Public Works

Growth boom in national debt

Submitted: Dec 03, 2007

National debt grows $1 million a minute
By TOM RAUM, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - Like a ticking time bomb, the national debt is an explosion waiting to happen. It's expanding by about $1.4 billion a day — or nearly $1 million a minute.

What's that mean to you?

It means almost $30,000 in debt for each man, woman, child and infant in the United States.

Even if you've escaped the recent housing and credit crunches and are coping with rising fuel prices, you may still be headed for economic misery, along with the rest of the country. That's because the government is fast straining resources needed to meet interest payments on the national debt, which stands at a mind-numbing $9.13 trillion.

And like homeowners who took out adjustable-rate mortgages, the government faces the prospect of seeing this debt — now at relatively low interest rates — rolling over to higher rates, multiplying the financial pain.

So long as somebody is willing to keep loaning the U.S. government money, the debt is largely out of sight, out of mind.

But the interest payments keep compounding, and could in time squeeze out most other government spending — leading to sharply higher taxes or a cut in basic services like Social Security and other government benefit programs. Or all of the above.

A major economic slowdown, as some economists suggest may be looming, could hasten the day of reckoning.

The national debt — the total accumulation of annual budget deficits — is up from $5.7 trillion when President Bush took office in January 2001 and it will top $10 trillion sometime right before or right after he leaves in January 2009.

That's $10,000,000,000,000.00, or one digit more than an odometer-style "national debt clock" near New York's Times Square can handle. When the privately owned automated clock was activated in 1989, the national debt was $2.7 trillion.

It only gets worse.

Over the next 25 years, the number of Americans aged 65 and up is expected to almost double. The work population will shrink and more and more baby boomers will be drawing Social Security and Medicare benefits, putting new demands on the government's resources.

These guaranteed retirement and health benefit programs now make up the largest component of federal spending. Defense is next. And moving up fast in third place is interest on the national debt, which totaled $430 billion last year.

Aggravating the debt picture: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates could cost $2.4 trillion over the next decade

Despite vows in both parties to restrain federal spending, the national debt as a percentage of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product has grown from about 35 percent in 1975 to around 65 percent today. By historical standards, it's not proportionately as high as during World War II — when it briefly rose to 120 percent of GDP, but it's a big chunk of liability.

"The problem is going forward," said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard and Poors, a major credit-rating agency.

"Our estimate is that the national debt will hit 350 percent of the GDP by 2050 under unchanged policy. Something has to change, because if you look at what's going to happen to expenditures for entitlement programs after us baby boomers start to retire, at the current tax rates, it doesn't work," Wyss said.

With national elections approaching, candidates of both parties are talking about fiscal discipline and reducing the deficit and accusing the other of irresponsible spending. But the national debt itself — a legacy of overspending dating back to the American Revolution — receives only occasional mention.

Who is loaning Washington all this money?

Ordinary investors who buy Treasury bills, notes and U.S. savings bonds, for one. Also it is banks, pension funds, mutual fund companies and state, local and increasingly foreign governments. This accounts for about $5.1 trillion of the total and is called the "publicly held" debt. The remaining $4 trillion is owed to Social Security and other government accounts, according to the Treasury Department, which keeps figures on the national debt down to the penny on its Web site.

Some economists liken the government's plight to consumers who spent like there was no tomorrow — only to find themselves maxed out on credit cards and having a hard time keeping up with rising interest payments.

"The government is in the same predicament as the average homeowner who took out an adjustable mortgage," said Stanley Collender, a former congressional budget analyst and now managing director at Qorvis Communications, a business consulting firm.

Much of the recent borrowing has been accomplished through the selling of shorter-term Treasury bills. If these loans roll over to higher rates, interest payments on the national debt could soar. Furthermore, the decline of the dollar against other major currencies is making Treasury securities less attractive to foreigners — even if they remain one of the world's safest investments.

For now, large U.S. trade deficits with much of the rest of the world work in favor of continued foreign investment in Treasuries and dollar-denominated securities. After all, the vast sums Americans pay — in dollars — for imported goods has to go somewhere. But that dynamic could change.

"The first day the Chinese or the Japanese or the Saudis say, `we've bought enough of your paper,' then the debt — whatever level it is at that point — becomes unmanageable," said Collender.

A recent comment by a Chinese lawmaker suggesting the country should buy more euros instead of dollars helped send the Dow Jones plunging more than 300 points.

The dollar is down about 35 percent since the end of 2001 against a basket of major currencies.

Foreign governments and investors now hold some $2.23 trillion — or about 44 percent — of all publicly held U.S. debt. That's up 9.5 percent from a year earlier.

Japan is first with $586 billion, followed by China ($400 billion) and Britain ($244 billion). Saudi Arabia and other oil-exporting countries account for $123 billion, according to the Treasury.

"Borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars from China and OPEC puts not only our future economy, but also our national security, at risk. It is critical that we ensure that countries that control our debt do not control our future," said Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, a Republican budget hawk.

Of all federal budget categories, interest on the national debt is the one the president and Congress have the least control over. Cutting payments would amount to default, something Washington has never done.

Congress must from time to time raise the debt limit — sort of like a credit card maximum — or the government would be unable to borrow any further to keep it operating and to pay additional debt obligations.

The Democratic-led Congress recently did just that, raising the ceiling to $9.82 trillion as the former $8.97 trillion maximum was about to be exceeded. It was the fifth debt-ceiling increase since Bush became president in 2001.

Democrats are blaming the runup in deficit spending on Bush and his Republican allies who controlled Congress for the first six years of his presidency. They criticize him for resisting improvements in health care, education and other vital areas while seeking nearly $200 billion in new Iraq and Afghanistan war spending.

"We pay in interest four times more than we spend on education and four times what it will cost to cover 10 million children with health insurance for five years," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "That's fiscal irresponsibility."

Republicans insist congressional Democrats are the irresponsible ones. Bush has reinforced his call for deficit reduction with vetoes and veto threats and cites a looming "train wreck" if entitlement programs are not reined in.

Yet his efforts two years ago to overhaul Social Security had little support, even among fellow Republicans.

The deficit only reflects the gap between government spending and tax revenues for one year. Not exactly how a family or a business keeps its books.

Even during the four most recent years when there was a budget surplus, 1998-2001, the national debt ranged between $5.5 trillion and $5.8 trillion.

As in trying to pay off a large credit-card balance by only making minimum payments, the overall debt might be next to impossible to chisel down appreciably, regardless of who is in the White House or which party controls Congress, without major spending cuts, tax increases or both.

"The basic facts are a matter of arithmetic, not ideology," said Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan group that advocates eliminating federal deficits.

There's little dispute that current fiscal policies are unsustainable, he said. "Yet too few of our elected leaders in Washington are willing to acknowledge the seriousness of the long-term fiscal problem and even fewer are willing to put it on the political agenda."

Polls show people don't like the idea of saddling future generations with debt, but proposing to pay down the national debt itself doesn't move the needle much.

"People have a tendency to put some of these longer term problems out of their minds because they're so pressed with more imminent worries, such as wages and jobs and income inequality," said pollster Andrew Kohut of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

Texas billionaire Ross Perot made paying down the national debt a central element of his quixotic third-party presidential bid in 1992. The national debt then stood at $4 trillion and Perot displayed charts showing it would soar to $8 trillion by 2007 if left unchecked. He was about a trillion low.

Not long ago, it actually looked like the national debt could be paid off — in full. In the late 1990s, the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office projected a surplus of a $5.6 trillion over ten years — and calculated the debt would be paid off as early as 2006.

Former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan recently wrote that he was "stunned" and even troubled by such a prospect. Among other things, he worried about where the government would park its surplus if Treasury bonds went out of existence because they were no longer needed.

Not to worry. That surplus quickly evaporated.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's, said he's more concerned that interest on the national debt will become unsustainable than he is that foreign countries will dump their dollar holdings — something that would undermine the value of their own vast holdings. "We're going to have to shell out a lot of resources to make those interest payments. There's a very strong argument as to why it's vital that we address our budget issues before they get measurably worse," Zandi said.

"Of course, that's not going to happen until after the next president is in the White House," he added.

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Open letter from Stevinson resident Robby Avilla to Supervisor Diedre Kelsey and Assistant Planning Director Bill Nicholson

Submitted: Nov 11, 2007

As I have noted in letters to the editor of the Merced Sun-Star, and also before the Hilmar/Stevinson MAC Board, I am greatly disturbed by the process that Merced County used to expand the Stevinson SUDP (Specific Urban Design Plan).

This expansion is only being created to enable the Stevinson Ranch developers to attach a 3,880 unit gated community onto a town with a population of 400 people. Without the development there were no plans by Merced County government in place to expand the growth boundaries of the town of Stevinson.

The two of you, Supervisor Kelsey and Planner Bill Nicholson, both have said numerous times that you wanted to give something to the residents of Stevinson if this development were to be built, and so you wanted the developers to provide sewer and water to the residents of Stevinson. This was both of your selling points for including the development within an expanded SUDP for Stevinson.

I feel that you led the citizens of Stevinson astray with those comments. First, the sewer installation will be a sewer trunk line. Local residents cannot hook into a sewer trunk line. There are only 34 homes along the road where the line is to be installed. A sewer trunk line needs at least 50% capacity before it can flow. The current homes, plus the school, would not even come close to making that trunk line flow. That sewer trunk line will only be used by developers when they create even more residential development in the town of Stevinson. It will never be used by current residents for their own use as you professed that it would. Likewise, the water lines would support such a small contingency of Stevinson's population that it is all but useless to the community as a whole. Merquin School's water is continually tested. It has tested clean for drinking and they would be the main user on that line. Your idea of providing Stevinson with these amenities does not hold up considering the increase in traffic congestion that all of us would have to put up with for years before we would get new roads. I believe that both of you knew that the sewer trunk line would not be usable to the current Stevinson residents and was only being installed for further development, and also that you knew how small a population would be served by the water lines. So, I believe that both of you were not really interested in providing these amenities to the residents of Stevinson, but, instead, were trying to soften the blow of the astoundingly large development to the residents of our community.

MAC Board Chairman, Peter Stavrianoudakis, came to our group, the Stevinson Citizen's Group, saying that the Kelley family requested that Supervisor Kelsey not let him lead meetings in Stevinson anymore. When we questioned him why this could be, he said, "The Kelley family thinks that I am against their development. I am not against their development, I am just against the process that Merced County is using to get it in." Supervisor Kelsey, within one month you removed Mr. Stavrionoudakis from the board completely. You would not give a reason for his removal to the other members of the MAC Board, saying that they serve at your discretion. I feel like the MAC Board needs to be told that the Kelley family made that request of you and then just a short time later you did in fact remove him from the Board.

MAC Chairman, Peter Stavrianoudakis, requested on three separate occasions at MAC meetings that a guidance package should be provided to the Hilmar/Stevinson MAC Board for the Stevinson Ranch/Gallo Lakes Development. Mr. Nicholson, you replied that none had ever been presented to the board for comment and, you also stated, before the Board and the residents in attendance, that you would provide one. You never did so. The Hilmar/Stevinson MAC Board has never had a guidance package to comment on about the Stevinson Lakes/Gallo Ranch proposed development. However, the MAC Board was recently given a guidance package to comment on about the Turlock Golf Course Development. They are both privately funded developments. Why would a guidance package be necessary on one development and not the other?

Lastly, and most importantly, every single meeting of the steering committee that formed the enlarged Stevinson SUDP was held in violation of the Brown Act. Nothing was posted in our local newspaper about the formation of the steering committee or the meeting times and dates. Nothing was posted on our post office or any buildings in town of the meeting dates. There were no fliers sent to local residents. The meetings were held in the Stevinson Ranch Clubhouse with no agenda posted on the door.

Supervisor Kelsey, I work within the land use arena in Merced County and many of the people that I work with are staunch defenders of you. You support them and so they want to turn a blind eye as to what you have done in Stevinson. I feel differently. I do not expect them to understand what we have gone through in Stevinson, but I do expect you to right your wrongs. You have touted the Stevinson Ranch/Gallo Lakes Development on two separate occasions at the Board of Supervisor meetings, saying that you think it is a "good project". You made that statement to the Board before a final plan had been drawn and before an EIR has even been completed. You used the Stevinson Development as an excuse to keep projects ongoing during the General Plan update process.

The above issues lead me to believe that the two of you have worked in cooperation to enable the owners and developers of the Stevinson Ranch/Gallo Lakes Development to have an unfair advantage in bringing their project and an unlawfully created SUDP plan before the Merced County Planning Commission and Merced County Board of Supervisors. I believe that you knowingly led residents to believe they would benefit from amenities they will not be receiving, you tried to control the local MAC Board's opposition to the process that Merced County was using by eliminating it's Chairman at the developing family's request, you unlawfully kept the steering committee meetings quiet and you did not give the Hilmar/Stevinson MAC Board the proper paperwork.

I am sending this letter via email and hard copy. I am requesting that respective to your particular duties you:

1. Write a letter to the community of Stevinson stating that local residents would not be allowed sewer usage because of flow issues with the development's sewer trunk lines. I want it stated that these lines are for the use of future residential development and not for the use of current resident's waste. I feel that the citizens of Stevinson deserve clarification on this issue.
2. Write a letter to the Hilmar/Stevinson MAC Board stating why Chairman Peter Stavrianoudakis was ejected from the board. Bear in mind that Frank Amaral has been allowed to remain on the board as one of two representatives from Stevinson even though he rarely attends a meeting.
3. I request that the Merced County Planning Department send a guidance package for comment to the Hilmar/Stevinson MAC Board regarding the Stevinson Ranch/Gallo Lakes Development.
4. I request that the Merced County Planning Department scrap current plans of enlarging Stevinson's SUDP and start from scratch with a process that is legal, publicized and will allow the residents of Stevinson a voice in the size and scope of their own town. A steering committee might be a good solution for some situations, but I believe that when you are considering taking a town from a population of 400 to 19,000 residents it is of utmost importance for the whole town to feel they have representation. This was done in Hilmar and needs to also be done in Stevinson.
5. I request that you form a separate MAC Board for Stevinson. I request that you make that Board represent all members of our community, with members who are both pro and against this development.

I am emailing a copy of this letter to concerned parties so that they know exactly what my grievances and requests are.

Thank you, Robby Avilla

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Proximity to a boom-doggle

Submitted: Sep 14, 2007

We thought UC Merced's First Chancellor Carol "Cowgirl" Tomlinson-Keasey's late-Nineties slogan --"Proximity is destiny" -- was about the finest piece of UC Merced Bobcatflak in an era of budget surpluses we ever heard. For those uninitiated in the Fabulous UC Bobcatflak or merely forgetful, the Cowgirl used the slogan to emphasize that -- although no one has yet figured out exactly why -- proximity to a UC campus raises the percentage of the population who goes to college. This percentage is supposed to be the best measure mankind has found for Truth and Beauty.

For those of us outside the Valley leadership circle, it was apparent that something else entirely was taking place, for which we created the slogan: "Proximity is density." Subdivision after subdivision was built and Merced vied with Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto and the State of Nevada for being the top target of real estate speculators taking out subprime mortgages. As these mortgages "reset" to much higher payments, "proximity" is beginning to mean dry lawns, dead garden foliage and swimming pools turned into stagnant mosquito nurseries.

The people of Merced were raped by the University of California, the developers on its board of trustees, it local, state and federal politicians (especially Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced), land-use planning agencies, local large landowners and special interests representing finance, insurance (like Bob "Mr. UC Merced" Carpenter), and real estate from here, there and everywhere.

Badlands Journal estimates that 40 percent of the real estate transactions in Merced were speculations and we are certain that largest part of the Merced population has only begun to realize the negative economic consequences of having won the competition for the San Joaquin Valley UC campus. For us, proximity to UC Merced means exorbitant real estate prices. We won't be elevated. We will be squeezed out and replaced, having fattened landlords, banks and realtors, utilities and local government on the way out.

The public works improvements required to support the new development is being built on our backs. We will see yet another million-dollar campaign to persuade us to raise our sales taxes to help pay for various expressways all leading to UC Merced. And this campaign, like all the others, will receive the enthusiastic endorsement of the people we elect to government, who gambled that we would pay for all the public works needed to support so much speculative development for the profit of so few and, it is becoming apparent, hardship for so many.

Honestly considered, UC Merced is an overpriced, under-enrolled, scofflaw junior college. It has been such an outrageous development project that -- a fitting tribute to its creators -- it has engendered a genuine addition to the American language, the word "boom-doggle," coined by a member of our editorial board.

Badlands Journal editorial board

Merced Sun-Star
County report card close to D's and F's in 2006...Abby Souza

Of the 40 California counties surveyed last year, Merced ranked 39th for the percentage of residents older than 24 who hold a high school diploma; only Imperial County ranked lower...the percentage of adults who hold a bachelor's degree, Merced ranked 38th out of 40. Sixty-four percent of Merced County residents over the age of 24 have a high school diploma. That compares with the statewide 80 percent and the national 84 percent. Eleven percent of Merced residents over 24 hold bachelor's degrees, compared with California's 30 percent.
While experts say lifting Merced out of its next-to-last position might prove a bewildering task, the implications of its ranking are clear. "The ripple effect that comes with an uneducated population is huge," said Simon Weffer, a professor of sociology at UC Merced...
The data come from the census bureau's 2006 American Community Survey, now conducted annually in cities and counties above a certain population.
While it's easy to blame Merced's K-12 education system...the causes lie with the types of industries in Merced, said Adrian Griffin, a senior policy analyst with the California Postsecondary Education Commission...said that Merced lacks industries that require an educated work force. For that reason, he said, highly educated Mercedians often leave the area to start their careers. ...people moving to Merced tend to be less educated.
Many say UC Merced is the key to accomplishing both, but that major change will take time. As a research university, Kevin Browne, UC Merced's vice chancellor of enrollment, said UC Merced will eventually attract high-tech companies. And even for students who don't choose UC Merced, the university's mere presence can make a difference, Browne said.

Modesto Bee
Housing tab rising in Northern San Joaquin ValleyJ.N. Sbranti

Homeowners in the valley pay far more each month for housing than most Americans, according to the 2006 American Community data also shows homeownership rates are lower in the valley than the national average, while housing costs consume a much larger share of residents' income.
Homeowners traditionally have been advised to keep housing costs below 30 percent of their income. The same goes for renters, but many of the valley's renters didn't do that last year. In Merced County, for example, 51 percent of renters spent more than one-third of their income on housing.
The Northern San Joaquin Valley expanded its housing stock much faster than the national average from 2000 to 2006...census statistics show, the number of housing units rose 9 percent nationally but more than 18 percent in Merced and San Joaquin counties, and nearly 14 percent in Stanislaus County.
Despite the rapid growth, the valley's homeownership rates still lag behind the U.S. average. That's particularly true in the city of Merced, where census statistics show fewer than 40 percent of homes are owner-occupied. Nationwide, more than 67 percent of homes are owner-occupied.

Foreclosure not an issue for nation's vast majority...Kenneth R. Harney, Washington Post

The rate of American home loans entering the foreclosure process last quarter hit the highest it's been in the history of the survey, which dates back to 1953.
But from a national perspective... The answer is: Not as bad as it may sound. Drill down into the latest delinquency and foreclosure numbers and you'll find that for the overwhelming majority of homeowners across the country, delinquency and foreclosure are not issues -- at least not yet.
To begin with, remember that mortgage delinquency problems only affect people with outstanding loans, and more than one out of three homeowners own their properties debt-free. Of the remaining two-thirds of all owners with active mortgage accounts -- the latest survey examined 44 million of them -- prime loans that are 30 days past due or more constitute just 2.6 percent of all loans nationwide. In other words, among mortgages made to borrowers with good credit at application, 97.4 percent are continuing to be paid on time.
The numbers get more sobering when you look at how borrowers with subprime mortgages are performing: 14.5 percent of them nationwide are behind on their payments by at least 30 days. That's more than five times the rate of delinquency among prime borrowers. On the other hand, 85.5 percent of subprime borrowers are still paying on time every month, according to the survey.
The numbers get even worse when you look at the performance of subprime borrowers who took out adjustable-rate loans, such as the notorious "2/28" mortgages that allow low monthly payments for the first two years but then reset upward with a big jolt at the beginning of the third.
What about the record jumps in new foreclosure filings? In 34 states, the rate of new foreclosures actually decreased. In most other states, the increases were minor, except in California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona, where they were attributable in part to investors walking away from condos, second homes and rental houses they bought during the boom years. In Nevada, for instance, non-owner-occupied (investor) loans accounted for 32 percent of all serious delinquencies and new foreclosure actions. In Florida, the investor share of serious delinquencies was 25 percent, in Arizona, 26 percent and in California, it was 21 percent.
Bottom line: The scary foreclosure and delinquency rates you're hearing about are for real. But they're highly concentrated -- among loan types, local and regional economies, and especially prevalent among investors in formerly high-flying markets who are finally throwing in the towel.

Sacramento Bee
Foreclosures gain on sales
An ugly new duel in capital area: Home keys picked up vs. those lost...Jim Wasserman

...For roughly every two homes sold in August in the capital region, one house went into foreclosure, according to the newest sales statistics released Thursday...
grim ratio may worsen as fall and winter sales traditionally slow and foreclosures keep rising, analysts say. Already, in Sacramento County in August, there were more defaults -- the first indicator of payment problems that can trigger foreclosure -- than sales, DataQuick reported.
Last month, 2,978 new owners picked up keys to homes they purchased in Amador, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties, La Jolla-based DataQuick Information Systems reported Thursday. But in those same counties during August, 1,367 homeowners in foreclosure handed their keys back to the bank, according to Fair Oaks-based, a Web site for real estate investors.
"Sacramento (County) was positioned almost perfectly to take the brunt of this housing storm," said DataQuick analyst Andrew LePage.
Sacramento County now shows the region's worst ratio of sales to foreclosures. The county reported 1,527 escrow closings during August and 772 bank repossessions, according to DataQuick. The county also tallied more defaults during the month -- 1,869 -- than sales, statistics show. But analysts like McGee are quick to caution that only about one-third of people going into default will eventually lose their homes to foreclosure. DataQuick says about half of those in default in California will likely lose their homes.

Merced Sun-Star
Are we forever poor?...Our View

Distressing news came to light this week when it was revealed Merced County residents are poorer than ever... new information from the United States Census Bureau should be a rallying cry for making wholesale improvements to underlying conditions present in the county...more must be done -- and soon -- to raise the educational level of Merced County's residents. We need more high-paying jobs with the well-qualified workers to fill these positions. Both of these elements are lacking right now. we need stepped-up efforts to enhance this area's chances of landing top-notch employers looking for qualified workers. More minimum-wage jobs aren't the answer. Between 2005 and 2006, the percentage of Merced County residents living in poverty rose from 18.1 percent to 21.5 percent...about one out of every five people living here. The county's median income level also dropped nearly $1,600 between the two years, further evidence of this area's profound poverty and worsening economic conditions. It's no secret Merced County's economy is not very well-diversified at present. It's mainly farm-based, subject to vagaries from Mother Nature and cyclical agricultural conditions. Couple recent setbacks in some crops along with a severe downturn in the county's housing industry and one can see why the poverty figures have jumped.

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Citizens for Intelligent Growth town-hall meeting

Submitted: Sep 04, 2007


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Westlands water rustlers' latest job

Submitted: Aug 25, 2007


“Since pre-Columbian times, the Westlands area was known to be part of the uninhabitable Great California Desert.”
From the history section of the Westlands Water District Website,

For more than half a century, growers in the fabled Westlands Water District have been the “bad boys” of federal irrigation projects in the American West, ignoring residency and acreage requirements for taxpayer-subsidized water, getting Congress to change laws they didn’t like, seducing both Republicans and Democrat politicians with a river of campaign contributions, and reaping more crop, water and power subsidies, tax breaks, and debt forgiveness than any other group of farmers in America.
Now they are poised to pull off the biggest coup in their controversial history. If they get what they are asking for, 260 billion gallons of publicly-owned water a year for 60 years, they will capture water worth anywhere from $20 to $40 billion - that’s billion with a B - with which they are free to farm tainted soils with, OR resell to urban interests at fantastic profit margins. At the current retail market price of $500-600 an acre-foot in Southern California, the Westlands water, purchased at a fraction of its true valley could be worth $2,000 an acre-foot by 2050, when there could be 60 million Californians. The potential value of 15.6 trillion gallons of water in a drought-stricken climate staggers the imagination.
The catch? Westlands says it will solve a problem being caused by irrigation of its drainage-impaired, highly saline soils, contaminated with the toxic trace element selenium. Westlands makes this promise despite 52 years of federal research and hundreds of millions of dollars in studies that have failed to come up with a wildlife-safe, effective and affordable solution. It gets better. Westlands also wants forgiveness on an already interest free $489 million capital debt for taxpayer construction of its water delivery system it should have already paid off.
But first a little history. After pumping a huge aquifer dry on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley in less than 40 years, the patriarchal families of the West Side, the Giffens, the Harrises, the O’Neills, the Dieners, the Wolfsens and a few others, turned to a folksy tire salesman from Texas named B.F. “Bernie” Sisk. They bankrolled Sisk’s try for Congress and in 1955 he landed in the nation’s capitol. Sisk spent the next five years tirelessly promoting a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation project to bring Northern California (Trinity River) water to western Fresno County.
In a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives in 1959, Sisk promised that if the San Luis Unit (which would have been the last major leg of the Central Valley Project begun in the 1930s) was built, there would 6,000 family farmers on 100-acre ranches on the West Side and peace and prosperity would prevail. It was the first of many misrepresentations Westlands, or its supporters, would make over the next 48 years. Twenty-five years after Sisk’s promise, in 1984, there were still only 240 growers in Westlands and 40 of them, mostly from the original founding families, controlled over half the land and all the politics in the one-acre, one-vote district. Southern Pacific Railroad, Chevron, and cotton king J.G. Boswell were among the major Westlands landholders who influenced and directed district politics.
The late Paul S. Taylor, a University of California economics professor who was a well known critic of Reclamation policies in the mid-20th century wrote a 1964 article in which he quoted Alabama Congressman Oscar Underwood’s1902 speech on the floor of Congress, the year the Reclamation program was created to protect and foster family farming:
“Federal reclamation began as a program to help ‘farm boys’ who ‘want farms of their own’ to obtain them ‘without being driven into the already overcrowded cities to seek employment.’”
Many of the “farm boys” from Westlands would eventually live in multi-million dollar mansions in North Fresno, on the San Joaquin River bluffs or toney Van Ness Extension Avenue, 50 miles from their industrialized farming operations, in a zip code that receives more farm subsidies than any other zip code in America, 93711.
The first thing West Side growers did after the water delivery project was approved by Congress in 1960 was to annex another 200,008 acres known as the West Plains Water Storage into the 400,000-acre Westlands, a move a 1978 Congressional Task Force later concluded was unauthorized by Congress. Ironically, some land in the West Plains district had been designated too salty and unsuitable for irrigation by Bureau engineers in the 1950s when designing the original San Luis project, which included Westlands and three other adjacent small irrigation districts. Irrigation of the upslope West Plains lands, near the Coast Range along Interstate 5, would later worsen salty and selenium-plagued groundwater problems on the low-lying farmland near the trough of the Valley, where the San Joaquin River runs. Congressional funding intended for completing the drainage system was instead diverted to build a water delivery system for West Plains, according to the 1978 Task Force report.
In exchange for bringing cheap subsidized water to the western valley, Westlands growers had agreed to break up the huge estates, including the 106,000 acres owned by Southern Pacific, and the 100,000 acres owned by the Giffen family, after 10 years. The excess land provisions in Reclamation law provided that a husband and wife could own 320 acres but no more than that.
Of course, the Bureau of Reclamation had never enforced the residency requirement or the acreage limitation, which is what drew the wrath of Professor Taylor. When the mid-1970s rolled around, National Land for People, headed by George Ballis, sued to break up the huge ranches and actually give “farm boys” and farmworkers a chance to have ranches of their own. Fat chance.
A celebrated 1977 San Francisco Examiner series titled “The Paper Farmers” chronicled how the big growers were evading the acreage limitations by, in some cases, adding the names of relatives, employees and even unborn children, to land deeds to increase the amount of cheap water they were eligible to receive.
Westlands dragged its feet for several years in the National Land for People case, while the Bureau maintained the status quo on water deliveries, meaning big growers continued to get the cheap water for ranches which often exceeded 5,000 or 10,000 acres. Westlands also went to Congress and Rep. Tony Coelho, who had replaced his mentor Sisk in 1975. Coelho, who would become a powerhouse in the House before resigning following a real estate scandal, helped engineer the so-called “Reclamation Reform Act” in 1982, which didn’t really “reform” anything but did legalize a lot of the outright illegality occurring over the acreage limitation. Coelho was aided by western states congressmen subservient to their own local large growers getting federal water. The Reform Act eliminated the residency requirement and boosted the eligible acreage for the cheap water to 960 acres. It also created an even bigger loophole by allowing growers to get cheap water for lands they leased, rather than owned. As a result, leasing schemes mushroomed overnight and the mega-farms continued to get the cheap water.
Then in 1983-1984, the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge debacle hit, when word leaked out that drainage water from Westlands, being evaporated in 1,280 acres of diked ponds at Kesterson, was poisoning fish, ducks, and shorebirds at the dual purpose ”refuge.” Because of a subterranean clay layer underneath Westlands farmland, salty groundwater accumulated near the root zone. To protect crops the shallow groundwater had to be pumped out and sent somewhere else. The original plan was to funnel the salty drainage through the Delta to the Pacific Ocean. When Bay Area interests objected in the 1970s, Reclamation officials latched on to the risky idea of utilizing evaporation ponds at Kesterson as a stop gap measure while they undertook studies to convince the State Water Resources Control Board the drainwater would not harm the Delta. These studies revealed that much of Westlands’ acreage was riddled with selenium, a trace element which is a micronutrient in very small doses but toxic in slightly higher amounts. Selenium had been washing out of the Coast Range mountains for eons, accumulating in the western valley. Selenium’s toxicity to livestock was well known and Department of Agriculture studies in 1939 had actually detected elevated levels in Fresno County’s western foothills but that information had been overlooked or ignored by Bureau officials eager to build the San Luis Unit.
Many federal scientists saw Kesterson coming although they did not know that it would be selenium, not pesticides, that would cause Kesterson’s Silent Spring. Despite the documented misgivings of field level biologists as early as 1962, the Department of Interior, parent agency of both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation, had actually claimed in the late 1970s that the Westlands salty drainage would be good for the Kesterson wetlands. Amazingly, much of the tab for constructing the Kesterson facilities was deducted from the Westlands’ repayment tab because it was designated a benefit to wildlife and the general public.
The wetlands at the 5,900-acre Kesterson refuge adjacent to the San Joaquin River in Merced County were in the middle of the wintering grounds for hundreds of thousands of migratory ducks supposedly protected by an international treaty, the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. When full strength drainwater began flowing to Kesterson in 1981, high levels of selenium dissolved in the drainage water quickly moved into the food chain, killing fish and birds and triggering grotesque deformities in wildlife. Kesterson neighbors Jim and Karen Claus, who watched their cattle die after drinking water seeping from the evaporation ponds, filed a complaint with the regional water board and sounded the alarm.
On March 15, 1985, following a year of intensive media scrutiny, including a segment on CBS’ “60 Minutes” and front page stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post, Secretary of Interior Donald Hodel ordered the Kesterson ponds closed and irrigation water deliveries to Westlands shut off. Hodel said the evaporation ponds were a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
A delegation of Westlands officials and growers, including former California Secretary of State Bill Jones (Jones’ family owned several thousand acres in Westlands), traveled to Washington to lobby Hodel to resume irrigation deliveries. In exchange for the Bureau to continue the flow of Northern California water to Westlands, the water district officials signed an agreement on April 3, 1985 in which they pledged to halt drainage flows to Kesterson even though this would worsen their drainage crisis. In that 1985 agreement, Westlands also assumed any liability for lawsuits from individual Westlands growers.
In 1991, some growers in a 42,000-acre area of Westlands who had originally drained their wastes to Kesterson filed suit against Westlands and the Bureau of Reclamation for damages caused when the drainage system was closed and plugged. The suit was placed on the back burner during the Clinton years, as Reclamation officials plodded along spending tens of millions of dollars on drainage studies, including a $50 million, five-year investigation by a state-federal team. Their report, issued in 1990, concluded the cheapest solution was to take the high selenium lands out of production and drastically reduce the amount of drainage produced.
When George W. Bush came to office, the growers who had filed the lawsuit a decade earlier began pushing it again. A career Justice Department attorney, Yoshinori H.T. Himel, representing the Department of Interior and the Bureau in the grower suit, filed a motion in August of 2002 to get it dismissed. Himel pointed out that Westlands, in the 1985 agreement, had agreed “to design, install, and operate alternative means for disposal of drain water in an efficient and environmentally sound manner.”
Himel then noted that the 1985 Agreement “placed the obligation on Westlands “to design, install and operate alternative means for disposal of drain water from Westlands.” Himel said alternative means included evaporation ponds, salt tolerant crops and recycling.
While Himel acknowledged it could be argued the 1985 agreement may not have required Westlands to assume long-term responsibility for drainage for the entire San Luis Unit he said Westlands assumed, at the minimum, responsibility for solving the drainage problems of the 49,000 acres that had been draining to Kesterson.
Himel added "One thing the Agreement did alter, however, was Westlands' obligation to indemnify the United States for, among other things, 'losses, damages, claims and liabilities' arising from Westlands’ performance or non-performance of the Agreement. The language 'losses, damages, claims and liabilities' indicates money claims, such as Plaintiffs' money claims in this lawsuit . . . Westlands thus undertook at a minimum to indemnify the United States for lawsuits by those who might be dissatisfied with the results of Westlands’ 'alternative means' for drainage."

A federal court rejected this argument but critical issues of apportionment of liability for the drainage mess remained. Of course, we will never know what would have happened had the apportionment of fault issues been decided by a jury or a judge. Bennett Raley, a Colorado attorney who represented irrigation districts and was appointed Assistant Secretary for Water and Science by his Interior Secretary Gale Norton in 2001, made sure that a trial on the merits did not happen. Raley, undoubtedly with the support of Norton and the White House, undercut Himel and other Justice Department career attorneys defending the suit, agreeing to a $139 million settlement in December of 2002, with most of the money coming from U.S. taxpayers, not Westlands. Raley, of course, gained fame in 2002 for allotting water from Oregon's Klamath River to irrigators rather than to endangered fish, leading to a massive salmon die-off. News reports later indicated Vice President Dick Cheney masterminded the Klamath decision. It is unknown if Cheney or former White House advisor mastermind Karl Rove were consulted or involved in the decision to concede victory to the Westlands growers without a court fight.
In an October, 24, 2002 pre-trial order for partial summary judgment in the growers’ suit, U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger noted that there was no dispute the growers continued to irrigate their lands knowing “that their lands would be damaged without drainage.”
Wanger added, “There are multiple issues to address at trial, however, regarding the operative ‘cause’ of damage to plaintiffs’ land, whether that damage constitutes a public or private nuisance, whether federal defendants and Westlands are concurrent tortfeasors, apportionment of any comparative fault of plaintiffs, and whether plaintiffs[] consented to or assumed the risk of a nuisance or trespass by demanding water deliveries to their farmlands, despite the knowledge that no drainage facility existed.” (Emphasis added.) In other words, a jury or a judge may have found the growers knowingly ruined their own lands and might not have awarded them a cent in damages. But Raley, as already noted, pre-empted any jury determination of those issues and, contrary to the Justice Department attorneys’ written arguments, settled.
Under the settlement, the federal government was to pay $107 million to have the farmers' lawsuit dismissed. Westlands had to spend $32 million to settle its part of the case,
buying 34,000 acres of the plaintiff’s ruined land and retiring it.
"We weren't batting a thousand with this court," Raley claimed in a 2002 interview with the Sacramento Bee. "They were claiming that we had damaged them, damages in excess of $400 million." Raley did not mention Westlands officials had signed the April 1985 agreement assuming liability for all such lawsuits or that his own government attorneys thought they had a good case and could win in court.
Rep. George Miller and environmental activists howled at the settlement, which they warned would be used as a precedent for the still unsolved drainage problem facing the Western San Joaquin Valley. Having given away $107 million in taxpayer money, Raley returned to private practice representing water districts in December of 2004.
Following the 2002 settlement (in which the federal government admitted no wrongdoing), Westlands worked on getting a new long-term water delivery contract and pressuring Reclamation to come up with a drainage solution because a district court, and then the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, had ruled Reclamation had a legal obligation to try and complete a drainage system for Westlands.
Westlands growers had a powerful ally in Jason Peltier, a native Californian and deputy secretary at Interior who was the Administration’s point man on western water issues and was a former lobbyist for Westlands and other California federal irrigation districts. Peltier claimed in news interviews he had nothing to do with matters involving Westlands. However, Westlands recently hired Peltier at an undisclosed salary. A former regional Reclamation official, Susan Ramos, has also been hired by Westlands.
Which brings us to the present. Westlands general manager and general counsel Tom Birmingham is now pushing a “global” settlement to the outstanding drainage lawsuits (filed by water districts downslope from Westlands) and Westlands’ desire for a long-term secure water supply. In recent closed door meetings with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Valley congressmen Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa (who represents the Westlands area), Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Hamilton Candee and a few others, the various stakeholders have tried to work out a deal. The news media is not permitted to cover these talks while decisions are made involving billions of taxpayer dollars.
Ed Imhoff, a retired federal scientist who headed a post-Kesterson $50 million, five-year study of the drainage problem from 1985-1990, was also kept out of the talks. Feinstein reportedly insisted “too many” people were in on the talks. Imhoff has been critical of the proposed drainage solutions of both Reclamation and Westlands. His 1990 study, dubbed the “Rainbow Report” noted land retirement was the cheapest option.
In the Central Valley Project, water supplies have always been distributed on a first in time, first in right priority system in which the oldest CVP irrigation districts get the water they need before irrigation districts down the totem pole get their water. Westlands, as the last CVP area to come on line, is at the bottom of the totem pole. This has often meant drastically reduced supplies for Westlands. For example, during the 1987-1992 drought, Westlands, in 1990 and 1991, only got 25 percent of its annual contract amount of 1.15 million acre-feet (an acre-foot is 325,851 gallons). Westlands has tried repeatedly in court to get on the same footing as more senior water contractors but to no avail. The drainage crisis, widely misunderstood and mishandled by both Reclamation and Westlands, has provided the growers an opening.
A few months ago, Westlands announced it could solve the drainage dilemma for less than half of the $2.6 billion Reclamation officials say it will cost to provide reverse osmosis, bio-remediation, recycling, and land retirement. Birmingham said that in exchange for letting the Bureau off the hook on drainage, Westlands wanted the Bureau’s extraordinarily valuable state water permit and operational control of the huge San Luis Reservoir near Los Banos. As anticipated, the audacious claim provoked a hostile response from Rep. Miller, Northern California interests and environmental groups statewide.
Birmingham then abandoned that strategy amid a torrent of negative publicity and, in the first week of August, just prior to another closed door meeting with Feinstein he came up with a revised, but still sketchy, proposal. Birmingham suggested that if the federal government would forgive a $489 million debt the Westlands owes for capital construction costs, and would exempt Westlands and other San Luis Unit water districts from acreage limitations and pricing provisions of federal law, Westlands would take over responsibility for the drainage mess.
In addition, Westlands wants a 60-year water delivery contract with rights of renewal (federal law now prohibits federal water contracts in excess of 25 years) and wants the Bureau to authorize transfer of title to various pumping plants, internal distribution systems, and the Coalinga Canal.
Apparently unmentioned in the Feinstein talks is that Westlands signed a “waiver/indemnity agreement” with Interior back on April 3, 1985, after the Kesterson closure or that the federal government admitted no liability in the 2002 settlement. The claim that the United States is somehow responsible for any damage to the former desert lands and thus should make major concessions on water delivery or drainage issues is simply unproven in a court of law.
Feinstein also seems unclear on the concept that even though the Bureau estimates it may take up to $2.6 billion to produce a drainage program, Westlands is ultimately required under the 1960 legislation to pay for it, albeit over 40 or 50 years and interest free. Neither the district court nor the Ninth Circuit has ever held that Congress must appropriate money to build a drainage system or that Westlands would not have to ultimately pay for it.
Moreover, few people in Washington seem to be questioning why Westlands should get off the hook for the $489 million still owed on the delivery system. If a man builds you a house and a plumbing system and fouls up the pipes underneath the bathroom, you don’t get the house for free. You just get your plumbing fixed.
Following a meeting in her office on Aug.1, Senator Feinstein said of a potential agreement “the devil is in the details.” Environmentalists fear she isn’t really paying attention to the details or looking out for the interests of American taxpayers and especially Californians, who are cutting back usage in urban areas while Westlands’ 500-600 growers could get enough water annually to meet the needs of a city of eight million people, or two cities the size of Los Angeles.
Consider this: If Westlands gets 800,000 acre-feet of water a year, which is what it would like, that translates to 260.68 billion gallons of water a year and 15 trillion, 640 billion gallons over the life of the proposed 60-year contract.
If you calculate the urban retail value of 800,000 acre-feet of water at a conservative $500 an acre-foot (Rep. Grace Napolitano of Los Angeles, new chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Water and Power Resources, says its $600 an acre-foot in Southern California) you come up with $400 million a year. Assuming the Westlands pays a generous $100 an acre-foot (they will argue for, and probably get, a cheaper price) that means they will pay $80 million for $400 million worth of water in a given year. Over 60 years, $400 million times 60 turns out to be $24 billion worth of water for a few hundred growers(Westlands claims 600 growers but has never produced a list and critics say it could be as few as 400). And many of those “growers are connected by blood or marriage, or simply entities operating under different corporate names but controlled by the same people. Of course, in my example, they would pay for 20 percent of that water ($100 an acre-foot) which means the retail value of that water delivered over the life of the contract, less what they paid for it, would be $19.2 billion.
Actually, the potential profits of water sale could be much higher. First of all, you can bet that the current urban price of water will be far higher in 60 years, when the western San Joaquin Valley may look like the San Fernando Valley. Water then may be worth $2,000 an acre-foot or even more if climate change produces extended drought.
Although Westlands’ Birmingham contends any guaranteed supply of water is strictly for farming in the district, there is no question it is legally permissible, thanks to a 1992 change in Reclamation law, for Westlands to sell its water on the retail market to the highest bidder, i.e. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which has an insatiable thirst. Indeed, several San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts are already selling water to developers or urban interests and some individual Westlands growers have already offered to sell water to Metropolitan. They understand very well that water is the new cash crop.
Westlands’ so-called solution to the drainage problem is (1) conservation, (2) recycling and the most controversial and unproven, (3) use of sprinklers to disperse the tainted drainage water into the air, with the water evaporating and the salts and selenium falling back onto a gravel bed. The technology has never been tried large scale other than on one California Department of Water Resources test plot that was less than the size of a city lot.
Westlands officials have not explained where the millions of tons of salts that would accumulate over the decades would be hauled for disposal. Or what would happen if their scheme did not work. Environmentalists worry the drift of the salty spray from the sprinklers, especially in windy conditions, could damage surrounding fields or further taint groundwater. And sprinklers, or puddling of water would surely draw wildlife to the tainted water. The spray drift zone downwind would be more than two football fields long. If trees were planted for a drift barrier that would created a selenium-charged terrestrial environment. Huge amounts of land for a safety zone around the sprinklers would be required for the amount of drainage Westlands generates. The district hasn’t said how much land.
So if Westlands’ drainage scheme doesn’t work the growers will simply idle the bad lands and keep the very valuable water which they can resell to the highest bidder under the 1992 law. How fortunate.
At Feinstein’s Aug. 1 meeting with Birmingham and others, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientist Joseph Skorupa was not in attendance although Senator Feinstein reportedly asked for him to be there. Skorupa is probably the premier expert in the United States on the impacts of farm drainage water on wildlife, especially birds, and has been studying San Joaquin Valley drainage since the 1980s. Fish and Wildlife managers, under pressure from Bureau officials, told Sen. Feinstein that Skorupa was unable to attend the Aug. 1 Washington meeting. According to sources at Interior, however, this was an outright lie and Skorupa was both willing, and able, to attend the Feinstein meeting.
Ironically, the same day Skorupa was told he could not attend the Feinstein meeting, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dale Hall was testifying before the House Natural Resources Committee Hearing regarding Interior’s questionable scientific and policy decisions under the Endangered Species Act and claimed that “Science is the cornerstone of the Service’s work; it is what guides the agency’s decisions.” Unless, of course, Westlands is involved.
Westlands growers have making campaign contributions to Feinstein for years, including nearly $5,000 personally from Birmingham. No one has calculated how much. But they have a lot to gain if Feinstein buys off on their proposal and sponsors legislation.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website, in a recent year the largest 10 percent of the farms in the Central Valley Project - which stretches from Redding to Bakersfield - got 67 percent of the water, and of course, Westlands has the biggest CVP farms of all and uses the most water of any district. Twenty-seven large CVP farms, most in the Westlands, received water subsidies averaging in excess of $1 million annually (i.e. the cost of replacement water). One Westlands farm, Woolf Enterprises, received more water by itself than 70 water districts in the Central Valley Project, for a subsidy worth up to $4.2 million annually at urban prices for water. EWG has also documented that CVP farmers get power subsidies to pump that Delta water uphill into the San Joaquin Valley at rates that are about 1/15th what the average citizen pays for the monthly electricity bill. CVP growers’ water rates are about two percent of Los Angeles residents’ rates.
Fortunately, any deal the Westlands/Bush Administration cabal makes with Feinstein must run the gauntlet of a Democratic Congress, which may not be as solicitous of the Westlands as Feinstein is. Rep. Miller and Rep. Napolitano promise to closely monitor any sweetheart water giveaway. California environmental groups, fishing groups and Northern California Native Americans are also mobilizing to fight the latest Westlands scheme.
One question for Congress to ask is how many billions do American taxpayers owe the few hundred Westlands growers? Kesterson whistleblower Felix Smith, a retired Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who first leaked to the news media the selenium-caused bird deformities, has been writing about the Kesterson debacle for 25 years. He estimates the overall subsidy to the Westlands (cheap water, cheap power, interest free construction costs), per acre, is now well over $6,600 per acre, or $3 billion for the whole district. The per acre subsidy is far more than the land is worth.
More worrisome is that if Westlands is guaranteed an enormous amount of water, it will increase the stress on a Delta that is already on the verge of ecological collapse due to overpumping by the State Water Project as well as the federal pumps.
However, Westlands’ “farm boys” are hoping that public apathy and congressional confusion or ignorance will result in one more very big payday. Over 15.6 trillion gallons of water in the middle of a desert. Think of the riches. Their desert may be uninhabitable but it does rain money.

If you want to protect your tax dollars and slow down the Westlands express you can go to, and sign the petition at, The Planning and Conservation League is also adding information on the Westlands proposal to its website. It is your tax money and your public water supply that is being given away. The devil is indeed in the details. Stay informed.

Lloyd Carter has been writing about Westlands water issues for more than 30 years and served as a reporter for United Press International from 1969 to 1984 and again from 1987 to 1990. He spent three years as a reporter at the Fresno Bee from 1984 to 1987. He won the San Francisco Press Club’s Best Environmental Coverage award in 1985 for his stories on the bird deformities at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge caused by selenium-tainted drainage water from Westlands. He is now an attorney in Fresno, CA.

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Conservation groups' letter to the Governor in defense of CEQA

Submitted: Jul 25, 2007

For Immediate Release, July 24, 2007

Brian Nowicki
Center for Biological Diversity, 520-449-3898

For Immediate Release, July 24, 2007

Conservation Groups Call on Governor Schwarzenegger to Stand Up for Global Warming Law:
Senate Republicans Hold State Budget Hostage to Favors for Development and Fossil-Fuels Lobby

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— Conservation groups called on Governor Schwarzenegger today to publicly oppose efforts by the Republican minority in the California State Senate to exempt greenhouse gas emissions from environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

“California’s budget bill is currently being held hostage by a small minority of senators trying to force the majority into accepting a measure to exempt new projects from CEQA’s requirement to analyze and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We ask that you speak out publicly against this and any future attempts to roll back California’s efforts to fight global warming,” read the letter.

The California Environmental Quality Act, a bedrock state environmental law, requires all state and local agencies to assess and reduce significant environmental impacts from new developments and other projects. The California Attorney General and many conservation organizations have sought to hold agencies and project applicants accountable for compliance with respect to greenhouse gas emissions.

On June 21, 2007, the California Building Industry Association, Western States Petroleum Association, and other fossil-fuel interest groups sent a letter to the governor and the state legislature seeking an “administrative or legislative remedy” to exempt the greenhouse gas emissions of developments and other projects from review under the Act.

On Friday, July 20, after the state assembly passed a budget bill and sent it to the Senate, Senate Republican leader Dick Ackerman halted passage of the bill and set out a number of demands, including a provision to exempt developments and other projects from review of greenhouse gases. Such a measure is completely inappropriate for the budget bill and being introduced in an insidious, back-door fashion to forestall public outcry and legislative debate.

After an all-night session through Saturday morning, Senate President Pro-Tem Don Perata adjourned the Senate until Wednesday, with instructions to Senate Republicans to provide a unified list of demands for the passage of the budget. It is uncertain whether the California Environmental Quality Act exemption for greenhouse gases will be part of this list of demands.

California is a national leader in efforts to fight global warming, and the California Environmental Quality Act is prominent among the laws and policies that are addressing greenhouse gas pollution. Other critically important laws and policies include the California Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires California to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and Executive Order S-3-05, which sets a goal of reaching emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

The groups’ letter to the governor is attached.

July 24, 2007
Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger
State of California
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger,

We ask that you issue a public statement of opposition to the current minority attempt in the California state Senate to eliminate the California Environmental Quality Act process to analyze and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The State of California has long been a champion of environmental protection and is the undisputed leader in climate change policy nationally. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), our state’s flagship environmental law, is a key component of the suite of laws and policies already on the books to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our state. CEQA provides an established system with a proven track record of assessing and reducing the significant adverse environmental impacts of new projects. Greenhouse gas emissions are among the most important of such impacts that CEQA addresses.

California’s budget bill is currently being held hostage by a small minority of Senators trying to force the majority into accepting a measure to exempt new projects from CEQA’s requirement to analyze and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We ask that you speak out publicly against this outrageous demand and any other attempt to roll back California’s efforts to fight global warming.

CEQA requires all state and local agencies to assess and reduce, to the extent feasible, all significant environmental impacts from new project approvals. The CEQAenvironmental review process is fully established throughout the state, with a proventrack record of ameliorating impacts relating to air pollution, water quality andavailability, land use, endangered species, and many other aspects of California’s
environment. This process represents a wonderful opportunity, and also a legal mandate, for cities, counties, and other agencies to consider the greenhouse gas emissions from new projects they approve and then to adopt the many measures readily available to reduce those emissions. While the passage of the California Global Warming Solutions Act certainly heightens the urgency of ensuring CEQA compliance, state and local
agencies’ legal obligations under CEQA with regard to greenhouse gas emissions predate and are separate from and complementary to the new mandates.

The California Attorney General, many of our organizations, and others have sought to hold agencies and project proponents accountable for compliance with this bedrock environmental law with respect to greenhouse gas emissions. Faced with the irrefutable argument that agencies must assess and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the extent feasible in the CEQA process, a number of special interests are now seeking to eliminate CEQA’s requirements with regard to greenhouse gas emissions.

The June 21, 2007 letter you received from the California Building Industry Association, Western States Petroleum Association, and other industry groups completely misrepresented efforts to enforce CEQA as efforts “to implement AB 32 (The Global Warming Solutions Act) and Gubernatorial Executive Order S-3-05,” and sought an “administrative or legislative remedy” to exempt greenhouse gas emissions from CEQA.

To suggest that efforts to implement and enforce an existing law such as CEQA, constitute premature enforcement of the Global Warming Solutions Act is disingenuous. While the Global Warming Solutions Act is a critical component of the state’s efforts to address greenhouse gas pollution, the statute states repeatedly that it does not excuse compliance with any existing law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or protect the
environment. See, e.g., Cal. Health and Safety Code §§ 38592(b), 38598.

Scientists tell us that greenhouse gas pollution must be slashed eighty percent or more by mid-century to avoid disastrous climate change. Your Executive Order to reduce California emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 is consistent with this mandate. But actually reaching the targets identified by scientists, your Executive Order and the California Global Warming Solutions Act will be challenging. To succeed we
must get started immediately and pursue all possible avenues. To this end, California is fortunate to have CEQA, which provides one of the most promising and important means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from new development and other projects. With California’s population projected to approximately double by mid century, we must improve the way we grow in order to actually achieve the pollution reductions we need to preserve the environment and our quality of life.

During the budget bill crisis of the past few days, special interests opposed to regulation of greenhouse gases attempted to insert a provision into the budget bill to exempt greenhouse gas emissions from new development and other projects from CEQA review. It is possible that this item will be presented once again when the Senate reconvenes this Wednesday.

We ask that you publicly oppose this bald attempt to roll back California’s efforts to fight global warming. As governor, you have demonstrated leadership in fighting global warming, including the issuance of Executive Order S-3-05. We ask that you continue that commitment now by releasing a public statement of opposition to this and any legislative efforts to undermine efforts like Executive Order S-03-05, the California Global Warming Solutions Act, and CEQA, to induce real actions and changes in the fight against global warming. A statement from you would help clarify that attacks against these efforts are working against the interests of the state of California, and against the commitment the state has made to fighting global warming.

Considering the growing impacts and risks of global warming to the environment, the economy, and public health, the benefits existing law can provide to California and the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from new projects are tremendous. Full CEQA enforcement with respect to greenhouse gas emissions deserves your full support and enthusiastic endorsement.

We thank you for your leadership in addressing the climate crisis, and look forward to working with you and your staff on this critically important issue.


Adrienne Bloch
Senior Attorney
Communities for a Better Environment

Michael E. Boyd
Californians for Renewable Energy, Inc. (CARE)

Ingrid Brostrom
Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment

Stuart Cohen
Executive Director
Transportation and Land Use Coalition (TALC)

Kim Delfino
California Program Director
Defenders of Wildlife

Drew Feldman
San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society

Susan Frank
President & CEO
Steven and Michele Kirsch Foundation

Garry George
Executive Director
Los Angeles Audubon

David Gordon
Executive Director
Pacific Environment

Ralph Salisbury, Chair
Sierra Club, San Gorgonio Chapter

Bill Hatch
San Joaquin Valley Conservancy

Tam Hunt
Energy Program Director / Attorney
Community Environmental Council

Dan Jacobson
Legislative Director
Environment California

Linda Krop
Chief Counsel
Environmental Defense Center

Paul Mason
Sierra Club California

Lydia Miller, President
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center

Brian Nowicki
Center for Biological Diversity

Gary A. Patton
Executive Director
Planning and Conservation League

Michelle Passero
Director of Policy Initiatives
The Pacific Forest Trust

Nancy Rader
Executive Director
California Wind Energy Association

Robert Ryland
Central Valley Safe Environment Network

Scott Smithline
Director of Legal and Regulatory Affairs
Californians Against Waste

Ms. Gabriel Solmer, Esq.
Legal Director
San Diego Coastkeeper

V. John White
Clean Power Campaign

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Extinction no solution to water pollution -- Felix Smith

Submitted: Jul 04, 2007

When one looks seriously at the probable extinction of the Delta Smelt, the only thread in the history is the one most denied in the San Joaquin Valley: the systematic, long-range, politically rigged destruction of Public Trust law and natural resources by agribusiness lords and by the aggressions of water agencies led by Wetlands Water District. The entire violation of public trust exploded in Merced County in 1983 at Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge, where it was discovered that agricultural drainage piped from the south San Joaquin Valley with its highly concentrated amounts of Selenium, sickened, deformed and killed living beings -- people, livestock, and aquatic and avian species. Through more than 20 years of government propaganda denying it, coverups, harassment of government staff, ranchers, farmers, environmentalists and journalists that have told and continue to tell the truth, the destruction has continued to unfold.

Badlands is honored to publish these remarks sent to us by former US Fish & Wildlife Service biologist, Felix Smith, before a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on July 2 in Vallejo on the Delta. Smith has never stopped doing his duty as a federal wildlife biologist by speaking the uncomfortable, officially denied truth, since at Kesterson he held the first deformed bird in his hands. The best account in book form of what Smith and others went through to reveal this painful truth, describe its origins and predict its consequences, is available in Tom Harris' Death in the Marsh. Other books include Reisner's Cadillac Desert and The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire, by Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman. The best reporter and commentator on the subject is Lloyd Carter.

The worst newspaper coverage of the Kesterson disaster was by the Merced Sun-Star, on top of the story but, judging by its archives from the time, running away from it as fast as it could.

Badlands editorial staff

House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power,

Hearing on

“Extinction is Not Sustainable Water Policy: the Bay-Delta Crisis


Implications for California Water Management”,

July 2, 2007 at Vallejo, California.

To Chairwoman-Representative Napolitano and other members of this subcommittee.

My name is Felix E. Smith. I appreciate the opportunity to provide these comments. Please include these comments into the record of this hearing.

I held the first deformed migratory bird, an American coot hatchling, found at Kesterson NWR in 1983. At that time I was a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist recently assigned to look into the emerging issues involving agricultural drainage and wastewater. That experience impacted my life. Some of my concerns regarding Selenium contamination of the lands and waters and associated resources, uses and values are described in my article, “The Kesterson Effect: Reasonable Use of Water and the Public Trust”, published in the San Joaquin Agricultural Law Review, Volume 6, Number 1 - 1996. I submit this article for the hearing record by this reference.

Water is the environment in which fish and other aquatic resources must carry on all their life processes. Such resources, associated uses and values are inextricably tied to the physical, chemical and biological aspects of that aquatic environment. Healthy and diverse aquatic populations are indicative of good water quality conditions (flow, temperature, oxygen and chemical parameters). Good water quality allows for near optimum use of water as an M & I supply, an irrigation supply and as an environment for fish and other aquatic life. For healthy and sustainable fish populations to exist (also wildlife populations), the total aquatic environment (the water, the bed, the riparian vegetation and associated insect life, the food web) all interact and therefore must be suitable for aquatic life at the individual, population and community levels.

The Federal Clean Water Act, as amended, and the Public Trust embrace affirmatively and positively that the people are to be protected against all unwise and unreasonable uses of Federal and State waters. Uses of water can be considered unreasonable because they pollute; because they offend our sense of aesthetics or natural beauty; because they interfere with the right of the public to enjoy a natural resource of state or national significance; because they threaten in a harmful way to upset the ecological balance of nature, or because to allow this unreasonable use confers a valuable privilege which is inconsistent with protecting the public trust.

Agencies like the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California’s EPA were established to protect the public interest and quality of the Nation’s lands and waters. Such agencies are not to squander clean air, allow the pollution of our rivers, streams and groundwater, allow the pollution or other degradation of our land leaving a degraded legacy for our grandchildren or allow the pollution of the body’s of our children, our fish and wildlife resources or our food supply. These same agencies should not look like shills for corporate farms or massive water districts (Boswells Farms, Westland Water District).

Any effort at maintaining sustainable water quality, agriculture and wetland ecosystems (fish and wildlife resources) must involve an understanding of the interaction between the soil and the flow of water over, through, and under the soil well beyond the point of application. Preserving soil fertility is critical to sustaining its productivity. Preserving and maintaining water quality is critical to the productivity of water as an ecosystem and as a commodity for domestic and industrial uses. Unlike soil, which can be built up over time, water can’t be built or enhanced. A river can be lost to a farmer; to a species of fish or to fish resources; lost as a place to recreate or as a water supply. It can be diverted, polluted, misused or over appropriated. Aldo Leopold’s Round River makes the principles of ecology clear and vivid, suggesting that nature is a “Round River”, like a stream flowing into itself, going round and round in an unceasing circuit, going through all the soils, the flora and fauna of the earth while supporting many resources, beneficial uses and values. Destroying one part can destroy it all and all its benefits to society.

A use of the lands and waters of a watershed that so degrades the sustainability of a downstream ecosystem or a component of that ecosystem to make it unsuitable for sustaining viable agriculture, wildlife, fish and other aquatic life, or which makes fish unsuitable for human consumption, or which is a hazard to other fish and wildlife, or which degrades ecological, aesthetic, recreational uses, small craft navigation, and scenic values, is inconsistent with public trust protection, the reasonable use of water is therefore a nuisance. When chemicals enter the bodies of children, or enter the domestic or wildlife food supply to toxic levels without our consent, it is a trespass.

Here is an example brought to you in part by the Federal Bureau of Reclamation and the Central Valley Project.

It was known for a long time that the soils of the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley were derived from parent material formed in an old seabed. The California Department of Water Resources Bulletin No. 89, Lower San Joaquin Valley Water Quality Investigation – 1960, discusses concerns about the chemicals and various salts in the soils and drainage from the area. The soils and parent material extend throughout the Westside, south to the end of the Valley. The sodium ion was a major concern along with a variety of sulfates, boron and numerous trace elements. Even at that time drainage was believed to be a serious and emerging problem. Drainage from the Panoche area was highly concentrated from a quality standpoint and “unusable for beneficial purposes” (see pg. 95 of DWR –Bull. No 89). At that time the San Joaquin River was already seriously polluted from agricultural drainage and wastewater.

The observation “that the drainage was highly concentrated from a quality standpoint and unusable for beneficial purposes”, sparked little attention. With the application of vast quantities of Bureau of Reclamation water to the highly saline / seleniferious soils, the need for drainage works quickly become apparent. Surface waters and the San Joaquin River showed additional evidence of pollution.

By 1982 some people, including a few Grassland duck club owners, believed that something was wrong in the northern Grasslands. They had noticed sick and dead birds in 1981 and 82. In 1983 the first deformed young of migratory birds were found on Kesterson NWR by researchers from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Kesterson Reservoir (NWR) was the then terminus of the San Luis Drain. People were disturbed by the pictures of dead and grossly deformed waterfowl and shorebirds obtained from Kesterson Evaporation Ponds that were appearing on the nightly television news at dinnertime. Selenium (Se) in the agricultural drainage accumulated via the food chain to high levels in their tissues resulted in dead adults, dead and deformed young. Several species of fish had elevated Se levels in their tissues.

In September 1984, California’s State Board, in its Agricultural Water Management Guidelines for Water Purveyors, stated, “Failure to take appropriate measures to minimize excess application, excess incidental losses, or degradation of water quality constitutes unreasonable use of water” (Emphasis added).

The State Board followed with its Order WQ 85-1(February 1985). The State Board found that agricultural drainage and wastewater reaching Kesterson Reservoir “is creating and threatening to create conditions of pollution and nuisance” (Emphases added). The Order then warned “If the Bureau closes Kesterson Reservoir and continues to supply irrigation water to Westlands Water District without implementing an adequate disposal option, continued irrigation in the affected area of Westlands Water District could constitute an unreasonable use of water” (Emphasis added).

From 1986 to today (2007), Selenium contamination is sufficient to cause deformities and threaten reproduction of key species within the area of the greater Grasslands, in the San Joaquin River to the Bay-Delta estuary. Deformed migratory birds have been found in every year field investigations were conducted for such evidence. Selenium concentration was also high in eggs that were sampled, which in turn could have lead to deformities. Fish resources continue to show high levels of Se because of a Se -contaminated food chain. Selenium has been found in what is usually called edible tissues and in reproductive organs of birds and fish.

Human health advisories have been issued against consuming Se contaminated edible tissues of fish (bluegill and largemouth bass) and of migratory birds (ducks and coots). Women of childbearing age and children are cautioned against eating such tissues. State Board reports indicate that in the Bay-Delta, surf scoter, greater and lesser scaup and particularly white sturgeon appear to be the most at risk to Se toxicity because they feed on filter feeders (i.e. bivalves). Concentrations Se found in 62 white sturgeon muscle samples and 42 liver samples far exceed tissue thresholds for reproductive effects. Recent findings add the Sacramento splittail to the list of species exhibiting elevated Se levels.

The USGS report (Report) ”Forecasting Selenium Discharges to the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary; Ecological Effects of a Proposed San Luis Drain Extension” by Drs. Samuel N. Luoma and Theresa S. Presser –2000), indicates that the reservoir of Se on the Westside of San Joaquin Valley is sufficient to provide loading at an annual rate of about 42,500 pounds of Se to the Bay-Delta disposal point for 63 to 304 years at the lower range of its projection. This is with the influx of Se from the Coast Range curtailed.

Selenium bioaccumulation is a major water quality problem. The combination of California’s climate, hydrology, Se loading, Se reactivity, and Se bioavailability poses a significant threat to the aquatic ecosystem of the Lower San Joaquin River and Bay-Delta. Selenium contamination is damaging beneficial uses, degrading food sources of humans and wildlife, aesthetic, recreation and ecological values. Risks to fish and bird reproduction could lead to extinction via contamination of the invertebrate food supply. Filter feeders are great concentrators of Se. Aquatic insects were the primary food item of shore birds. The Report concludes that bivalves appear to be the most sensitive indicator of Se contamination in the Bay-Delta. In the Bay-Delta and the lower San Joaquin River tidal action will increase the resident time of Se, exposing all aquatic organisms and increasing the ability of food organisms to accumulate greater amounts of Se and pass it up the food chain to predators.

Studies indicate that the highest concentrations of Se (12 to 23 ppb) were measured in green sunfish (lepomis cyanellus) from the San Luis Drain where seleniferous drainage is most concentrated. The second highest concentrations of Se (7.6 to 17 ppb) were measured in green sunfish (lepomis cyanellus) and 14 to 18 ppb Se in bluegills (Lepomis macrochirus) taken from North Mud Slough. The high levels (body burden) of Se could be related to the Se sequestered in the sediments and benthic organisms that is mobilized by the detritus–based food chain. (USGS, Biological Resources Division “Effects of an Agricultural Drainwater Bypass on Fishes Inhibiting the Grassland Water District and the Lower San Joaquin River, California” by Saiki, Michael J., Barbara A. Martin, Steven E. Schwarzbach, and Thomas W. May. In North American Journal of Fisheries Management, Vol. 21:624-635, 2001.

One can conclude that water borne Se is the single most predictor of pollution, that it can and continues to have an adverse affect on the aquatic ecosystem, associated fish and wildlife resources, uses and values (Saiki, et al-2001)

The bottom line is that saline / seleniferious soils of the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley contain a reservoir of Se, other trace elements and a variety of salts, that with irrigation, will continue to leach from the soils to the shallow groundwater for years and years to come. This Se leachate / drainage will continue to degrade down slope lands, surface and groundwater, fish and wildlife habitats and other beneficial uses of the receiving waters including the San Joaquin River and Delta.

Today we have the longest Selenium hazardous waste site know to man, extending from at least the Mendota pool and the Grasslands (near Los Banos), downstream via the San Joaquin River to the Delta, Suisun Bay and adjacent marshes. This involves 130 miles of San Joaquin River, miles of waterways in the Delta and 1,000s upon 1,000s of acres of San Joaquin Valley lands and aquatic ecosystems.

With the above information one could allege that the continued irrigation of saline / seleniferious soils of the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley and Se contaminated discharges to the San Joaquin River constitute a waste and unreasonable use of the State’s water, and a nuisance.

This Committee or a court should review the drainage issue and associated impacts to determine if such a use of water is both beneficial and reasonable within the context of continuing shortage of water, the broadened meaning of beneficial use of Section 8 of the Reclamation Act of 1902 and the contemporary equal priority setting of CVPIA, Section 3406 (a) (3) and the Clean Water Act, as amended.

To me this irrigation use of water, associated drainage, Selenium and other impacts is just as inconsistent with reasonable use and public trust protection as is the filling of tidelands (Mark v. Whitney 6 Cal, 3d 251 -1971); as is allowing mining waste and debris that impacted water quality and impede navigation (Woodruff v North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Co. (Fed Rpt. Vol. 12 – 1884) and People v Gold Run Ditch and Mining Co. (4 Pac Rpt at 1152 – 1884); as is a ranch or farm which allows animal wastes and other filth to contaminate the waters of a stream which impacts the water supply and beneficial uses of downstream users (People ex rel Ricks Water Co. v Elk River Mill and Lumber Co. (40 Pac Rpt 486 –1895); as is the deposition of mill wastes and other debris which destroys aquatic life and a fishery ( People v Truckee Lumber Co.(16 Cal 397, 48 Pac 347 - 1897) , and as is the diversion of water which destroys numerous uses and values protected by the public trust reaffirmed or clarified in Audubon (National Audubon Society v Department of Water and Power, City of Los Angeles (33 Cal 3d 419, 658 P 2d 709, 189 Cal Rpt.346; cert denied 464 U.S. 977 – 1983).

The point made by the Elk River Court that if the conformation of the defendant’s land is such that he cannot carry on a dairy without putting such filth directly into the water, then he must find some other use for the land (emphases added). This rational thinking of over 110 years ago is particularly relevant to today’s Se, salt, drainage and wastewater issues associated with the irrigation of selected lands in the San Joaquin Valley. Following the thinking of the Elk River Court, if the Westside farmers cannot carry on their operations without polluting the local ground and surface waters, then they must find some other use for the land. And there is no taking issue for a use that is deemed unreasonable and a nuisance (Audubon).

Some Suggested Actions

Control of agricultural pollution also might be achieved by instituting best management practices, land retirement, and by economic incentives (substantial fines, forfeiture of all or a portion of appropriated water rights or contract allotments). Land retirement is an important option. Removing Federal irrigation water from being use on the Se source lands. Taking the land out of production that is the source of the majority of the salt and selenium problems should have quick and positive results and many public benefits. This can be attained by direct purchase of land or the irrigation rights, leasing land, purchasing the irrigation water allotment to such lands while prohibiting the use of groundwater on those lands.

Retiring lands containing significant levels of selenium or other toxic materials would have just a one time cost. A long term lease might also work, for there would be little if any maintenance costs. Land not needed for conservation purposes such as restoring native grasslands and related fauna of the San Joaquin Valley, could be sold, with title restrictions, for selected compatible uses such as dry land farming, grazing, etc. Within the Westlands Water District problem soils have been estimated at 100,000 to 275,000 acres (USBR, April 1991).

At a cost of $1,000.00 per acre it would cost $100,000,000.00 to retire 100,000 acres or $275,000,000.00 for the 275,000 acres. Lands acquired should be purchased with today's realities in mind. This includes limited or poor ground water, extensive selenium and sodium sulfate problems. Any value added to the price of land should not be based on speculation, the availability of Federally subsidized water, or on the potential construction of a Federal drainage facilities. A reality is that problem soils without water are just about worthless.

For each acre of irrigated land retired, there would be commensurate saving of about 2.0 to 3.5 acre feet of water per acre (depending on crop) or about 200,000 to 350,000 acre feet for each 100,000 acres taken out of irrigation. This water is firm yield water imported from northern California. For each irrigated acre taken out of production there would be a reduction of 20 to 60 pound of pesticides (active ingredients) plus 80 to 250 pounds of carrier materials, (oils, etc.) not applied to the soils. There would be a reduction of the amount of drainage and wastewater generated of about .6 to .8 acre feet per acre of land retired or 60,000 to 80,000 acre-feet for each 100,000 acres retired. There would be a saving in electrical energy by not having to pump water from the Delta. There should be benefits to fish resources and associated fisheries as up to 600,000 to 900,000 acre-feet would not have to be pumped from the Delta.

The water savings could be used to restore or otherwise benefit fish resources and fisheries throughout the waters of the Bay-Delta watershed. Any remaining water could be sold for municipal uses.

Economic incentives may be effective because of the existence and potential threat of law suits using the public trust doctrine, waste and unreasonable use, and the State's enforcement powers. A finding of a waste and unreasonable use of water by a court or the State Board or a finding based on the public trust could bind all entities discharging selenium, boron and sodium sulfate laden drainage and wastewater in to state waters.

Based on the State Board's 1984 (Agricultural Water Management Guidelines for Water Purveyors) and 1985 State Board Order WQ 85-1 definition of what constitutes an unreasonable use of water, the effects from irrigating saline, seleniferious soils are such that this use must be considered a waste and unreasonable use of water and the resultant drainage and wastewater a nuisance. This violates Article X, Section 2, of the State Constitution. The premise of the Federal Clean Water Act, as amended, is violated. The impacts violate Section 8 of the 1902 Reclamation Act, which requires compliance with State laws. Section 8 also says; Provided, That the right to the use of water acquired under the provisions of this Act shall be appurtenant to the land irrigated, and beneficial use shall be the basis, the measure and the limit of the right.

Thank you.

Felix E. Smith

4720 Talus Way

Carmichael, CA 95608


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People with passion and people who babble about it

Submitted: Jul 03, 2007
Mr. Carter will give us the BIG picture on the Merced River - where it comes from and where it goes - as well as the importance of the river to our communities. Lloyd Carter is very knowledgeable about water issues and will also be speaking at the later in the day...Lloyd Carter continues his exploration of water and river issues in the San Joaquin Valley context. 1.5 hour talk at Heartland Festival/River Fair, Riverdance Farm, 2007.

At the public meeting of the East Merced Resources Conservation District on June 20, held at the Golden Bi-Product Tire Recycling Co. offices, Glenn Anderson, a district director, made an interesting comment about a speaker at the recent Heartland Festival/River Fair, held at the farm of another director, Merced County Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook. The EMRCD was the main sponsor of the River Fair.

Anderson described Lloyd Carter, the best natural resources journalist the San Joaquin Valley has ever had, as "not positive or forward-looking." Anderson, not really attending the speech but overhearing it while waiting for a ride to another part of the farm, said Carter sounded like he was on a "rant."

Lashbrook noted that Carter's talk was the best attended of the day, and that a little controversy is OK. The term she used was a "pepper of controversy." Perhaps a small slice of jalapeno in a salad of old green jeans in what she meant. One is never sure.

These are the sort of people who use the word "passion" like the T shirt they bought at their last workshop on "organics and global warming."

Lloyd Carter's passion for the truth about agribusiness, subsidized water, the death of the San Joaquin River, the wildlife tragedy of the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge and in Boswell's Tulare Lake, selenium and other heavy metals, crooked Valley politicians, state and federal water policy and US Fish and Wildlife Service whistleblowers was stronger than his desire for a steady job in the newspaper business. And so he does something else now for a living instead of the journalism at which he excelled magnificently, and we only get to read him rarely in opinion pieces and letters to the editor, mostly in the Fresno Bee.

Researching an article on another topic that Carter knows a lot about, we found this following piece written by him in 1999 for a national audience. Readers will learn and enjoy this fine writer on the beat he has paid dearly to cover because, unlike the T-shirt passion set, Lloyd Carter speaks the truth to the most powerful people in our Valley -- with real passion.

Badlands editorial staff

The destruction of the American West -- starring big agribusiness and the government that supports it
By L. G. Carter
Penthouse Magazine, January 1999
Reprinted without permission

Way out West the big farmers fly Lear jets, have private airstrips on gargantuan factory farms, control politicians in both major parties, and harvest barrelfuls of taxpayer subsidy money. They also dry up rivers, pollute aquifers, and conscript an army of Third World families to bring in the crops at below-povertyline wages. Grotesque deformities in ducks and geese, poisoned national wildlife refuges, massive fish kills, and pesticide-sprayed fields littered with thousands of dead birds are common, and unpunished, depredations in California's agricultural heartland, despite numerous state and federal wildlife-protection laws.

Meanwhile, the small farmers, whom Thomas Jefferson called the backbone of democracy, continue to disappear from the American landscape at a rate of more than 100,000 a year as a result of governmental and banking policies and the greed of food processors and exporters.

By 1989 only 1.9 percent of Americans lived on farms (compared to 90 percent in 1900), and the 1989 figure is misleading at that because the U.S. Department of Agriculture lists as a "farm" anyplace selling as little as $1,000 worth of agricultural products.

The capital of America's Agropolis is California's San Joaquin Valley, a cornucopia of more than 200 crops that generates $14 billion a year in gross farm income. And the uncrowned king of Agropolis is J. G. Boswell II, a reclusive, unassuming man who calls himself a simple cowboy. In fact he grows more cotton than any other individual in the world. No one knows how rich he is, but his power is vividly illustrated by some of his "accomplishments" during the past half century:

Along with a handful of other big growers, he got the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (funded, of course, by the American taxpayer) to build four "flood control" dams on rivers flowing out of the Sierra Nevada so Boswell et al. could safely farm the bottom of what was once the biggest body of water west of the Mississippi River, the legendary Tulare Lake. Boswell now controls rights to public water that could well be worth nearly $1 billion. His property in California alone is estimated at 250,000 acres.
When big-rainfall winters reflood the old Tulare Lake Basin, Boswell collects millions of dollars in federal subsidies for not growing crops on the bottom of a natural lake bed.
Boswell persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to let the richest grower with the most land in a California water district--namely, himself--control district water policy, creating what Justice William 0. Douglas called a "corporate kingdom undreamed of by those who wrote our Constitution."
Boswell got his lawyers to set up a trust for his employees in 1989 to evade federal acreage limitations for cheap federal irrigation supplies in the Westlands Water District, reaping an extra $2 million a year in water subsidies, according to a General Accounting Office study.
In 1982 Boswell was instrumental in blocking a "peripheral canal" to shunt fresh northern California water around the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region in order to retain possible future access to north-coast California rivers.
As the U.S. Justice Department looks the other way, his 3,000-acre Tulare Basin evaporation ponds for toxic farm drainage water are triggering deformities in migratory ducks and shore birds supposedly protected by federal law.
Boswell has so far not taken any responsibility for a massive fish and wildlife kill on a 25 mile stretch of canal in h is cotton kingdom that in the late summer of 1997 destroyed 100 million fish and thousands of birds.
This sad spectacle is what is known as agribusiness.

Boswell has plenty of company in irrigation country out West, where growers have industrialized the fields and gained control of entire rivers. These corporate farmers usually don't live down on the farm. In California they often live in mansions in the city. One zip code in an exclusive neighborhood in Fresno--the nation's farm capital--receives more farm-subsidy checks than anywhere else. Fresno was the top farm-subsidy city in America between 1985 and 1995, with area residents receiving 22,419 checks totaling $103.4 million in taxpayer farm subsidies.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, just six percent of our farms--the so-called megafarms--produce 59 percent of the crops in America. Eighty percent of the beef slaughter in America is controlled by just four meatpacking conglomerates, which more than doubled their market share in the past 18 years.

Boswell's domain is the Tulare Lake Basin, comprising parts of Kern, Kings, and Tulare counties in central California. His water rights are a real gusher, all granted from the public: They are equivalent to the needs of a city of three million people and are worth nearly $1 billion, more than twice the value of the land, according to a 1989 article in Forbes magazine, thus placing Boswell in the billionaire club. He also has extensive cotton lands in Arizona, pioneered the cotton industry in Australia, and has long been involved in urban development and real estate in Southern California and Arizona.

Boswell, who helped launch the political careers of three governors--Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, Ronald Reagan, and Pete Wilson--is legendary for his behind-the-scenes ability to avoid legal problems or get water laws either interpreted liberally or simply rewritten.

In 1969, when heavy rains hit California and the old Tulare Lake bed began to fill up, Boswell, as the largest landowner in the Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District, shunted floodwater away from a planned district overflow area because he wanted to plant that area to cotton. Instead the water flowed into the lake, flooding his land and that of other nearby landowners, including the Salyer brothers, the second-largest growers in the lake basin. The Salyer Corporation sued the Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District over an existing California water-code section that allowed one vote for every acre--in other words, giving the largest landowner the most votes and control of district policy and elections. Boswell simply used his acreage-based votes to direct the water-district board to flood out his neighbors' fields and keep the planned floodwater storage basin dry.

The Salyer suit finally worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 1973 a young Nixon High Court appointee named William Rehnquist, fresh from a law firm in Phoenix, wrote the majority decision, which in effect ruled for the Boswell corporation, arguing that even though water districts were political subdivisions of the state of California, the one-man, one-vote rule should not apply because the largest landholders had the most at stake during flood situations. Constitutional-law textbooks now refer to this decision as an "anomaly" in the American franchise system based upon the hallowed democratic tradition that corporations do not get to vote--and one person, no matter how rich, gets only one vote.

Justice Douglas castigated the Rehnquist ruling in a strongly worded dissent: "It is indeed grotesque to think of corporations voting within the framework of political representation of people," he wrote. "One corporation can outvote 77 individuals in this district."

Boswell, who has escaped major media attention for decades despite his enormous wealth and influence in agriculture, is famous for reaping government windfalls while decrying government support programs. When the rivers of the Southern Sierra flooded the Tulare Lake Basin, as they had done from time immemorial, Boswell collected more than $10 million in federal flood-relief money because his canals and water-delivery systems and cotton fields--located on the lake bed--had been flooded out or damaged. In addition, according to the Washington Post, Boswell got $3.7 million worth of grain from the controversial payment-in-kind program "for idling land that was under floodwater and could not have been planted."

In 1982 Congress, prodded by Western-state lawmakers, "reformed" the 1902 Reclamation Law, which President Theodore Roosevelt had pushed through Congress to put "family farmers" onto the Western deserts. The 1982 bill (1) eliminated the residency requirement, which had never been enforced (so the big growers can continue living in their mansions in town) and (2) raised the acreage limitation for receiving cheap federally subsidized water from 160 acres (which was routinely circumvented) to 960 acres. Even 960 acres wasn't enough for Big Ag. The loopholes in the 1982 "reform" law were large enough to drive John Deere tractors through, and Boswell and the other big Western growers promptly found ways to evade the 960-acre limitation, primarily through leasing arrangements and complex trusts.

In 1989 the U.S. General Accounting Office said Boswell had set up a trust for 326 salaried employees to evade the 960-acre cheap-water cap on his 23,238 acres in the Westlands. Those acres continued to be farmed as one unit by Boswell, who has managed to reap $2 million a year in water subsidies alone from the trust arrangement.

Boswell doesn't have to worry about wildlife laws either. Routine botulism outbreaks in the Tulare Basin, which can kill tens of thousands of migratory birds at a time, are usually attributable to agricultural and irrigation activities, yet enforcement actions are rarely undertaken by the California Department of Fish and Game or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In September 1997 an estimated 100 million fish and 2,300 federally protected birds died in an unexplained disaster along a 25-mile canal on the Boswell holdings. Local game wardens said they could not remember a bigger wildlife die-off in the valley. Crime investigators from the federal and state wildlife agencies were quoted in local newspapers as saying they would uncover the source of the deaths (one potential cause was pesticides) and prosecute those responsible. Nearly a year later no action had been taken.

Boswell has now retired to Ketchum, Idaho, and his son James runs the cotton empire from his home in suburban Los Angeles, although it is believed the elder Boswell still holds the reins.

While Boswell has escaped media scrutiny, he and his cohorts face an ominous threat, which, fittingly enough, they brought upon themselves. Irrigated agriculture on millions of acres of unsuitable soils in the American West is destroying aquifers, salting up land, and poisoning wildlife that once filled the rivers and wetlands west of the Mississippi.

A trace element called selenium, leached from the soil by flood irrigation and dissolved in drainage water flowing from the big irrigation projects, is moving into downstream food chains and causing deformities in migratory birds at--of all places--national wildlife refuges throughout the West. And selenium isn't the only problem. Depending on the soils being drained, the drainwater can also contain dangerous levels of dissolved boron, molybdenum, mercury, arsenic, lead, vanadium, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, sulfates, and even uranium.

Drainage water from irrigated agriculture is created because searing summertime temperatures in California and Western desert lands bring salts, trace elements, and heavy metals to the surface on ancient-seabed shale soils. This witch's brew of chemicals slowly rises into the root zone of crops, threatening productivity. Irrigation waters imported from other areas carry more salts. Flood irrigation in areas with subterranean clay layers further exacerbates the problem of shallow salty groundwater. Agricultural scientists have known for decades that the only way to keep crop production up is to lower the water table below the root zone by pumping the toxic wastewaters out of the ground and sending them somewhere else.

"Since the 1930s an army of government scientists has provided a plethora of disturbing hard facts about selenium," says Joe Skorupa, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who investigated the bird deformities at Boswell's pond. "Unlike other major pollution problems, however, such as acid rain, oil spills, or smog, the government has not only failed to move an inch toward protecting the American public and a wide diversity of public-trust resources, but, incomprehensibly, actually continues to completely exempt agricultural pollution from the Clean Water Act. In the San Joaquin Valley alone, every year of inaction adds the equivalent of about 13,000 Exxon Valdez spills of selenium-tainted wastewater to the legacy of runaway pollution that our children and grandchildren one day will despise today's spineless federal government for."

Skorupa, a fierce critic of the Department of the Interior's alleged selenium policy, adds, "The truly tragic public-policy aspect of all this is that most of the selenium pollution is as economically senseless as it is environmentally senseless, and those facts have been documented in excruciating detail by the federal government's own General Accounting Office. What may amount to America's biggest dirty little secret has been impervious to rational policymaking for more than 60 years, and counting."

The West's selenium trouble, like many problems in irrigated agriculture, is magnified in the western San Joaquin Valley, where Boswell and other growers in the Westlands have successfully evaded any serious federal efforts at a cleanup or prosecution under wildlife laws.

For more than a decade, attorneys from the U.S. Justice Department, under pressure from elected officials who are under pressure from their agribusiness patrons, have simply refused to enforce the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a tough bird-protection law with penalties that include both prison time and stiff fines. The treaty has been invoked only once, in 1985, against the federal government itself, to close down farm-drainwater evaporation ponds at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge in central California, scene of the first confirmed bird deformities from selenium, discovered in 1983.

Boswell and the other big growers have also managed to avoid paying for the mess their drainage water created. In 1995 the Interior Department's Inspector General's Office also reported that Westlands Water District growers (Boswell has 23,000 acres in the Westlands) had managed to evade the $110 million tab for the Kesterson cleanup and related drainage studies. The $110 million bill was accumulating interest at the rate of $7 million a year, with the taxpayers picking up the tab.

But the Kesterson cleanup tab pales in comparison to the boondoggle desalinization plant in Yuma, Arizona, where Reclamation Bureau engineers have tried without success for decades to pull the farm-pollution toxins and salts from the Colorado River, which is tainted by agricultural return flow. Another Interior Inspector General's report, issued in 1993, said $660 million had been spent on the Yuma desalting plant with no success, and the bureau planned to spend another $1.5 billion by the year 2010, with no guarantee of any success.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been impotent to stop the farm-drainage pollution of rivers and wetlands because farm runoff was exempted from the Clean Water Act in 1977, including the highly toxic end-of-the-pipe subsurface drainage loaded with selenium as well as surface runoff. Indeed, as the Stockton (California) Record reported on June 19, 1998, the E.P.A.--siding with agribusiness--now wants to set standards for selenium and other trace elements and heavy metals in California that officials of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service contend will not protect many species of fish in the San Francisco Bay-Delta region.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, and his four immediate predecessors--Manuel Lujan, Donald Hodel, William Clark, and James Watt--have tried to cover up the Western drainage problem (Watt), to exercise benign neglect (Clark and Hodel), to claim ignorance (Lujan), or just to leave it for the next guy (Babbitt), because the only economically viable solution seems to be to retire the badlands being irrigated. And that solution is political suicide in farm country.

Only Hodel, who, ironically, is an oilman, tried to do the right thing in 1985 when he ordered Kesterson closed because his attorneys told him that Reclamation Bureau officials might be breaking criminal laws operating the Kesterson ponds. But even Hodel quickly experienced an agribusiness backlash and soon fell silent, allowing Kesterson to stay open another 18 months.

No wildlife refuge receiving toxic farm-drainage water in the West has been closed to the inflow of poisons since the Kesterson debacle 15 years ago, although selenium levels high enough to cause deformities have been confirmed at numerous wildlife refuges in several Western states and at a number of evaporation facilities operated by either local water districts (like Boswell's) or private corporations.

Interior Secretary Lujan, in an August 1991 visit to Yosemite National Park, claimed he was unaware of the bird killings and deformities, which by then had been documented for eight years and were confirmed in several states. Lujan said he did not know why aides would not keep him informed.

Environmentalists say the continued bird deformities and government paralysis or inability to halt the aquatic and avian food-chain poisoning demonstrates the still-potent clout of California agribusiness, which produced some $24.5 billion worth of food and fiber in 1996, but today represents less than three percent of the trillion-dollar annual California economy, which is nowadays primarily fueled by computers and electronics, defense, banking, and tourism.

Marc Reisner explained the Alice in Wonderland quality of California agribusiness this way in a 1993 revised version of his book Cadillac Desert: "Enough water for greater Los Angeles was still being used, in 1986, to raise irrigated pasture for livestock. A roughly equal amount--enough for 20 million people at home, at play, and at work--was used that year to raise alfalfa, also for horses, sheep, and (mainly) cows.... In 1985, however, the pasture crop was worth about $100 million, while Southern California's economy was worth $300 billion, but irrigated pasture used more water than Los Angeles and San Diego combined. When you added cotton (a price-supported crop worth about $900 million that year) to alfalfa and pasture, you had a livestock industry and a cotton industry consuming much more water than everyone in urban California--and producing [only] as much wealth in a year as the urban economy rings up in three or four days."

Not only are huge tonnages of California's river water required to grow cotton and food for dairy and beef cows raised in the central California desert, a 1997 Pacific Gas & Electric Company report on the 450-mile-long Central Valley (Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys combined) estimated that agricultural groundwater overdraft (extracting more than can be replenished annually) totals 15 percent of the entire state's annual net groundwater use. At current agricultural extraction rates, the San Joaquin Valley's groundwater supply will disappear in the next few decades.

To make matters worse, the Central Valley now has 1,600 dairies, the vast majority in the San Joaquin Valley, and the 850,000 cows on those dairies create as much natural waste as a city of 21 million people. There are only three state regulators to oversee disposal of this mountain of manure and river of cow urine, which is either kept in leaky lagoons that pollute the aquifer with nitrates or dumped into the San Joaquin River, which runs down the center of the valley The San Joaquin River is often called the most-abused river in the U.S., and in 1997 was named one of the nation's ten most-endangered rivers by American Rivers, a Washington-based advocacy group.

A May 1998 U.S. Geological Survey Report on San Joaquin Valley groundwater supplies, serving more than 2.5 million valley residents, said San Joaquin groundwater is among the poorest in quality in the U.S. The report said 25 percent of valley wells had nitrate levels--probably from fertilizers--that violated national drinking-water standards, and more than half the wells tested positive for pesticides, many of which don't have drinking-water standards.

While ripping off the liquid gold of California's rivers has been an agribusiness specialty for decades, scientists say current methods of disposing of farm drainage may be the final environmental insult that ruins not only aquifers and rivers, and destroys wildlife, but also ruins the very farms that are creating the toxic effluent.

A February 1998 federal-state study of the drainage problem in the western San Joaquin Valley noted 869,000 acres would have a shallow-groundwater problem by the year 2000, and more than 410,000 acres would have salinity and boron problems "sufficiently high to limit agriculture."

To combat the salty-groundwater problem, California growers in the past four decades have installed 33,000 miles of subsurface drainpipes to collect these shallow saline groundwaters and pump them somewhere else--to the nearest river, a public or private evaporation pond, or a low-lying national wildlife wetlands refuge. This "solution" has been bad for the receiving waters and fish and wildlife in every case.

Although estimates of present and future "problem water" are hard to nail down in an atmosphere of nonregulation, U.S. Geological Survey scientist Theresa Presser, who has been studying the selenium problem in California for nearly two decades, estimates that 150 billion gallons of toxic farm subsurface drainage water is generated annually in the Golden State. While the farm wastewater from the San Joaquin Valley flows north into the San Joaquin River or festers in evaporation ponds, the drainage from the Coachella and Imperial valleys at the southern end of the state enters the polluted Salton Sea. Huge fish and bird die-offs are a regular occurrence there, and biologists say the Salton could become utterly lifeless in the near future as the continued influx of salts and toxins in the drainage overwhelms all aquatic species.

While birds were dying by the thousands at Kesterson, Boswell had the audacity in the summer of 1984 to send California Water Commission members on a tour of his 3,165-acre evaporation pond complex and have his drainage district manager, Steve Hall, claim that selenium had not been found in the Tulare Basin soils or evaporation ponds. This, of course, could not have been true, as the bird deformities at the Boswell ponds (first tested and confirmed in 1987) turned out to be far worse than at Kesterson. Hall could only have meant there hadn't been any selenium tests yet of Boswell's drainage. In the manner of other Boswell employees who have moved on to bigger and better things in Water World, Hall is now executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, where he continues to espouse western San Joaquin Valley agriculture's views on water issues.

Throughout 1984 the Kesterson problem continued to worsen. By early 1985 neighboring cattle ranchers Jim and Karen Claus had won a State Water Resources Control Board cleanup order for Kesterson. A CBS "60 Minutes" segment aired on March 10, 1985, showing the ugly ducklings at Kesterson and embarrassed Reclamation officials fumbling to explain the debacle.

Interior Secretary Hodel had enough when advisers told him local Bureau of Reclamation officials might be violating the criminal provisions of the Migratory Treaty Act by keeping Kesterson open. On the Ides of March 1985 he announced that he was closing Kesterson. The announcement sent shock waves through irrigated agriculture that are still felt to this day.

By 1986 the Kesterson ponds had been dried out and Interior scientists looking around the West were discovering selenium contamination in Boswell's local water-district drainwater evaporation ponds in the Tulare Basin, at the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge in Southern California, at the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada (in combination with mercury), and at dozens of other national wildlife refuges around the West. While federal officials began the process of endless studies, no action was taken to halt the selenium poisoning of the wildlife-refuge system, which continues to this day.

A national blue-ribbon 26-member panel of wildlife experts issued a scathing report in August 1991, charging directors of the nation's premier wildlife research center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Patuxent Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, with harassing field-level biologists and attempting to downplay the threat of the growing selenium pollution problem. The report, obviously referring to federal biologist Harry Ohlendorf (who'd discovered the deformities at Kesterson), pesticide researchers Chuck Henny and Larry Blus, and Joe Skorupa (who had investigated the bird deformities at the Boswell ponds), said government scientists "had paid a personal price for upholding good science in the face of heavy political, bureaucratic, and social pressures." Felix Smith, the federal biologist who first blew the whistle at the Kesterson refuge, was named in news reports as being hounded into early retirement for trying to protect migratory birds.

In a 1994 Audubon magazine article reporter Ted Williams discussed harassment of field-level federal biologists and quoted Felix Smith as saying that the day Fish and Wildlife Service officials agreed to take drainage at Kesterson "was the day we made a bargain with the devil."

When Kesterson erupted in the news in the summer of 1984, President Reagan's old California friend Bill Clark had just taken over as secretary of the Interior; he promised that a solution to the drainage disposal problem was near, adopting the time-honored political tactic of ordering a lengthy state-federal study. His ploy worked. A $50-million state-federal study commenced in 1985 with much fanfare, and ended in 1990 with a whimper. It was full of good recommendations, including one for retiring hundreds of thousands of acres of bad land. It was also promptly shelved.

The Reclamation Bureau has finally launched a modest program to retire the first 12,000 acres of high-selenium soils in the Westlands. At that pace it will take 200 years to retire all the bad land just in the 600,000-acre Westlands. No one even talks about the millions of acres of high-selenium farmland all around the West that should be taken out of production.

Congress passed another reclamation reform bill in 1992 to put more federal irrigation water back into California's depleted rivers and the San Francisco Bay-Delta to help revive the moribund salmon runs, but Westland growers, backed by valley politicians, have been working ceaselessly to rescind or weaken that law.

Fish and Wildlife's Skorupa complained in the Audubon article that he took a solid case for criminal acts at the Boswell killing ponds to Justice Department attorneys just before the 1992 election but that the federal prosecutors got cold feet and weak spines.

"We were told we had an excellent case," Skorupa told Audubon's Williams, "that they had every confidence that it was winnable, but that until we went and got someone at least at the secretarial level in Interior to give a clear policy directive, the Justice Department would not pursue it."

Skorupa says that about half of 161 federal irrigation-project drainage sites in the West studied between 1986 and 1993 have selenium levels high enough to trigger embryotoxicity, which can include deformities. What is more depressing is that federal irrigation projects make up only about a quarter of all irrigated agriculture in the Western United States. The other 75 percent of the irrigated land in the West has not even been looked at for selenium poisoning.

Eleven years after the first confirmed selenium-caused bird deformities at the Boswell ponds, the Department of Justice, with Janet Reno presently at the helm, still has taken no action against Boswell, and any possible prosecutions for the bird deaths Skorupa painstakingly documented beginning in 1987 are falling prey to the statute of limitations. An angry Skorupa can only shake his head.

Although the government has had serious warnings about selenium problems in the West for more than 50 years, the Department of the Interior was still claiming in 1997 that selenium had been an "unforeseen consequence of irrigation drainage. That '97 report from the National Irrigation Water Quality Program also claimed that "because complete investigation of every irrigated area in the Western United States is impractical, managers need to be able to predict where selenium contamination is likely."

But it's not impractical at all, insists Theresa Presser, who was one of the first to document the widespread selenium contamination in the western San Joaquin Valley. According to Presser, selenium contamination is also likely not only where soils have selenium ejected from ancient volcanoes during the Cretaceous age, but also where ancient seabed soils have been uplifted by geologic activity over eons, such as California's Coast Range. In other words, human irrigation and export of the resulting drainage water into evaporation ponds or wetlands is doing in a few years what nature took millions of years to do.

It's clear that no one in the Clinton administration is going to make the hard decisions about getting the toxic soils in the West out of production. In late May 1998 the E.P.A. held a conference in Washington, D.C., that was attended almost entirely by big selenium polluters--oil companies, mining companies, major agribusiness, coal-burning utilities. They all argued against any E.P.A. review of the current standards for selenium in rivers, lakes, and marshes, which scientists say is at least twice as high as it should be and which may lead to the extinction of at least 20 species of fish and wildlife.

Boswell and the other agribusiness lords are determined not to become extinct themselves. Last March a consortium of state and federal agencies that dances to the tune of agribusiness announced a new plan to build a peripheral canal around the Delta and import yet more northern California river water to the selenium fields of the western San Joaquin Valley.

In July the Western Water Policy Review Commission, created by Congress in 1992, issued its report, three years behind schedule. The report identified agricultural wastewater as the single largest source of pollution in the West, recommended phasing out federal water subsidies, and specifically suggested that subsurface drainage water, which triggers the bird deformities, be brought under the Clean Water Act and regulated because it is an end-of-the-pipe type of pollution.

The response of the growers was typical. "The sooner this report gets put on a shelf and starts gathering dust the better," said Jason Peltier, manager of the Central Valley Project Water Association.

Dinosaurs swing big tails going down.

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Massacre on the Delta

Submitted: Jun 09, 2007

"The collapse of the Delta Estuary is really a regulatory collapse." Bill Jennings, chairman of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

But the regulatory process doesn't collapse all by itself. Delta fish populations were declining 15 years ago. Collapses began a few years ago. Meanwhile, CALFED met to "fix the Delta." The collapses occurred while regulators dithered, environmental stakeholders groups bought into a collaborative process, water agencies sued, and Bush appointees and federal and state legislators muscled resource agencies and starved them of funds.

In Merced, where local, state and federal government officials have continued to buy off most of the public with "citizen" collaborative processes, lawsuits and grassroots campaigns have been successful in stopping some environmental destruction.

The idea of CALFED was to bring state and federal resource agencies, stakeholders and environmental groups together in a collaborative process of regional planning. CALFED failed completely. Yet, today, the governor has initiated two new collaborative planning processes, the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint and the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley in new efforts to stave off environmental lawsuits against ruinous urban growth. The Blueprint and the Partnership will come to be called the children of CALFED.

At the moment, while Congressman Cardoza alarms Lathrop city officials about the terrors of FEMA floodplain maps and poses in farming districts as the savior of the Honey Bee, former Congressman Pombo signs with Stockton to lobby on water issues, and witless Congressman McNerney sojourns in Livermore, Jennings brings us up to date on the slaughter in the Delta...

Much attention has been focused on the expanded salvage numbers of Delta smelt, as identified by DFG, DWR and Bureau representatives in the press. Unfortunately, they have misled the public regarding the actual numbers of smelt killed by the pumps. The real number of smelt killed by the pumps is not 448 (208 by the SWP and 240 by the CVP), but closer to 11,000 smelt killed during May. It is this number that must be compared to the handful of fish found in the Delta by DFG during the May trawls.

I became curious about agency claims after reading a 1994 article in the SacBee by Jim Meyer that quoted DFG biologist Dale Sweetman as saying, “The actual fish kill is at least 12 times the number of fish salvaged” because since “they can’t measure how many fish are killed, the pump’ operators use the number of fish saved by screens as a gauge to estimate the loss.”

I asked biologist Dan Odenweller (retired DFG chief of screening) about the actual killed versus salvaged rates. Dan pointed out that only an estimated 5% of fish are actually diverted around the first set of fish screens to the secondary channel and only about 5% of those are then diverted around the second set of screens to the salvage buckets. In other words, about 99.5% of smelt are neither “salvaged” nor counted. They continue down the DMC toward the Tehachapis. Of course, none of the “salvaged” Delta smelt survive and these numbers don’t include the larval stage of smelt (less than 20 mm) that can’t be detected. Added to the smelt that pass unrecorded through the screens, is the large number killed by predators in Clifton Court Forebay before they get to the pump inlet. The federal facility is somewhat different and doesn’t experience the same degree of predation as the SWP.

Attached is a simple model developed by Odenweller. Based on his best professional judgment, Dan estimates that CVP pumping killed approximately 2,896 smelt during May and the SWP pumping (assuming forebay predation for smelt is the same as salmon) killed 8,533, for an approximate total of 11,429. This is far different that the 448 smelt killed by pumps that we’ve seen widely quoted in the press. The bottom line is that, during May, the project pumps killed somewhere in the vicinity of 300 times the number of smelt DFG found in surveys throughout the Delta.

I’m sure everyone remembers that the CalFed ROD promised state of the art fish screens. That was before the water contractors bluntly stated that they wouldn’t pay for them.

With respect to the current surveys, the 2007 Survey #6 is finished and most of the information has been posted (as of Sunday night). This latest survey found smelt at 6 sites (115 trawls) with a total catch per unit equivalent (CPUE) of 18.28. This compares to last year’s Survey #6 that found smelt at 19 sites (121 trawls) with a total CPUE of 1,273.8. I haven’t seen the total numbers of smelt captured posted but, using the CPUE as an indicator, it’s clear that this year’s Survey #6 shows a massive drop from the corresponding survey last year. Indeed, it’s clear that DFG found far fewer smelt in this year’s Survey #6 than the paltry 25 smelt identified in the immediately preceding Survey #5. The splittail and longfin numbers also reveal a dramatic drop from last year. Striped bass look about the same.

With respect to the alleged reduction (minimized) in pumping at the federal CVP that was almost universally touted in the press, I note that export rate during the first two days in June is exactly the same as pumping throughout May (1,692 Acre Feet, 855 cfs). Farmers get their water despite adverse effects on Delta smelt; municipalities scramble to find supplies from storage. Sound familiar?

Bill Jennings, Chairman
Executive Director
California Sportfishing Protection Alliance
3536 Rainier Avenue
Stockton, CA 95204
p: 209-464-5067
c: 209-938-9053
f: 209-464-1028
e: deltakeep [at]

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Steinberg's Blueprint for Growth

Submitted: Jun 04, 2007
Better regional planning will help make the state's metro areas more attractive and livable, and that will allow them to grow and attract jobs in a cleaner, healthier setting.-- Sacremento Bee editorial, June 4, 2007

Endorsing a bill authored by state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, the Sacramento Bee editorialized today that the Sacramento Area Council of Government's (SACOG) "blueprint" should be made statewide policy for urban areas.

(That's too much Sacramento for one sentence. Might as well throw in the Sacramento Kings, the Sacramento River, Old Sacramento, and West and South Sacramento, too. Nevertheless, the bill proposed is pure Sacramento.)

We were unable to think of one bit of open space SACOG has ever saved from Elk Grove to Auburn and plenty of ground its transportation policies have made more attractive for development. What little open space that has been saved in the SACOG region has been saved by lawsuits mainly under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). One exception might be the Sunset Industrial Zone between Roseville and Lincoln, designed to provide space for industrial development and job creation. Roseville is very proud of its superior jobs/housing ratio. We would guess the current largest employer in the zone is an Indian casino across the road from a regional land fill. The zone is under constant developer pressure from both Roseville and Lincoln, particularly along transportation corridors.

To get local government buy-in, Steinberg is offering cities and counties certain exemptions from CEQA, while promoting his bill as part of an anti-global warming package in the state Senate.

The devil is in the details, particularly on CEQA exemptions, and this bill is a Steinberg work-in-progress special, but right now it looks like another Developer Trojan Horse.

Counterpunch editor and publisher, Alexander Cockburn, has written a series of recent articles challenging the scientific connection between human activity and global warming. Cockburn has taken a lot of "heat" from environmentalists for his position, but his eye for damaging policies world-wide that result from the global warming panic is dead on.

Trust the term-limited Legislature of California, a wholly owned subsidiary of lobbyists for finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE), to use global warming as an excuse for weakening the best state law in the country for protecting land that is not smog producing.

The hypothesis that carbon emissions are causing global warming is a useful one. Another useful one is that smog has stupefied Sacramento.

Badlands editorial board

Fuelish sprawl...Editorial

Sacramento area's award-winning "Blueprint" plan has hammered home two key points. First, endless sprawl is not inevitable in our region; second, through incentives, local governments can work to contain leapfrog development and promote transit and alternatives to the automobile. The Blueprint doesn't have the sweep of regulatory measures -- such as Oregon's urban growth boundaries -- but it has changed the dynamic of local planning decisions. Every time a major project is proposed, people now ask this question: Does it comply with the Blueprint? That raises another question: Why don't we have Blueprints in every major metropolitan area of California?... state Sen. Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento is working on a measure that could imprint the Blueprint statewide. Senate Bill 375 would require the California Transportation Commission and regional agencies (those with populations larger than 800,000) to conduct the kind of modeling and planning that SACOG has done in this region. If local governments comply with the growth scenarios envisioned by a region, they would be exempted from certain requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act. That's a significant incentive. Steinberg is promoting SB 375 as part of a Senate package to fight global warming. Blueprint planning, the thought goes, would limit the growth of greenhouse emissions from vehicles and trucks. That's a timely and reasonable argument, but the real reason to support this bill is much closer to home. Better regional planning will help make the state's metro areas more attractive and livable, and that will allow them to grow and attract jobs in a cleaner, healthier setting.

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