Best drought article yet

And he did it all without once quoting the dreary professoriate.
George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times is a state treasure. He writes as well about the water wars as he does about the Calderon clan, addicts on the "mother's milk of politics,"  and sponsors of our own Assemblyman Adam Gray, $-Merced. --blj
Los Angeles Times
Water war boils down to farmers vs. fishermen
Even when there's not a drought, there isn't enough to go around. And the collapse of a great estuary will endanger far more than the smelt.
By George Skelton Capitol Journal
SACRAMENTO—Don't blame the little fish. And don't call it the Central Valley.
Both comments, repeated incessantly, were irritants during President Obama's visit to parched California farm country last week.
The president was there—in the San Joaquin Valley—to cuddle with water hogs.
The hogs are large growers who use lots of water, have just about run out and are angry because they're being denied other people's. And they keep complaining that the government is favoring a little "bait fish" over farmers.
Yes, regulators have been holding back some delta water in recent years to save the smelt, a finger-sized fish that is used not as bait but as a canary.
That is, the smelt is viewed by biologists as a canary in a coal mine, an indicator of ill health for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a source of drinking water for 24 million people and irrigation for 3 million acres.
So goes the smelt, so goes the delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of America, north or south. The smelt's decline signals, among other things, increased pollution, salinity and devastation caused by giant fish-chomping pumps.
The hogs and water buffaloes—so named because, like the beast, they reputedly can smell water from hundreds of miles away—like to demonize the smelt because it's an unimpressive, dumb-sounding fish. You don't hear them talking much, however, about king salmon, also called Chinook. Everyone admires salmon.
Chuck Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, calls salmon one of the "cornerstones of what makes California great—whether you like them on your dinner plate, fish for them on the waterways or make a living off them in a north coastal community. They're iconic."
But California has been seriously screwing with salmon over the decades as it captured water to irrigate cotton, pistachios, pasture and all manner of crops grown basically in a desert.
Salmon runs have declined steeply from their historic levels because of dams that blocked access to ancestral spawning streams and, more recently, due to polluted runoff into rivers from fertilized fields and urban waste. And there are those killer delta pumps that not only eat fish but reverse San Joaquin River flows, fatally confusing young salmon.
So water deliveries have been restricted not just for smelt, but also to protect salmon and the coastal fishing industry. It's not about farmers vs. fish. It's about farmers vs. fishermen. Or almonds vs. salmon.
It's an ongoing battle. In 1980, there were 5,700 licensed salmon fishing vessels on the California coast, says Zeke Grader, director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Assns. Today, he reports, there are only around 1,000, and only half are active.
Roughly 90% of California's salmon are products of the delta and its tributaries, Grader says. So are 50% of Oregon's salmon. The biggest producer, by far, is the Sacramento River system.
But the fish need large flows of fresh water to push them out to sea, where they grow for three or four years before returning though the Golden Gate to spawn in the river systems.
But to listen to the hogs, that's fresh water wasted out to sea. Never mind that it's necessary for the preservation of fish—including sturgeon and striped bass—and to irrigate a valuable delta agriculture economy (pears, asparagus, corn, tomatoes, berries).
"We're watching the biological collapse of a great estuary," says Bill Jennings, director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.
"Fish that nature nurtured over a millennium are being destroyed. The delta is in a meltdown because the estuary has been deprived of half its historical flow."
That brings me to my second point: The delta is the Central Valley, too. The Central Valley stretches 450 miles from Redding to Bakersfield, and includes two valleys: the Sacramento and the San Joaquin. The delta drains the two main rivers—the Sacramento and San Joaquin (what remains of it)—and their many tributaries.
The drought aside, most of the Central Valley is in relatively good shape—as is Southern California, which has conserved, recycled and invested for the future.
The Central Valley is in a water civil war, south vs. north. It's the San Joaquin Valley that is desperate and needs hand-holding by the president as it tries to siphon off more delta water.
San Joaquin farmers will rightly point out that they've contracted for government water that they're not receiving. And it's unfair. But the dirty secret is Californians have legal rights to more than five times the water that exists in average years, even when nature is producing precipitation normally.
Gov. Earl Warren warned about this more than 60 years ago, and nobody did anything.
"The state has over-promised and over-allocated," Jennings says.
A little history here: Gov. Pat Brown, when he built the State Water Project, figured on tapping into the Eel River on the north coast. That would have added significantly more water. But Gov. Ronald Reagan quashed that idea for environmental reasons. Yes, Mr. Conservative.
Wildlife director Bonham's take on the farmers vs. fishermen fight is this: "When people start screaming at each other, it takes all our energy away. And we need all the brainpower we can muster to solve this."
Gov. Jerry Brown probably had the smartest observation last week: "When God doesn't provide the water, it's not here."
It's not the tiny fish's fault.
Los Angeles Times
FBI raid highlights need for reform
No one knows why federal agents raided state Sen. Ron Calderon's office last week. But legal or illegal, money in politics is corrupting.
By George Skelton Capitol Journal,0,274465...
SACRAMENTO — When federal agents raided state Sen. Ron Calderon's Capitol office last week, it jogged memories of the FBI's sweeping Shrimpscam sting 25 years ago.
Fourteen politicos — legislators, lobbyists, staffers — were convicted in the scandal that prompted voters to impose term limits on elected state officials.
We still don't know, as of this writing, precisely what the latest raid was all about. All we really know is that agents carted off several boxes.
It apparently involved a U.S. attorney's suspicion about Calderon, a Democrat from Montebello, and his brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon. Ron authored legislation on behalf of a water district that had consulting contracts with Tom.
Also, Tom was paid big bucks by some healthcare companies that got help in the Legislature last year from Ron and another brother, then-Assemblyman Chuck Calderon.
The Calderon family long has been prominent politically in Los Angeles County and occasionally has drawn scrutiny for overlapping politics and finances. The clan now includes a new assemblyman, Ian Calderon of Whittier, Chuck's son.
The raid apparently was a surprise to every lawmaker except Ron Calderon. He didn't show up for work in the Capitol on Monday and Tuesday. But celebrity attorney Mark Geragos was available to speak for him by telephone immediately after the Tuesday evening raid.
"The government is out of control," Geragos asserted, seemingly targeting his words at potential jurors. It "should be ashamed."
When a high-profile attorney suddenly pops up, I tend to think there's a fire burning.
But this investigation doesn't seem to be rising — or sinking — to the level of Shrimpscam. Then, federal agents created a fake shrimp processing operation and lured legislators into accepting bribes to support a bill enabling the phony enterprise.
Ironically, that FBI probe was urged by Assembly Republican Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale. He convinced the Reagan administration Justice Department that Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown of San Francisco was vulnerable to stinging. But it was Nolan, among others, who got stung and went to prison. Brown wasn't touched.
"Always assume everyone in the Capitol is wearing a wire," Brown famously cautioned Democrats.
The current probe appears to be confined to the Calderon brothers.
And upon hearing about it, besides Shrimpscam, I immediately thought of what legendary Speaker Jesse Unruh used to say, years after leaving the Legislature.
Unruh, who became state treasurer, would shake his head in amazement at the seemingly sensible souls who would get elected and, after arriving in the Capitol, believe they had become invisible. They'd be pampered by perks, toadied over by lobbyists and lulled into the delusion that no ordinary folks could see their carryings-on.
Robert Hertzberg — former Assembly speaker-turned-political reformer who plans to run next year for the state Senate — basically agrees with Unruh.
"You get up there and everybody's telling you how good you look, that you're doing a great job, that you're the best in the world," he says, "and you start believing it. You're living in this Capitol bubble. It can get you in trouble."
But Hertzberg doesn't think corruption now is pervasive in the Capitol.
"There's very little," he asserts. "You don't see the kinds of corruption there was in the '70s. And things done in the '60s with Unruh would never be done today. People coming to homes with envelopes of cash. It's a different world."
Agreed. Powerful lobbyists, for example, aren't hanging out in the Senate leader's office playing poker and monitoring conversations as they were when Democrat Hugh Burns was president pro tem back in the so-called good ol` days.
But using a broad definition of corruption, there's plenty of it going on legally today. There may be little if any bribery or graft, but there are subtler influences of moneyed special interests that corrupt decision-making.
Interests such as labor, insurance, oil and Indian tribes grease lawmakers' hands with political money. And politicians only insult the public's intelligence when they claim it doesn't sway votes — or gubernatorial action.
The solution could be public financing of state campaigns, with politicians then being bought by the public instead of the special interests. But voters oppose that. And Supreme Court rulings have reduced its potential effectiveness.
Another reform would be to eliminate the various pots of money — the slush funds, the legal defense accounts, the charitable kitties — that special interests fill to solicit lawmakers' favors.
Fundraising also could be banned while the Legislature is in session, as advocated by Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC and a former chairman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission.
"Human nature being what it is," Schnur says, "if I write a large check six months before an important committee vote, it's not going to have the same impact as if I write it the night before."
"Also, one thing is indisputable," he adds. "It would free up more time for legislators to do the job they were elected to do."
Responds Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento): "It's an idea we ought to take seriously."
You could ban all special interest gifts to legislators. That would eliminate such freebies as golf junkets and foreign jaunts.
Ron Calderon has taken roughly $40,000 worth of gifts since 2000, more than double any other legislator, the Sacramento Bee reported. He's chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee, one of the Legislature's coveted "juice" committees that attract special interest largesse.
"Political scandal is very good for the political reform business," Schnur notes.
Problem is, there's not much market for reform inside the Capitol. It'll probably require citizen action with a ballot initiative.

Latest update in the Calderon story:
Los Angeles Times
Sen. Ron Calderon surrenders to authorities in corruption case
By Richard Winton,0,3683748.story#ixzz2uHqApDnH