Wal-Mart sides sharpen their battle plans
City Planning Commission hearing today takes a look at proposal...SCOTT JASON
A full-page color ad touting jobs, benefits and business.
A television ad decrying road congestion, pollution and noise.
A survey showing that 83 percent of Merced voters think the Wal-Mart distribution center should be built.
And mass e-mails sent to people across the city encouraging them to make their voices heard.
On the eve of the project's first public hearing, distribution center proponents and critics have intensified their effort to reach citizens who support their causes.
The Merced Planning Commission meets tonight to hear presentations about the Wal-Mart distribution center. Residents will each have three minutes to speak. With a strong turnout expected, the commission will probably continue its meeting to Monday so everyone can give their thoughts.
With the final vote on the horizon, each side says the other is distorting facts in an effort to mislead the public on what will be one of the most-watched City Council votes in some time.
The distribution center, proposed four years ago, represents the only development on the horizon and could give the local economy a needed boost during a brutal recession.
The center will cost about $60 million to build. Wal-Mart will have to pay more than $5 million to the city in construction fees.
Opponents worry that the trade-off will be irreversible damage to the environment and blight on what will eventually be the main road to UC Merced.
The 1.1 million-square-foot facility will be on 230 acres between Childs and Gerard Avenues. Campus Parkway will serve as the road the semi-trucks use to get in and out of the complex.
In the latest salvo, Wal-Mart released Tuesday a survey done by Voter/Consumer Research that shows that 26 percent of Merced voters think the city is headed in the right direction and 94 percent of people say there aren't enough jobs.
The Washington, D.C.-based firm polled 300 registered voters last week. The survey has a margin of error of 5.7 percent.
Kyle Stockard, with the Stop Wal-Mart Action Team, said he spoke with people who were surveyed and thinks the questions were worded in a way that tilted the results toward Wal-Mart. "You can get a survey that says anything you want," he said.
Stockard acknowledged more people favor the project than oppose it, though he maintains the margin is closer than it seems.
Wal-Mart's survey comes about a month after a 12-page newspaper was published by the Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth, or MARG. The publication, with headlines such as "Wal-Mart jobs threaten lives" and "Drinking water threat?" has been criticized as a scare tactic.
Des Johnston, with the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce, during Monday's council meeting blasted the newspaper. He singled out an article that suggested the distribution center, if built, could be rife with prostitution, possibly involving students from Golden Valley High School.
The article cites "The Trucker," a magazine that had an article about prostitution stings, though none of the busts were at Wal-Mart facilities. "MARG is misleading our community and peddling fear," Johnston said.
Tom Grave, with MARG, stood by the publication and the prostitution story, saying that truck drivers are far from home and that such a problem should be considered. "It wasn't intended as an alarmist feature," he said.
The group this week debuted a television commercial that will run up until tonight's meeting. The narrator says the center will make children and the elderly sick, cause pollution and lower property values.
The spot was funded by donations to MARG. He wouldn't say who made the donations.
Grave said he thinks Wal-Mart is misleading the public when it advertises the 1,200 jobs set to be created by the center. Many of them, he suspects, won't go to Merced residents.
Wal-Mart officials have said they'll hire locally, but legally couldn't make any promises as to the percentage.
The distribution center will be running all day and all night. Early on, Wal-Mart first estimated that there would be 900 truck trips each day. A truck trip is a truck coming or going.
The company has since downplayed that estimate, calling it an unrealistic level of traffic. The lengthy environmental review forecasts about 643 trucks coming or going in a day. Roughly 40 percent of them will be Wal-Mart-owned diesel trucks. The rest will be from other companies.
The Planning Commission will give a recommendation to the Merced City Council, which will begin discussing the project Sept.
Wal Mart Survey...Voter Consumer Research, 501 C Street, NE...Washington DC 20002
Retired Merced County teacher dedicated to helping birds...CAROL REITER
On a four-wheeler, with an orchard ladder strapped to its side, Steve Simmons set out across the dried grass of the Flying M Ranch in eastern Merced County.
Simmons gunned his all-terrain vehicle, bumping over rocks and dodging black cows with weeks-old calves at their sides.
Simmons' goal was a little handmade box, set about 6 feet off the ground.
It wasn't just any box. With a hole in its front, it held an entire family of barn owls. Six 3-week old chicks who hissed and spit at Simmons, plus a mother owl, who just glared at him.
Simmons has made it his goal in life to help out cavity-dwelling birds -- those birds that use a hole in a tree or other type of cavity to nest. To that end, Simmons builds boxes and has done so for years. He retired from a teaching position and has since devoted his life to birds.
But he does more than just build the boxes. He also bands the birds, to find out where various species end up, and whether they come back to their home turf to nest.
"I started back when I was teaching," Simmons recalled, as he banded a baby owl. His woodshop students started building and selling owl boxes to farmers who wanted to attract the birds to their orchards and farms. Owls hunt by night and like to eat rodents. A nesting pair and their young can eat more than 1,000 rodents a year.
One owl box that Simmons checked had 11 dead voles in it, laid out in a row. There were three brand new owls in the box, and eggs still hatching. Simmons said the male owl of a pair does the hunting for the first few weeks of the chicks' lives, while the mother owl stays in the box with the babies.
Simmons figures he has banded more than 40,000 birds in his life. He works several areas with his banding, and has banded more than 2,400 birds this year alone.
Simmons also bands and checks out kestrels, mourning doves, tree swallows and others. "When I started, there were just a few kestrels (on the Flying M)," Simmons said. "Now there are dozens of the birds."
In 2003, Simmons found only three kestrels that he could find to band on the ranch. In 2009, that number was up to 146. "They just needed a place to nest," Simmons explained.
Tree swallows have also made themselves at home on the ranch. In 2005, there were 30 young swallows banded. That number jumped to 221 in 2009.
Other birds that Simmons bands are screech owls, ash-throated flycatchers and house wrens.
In a box where a family of kestrels had been raised, the young birds were perched on fences, flying around the box and keeping a sharp eye on the human guy.
Another bird that Simmons has helped establish at the Flying M and other local ranches is the burrowing owl. The owl also eats rodents, but is more active during the day.
"When I found out there were burrowing owls out here, I decided to try to help them," Simmons said.
That meant digging holes in rock-hard ground, then figuring out a way to keep an eye on them.
Simmons mounted a camera outfit on his three-wheeler. He can put the camera down a hole and see how many baby owls are there.
On the day that Simmons made the rounds of the Flying M, the adult burrowing owls flew a short ways away from their hole, then watched as Simmons set up his camera.
"This burrow is doing well," Simmons said, peering at his small camera. "There are a bunch of healthy little babies in here."
On the dry pastures of the Flying M, Simmons uses his orchard ladder to reach his bird boxes and then bands the babies. He has found birds nesting in Merced County that were fledged in Idaho, where they were banded by other bird enthusiasts.
Another bird that Simmons builds boxes for is the wood duck. The ducks usually lay eggs in a hole in a tree, but are happy to use Simmons' boxes. Wood duck boxes dot farms and ranches throughout the county, Simmons said, and as long as the boxes are located near water, the ducks do well.
Kelly Rathburn, an outreach biologist for the California Waterfowl Association, a nonprofit conservation group, said that putting up boxes for wood ducks has helped bring the birds back from near extinction.
"In the early 1900s, the wood duck had lost habitat and was almost extinct," Rathburn said. "By putting up boxes, we've helped more than 500,000 baby birds hatch last year."
Simmons knows that his work is important, and he wants others to know how much it helps the birds.
"We need more people to get involved," Simmons said. "The birds are depending on us."
Merced County supervisors lay off 89 employees, cut $33 million from budget...CORINNE REILLY
Despite emotional, tear-filled pleas from Merced County employees and the public, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved drastic cost-cutting measures aimed at closing a $44 million budget gap.
In all, 89 county employees will lose their jobs as a result of the cuts, effective next month. Supervisors OK'd sharp reductions in social services, with the county's public health, mental health and human services departments taking the biggest hits. The board also approved cuts to a hallowed farmland preservation program that provides property tax breaks for farmers who promise to keep their land in agricultural production.
Supervisors authorized a total of $33 million in reductions. The county will cover the rest of the shortfall -- about $11 million -- with emergency reserves. In effect, Tuesday's decisions will leave fewer resources for the poor, the elderly, the mentally ill and those struggling with addiction.
"This is a very sad day for everyone," said board chairwoman Deidre Kelsey, who at one point during the meeting wiped away tears. "I never thought we'd be here."
Reductions in the public health arena included the elimination of support programs for teens moms, as well as cuts to child health and immunization programs. Public Health Director John Volanti said the county will no longer be able to quickly respond to environmental hazard complaints. He warned of fewer flu shot clinics and restaurant inspections, decreased capacity to handle disease outbreaks and longer lines for birth and death certificates.
Supervisors also voted to drastically scale back the county's Medical Assistance Program, which provides low-cost health care for poor, ill adults who don't qualify for any other assistance, such as Medi-Cal.
Officials said cuts at the human services agency will leave child welfare workers too overwhelmed to immediately investigate all reports of abuse. Services for the elderly and the disabled will soon be sharply reduced, including food delivery programs and a low-cost, in-home care service that is credited with helping hundreds of people avoid living in institutions.
Also gutted were job training programs that have taken hundreds of people off welfare.
Officials with the mental health department said patients should prepare for extended waits for counseling appointments and prescription medications. The cuts also will mean less help for people struggling with addiction and a steep reduction in the number of beds at the Marie Green Psychiatric Center, the county's sole in-patient mental health clinic.
Members of the public decried the cuts in testimony before the supervisors. "(Addicts) don't stay clean when they're on a waiting list for help," said Danna Jensen, an addiction counselor with the county's Mental Health Department. "They commit crimes."
Walter McMillian, a homeless man who said he struggles with mental illness, told board members that he probably would have committed suicide if not for treatment he received at Marie Green last year. "What if they're too full to take me next time?" he asked. "If there's no one there, maybe I'll listen to that voice in my head and I'll take my life."
County employees and union officials criticized administrators for what they said was a failure to consider all other options before resorting to layoffs. The $450 million spending plan adopted Tuesday included no wage reductions or worker furloughs.
"I wanted you to see that I'm a real person," Eva Reid, a public health worker who was laid off Tuesday, told the board. "I'm willing to take a pay cut, and I'd ask you to do the same."
Most of the layoffs -- 34 of them -- will affect the mental health department. Public health will lose 23 workers. Human services will shed 19. Public works will lose nine.
Supervisors stressed that the majority of the layoffs come as a direct result of funding cuts passed down last month by the Legislature and governor. "In all my years here I've never seen anything as devastating as this," Supervisor John Pedrozo said. "But this is beyond our control."
Added the county's spokeswoman, Katie Albertson: "I think the simplest way to put it is that the state cuts the funding, and then they force counties to cut the people."
Largely spared Tuesday were the county's law enforcement departments, including the district attorney's office, the public defender, probation and the sheriff's department. Libraries and parks also avoided sharp reductions.
Supervisors voted to temporarily stop accepting new participants in the Williamson Act program, which provides property tax breaks for farmers who promise to keep their land in agricultural production for at least a decade. They also reduced savings granted to those already enrolled in the program.
Money at center of California water fight...E.J. Schultz
SACRAMENTO -- The Legislature's fight over water is evolving into a fight over money.
Gov. Schwarzenegger on Tuesday said he will not approve a deal unless it includes a multibillion-dollar bond to pay for dams and other projects.
But his demand, which repeats a pledge he's made for three years, is at odds with the push by Democrats to seek policy changes first.
The divide threatens to derail negotiations on legislation to shore up water supplies and fix the ailing Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Lawmakers began water hearings Tuesday and hope to reach a compromise before the legislative session ends Sept. 11.
In a letter to Democratic leaders, the governor said: "I cannot sign a comprehensive water package if it fails to include a water infrastructure bond that expands our water storage capacity -- both surface storage and groundwater -- funds habitat restoration, water quality and conservation."
Valley farmers, backed by Republicans, are pushing for a new dam east of Fresno near Millerton Lake. Environmentalists oppose using state money for dams.
Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he is "open to a bond." But "I want to make sure that we first get the policy right on how to restore the delta and deal with the issue of water supply reliability."
The governor has sought a bond in the range of $10 billion. But Steinberg said that was too expensive given the state's weak fiscal condition.
Democrats are pushing a five-bill package that does not include financing for water projects. Rather, the bills would create a seven-member council to make key decisions on how to restore the delta while assuring more reliable water supplies.
Democrats say the council is needed to bring more order in the delta, which is now overseen by more than 200 agencies. Court rulings have blamed water pumping in the delta's southern end for the decline of several fish species.
The two parties sparred over the bills at the hearing. The debate included a testy exchange between Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who represents delta residents who oppose a proposed new canal to move water around the delta, and Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, whose farming constituents want the canal.
Wolk said even if a bond were approved this year, it would not translate into immediate water supplies because of lengthy construction timelines. "If you put the shovel in the ground tomorrow, you won't have any water available for a generation."
Cogdill shot back: "All we continue to do is talk and meet and submit bills and argue over them and get absolutely nowhere. And the problem is not going away."
Rally held on Capitol steps
Schwarzenegger's letter appeased farming interests who had hoped he would reassert his demand for a water bond, which voters would have to approve.
At a noon rally on the Capitol steps, the governor joined members of the Latino Water Coalition, a valley-based group that is seeking more water for farms.
"I've been with you from the beginning," the governor told the group. "I'm committed to your message, which is 'no water, no work, no life.' "
But at the hearing, the leader of a fishing group said his members also have jobs at stake and cautioned against rushing water fixes without examining consequences. Fishermen fear the proposed canal would take fresh water from the delta, which is a mix of ocean and river water.
"The delta is not a reservoir," said Zeke Grader, of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.
"It's a living ecosystem," he added. "For an estuary to work, it needs freshwater inflow."
The Legislature is scheduled to hold more water hearings next week.
What we have here, Mr. Congressman, is a failure to communicate...David Bultena. Bultena, a retired Merced County deputy district attorney, was a visiting editor with The Bee in 2005.
Concerned about the recent cap and trade legislation coming out of Congress, I e-mailed Rep. Dennis Cardoza to ask if he was aware of the financial burden the law would impose.
Specifically, I asked about the mandatory "greening" of a residence and its cost to the homeowner prior to the sale of the house.
About a week-and-a-half later, I received a boilerplate response that talked about Cardoza's interest in the environment, etc. Someone in Cardoza's office read my e-mail long enough to spot a few key words, hit the appropriate response button and I received a response that was totally irrelevant to my question.
I am still waiting for a response to my second e-mail, which pointed out the error in responding to my first e-mail.
I thought I was the only victim of Cardoza's failure to communicate, but based on many letters to the editor in both the Merced Sun-Star and The Bee, this communication thing is becoming an unacceptable norm in the operation of his office.
The health care issue that is quickly coming upon all of us will require a great deal of Cardoza's time and effort. In spite of this, the congressman appears to be avoiding direct contact with his constituents. There is talk of phone conferences and other substitutes for direct contact with the citizens of his district. Perhaps Cardoza has been scared off by the reports of unruly town hall meetings held by his congressional colleagues, but this is no excuse.
If Cardoza is intimidated by what the people in his district think, he needs to go into another line of work. But this is the very root of the problem and one that seems to be shared by other members of congress.
If public opinion conflicts with the party line and the consensus of Congress, so be it. As an elected official, Cardoza should be open to all ideas from all sources, but the very idea of representation mandates that he do what is best for those that elected him to congress.
"What is best" is a situation that can only be determined by an open and ongoing exchange of ideas with the constituents. Press the flesh, hear the tone of the voice as well as the verbal content -- things that can only be done in person.
Don't limit participation to a few vetted names in a phone conference call but try to meet as many interested voters as possible. If people get animated, he shouldn't cut and run. A lot of the frustration being exhibited by voters is the result of no one listening to them, and their frustration quickly turns into hostility.
Now that Cardoza and his family have moved to the Washington, D.C., area, it is doubly important that he stays in touch with his district. His present system or lack of system is leaving many of us frustrated.
Rep. Cardoza, the phone is ringing. Please answer it.
Dennis Cardoza missed the fun...CHRIS HANSEN, Modesto
Congressman Dennis Cardoza is facing a public relations disaster! While angry citizens were chanting, "Cardoza you're fired!" where was Cardoza?
Dozing or absent! We heard not a word from him nor did he make an appearance.
Thirty of his supporters did show up with neatly printed signs and tried to compete with 300 of the rest of us! They lectured us about "Loving our neighbor," and we fired back that we're already taking too much money in taxes out of our neighbors' pockets! Seeing that they were losing the substantive argument, they shouted that we were hateful. We responded by shouts of "U.S.A." and we sang "God Bless America!"
Cardoza missed all the fun, and God may well be blessing America with an involved citizenry that intends to fire someone as inattentive as Cardoza and hire someone that actually cares what we think.
Predicting congressman's vote...MARK JENSEN, Modesto
Why is Dennis Cardoza afraid to hold town hall meetings to discuss health care? It is because he doesn't want to have to admit that many and possibly the majority of his constituents rightly have questions and doubts about letting the federal government run the health care system. After all, Cardoza plans to vote for the bill regardless of what his constituents think.
According to statistics compiled by the Washington Post, he has voted with the Democratic Party leadership 98 percent of the time during the current Congress, and a similar percentage during his career. Some record for the Blue Dog "fiscal conservative." He does not care what the people think, because he knows better than we do. It's a perfect attitude for inside the Beltway.
Rep. Nunes sets health-care meeting...Barbara Anderson
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, will hold a health-care reform meeting from 8 to 10 a.m. Thursday at Clovis East High School, 2940 Leonard Ave.
The meeting will be in the high school’s lecture hall, adjacent to the library. Parking is available on Donner Avenue or in lots accessed from Donner Avenue.
Seating will be on a first-come, first-seated basis.
Details: (559) 733-3861.
Fresno fined for diesel violations...Paula Lloyd and George Hostetter
State air regulators have fined the city of Fresno $49,500 for violating California diesel emission regulations. As part of a settlement, the city has agreed to spend up to $1 million to buy as many as 20 cleaner off-road diesel vehicles by March 2011.
The state’s Air Resources Board said last week that the city had not been testing, measuring, recording and maintaining records on emissions from its diesel fleet.
The settlement requires the city to send workers who inspect the fleet to diesel education courses, to upgrade its record keeping and submit inspection records to the Air Resources Board for the next four years.
City officials “went through extraordinary steps” to resolve the violations and work on a settlement to reduce emissions, air board chairwoman Mary D. Nichols said in a statement.
Fresno Assistant City Manager Bruce Rudd said city employees had retrofitted diesel vehicles with devices that eliminated exhaust smoke. Since there was no smoke, Rudd said, the employees assumed there was no need to conduct smoke tests.
Rudd said the city settled to avoid higher legal costs. He said that the city retrofitted the diesel vehicles before it was legally required to do so.
The city had already budgeted funds to modernize its vehicle fleet, Rudd said, and the settlement will merely accelerate those purchases.
Diesel exhaust is a source of fine particulate matter, which can lodge deep in the lungs and increase the risk of asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases.
Central Valley continues marathon fight for clean drinking water...Susan Ferriss
David McNeir is a bishop of his church and a man of faith. But he has found himself banging his hand on a table more than once when negotiating with public health authorities for clean drinking water.
"We've always had bad water," said McNeir, a cannery employee who lives in Monterey Park Tract, an area southwest of Modesto flanked by dairies and farms. "We've been on a list for a project now for four or five years. We've applied for every kind of grant there is."
Up and down the Central Valley, the frustration is palpable.
After years of effort by community activists, politicians and even young teens, the state's progress toward clean water for all is dwarfed by discoveries of more problems. Residents continue to rely on groundwater tainted by pesticides, nitrates, industrial chemicals and arsenic.
Californians have voted twice for bond money to ensure clean water, with $230 million in grants and loans aimed at mostly small and disadvantaged communities.
The state also receives annual federal money for clean-water projects, this year totaling $67 million. And, thanks to the federal stimulus plan, the state's getting another $160 million bump.
But a 2007 federal study estimated it will take $39 billion over 20 years to improve California's drinking water quality.
Adding to delays is the fact that budget problems forced the state to stop taking applications for bond money in December.
"Having money frozen is 10 steps back," said Susana De Anda of the Community Water Organization in Visalia.
De Anda's group has decided it's time to try a new tack: Pass a state law declaring clean water a human right.
A grass-roots movement
Joanna Mendoza, a 13-year-old in the Tulare County town of Cutler, said families are tired of receiving official warnings that their water contains a pesticide linked to cancer.
Residents spend money every month to buy bottled water, on top of paying for what comes out of the tap.
"The only thing that ever changes on those notices is the date," said Mendoza, who belongs to Youths for Water, a group of Central Valley teenagers who are urging their water districts to find ways to improve water quality.
Two decades ago, Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union rallied farmworkers in the Central Valley to demand better drinking water. As awareness and testing for contaminants grew, water districts and even entire communities have joined the call for action.
That's happening in Monterey Park Tract, where McNeir is chairman of a small utility district that provides water to 48 homes.
In November the state dropped the maximum allowable level of arsenic from 50 to 10 micrograms per liter of water. One well in Monterey Park Tract has three times that standard.
For two decades, McNeir said, local wells also have violated the standard for nitrates, which seep into groundwater from leaking septic tanks, farm fertilizers and – as the state's dairy industry has grown – cow manure.
Attempts to dig new wells have run into more pollution, and efforts to find funding sources have failed.
Now, McNeir's district is looking for money to drill a cleaner well farther away or to tap into a neighboring city's water system.
A growing problem
Officials at California's Public Health Department acknowledge it's difficult to monitor 8,000 public water systems and enforce more than 100 drinking water standards and regulations.
With limited funding, money goes first to water systems contaminated by an acute bacteriological threat, such as fecal matter that can sicken someone instantly. In those cases, the law requires public health authorities to act swiftly, ordering districts to close wells or provide bottled water.
It's much harder to get prompt action when contaminants pose long-term health threats, such as cancer risks.
Yet that may be the biggest challenge.
In November, California followed the federal government in setting a lower safety standard for arsenic in drinking water. That decision meant scores of water systems suddenly were serving up too much arsenic with their drinking water.
Arsenic is common in the West, seeping into water from rock or through runoff from mining or orchards. Even if concentrations do not trigger an immediate water system closure, they can pose cancer risks and vascular and skin problems.
South Lake Tahoe and Galt have water systems that violate the new arsenic standard. Both are developing treatment plants.
Though those two cities can handle the cost, that's not true of all.
"Small systems just don't have that ratepayer base," said Dennis Cocking, spokesman for the South Lake Tahoe utility district. After construction, he warns, districts must shoulder ongoing costs for maintenance and disposal of the concentrated arsenic waste.
In the Fresno County town of Lanare, population 640, a $210,000 arsenic treatment plant went on line in October 2006 and was shut down the following spring. Lanare couldn't afford the treatment chemicals or the electricity.
To the southwest, in Tulare County, Alpaugh – population 840 – received a notice from state health officials on Dec. 18 warning that its drinking water had violated arsenic standards for several years and should be cleaned up.
On Dec. 23, Alpaugh received another letter advising that its state grant had been frozen, and that it should not sign a contract yet to build an arsenic treatment system.
For months, the district waited. In April, the state Department of Finance lifted the stay on some grants awarded before the freeze, including Alpaugh's. But no one on Alpaugh's water board knew that until The Bee told them.
"Well, it's something I would have liked to have known," said Josephine Jennings, the board's executive director.
Contaminants spur warnings
Before arsenic became an issue, the Central Valley's major water-related concerns focused on other chemicals, including perchlorate, the pesticide DBCP and nitrates.
Public health officials consider nitrates an "acute" health risk, but the state policy in most cases is simply to issue a warning that water should not be boiled – which concentrates the nitrates – and that pregnant women and infants should not drink it.
Tulare County is the largest dairy county in the world, and nitrates are pervasive. In groundwater tests of small water systems with more than 200 customers, about 20 percent exceeded state limits.
The Tulare County town of Cutler has lost some of its wells to nitrates. Residents have been warned their water has too much of another contaminant, the pesticide DBCP, which was banned in 1977 for causing cancer and sterility.
Cutler was not listed as violating DBCP standards in a 2007 report. But a new state Water Resources Control Board database shows its wells have violated those standards since 1988.
On June 18, residents received notice once again that their water contains DBCP but that there is no immediate threat requiring them to stop drinking it.
The resulting confusion breeds suspicion, not just of the water, but of the surrounding farms.
Cutler resident Jesus Quevedo, 75, blames his son's death last year from leukemia on the water and on exposure to farm chemicals in the air.
"The farmers are fighting for water to grow crops," he said. "We agree with them. But we are also fighting for water to drink that is pure."
Dionicio Rodriguez, supervisor of the Cutler Public Utility District, said the district was approved for $2.2 million in state grant money this year to dig a new well and install a tank to blend water. That money was frozen.
Looming on the horizon is another potential monster cleanup problem.
More than five years past a January 2004 deadline set by the Legislature, California still has not set a drinking water standard for the carcinogenic industrial toxic substance hexavalent chromium, the subject of the movie "Erin Brockovich," set in the town of Hinkley. State researchers must adopt a public health goal before they can set a maximum contaminant level for the chemical in drinking water.
David Spath, former director of the drinking water and environmental management division of the state Department of Public Health, said hundreds of sources could be in violation once the standard is set. "That's the next train wreck, so to speak," he said.
Policy statement sought
Susana De Anda of the Community Water Organization in Visalia said watching communities struggle for so long without clean drinking water led her to believe a simple, strong statement was in order.
She's hoping AB 1242, a bill known as the Human Right to Water, will require that state agencies act more quickly to assist communities that keep getting overlooked because contamination is not considered an acute threat.
The bill was introduced by Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Los Altos. The Assembly passed it in May, and it is now in the state Senate.
"We're mindful of the budget problems, so it doesn't ask for money," De Anda said. "But this bill is one step forward because it sets a policy. Once you have a policy, then you have to act. It should not be taking years and years to get clean drinking water."
High Nitrate Levels, Tulare County Water Systems, Hazardous Substances, Drinking Water Contamination...Map
San Francisco Chronicle
Sonoma salamander battle expected to heat up...Peter Fimrite
The sniping over a decision to restore protections in Sonoma County for the California tiger salamander is expected to heat up over the next two months after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opened the public debate Tuesday.
Environmentalists, developers, farmers, homeowners and salamander aficionados have 60 days to comment on a decision by the Obama administration to restrict development on 74,223 acres of habitat deemed critical for the survival of the endangered amphibian.
The proposed rule, which will take two years to become final, would reverse a Bush administration decision to drop restrictions on development in an area between Windsor and Petaluma known as the Santa Rosa Plain.
"We know there is going to be heavy lobbying by development and agricultural interests," said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. "It is an opportunity for the Obama administration to clean up the Bush legacy."
In May, the Fish and Wildlife Service settled a lawsuit by the nonprofit center challenging the decision made in 2005 under President George W. Bush to withdraw the designation of the land as critical habitat for the salamander.
The tiger salamander, which has distinctive black and yellow coloring and spots and grows up to 8 inches in length, once occupied the entire Santa Rosa Plain, but now lives in only seven locations. It is threatened with extinction by urban sprawl, roads and pesticides. The salamander's Sonoma County population was declared endangered in 2003 in response to earlier lawsuits. Farmers, home builders and others whose development or commercial activities were restricted responded with their own lawsuit.
A federal judge upheld the listing, but the Bush administration instead endorsed a local conservation plan that was supposed to have banned development in a few areas and required builders to replace salamander grounds they damaged, but the funding to carry out that plan never materialized.
The settlement, approved by a federal judge, requires the agency to submit the final salamander habitat boundaries by July 2011.
How to comment
To comment on the California tiger salamander proposal, submit written comments under Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-2009-0044 until Oct. 19 at www.regulations.gov. Comments can also be mailed to the attention of FWS-R8-ES-2009-0044, Division of Policy and Directives Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.
Information can also be found at www.biologicaldiversity.org.
California tiger salamander...Habitat area...Map
Key Marin County hearing on desalination...Kelly Zito
The largest water agency in Marin County is set to become the first in the region to dip a drinking straw into San Francisco Bay.
If the $105 million project to de-salt about 5 million gallons of bay water each day is approved this evening as expected, about 190,000 residents could begin imbibing water from the sea by 2014.
Though the system has drawn fierce criticism over potentially high costs, energy consumption and impacts on marine life, the Marin Municipal Water District's desalination gambit marks the first of many across the Bay Area and the state.
Up and down the coast, about 20 similar projects are in the works, including a joint test project by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, East Bay Municipal Utility District, Contra Costa Water District and others.
California's water districts are trying to "find a backup water supply that is sustainable, and it makes sense that they're looking out the window at the ocean and saying, 'Well, look at all that water,' " said Bruce Wolfe, executive officer of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Control Board, the regulatory body that will ultimately decide whether to grant the Marin project key permits to pull water from the bay.
Marin's position at the forefront of the desalination wave owes in part to its small water system. The Marin agency relies heavily on seven reservoirs located in the Mount Tamalpais watershed. When those lakes are full, the district has enough water to supply customers for two years. During dry spells, however, the district has few options.
Amid the notorious 1976-77 drought, water managers built an emergency pipeline over the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge in order to tap into water from the East Bay.
District manager Paul Helliker worries climate change will bring more, protracted dry periods to Northern California.
"If we had a drought like '76-'77 and then another year of drought on top of that, we'd be out of water," Helliker said. "Even if you have a great conservation program, if you don't have enough water to conserve, it doesn't help."
That line of reasoning doesn't wash with opponents like Mark Schlosberg, California director of environmental advocacy group Food and Water Watch. Schlosberg and others accuse the district of overestimating its water deficit and underestimating the costs to taxpayers.
According to Helliker, the plant itself - planned to occupy a 7-acre swath near the Home Depot in San Rafael - will cost $3 million to $4 million each year to operate. Desalination eats up a lot of energy due to the high pressure needed to push seawater through extremely fine membranes that extract the salt.
Funds for the project would come from local bonds as well as a roughly 14 percent increase in users' water bills.
To the fish, mammals and plant life in the bay, there are other costs, environmentalists say. The brine, or salt, leftover from the desalination process would be dumped back into the bay after mixing with treated water.
Desalination "is not a good deal for consumers or the environment," Schlosberg said.
"Conservation may not capture the imagination of the district, but it's much more effective and much less expensive."
The funding question is likely to loom large over this evening's district board meeting. The board is poised to approve the desalination facility, thereby ending the formal environmental review process.
Under California law, opponents have 30 days to challenge the environmental impact report.
Schlosberg's group hasn't committed to a formal challenge. But he anticipates a boisterous debate tonight.
"This project has gained a momentum of its own," he said. "But there are a broad range of people who have come out against it."
The Marin Municipal Water District board will decide tonight whether to approve the Bay Area's first desalination plant to turn seawater into drinking water.
Where: Showcase Theater at the Marin Center Exhibit Hall, 10 Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael
What time: 7:30 p.m.
UC computer research center plan delayed...Bob Egelko
BERKELEY -- The University of California will have to shelve plans for a $113 million computer research center in the hills above the Berkeley campus until a federal agency studies possible damage to Strawberry Canyon, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup of San Francisco issued an injunction in March prohibiting construction of the center, the possible new home of U.S. Department of Energy supercomputers, until he rules on whether a new environmental study is needed.
On Monday, Alsup said the project would be funded and controlled by the federal government and therefore is covered by federal law, which requires a government study of potential environmental harm before construction.
Although the federal government has not committed to paying for the computer center, Alsup said UC expects it to do so. He also said the Energy Department paid the salaries of employees at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory - including its then-director, Steven Chu, now the U.S. energy secretary - who influenced the project's scope and budget.
Both UC and the federal agency had argued that the center, which the university would own, would be a state project. The university conducted an environmental study under California law last year and decided that constructing the building would not harm the hillside, a conclusion that opponents questioned.
Construction had been scheduled to start in March. The judge has quoted project officials as saying a further environmental report would cause a year's delay.
The proposed Computational Research and Theory Facility, a joint project of the university and the UC-operated Lawrence Berkeley laboratory, is to be built on lab property near Strawberry Canyon.
The 126,000-square-foot building would house high-performance Energy Department computers now located in a leased building in Oakland that is running out of space. It would be used by researchers and students from both the university and Lawrence Berkeley.
A group called Save Strawberry Canyon sued in July 2008, saying construction in a steep area prone to fires and virtually atop the Hayward Fault was risky. The group said the university could move at least some of the computer equipment to industrially zoned land it owns in Richmond.
The ruling is "a testament to what a small group of folks in Berkeley can do to try to make sure that the lab, in its eagerness, doesn't overdevelop the hillside," the group's lawyer, Michael Lozeau, said Tuesday.
UC said it is disappointed by the ruling and is reviewing its options.
Chronicles of the hydraulic brotherhood
Transcript of the Hannity Show with my Comments…Lloyd_Carter
Dear readers of the Chronicles of the Hydraulic Brotherhood, on Tuesday night, August 11, 2009, Sean Hannity of FoxNews (AKA Faux News) did a short piece on the water problems of the western San Joaquin Valley, interviewing Rep. Devin Nunes and Comedian Paul Rodriguez, who is head of the California Latino Water Coalition. Unsurprisingly, the segment was full of falsehoods, misinformation and disinformation. My bracketed comments below are an effort to provide some balance to the slanted report. There is a link in the material below so you can watch the Hannity "fair and balanced" report and judge for yourself.
California Farmers Demand Obama's Help...Wednesday, August 12, 2009
This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," August 11, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST: Now tonight, we bring you an update on a story we covered back in May. [This part is true.]
The Central Valley of California was once considered the bread basket of America [Well, Sean, bread is made from wheat and most of that is grown in the Midwest, not Central California. However, rest assured the San Joaquin Valley remains the fruits and nuts basket of America (in more ways than one) and the salad bowl of America, because only about an eighth of the Valley is currently affected by the "drought" regulatory or natural.]. But now farms all over that region [No, Sean, farms all over this "region" have not been allowed to dry up. Other than the dead almond orchard you showed, there are few, if any, reports that farms are drying up all over the valley.] have been allowed to dry up. Now why? Because of a 2-inch minnow [I assume, Sean, you are derisively referring to the Delta Smelt as a minnow. More significantly you either deliberately, or through ignorance and failure to investigate, omit any mention of salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and killer whales as fish also threatened by massive diversions from the Bay-Delta estuary. And the major economic losses suffered by the fishing industry. A momentary lapse on a critical fact, Sean?] on the endangered species list.
Now, environmentalists claim that the fish was getting caught in the water pumps [It was initially a claim, Sean, because government scientists were silenced during the Bush years but it is now a fact, testified to by numerous fishery scientists and accepted as proven by a federal judge.] that provided the farms with water, so to protect the tiny fish, the pumps were turned off. And farmers, well, they were left high and dry, and entire communities are now feeling the impact. [Lester Snow, director of the California Department of Water Resources, says the Smelt court ruling only accounts for about one-third of the cutbacks of water to the 617,000-acre Westlands Water District, which represents about 15 percent of farming in the San Joaquin Valley. The rest of the cutbacks in south of Delta water deliveries are attributable to natural drought and to the fact the Westlands is the last federal irrigation district in the Central Valley Project to get whatever water is left after senior water rights holders get their supplies.]
Some towns in the area are now facing unemployment rates of up to 40 percent. [Mendota is the only town I've heard mentioned that has a 40 percent unemployment rate. And had you done a little homework, Sean, you would have learned that Mendota has had chronic unemployment problems for decades ranging from 28 to 35 percent, even in years when Westlands got all of its water supply. Most farm worker jobs are seasonal and many farm workers go on public assistance every winter.] And many residents are now forced to visit food banks. [Hunger in the food rich San Joaquin Valley has been an ongoing problem for many years. But the people of that great area, they've had enough, and they're speaking out tonight.
And joining me live from California is Congressman Devin Munes and comedian and activist Paul Rodriguez.
• Video: Watch Sean's interview 
Guys, I don't know if we can get a shot. It looks like you have over a thousand people there. Is that right? [If you watch the video carefully here, the Fox cameras never pull back to show the entire crowd. All you see are what are called "close shots" which allow for no rational assessment of the crowd size. Judge for yourself when you watch the video but it seems to be just a few hundred people. KMJ radio talk show host Ray Appleton, a fervent supporter and member of the California Latino Water Coalition, said on his show last week that he had spoken to Fox News representatives and they told him to make sure plenty of people showed up to swell the crowd. The New York Times and the Associated Press have reported the growers and a prominent farm labor contractor funding the Latino Water Coalition have paid farm workers to participate in recent rallies and marches.]
PAUL RODRIGUEZ, COMEDIAN/ACTIVIST: Well over a thousand, Sean. [How does Paul know this? Did he do a head count?] This is a testament of your message is getting to these people. They've been out here for hours. The only water this field has seen is our sweat. But it's more than we've gotten from the government.
HANNITY: Well, Paul, we have had you on about this before. I want you to tell the entire story, because it's almost unfathomable. Literally, farms are drying up.
RODRIGUEZ: People don't believe it.
HANNITY: Go ahead, tell them. Tell everybody.
RODRIGUEZ: Well, the problem is the environmental laws; they're not flexible at all. The very judge that pushed this order to cut off the water said that there was no swivel room to make accommodations for human beings. You know, this fish apparently takes high priority. All the water has been held back. [All the water, Paul? That is a flat out lie. Even Westlands is getting 10 percent of its water. East Side growers are getting between 80 and 90 percent of normal deliveries. Many older irrigation districts in the San Joaquin Valley, with senior water rights, got a near normal allotment of water this year and some got a full allotment.]
And we're left with nothing but — right where we're at, this used to be an almond orchard. We grew some of the sweetest almonds ever. Now it's firewood. Do you want some? Nobody believes that how I got involved. My mother is from here. [Paul was speaking from Huron, in western Fresno County on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, 72 miles from Orange Cove on the East Side of the Valley, where his mother lives and his farm is located. His 40-acre farm has plenty of water available according to the Friant Water Users Authority.
HANNITY: These farmers, their farms are now dried up. [Farmers, plural, Sean? You showed only one dried up almond orchard and you never interviewed the almond grower to see why he was unable to buy water on the open market because other Westlands farmers have been buying water for their orchards. An even larger question that went unasked is why are farmers at the end of the bucket line for delivery of publicly-subsidized federal water planting permanent crops like almonds when they know they may not always get water and they have no backup plan in the event of drought. Even more interesting, growers tell me a lot of almond orchards are being pulled up by growers who want to plant a new variety that produces a larger almond, popular with consumers. Where was the farmer who owned the dead almond orchard?] There's no water; there's no production. People are losing their jobs. How many people are out of work there?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, you know, the system varies but a lot of people here aren't working. [Now this is a doozy. I don't know what Paul means when he says the "system varies" but Rep. Nunes and a UC Davis ag-friendly professor have estimated farm job losses at up to 80,000 jobs. Professor Jeffrey Michael of the University of the Pacific says a more accurate figure is 6,000 jobs lost.] That's why we're here. We're here to show America this is our own town hall meeting here, Sean.
This is — you know, we're so wrapped up in this issue we don't have time to worry about health care, because everything around us is dead. Our way of life is dying here.
We really — we tried to have the administration come to see about us. We haven't heard. They sent the secretary of the interior here. He gave us some nice lip service and said, "Oh, we're going to do this and do that." But at the end of the thing, we didn't get no water. Our fields are drying out. Something has to be done. [Translation: We want to take Northern California water away from Delta farmers and salmon fishermen and Native Americans, who, curiously, were not represented on your show, Sean.]
HANNITY: Now Congressman, first, Paul, you were an Obama supporter. You...
RODRIGUEZ: Yes, absolutely. Like everybody else, we wanted change. We didn't think it would be this kind of change. But you know, he kept his promise, we got change.
HANNITY: All right. But where are you now? I heard you want to call Fresno County an Obama country? [This is a typo. It should read Nobama County. The Latino Water Coalition wants to gather 50,000 to 100,000 signatures to change the name of Fresno County, the nation's top farm county, to Nobama County (county not country) presumably to embarrass the president and force him to come to California and increase Delta water exports despite a federal court ruling to the contrary.] Or...
RODRIGUEZ: We want to name — we would like to name it after someone who is responsible for this. [The president is not responsible for a natural drought or the fact the Westlands growers are at the end of the federal water bucket line, Paul. Try blaming God.]
Look, we have signed a letter signed by every mayor in this whole area to President Obama, telling him that we tried to go through the chain of command. We saw the secretary of interior. We saw his assistant. We went to Sacramento. We went over there to Washington, D.C.
We've gone everywhere. Everybody is paying lip service. At the end of the day our trees can't wait. Our trees are going to wait for a law — maybe passing might open. Two gates, one gate, no gates, at the end of the day, nobody is bringing us water. [This sentence makes no sense. It may be the fault of the person who transcribed it. The Two Gates reference is a Rube Goldberg engineering proposal to protect Delta fish while still allowing exports of water. It may or may not work]
HANNITY: Congressman, I mean, how is this possible? I mean, this isn't an endangered — this is — go ahead.
REP. DEVIN MUNES, R-CALIF.: [Again, Munes is a typo by the transcriber. It is Nunes.] It's unbelievable, Sean. This is — we tried on the House floor this summer about five or six different times, and we only got a handful of Democrat votes every time. Weave [No English major, here. Should be "we've."] tried to pass something. [Nunes conveniently omits saying what he really tried to do was to get the venerable Endangered Species Act suspended for a few hundred growers in the Western Valley even at the risk of causing ecological collapse in the Delta.
And look, Nancy Pelosi is the speaker of the House. She's from California. We have over 10 percent unemployment in California. We're sitting in trees with trees that are only 8 years old right now that are now sitting here dead, dried out. [Again, we never heard from the farmer whose orchard died. Did he already have financial problems from the collapse of almond prices due to SURPLUS? We now have 650,000 acres of almonds in the San Joaquin Valley. The price has gone from $4 a pound to $1-2 a pound. How many acres of almonds do we need?
There's a half a million acres of farmland — it's bigger than the size of Rhode Island — that's now dry because of these fools. [Where does Nunes get this figure? I've seen no official reports that half a million acres of farmland on the west side have been idled. Even Westlands officials do not claim their entire district has been dried up. And by the way, Devin, that's politically smart of you to call congressional Democrats "fools" when they are in the majority. Perhaps that is why you have never pushed a significant water bill through Congress in the last decade even when the Republicans were in control. You'll never get anything done while Nancy Pelosi is speaker. Shrill radio talk show host Ray Appleton has called her the Anti-Christ. That is sure to garner her cooperation. ]
HANNITY: I've got to — go ahead, Paul. Go ahead.
RODRIGUEZ: You know — you know, the loser here is the American people. [Not really. There has been no noticeable change in food prices because of the curtailment in production of 15 percent of the farmland in the surplus glutted San Joaquin Valley. But prices, notably milk and almond prices, have dropped due to surplus.] Because when we live in the most fertile valley on this planet. Everything you put on the ground here grows. Yet, you're going to eventually — by next spring, you're going to get your vegetables from China. And I understand they make great baby milk formula. [Nice scare tactic, Paul. The fact is significant amounts of foreign food have been imported into the United States for many years, often grown by American agribusinesses operating offshore. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the average American now eats about 260 pounds of foreign food a year, 13 percent of the average person's diet. Food imports regulated by the FDA increased from four million shipments in 2000 to 10 million shipments in 2006. Some 79 percent of the American fish and shellfish consumption comes from foreign sources. Some 32 percent of fruits and nuts consumed in America now come from overseas and 13 percent of vegetables. Shouldn't we all be dead by now from this tainted foreign food, often grown by Americans, Paul?]
MUNES:And Sean, let me add something on this. This is, you know, in China and India, and Brazil, they're building water infrastructure projects. [The Three Gorges Project in China is the most destructive hydroelectric project in human history, forcing the relocation of 100 million people. It was built for power production, not water storage.] In California, not only are we not building projects here [not true, as environmentalists know, numerous storage projects, including dams and groundwater storage, have been built in the last two decades], we're taking the projects we have, and they're shut off. They're shut off, and they're starving this valley of water. [No, Devin, cutbacks in Delta exports are not "starving this valley of water" because the East Side gets its water from several rivers originating in the Sierra Nevada Mountains south of the Delta.]
RODRIGUEZ: We'd like to have the same consideration that they have for the plants that they're building in Iraq. For crying out loud, they are getting — they're getting the water projects.
Here in this valley, look we have no other recourse, but we want to thank you a lot, Sean. Because nobody else has pointed their eye on this problem. To us there's a lot of — we understand that the president has serious problems, you know, with health care and all these other things. But to us this is our livelihood.
MUNES: All you got to do is turn the pumps on. [Hey Devin, the pumps were turned back on July 1, pursuant to the federal court order. Are you keeping up?]
HANNITY: Listen, I want everybody — I don't know if anybody is going to hear me out there, guys. But I want to say this to the crowd. You know what? The people in this area need jobs. They need their farms. They need the water for their farms. And the federal government, where is Barack Obama, where is Nancy Pelosi, where is Harry Reid?
Turn the water on [The water has been turned on, Sean. Do a little homework.] and let the people in central California eat. I can't believe I'm even debating, to be honest, Paul.
RODRIGUEZ: It's ridiculous. You know, we — I have not lost faith yet. Maybe I'm a knucklehead. We have sent the letter. We're still hoping that Mr. Obama will see it in his busy schedule to come down here and visit us.
We believe that — seeing is believing. If he sees the faces on these people. Look, we're not just white or brown. We're everybody here. This is a microcosm of America here. We're farmers. We bring food to your table.
HANNITY: Let me ask you the last question. Are you going to run for office?
RODRIGUEZ: Who, me? The only thing I'm going to run is from the cops. [This was funny, Paul. I laughed. You are a funny guy.]
No, this — this area needs someone with an education. I'm not smart enough to be that. I just want water to my mom's farm, and I'm back to telling jokes.
MUNES: I'm working on him. I'm trying to get him to run, Sean. We'll keep — we're going to work on it.
RODRIGUEZ: You should run, Sean. You're the man.
HANNITY: No, no, no. Listen, I mean this sincerely. I think this is really important. And I hope the president is watching or somebody will bring this to his attention, and somebody has got to turn the water back on. [Again, Sean had you done a minimal amount of fact checking you would have discovered the pumps were turned back on July 1. We've got to save these farmers. [These "farmers" are the most heavily subsidized growers in America, receiving more subsidy money for crops, and subsidized water and power, than any other growers in America. You are a big supporter of the Heritage Foundation, Sean. Read what they have to say about farm subsidies.] We've got to save these farms. We've got to do it for the people out there.
RODRIGUEZ: Either that or put us on the endangered species list.
Thank you so much.
HANNITY: All right, guys. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. When...
RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.
HANNITY: Guys, I hope your water gets turned on soon. Thank you, all.
Unbelievable. Whatever happened to the government working for people? [The government, Sean, has done more to help the 600 Westlands growers than any other farmers in America. More than 300,000 acres of their land suffer major selenium problems and are salting up and there have been suggestions they be taken out of production for 25 years, especially since drainage from the Westlands destroyed the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge in the early 1980s. The current price tag for a drainage system for the 600 Westlands growers is $2 billion. You didn't mention a word of this on your show, Sean.]
Folks, this is an amazing time in our country's history. And I just can't believe we find ourselves, you know, even having to debate some of these things. But we're going to stay on that story. [Do some homework. Sean. Talk to the thousands of commercial salmon fishermen who are out of work. Talk to Delta farmers who have seen their water supplies degraded by salty and selenium-tainted agricultural waste water from irrigation districts north of Westlands in the western San Joaquin Valley.]
Westlands Hoards Surplus Water While Farmworkers Suffer...Dan Bacher
The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) today called for an investigation into the hoarding of surplus water by the Westlands Water District while farm workers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley are struggling to pay their bills and put food on their table.
Over the past several months, the mainstream media and right wing demagogues such as Sean Hannity have reported "heart rendering" stories about the Westlands Water District having to fallow fields, putting farmworkers out of work and placing farms in jeopardy because of a lack of water.
Today the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance District (CSPA) countered the lies behind Westlands' cynical astroturfing campaign by revealing that the district has been "squirreling away" surplus water it can't use.
CSPA has discovered a Westlands' information bulletin dated 23 July 2009 revealing that the giant irrigation district, considered the "Darth Vader" of California water politics by fishing groups, Indian Tribes and environmental organizations, has been hiding considerable carryover storage from last year and is adding even more this year. The group is calling for an investigation into Westlands' surplus water and possible surplus water hidden away by other water districts.
“The idea that Westlands Water District has been hoarding surplus water it can't use while farm workers have been paid to hold vocal protests around the Central Valley accusing Congressman George Miller and federal agencies of starving farmers in order to protect Delta smelt is outrageous," said Bill Jennings, CSPA executive director. “Perhaps Congressmen Devin Nunes and Dennis Cardoza can use their influence to persuade Westlands to share some of their stored water wealth to benefit those less fortunate. Clearly an investigation is needed to see who else might be hoarding surplus water.”
At the end of 2008, Westlands had some 233,998 acre-feet (AF) of water stored in other facilities that it didn't need, according to Jennings. Some 93,700 AF of that stored water was used through June 2009. However, the export pumping restrictions caused by the Delta Smelt Biological Opinion ended 30 June and the State and Federal Projects have ramped up pumping.
Westlands has made firm commitments to acquire 141,522 AF of supplemental water and is requesting additional supplies. Consequently, Westlands staff projects that the District will end the water year with approximately 275,000 AF of water it is unable to use.
The disclosure of the hoarding of water by Westlands occurs as the water district and its front group, the Latino Water Coalition, has been campaigning to give a "human face" to corporate agribusiness by busing hundreds of farmworkers to "rallies" and "marches" in Fresno, Sacramento and Concord demanding increased pumping of water from the Delta. However, no farmworker organizations, including the United Farmworkers are supporting these efforts, organized by the public relations firm Burston-Marsteller, notorious for campaigns to cast a "democratic" image to dictatorships around the world for decades, and numerous corporate greenwashing campaigns.
Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers of America, the 27,000-member union founded by Cesar Chavez, blasted the Latino Water Coalition's so-called "March for Water" this April for being an event organized by corporate agribusiness.
"In reality, this is not a farm worker march, '' Rodriguez told the New Work Times on April 17. ''This is a farmer march orchestrated and financed by growers.''
The bulletin also points out that the Banks pumping plant of the State Water Project has been pumping about 1,000 AF of Central Valley Project daily. "Of course use of the 'Joint Point of Diversion' (JPOD) is illegal and violates D-1641, the State Water Resource Control Board's (State Board) order implementing the Bay-Delta Plan. D-1641 explicitly prohibits use of JPOD when south Delta salinity standards are being violated," noted Jennings.
Presently the running 30-day average for electrical conductivity, the measure of salinity, at Old River near Tracy is 1.02 umhos/cm. The water quality standard for this period is 0.7 umhos/cm to protect Delta agriculture. South Delta salinity standards have been continually violated the last seven months, imperiling Delta fish populations and Delta farms.
Jennings said the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) and California Department of Water Resources (DWR) have been ignoring the Cease & Deist Order issued by the State Board in 2006 for violation of south Delta salinity standards. Recently, they requested an extension of the compliance schedule for that Cease & Deist Order beyond the 1 July 2009 deadline.
CSPA was a party in the June 2009 State Board evidentiary hearing regarding the DWR/USBR request. Even though the State Board declared in 2006 they would not again extend the compliance schedule, they are expected to shortly issue a decision extending the schedule and excusing past violations. CSPA is prepared to sue over the Board's continued refusal to enforce the Cease & Desist Order. However, the prohibition against using JPOD while standards are violated was neither raised nor discussed in that hearing.
"Earlier this year, the State Board held hearings to consider a relaxation of Delta outflow standards because they were being violated," Jennings state. "While April rains eliminated the need for relaxed standards, the Board refused to penalize the USBR and DWR for violating existing standards. In June, the USBR acknowledged that Vernalis flows were only about 59% of required flow. Again, the State Board took no action. Water quality standards in the southern Delta have been consistently exceeded since last December."
Jennings observed that, “the State Board continues to look the other way as virtually all of the standards protecting the Delta and its collapsing fisheries are ignored and DWR and USBR violate the law in order to supply Westlands with water they can't use.”
"CSPA remains concerned about the plight of unemployed farm workers, even as we note that data from the California Economic Development Department and annual reports from County Agricultural Commissioners reveal that both farm labor employment and the value of agricultural production has increased in the seven south-of-Delta counties over the course of the drought," emphasized Jennings.
New gov't study shows mercury in fish widespread...DINA CAPPIELLO, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- A federal study of mercury contamination released Wednesday found the toxic substance in every fish tested at nearly 300 streams across the country, a finding that underscores how widespread mercury pollution has become.
The study by the U.S. Geological Survey is the most comprehensive look to date at mercury in the nation's streams. From 1998 to 2005, scientists collected and tested more than a thousand fish from 291 streams nationwide. While all fish had traces of mercury contamination, only about a quarter had levels exceeding what the Environmental Protection Agency says is safe for people eating average amounts of fish.
"This science sends a clear message that our country must continue to confront pollution, restore our nation's waterways, and protect the public from potential health dangers," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.
Mercury can damage the nervous system and cause learning disabilities in developing fetuses and young children. The main source of mercury to most of the streams tested, according to the researchers, is emissions from coal-fired power plants. The mercury released from smokestacks rains down into waterways, where natural processes convert it into methylmercury - a form that allows the toxin to wind its way up the food chain into fish.
Some of the highest levels in fish were detected in the remote blackwater streams along the coasts of the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana, where surrounding forests and wetlands help in the conversion.
Mercury was also detected in high concentrations in western streams that drain areas mined for mercury and gold. At about 59 of the streams, mostly in the West, mining could be contributing to the mercury levels, the researchers said.
"Some ecosystems are more sensitive than others," said Barbara Scudder, the lead USGS scientist on the study.
All but two states - Alaska and Wyoming - have issued fish-consumption advisories because of mercury contamination. Some of the streams studied already had warnings.
"This is showing that the problem is much more widespread," said Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst for the Environmental Working Group, which has pushed for stronger advisories on consumption of mercury-laden fish and controls on the sources of mercury pollution. "If you are living in an area that doesn't have a mercury advisory, you should use caution."
Earlier this year, the Obama administration said it would begin crafting a new regulations to control mercury emissions from power plants after a federal appeals court threw out plans drafted by the Bush administration and favored by industry. The Bush rule would have allowed power plants to buy and sell pollution credits, instead of requiring each plant to install equipment to reduce mercury pollution.
The EPA also has proposed a new regulation to clamp down on emissions of mercury from cement plants.
On the Net:
U.S. Geological Survey:http://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/mercury/