The drought in the San Joaquin Valley -- let's call it the Great San Joaquin Valley Drought ,,, no, we should call it The Greatest Drought in World History, because we like to have the biggest things in the world here -- biggest cheese plants, biggest almond crops, biggest winery, biggest land subsidence, greatest destruction of bees, biggest air-quality problems, and our water quality was recently the subject of a genuine United Nations investigation on behalf of the farm workers, mostly citizens of another country, which must have been the reason the UN got involved because, you know, being citizens of another country, they aren't exactly our responsibility, at least you could argue that people without the proper paperwork to be here don't really have a right to safe water supplies and sewer services. They're just farm workers, after all, you have to draw the line somewhere,, and where water is concerned, that line has to be clearly drawn because our sacred San Joaquin Valley economy is based on Irrigated Agriculture. And this year farm workers are cheaper than water and a sewer in compliance with state and federal regulations.
The Greatest Drought in California for 1,200 years is a natural phenomenon, perhaps made worse by global warming, a human-made phenomenon -- stacking a lot of smog up against tall mountains, for example, or starting forest fires, or maybe just cramming 40 million people onto land that had trouble 40 years ago accommodating half that number in another, shorter drought. It's not a tragedy in itself, it's just Mother Nature doing what She does Out West, even though at the moment, important people who decide such things are saying Her behavior is extremely politically incorrect. She has forced the governor himself to threaten millions of people with yet unspecified punishments for using more water than he says they should. The most plausible result will be further breakdown of law and order.
On the other hand, the state's response to agribusiness's use of water -- although it's disputed in the fine tradition of swapping insult and injury re. California water, about 75-80 percent -- has been predictably long on emergency rhetoric and short on long-term planning and sensible legislation. California's groundwater supplies are not widely measured and not monitored, although there are plans afoot, even on the statute books, with deadlines for action quite sufficient for the best water lawyer-lobbyists in the West to rototill their shreds into the dry land for fertilizer.
Still, not tragic except of course for fish and wildlife whose guardians and protective services will be absent from the field this summer because "You really have to respect the farmers' point of view, you know." Endangered species don't have members of Congress because they don't have payrolls and their friends and defenders, who could and did operate effectively in the former crumbling democracy of the United States, are pretty helpless in the present plutocracy. To take two prominent examples of crops that, lacking the usual amounts of surface water deliveries this year, are drilling like there is no tomorrow, consider the almond and the wine grape.
Almonds: the estimated crop is 287.6 million pounds total, 1.407 million pounds of which will be exported. (http://www.almonds.com/sites/default/files/content/attachments/2014_alma...)
It has come to the attention of the general public in this year of the Greatest Drought in California for the Last 1,200 years Moreorless that it take a gallon of water to grow one almond nut, or, more precisely, 1,1 gal. per nut.
So, it will take 316.4 million gallons of water to grow this year's crop of almonds.
There are 325,850 gallons in an acre-foot. Irrigation water is generally calculated in acre-feet. Now, being journalists, our figures are never absolutely above suspicion, but nonetheless, with complete humility given the magnitudes of the numbers and the arithmetically challenged journalists, we found the figure of 970,900 acre-feet of water to grow the estimated crop.
California produced 728,9 million gallons of wine in 2013. The state exported 115 million gallons. http://www.wineinstitute.org/resources/statistics/article83
It takes 872 gallons of water to produce a gallon of wine.
Eight hundred and seventy-two whole gallons of water per gallon of wine? Can that possibly be true? Oh well, if the Huff Post says so, it must be and we must go with this venerable organ of liberal opinion of predominantly white wine drinkers. We have in vain tried to find out where Huff Post got this marvelous figure but in the course of the research we have run into the obstacle of the professional wine writers. It is a special kind of prose, very short on facts and on answering questions; quite long on the glamour of dirt and sun, the glint of sunset over the rolling hills covered with vines seen through the glass of perfect Pinot Noir.
It took 635.6 billion gallons to grow the 2013 wine-grape crop (more given waste in harvest and processing) or nearly 2 million acre-feet.
Now, comparing the 970,900 acre-feet taken to grow the 2014-15 estimated almond crop to the nearly 2 million acre-feet consumed by the 2013 wine-grape crop, it looks like California wine production is consuming more than twice as much water as the almond crop, despite the media hue and cry concerning the thirsty nut.
But the California almond growers will not rest content with that discrepancy for long and will strive mightily until they have surpassed the noble California wine industry, which in their minds represents a California as old as Junipero Serra's feet.
The California dairy industry, naturally -- since it's California -- the largest in the nation since the early 1990's, is another guzzler of an agribusiness. According to a dairy-industry flak website, a cow needs to drink two gallons of fresh, clean water to produce a gallon of milk. We were unable to find a clear figure for the amount of water consumed by the California dairy industry.
On and on it goes, but the general story line is that California agriculture consumes an enormous quantity of water, much of the crops it produces are exported because growth in California agribusiness is export-led and much of that is subsidized by government in a bewildering variety of programs, whose growth exceeds the growth in agribusiness.
When the politics aren't right, bad things happen. Ask ol' Oedipus. Or maybe ask our young state Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, if you can find him behind all those Condits and their keepers, like Mike Lynch. Lynch was former Rep. Condit's chief of staff. Nearly got slapped with an obstruction of justice charge for over-protection of his Member in the heady days after Chandra Levy went missing. Now Lynch, after working as a political consultant and as director of the Great Valley Center (for urban development and environmental destruction), has become Gray's chief of staff.
In addition to his wife, the former Cadee Condit, Chance Condit, Cadee's nephew (Chad's son and Coop and Li'l Gary's brother), is Gray's district representative in Merced.
Assemblyman Gray's district contains or borders on four rivers of deep interest to a number of irrigation districts and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. The rivers are the San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced. The district also contains the Delta Mendota Canal (federal Central Valley Project) and the Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown California Aqueduct (State Water Project). It contains the headquarters of the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority, the nerve center for the distribution of federal water pumped from the Delta on the west side (when there is some). It contains the San Luis Reservoir., which stores water for west side agriculture and drinking water for the south Bay Area and Southern California (via the Aqueduct). It contains the Central California Irrigation District, the Miller-Lux-Solid-Gold-Pre-1914-Riparian-Water-Rights-holders whose heritage claim on San Joaquin River water is sufficiently authoritative to compel appropriation of Friant-Kern Water Authority water from Lake Millerton in the Sierra foothills. It contains numerous irrigation districts, the principal ones of which draw from the three tributary rivers: South San Joaquin ID, Oakdale ID, Modesto ID, Turlock ID, Merced. There are more, like the Merquin and Stevinson ID's. There are also several classes of diverters of river water, some with pre-1914 rights, others with post-1914 rights, some with no rights at all but steady practice.
And then, of course, there is the real elephant in the room, groundwater.
This swarm of entities contains many strong individuals that share two identical opinions, magnificently represented by phalanxes of sleek, grandiloquent lawyers: their water right is more important than anyone else's water right; and environmental law and regulation threaten civilization itself. Add to this a seething hatred for the federal and state government who built the canal system that delivers the water and produces an annual cornucopia of subsidies, disaster payments and other financial assistance to the Valley squirocracy and you have the general mentality down to the last knuckle. This squirocracy includes in addition to nut growers large and small: the largest wine company in the world, Gallo Wine, Company; the reputed largest dairy in the nation, Jos. Gallo Farms; the largest cheese factory in the world, Hilmar Cheese; Foster Farms fresh chicken and dairy; egg growers large and small; and much cotton and rice along with beef cattle, grains and other crops.
Furthermore, Modesto, which has produced two secretaries of the US Department of Agriculture and three directors of the California Department of Food and Agriculture in recent years, is a major administrative hub for commodity promotion and politics. Western United Dairymen, the Almond Board of California, and Gallo Wine Co. (prominently represented on the board of directors of the San Francisco/Washington DC-based Wine Institute) are located in Modesto. And Jill Benson of Modesto-based JS West Co. was appointed one of nine directors of the American Egg Board last year.
Despite the thick lading of the well known substance in Gray's campaign flak, he is a denizen of the town and the Capitol watering hole, not the dairy barn and the tractor shed. Shepherded into political life by his uncle Robin Adam, longtime local political professional, his prior political experience has been as a driver for the Great Shrimp Slayer and Pimlico Kid, Dennis Cardoza, former state assemblyman, former congressman, problem gambler. From there Gray moved on to serve three years on the staff of state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, indicted with his brother, Tom, in 2014 on 24 counts of public corruption involving several types of fraud, money laundering, bribery, and filing false tax returns -- excellent training for any young man with political ambition.
Speaking of early influences there is his mother, Candice Adam Medefind. So much can be said about Ms. Medefind, but one of her more recent endeavors will have to do. Sierra Pacific Presbyterian Church was the other, the liberal Presbyterian church in town, established more than 30 years ago by prominent Democrats and many social activists in Merced. Ms. Medefind tried to lead all the activists down the recycling road. Many left. Eventually, the congregation boiled down to the Medefind family and few others. Regional Presbyterian authorities based in Stockton became concerned the church was dying, the founding minister having retired some years earlier. The Medefinds (including the future assemblyman) response was to establish an extensive homeless colony on the grounds. The neighbors complained. The regional Presbyterians at length, despairing of any rational resolution, bulldozed the church and threw a chain link fence around the entire property, now a neighborhood eyesore but a quiet one.
Despite what some might characterize as "disadvantages" in his younger days, now nestled among a flock of Condits, one would think that Assemblyman Gray is now among experienced, knowledgeable counselors and just the people needed to help the legislator face this dire drought driving the squires to distraction.
From a former agriculture reporter's notebook.
One day I was asked to explain how cotton growers made money when the world price for cotton was 32 cents a pound and the breakeven costs of growing cotton in the San Joaquin Valley was 80 cents a pound without agricultural subsidies since Newt Gingrich had removed them in the mid-1990's. I had spent nearly an hour on the phone with an urbane cotton merchant in Fresno who had listed a number of programs (called steps and supports and other names) which, when added altogether seemed to indicate that the growers were making a nickel a pound over their breakeven costs.
I had also consulted the office of then-Representative Gary Condit, Blue Dog-Ceres, from which no rays of light fell upon these issues. So, I decided to visit a bar frequented by cotton growers. The bar was in the middle of the Valley, on Highway 59, behind a grocery store, next to a post office. I entered and announced my name and purpose for coming, apologized and asked for some help. After a good deal of hemming and hawing, it because evident that they didn't have very strong opinions about cotton pricing. They avoided it like they might have avoided an abstruse doctrine of theological dogma. In fact, I left an hour later wondering if they actually knew much. They did have one firm opinion however -- that Condit, the present congressman, didn't know anything about cotton pricing although he sat on the House Committee on Agriculture. I was getting into my car when an old jasper in a bent straw hat with a hand-rolled cigarette between his lips emerged from the shadow of the store's porch.
"Part of the answer to your question is that when we have a problem, we tell Tony (former Rep. Tony Coelho) and Tony tells Gary."
Our presence in the state Assembly is covered there, too, because the Great Tony Himself gave Adam Gray a resounding endorsement shortly before the November 2014 election:
"...The campaign against Adam Gray is without parallel in its viciousness and character assassination. It is not representative of the values of our people. On election day we should send one clear message: legislators like Adam Gray have earned our support and vote. It is really in our best interest to do so."
TONY COELHO, DOYLESTOWN, PA --
On the other hand, a sneaky little doubt appears. Who is this Tony from Doylestown PA, county seat of Bucks County? When is the last time Tony had a Merced County address or spent any time here other than to fly in for meetings with the lords of water, wine, milk and nuts?
Median income per household for Bucks County PA is $59,727. Cardoza lives in Annapolis MD, in Anne Arundel County, median household income $87,430. Median income per household in Merced County CA is $48,561.
But, not to worry: nothing is more easily forgotten in the day-to-day than humble beginnings, nor more honored is speechifying. Less obvious to the public is the amount of federal agricultural subsidies flowing into the two counties in Gray's district between 1995-2012: $460 million to Merced County farmers; $230 million to Stanislaus County farmers. -- Environmental Working Group Farm Subsidy Database.
With mentors like Coelho, the Condits and Cardoza, the lad can't go wrong. He's bound to get it right. And when he asserted on TV the other night that his bill, AB 1242, that would require the state to mitigate for the damage done to groundwater basins by farmers replacing the surface water from the tributary rivers that the state required to maintain water quality in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta with groundwater, was just "right for the district."
I can pretty much guarantee that the ordinary reader didn't quite get that, so we will give it to him straight from the summary of the bill by the consultant of the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks, and Wildlife, Tina Cannon Leahy:
SUBJECT: Groundwater: State mitigation for local actions
SUMMARY: Requires the State Water Resources Control Board implement mitigation measures for effects to groundwater basins that occur when local entities opt to pump more groundwater in response to State action. Specifically, this bill:
1)Requires the State Water Board to consider groundwater plans when adopting or approving a Water Quality Control Plan (WQCP).
2)Requires, before adopting instream flows that protect beneficial uses of water, that the State Water Board evaluate impacts on groundwater basins from increased groundwater pumping by locals in reaction to increased instream flow requirements and consider alternatives and mitigation measures to avoid or mitigate to less-than-significant any adverse impacts on the groundwater basin from increased groundwater pumping by locals, to the extent feasible.
3)Requires the State Water Board adopt and implement the measures to mitigate for increased groundwater pumping by locals.
4)Prohibits the State Water Board from adopting a WQCP if there are significant adverse impacts to a groundwater basin from increased groundwater pumping by locals...
Supporting argument: The author states this bill is necessary because the State Water Board is considering "a proposal to develop new unimpaired flow requirements on the Tuolumne, Merced, and Stanislaus rivers." The author maintains that the proposed plan would significantly increase the level of water into the Delta and thus "devastate the groundwater basins in the Valley by reducing surface water recharge opportunities and eliminating surface water deliveries to domestic and agricultural water users." The author maintains that the State Board's action will "deny Central Valley basins one of the most important tools in the tool box: the ability to recharge the depleted groundwater table with surface flows."
Opposing arguments: Opponents state that this bill would "unreasonably limit the authority of the State Water Board to balance the use of water in the State for all benefits, including fish and wildlife that are held in trust by the State." Opponents state that this bill also fails to threaten vulnerable communities from unsustainable groundwater management by inserting a "broad and inappropriate requirement that essentially makes every Basin Plan subservient to any and all GSPs in that basin" with the effect of "placing the onus for paying for local problems on the State Water Board," interfering with the Board's ability to protect water quality, and making the Board rather than the polluter the responsible party in case of contamination. Specifically with regard to the San Joaquin River and its tributaries, opponents note that "in some years more than 80% of the natural flow of these rivers is diverted, which has devastating impacts on salmon, steelhead, and other native fisheries as well as the health of the Delta." Opponents add that "during the negotiations for SGMA the author attempted to include the provisions of this bill but they were rejected."
This is one of 14 bills in the Legislature proposing changes to SGMA and its related statutes. The other bills are: AB 452 (Bigelow) restricting the State Water Board from using Water Rights Fund monies for SGMA enforcement, except funds collected from SGMA enforcement; AB 453 (Bigelow) allowing groundwater management plans that preceded SGMA to be amended and extended; AB 454 (Bigelow) adding one year to each of several SGMA deadlines; AB 455 (Bigelow) requiring the Judicial Council to come up with a 270-day process for completing all California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) legal challenges to SGMA projects; AB 617 (Perea) adding mutual water companies to GSAs; AB 938 (Salas) making minor technical changes to SGMA; AB 939 (Salas) allowing 20 days instead of 10 days to review technical data upon which a fee is based; AB 1243 (Gray) rebating 50% of all SGMA enforcement penalties back to local governments and water districts for groundwater recharge projects; AB 1390 (Alejo) creating a streamlined process for groundwater adjudications and exempting them from SGMA, except minimal reporting requirements; AB 1531 (Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee) making minor technical changes to SGMA; SB13 (Pavley) making noncontroversial technical cleanup changes to SGMA; SB 226 (Pavley) adding a streamlined groundwater adjudication section to SGMA; and SB 487 (Nielsen) exempting SGMA projects from CEQA.
Gray's bills have one theme: sabotaging regulations. His bills on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act are intended to undermine it. Anyone observing the water world in his district knows that locals are incapable of creating an effective agency, as required by the SGMA, to sustainably manage groundwater. It is against their whole intent in life and the state will soon have to step in firmly to avoid massive land subsidence caused by collapse of aquifers. Agribusiness is not in business to conserve natural resources. It is in business to exploit them and get around any regulations in the way to that exploitation.
Gray had another bill, which he withdrew, to modify enforcement of the American with Disabilities Act, whose original sponsor was former Rep; Tony Coelho, D-Merced. Then there is Gray's bill to introduce online gambling in the state, no doubt mentored along by former Rep. Dennis Cardoza, a lobbyist involved with online gambling issues. (The Pimlico Kid has made his passion his life's work.)
Adam Gray is water boy for three former congressmen, each of whom left office under a cloud, with the future generations of Condits crawling up his back with their track shoes on. His career is a tribute to the political disgust of the great majority of eligible voters in his district at the quality of candidates chosen for them by the same handful of squires at the top of the agribusiness heap.
The story surrounding AB 1242 contains an element of self-destruction also typical of the politicians surrounding Gray, including members of his family. He was able to persuade a majority of members of the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee to vote for AB1242, a bill designed to gut the effective provisions in SGMA, itself a strong response to drought and the fear of massive overdrafting of groundwater. Too late, but uncharacteristically brave for a legislature famous for ignoring water problems for decades on end, responding to the adamant denial of Finance, Insurance and Real Estate special interests that a problem exists. From a certain point of view, perhaps the Assembly speaker's and other Assembly leaders, AB 1242 looks like a monkey wrench, an act of sabotage rather than a "balanced" (to use one of Cardoza's favorite grease words) amendment to a statute. As the committee consultant indicates, AB1242 is actually cynical, irresponsible and unworkable.
Gray was invited the day after his triumph in committee by Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, to her office for a chat. Atkins removed Gray from the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee.
We wondered if perhaps she had found a key left by former Speaker Willie Brown for the broom closet where he put then-Assemblyman Gary Condit, D-Ceres, leader of the "Gang of Five," who did not see eye-to-eye with the San Franciscans. Condit went on to Congress and was a leader of the Dixiecrat-lite Blue Dog Democrats, who began as Newt Gingrich sycophants and went on to betray their party's leadership on a wide variety of issues.
Is is any wonder, in this export-led agricultural economy that the present congressman, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, co-chair of the Congressional Blue Dog Coalition, thinks the Trans Pacific Partnership is "just the right thing to do" even though it is opposed by every labor union in the country?