Merced Sun-Star
Jobs in forefront as Merced planners consider Wal-Mart distribution center...SCOTT JASON
A stream of residents, many wearing pins emblazoned with the word "jobs," marched to the microphone Wednesday to urge the Merced Planning Commission to support the proposed Wal-Mart distribution center.
In a meeting that lasted five-and-a-half hours, more than 37 people spoke in support of the controversial project while 19 argued against it. About 300 residents packed into the second-floor council chambers at City Hall and into the Sam Pipes Room downstairs.
"We must look for ways to attract business and not turn them away," MERCO Credit Union CEO Mike Malone said. "Vote to approve the Wal-Mart distribution center. If not, will the last person in Merced please turn off the light?"
The seven-member commission didn't make a decision on whether to recommend approval to the City Council. The commission will meet again at 6 p.m. on Monday to continue the meeting. It will only hear from the 25 residents who signed up to speak but left before they were called.
The hearing is the first of the last few hurdles for a project that's been in the works for four years. The final vote by the City Council is on the horizon. If approved, it's likely that opponents will sue the city. Tom Lippe, a San Francisco attorney hired by Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth, criticized the environmental report, asserting that it fails to fully evaluate the impact of air pollution created by the diesel trucks that will drive up and down Highway 99. He called the project a Ponzi scheme. "The capital that's being wasted is people's health," Lippe said.
Wal-Mart's supporters pointed to Merced's 17 percent unemployment rate, low education level, dismal economy and general poverty as critical reasons for why the project must be built. Several said they were surprised Wal-Mart was patient enough to deal with all the legal obstacles to build the project.
Opponents, who wore stickers reading, "Protect our families: No to Wal-Mart," cited the added pollution to the air and water, and traffic congestion as concessions that aren't worth the added jobs. They also said approving the project would be a short-sighted decision in light of the growth and jobs UC Merced will continue to create.
Merced resident Sophia Curiel said she's not political or against Wal-Mart but worries about the health of the children at Pioneer Elementary School, which is near the distribution center site. Despite loving the area, she said she decided against living there because of the distribution center.
"I'm not against jobs. I have an unemployed son," she said. "I'm here for the people who have no voice."
The evening began with a presentation by Planning Manager Kim Espinosa, who detailed the project's basic outline and what will be done to reduce its impacts.
Wal-Mart wants to build a 1.1 million-square-foot distribution center on 230 acres in southeast Merced. After three years of operation, the center should employ up to 1,200 people. Nine hundred of those jobs will be full-time positions. The average full-time wage of people working at its other facilities is $17.50.
City staff has recommended that the project be approved.
Kay Flanagan-Spinelli, a Merced real estate agent, said the project will help keep people's children from leaving the area in search of a job. "I don't want to see Merced dry up," she said.
Lee Boese Jr., a member of Citizens of the Betterment of Merced, toured Wal-Mart's Apple Valley distribution center and said he was impressed by its efficiency. No resident he spoke with said anything bad about it, Boese said.
He put on the overhead projector the front-page photo from Wednesday's Sun-Star that showed county employees reeling from the layoffs. Boese said he thinks people are against Wal-Mart as a company, not the project. "If you were going to substitute Microsoft for Wal-Mart, I don't think there'd be any opposition," he said.
John Harrell, who worked for Merced County's environmental health department, said he's disappointed that so many projects are felled by environmental regulations.
"In America, we're pulling ourselves down by our bootstraps," Harrell said. "We can't build anything -- refineries, plants. This is just a warehouse."
Ron Ewing said the center would be a boon for the otherwise struggling city. "Merced is similar to a homeless person. We just found a lottery ticket on the side of the road," he said. "Are we going to tear it up?"
Still other residents felt the project was too much of a gamble. Some wanted Wal-Mart to pledge to hire a certain percentage of local workers as a condition of the project getting approved. Most of the proponents spoke during the first half of the meeting. More opponents lined up to speak toward the end of the evening. People were allowed to speak in the order that they signed up.
Residents said approving the project was an easy decision, which Merced Sierra Club Chairman Rod Webster said was incorrect.
If it was a simple decision, Webster said, Wal-Mart wouldn't have needed to spend three years studying the effects. "Are the environmental effects trivial?" he asked the commission. "Wal-Mart didn't think so."
The members of the Planning Commission didn't offer their thoughts on the project. They argued over whether more people should be allowed to speak at Monday's meeting. They decided only the people who filled out request-to-comment cards but didn't go before the commission could speak at the coming meeting.
Merced County farmers relieved Williamson Act spared from budget ax
The program to preserve farmland is still in place, but not accepting new participants...CORINNE REILLY
Merced County growers may not have gotten all they wanted when the Board of Supervisors voted this week to scale back the state's most successful farmland preservation program.
Still, many are breathing a sigh of relief that the cuts didn't go deeper.
Faced with a massive budget shortfall, supervisors approved $33 million in spending reductions Tuesday. Among them were cuts to the Williamson Act program, a broadly praised statewide initiative that offers tax breaks to farmers who promise to keep their land in agricultural production for at least a decade.
But the cuts didn't go as far as many had feared.
Historically, the state has reimbursed counties for tax losses associated with the Williamson Act program. Those reimbursements were cut from California's budget last month, leaving the Board of Supervisors to decide whether the county should eat the losses itself or begin phasing out the discounts.
On Tuesday, the board voted to temporarily stop accepting new participants into the program, but to continue the tax breaks -- which amounted to roughly $1.2 million last year -- for farmers already enrolled.
Supervisors also voted to amend one of the program's provisions, which will reduce savings for some participants.
"I think we're all very relieved that the county is going to keep supporting the Williamson Act at all, especially in these incredibly tough times," said Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo, executive director of the Merced County Farm Bureau. "It could have gone worse."
The Williamson Act was adopted in 1965, but Merced County didn't begin participating until 2000. Nine years later, nearly half of the county's farmland -- 470,000 acres -- is contracted for preservation through Williamson.
Roughly 1,200 local farmers benefit from the program, and many say they couldn't make ends meet without it.
"So many farmers are on the margins of sustainability," Snelling grower Rob White told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. "For many of them, the savings represented by the Williamson Act are a matter of being able to continue or not."
Many of the farmers and preservationists who spoke in support of the program seemed to recognize that it stood little chance of surviving Tuesday's budget hearings unscathed. Instead of asking for no cuts, many asked only that the county not begin undoing existing preservation contracts.
"You have to be realistic," Westmoreland Pedrozo said. "All we can do is hope that the state will bring the funding back" so the county can begin accepting participants again.
Supervisor John Pedrozo said he supported only limited cuts to the program for the same reason. "This isn't a dead issue, and I think ag communities up and down the state aren't done contesting this," he said. "I wanted to leave a glimmer of hope so the folks in Sacramento know we want to bring this back."
Across California, roughly 17 million acres of farmland are under Williamson Act contracts, according to the state Department of Conservation. California spent roughly $38 million on Williamson Act reimbursements last year.
Williamson Act Lands
Map shows land in Merced County under Williamson Act contracts
Merced County's Hilmar plan wins award...Corinne Reilly
The California chapter of the American Planning Association honored the Merced County Planning Department with an award for its Hilmar Community Plan.
Officials with the chapter's central section presented the award during a brief ceremony Tuesday before the Board of Supervisors. The planning department won first place for comprehensive planning in the small-jurisdiction category.
The APA selection committee complemented the plan for its ambitious long-range vision, the county said in a statement. "The committee also complemented the department and consultants on their hard work, innovative ideas and dedication, which contribute to the goals of the planning profession," the county's statement said.
The Hilmar Community Plan establishes policies and goals to guide the growth of Hilmar through 2025. It took several years to develop.
Among other items, it addresses farmland preservation, new housing and commercial development, community character, open space and public services.
To read the plan, go to www.co.merced.ca.us/hilmarcommunityplan.
Letter: Vocal opposition...DAVID THELEN, Merced
Editor: President Obama recently stated that he does not seek a single-payer system where the government takes over health care. Yet, he has not disavowed his two prior public statements to the contrary, lamenting that it will take years to complete the takeover.
He knows he must use governmental creep to gobble up more and more of the existing system. People are already upset with how government has ballooned. Wild spending, wild intrusion and wild unresponsiveness have reached critical mass. Democrats, Republicans, independents and those not formerly involved in politics are stepping forward in growing numbers to voice community opposition.
Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: "In order to know what (the law) is, we must know what it has been, and what it tends to become."
Well, Social Security and Medicare became "broke." If we turn over health-care decisions to a government that wants to slash costs to fund care, we all know rationing will result. We have seen this in Medicare, proposals to raise the eligibility age for Social Security and proposals to reduce Social Security.
Alas, there's always that "more taxes for everybody" approach. Rep. Dennis Cardoza's failure to discuss the issues only ingrains more opposition.
Merced County Times
We Stand Corrected Congressman Dennis Cardoza is back home again!...John Derby
No sooner had last week’s edition hit the street than Dennis Cardoza’s administrative assistant Mike Jenssen was on the phone asking “Where did you get your information? Congressman Dennis Cardoza has been back in his district since last Monday (August 10).”
We stand corrected. “Where has he been?” We asked.
Jenssen said he has been meeting with different groups like the high school board, water district, health centers and the Rotary Club.
“Can we have a copy of his schedule?” We asked.
“We don’t want it published.” was his reply.
“No, we won’t publish it, we just want to attend one of the meetings to hear what he has to say.”
Jenssen said he would set up an Editorial board meeting with Cardoza and our staff, however we never received Congressman Dennis Cardoza’s schedule and in fact, until Jenssen called, we were unaware that he would even be in town.
Now for the question of Town Hall meeting.
We asked why Congressman Cardoza had not scheduled any Town Hall meetings.
“He has conducted Telephone Town Halls,” said Jenssen. “Seventy thousand constituents have been contacted with Congressman Cardoza’s recorded voice asking them if they had any questions for him.”
 “ The calls were made during June and July and 4,280 people participated in one session and 5,231 people participated in the next session,” according to Jenssen.
“What did the message say?” We asked.
“I don’t have a recording that I can send you over your phone,” said Jenssen, “But it was Cardoza’s voice and he talked to the people personally who responded.”
“Can you email us a copy of the message?” We asked.
“No that would not be possible,” said Jenssen.
“Wow, that is a lot of people...he certainly wouldn’t reach that many people in a regular Town Hall meeting,” We replied.
“Did Congressman Cardoza personally speak to all of these people, (over 9,000).” We asked.
“Yes he did,” said Jenssen.
“Well, you understand our position. A lot of people are concerned about Cardoza’s position on the new Health Care Bill, on the foreclosure problem, the high rate of unemployment and the problems Dairy Farmers are having.” We said.
“You must not have received our releases on these issues,” said Jenssen. “I can email them to you.”
And he did, several pages of copy on the issues he was faced with in Washington.
Here are some excerpts from his statement on Health Reform.
“These are the guiding principles for any measure that receives my vote.” stated Cardoza.
“A mechanism to improve access to care and increase the number of physicians in the Valley.
The patients right to choose their physicians.
Health care decisions determined by medical professionals and the patient.
Comprehensive Coverage
Additionally I believe that significant cost savings can be identified within our current system. Until those saving are found, and waste, fraud and abuse are eliminated, I cannot support a financing mechanism that places the cost burden solely on private employers and taxpayers.”
And so we leave this editorial with our readers to decide “Is Telephone Town Halls a way of the future or will we ever get a chance to shout, We’re mad and we’re not going to put up with it any longer.”
Modesto Bee
Wastewater from food plants getting into wells...JAMES PRICHARD, Associated Press Writer
CLYDE TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- When empty-nesters Kari and Ron Craton moved a few years ago to a more rural area of southwestern Michigan, they were seeking a more rustic life.
What they got was more rust.
Government officials say food-processing plants that turn raw crops into products have contaminated the water-supply wells of the Cratons and other property owners in agricultural areas of Michigan and could do the same in other states. Residents claim increased amounts of metals in water drawn from their wells have killed their pets, ruined their plumbing and made their houses impossible to sell or rent.
"It's going to take years to clean up this mess," says Kari Craton, who persuaded environmental advocate Erin Brockovich to help her and her neighbors.
A few years ago, acting on residents' complaints about foul odors and flies near wineries and cheese factories in the San Joaquin Valley, regional water officials in California started requiring food processors to install monitoring wells near the fields where they disposed of their production wastewater. Elevated levels of salts and nitrates, which in extreme cases can reduce blood oxygen in infants, were found near some fields.
In Michigan, lawn sprinkling has left an iron oxide patina on the front of the Cratons' ranch, the side of their garage and the decorative cement blocks used in landscaping their front yard. The couple have had bath water that was brown and foul-smelling, fingernails that turned orange and boiled eggs that cooked up black.
Elevated levels of iron, arsenic, manganese and other potentially toxic substances have been detected in the groundwater of two southwestern Michigan communities that are home to large food-processing operations, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says the wells of dozens of homeowners near a Birds Eye Foods Inc. cannery in Fennville and a Coca-Cola Co. fruit juice plant in Paw Paw have been contaminated by the facilities.
The Birds Eye plant produces fruit fillings, sauces and glazes made from cherries, blueberries and apples. Coca-Cola makes Minute Maid fruit juice and juice-based drinks in Paw Paw, which is about 30 miles south of Fennville.
State environmental officials say affected residents face no serious health dangers, but little is known about the potential risks of long-term exposure to combinations of such elements. People worry about what they see as unexplained illnesses and even deaths among relatives and neighbors.
"No one's ever actually done a cumulative impact or cumulative effect analysis (to determine) if somebody's receiving water that's high in arsenic and high in manganese, does the manganese compound the problem of the arsenic?" asks Bob Bowcock, a water expert who works with Brockovich.
In the 1960s, both operations started disposing of their production wastewater by spraying it onto local fields, just as other food companies did for years. It was believed that the salt, sugar and other organic matter in the wastewater would restore nutrients to the soil, while the impurities would be filtered out as the wastewater percolated down through the dirt and into aquifers.
However, scientists determined in the last decade that too much spraying can contaminate groundwater.
Coca-Cola stopped spraying fields in 2001, after opening a $7 million wastewater-treatment facility. The company issued a written statement saying it is continuing to study groundwater issues with the Department of Environmental Quality.
Birds Eye stills sprays, although it has proposed making a $3.5 million upgrade to its wastewater-treatment system to handle water used in processing.
The company has denied being the source of Fennville's groundwater contamination, noting that its spray fields are near a former Chevron Chemical Co. waste-burial dump and orchards that long used pesticides containing arsenic. The Cratons live in Clyde Township, about a mile east of the Birds Eye plant.
Birds Eye said in a written statement that it "shares residents' concerns about water quality" and also has been working with the Department of Environmental Quality.
Untreated wastewater from food processing has high concentrations of organic matter that robs the soil of oxygen, causing naturally occurring metals that had been attached to soil particles to be released into groundwater, says agency hydrogeologist Eric Chatterson.
"We're now going through the process of trying to get everybody to upgrade or come up with an alternative way of discharging so that we don't have these problems," Chatterson says.
Manufacturing, tourism and agriculture are Michigan's three largest industries. Firms that freeze, can and dry foods are mostly in northern, western and southwestern Michigan.
Since July 2007, Birds Eye has provided the Cratons with monthly deliveries of bottled water and dug them two new wells, the first of which contained water with too much iron, according to a December report from the company to the Department of Environmental Quality.
There is talk of expanding the city of Fennville's water-distribution system to homes with contaminated water outside the city limits.
Several Fennville-area residents filed a federal lawsuit against Birds Eye in January. That case is working its way through the system. In April, at the request of Kari Craton, Brockovich met with residents at a town hall-style meeting where the environmental advocate said she would take on their case.
Brockovich's legal team is planning to sue both Birds Eye and Coca-Cola on behalf of affected property owners.
Counties in valley among best in state for housing affordability...J.N. Sbranti
Home affordability has set a record in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
Families can afford a higher percentage of homes in Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties than in any other region in California. And nearby Madera is the most affordable county in the state, data released Wednesday show.
In Stanislaus, for example, median-income families could afford 83.6 percent of the homes sold in April, May and June.
That's an amazing change from 2005, when the typical Stanislaus family could afford only 3 percent of the homes sold.
The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index statistics demonstrate how the housing boom-then-bust cycle has altered the ability of regular folks to attain the American dream.
While the foreclosure crisis and plummeting prices have hurt homeowners, they've created more opportunities for first-time buyers.
"It's crazy. I'm only 22, and I bought a home," said Latosha DeHart of Modesto, who works for the U.S. Postal Serv-ice. "I never thought I would be able to do it."
But she and thousands of other first-time buyers landed great deals this spring.
DeHart paid $110,000 for a three- bedroom, 1,366-square-foot home that had sold in 2006 for $295,000. The previous owner defaulted on the mortgage, the bank foreclosed in the fall, then sold it to DeHart in April.
"Everybody is shocked when I tell them about it," said DeHart, whose monthly payment is $850, including taxes and insurance. "Anybody really can buy a house now, as long as they have a job."
That's about right, according to some valley mortgage brokers.
"Someone making $9 an hour at 40 hours per week can almost afford a home in the $90,000 range, if they had no other debt," said John Anaya, a mortgage adviser at Century 21 Mortgage in Modesto.
While $90,000 Stanislaus homes in a decent neighborhood aren't as easy to find this summer as they were this spring, Anaya said there are still some out there.
Median-priced homes in Stanislaus this spring sold for $138,000, while the county's median-income family earned $59,600 per year, according to the building association.
Anaya said families earning $56,000 can afford to buy a $150,000 home. Using a Federal Housing Administration-insured loan, Anaya said, the monthly payment for such a home would be less than $1,100.
"I'm getting a lot of first-time buyers under 25 years old coming in for mortgages," Anaya said. He said many single adults, not just families, are able to qualify for mortgages, especially since first-time buyers can collect $8,000 tax credits from the federal government.
Nationwide, 72.3 percent of the homes sold this spring were affordable to median-income families, which was down just slightly from earlier this year. U.S. families earned a median $64,000, and homes sold for a median $177,000 this spring.
In California, 62.7 percent of homes were affordable. Families in the state earned $70,400, and homes sold for $225,000.
While state and national affordability rates declined a bit, they continued to rise and set records throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
In Merced, 84.3 percent of homes were affordable. Merced families earned $50,400, and homes sold for $110,000.
In San Joaquin, 80.7 percent of homes were affordable. San Joaquin families earned $63,600, and homes sold for $150,000.
Madera replaced Stanislaus as the most affordable California county this spring. Families there could afford 84.4 percent of homes. Madera families earned $52,600, and homes sold for $134,000.
The state's least affordable county was San Francisco, where median- income families could afford 26.9 percent of the homes. Families there earned $96,800, and homes sold for $580,000.
The nation's most affordable region was Kokomo, Ind., where 97.5 percent of homes were affordable. Families there earned $61,800, and homes sold for $79,000.
In determining which homes families can afford, the housing index assumes families spend 28 percent of their gross income on housing. That includes what must be paid toward principal and interest on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, and it assumes a 10 percent down payment.
Mortgage delinquencies hit record high in Q2...ALAN ZIBEL, AP Real Estate Writer. AP Economics Writer Christopher S. Rugaber contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON -- More than 13 percent of American homeowners with a mortgage are either behind on their payments or in foreclosure as the recession throws more people out of work, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Thursday.
The record-high numbers in the report are being driven by borrowers with traditional fixed-rate mortgages, rather than the shady subprime loans with adjustable rates that kicked off the mortgage crisis. As of June, more than 4 percent of all borrowers were in foreclosure and about 9 percent had missed at least one payment.
One in three new foreclosures between April and June was from a prime, fixed-rate loan, up from one in five a year earlier. Last year, subprime adjustable-rate loans caused the largest share of foreclosures.
The worst of the trouble is still concentrated in California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida, which accounted for 44 percent of new foreclosures in the country. Nearly 12 percent of all loans in Florida were in foreclosure, the highest in the country, followed by Nevada at 9 percent.
"Clearly we have not seen the bottom in Florida," said Jay Brinkmann, the trade group's chief economist.
President Barack Obama has pledged to fight the problem, but its foreclosure prevention program, known as "Making Home Affordable," is off to a disappointing start. As of July, only about one in 10 of eligible borrowers had signed up.
The success of the program depends on the economy stabilizing. The number of first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose unexpectedly for the second straight week, the Labor Department said Thursday.
The number of new jobless claims rose to a seasonally adjusted 576,000 last week, from a revised figure of 561,000. Wall Street economists expected a drop to 550,000, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters.
New jobless claims rise unexpectedly to 576K...CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABERAP Economics Writer. AP Business Writers Alan Zibel in Washington and Tali Arbel in New York contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON -- The number of first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose unexpectedly for the second straight week, a sign that jobs remain scarce even as other data show the economy is stabilizing.
Many economists expect the economy to grow at a modest pace in the second half of this year, bringing an end to the longest recession since World War II. But jobs are likely to remain scarce and many analysts worry that persistently high unemployment could cause consumers to hold back on spending, threatening a recovery.
The Labor Department said Thursday the number of new jobless claims rose to a seasonally adjusted 576,000 last week, from a revised figure of 561,000. Wall Street economists expected a drop to 550,000, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters.
Economists closely watch initial claims, which are considered a gauge of layoffs and an indication of companies' willingness to hire new workers.
"Consumer spending is going to have a very difficult time recovering with the labor market as weak as it is," said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR Inc.
The Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators rose for a fourth straight month in July, gaining 0.6 percent. That was slightly less than economists expected and a slower rate than in the prior three months.
Still, the Conference Board said its index, which is meant to project economic activity in the next three to six months, suggests the recession has bottomed out and growth in economic activity will begin soon. Six of the 10 indicators that comprise the index increased in July, including employment data and stock prices. Consumer expectations were the biggest negative factor.
Meanwhile, the Mortgage Bankers Association said more than 13 percent of American homeowners with a mortgage are either behind on their payments or in foreclosure, a record tally as the recession leaves more people unemployed. About a third of new foreclosures between April and June were prime, fixed-rate loans, up from one in five a year earlier.
The jobless claims figures are volatile, and had been trending down, after remaining above 600,000 for most of this year. The new report indicates that the labor market is still weak. In a healthy economy, initial claims are usually around 325,000 or below.
The four-week average of initial claims, which smooths out fluctuations, rose for the second straight week to 570,000.
The number of people remaining on the benefit rolls dropped by 2,000 to 6.24 million. Analysts had expected a slight decline. The continuing claims figures lag initial claims by a week.
The stock market rose slightly in morning trading. The Dow Jones industrial average added about 35 points, while broader indices also edged up.
When federal emergency programs are included, the total number of jobless benefit recipients was 9.18 million in the week that ended Aug. 1, the most recent data available. That was down from 9.25 million in the previous week. Congress has added up to 53 extra weeks of benefits on top of the 26 typically provided by the states.
The large number of people remaining on the rolls is an indication that unemployed workers are having a hard time finding new jobs.
Still, layoffs have slowed recently. The department said earlier this month that companies cut 247,000 jobs in July, a large amount but still the smallest number in almost a year.
The unemployment rate dipped to 9.4 percent in July from 9.5 percent, its first drop in 15 months. But many private economists and the Federal Reserve think the rates could top 10 percent by next year.
The recession, which began in December 2007 and is the longest since World War II, has eliminated a net total of 6.7 million jobs.
More job cuts were announced this week. Bethesda, Md.-based defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. said it will eliminate about 800 jobs in its space systems division, and San Francisco-based video and audio conferencing company Polycom Inc. said it will cut 3 percent of its 2,600 person work force.
Among the states, Tennessee had the largest increase in claims with 2,525 for the week ended Aug. 8, which it attributed to more layoffs in the transportation equipment, industrial machinery, and rubber and plastics industries. The next largest increases were in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Georgia and Washington.
California reported the largest drop in claims of 5,635, which it attributed to fewer layoffs in the construction, trade and service industries. Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Delaware had the next largest decreases.
Fresno Bee
Gunnison sage grouse reconsidered for listing...The Associated Press
DENVER The Gunnison sage grouse, found primarily in southwest Colorado, will get another chance at federal protection following the settlement of a lawsuit by environmental groups.
The settlement filed Monday gives the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until June 30, 2010, to decide whether the chicken-like bird should be added to the endangered species list. The Gunnison sage grouse is among the species getting a second look in the wake of a federal report that found improper political meddling in endangered species rulings.
The report last year concluded that former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Julie MacDonald and other Bush administration officials interfered with federal biologists' decision-making for multiple species.
Attorney Amy Atwood of the Center for Biological Diversity says the Gunnison sage grouse is among the top 10 most endangered birds in the U.S.
Legislative hearings on state's water crisis begin...E.J. Schultz
SACRAMENTO -- Lawmakers say they are determined to start solving the state's water problems this week.
"I think we have to get something done on water, period. Expect major action," predicted Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter.
But with only four weeks left in the legislative session, groups on all sides of the debate are skeptical that Democrats and Republicans can strike a deal to stabilize city and farm water supplies while reversing the environmental decline of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Informational hearings on legislation will start today and continue for two weeks. At that point, a special joint committee of the Senate and Assembly is scheduled to convene, leaving only two weeks for compromise. "We don't have a lot of time left," said Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, a lead water negotiator. But he said he is confident that "if we don't get it done by the regular session, [Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger] will call a special session on water and keep after it."
Even then, the odds could be against compromise because the conflicts on water policy are as sharp as ever.
Southern California cities and San Joaquin Valley farms are pushing for a canal to send water around the delta and bring more certainty to their supplies. Environmental opposition to the decades-old proposal has softened some, but delta residents and farmers remain steadfastly opposed because they fear a water grab. On the east side of the Valley, agricultural groups continue to push for new dams -- and they have the backing of Republicans. But environmentalists favor other alternatives, such as ground-water storage and recycling.
In fits and starts, the governor and lawmakers have sought a major water deal for three years. But like previous leaders, they've been paralyzed as regional interest groups fight for their own needs.
"After a while it's hard to remember we're one state and we're supposed to work together on problems," said Phil Isenberg, chairman of the Delta Vision Task Force, created by the governor in 2006 to seek solutions to the delta's woes. "The tradition in California on water has been essentially, 'me first and once I'm happy, then I'll talk about making other people happy.' "
If there is hope for change, it comes from the belief on all sides that the status quo is not acceptable.
The three-year drought has fallowed farmers' fields and left farmworkers without jobs. The anger has overflowed into the streets in the form of marches and protests against delta environmental pumping restrictions, which farmers say have made their problems worse.
Meanwhile, the ecosystem collapse in the delta -- which environmentalists partially blame on the pumping -- has forced the shutdown of commercial salmon fishing and endangered the delta smelt fish species.
The starting point is a five-bill package by Democrats that focuses on the delta. The key bills would form the Delta Stewardship Council, a seven-member committee appointed by the governor and Legislature. The council would be charged with adopting a plan by 2011 to restore the delta, while assuring more reliable water supplies.
The council -- designed to bring cohesion to water policy -- was recommended by the Delta Vision Task Force, which after nearly two years of study concluded that water supply and environmental health should be "co-equal" goals.
At present, more than 200 agencies have some role in the delta, a 700-mile maze of rivers, tributaries and sloughs that is the hub of the state's complex water delivery system. But none of the agencies has the sweeping authority needed to press for major change, Isenberg said. "The present governance structure is totally dysfunctional and incapable of doing much of anything," he said.
Valley farmers and Republicans say the bills fall well short. Cogdill, along with the governor, has pushed for a "comprehensive solution," including a roughly $10 billion bond that voters would have to approve as soon as 2010 to pay for new dams, more conservation and delta upgrades.
East Valley growers, led by the Friant Water Users Authority, want a new dam near Millerton Lake to guarantee water supplies that they say could be lost to help restore the San Joaquin River. They also fear that some water contractors on the west side might reassert their claims to east Valley water, if they continue to lose delta supplies.
"If the delta has a failure or regulations choke off more water ... it inevitably triggers" Friant to deliver more water to the west side, said Mario Santoyo, an assistant general manager at Friant.
Environmentalists counter that the dam is not worth the projected construction cost of about $3 billion.
"Why would we build a dam like Temperance Flat dam, which costs lots of money, which may not be built in 10 [or] 15 years, and may not capture much water on a year-to-year basis?" asked Jim Metropulos, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club.
Meanwhile, delta residents, farmers and fishermen oppose the bills because they fear the newly formed council would approve a canal to move water around the delta. The Schwarzenegger administration believes it has authority to build the canal, but the council's backing would give the project more momentum.
"Having an approach that incorporates more interests and has the Legislature on board is very, very important to us," said Lester Snow, director of the state Department of Water Resources.
Water is now pumped from the delta's southern end, which has harmed fish, according to court rulings. But delta residents fear that by diverting water north of the delta, the canal would rob the delta of fresh water, hurting water quality. "If you divert that much fresh water, you cannot sustain delta fisheries, let alone restore them," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign director for Restore the Delta.
Canal opponents rallied at the state Capitol on Monday, a day after parading through the delta in boats in a show of protest. The "Million Boat Float," however, drew dozens of boats -- not the "mass flotilla" of hundreds of boaters that organizers had hoped for.
Democrats could pass their package of bills without Republican votes. But Schwarzenegger's office said he will veto them unless they include a bond. Some Democrats are reluctant to approve a new bond after having just slashed the budgets of social service programs.
"The bond issue is on a bit of a slower track," said Assembly Member Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, a lead water negotiator. "If the [governor] demands that the bond be part and parcel of the policy reforms right now, I think that's a huge problem and a recipe for failure."
Sacramento Bee
Lost jobs, prime fixed loans now driving foreclosure starts...Jim Wasserman, Dale Kasler...Home Front
Just minutes ago the Mortgage Bankers Association in Washington, D.C., concluded its quarterly conference call with reporters, announcing in a news release here that
job losses are clearly the new driver of mortgage problems
nationally, and especially in states like California where home values have been dropping.
Here's a California-specific look from the MBA.
The once-safe prime fixed-rate 30-year loan is clearly the new face of the mortgage crisis, said MBA officials. The problem for many people in declining markets is there's no way out of the jam, said MBA VP and Chief Economist  Jay Brinkmann. Many people financed to the edge of their ability to make payments and can't refinance because they're underwater. That doesn't give a bank much to work with in the situation.
Be glad, Californians, you don't live in Florida.
It's the worst place nationally to have a mortgage or own a house for that matter.
Brinkmann said 12 percent of all the mortgages in the Sunshine State
are in the foreclosure process - that is, somewhere between a notice of default reached after three missed payments and being foreclosed.
In California, 6 percent of all mortgages are in the foreclosure process.
San Francisco Chronicle
Marin water board OKs desalination plant...Kelly Zito
SAN RAFAEL, CALIF. -- Marin County's largest water utility voted Wednesday night to build a plant that will convert about 5 million gallons of seawater into drinking water for about 190,000 people. It's the first such project on San Francisco Bay.
Despite vocal opposition to the project that extended the Marin Municipal Water District's board meeting well into the night, the board voted 4-0 in favor. The five-member board has one vacancy.
Most speakers at the at-times boisterous meeting attended by about 200 people opposed the desalination facility on the grounds that it is too costly, would harm marine life and could expose people to harmful bay chemicals. What's more, they say, the steep energy needs of the plant will pump huge amounts of climate-changing gases into the atmosphere.
"When you look at the bigger picture, it makes no sense," said Mark Schlosberg of Food Water Watch, an environmental advocacy group.
But the district and others say desalination is the best way to satisfy projected population and economic growth.
"We're concerned about bringing supply and demand into balance," Hal Brown, president of the Marin County Board of Supervisors, said during the meeting's public comment portion.
Water managers across California, now in its third year of drought, are struggling to find new water supplies while figuring out how to encourage conservation.
Marin County, which relies on seven relatively small local reservoirs, contends that the new facility will provide an insurance policy against longer dry spells anticipated due to global warming.
In previous dry periods, Marin County has been able to build emergency pipelines and negotiate for more water from the Russian River, but water managers say those options are no longer available.
The plant, planned for a seven-acre shoreline plot in San Rafael, is projected to cost about $105 million and would cost $3 million to $4 million annually to operate. The district said it would fund the project using local bonds and a $3 to $5 increase in monthly water bills.
Some in the business community support the county.
"Under a severe drought, the economy will be impacted tremendously," Bill Scott, business manager of a local building trades council, told the board. Desalination represents "the only long-term ability to get water."
After the vote, board directors pointed out that the project will be subject to years of permit applications, funding requests and design reviews, not to mention potential lawsuits. The plant would be up and running by 2014 at the earliest.
Arson destroys car outside UC president's home...Henry K. Lee
OAKLAND -- A car was set on fire early today near the Oakland hills home of University of California President Mark Yudof, in what investigators believe was arson.
Neighbors reported the blaze after hearing explosions at 1:50 a.m. on Woodmont Way in the Grizzly Peak Estates neighborhood of the Oakland hills, authorities said. The car was destroyed, said Alameda County sheriff's Sgt. J.D. Nelson.
Yudof lives nearby, but investigators would not say who owned the car. Authorities did not say whether Yudof was home at the time.
The sheriff's bomb squad determined that no explosives were used. But some kind of "incendiary accelerant" was used to set the car on fire, Nelson said.
UC Berkeley and Oakland police are investigating the case, along with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI.
Yudof has been the target of protests by UC employees upset about proposed budget cuts and employee furloughs in the 10-campus system. University employees have previously rallied outside Yudof's home and at locations where he has given speeches.
In July, the UC Board of Regents cut $813 million from UC budgets in response to cuts by the state, setting in motion pay cuts, layoffs and campus cutbacks. Yudof defended the cuts as the only way to address a steady decline in state support for the university.
Mike Hudson: Protect Endangered Fish, Save the Fishermen...Dan Bacher
Here is a great piece written by Mike Hudson, a commercial salmon fisherman, about how protecting endangered species protects salmon fishermen. It was written to rebut the Pacific Legal Foundation's petition to convene the "God Squad" to overrule Endangered Species Act protections for the Bay-Delta ecosystem, including collapsing runs of Central Valley Chinook salmon. It is part of a broad effort by fishermen, Delta farmers, and environmental groups to counter some of the myths being perpetuated about the ESA and the Delta. Mike's piece is online at: http://www.onearth.org/node/1340.
Protect Endangered Fish, Save the Fishermen ...Mike Hudson August 19, 2009
Today a group called the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) is planning to present a petition urging the government to eliminate environmental protections for salmon and other endangered fish in order to pump more water from the threatened Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem as the solution to our central valley water crisis. Whoa!
Let me start off by saying that this is NOT about a “worthless 2 inch minnow,” or an “inconsequential little worm," as some have described the Delta smelt –- it is about salmon! Protecting the delta smelt also helps protect salmon. Fishermen know that what’s good for the smelt is good for salmon and good for the health of the estuary.
I’m a commercial salmon fisherman and sometimes when I say that, people believe that I take folks out on sportfishing excursions, that’s not the case. I go out on my boat and harvest a great public resource for those who don’t have the means or ability to go out there themselves.
When I come back to port, I sell these beautiful, sustainably-caught salmon to my neighbors at the farmers’ markets in our area. My commercial fishing permit entrusts me to harvest fish in a sustainable manner because these fish belong to ALL people in our State and we do want to make sure that there will be fish to catch next year, and every year until the end of time.
I’m pretty proud of doing a good job at it.
At least I was until two years ago, when excessive water diversions from our rivers and Delta totally destroyed our industry. In 2004, the Bush Administration issued new permits to allow the Delta pumps to export more water. And as these water exports increased, salmon numbers collapsed. So commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen, Tribes, and environmental groups like NRDC joined together and sued to invalidate those permits, and we successfully won better protections for California's endangered salmon and other fish.
The damage was already done. Thousands of commercial salmon fishermen like myself are now out of work. Our boats stay tied to the docks along the entire California coast all the way into Oregon while tens of thousands more good jobs are lost in businesses that surround our fishing industry.
Closing the salmon fishing season affects everyone from processors laying off their fish cutters to marine fuel docks and commercial tackle shops closing their doors. How do you think the local grocery store in Bodega Bay is doing now that all of a sudden 100 hungry commercial fishermen don’t stop by any more to purchase groceries for their next trip and thousands of recreational anglers don’t come to their community any more because there’s no salmon to be caught? Not good.
The Department of Fish and Game estimated that the closure of our commercial salmon fishery cost the state 279 million dollars and nearly 2,600 jobs in 2009, and that’s a conservative estimate at best.
It doesn't have to be this way. Our salmon are an extremely resilient species, given half a chance they will come back by the millions in just a few years time. But pumping more water from the Delta will no doubt kill off one of the last remaining wild salmon runs in the West.
Protecting the Delta and its environment, protecting these endangered fish like winter run salmon or delta smelt, protects fishing jobs like mine, and protects jobs in communities like Ft. Bragg, Half Moon Bay, and Eureka. It protects water quality for everyone whose drinking water comes from the Delta. It protects farmers and communities in the Delta, and the economies along our coast and in the Delta that depend on recreational fishermen who come from around the State, and even the world, to go fishing.
Protecting salmon and other fish like delta smelt isn't a choice between people and fish. Like farmers, fishermen are food producers, and both are ways of life that California must -- and can -- sustain. And it simply isn't true that Endangered Species are the primary reason why some farmers and communities in the San Joaquin Valley are hurting this year. The drought of the past three dry years means that water's short around the state, not just folks who take water from the Delta.
If one looks at the facts, one will quickly find out that the average rainfall in California has stayed the same over the last 100 or so years. There have always been periods of drought and periods of excessive precipitation, but overall the amount of available water in our state always stays the same. Just a decade ago, the diminished rainfall we’re experiencing today -- 70 to 80 percent of the historical average for three years running -- would not even have been considered a drought.
What has changed is that corporate agriculture made a transition away from annual crops to higher value perennial crops such as almonds, for example. And agriculture will soon have to deal with the facts of nature that dictate that one should not proliferate permanent crops in a State that has an intermittent water supply.
If we were to take salmon and smelt entirely out of the equation and let them go extinct, as some farmers have called for, what would they get? Five percent more water than they have now. This does nothing to fix the underlying problem and we will very soon find out that the extra 5 percent evaporates as quickly as a drop of water on a hot stone by just planting a few more acres of trees – and then who are we going to blame after the “minnows” are gone?
While fishermen have fishing seasons, gear restrictions, limited entry fisheries, and other restrictions to make sure the fishery is sustainable, farmers do not. Maybe it is time to think about ideas like “tree limits”, “limited entry crops”, or “individual farming quotas” to help our water supply be used in a sustainable manner.
In California, the public owns the state’s water and its fisheries. These resources are not private property. The federal Central Valley Project was been built and paid for by the federal taxpayer, it also belongs to the people. Those who use our resources must do so responsibly. Our water and our fish are a public trust that gets handed down from generation to generation, and it is unfortunate that we have to rely on “big government” to uphold that trust, but it can’t be helped as long as some do not act responsible.
The Pacific Legal Foundation describes itself as a defender of property rights, limited government and free enterprise. If PLF believes in free enterprise, they should start by defending California’s salmon fishermen – small businessmen and women who depend on healthy rivers.
The Endangered Species Act helps us balance our needs and desires in a way that enables all to live in the same State and share its resources as good neighbors would. Abolishing the Endangered Species Act so that one interest group takes precedent over another group of citizens is about as stupid of an idea as suspending drunk driving laws on the 4th of July because some want to drive after a few extra cocktails.
Below is the press release from the Pacific Legal Foundation:
PLF’s "Save our Water" Petition Is Submitted; More than 12,000 Signers Call for ESA "God Squad" to Convene to Address California’s Water Emergency
Sacramento, CA; August 19, 2009: Pacific Legal Foundation’s "Save our Water, Save Our Jobs" petition campaign came to a conclusion today, with notification to both Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Obama Administration that more than 12,000 petition-signers want the federal Endangered Species Committee – the so-called "God Squad" – to be convened to deal with California’s government-caused water emergency.
"This year, San Joaquin Valley farmers, farmworkers, businesses, rural communities, and cities, have suffered a terrible blow because of draconian water reductions due to harsh federal environmental regulations," said PLF President Rob Rivett said. "Recently, new federal Endangered Species Act restrictions have been proposed that will worsen this water crisis in California. The 12,000-plus names on Pacific Legal Foundation’s ‘Save our Water’ Petition show that the public realizes that California is facing a water emergency, and emergency action is required."
"The Endangered Species Committee must be convened to save the California economy from even more destructive water cutbacks than have already been imposed by government regulators," Rivett continued.
The petition drive is part of PLF’s initiative, utilizing provisions of the Constitution and the Endangered Species Act, to halt the crippling water reductions. PLF is the leading litigator for a balanced approach to environmental regulations. On behalf of several San Joaquin Valley farmers, PLF attorneys are prosecuting a federal lawsuit against environmental regulations, relating to the Delta smelt, that have drastically cut the flow of water in the Central Valley.
High profile support for meeting the water emergency head-on
Among those who gathered in support of the "Save our Water" petition drive, at a press conference on the west steps of the California State Capitol in Sacramento: Congressman George Radanovich (R-Fresno); State Sen. Jeff Denham (R-Merced); Denise Davis, a vice president of the California Chamber of Commerce; Dave Puglia, senior vice president of Western Growers; San Joaquin Valley businessman Piedad Ayala, with the Water for All organization, who came with a number of farm workers; and Fresno County farmer Bob Dietrich.
In an online statement urging support, the California Chamber of Commerce warned of the urgent necessity to protect water systems "from measures that will inflict serious economic and social harm on millions of Californians." (http://www.calchamber.com/Headlines/Pages/
In his own online statement of support for the effort, Rep. Radanovich said it sends a message: "when it comes to water policy, humans come before fish." (http://radanovich.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=136830.)
The Endangered Species Committee – and the Klamath Valley precedent
Provided for as an emergency expedient within the Endangered Species Act, the Endangered Species Committee is a panel of federal cabinet officials who can countermand ESA restrictions that cause excessive destruction to jobs and the economy.
A governor may formally petition for the convening of the Committee. PLF’s "Save our Water" petition urges Governor Schwarzenegger to submit such a request, and urges President Obama to make sure his administration acts favorably on it.
PLF is well-versed in the law relating to the Endangered Species Committee. Eight years ago, in 2001, farmers in the Klamath Valley faced a devastating ESA-caused drought. Water was being withheld from farms and communities – and a vast agricultural region was left bone dry – in a misguided federal scheme to help sucker fish.
PLF attorneys represented two local water districts in a formal petition to the Secretary of the Interior, to take the extraordinary step of convening the so-called "God Squad," because the situation was so extraordinary, so dire. Ultimately, the petition was not successful because our clients were deemed not to have standing under the ESA to submit the request. However, the federal government revisited the scientific basis for the water cutoff, and ended up easing the regulations so that water again was made available (unfortunately, only after much economic hardship).
Unlike the water districts in that case, the governor of a state has explicit authority in the ESA to formally ask for the convening of the "God Squad." This is why the "Save our Water" petition is directed to the governor, as well as to the Obama Administration. The deadline for the governor to submit a petition to the Department of the Interior is September 2, 2009. PLF attorneys stand ready to help in the preparation of a petition, if the governor decides to go forward, according to PLF President Rob Rivett.
The water crisis in the San Joaquin Valley
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has imposed devastating cutbacks on water pumping into California’s main water system as part of a regulatory scheme to protect the Delta smelt. These water cutbacks have contributed to an estimated loss of tens of thousands of jobs and the idling of more than 250,000 acres in farmland. Some rural communities are experiencing stratospheric unemployment, such as Mendota’s 40 percent rate.
Now, sweeping new reductions in water supplies loom as part of a "biological opinion" relating to several other species, including chinook salmon and steelhead. These further cuts in pumping and water supplies are estimated to remove an additional 500,000 acre-feet of water, the amount that is required to serve two million people annually.
"California should be known for the Rose Bowl, not a Dust Bowl, but there’s danger of a Dust Bowl being created in the Central Valley by extreme ESA regulations," said PLF President Rob Rivett. "Instead of stimulating jobs, federal environmental officials are turning recession into depression and stimulating economic hardship for businesses, farms, and families. California is faced with an emergency, and summoning the God Squad is a justified and needed response to meet the crisis."
About Pacific Legal Foundation
Pacific Legal Foundation (http://www.pacificlegal.org) is the leading legal watchdog for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulation.
On May 21, 2009, PLF attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of several Central Valley farmers against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, challenging federal authority to regulate for the Delta smelt, which has led to sharply reduced pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
A brief video about PLF’s history and mission, including comments by former U.S. Attorney General Edwin J. Meese III, can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnBSlRQwxKU.
Contact: Rob Rivett
Pacific Legal Foundation
rlr [at] pacificlegal.org
(916) 419-7111
Schwarzenegger Campaigns for Canal and Dams at Capitol Rally...Dan Bacher
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the worst-ever Governor for fish and the environment in California history, committed himself yet another time to the destruction of the California Delta and its imperiled fish by campaigning for a water bond including a peripheral canal and more dams in a rally sponsored by the Latino Water Coalition Tuesday, August 18.
"We must make sure that Sacramento produces a water package that really actually deals with water and deals with all of those different items, because we must fix the Delta and we must fix the ecosystem," said Schwarzenegger. "We must have reliable, high-quality water in the future and we must have a comprehensive water package. And like I said, the infrastructure is also extremely important."
He said he wouldn't sign any legislative package that that doesn't include both above ground water storage - Temperance Flat Reservoir on the San Joaquin River and Sites Reservoir on the west side of the Sacramento Valley - and below ground storage.
"I want you to know that I will not sign anything that does not have above-the-ground and below-the-ground water storage," Schwarzenegger said as the Legislature was holding a hearing regarding a package of water and Delta bills. "We need the whole package to restore our water today and to ensure that we have water for tomorrow. Water feeds California and California feeds America and California feeds the world. This is why the work that the Latino Water Coalition does is so critical and this is why I'm 100 percent behind you."
Schwarzenegger also used the rally as an opportunity to blast the court-ordered federal biological opinions protecting Delta smelt, Sacramento River chinook salmon, Central Valley salmon, green sturgeon and the southern resident population of killer whales. The killer whales (orcas) depend heavily upon Sacramento salmon as a food source.
"Now, there are many fronts, of course, of this war that need to be fought and one of them is, of course, the federal government and the judges with the decisions that they make and just turn off the water at any given time and make decisions based on what's best for the fish rather than what's best for people," said Schwarzenegger.
Unfortunately, the corporate media and some "Big Green" environmental NGOs continue to worship Schwarzenegger as the "Green Governor" for his frequent "green energy" photo opportunities that serve to greenwash his regime's abysmal environmental record. Yet the same Governor has launched a war on fish populations that has resulted in the collapse of Central Valley salmon, green sturgeon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail, juvenile striped bass, threadfin shad and American shad to record low population levels.
The Latino Water Coalition is a thinly disguised front for the Westlands Water District and corporate agribusiness that has been pushing to increase water exports from the California Delta to San Joaquin Valley growers and southern California. The coalition and the Central Valley Tea Party, a right wing group, bused farmworkers to Congressman George Miller's office in Concord last week to demand increasing water exports to agribusiness and decreasing flows to sustain collapsing fish populations.
Fortunately, a group of recreational anglers, fishermen and Contra Costa labor leaders, in a counter-protest organized by Robert Johnson, Jr., of Californians Against the Canal, countered the lies of the right wing that this is a conflict of "fish versus people" when it is actually a battle of the people of northern California and Delta versus heavily subsidized west side San Joaquin Valley agribusiness interests. Johnson, unflapped by the commotion, rose to the occasion and delivered an inspiring speech, defending Miller, the federal government's biological opinions protecting Delta smelt and salmon, and Delta communities. He challenged Sean Hannity, right wing talk show host, and Paul Rodriguez, chair of the Latino Water Coalition, to "Man Up" and come to the Bay Area to learn the truth - that the thousands of workers employed in the recreational and commercial fishing industries and on Delta farms depend upon a healthy Delta for their livelihoods. For more information, read this excellent article by Jerry Neuburger, webmaster of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, http://www.calsport.org/8-14-09.htm.
Here is the transcript of the press conference and rally from the Governor's Office:
For Immediate Release: Contact: Aaron McLear
Tuesday, August 18, 2009 Brittany Chord
Transcript of Governor Schwarzenegger Discussing Need for Water Reform
Time: Noon
Date: Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Event: Remarks, East Steps, State Capitol, Sacramento, California
Well, good afternoon. We appreciate everybody coming on a hot, sunny day and one thing we probably could all use right now is a little bit of water.
I’m Mario Santoyo, I'm the director and technical advisor for what is known as the California Latino Water Coalition. We've been a group of folks that have membership throughout the state from San Diego to Sonoma County, representing basically the needs of water infrastructure throughout the state, in particular the Central Valley, which has been ground zero for water shortage. You will see behind us a number of farm workers who are the folks that have been principally impacted by water shortage in the Central Valley. That's one of the reasons that we've been out here fighting as hard as we can to try to get a comprehensive water supply infrastructure program in place, so that we can put some permanent water supply structures out there so that we don't have to fight water shortage on a year-to-year basis.
So today, I first of all apologize that our chairman, Mr. Paul Rodriguez, may or may not be here because there was fog in Van Nuys and so he may be coming here towards the end. So we'll wait and see if that happens. Otherwise, I've been asked to go ahead and carry the program.
And today, again, we are here to talk about the importance of a comprehensive water infrastructure program consistent with the proposals that the Governor has been out there fighting for, for the past three years. We have a number of important people here. I'm going to name a few that are here and we then will reserve those for the speakers later.
But we want to recognize Mayor Armando Lopez, city of Parlier (Applause); Councilmember Mike Montelongo, city of Sanger (Applause); Board of Supervisors, Richard Valle, Kings County (Applause); Board of Supervisors, Phil Larson, Fresno County (Applause); Al Lopez, who is our Inland Empire co-chair from Riverside (Applause); Tim Quinn, who is the executive director for the Association of California Water Agencies (Applause). We're also happy to have some Assemblymembers with us; Jean Fuller (Applause), Bill Berryhill (Applause), Danny Gilmore (Applause). And we also have Ag Secretary Kawamura with us today (Applause).
Now it's my great pleasure in introducing our great Governor of the state of California and the fellow that has made it possible for the Coalition to be as effective as it can in terms of getting the word out relative to the importance of water. I can tell you that he's always been gracious with the Coalition in allowing us to have private meetings with him and he's always participated in all our events. So with that, I'd like to introduce Governor Schwarzenegger. (Applause)
Thank you very much, Mario, for the wonderful introduction and thank you all for being here today. It's wonderful to be here today with all of you and especially at a time when the legislators are back there behind those steps in this building, debating the future of California. And I'm saying the future of California because it is our future when we talk about water. Water is our future, water is our economy, water is jobs, it's food, water is our families and so el agua es la vida. (Applause)
Now, around 150, 160 years ago the lifeblood for California was gold. And I think water today is like that gold; it's our lifeblood. And I want you to know that I will do everything that I can and I'm 100 percent committed to get this done and to work with the legislators to make sure that we get a good package going here that is good for California and that rebuilds our infrastructure and that we have safe and reliable water for the future. I will fight for it all the way. I've been with you from the beginning, since the formation of the California Latino Water Coalition. I've been there every step of the way and on every rally with you. I've heard your voices, I've seen your t-shirts and I'm committed to your message, which is 'No water, no work, no life.'
Now, there are many fronts, of course, of this war that need to be fought and one of them is, of course, the federal government and the judges with the decisions that they make and just turn off the water at any given time and make decisions based on what's best for the fish rather than what's best for people.
Now, of course, there are other challenges and other fronts that we have to fight, which is the global warming, drought for three years in a row. The infrastructure that needs to be built, infrastructure that should be for 50 million people, not for 18 million people and the list goes on and on. We also have to take care of the Delta and the ecosystem and so on.
We must make sure that Sacramento produces a water package that really actually deals with water and deals with all of those different items, because we must fix the Delta and we must fix the ecosystem. We must have reliable, high-quality water in the future and we must have a comprehensive water package. And like I said, the infrastructure is also extremely important.
I want you to know that I will not sign anything that does not have above-the-ground and below-the-ground water storage. (Applause) We need the whole package to restore our water today and to ensure that we have water for tomorrow. Water feeds California and California feeds America and California feeds the world. This is why the work that the Latino Water Coalition does is so critical and this is why I'm 100 percent behind you. And I want to thank the Coalition for pressing hard and keeping the water in the forefront and putting always the spotlight on this very important issue.
It is my priority too and I've been working on a water package now for the last four years. And as you know, sometimes here in Sacramento you can work on things for a long time. But eventually you get it done, so I never lose patience. We're going to get it done this time, there are not two ways about it. It's going to happen. Together we will make it happen, because water is our future and water is our hope. El agua es la vida.
Thank you very much. Hasta la vista. (Applause)
All right. We now have Senator Dave Cogdill, who has also been very active for a number of years in the forefront for the same comprehensive water supply package. Senator? (Applause)
Thank you very much. Thank you, Mario. I personally want to certainly thank you and all the work you've done and recognize Paul Rodriguez and his amazing commitment to this effort. Without him I'm sure we wouldn't have gotten as far as we have and we all owe him, I think, a great debt of gratitude.
I especially want to thank the Governor, who it's been my honor to work with on this very important issue -- and on a number of others, as you know -- but certainly on this issue, over the last four years, as he indicated. This has been a long, ongoing battle but there isn't anything more important to the people of this state, our economy and our place in the world and, quite frankly, the security of the United States, in my opinion, than a safe and secure, clean and abundant water supply for California and the businesses that rely on it.
It's something that we've been working on, as I mentioned, for an awfully long time and many of you in this crowd are painfully aware of the problems that we have in the existing system, where it lacks in its ability to meet our needs on an ongoing basis, certainly through a sustained drought like we're facing now.
And the goal is to see to it that we don’t get back to this situation again, that it would take a much, much longer drought than what we've gone through in recent time to put us at the same peril that we're in today. And we can do that by improving our infrastructure. There's a lot of air being blown in this building behind us right now in discussions about a plan for the Delta and a new governance for the Delta. But ladies and gentlemen, we don't need more bureaucracy on this issue. We need more water and we have it. (Applause)
We in this state are blessed and historically have been blessed, with the amount of precipitation that falls naturally on this state on an average annual basis. But we don’t manage it properly. We let over 65 percent of it run into the ocean each and every year. And in heavy years that's water that, if we had the right kind of infrastructure in place, we could hold back, we could regulate into the groundwater basins, we could have available not only for the people but for the environment, what we're supposed to be caring about here.
It's very, very, very frustrating. It would be one thing if we didn't have this natural blessing that we do as Californians. But unfortunately, we've chosen to follow Mark Twain's adage to the letter when he said that "Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over," and we've decided that's what we have to do in this state. And the frustration for me and for many has been the fact that in reality we don't have to do that. We can provide what we need for the people of this state and this economy and do it in a responsible way, protect the Delta and the environment that relies on it.
But you've got to be about that work and that has to be the shared goal. My concern is that that's not the shared goal in this building right now. You're at the epicenter of this problem; third year of a drought, you're out of work, the crops are going fallow, permanent crops are dying. That should be unacceptable in a state where our largest economy is agriculture and where the world relies on us. I see the signs today about, you know, if you like foreign oil you'll love relying on the foreign folks to provide us with our water or our agriculture. How true is that? It's a national security issue and one we should all be concerned about. And again, it's solvable. We could have done this decades ago.
This is why this Governor, I think, deserves the majority of the credit for taking this issue and standing as strong as he has on it. He's had a lot of opportunities over the last three or four years to do some kind of piecemeal effort that this legislature would have put on his desk, that he could have said solved the problem. He's chosen not to do that because of the integrity of the man and he knows that that does not solve the problem.
We have to improve the infrastructure in this state and allow us to manage wet-year flows. We can do that but only if all of you will continue your hard work. I know it's been long and hard and again, you're suffering more than anybody else but we've got to continue the effort. I believe, as the Governor does, we will get there but only if we have your support and the support of the rest of this state.
Thank you again for coming out, we truly do appreciate it. Thank you. (Applause)
Well, our next speaker is a person that I am truly proud to present to you. I will tell you she has been the most active Latina in the state of California as it relates to water. Anna is a person who digs into the issue until she knows exactly what she's dealing with and she's progressive in finding solutions. She's committed to solving this water problem because she believes, like we do in the Coalition, that water is not a Republican issue and it's not a Democratic issue; it's a people's issue. So with that, I'm really honored to introduce Anna Caballero. (Applause)
Thank you very much, Mario. I am so pleased to be here in solidarity with all of you that are here today. My name is Assemblymember Anna Caballero and I come from an agricultural district. That agriculture is the backbone of the economy in our state and it pains me to be here with workers that are unemployed during the peak season because there was not enough water to plant.
And so I'm here learning about the issues, in solidarity with the legislators that you see here today, because we are committed to making sure that we can come up with some short-term solutions, to ensure that you have water next year and some longer-term solutions, as you heard the Senator speak, that ensure that it doesn't happen again, that we have enough water for the fish, enough water for the people who live here and enough water for farming and all the way down the coast.
Two-thirds of our residents in the state of the California depend on this water, so what we decide here in the legislature is critically important and there are many, many of us working together to get it done this year. And I am so proud to have the Governor here with us because if we can get it done and put it in a comprehensive package on his desk I am sure, with his support, that we can get it done.
So let me thank all of you for coming out here and bringing to the public's attention how important it is that we solve this water problem today, that we not wait any longer and that we ensure that the food that we eat is the food that we grow in the state of California and that the food that we eat is produced here in this state and results in people going back to work. (Spanish) (Applause)
And now it gives me great pleasure to introduce the Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, who is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Council, who is here in solidarity as well. (Applause)
As stated previously, the struggle for adequate water distribution to central and inland California, for all of California, is without a doubt not a Republican or Democratic issue. I would argue it's a moral issue. The moral canopy surrounding this issue stems from the fact that entire communities lie impoverished, strangled by federal restrictions and archaic state water infrastructure, producing a perfect storm impacting, by the way, more people than any natural disaster in American history. We must act now.
On behalf of our 25,434 churches around America, 3,000 in California, we are committed to bringing attention to this crisis. Right now faith-based organizations are active, particularly in the Central Valley, in supplying food, clothing and other resources to communities in need.
California leaders have a moral responsibility to address this issue in a manner that saves human lives, preserves communities, protects the environment and conveys a message of hope for tomorrow. We must reconcile public policy with the moral imperative of today. This is no longer a matter of political will; this is a matter of justice. (Spanish) Thank you very much. (Applause)
And now, representing the Carpenters Union, is a good friend of mine who has been in the forefront since day one in this regard. I was going to make a joke about his name because he failed to mention my name correctly one time but I won't do that to you, Danny. Danny Curtin. (Applause)
Thank you very much, Manny -- I mean Mario. Sorry about that.
Governor, I do want to mention and all of you up here, take a look at the people at this event, the people behind us. There are farm workers, there are carpenters, many carpenters back here. I represent the carpenters, I'm the director of the California Conference of Carpenters.
This is what the people who work in California outside face every day. We are standing up here sweating, we're hot, we're really feeling the heat. These are the people who pick the crops, these are the people who build California every day in this heat. So you have to have respect for people like that. They are hard working; they want to work.
And I have to say one thing. Last week I was at an event that made me a bit ashamed to be from California and I didn't think I'd ever say that. But I was in Mendota last week to talk about water and in Mendota there was a food bank with people waiting in line, not for what we're standing here but for hours, waiting to get some food. And the crime of it was we were standing in the middle of the most productive agricultural valley in the world and there are 40 percent of the city of Mendota, the workers in Mendota, who are unemployed because of the drought and the dismal situation of the water in California.
Now, pretty soon -- not quite yet but Los Angeles, Sacramento, the workers who build houses, the workers who build our infrastructure, we're going to die. Without water, the economy dies. This infrastructure was built for 18 million people in the 1950s and the 1960s. It worked beautifully, by the way. In the 1950s and '60s nobody thought one though about the environment; they just built.
Times have changed. But we now have more than 30 million people and we will soon have 40 to 50 million people. This water system is broken. The federal system doesn't connect to the state system. The water is over here; they can't get it over there. So the Central Valley people in agriculture are suffering now but all of the state will suffer. It doesn’t work for the people.
And it doesn't work for the environment, because the fish are also suffering. And I don’t mean to make light of that. We have endangered species; we have to be concerned about that. But we have to have a program that is just as much for the people as it is for the environment. They have to be co-equal, at a minimum, because people are part of the environment. That is us and we cannot have a system that just fixes the environment and doesn't take care of water supply for the people.
This system is broke and it doesn't work. So what do we do? We do what we always do when we are in trouble and we have a problem. We come together, we work together to solve the problem, not just to fix this problem for now. The last generation built a water system and an infrastructure system that we have been living on for two to three generations. It's time for this legislature to step up to the plate and fix this problem for the next generation and the next generation. (Applause)
Thank you. That means it cannot be a temporary, small fix. That means it just cannot be a little ecological twist over here and a water flow over there. It has to be a comprehensive, complete package. The Governor mentioned it, the senator mentioned it, the assemblywoman mentioned it. Anybody who doesn't reside in this building understands we need a complete package.
· We need water storage above and below ground and the Governor said he will not sign any bill that doesn't have that.
· We need a governance structure that can make water get from one place to another and the infrastructure that we need to get it there.
· We need groundwater cleanup. Southern California has the most dangerous groundwater and they pump that groundwater and our children drink that groundwater. There are chemicals of all kinds in it.
· We have to have ecological restoration because the Delta is the most important element in the state of California for the future of water and really for the environment of California.
So we have to have a complete and total package. It has to be done now, it has to be done in the next four weeks. Everybody in this building knows the issues, there are no unknown issues. They have to come together. And I want to remind everybody, in that building and outside, California is not a red state, California is not a blue state; California is the Golden State. And to keep it the Golden State we need to get this done and we need to get it done now.
And I want to thank everybody here, those of you who came to this press conference and certainly the Carpenters who are here behind me. Thank you very much. Keep the pressure on. Let's get the package done. Thank you. (Applause)
OK. As I promised you, Mr. Rodriguez was a little late; he had a little plane challenge. But he made it. So it's my pleasure to introduce the California Latino Water Coalition chairman, Paul Rodriguez. (Applause)
Thank you very much. I apologize, Governor, for being late. I was Ritchie Valens Airlines. That's a little crop duster.
The thing that's disappointing and the reason why we are here, is because out of the five bills that are pending -- or I don't what the legal terminology is -- none of them address what we really are all about. We want dams, underwater, above water. We need water to grow our crops. There's no other language I could find. Let me tell you in Spanish. (Spanish) Tomatoes. Without that we're out of business. (Applause)
I realize that this legislative body has its own way. It's a system that's lumbering and it's way too lumbery for us. I also realize that they've been working very, very hard and it's very difficult to really beat them up when they've been already working so hard. The Governor and everybody is taking their lumps.
But be that as it may, let me tell you, if we don’t get water to these fields we won't have a second chance. It'll take three or four years for our almond trees to even begin to grow. You've heard all these stories before. What I haven't heard is, we are willing to understand that the people on the other side of the fence, the aisle, the river -- I don’t know what -- out of all the money being apportioned for them, none of them addresses our concern. You could say everything you want. We've met with Secretary Salazar. I've tried to educate myself on all these other things.
And I realize I'm going to long and the Governor doesn't need this tan. Some of you will get these jokes on the way home.
Let me repeat this. The reason why all of us are here, standing in this hot sun, is because this is important to us. This is not one of the sexy issues that the media gets ahold of. There's no scandal here. I'll make one up, if we have to.
But this is about as important as it gets, because the California that our fathers left us was a greener California, a more fruitful California. And in the worst economic times since the Great Depression the answer to us -- the farmer who has done the best job, the most efficient job, grown the most food with the least land and less water than anywhere else -- is not to be rewarded. We're not asking for a subsidy. We didn't make bad loans, we didn't make a car nobody wanted to buy. We didn't do those things.
The American farmer did everything right. And the road to hell is paved with good intentions; our intention was to grow food to feed the world. They cut the water off to us. I don't know what language to use but I hope you understand the desperation that my fellow farmers have in the Valley. This is the Central Valley. We're blessed with perhaps the most fertile soil on this planet; we're the stewards of that. But we can't grow food in sand.
I hope that this body here of far more intelligent people, people that actually have high school diplomas, will understand that unless you gentlemen cross the aisle and get together and follow the leadership of this Governor, unless we can find a way to have a comprehensive bill for all of California -- we're not the enemies of the fishermen. They've tried to pit the fisherman against the farmer. We want the fishermen to succeed, we want fish. But there's got to be some kind of common ground and it isn't common ground when this side gets everything and we get excuses.
We need water because, as you know, if you're planning to have salad or have vegetables or eat, you'll want us to have water. Thank you very much. (Applause)
Very nice.
OK. Thank you very much and that concludes the press conference.
Contra Costa Times
Mercury widespread in nation's fish, study shows...Dina Cappiello, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — No fish can escape mercury pollution.
That's the take-home message from a federal study of mercury contamination released Wednesday that tested fish from nearly 300 streams across the country. The toxic substance was found in every fish sampled, a finding that underscores how widespread mercury pollution has become.
But while all fish had traces of contamination, only about a quarter had mercury levels exceeding what the Environmental Protection Agency says is safe for people eating average amounts of fish.
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 1,000 fish, including bass, trout and catfish, from 291 streams nationwide.
"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 consumed by eating fish 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 here and abroad 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 bacteria in surrounding forests and wetlands help in the conversion. The second-highest concentration of mercury was detected in largemouth bass from the North Fork of the Edisto River near Fairview Crossroads, S.C.
"Unfortunately, it's the case that almost any fish you test will have mercury now," said Andrew Rypel, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Mississippi, who has studied mercury contamination in fish throughout the Southeast. He said other research has shown mercury in fish from isolated areas of Alaska and Canada, and species that live in the deep ocean.
Mercury was also found in high concentrations in western streams that drain areas mined for mercury and gold. The most contaminated sample came from smallmouth bass collected from the Carson River at Dayton, Nev., an area tainted with mercury from gold mining. At 58 other streams, mostly in the West, the acidic conditions created by mining could also 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.
In San Francisco Bay and the Delta, mercury pollution is a long-standing problem. Fish consumption advisories warn people, especially children and pregnant women, to limit their intake of some kinds of fish from the estuary's water.
The problem is mostly a legacy of the Gold Rush and the gold and mercury mines in the Sierra, coastal range and especially in the South Bay. Mercury from those mines, and from processing gold ore, remains in sediment and continues to flow down rivers in the Delta and Bay.
Refineries, sewage treatment plants and deposition from air pollution also contribute mercury.
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 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 also proposed a new regulation to clamp down on emissions of mercury from cement plants.
Fish in streams across U.S. tainted with mercury...Bettina Boxall, Greenspace
Researchers found mercury in every fish tested in a nationwide stream survey, with some of the higher concentrations showing up in mining areas of the West.
In about a quarter of the fish, levels of the toxic metal exceeded federal standards for people who eat an average amount of fish.
“This study shows just how widespread mercury pollution has become in our air, watersheds, and many of our fish in freshwater streams,” U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a press release.
The study, conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, sampled 34 fish species at 291 stream sites across the country from 1998 to 2005.
The most contaminated sample came from smallmouth bass in the Carson River in Dayton, Nev., a historic gold mining area.
Overall, high mercury levels were detected in fish from streams in the Southeast, along the East Coast and in western areas -- including Northern California -- where gold or mercury has been mined.
Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions in the U.S. For most of the sampled streams, atmospheric mercury is the primary source of the pollutant.
Wetlands and forests aid the conversion of mercury into its toxic form, methylmercury, which enters the aquatic food chain.
In the study, largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass had the greatest average mercury concentrations. Brown trout, rainbow-cutthroat trout and channel catfish had the lowest.
Darwinian struggle for a place on the endangered species list...Julie Cart, Greenspace...8-18-09 
It was mixed news as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it would move forward on a review of 29 plant and animal species to assess their inclusion on the federal endangered species list.
On the other hand, the service rejected petitions for nine species, including the ashy storm-petrel, a California seabird.
The mere fact that the agency is considering listing any species represents a change from the last eight years. But for those whose petitions were denied, the news was dire.
“Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is continuing a Bush-era approach of denying protections to species based on an incomplete and selective interpretation of the science,” said Shaye Wolf, a seabird biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The decision reads like a laundry list of excuses to avoid acting to protect the ashy storm-petrel rather than a solid evaluation of the science.”
The ashy storm-petrel is a small gray pelagic bird that lives almost exclusively on California's offshore islands, busy areas where pollution, development and increased predation have driven down the bird's populations.
“Given the rapid decline of the ashy storm-petrel, this decision might have been our last chance to save this seabird from extinction,” said Gary Langham, director of bird conservation for Audubon California. “I truly hope that we don’t back on this moment several years from now and regret our inaction.”
Luckier were the 20 plant, six snail, two insect and one fish species that were selected to undergo a status review to determine whether they warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. 
The biggest threat to the species under consideration is loss of habitat. However, the Fish and Wildlife Service considered climate change as an issue with a handful of species, including the mist forestfly, which depends on glacier-fed streams in Glacier National Park for survival.
Alas for the forestfly, the glaciers at Glacier National Park are in fast retreat and are predicted to disappear altogether by 2030.
The 20 plants for which the service issued a positive finding are: Yellowstone sand verbena, Ross’ bentgrass, Hamilton milkvetch, Isely milkvetch, skiff milkvetch, precocious milkvetch, Cisco milkvetch, Schmoll milkvetch, Fremont County rockcress, boat-shaped bugseed, Pipe Springs cryptantha, Weber whitlowgrass, Brandegee’s wild buckwheat, Frisco buckwheat, Ostler’s peppergrass, Lesquerella navajoensis (a bladderpod), Flowers’ penstemon, Gibben’s beardtongue, pale blue-eyed grass and Frisco clover. 
The fish is the northern leatherside chub, the two insects are the Platte River caddisfly and mist forestfly (or meltwater lednian stonefly). 
The six snails are the frigid ambersnail, Bearmouth mountainsnail, Byrne Resort mountainsnail, longitudinal gland pyrg, Hamlin Valley pyrg and sub-globose snake pyrg.
New York Times
Study Raises Questions About EPA's Pesticide Risk-Assessment Scheme...SARA GOODMAN, Greenwire
The length of time that it takes for the toxic effects of a common crop pesticide to emerge raises questions about U.S. EPA's standard approach to assessing pesticides' safety, according to a new study.
University of Pittsburgh researchers exposed nine species of tadpoles to endosulfan -- a common pesticide used on cotton, tomatoes, melons, squash and tobacco crops -- for up to eight days at levels EPA says are typically found in nature.
After four days, three species seemed unaffected. But four more days after being moved to clean water, 97 percent of leopard frog tadpoles died, as did up to 50 percent of spring peeper and American toad tadpoles.
Their findings, published in the September issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, are noteworthy because most scientists and EPA typically use four-day tests to determine whether a pesticide is safe, said Rick Relyea, an associate professor of biological sciences at Pittsburgh.
"For many pesticides, probably four days is a good assumption," Relyea said. "The problem is that it's clearly not good for every pesticide, so now we have to ask, for which pesticide is it a good assumption?"
The study followed earlier work by Relyea that found endosulfan to be 1,000 times more toxic to amphibians than other pesticides.
"We knew it was really deadly to fish, but in the first four days, the leopard frogs were not dying," Relyea said. "Something weird was going on here. We found [the lag effect] was clearly happening in three different members of frogs, so this was clearly something that must be not that rare."
Part of the problem with EPA's risk-assessment model, Relyea said, is that it does not test pesticides on amphibians, even though tadpoles and other amphibians are sensitive to pollutants and many scientists consider them indicator species. Instead, the agency relies on testing four groups -- fish, mammals, birds and crustaceans -- then extrapolates the data.
"This is the standard set of model organisms, and it's there to represent what's out there in an efficient way," Relyea said. "There's no doubt it's efficient. The question is, is it correct?"
EPA said risks to fish are generally assumed to be representative of risks to other aquatic vertebrates, including amphibians. Additionally, the agency said specific tests for amphibians are not sufficiently vetted yet to be used. EPA also said amphibians tend to be less sensitive than fish to pesticides.
Endosulfan is an organochlorine, as is DDT, which EPA banned in 1972. Endosulfan is already banned in other countries, and last month, pesticide manufacturer, Bayer CropScience, announced it would stop selling products containing the pesticide.
EPA said its scientists would evaluate the Pittsburgh research along with other comments the agency receives as it reviews endosulfan's risk assessment. As a part of that review, EPA said it would evaluate the need for longer toxicity studies. It expects to make a final decision on endosulfan by the end of this year.
"If other studies consistently show that post-exposure toxicity estimates differ substantially from those recommended by [the American Society for Testing and Materials] and other global partners, then the agency will consider revisiting the design of aquatic toxicity studies in general," EPA said.
Click here (pdf) to read the report.
CNN Money
9% of all home loans are delinquent
Mortgage lenders say the flood of foreclosures has not yet crested. Highwater mark should come this fall...Les Christie
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The number of Americans who have fallen at least 30 days behind on their home loan payments inched up slightly between the first and second quarters of 2009, but jumped 44% compared on an annual basis, according to an industry report.
That puts delinquencies at a record 9.24% of mortgages, according to the National Delinquency Report from the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) That represents more than 4 million of the 45 million borrowers covered by the report.
What the rate does not include, however, are loans already in foreclosure. Some 4.3% of all the mortgages are in that stage, up from 3.85% three months earlier and 1.55 percentage points from one year ago.
The combined percentage of loans past due and those already in foreclosure hit 13.16% during the quarter, the highest ever recorded by the MBA survey
"There was a major drop in foreclosures on subprime ARM loans," said Jay Brinkmann, chief economist for the MBA, in a prepared statement. "The drop, however, was offset by increases in the foreclosure rates on the other types of loans, with prime fixed-rate loans having the biggest increase."
Indeed, the MBA survey reported that prime, fixed-rate mortgages accounted for nearly one in every three foreclosure starts. That's way up from a year ago, when only one of every five foreclosure start involved a prime loan.
That bodes ill for the future health of the mortgage market. Prime loans make up two-thirds of the mortgage market, and if delinquencies among these mortgages continue to proliferate, the number of foreclosures will soar.
Brinkmann forecasts continued delinquency and foreclosure increases until the economy starts to recover. He predicts that job losses will peak by mid-2010, as will delinquencies, and foreclosures will start to fall about six months later.
Problem areas
The so-called "sand states" continue to contribute disproportionately to the mortgage meltdown. Four states -- California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada -- accounted for 44% of all foreclosure starts during the quarter.
"Issues related to the deteriorating economy and deteriorating home prices in those states have driven their delinquency problems]," said Brinkmann
In Florida, 12% of mortgages were somewhere in the process of foreclosure, the highest in the nation; another 5% were at least 90 days past due as of the end of June.
Adding in 30 days and 60 days past due and Florida's total delinquency rate comes to 22.8% -- almost twice the national percentage. The next highest states are Nevada at 21.3%, Arizona at 16.3% and Michigan at 15.3%. California stood at 15.2%, but because it is such a large state, that represents nearly 900,000 mortgage borrowers.
"It's hard to look at a national recovery," Brinkmann said. "We could have multiple bottoms with some markets recovering much faster than others."
Texas bank hit by California dreaming
Although the failure of Austin-based Guaranty Bank looms, its problems reflect the housing bubble in the Golden State rather than issues at home...Colin Barr
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Bank regulators have a Texas-sized problem on their hands -- though it's easy to see much of the trouble resides farther west.
Guaranty Bank, an Austin-based savings institution with $13.5 billion in assets, is expected to be seized by the FDIC by the end of the week. According to multiple reports late Wednesday, Spanish bank Banco Bilbao Vizcaya (BBV) has won the bidding for Guaranty.
Representatives for the FDIC and Guaranty were not immediately available for comment.
A private equity group led by investor Gerald Ford -- who got a federal bank charter in November so he could buy failed banks -- also reportedly made a bid for Guaranty. Other banks said to have expressed interest were JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500) and Toronto Dominion (TD), which made a failed bid for Florida's BankUnited when that bank was auctioned by the FDIC in May.
Guaranty's (GFG) closing would mark the second-biggest bank failure of 2009, after last week's collapse of Alabama's Colonial Bank, which was seized by the FDIC and sold to regional bank BB&T (BBT, Fortune 500).
Guaranty reiterated Monday that it doesn't expect to survive following its failure to raise new capital. The bank lost $174 million in the second quarter, according to its latest quarterly report to the Office of Thrift Supervision.
Shares of Guaranty, which counts corporate raider Carl Icahn and hotel mogul Robert Rowling as prominent investors, have plunged more than 95% in the past year.
Guaranty would be just the fourth Texas bank failure since the financial crisis started in earnest two years ago. But like so many of the biggest bank failures in this cycle -- including Washington Mutual and IndyMac -- Guaranty owes many of its problems to the excesses in the frothy California housing market.
Option adjustable rate mortgages make up almost a third of Guaranty's single family mortgage portfolio, according to investor presentations on Guaranty's Web site. Option ARMs figured prominently in the WaMu and IndyMac failures as well.
Guaranty also had $1.2 billion of loans to homebuilders, primarily in the overbuilt California market. Guaranty made some headlines this spring when it bulldozed 16 houses in foreclosure in an abandoned development in Victorville, Calif.
Guaranty's failure would be the second-biggest ever in Texas, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data -- trailing only the July 1988 collapse of First Republic Bank of Dallas, which had $17.1 billion in assets.
But as big as Guaranty's failure would be, it's still a far cry from the bad old days of the 1980s, when Texas banks failed by the score after a construction boom fueled by surging energy prices went bust.
Between 1980 and 1994, 599 Texas banking institutions failed. In 1989 alone, 223 Texas banks or thrifts were closed -- an average of four a week.
"We in Texas should have fewer problems than other states this time around, and of course it's nothing compared to the 1980s," said Dick Evans, CEO of Cullen/Frost Bankers (CFI), the San Antonio-based parent of Frost Bank, a $15 billion institution that acquired some failed banks during that period.
While Texas bore the brunt of the savings and loan crisis, it has escaped the worst of the current financial meltdown, in part because its housing market never got as bubbly as those in California and Florida.
The state ranks right in the middle of the pack in terms of foreclosures, with the 26th highest foreclosure rate in the nation, according to RealtyTrac.com. The top five are the housing bubble states of Nevada, California, Arizona, Florida and Utah.
What's more, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said this spring that Texas house prices dropped only 0.6% over the past year.
But while the Texas banking industry's problems pale next to those two decades ago, few are expecting a sharp recovery, either.
"It will turn at some point," Evans said. "But I don't see a lot of growth, and we've still got a lot of confusion out there. We could use a little bit of confidence."
8-24-09 Merced County Hearing Officer meeting...8:00 a.m....Meeting has not been canceled at this time.
Agenda and Reports posted 72 Hours Prior To Meeting
8-24-09 Merced City Planning Commission meeting...6:00 p.m.
Wal-Mart...The commission will meet again at 6 p.m. on Monday to continue the meeting. It will only hear from the 25 residents who signed up to speak but left before they were called.
8-26-09 Merced County Planning Commission meeting...Canceled
8-26-09 Merced County General Plan Review Steering Committee agenda...1:30 p.m.
8-27-09 LAFCo agenda...10:00 a.m.