forms, which includes reporting some loans.

Peltier said he had begun reporting the loan in his most recent annual disclosures. However, his reports through 2015, obtained from the state, make no mention of an outstanding loan from Westlands.

Asked about the apparent discrepancy, Peltier said he thought he had included the information.

Asked whether the loan from a public agency would require disclosure, Jay Wierenga, spokesman for the state Fair Political Practices Commission, said, "Someone probably has to have a pretty good reason to not report a loan that's outside of the realm of what's normal and available to the public at large."

3-3-06

New York Times

For Thirsty Farmers, Old Friends at Interior Dept.

Timothy Egan

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/03/national/03water.html?pagewanted=print&_r=0

Correction Appended

FRESNO, Calif. — For more than 10 years, Jason Peltier was a paid advocate for the irrigation-dependent farmers here in the Central Valley of California, several hundred landowners who each year consume more water than the city of Los Angeles does.

Now Mr. Peltier works for the Bush administration, and he helps oversee the awarding of new water contracts for the people he used to represent as head of the Central Valley Project Water Users Association. The federal contracts, tying up water for a quarter-century or more from the world's largest irrigation project, have the potential to bring the farmers a huge windfall if they turn around and sell the water on the open market.

At the same time Mr. Peltier — as the deputy assistant secretary for water and science at the Interior Department — is involved with reviewing a request by the water association to stop paying up to $11.5 million a year into an environmental restoration fund, as required by a 1992 law.

Mr. Peltier's role influencing decisions that could have a direct financial impact on his former employer is part of a pattern at the Interior Department over the last five years, critics say, with a revolving door between managers on the government side, and the people who buy or lease federal water, land or forests on the other side.

At the Interior Department, at least six high political positions have been occupied by people associated with businesses or trade associations tied to public lands or resources. One of those appointees, J. Steven Griles, a deputy secretary, continued to receive $284,000 a year from his old lobbying firm while working for the government. Mr. Griles stepped down last year, saying he had not done anything to violate ethics rules at the department.

Mr. Peltier, in an interview, said that when he first came to the Bush administration in 2001, he recused himself from some decisions involving the landowners he used to represent, but he said he was granted an exemption because of his expertise in California water issues.

"I was given dispensation early on because of my knowledge of these issues," he said.

He added, "I have not had the strict bar of separation on certain issues, but I've been very mindful of the appearance of a conflict and operated accordingly."

Interior Department officials said Mr. Peltier, who is the chief policy adviser on California water issues, had cleared his activities with the ethics office.

Mark Limbaugh, the assistant secretary for water and science and Mr. Peltier's immediate supervisor, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Peltier's role was only advisory on water issues that involve his former employer.

"He provides background, insight and advice," Mr. Limbaugh said. "He is not in a position to make the ultimate decisions."

But others say the arrangement is inappropriate, and they point to contract terms that could give farmers in the Central Valley, including the ones Mr. Peltier once represented, far more federally subsidized water under their new contracts than they could ever use. And because the water will be provided at a fraction of the price it would cost on the open market, the farmers could act as brokers to resell unneeded water at a huge markup, making them some of the most powerful players in Western water politics for well into the middle part of this century.

Some of the farmers will pay about $40 per acre foot of water (roughly 326,000 gallons) under the new contracts for water that could fetch up to $200 an acre foot on the open market in dry years, according to groups that monitor the Central Valley Project.

"They're basically locking up the last available water in California for 50 years, which they could then sell at big profit made on the back of taxpayers," said Tom Stokely, a water policy and planning official with Trinity County, in Northern California, which has been at odds with water users in the Central Valley for decades.

The biggest pool of water at stake under Mr. Peltier's watch involves the Westlands Water District, a group of San Joaquin Valley landowners and the largest and most prominent member of the trade association that Mr. Peltier used to represent.

The new contract for Westlands, stuffed with arcane and obscure language, would give the landowners water from the government-financed Central Valley Project for 25 years, with an option for another 25 years.

Asked about his role in the Westlands contract negotiations, Mr. Peltier said, "I've tried to steer away from the nuts and bolts" of the contract because of his prior job.

He also said, "There are a lot of layers of management beneath me — plenty of horsepower in there" to represent the government side.

But critics in Congress like Representative George Miller, a Democrat from California who has long advocated loosening agriculture's grip on federal water supplies, said Mr. Peltier should have nothing to do with the contract. Mr. Miller also said far too much water was being offered to the Westlands farmers, violating the spirit of the 1992 environmental restoration law that tried to give competing interests in California equal access to water.

"This is a clear conflict of interest and has been since his appointment," Mr. Miller said.

Bush administration officials, including Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, have said that top political positions in the Interior Department have always been filled by people who are more responsive to the party in power. They note that President Bill Clinton filled his Interior Department with former leaders of environmental groups that have long lobbied the government.

But the difference, critics say, is that some of the current appointees came from groups that stand to benefit financially from the decisions made at the Interior Department about how much businesses will have to pay for public water, grazing land, timber and minerals.

The appointees, both former and current, include William G. Myers III, who was the department's solicitor from 2001 through 2003 after working as a lawyer for ranching interests which rely on public grazing land; Bennett W. Raley, who was assistant secretary for water and science from 2001 to 2004 after working at a law firm whose clients had clashed with the federal government over the use of public water; Rebecca W. Watson, assistant secretary for land and minerals management, who is a lawyer who represented mining, logging, oil and gas interests; and Kit Kimball, director of external and intragovernmental affairs, who was a lobbyist on behalf of mining, oil and gas companies doing business on public lands.

"It is one thing to have someone with a certain ideological bent fill a political position, but it's another to have somebody who is so identified with a special interest that they cannot be expected to make fair decisions," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit group that monitors how money and politics intersect.

Interior Department officials say the Westlands and other contracts do not show favor to one group or the other and do not noticeably depart from the approach taken by the Clinton administration in dividing the water supplies.

John Leshy, the department's solicitor general under Mr. Clinton, disputed that, saying the Clinton administration had tried harder to balance water deliveries between environmental needs and agriculture, as required by the 1992 law.

In the case of the Westlands contract, the Bush administration officials said they had recently started to negotiate provisions so that excess water will not be hoarded to be sold by the farmers.

The terms under consideration would let Westlands receive up to 1.15 million acre-feet of water a year, about the same as it has been entitled to in the past — equivalent to the amount needed to supply roughly 2.5 million urban families for a year. But because at least 90,000 acres and maybe as much as 200,000 acres of the 580,000 acres of farmland used by Westlands may no longer be suited to growing because of its heavy mineral content, critics question why the district should continue to get such a large amount of water.

A Westlands official, Thaddeus Bettner, the deputy general manager, said the district had no intention of selling any of the water at a markup. "Everyone talks about this reselling, but it's not even discussed by us," Mr. Bettner said. "We have a real need for the water."

He said Mr. Peltier had not helped Westlands beyond his steering the contract to an orderly conclusion. He said he expected the new contract to be signed in the spring. The old one expires next year.

Separately, the water users' association wrote a letter in December to the Interior Department requesting that the financial burdens on them from the 1992 environmental restoration law be revisited. It is first time the federal government has considered a review of the payments, and environmentalists say there is no evidence that significant improvements have been made to justify reducing payments.

Mr. Peltier said, "I would not anticipate that we're going to end up reducing the amount, but we're willing to talk about it."

At the time the law passed, Mr. Peltier, then serving as a manager of the trade association, indicated that the irrigators might resist complying.

"We'll do anything and everything to keep from being harmed," he told The San Francisco Chronicle then. "If that means obstructing implementation, so be it."

Mr. Peltier says his views have changed now that he is on the other side, representing government.

"I was younger and brasher then," he said.

Correction: Mar. 11, 2006, Saturday:

A front-page article on March 3 about an Interior Department official who helps oversee water contracts referred imprecisely to a denial by a former Interior official, J. Steven Griles, that he had violated ethics rules. Mr. Griles was investigated by the department's inspector general, who issued a report in March 2004 that was critical of him but did not find he had violated ethics rules. It was during the course of the inquiry that Mr. Griles said he had not violated rules, not when he stepped down from the department a year ago.

 

 

2-9-06

Bakersfield Californian

 

Local leader climbs success ladder

http://www.bakersfield.com/news/opinion/2006/02/10/local-leader-climbs-success-ladder.html

 

Kern County and other San Joaquin Valley farmers should feel they can get a fair shake on vital issues thanks to one of their own playing a key role in the Washington, D.C., bureaucracy.

One of the top advisers in the U.S. Interior Department is Jason Peltier, who was born in Buttonwillow and grew up on a family farm near Weedpatch.

He was recently named deputy assistant secretary for water and science in the Interior Department. He reports to Assistant Secretary Bennett Raley in the department headed by Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton.

A 1973 graduate of Arvin High School, one of Peltier's earliest jobs after going to Chico State university was as a legislative assistant to former Sen. S.I. Hayakawa, R-Calif., former president of San Francisco State University during the height of the 1960s students' protests.

Peltier distinguished himself on important tasks when he lived in California. And he managed the critical Central Valley Project Water Association from 1998 to 2001.

Peltier developed a reputation as a knowledgeable and fiery manager of the association, which is composed of local agencies that purchase water from the federal Central Valley project. This includes three major irrigation districts on the east side of Kern County.

The Kern native ended up in Washington, D.C., after his wife, Jean-Marie, took a high-level position in the Environmental Protection Agency.

Peltier now has emerged in a position where he is a major player in key policy decisions that have wide impact.

For instance, he was heavily involved in negotiations that led to last year's historic agreement for Southern California agencies to reduce the amount of water they take from the overused Colorado River.

Besides advising Assistant Secretary Raley, Peltier also represents the Interior Department on the California Bay-Delta Authority, which oversees CalFed, a consortium of federal and state agencies working on major water and environmental problems.

California officials hope that he will be able to vote as a member of the Authority's board. But first Congress must officially authorize federal participation in the CalFed program.

Until it does, it is difficult to get federal funding for CalFed projects that are supposed to be shared equally between state and federal agencies.

This is a key issue since California has underwritten most of the CalFed program -- an estimated $8 billion for the past decade.

The Bush administration solidly backs CalFed, but disagreements within the California congressional delegation, along with resistance from other states to spending money on California, have blocked full federal participation.

A bill that would clear the way for full federal participation in CalFed has been introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Riverside. However, the legislation is lingering in committees.

Peltier said that the Bush administration "has urged both the House and Senate to authorize CalFed."

Members of the California congressional should quit their bickering and get behind efforts to pass the Feinstein-Calvert legislation. It would be for the good of the state.

 

 

 

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