Forked tongues and blunt pitchforks



Politicians and water managers spoke to farmers at the Stanislaus County Agricultural Hall of Paranoia with tongues so forked it's a wonder any coherent sentences broke the fences of their teeth. Flecks of dribbled white foam must have spewed forth from their lips as they cursed the state, the state, the state, before a frightened herd of farmers. The politicians and the water managers have a plan and a hope:  they are trying to deflect the attention of the frightened herd of sheep -- I mean farmers -- into a pitchfork bearing mob of farmers headed to the state Capitol -- headed anywhere but at local authority.


It was an veritable orgy of blame -- the mob drifting and seething with misinformation. They believe they own the water they have rights to except in emergency situations like this. They believe their irrigation-district managers and board sell water to distant parts of the Valley strictly for the good of the district. They believe their politicians work for the interests of every farmer, not just a handful of the richest agribusiness corporations, private or public. They believe the USDA and the state Department of Food and Agriculture have their interests at heart. They believe they have God-given and legal rights to destroy the natural resources under their control. They believe the fee simple absolute ownership with a bank mortgage entitles them to god-power over Nature even if they are little billiard-balls rolling around some world commodity market in an economy based on agricultural exports or else, in the case of dairy, government prices controlled by the processor lobby.


From cradle to grave these farmers have believed information of the quality of chicken litter soaked in molasses some feed their cows. One cannot have sympathy for people so arrogantly wrong about their own self interests. These fellas are a bunch of very blunt pitchforks that don't frighten anybody anymore.  -- blj


Modesto Bee 
Farmers urged to fight attempts to curtail century-old water rights...J.N. Sbranti
They don’t know what’s going to be proposed, but they know they won’t like it.
That message was clear at Thursday night’s gathering to fire up opposition to any attempt by the state to curtail river diversions by those with century-old water rights.
Assorted state and local politicians attracted about 70 people to the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau office.
They offered dire warnings but virtually no details about what regulations are being considered or why. However, they insisted that what’s coming is a threat to farmers and the San Joaquin Valley’s economy.
At issue is a yet-to-be-revealed proposal that’s expected to be considered July 1 by California’s Water Resources Control Board.
Because of the drought, that agency may take action to regulate how much more water can be diverted from the state’s rivers. That may impact the water rights on which some Stanislaus irrigation districts and landowners depend.
Exactly what’s being considered isn’t known, but that didn’t really matter to the leaders of Thursday’s gathering. They don’t think the state has the right to do anything to infringe on water rights established before 1914.
“They’re using the drought as an excuse,” charged Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank. She accused the water board of trying to overreach its authority to establish a dangerous precedent that expands its control over California’s water resources.
“This is going to be litigious and bad for the state and our community,” agreed Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced. He warned that if the state gets power over water rights, it would create a “damaging cascading effect on the entire Central Valley.”
Water board officials repeatedly have assured that’s not what’s being considered, but they weren’t invited to the gathering to explain. If they had been there, they’d have gotten an earful.
Modesto Irrigation District Director Paul Campbell called state water officials inept leaders who make appalling decisions. They misuse environmental laws and “they’re undermining the entire agricultural community.”
“They’re your enemy,” Campbell claimed. “It’s no-compromise time.”
Several speakers blasted the California Environmental Quality Act, blaming it for stopping the building of more water storage facilities – such as dams – in the state.
And there were dire predictions about what’s to come. “They are going after your groundwater,” insisted Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau. He sees any water board attempt to curtail senior water rights as just the first step, and he urged farmers to show up in droves at its next meeting. “This is one we fight for, boys.”
If the water board does attempt to curtail river diversions, Oakdale Irrigation District General Manager Steve Knell vowed to file a legal challenge and seek an injunction. But first, the board must make its proposal. Gray said that’s expected to come perhaps as early as today.
Oakdale Irrigation District to sell more water to Westlands
jholland@modbee.comMay 7, 2013
OAKDALE — The Oakdale Irrigation District board agreed Tuesday to sell more water to drought-wracked farms west of Fresno, as long as its customers are not left short.
The board voted 5-0 to sell up to 40,000 acre-feet from the Stanislaus River to the Westlands Water District, which is dealing with severe cutbacks in federal deliveries.
The price is $175 per acre-foot, up from the $100 discussed earlier and far more than what OID farmers pay. The district could make as much as $7 million in the one-year deal for use on canal upgrades and other work.
The water will be delivered in summer at a volume that depends on watershed conditions and OID customer needs.
"I just want to be really careful that we have plenty for our own constituents," board member Steve Webb said.
The OID has water for a possible sale despite the dry conditions, thanks to strong river rights and conservation.
The district already is selling up to 40,000 acre-feet this spring to Westlands and other districts from the Tracy area south. This sale, at $100 per acre-foot, is matched by an equal amount from the neighboring South San Joaquin Irrigation District.
The water is being delivered via the Stanislaus River, timed to help young salmon get out to sea. The summer sale also would be via the river, ending in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where huge state and federal pumps draw water for the west valley.
The OID has been an active player in California's water market, which emerged in the 1980s to allow flush agencies to meet the needs of those running short.
The district recently reached the end of one transfer to Stockton-area domestic users and another to boost lower Stanislaus fish flows.
The OID is negotiating to sell San Francisco a dry-year backup for 2014 and to sell long-term water to the small Bay Area city of Brisbane.
The Modesto Irrigation District last year dropped plans to sell water to San Francisco, after critics raised concerns about shortages during drought.
OID General Manager Steve Knell said the district likely can get its full supply of 300,000 acre-feet on the Stanislaus this year despite the drought, under the agreement that governs operation of the federal New Melones Reservoir.
Westlands has a contract for up to 1.15 million acre-feet per year from the federal Delta-Mendota Canal. It has received 100 percent of that amount only three times in the past 20 years because of drought and efforts to protect delta fish from pumping.
This year, Westlands is getting just 20 percent, or 230,000 acre-feet. It has turned to water sellers, such as the OID, and increased groundwater use.
OID board member Jack Al-pers said the Westlands sale is ideal for his district.
"We don't have to deliver it unless we have the water left over," he said.
Turlock officials want county to halt new ag wells…Marijke Rowland
TURLOCK — City leaders want a stop to new agricultural wells across the county.
City Council members voted unanimously Wednesday night to draft a letter to the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors requesting members to consider a moratorium on drilling for new agricultural production wells.
Council members also want a stakeholder group to be convened to consider new groundwater-pumping regulations.
The letter will ask that the stoppage continue until the new regulations are in place.
Turlock Municipal Services Director Michael Cooke said the action is necessary because of the rapid conversion of land in the eastern part of the county from pastures to orchards and vineyards.
“Our water supply is entirely reliant upon groundwater for our drinking water supply. Over time, it has become increasingly difficult for us to provide adequate quantity and quality of water to our residents and businesses,” Cooke said. “We have a concern, we want to go on record, and we want to encourage others to do the same.”
Cooke said new pumping of groundwater to feed the almond orchard boom in the area, as well as an ongoing drought, has put the squeeze on the city’s water supply.
The U.S. Geological Survey, the Turlock Groundwater Basin Association and the Modesto Groundwater Basin Association have received funding to study the effects of the new agricultural groundwater pumping in the area. But those reports are not expected to be completed for another one to two years.
Councilman Forrest White said that until then, the letter is a way to keep pressure on the supervisors to begin the process of drafting new groundwater-pumping regulations.
“One of the words to look at is that the supervisors ‘consider’ a moratorium. We’re not telling them to do a moratorium,” he said. “We want to move them in that direction, that they should study it and give a hard look at it.”
Fellow Councilman Steven Nascimento said supervisors have been thinking about new regulations for the last four years without results yet.
“Imposing some sort of moratorium would give them that incentive to really fast-track that item,” he said.
Turlock Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Sharon Silva said the resolution has the backing of the chamber, which is also working on getting a moratorium imposed across the county.
“One of projects we’re taking on right now is one of the groundwater issues,” she said. “We’re really afraid for the future of this community for that.” 


Modesto Bee
Modesto Irrigation District blocks Oakdale water sale to SF, for now
The  MID board meets publicly at 9 a.m. today in the last of a series of orientation meetings aimed mostly at three new board members, and will go behind closed doors to discuss lawsuits and competitor Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s request to a state agency to increase its power rates. The meeting takes place at the district office, 1231 11th St., Modesto.
MODESTO — The Modesto Irrigation District, which dropped a hotly contested proposal to sell water to San Francisco two years ago, temporarily has stopped the Oakdale Irrigation District from doing the same thing.
However, MID’s blockage could be removed someday when the district finishes creating a policy addressing highly controversial water transfers.
With such a framework, MID could facilitate OID’s deal with San Francisco, “and potentially much more,” MID Board Chairman Nick Blom said last week in a “not yet” letter to OID leaders.
In light of news that OID is negotiating separate, much larger sales to wealthy water buyers to the south, Blom on Thursday said MID has not talked recently about shopping its water. But MID leaders do envision short-term sales sometime in the future, if the district can store up enough extra without hurting local farmers, Blom said.
OID has been talking about paying some of its customers to fallow their land and selling water that would have been used there to thirsty districts in the Fresno area and beyond. Because of the drought, OID might not have enough to spare from its mountain snowmelt via the Stanislaus River, but the district intends to pump more than 5 billion gallons of groundwater this year, or five times more than normal.
That could threaten the wells of nearby farms and residents. “If their plan is just to continue pumping, that’s not a good thing for anyone,” Blom said Thursday.
OID, an active player in the water transfer market, has improved its canals and other facilities with $51 million reaped in recent water sales, the district said in a “briefing paper” on its proposed deal with San Francisco.
In October, the OID board agreed to accept San Francisco’s $112,000 option, plus an undetermined fee for 730 million gallons of OID water in a one-time deal this year.
But the agreement depends on MID’s blessing because it shares a connection with San Francisco on the Tuolumne River, and OID does not. MID would give some of its allotment to the city and receive a like amount from OID through a canal connection near Albers Road and Dusty Lane, between Modesto and Waterford, and MID would get 10 percent of the option and sales revenue for its trouble, according to the OID pitch.
Similar agreements between the Oakdale and Modesto utilities date to 1917 and were used regularly to fulfill state government demands for better fish habitat in the Tuolumne from 1998 through 2010.
But this time, MID said “no,” at least for now.
MID leaders don’t want to trade their pure river water for OID’s canal water, which is tainted to some degree with tailwater, or leftovers after draining from Oakdale customers’ farms. The MID board has not been satisfied, Blom said, with OID’s assurances regarding water quality.
Further, MID is more interested in “a comprehensive agreement covering the long term” than in a one-time deal, Blom said in the letter. He also chastised OID for “inferring MID’s participation in any water transfer” at OID meetings “or with the media.”
Tom Orvis of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau said it makes sense for MID and OID to “at least explore opportunities” for cooperation in a formal framework.
On Thursday, Blom said the MID board has not talked about paying customers to fallow their land. “To me, district water is there for your district and not for you just to sell. I’d rather keep growing here and not make as much money,” he said.
OID General Manager Steve Knell could not be reached Thursday for this report. His district has sold water over the years to Stockton-area taps and to a federal agency boosting fishery flows. Last year, OID sold more than 13 billion gallons to irrigation districts on the southwest side of the San Joaquin Valley, including Fresno-based Westlands Water District. Those transfers were handled on the Stanislaus River and did not require MID permission.
Last year, OID offered to sell water to the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts, and in another deal, MID agreed to sell water to TID. But all of those ideas were dropped for various reasons, including an uptick in TID groundwater pumping to augment its surface water.
MID’s proposed sale to San Francisco fell apart in 2012 amid concerns over having enough for local farmers in dry years.