Politicians striking poses in the face of natural disaster is older than the pharaohs. It is easier to imagine a tree falling unseen and unheard in a forest than it is to imagine a disaster without politicians crawling all over it flattering their own efforts and the strength of "their people."
"Heck of a job, Brownie"...etc.
They're incorrigible and impossible to keep off their point, which it is make points with the special interests, whatever the public damage. In the case of state Assemblyman Adam "neo-Blue Dog" Gray, the Oh-so-clever Valley boys tried to parlay disaster into a hit on groundwater regulation. Until 2014, California was the last western state without that bane to agribusiness resource plundering. Gray's AB 1242 was an attack by northeast San Joaquin Valley agribusiness against the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (2014) and those that wrote it and passed it. The attack backfired. Gray got his bill through the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee but lost his position on that powerful committee and is now trying to save face with a gutted bill by the same title.
If the bill that cleared its second committee hurdle Monday becomes law, the state would at least be required to consider other ways of protecting endangered fish. -- editorial, Modesto Bee, April 28, 2015
At this evening's Merced City Council meeting, a councilman who attended the Assembly Natural Resources Committee hearing, where Gray's bill was defanged, announced resolutely that "the bill is still alive." Later, it was announced that four of the seven members would be attending a "One Voice" convocation in Washington DC later this month.
When the San Joaquin Valley One-Voicers arrive in DC, they resemble the coyotes that stand outside the perimeter fence at the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery and howl their version of sacred music along with the electronic carillon bells at sunset.
But this natural disaster, this four-year drought, is a part of a larger disaster, global warming, which is not, strictly speaking "an act of God," although there certainly will be lawyers who will seek to limit their insurance-industry clients with that argument, but an act of man and nature, or perhaps more precisely, capitalism and nature, locked in deadly embrace. Yet, although the combined drought and global warming is not strictly speaking, an act of God, it is turning the region above into a zone "formerly known as the heavens."
Such a backdrop as that ought to suggest to leaders that they reflect. And they ought to repent for their worship of the "good life" of unlimited desires, needs, and wants. But, of course, our leaders have standards to maintain because they must maintain their unctuous adulation of the rich.
A USDA survey of almond-crop expectations, instantly broadcast to the McClatchy chain by the Modesto-based California Almond Board, announced a 1-percent decline from last year's crop. The estimate is for 1.85 billion pounds of the thirsty little kernels.
At a gallon per almond and 368 almond kernels per pound, a crop of 1.85 billion pounds of almonds will consume around 680.8 billion gallons of water, or about 2.1 million acre-feet. And lest we listen too closely to the heroes feeding America, let us recall that 70 percent of these almonds containing this water are exported -- 1.47 million acre-feet of California water sailing away for whose benefit? Hardly "feeding America" as claimed by the same sort of self-righteous prigs that used to clamor even louder: "Housing prices cannot fall!"
And after the politics and the numbers, there is the earth, the people in small towns and cities in Central California, wildlife and fish, that are suffering the worst of this drought. At the rate agribusiness is over-pumping -- bad in "normal" rainfall years, sociopathic in a drought like this one -- we will have massive subsidence from collapsed aquifers. It will be the usual unchecked environmental devastation on steroids.
This evening we were watching the "Dull Girls" News Hour on PBS and who should appear but Felicia Marcus, chairperson of the California State Water Resources Control Board, giving the nation a rundown on the restrictions and regulations the state is imposing upon its urban citizens to save water. Newscaster Gwen Ifill asked Marcus about "penalties" the state might impose to enforce compliance with its conservation mandates, in some cases as much as 36 percent. Recall that the state has been in a drought and conserving water for four years.
Marcus scrambled away from the question, employing a smokescreen as old as Pharaoh praising the Divine Origin of the Egyptian People.
Californians, she informed the rest of the nation, are sure to do the right thing once they know how serious the situation is. The mandates are really just educational tools, she indicated.
Ifill dropped the question of penalties, allowing Marcus to go on flattering the Good California People Who Will Do The Right Thing.
We inquired locally about Marcus's reputation for enforcement of environmental law and regulation.
"That woman never saw a violation to an environmental regulation she didn't like," said a member of the Central Valley Safe Environment Network. "Marcus has been in the pocket of anti-environmental special interests for her entire career in government from the time she got appointed to the federal EPA to the UC Merced Red Team of fast-tracking serial abusers of environmental law and regulation. Right up to the present."
So, what can we expect now? "Marcus and Mary Nichols, currently chairperson of the California Air Resources Board, another UC Merced Red Team veteran, are Jerry Brown's poster girls for How Women Get Ahead by Joining the Men's Club," the CVSEN member said. "You can expect more violation of law and regulation, regardless of how tough the laws are and how serious the drought gets."
Panel amends bill on Valley river flows
SACRAMENTO – Modesto-area farmers and their allies did not get the vote they wanted Monday on a bill involving river flows, but their cause is still alive.
The Assembly Natural Resources Committee considered a bill that in its original form would have required the state to address the impact to groundwater if diversions are reduced on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers.
The amended version, which passed 6-0, would require consideration of “nonflow” measures that could benefit salmon and other native fish. These could include, for example, control of nonnative predators and restoration of spawning gravels.
Dozens of supporters of the original bill, introduced by Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, descended on the Capitol for the hearing.
“We want to continue to feed families, so we support this bill,” said Joey Gonsalves, president of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, in his brief statement to the committee. It heard also from leaders in business, labor, education and other fields, many of them coming from Stanislaus and Merced counties in a pair of buses.
The bill involves a proposal by the State Water Resources Control Board to boost river flows from February to June to help reverse the decline in oceangoing fish populations. Critics said the flows would lead to increased well pumping, and to fallowed fields where pumping was not an option.
Michael Frantz, a board member for the Turlock Irrigation District, said having the Tuolumne River supply is essential to keeping the groundwater in good shape.
Steve Gomes, superintendent of schools for Merced County, said the increased pumping could damage wells that supply schools serving about 25,000 students.
“So I’m looking at bottled water and porta-potties at schools in Merced County in the very near future,” he said.
Environmentalists and commercial salmon fishermen say the rivers have suffered from diversion to farms and cities.
Doug Obegi, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the committee that the Gray bill was not needed because the state board already looks at impacts.
The bill now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
The vote came nearly two weeks after the original bill narrowly passed the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee over objections by several environmental groups. A day later, Gray and another supporter were removed from the committee by Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego.
Also Monday, the Natural Resources Committee rejected a bill that would have streamlined the environmental review for two water storage projects that could be funded in part by the bond measure approved by voters in November. One is Temperance Flat Reservoir, on the San Joaquin River northeast of Fresno. The other is Sites Reservoir, in the hills west of the Sacramento River near Colusa.
Valley uses voice for water
Once Speaker Toni Atkins’ pet bills had been heard; once the people who want emissions limits on fracking had finished; once the manufacturers of recycled plastics had wrapped up, the Assembly Natural Resources Committee took up the concerns of some 120 people who had been waiting two hours in the hallway.
It was worth the wait.
The committee passed Assemblyman Adam Gray’s amended bill requiring the State Water Resources Control Board to first identify then consider other ways to protect fish before taking more water away from those counting on it. That’s a significant improvement of how the water board had planned to do business.
The water board has said the only way to fix the problems of diminished fish populations on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers is to have more water flowing down each river – more than twice as much, overall. That will leave less for human use. It called the concerns of residents “significant but unavoidable.”
Hundreds of area residents refuse to accept that analysis. Instead of the $124 million in costs the state has estimated, many in the region peg the costs at $800 million or much more.
If the bill that cleared its second committee hurdle Monday becomes law, the state would at least be required to consider other ways of protecting endangered fish.
“The valley community is united in this effort,” said Merced County Supervisor Hub Walsh, who was one of roughly 120 to attend a morning rally on the Capitol steps and one of 60 who took the microphone in the small hearing room.
Following Walsh were Daron McDaniel and John Pedrozo of Merced County and Terry Withrow, speaking for a unanimous Stanislaus County board. Bill Zoslocki represented the city of Modesto, and members of the Merced, Atwater, Livingston and Los Banos city councils. Then came the farm bureaus, the chambers of commerce, and every water district followed by farmer after farmer – including one who brought an empty bucket.
Steve Gomes, superintendent of Merced County Office of Education, told the committee that 25,000 students in Merced County attend schools with wells. He worries that if the state deprives the region of recharge water, his students will be drinking bottled water and using port-a-potties.
Michael Frantz, a member of the Turlock Irrigation District board, noted the value of the Tuolumne River to recharging groundwater basins on either side of the river.
“There’s a whole bunch of people in this building because we’re worried,” he said.
This battle is not even over. Six environmental organizations (about 1 for every 10 people in favor) testified against the bill. They are formidable. Two weeks ago, after Democrat Gray and Republican Kristin Olsen of Riverbank worked overtime to get the original bill passed in its first committee, Gray was kicked off that committee by Speaker Atkins. A clear message.
Monday, the San Joaquin Valley sent a message of its own.
“The residents of the Central Valley have made it clear that they demand to have a voice at the table,” Gray said.
Continuing to use that voice is absolutely essential.
House passes water bill, but drought solutions still under debate
WASHINGTON — • House energy and water spending bill doesn’t come close to addressing California’s drought issues.
• Fresno Democrat Jim Costa joins Valley’s GOP congressmen in supporting bill.
• Valley representatives clamor for more federal help to solve California water crisis.
The House on Friday passed a big energy and water spending bill that showcases the continuing federal discord over how to handle California’s drought.
The $35 billion bill includes money for the California status quo, ranging from Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta restoration to operations of the sprawling Central Valley Project. It also includes drought-related language, with directives to speed completion of water storage project studies.
The bill, approved by a largely party line 240-177 margin, does not, however, reflect significant consensus on some key California water disputes, nor does it come close to the comprehensive drought bill that has so far eluded lawmakers.
“The president has declared the drought to be a national disaster,” said Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel. “Unfortunately, we have not invested sufficiently in addressing that disaster.”
Farr, a liberal member of the House Appropriations Committee from which the Fiscal 2016 funding bill arose, joined most Democrats in voting against the energy and water package.
Three of the 10 Democrats who supported the bill represent Central Valley districts where either drought or flood control issues are paramount: Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno and Sacramento-area Reps. Doris Matsui and Ami Bera.
Republicans overwhelmingly supported the legislation, though they acknowledged its shortcomings.
“I think there are some good things in the bill,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, “but there’s a lot more that we can do.”
Denham noted “we are having continuous meetings” on drafting a separate California water bill, following the inability of lawmakers to resolve their differences last year. In early April, the new chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, attended a fundraiser in Fresno and took her first, brief tour of the drought-affected area.
“We need to be able to explain to the other 49 states why California is in such a tight situation with water, and what we can do to fix it ourselves,” Denham said, adding that lawmakers are trying to decide how to move the legislation.
Some provisions in the House energy and water bill approved Friday range far afield, such as a legislative “rider” allowing guns to be carried on all Corps of Engineers’ lands. Citing the politically divisive firearms policy, among other reasons, the White House issued a veto threat against the legislation.
Other provisions target California specifically, though their future is uncertain.
One measure added in the House Appropriations Committee by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, sets specific deadlines for federal officials to complete water storage project feasibility studies.
Under the bill, studies of a Temperance Flat dam construction east of Fresno and a Shasta Dam expansion in Northern California will be due Dec. 31. Studies of expanding Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County and constructing Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley will be due Nov. 30, 2016. A study of expanding San Luis Reservoir near Los Banos must be finished by Dec. 31, 2017.
“Each of the five studies were authorized by Congress over a decade ago,” Valadao noted in a statement. “If California had some of these dams or expansions in place, we wouldn’t be in the disastrous situation we are in today.”
His measure was added without recorded dissent, while other California provisions faced explicit resistance. The House briefly debated at about 1:20 a.m. Friday, and eventually approved along nearly party lines, an amendment by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, that would block theBureau of Reclamation from buying water for the purpose of supplementing river flows to help fish. McClintock’s spine-of-the-Sierra district stretches south into eastern Fresno County.
“This exacerbates an already perilous scarcity of water, while forcing the price of our remaining supplies even higher,” McClintock said of the water purchases. “It also makes a mockery of the sacrifices that every Californian is making to stretch every drop of water in their homes.”
McClintock’s amendment was one of several provisions that prompted Farr to call the overall energy and water bill “disastrous,” and its long-term prospects are unclear as the House legislation must still be reconciled with a Senate version.
Despite drought, California almond crop off just 1 percent
By John Holland
The federal government on Tuesday projected an almond crop of 1.85 billion pounds in California this year, short of the record but still strong considering the drought.
The estimate is down 1 percent from last year and 9 percent from the record harvest of 2.03 billion pounds in 2011.
The figure, announced at the Modesto headquarters of the Almond Board of California, suggests that growers are stretching what water they have to produce a food in high demand around the world.
“I think it’s a very positive number,” said Barret Arakelian, director of grower relations at Del Rio Nut Co. in Livingston. “It should keep prices stable.”
Those prices have been around $4 per pound to the grower in recent months, about double the 2011 average and four times the going rate in 2000.
This has prompted growers to pay what it takes to irrigate, including increased pumping of groundwater and the purchase of river water from other areas if it is available. Some farmers also have annual crops that can be fallowed during drought so the water can help keep almonds and other permanent plantings alive.
The estimate was based on a telephone survey of 328 growers by the National Agricultural Statistics Service last month. It will release a July 1 update based on nut counts and measurements in sample orchards. The harvest will start in August.
California produces about 80 percent of the world’s almonds, and nearly a third of the state’s acreage is in Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties. The region had about $2.3 billion in gross income to growers in 2013, according to their agricultural commissioners. The economic impact multiplies as the crop is processed and growers pay for labor, tractors, pesticides and other needs.
The drought, now in its fourth year, has brought especially sharp cutbacks in the Merced Irrigation District and many parts of the western and southern San Joaquin Valley. Some growers have provided less-than-optimal water for almond trees, which reduces yields, or have taken out entire orchards.
These losses are balanced by improved farming techniques in other areas, said Bob Curtis, associate director of agricultural affairs at the Almond Board. They include closer tree spacing in new orchards, better pruning of limbs, drip and other efficient irrigation methods, and sensors that show when watering is needed.
“Our new acreage will have higher yields per acre because of these production practices,” Curtis said.
The almond industry has drawn criticism from people who do not think so much water should go to a crop that is mostly exported. Backers note that the nuts are a healthy form of protein and fat and the income from abroad helps drive the region’s economy.
Doug Flohr, the federal statistician who unveiled the estimate, said the 2015 crop was aided by good weather for pollination in February and March. Surveyed growers said pest concerns have increased from last year but are still “manageable.”
2015 California Almond Forecast
2015 California Almond Forecast Cooperating with the California Department of Food and Agriculture Pacific Regional Field Office · P.O. Box 1258 · Sacramento, CA 95812 · (916) 498-5161 · (855) 270-2722 Fax · www.nass.usda.gov/ca.
RESULTS The subjective production forecast for the 2015 California almond crop is 1.85 billion pounds, according to a survey conducted by the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Forecasted production is 1 percent below last year's production of 1.87 billion pounds and 8 percent below 2013’s production of 2.01 billion pounds. Forecasted bearing acreage for 2015 is 890 thousand. The subjective production forecast is based on a telephone survey conducted from April 14 to April 29 from a sample of almond growers. Of the 485 growers sampled, 328 reported. Acreage from these reports accounted for 29 percent of the total bearing acreage. The California almond bloom began in early February. The 2015 bloom was one of the earliest almond blooms in memory. In general, the bloom was fast and compact with Monterey and Fritz blooming earlier than Nonpareils. In several instances, the lower two-thirds of trees blossomed two weeks ahead of the top possibly indicating insufficient chilling hours. Nonpareil set appears to be less than optimal while pollinators were reported as looking good overall. Nuts were sizing well with the crop pace at least two weeks ahead of normal and also ahead of last year’s early crop. Insect pressure may exceed last year but remains manageable. Water is a problem for many growers with limited amounts available for purchase. Growers irrigating with well water expressed concern regarding salinity...