A few small subsidies

 On the surface, these are small, ho-hum stories about California agriculture: one about a federal grant to benefit a handful of west side growers; county-supervisor corruption around the Williamson Act; and a politician calling for more off-stream water storage. But, each contains elements that have become unacceptable.
When Los Banos grower Jon Maring believes it is acceptable to tell his local newspaper that he and 12 neighboring farmers cannot afford more water-conservation equipment, but greatly appreciates the $400,000 to his water district. Maring owns 2,000 acres. His dozen neighbors probably own a couple thousand acres themselves. But, according to Maring, they just can’t come together on stuff like water until “money from an outside group” like the federal government arrives.
So, can San Joaquin Valley farmers come together as a group only when the federal government is giving them money, water or both? Well, not exactly. They are unified in opposition to environmental, food safety and labor law.
Also, they whine in one voice about their desperate poverty.
The Fresno Bee intones in a moral key that its county supervisors simply cannot continue to drag their feet in updating Fresno County’s Williamson Act files, now that the County itself without help from the state must pay for this property tax subvention given to farmers to keep farmland in agriculture.
The timing is good because there is no feverish residential developer demand for farmland so the subvention looks a little silly in terms of public policy. But, what the Bee is talking about specifically is collusion between the supervisors (who represent all the unincorporated, mostly farm land in the county) and the business firms that farm their districts. The has estimated the annual agrarian ripoff as a $7.5-million loss to the county.
It takes the longest time for most people not directly involved with local government to understand that county supervisors represent rural landowners. In the structure of a rural California county (not entirely owned by the US government as is the case in some of the “mountain” counties) its supervisors defend the interests of large landowners, the larger the more representation. But when the state, in the midst of the residential development crash, withdrew its contribution to the Williamson Act subvention to make up the difference to the counties of the amount of property taxes they forego to keep our poverty stricken agribusiness from bankruptcy, Some counties, Fresno and Merced for example, chose to pick up the subvention themselves, thus further weakening their health and human services divisions that provide services for seasonally employed farmworkers and other poor people that happen to live in their counties. Maybe they can make a deal with Mr. Buffett, owner of BNSF railroad company, to provide boxcar and gondola-transportation of these people to Somewhere Else. Supervisors might even get buy in from city councils on that proposal, straight out of the past, back when “migrant labor” was encouraged by the state employment department to come to the harvests and encouraged to leave by local police when it was ended.
Of all the subsidies that make San Joaquin Valley agriculture profitable—from the crop subsidies to the disaster payments to the water subsidies to the Williamson Act and more—the largest constant subsidy to Valley agriculture has always been the low wages, rotten working conditions, and brutal political, social and police treatment of farm workers. This treatment has produced a work force and population of better than half undocumented workers, largely from Mexico who are the prey for any racist deputy sheriff who wants to stop them for not having on a visible seatbelt.

Finally, Sen. Dianne Feinstein is calling for more off-stream water storage if we wish to avoid becoming a “desert state.” This is the rhetoric of finance, insurance and real estate special interests (FIRE) as usual. Its aim is to divert more surface water and dry up more streams and rivers through peddling the illusion that by building new reservoirs, for example Temperance Flats above the Friant Dam and Lake Millerton, the taxpayers who pay for the project will somehow increase the amount of water available in the state. In fact, Temperance Flats will simply steal water from the flow of the San Joaquin River, which for 60 years was dry through the middle of the valley because  95 percent of it was diverted to agribusiness on the east side of the valley. Once that was corrected by the court,  a lawsuit by a large agribusiness concern on the west side of the valley complained about the high groundwater level brought about by filling up the riverbed again.
Yesterday’s surface water is tomorrow’s groundwater. Aquifers are reservoirs and they don’t lose much through evaporation. However, aquifers cannot export water the way giant reservoirs, linked by huge south-flowing canals, can.
Probably, Feinstein and the FIRE special interests she represents wanted raise the old desert threat to get ahead of the announcement of the lawsuits against the state’s Delta plan, which emphasize that each hydrological area in the state has the right to its own water – the county-of –origin argument. A consequence of this argument is that the true “desert states” within California, Southern California and the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, do not have the right to the water of every other hydrological region just because they have overbuilt and overplanted.
Perhaps the failed Delta process has brought us to a new impasse re. water that raises fundamental questions the state has never found easy to face: If real estate growth is halted by lack of natural resources, can the California economy adjust? and, Is it good public policy to loot the riparian water supply of the Delta, with the state’s richest soils, to irrigate the salt flats of the west side of the San Joaquin Valley? --blj
Merced Sun-Star
Projects to benefit local growers…THADDEUS MILLERtmiller@losbanosenterprise.com...6-12-13

Jon Maring, who owns about 2,000 acres within the CCID, said anytime the region can get money from an outside group, landowners come together to help the projects move forward. As growers, we all want to do these projects," Maring said. "We just can't afford it."
LOS BANOS -- A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation infusion of cash will benefit local growers, according officials.
The bureau announced plans last week to spend $414,000 on conservation and efficiency grant projects on the west side in the 2013 fiscal year.
The Los Banos-based Central California Irrigation District will see $300,000 of that money, while the rest is set for the Firebaugh Canal Water District.
Chris White, general manager for the CCID, said about 15 landowners within the district will benefit from the program that will improve on-farm elements and the service ditch.
"There's tremendous scrutiny, especially south of the delta where water is scarce," White said.
The CCID improvements are expected to save 487 acre-feet of water annually. An acre-foot is the amount of water it would take to cover one acre, one foot deep.
The improvements mean better use of water and better quality water, and will help meet state goals for conservation, White said. Basically, the system improvements will allow landowners to stretch the same amount of water out longer, he said.
Since about 1989, White said, the CCID began adding water conservation efforts, including a tiered system for buying water. The water increases in price as the amount used rises.
More conservation efforts are planned.
"Over the next 10 years, the district has budgeted upwards of $70 million toward water conservation," White said.
Jon Maring, who owns about 2,000 acres within the CCID, said anytime the region can get money from an outside group, landowners come together to help the projects move forward. As growers, we all want to do these projects," Maring said. "We just can't afford it."
The project will convert 0.8 miles of open channel to pipeline, operate as an on-demand system and eliminate operational spills.
Maring said changing a dirt ditch into pipeline will keep water from moving sediment and will make for cleaner water.
"We'll release clean water into the river," he said, "and that's what we're all about."
The Firebaugh project will better manage 10,000 acre-feet of water annually, according to a news release.
EDITORIAL: Fresno County must quicken review of Williamson Act tax breaks
Current dawdling efforts smack of political favoritism.

The scoundrels are farmers, and most of the members of the Board of Supervisors are content to look the other way because farmers are their political allies.
There's only one reason Fresno County isn't relentlessly pursuing local folks who are cheating cities, schools, special districts and the county out of millions of tax dollars every year.
The scoundrels are farmers, and most of the members of the Board of Supervisors are content to look the other way because farmers are their political allies.
As The Bee's Kurtis Alexander reported on Monday, less than 10% of the tax breaks given to farmers under the Williamson Act have been reviewed for problems over the past two years. At this rate, it will take 18 more years for the county to determine who is and isn't out of compliance.
The county began the reviews in 2011 -- years after Bob Werner, the county assessor at the time, alerted supervisors in a public meeting that Williamson Act property owners were getting tax breaks for which they were not entitled.
An independent report last year suggested that 5% of Fresno's Williamson Act tax benefits go to properties no longer being farmed. The report also estimated that 20% of the tax breaks were wrongly calculated. Given that the Williamson Act tax breaks total nearly $30 million a year, the loss in revenue is considerable.
The supervisors' stated reason for not aggressively pursuing the cheaters is a lack of money for extra staff. Given the millions of dollars at stake, this excuse doesn't wash.
Supervisor Judy Case also said that she doesn't want the county's Department of Public Works and Planning to get bogged down with Williamson Act reviews. That department, Case said, should focus on economic development.
We agree. Responsibility for ensuring that Williamson Act landowners pay exactly what they owe -- not a penny more, not a penny less -- should be switched to the office of County Assessor Paul Dictos. The board then should increase Dictos' budget so that the reviews are expedited. The planning department would still retain oversight of the contracts.
Given today's technology, there's no reason for these reviews to take so long. Staff easily can determine whether land is being farmed -- or has been subdivided -- using aerial photograph maps available on the Internet.
The board has a moral and a legal obligation to end these blatant and outrageous political shenanigans.
Sacramento Bee 
Dianne Feinstein: California needs more water storage to end conflicts, bolster its economy…U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development.

If we don't take significant and rapid action, I fear California is at risk of becoming a desert state.
The need for additional storage is hardly a revelation. More than a decade ago, legislation passed that authorized the Bureau of Reclamation to do feasibility studies on expanding or building four reservoirs: Shasta, Sites, Los Vaqueros and Temperance Flat.

Flying over California recently on my way back to Washington, I was dismayed to see how bone-dry the state is so early in the summer season.
There was virtually no snowpack. Lakes and reservoirs are circled with rings of barren, dry soil. And plumes of smoke from forest fires dot the skies, something that will worsen as the fire season progresses.
The message is clear: We must do more to prepare for increasingly harmful dry years by capturing more water in wet years. In short, California needs a lot more water storage – and we need it now.
The dire state of affairs was confirmed by David Hayes, outgoing deputy secretary for the Department of the Interior, at a recent budget hearing. Despite a promising start to the water year, Hayes testified, "This is the driest January-through-April period in California's history in the last 100 years."
Farmers, of course, are acutely aware of the situation. Water allocations for some of the largest South-of-Delta Central Valley Project irrigation districts stand at just 20 percent of their contract amount. Declining reservoir levels suggest that next year will be even worse.
Complicating matters are pumping restrictions mandated by the Endangered Species Act. Despite being found scientifically deficient by a federal court and the National Academy of Sciences, these restrictions continue to have a negative effect on water supplies throughout the state.
The Bureau of Reclamation is putting together a plan to address this year's water shortages based on water transfers that could increase the water supply for South-of-Delta contractors to the equivalent of a 40 percent allocation.
These one-time patches, however, are not an adequate solution. Absent state action, it is my view that we may be faced with the possibility of more far-reaching changes, such as modifications to the Endangered Species Act.
Expanding and improving California's water storage capacity is long overdue. The last time we saw significant state and federal investments in our water storage and delivery system was in the 1960s, when the state's population stood at 16 million. Today, that same system supports 38 million individuals and will need to support 50 million by 2050.
If we don't take significant and rapid action, I fear California is at risk of becoming a desert state.
The need for additional storage is hardly a revelation. More than a decade ago, legislation passed that authorized the Bureau of Reclamation to do feasibility studies on expanding or building four reservoirs: Shasta, Sites, Los Vaqueros and Temperance Flat.
A draft feasibility report on raising Shasta Dam was completed last year. It found that raising Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet – at a cost of $1.1 billion – would yield up to 133,000 acre-feet of new water.
Good news, but the eight years it took to complete the draft study was entirely too long. Even worse, final feasibility studies aren't scheduled to be completed by the Bureau of Reclamation until late 2016.
Building or expanding these four reservoirs would result in hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of additional water storage, benefit urban and rural communities and increase the pool of water available for releases that benefit fish species. Waiting a decade or more for these studies is unacceptable. The Bureau of Reclamation must complete these studies, and they must do so now.
California's Legislature also must do its part by updating the long-anticipated water bond and ensuring that it includes adequate funding for water storage.
The current water bond, which was approved by the Legislature in 2009 and scheduled for the November 2010 ballot, has been repeatedly postponed.
The bond includes $3 billion to improve state, regional and local surface storage; groundwater storage; modernizing reservoir operations; and conveyance to improve interregional system operations. But with an overall cost of $11.14 billion, it will be difficult to win voter support.
With only three months left in the session, it is important the Legislature work to craft a scaled-back bond that provides robust water storage funding.
Because the full benefits of expanded storage capacity can't be realized without the ability to move additional water supplies, it is also vital to complete the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. This long-term state and federal effort to restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is essential if we are to acquire the regulatory approvals necessary for new water transportation infrastructure.
As chairman of the Senate subcommittee that funds the Bureau of Reclamation, I have done what I can to address California's water challenges.
Over the past few years, the Senate has approved bills that permit additional water transfers, authorize and expedite groundwater banking plans, require drought management plans and set a deadline to complete the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.
But there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly in the area of water storage. I will continue to urge the Bureau of Reclamation and the state to move as fast as possible to approve plans and funding to allow us to bank more water in wet years for the increasingly dry years.
Although California is getting drier, plans are in place to move us in the right direction. But it will take a commitment from federal, state and local stakeholders to get us there. There is no time to waste.