12-5-08Merced Sun-StarFarm Bureau sues city of LivingstonSuit claims growth plan ignores impact report, state laws...JONAH OWEN LAMBhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/v-print/story/579897.htmlLIVINGSTON -- Call it the never-ending master plan.Livingston's controversial 2025 general plan update, which projects the city to grow to 100,000, is facing another hurdle. This time it's legal.The Merced County Farm Bureau has filed suit in Merced Superior Court alleging that the city's environmental impact report was inadequate and that the city violated state planning laws. "There is no substantial evidence in the record to support the conclusion that growth rates require the radical expansion of the Planning Boundaries for Livingston and more than doubling of the size of the urban area to accommodate more than 100,000 new residents by 2025," wrote Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo, the executive director of the Merced Farm Bureau, in a recent e-mail. "In fact, the city has not even reached the population projections of the 1999 General Plan."The case specifically alleges that the city failed to proceed in the proper manner by adopting an arbitrary General Plan Update that did not to take into account public concerns over the plan. According to the case, the plan also failed to protect permanent open space, biological resources and agricultural land.In addition, the suit alleges that the city failed to live up to the California Environmental Quality Act. The case states that the EIR inadequately analyzed the plan's agricultural impacts, as well as its potential impacts on air quality and water resources, among others.For the city's part, the yet-to-be-served lawsuit is groundless. "After reviewing the complaint, in my opinion it doesn't have any merit," said Livingston's City Attorney, John Eastman. "The allegations are groundless. The city fully complied with CEQA and the General Plan Law." Stay tuned for the next chapter in the Livingston master-plan saga.Our View: Stimulus, keep it greenCreating jobs doesn't mean we need to make environmental goals disappear.http://www.mercedsunstar.com/181/v-print/story/579905.htmlWhenever California builds freeway lanes, flood-control levees or other major construction projects, the public gets a chance to review the plans and suggest changes to minimize the environmental impact.Such input has paid off. It has resulted in replanted forests to compensate for trees lost when a levee is rebuilt or widened. Outside pressure has also prompted Caltrans to build storm water basins to prevent highway runoff from damaging creeks or polluting beaches.In an effort to speed up projects financed by state bond money, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is now proposing to streamline these environmental reviews.Agencies such as Caltrans would have to obtain environmental permits for highway or transit projects, but opportunities for the public or regulators to shape the final product would be severely truncated.It's easy to understand why the governor wants to fast-track the process.President-elect Barack Obama has asked states to identify billions of dollars in public works projects that could be started in the next 120 days.Since California voters have approved more than $50 billion in infrastructure spending in recent years, the state is in a prime position to leverage federal assistance for projects that could create thousands of jobs.It's also easy to understand why the governor fears that unrestrained application of the California Environmental Quality Act could derail this opportunity. CEQA has a long history of litigious abuse by various interest groups, including unions that want to extract favorable labor terms for certain projects.It is also fair to say that, when combined with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, CEQA can add years to the time it takes to build even the most beneficial project, such as a transit line or sewage treatment plant.That said, the governor and lawmakers need to be extremely careful with plans to truncate certain environmental reviews, particularly for new highway lanes.Many of these highway projects were on the books before the governor signed Assembly Bill 32, a state law that requires reductions in greenhouse gases. Some -- such as the Kings-Tulare State Road 196 Expressway -- will likely spur sprawl out toward valuable farmlands, adding to the carbon footprint of the Valley.Clearly, the governor and lawmakers need to engage in a balancing act when considering stimulus proposals. Priority should go to projects that don't compromise the state's environmental goals and serve essential immediate needs, such as public safety.To find this balance, both sides will have to give a little bit.Democrats and environmental groups will have to drop their insistence that CEQA can't be touched or that state agencies can't contract with "design-build" firms to speed up public works.The governor and Republicans will have to concede to environmental reviews for highway widenings that might conflict with the state's climate policies.Somewhere in the middle could be a mix of projects that could include new hospitals, revamped levees, road rehabilitation, transit lines, school buildings and infrastructure for affordable housing.To find this middle ground, lawmakers of both parties need to come out of their corners, find an immediate solution to the state's fiscal crisis and come up with a stimulus package that stimulates green public works. SPECIAL REPORTSOWING HOPE: UC Merced's quest for a medical schoolA bountiful need for careThe Valley is home to millions of people, and residents here have more medical problems and fewer doctors than other parts of the state. Plans for a med school could change that...DANIELLE GAINEShttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/401/v-print/story/579919.htmlIt's a typical Thursday afternoon at Mercy Family Medical Clinic in Merced. The waiting room is full. Regular patients mingle with the 30 or so people who have waited weeks to get into a special weekly dermatology clinic. They've got only a four-hour window to be seen by a skin specialist, Dr. Albert Col. The doctor and two residents must diagnose eight patients an hour. Patient ailments range from eczema to skin cancer. Col runs a private practice in Merced, but spends most of his time treating patients at similar specialty clinics in Atwater, Mariposa and other rural sites.At Mercy, Col keeps color photos of some of the most serious cases posted on his office door to show the medical residents training there. One patient walked in with a mummified cancerous growth sticking out of the top of his skull. Another made it as far as the clinic with a cancerous gash the size of his ear on the back of his head.Dr. Col, this clinic and others in the Valley see the worst of the worst. Many of their patients have gone without necessary care for years. The patients have never been exposed to care that might prevent the worst from happening to them.Mercy Family Medical Clinic is a "safety-net provider" in Merced -- a nonprofit clinic that cares mainly for the poor and uninsured. Similar one-day specialty physician visits are a way of life for many residents, who know they need to book appointments weeks in advance. The staff is well aware of how desperate residents are for care. On a recent Thursday, a woman showed up more than an hour late for her 2 p.m. appointment. She told the nurse she had car trouble. To spare her several weeks' wait, the nurse decided to squeeze her in that day.Some specialty clinics set appointments even less often. Right across the street, for example, patients crowd into a waiting room for a pulmonary clinic held once a month. On other days, specialty clinics are set up to treat podiatry or fracture injuries. Almost like circuit-riding judges during California's Gold Rush days, doctors move from hot spot to hot spot, in effect applying a Band-Aid to a sucking chest wound.Lack of access to care affects people of all walks of life here. Out of the 58 counties in California, Merced ranks 55th for its high diabetes death rate, yet there is only one endocrinologist in the entire county. The number of senior citizens receiving flu shots in Merced -- 58 percent -- is among the lowest in the state.San Joaquin Valley residents have the least access to physicians per capita of any region in California. On average, there are 302 physicians per 100,000 people in California. In the San Joaquin Valley, the number of physicians plunges to 173. In many communities, there is no dermatologist, psychiatrist or cardiac surgeon. As a result, residents hobble through life without pertinent care or travel huge distances for it. Cardiologist Dr. Hanimireddy Lakireddy has practiced in Merced for 24 years. When he hung up his shingle in town more than two decades ago, there was no heart specialist. He was the first, Lakireddy said. Over the years his job has swung from fairly easy to just plain frustrating. As recently as just a few years ago, Lakireddy said he could refer his patients to any one of four cardiac surgeons in town. Today there are none."It is really sad. We really need more doctors, more specialists," Lakireddy said. "Instead of getting better, we really are going the other way."The Valley is home to a number of persistent social and environmental issues that worsen medical problems. People are poor in these parts. One in five people in the San Joaquin Valley live below the federal poverty line, according to UCLA's California Health Interview Survey. In six of the eight counties that make up the Valley's geography, more than one in four children live in poverty, according to the Great Valley Center, a nonprofit organization partnered with UC Merced to improve the overall well-being of the region. Educationally, San Joaquin Valley children are less likely to be enrolled in preschool, to take classes required for admission to the UC or CSU systems and to take college entrance exams. More than one in five students in California drop out of high school. Five of eight counties in the San Joaquin Valley post an even higher rate. Transportation is hard for poorer families, particularly in a Valley so big that trips are often measured by hours, not miles. It is one of the many issues that affect access to care, but one that can't be solved by an increase in doctors and residents.Christine Muchow, executive director of the Merced-Mariposa County Medical Society, said transportation is the key barrier to care for many Valley residents. "If you need to be seen by a specialist, and we don't have that specialist, they may not be seen at all because they can't get transportation out of the county," she said. Take 14-month-old Adrian Hernandez, for example. Adrian is a quiet little boy, with short brown hair and winsome almond eyes. He is the mirror image of his twin brother, Andres -- even their teeth are growing in the same way. But Adrian has lived a much tougher life. He's just over a year old and has already endured four major surgeries -- three of them to repair a congenital heart problem, the fourth to treat a club foot. Complicating his health issues is his family's lack of access to proper care.There is only one pediatric cardiologist in all of Stanislaus and Merced counties. There is no cardiac surgeon in Merced County at all. As a result, Adrian is routinely shipped around the San Joaquin Valley just to find care.His mother, 29-year-old Rosario Cisneros, sighs at the medical merry-go-round of getting Adrian treated. Her son always receives care, but it doesn't come easy. Rosario can't drive, and her husband takes their only car to work in the fields each morning. If Adrian experiences a medical problem during the day, she calls a friend to get him to the Turlock hospital 40 minutes away. The trip doesn't end there. Doctors in Turlock call a specialist from Children's Hospital in Madera, who sends an ambulance for him so he can be transported for the care he needs there, Rosario said. Madera is 70 miles and a 90-minute drive from the family home, but it might as well be in Canada. Adrian's odyssey is not unique.For regularly scheduled appointments, the family utilizes a free service dedicated to transporting area residents to medical visits called "Going Places." Since it was created in January 2001, the service has driven hundreds of patients to and from appointments as far away as Los Angeles. Going Places partners with Healthy House, an area nonprofit organization, to provide health care interpreters for parents like Rosario who don't speak English. (A Healthy House interpreter, Teresa Reagan, translated Rosario's comments above.)The fact that Adrian receives world-class care at Children's Hospital for his condition doesn't lessen the transportation stress. "There are days when I feel like I am not going to make it," Rosario said. "And then I tell myself 'I don't have a choice. I have to make it.'"And while Adrian's disease -- transposition of the great arteries -- is rare, many children in the area are beset by regular illnesses borne of their economic or social circumstances.The 1.2 million children in the San Joaquin Valley are, on average, far sicker than their peers across California. Flanked by the majestic Sierra Nevada on the east and rolling golden hills to the west, the Valley resembles in some desperate ways a Third World country. One in five children have been diagnosed with asthma, though many more undiagnosed cases are surely lurking in the Valley's forgotten nooks, advocates say.Leslie Schleth is the lead district nurse for the Merced City School District. Over the past 13 years in her job, she has seen an increase in asthma problems.The Valley suffers from poor air quality that can cause or worsen health problems, said Seyed Sadredin, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District, which regulates air quality.Due to a conspiring of topography and meteorology, the bad air is trapped by the surrounding mountains and held down by an atmospheric condition called an inversion."We're a bowl with a lid on it," Sadredin said. "The pollution we have doesn't escape." That means that although Los Angeles has 10 times the amount of air pollution per square mile as the San Joaquin Valley, the Valley's air quality is only marginally better, he said. Studies have shown that pollution exacerbates asthma, Sadredin said. But tiny particles in pollution can cause other ailments, including reduced lung capacity and heart problems. As a result, the Merced City School District recently began flying air quality flags in front of their school buildings to alert asthma sufferers when their triggers might be increased. Schleth said that asthma, while an intermittent impairment, resounds with a heavy trickle-down effect on the lives of severe sufferers. When any student must take his inhaler for a second time in four hours, as frequently occurs on days with poor air quality, a parent has to visit the school to administer inhaler treatments, or the student must go home. "If kids aren't in their seats, if they are missing a significant number of days at school for something like this, they aren't going to be able to learn or function," she said. Sadredin said he would welcome a new medical school in the Valley, especially if it generated research on any local connections between bad air and illness. Today, most such research is conducted in Los Angeles or in cities on the East Coast."I'm thinking that if we have more Valley-specific studies in the region rather than research done elsewhere," he said, "we might get better answers to the real causes of air pollution in the Valley."And while the introduction of a medical school at UC Merced won't immediately solve the transportation, social and economic issues that plague the Valley's patients, the school's research over time may provide insight, understanding and viable solutions to dealing with those social issues, Vice Provost for Health Sciences Maria Pallavicini said. A major share of research at the medical school will concentrate on global health, a relatively new approach to medicine that examines health trends among a group of individuals and works to improve outcomes for that entire group. For the entire group in the San Joaquin Valley, research opportunities seem to stretch forever. "There are no boundaries for the health problems in our region," Pallavicini said.Reporters Deborah Schoch and Danielle Gaines can be reached at sowinghope@mercedsun-star.com.Homegrown doctors are not even possible now...DANIELLE GAINEShttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/401/v-print/story/579909.htmlHumberto Barragan is an almost perfect candidate for UC Merced's proposed medical school. An interest in public-service health care? Check.A dedication to practice in the Valley? Check.Hard work and good grades? Check.Reflective of the face of California? Check.But Barragan, 37, has already finished osteopathic medical school. He's a second-year resident at Mercy Family Medical Clinic and Mercy Medical Center in Merced. "I wish it had been here when I graduated," Barragan said of the prospective UC Merced program. Nevertheless, he looks forward to helping future residents from the school once it opens.Barragan decided to pursue an osteopathic medical degree after seeing the hurdles his parents faced getting care when he was growing up. "I remember when my mom and dad would go to the doctor -- which was really rare -- and I would be their interpreter, which was tough," Barragan said. Barragan's parents were migrant farmworkers. The family spent each year circling through the United States and Mexico, offering their services for the various harvests: citrus in Florida, tobacco in North Carolina, apples in Washington, all the rest in the Valley. When work was finished, they returned south of the border. Barragan can rattle off a list of schools he attended during his stops in Merced: Franklin, Burbank, Givens, Muir, each of the city's middle schools, with the exception of Weaver. In the end, his parents settled here, and he graduated from Merced High School. After graduation, he attended Merced College for one year, while waiting for his now-wife to graduate. Together they enrolled at Long Beach State University before transferring to Fresno State, where he graduated in 1995. (She graduated in 1997.)Barragan returned to Merced, worked for seven years to settle the family, then enrolled at Touro University's College of Osteopathic Medicine in Vallejo, 140 miles away. The curriculum at osteopathic medical schools involves four years of academic study, according to the Web site www.osteopathic.org. Throughout the curriculum, medical students learn to use osteopathic principles and techniques to diagnose and treat patients, according to the Web site. For the next two years, Barragan spent five days a week in classes, journeying home only on weekends. He finished his classwork in Spring 2004, then spent one year each in Bakersfield and Fresno doing his clinical coursework. Finally, in 2007, he returned to Merced to work, splitting time between Mercy Medical Center and Mercy Family Medical Center. Mild-mannered, but authoritative in his white coat, Barragan is often seen giving advice to other residents at Mercy and flashing a big smile to waiting patients. His goal is to do more than simply treat his patients. He insists on taking enough time to educate them about their ailments."I want to make them feel better -- physically and emotionally," he said. He feels fulfilled when he leaves patients with tools they can use to strike out on their own to a healthier life. That sense of satisfaction skyrockets when a diabetes patient thanks him after getting drastically improved test scores."There is a great sense of feeling when they come back to thank you" after a successful treatment, Barragan said. "It sometimes brings tears to your eyes."Barragan is known around the hospital and clinic for never shortchanging his patients on time. Sometimes that gets him into trouble.At the dermatology clinic on a recent Thursday, Barragan finished with a patient, then settled into a chair near a nursing station to add more information to an earlier patient's medical chart. A nurse turned around and said, teasingly, "You're behind." He acknowledged the criticism with a smile and continued filling out the chart. "When I was growing up, no matter how much respect I had for physicians, I didn't like the way they treated patients, the (short) amount of time they spent with them," he said. Does he plan to stay in Merced after his residency requirement?"Absolutely. I want to give back to the city where I did my growing up." Medi-Cal reimburses doctors for treating the poor...Danielle Gaineshttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/401/v-print/story/579911.htmlWhat is Medi-Cal?California's version of the federal Medicaid program that provides public health care aid for the state's low-income, blind and disabled. Who is eligible?Residents on many state programs are eligible for Medi-Cal as well as Californians who are 65 or older, blind, disabled, under 21 years of age, pregnant or have certain other circumstances. Why do some Medi-Cal patients have problems getting treatment?There are a number of reasons Medi-Cal patients may have difficulty scheduling a doctor's appointment, but the main one is money.Reimbursements for private physicians who treat Medi-Cal patients are driven by funding at the state level. The amount physicians are reimbursed is generally lower than the cost of administering treatment, so many doctors limit the number of Medi-Cal patients they treat just to keep their doors open. In other words, private doctors get very little money for what is often a whole lot of work. Adding to the problem is the cumbersome process of applying for Medi-Cal reimbursement, said John Alexander, executive director of the Merced County Health Care Consortium.It also probably doesn't help that Merced County has the second-highest Medi-Cal population in the state, behind Tulare County, said County Public Health Director John Volanti. Add to that the severe shortage of doctors, particularly specialists, in the region.What can be done?The good news is that help may be on the way. In fall 2009, Merced County is expected to launch a County Organized Health System. The program will give the county the ability to reimburse private doctors differently from the standard rates set now in the fee-for-service program. "We think the best solution for Merced County is to move to a different delivery system," said Stan Rosenstein, chief deputy director of health care services at the California Department of Health Care Services. Rosenstein said the changes in the repayment process will make accepting Medi-Cal patients a more appealing move for local physicians, improving -- at least in theory -- access to health care. Other similar forays into the organized health system program by other counties have been "extremely successful," Rosenstein said.Audio slideshow: The need for a medical school in Mercedhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/401/v-print/story/579317.htmlModesto BeeHome loan troubles break records again...ALAN ZIBELAP Real Estate Writer. AP Business Writer Jeannine Aversa contributed to this report.http://www.modbee.com/2020/v-print/story/522968.htmlA record one in 10 American homeowners with a mortgage were either at least a month behind on their payments or in foreclosure at the end of September as the source of housing market pressure shifted to the crumbling U.S. economy.The Mortgage Bankers Association said Friday the percentage of loans at least a month overdue or in foreclosure was up from 9.2 percent in the April-June quarter, and up from 7.3 percent a year earlier.Distress in the home loan market started about two years ago as increasing numbers of adjustable-rate loans reset to higher interest rates. But the latest wave of delinquencies is coming from the surge in unemployment.Employers slashed 533,000 jobs in November, the most in 34 years, catapulting the unemployment rate to 6.7 percent, the Labor Department said Friday."Now it's a case of job losses hitting more across the board," Jay Brinkmann, chief economist of the Mortgage Bankers Association.The U.S. tipped into recession last December, a panel of experts declared earlier this week. Since the start of the recession, the economy has lost 1.9 million jobs.Job losses are already having an impact in rising delinquency rates for traditional 30-year fixed rate loans made to borrowers with strong credit. Total delinquencies on those loans rose to 3.35 percent in September from 3.07 percent at the end of June, the Mortgage Bankers Association said.There were some modest signs of stabilization. The number of loans that entered the foreclosure process totaled 1.07 percent of all loans in the third quarter, flat from the second quarter.Though that number likely reflects changes in state laws that delay or extend the foreclosure process and efforts to work out or modify loans that could still fall back into foreclosure.Fresno BeeValley sees positive housing trendsAnalyst says foreclosures are slowing, home prices should be rising in 2010...Sanford Naxhttp://www.fresnobee.com/business/v-printerfriendly/story/1055624.htmlFinally, some good news on the housing front: A market analyst says foreclosures in the central San Joaquin Valley are slowing, price declines are nearing bottom and home values should start climbing in 2010. Mark Robbins Boud, principal of Real Estate Economics in Irvine, said Thursday that home builders with capital will want to start buying land in 2009. "We're in the pit of hell right now," he told an audience in Fresno. "But it is time to start looking." Boud spoke at a real-estate forecast that was the inaugural event at the new Arnold & Dianne Gazarian Real Estate Center at California State University, Fresno. Arnold Gazarian, a retired dentist who also invests in property, financed the center with a $1.5 million endowment. Boud said price declines, fueled by thousands of foreclosures in the Valley, have been the greatest in history. The plunge has been so great that houses in Fresno, once cited as among the most overinflated in the nation, are now undervalued by as much as 8%, Boud said. As a result, sales of existing homes have climbed 87% in one year in Fresno County, and the glut of bank-owned properties is shrinking. In October, 427 houses that were controlled by banks sold in the central San Joaquin Valley, surpassing the 324 that came onto the market, Boud said. Median house prices, however, have continued to drop. "We think we have peaked," he said, acknowledging that another spike could occur next year as the interest rates on more risky loans reset upward. But lower interest rates and strong sales activity should blunt the effect of those additions, he said. "There will be foreclosure activity in 2009, but it won't be nearly as ugly as '08," he said. "We are taking out the garbage in 2009. "We'll be cleaning up the foreclosures preparing for the next real-estate cycle." Boud said the bulk of the foreclosures should be washed through the system within two years, and homeowners should start seeing appreciation. He predicted a 4% decline in prices the Valley next year, a 1% gain in 2010, a 3% increase in 2011 and a respectable 6% hike in 2012. That assessment is probably pretty close, said Bill Pfeif, a real-estate agent in Fresno who specializes in foreclosures. Pfeif, in a separate interview, said the inventory of unsold houses in the Fresno area is off one-third from its peak; price declines are leveling off; bank-owned properties are getting multiple offers, including some that are selling for more than the listing price; and the number of bank-controlled houses that he handles has fallen. He said banks are aggressively selling their troubled assets. He said one house -- that he valued at $200,000 and the bank listed at $175,000 -- sold for $205,000. "The prices are at a point where the demand for the product is strong enough to support the price," Pfeif said. Fresno developer Karen McCaffrey agreed with much of what Boud said. Low interest rates, the government's efforts to help housing and more relaxed lending requirements will boost activity, she predicted. "The good news is that there are buyers out there and they realize now is a good time to buy," she said. Proposed fee on smelly cows, hogs angers farmers...BOB JOHNSONhttp://www.fresnobee.com/559/v-printerfriendly/story/1055712.htmlFor farmers, this stinks: Belching and gaseous cows and hogs could start costing them money if a federal proposal to charge fees for air-polluting animals becomes law. Farmers so far are turning their noses up at the notion, which is one of several put forward by the Environmental Protection Agency after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that greenhouse gases emitted by belching and flatulence amounts to air pollution. "This is one of the most ridiculous things the federal government has tried to do," said Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, an outspoken opponent of the proposal. It would require farms or ranches with more than 25 dairy cows, 50 beef cattle or 200 hogs to pay an annual fee of about $175 for each dairy cow, $87.50 per head of beef cattle and $20 for each hog. The executive vice president of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, Ken Hamilton, estimated the fee would cost owners of a modest-sized cattle ranch $30,000 to $40,000 a year. He said he has talked to a number of livestock owners about the proposals, and "all have said if the fees were carried out, it would bankrupt them." Sparks said Wednesday he's worried the fee could be extended to chickens and other farm animals and cause more meat to be imported. "We'll let other countries put food on our tables like they are putting gas in our cars. Other countries don't have the health standards we have," Sparks said. EPA spokesman Nick Butterfield said the fee was proposed for farms with livestock operations that emit more than 100 tons of carbon emissions in a year and fall under federal Clean Air Act provisions. Butterfield said the EPA has not taken a position on any of the proposals. But farmers from across the country have expressed outrage over the idea, both on Internet sites and in opinions sent to EPA during a public comment period that ended last week. "It's something that really has a very big potential adverse impact for the livestock industry," said Rick Krause, the senior director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation. The fee would cover the cost of a permit for the livestock operations. While farmers say it would drive them out of business, an organization supporting the proposal hopes it forces the farms and ranches to switch to healthier crops. "It makes perfect sense if you are looking for ways to cut down on meat consumption and recoup environmental losses," said Bruce Friedrich, a spokesman in Washington for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. We certainly support making factory farms pay their fair share," he said. U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, a Republican from Haleyville in northwest Alabama, said he has spoken with EPA officials and doesn't believe the cow tax is a serious proposal that will ever be adopted by the agency. "Who comes up with this kind of stuff?" said Perry Mobley, director of the Alabama Farmers Federation's beef division. "It seems there is an ulterior motive, to destroy livestock farms. This would certainly put them out of business." Butterfield said the EPA is reviewing the public comments and didn't have a timetable for the next steps. Philip Morris wetlands filter wastewater...MICHAEL FELBERBAUMhttp://www.fresnobee.com/559/v-printerfriendly/story/1054729.htmlIt started with the gnats. Then came the dragonflies and mice. Eventually the birds, foxes, turtles and deer stumbled upon a man-made wetlands that naturally filters wastewater from the nation's biggest tobacco maker. The nearly 50 acres of wetlands are part of a $7 million science experiment, using more than 150,000 plants to filter wastewater discharged by Philip Morris USA's Park 500 facility, which reconstitutes loose tobacco into sheets in a similar process to making paper for use in its products. But the project along the James River that became fully operational over the summer is creating a habitat for many animal species - a stark contrast from the industrial city of steel buildings and towers less than a mile away. "It is kind of neat - this whole cycle that happens," said Ty Murray, director of environmental compliance for Philip Morris' parent company, Altria Group Inc. "One group moves in, it creates food for another group. They come in and devour, and the whole system just keeps repeating itself." Wastewater first flowed into the wetlands in March and more than 15 species of plants like bullrush and duck potato were installed shortly afterward, followed by more than 70 varieties of animals that come and go with the seasons. Nearly 1.8 million gallons of treated wastewater a day moves through a series of ponds with native trees and shrubs. The plant life and microbes absorb mineral nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous before the water reaches the river. The whole process takes about 14 days beyond the traditional methods of water treatment done before making it to the wetlands, said Tony Nobinger, the facility's wastewater manager. Excessive levels of the nutrients in the water can cause algae blooms and have other adverse impacts on aquatic life, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Algae depletes oxygen levels in the water, killing fish. The manufacturing plant has long been a source of frustration for environmental groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which previously challenged state permits that allow the maker of Marlboro and other top cigarette brands to dump wastewater into the river. The foundation, which settled with the company in March, claimed the permit authorizes the discharge of excessive levels of nitrogen and phosphorus into the river. The company's current permit with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality allows for the discharge of 2,650 pounds of phosphorus and 139,000 pounds of nitrogen per year. Last year, Philip Morris discharged 4,400 pounds of phosphorus and 72,200 pounds of nitrogen, below permitted levels for that period. The company said that from 2001 to 2006 it voluntarily reduced its total nitrogen discharge into the river by 46 percent. The new system is estimated to reduce nitrogen levels by an additional 13 percent and phosphorus levels by 34 percent, based on initial studies done by the company and contractors for the project. "Right now we're very pleased with the performance," Murray said, adding that actual numbers won't be available until a full year of testing can be completed. Chuck Epes, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Virginia spokesman, said the group's main concern is making sure the discharge continues to comply with state permits. "However they do it is fine as long as at the end of the day, at the end of the pipe, whatever comes from that plant meets water quality standards and there is some accountability," Epes said. The idea for the project came about when Murray read a magazine article about a Midwestern beer company using a similar system to successfully treat wastewater from its facilities. "It's a pretty neat experiment," said Gerard Seeley Jr., director of the state DEQ's Richmond region. "We're real interested in seeing industries and municipalities that have these major discharges find ways to treat their effluence as a resource rather than as a liability." Seeley said the project is among a small number nationwide in which wetlands are used to treat industrial wastewater. In general, these types of man-made wetlands are seen as a positive final polishing system for wastewater, said Charles Turner, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Texas at El Paso. "It's a good thing. It provides a lot of habitat and wetlands for birds and aquatic species and restores part of what's been removed from the ecosystem," Turner said, adding that, historically, natural wetlands have been 90 percent removed in most areas. "You're creating open space, you're restoring habitat." When the system was first announced, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine called it an "innovative and proactive" approach to dealing with discharge into the waterways. Kaine said the project would help meet goals of river and bay cleanliness. Virginia, along with Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and the EPA, have pledged to improve the bay's water, its oyster population, its underwater grasses and other environmental indicators by 2010. Climate change, drought to strain Colorado River...MIKE STARKhttp://www.fresnobee.com/640/v-printerfriendly/story/1055804.htmlSeven Western states will face more water shortages in the years ahead as climate change exacerbates the strains drought and a growing population have put on the Colorado River, scientists say. "Clearly we're on a collision course between supply and demand," said Brad Udall, director of the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado. Although there is some disagreement about when the most dire conditions will materialize, scientists at a conference in Salt Lake City said Thursday they expect less water to be available in the coming decades. Without fundamental shifts in water management, the result will be shortages and difficult decisions about who in the seven states the river serves will get water and who will go without, said Dave Wegner, science director for the Glen Canyon Institute, which organized the one-day conference at the University of Utah. "To me, it's not going to be a pretty debate," Wegner said. The changes are already being seen in reduced water flows, higher air temperatures and an unrelenting demand on the Colorado, which snakes across more than 1,400 miles and provides water for farms, businesses, cities and homes. The river serves Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah, an area where 30 million people live. Last year, officials from the seven states and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne signed a far-reaching agreement aimed at conserving and sharing scarce Colorado River water. The 20-year plan formalized rules for cooperating during the ongoing drought. A study released in February by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego said there's a 50 percent chance that Lake Mead, which straddles the Arizona-Nevada state line, could run dry by 2021. Several models by different scientists have made predictions about the future flow of the Colorado, all of which forecast less water, said Tim Barnett, one of the Scripps study's authors. The prospect of warming temperatures only increases the strain on an already strained system, he said. "The current usage is simply not sustainable," Barnett said. Udall quibbled with Barnett's prediction about 2021 but not the overall speculation that water in the Colorado River basin will become more scarce. "It's a question of when," he said. Even if the West's climate doesn't get as warm as predicted, the river system will likely be faced with shortages, said Gregory McCabe, a project chief at the U.S. Geological Survey's water resources division in Denver. Building more reservoirs to store water probably won't be enough to mitigate the effects of changes to the system - especially warming temperatures, he said. One of the best approaches will be to drive down demand by finding better and more ways to conserve water, McCabe said. The Colorado has long been the source of controversy as thirsty states fight for their share to quench growing economies. The 20th century was one of the wettest going back several centuries. But it shouldn't be assumed that water levels will remain as plentiful in the future, researchers said. Connie Woodhouse, a University of Arizona scientist, said tree rings in the basin indicate that the amount of moisture has fluctuated widely over hundreds of years, but has tended to be drier than was seen in the last 100 years. It's time to consider a "new normal" for shrinking water supplies in the Colorado River basin, Wegner said. That will require a sweeping re-evaluation of allocations, use, conservation, dams and legal obligations, he said. Sacramento BeeWoodland residents may pay to keep golf course open...Hudson Sangreehttp://www.sacbee.com/topstories/v-print/story/1450416.htmlResidents of Wild Wings, a golf course community near Woodland, bought their large homes seeking a life of upper-middle-class stability.Ducks swim in the ponds that dot the links. Neighbors gather on backyard patios at sunset. Children play in the wide suburban streets.But times have changed since the height of the housing boom, when the neighborhood was built. Foreclosures are commonplace. Home prices have plummeted. And the company that owns a well-regarded nine-hole golf course wants to close it because it's losing money.Bill Baron, a spokesman for Wild Wings, LLC, said the company can no longer afford to pay its taxes and water fees.That's put homeowners in a lousy position.They can watch the course go to seed, and their home prices drop, while the county waits to seize it and possibly sell it to developers.They can agree to pay an extra $1,100 a year to water and mow the grass, but not to maintain it as a golf course.Or, they can vote to tax themselves up to $1,700 a year to take over the course and hire an operator."In the end, we're going to have to pay one way or another," said Scott Picanso, a Woodland seed salesman who bought his Wild Wings house three years ago for more than a half-million dollars.Yolo County supervisors are scheduled to decide Tuesday whether to hold a special election in February. Residents could then vote whether to tax themselves and keep the course open.Baron said his company has offered to donate the 90-acre course and all its equipment to the Wild Wings Community Services Area, but residents must pay the company's $440,000 in back taxes.Harold Duffey, a Yolo planning official, said the latest estimate for residents taking over and running the golf course is as much as $1,700 a household, in addition to normal property taxes and water payments.In the meantime, the county plans to increase water and sewer rates by almost $1,100 a year per household unless more than half the homeowners protest by Dec. 15.The rate spike would spread the golf course's share of the water bill – about $180,000 a year – to the community's 337 residential parcels.Some residents feel the best choice is to keep the course in operation.Stephanie Young-Birkle, a stay-at-home mom married to a lawyer, doesn't play golf. But her kitchen windows look out on a tranquil scene of a reed-lined duck pond and a green fairway.The couple, with their two young children, moved from Natomas to the new 3,400-square-foot home in 2005.Like others, they had to sign a real estate disclosure saying there was no guarantee the golf course would be permanent. She said she didn't really think a golf course could fold.But in September, a neighbor knocked on her door and told her Wild Wings, LLC, was closing the course.Since then, making sure the golf course stays open has become a top priority for her and other neighbors.She said it's not just about the scenery. The golf course is used to distribute treated wastewater from the homes around it.Keeping home prices as high as possible is another factor. A house similar to hers was selling down the block for $430,000, she said – a lot less than the $700,000 she paid for hers three years ago.Signs in dozens of front yards around the neighborhood advertise homes for sale and auctions.At the end of October, nearly one in 10 homes was either up for auction, bank-owned or in pre-foreclosure status, Young-Birkle said.Realtors have said that losing the course could mean an additional reduction in home values of up to 20 percent, she said.Not everyone is convinced. Wild Wings resident Joan Tolla is trying to defeat December's water rate increase by getting 170 of her neighbors to sign protest slips.She said she doesn't think enough options have been pursued and wants to continue negotiating with the county before residents agree to pay hundreds of dollars more per year.Some are out of work and faced with the prospect of losing their homes."People can't afford it," she said, "and they're scared." Stockton RecordTrying to halt Delta pumping...Michael Fitzgeralhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081205/A_NEWS0803/812050319/-1/A_NEWSThe rape/kill of the San Joaquin Delta is unjust and intolerable enough. What is even worse is that it has been done with the blessing of the state.But a new lawsuit seeks to stop that.Northern California's natural heritage is being destroyed for the economic benefit of other regions, making this region's residents second-class citizens.And instead of guarding the public trust, the regulatory system cravenly flows toward money, as water is said to do. With regulators like this, who needs violators?It would be one thing if we could blame this catastrophe on the mid-20th-century mind-set that dams were cool and fish mere obstacles to progress.But state-of-the art science shows sucking too much water out of the Delta - to say nothing of pumps that make rivers flow backward, and other violent engineering touches - is causing the Delta's collapse.Yet in recent years, state and federal agencies charged with guarding the Delta actually increased water exports.Merely degrading the Delta wasn't enough. They're determined to kill the biggest estuary in the Western Americas and pipe a Peripheral Canal around the corpse.To put it another way, the degradation of regulatory agencies is as bad as the degradation of the Delta. The agencies need systemic change, too.And that is the purpose of an audacious lawsuit filed this week by the California Water Impact Network and The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.Their suit, breathtaking in its scope, seeks to halt state and federal water agencies from diverting one more drop from the Delta until they obey major water laws."Basically we're saying stop pumping or obey the law," said Bill Jennings of the CSPA.The agencies should meet water quality standards, protect fish, divert water reasonably and meet other legal requirements.Responsible science, not politicians, eco-numb bureaucrats or money, should establish how much water the Delta can export and still flourish.Oh yes, and the suit seeks to retire the foul Wetlands from agriculture, because the drainage-impaired region's toxic runoff is poisoning everything downstream."Big" just doesn't do this baby justice. At stake is a water system that would have made the Roman Empire's aqueducts look like sippy cups.The feds control 20 dams and reservoirs, 11 power plants, 500 miles of canals and giant, fish-grinding diversion pumps. The state controls dams, reservoirs and giant, fish-grinding diversion pumps.Big Ag, Los Angeles, Native Americans, 130 species of fish - well, everybody - has a stake in the outcome. They will need articulated buses just to transport the attorneys to court.But the suit is the right course.California's elaborate waterworks actually are a torso of a system originally planned to tap north-state rivers. When those rivers became taboo, the system compensated by radically overdrafting the Delta.What might have been a sustainable system became the Extinction Express. Even the system's old-school designers never intended this devastation.It also is the only course.The Delta's collapse is irreversible. Once a delicate mechanism that took millennia to evolve is smashed, its inhabitants gone extinct, there is no remedy under law.The Delta, to say nothing of this region, will remain permanently impaired.That this outcome is clearly acceptable to state and federal water agencies makes it immensely satisfying to see them hauled into court and exposed as the well-paid managers of California's liquid Chernobyl."The future of the Delta and the rivers of Northern California will ultimately be decided in a court of law," Jennings said. "Because the state has proven itself incapable of protecting habitat and water."Tracy PressUPDATE: Commissioners toss out developer agreement Planning commissioners unanimously rejected the proposed 2,250-home western Tracy development after a five-hour meeting...Press staff  http://tracypress.com/content/view/16641/2268/Tracy Planning Commissioners unanimously rejected a developer agreement that was presented Wednesday night for a proposed 2,250-home western Tracy subdivision, citing too many complications needed to be ironed out by city employees and City Council members.The decision came at 12:55 Thursday morning after a five-hour meeting and public hearing that brought out vocal supporters and opponents of the oft-delayed plans for the 300-acre Ellis development by The Surland Cos. Originally, the company promised the city 20 acres and $20 million to build an elaborate water park. The whittled-down proposition before the commission this week offered 10 acres and $10 million, if anything at all, in exchange for the rights to build the development and an additional 1,650 homes elsewhere in Tracy over the next 25 years and that the acreage near Linne and Corral Hollow roads would get annexed into the city and promised water rights for the thousands of homes.Commissioners and the public wouldn’t have it.Commissioners expect the city to renegotiate the agreement with the company and come up with a way for the city to get more than what the agreement offered when it came before commissioners this week.“There were a lot of special interest things going on with this, a lot of different moving parts,” Marc Shishido, commission chairman, said Thursday. “I think it’s in better hands with City Council and city staff.”Developers touted the proposed amendment to the developer agreement as giving planners more flexibility to decide how many homes get built.Commissioner Carol Blevins said for her, the negatives of the developer agreement outweighed the positives, and she was especially worried about how an influx of homes would burden the neighboring Jefferson Elementary School District.Commissioners who supported the change said they, too, remain concerned about the noise pollution, a possible dearth of parkland and the dubious safety of a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. natural gas pipeline that would cut through the 300-acre site.Manteca activist Carole Dominguez, who won a legal battle against PG&E that led to the City Council’s decision to kill plans for a youth sports park over the same pipeline, raised the same worries at Wednesday night’s meeting.“It’s the same pipeline … the same safety issues,” she told commissioners during a four-hour public hearing before the late-night decision to follow city employees’ recommendations to approve the amendment to the agreement. “Except, this is more serious,” because there would be people living 100 feet away from the underground pipeline, she added.Other concerns raised included how the subdivision would affect the nearby airport and whether Tracy residents would get the swim center many have long hoped for. Proponents of the development who want the swim center exchanged jabs with project opponents who raised concerns about public safety and about what Tracy would be like with more homes — considering the current foreclosure crisis, among several other worries. Les Serpa, head of Surland, accused opponents of exaggerating the cons.“There’s a lot of hyperbole going on,” he said, in response to a string of criticisms about airport safety and whether or not rural Corral Hollow and Linne roads would be able to be widened in time to keep up with the population growth.San Francisco ChronicleGroups protest drilling-lease auction in Utah...PAUL FOY, Associated Press Writerhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/12/02/national/a210947S04.DTL&type=printableConservation groups filed formal protests Thursday against what they call a "fire sale" of oil-and-gas drilling leases in Utah being conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.The Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance filed their objections to drilling in 100,000 acres of wild land in eastern Utah.The BLM has already pulled nearly 100,000 acres from the Dec. 19 auction, leaving more than 276,000 acres up for bid.The BLM has been under intense pressure — first from the National Park Service and now from conservation groups — to cull a list of auction parcels in Utah's final oil-and-gas lease sale of President George W. Bush's administration.Last week, the BLM pulled drilling leases that were located on and around the borders of Arches National Park, Dinosaur National Monument and Canyonlands National Park, all in Utah.Then, on Tuesday, the BLM removed some auction parcels from Nine Mile Canyon, home to thousands of ancient rock art panels, and nearby Desolation Canyon on the Green River, while continuing plans to lease other parcels near both canyons and in other wild areas of Utah."This is the Christmas sale, the Bush administration's last great gift to the oil and gas industry," said Stephen Bloch, an attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.The conservation groups object to leasing around Desolation and Labyrinth canyons, a favorite of Green River rafters, and other parcels near Canyonlands National Park. They were joined by the Colorado-based Outdoor Industry Association, which filed its own objections."Our businesses and livelihoods rely on the remote nature of these stretches of river and their abundance of wildlife, natural quiet, clean air, dark skies and wild qualities," said Amy Roberts, vice president of government affairs for the organization, which represents 4,000 manufacturers, distributors and retailers.Separately, the fishermen's group Trout Unlimited said it was objecting to lease sales near the remote Deep Creek Mountains in Utah's western desert. Trout Unlimited says drilling threatens recovery programs for native Bonneville cutthroat trout.Terry Catlin, energy team leader for the Utah office of the BLM, acknowledged that pressure placed on the agency after it announced its original leasing plans influenced the bureau's two reversals over the past 10 days."I think clearly it's a factor, especially in terms of another Interior agency raising concerns. We took the Park Service concerns quite seriously, and you see the result on the parcels that were dropped," she said.The BLM has set Dec. 12 for announcing what additional parcels, if any, it plans to drop from the auction.Bush rule limits Congress on drilling, mining...DINA CAPPIELLO, Associated Press Writerhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/12/04/national/w132521S43.DTL&type=printableThe Bush administration is trying to make it tougher for Congress to block mining and oil and gas drilling on public lands.The Bureau of Land Management, which manages 258 million acres of federal property, stripped from its regulations Thursday a provision that gives two Congressional committees the power to compel the Interior Secretary to temporarily place public land off limits to mining and oil and gas development.Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat and top candidate for interior secretary under President-elect Barack Obama, attempted to employ the little-used provision for the first time in more than 20 years earlier this year in an effort to halt uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.The House Natural Resources Committee passed a measure to block the mining 20-2, but the Interior Department has yet to issue an emergency withdrawal, saying there were not enough Republicans present for a quorum.In a written statement Thursday, Grijalva said the last-minute change was part of a strategy by the Bush administration to avoid complying with the resolution."I will continue to fight this rule change and all midnight regulations to roll back protections for our environment which are coming down the pike before the new administration is sworn in," he said.While the law still allows the House Natural Resources Committee or Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to use the provision, the lack of a regulation would likely make it more susceptible to legal challenges. Previous attempts to use the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act have been challenged on constitutional grounds, since the committees' resolutions don't require the approval of the full House or Senate, or Congress.Alaska Rep. Don Young, the top Republican on the House panel, applauded the administration's action saying it was needed to ensure that the country's energy potential was tapped. The uranium mined near the Grand Canyon would supply nuclear power plants."We cannot afford to have more of our nation's vital minerals and energy supplies to be locked up by ill-advised actions of a single Congressional committee," said Young, who called the regulations removed Thursday invalid and unconstitutional.The rule still allows the Interior Secretary to issue emergency withdrawals when mining and other development poses a threat to natural resources.Only four other times in history has the House committee attempted to use the law. The last time was in 1983.Contra Costa TimesWal-Mart ditches Hercules development plans...Tom Lochner, West County Timeshttp://www.contracostatimes.com/hercules/ci_11143783Wal-Mart has abandoned plans to build a store in Hercules and has put up for sale a 17¼-acre spread it owns there.The move could spell an end to years of wrangling among the mega-retailer, the city and residents who said a big-box store drawing regional traffic would betray the vision, enshrined in the Central Hercules Plan, of a pedestrian-friendly waterfront area. The see-saw battle, which began even before Wal-Mart bought the tract on John Muir Parkway about midway between Interstate 80 and San Pablo Bay in 2005, included an eminent domain takeover attempt by the city in 2006 that a judge struck down a year later.But in spite of its court victory, Wal-Mart never filed another application in Hercules."Ultimately, we decided we could serve our Hercules customers through our Richmond and Martinez stores," said Kevin Loscotoff, Northern California spokesman for Arkansas-based Wal-Mart on Thursday. "We are very happy to be able to provide them with a shopping experience, close to their city if not in their city, that allows them to save money so they can live better."The retailer based its decision to drop plans to build in Hercules on "a number of factors," Loscotoff said without elaborating. Wal-Mart is marketing the property through a broker, Potter-Taylor & Co. of Sacramento."I'm pleased," resident Steve Kirby said Thursday upon hearing of Wal-Mart's decision, which originally became public during an unrelated city scoping meeting Wednesday and was reported on the Web site waterfrontwatch.org a short time later. "A city should be able to determine some land uses and make a master plan. The arrogance, the audacity of Wal-Mart to come and say, 'We'll ignore that and build a 150,000-square-foot-store.'" The city contends the store-size limit on the site is 64,000 square feet, but Wal-Mart had argued it was only a guideline.Successive Wal-Mart applications projected a 147,000-, 142,000- and finally a 99-000-square-foot store. Kirby, a member of the good-government group Friends of Hercules, was a leader of the movement to keep Wal-Mart out of Hercules. He provided a sound bite at a May 2006 City Council meeting that later made the rounds of anti-Wal-Mart Web sites, "Throw the bums out." That council meeting culminated in the ultimately ill-fated decision to seize the land at fair-market value under eminent domain. The council justified the decision with a finding that the site was "blighted" from an economic perspective, due to inactivity that it blamed on what it deemed Wal-Mart's recalcitrant refusal to adhere to the store-size limit.That vote, which was unanimous, was a turnaround from two years earlier when Wal-Mart took several council members on a little-noticed tour of several Northern California Wal-Mart stores, after which several council members expressed a favorable, or at least wait-and-see, attitude toward the company.Hercules Community Relations Officer Michelle Harrington said a sale of the tract likely would include deed restrictions that would limit Wal-Mart competitors from building at the site, but she had no details. The Potter-Taylor broker in charge of marketing the property did not return a call Thursday.John Troughton, senior director of brokerage at Cushman & Wakefield in Oakland, said he has been contacted by a national shopping center developer that might be interested in the Wal-Mart's Hercules tract.Monterey HeraldCondors get more protectionLast year's ban on lead ammunition expanded...DANIEL LOPEZhttp://www.montereyherald.com/local/ci_11145491?nclick_check=1California hunters face a new restriction aimed at protecting the endangered condor. Hunters issued depredation permits — which allow for the shooting of animals deemed a nuisance or threat — will have to use nonlead ammunition when in condor country under a settlement reached Wednesday between environmental groups and the state Department of Fish and Game. The move is an extension of a lead ammunition ban adopted last year by the state Fish and Game Commission for hunting in the condor's range. Environmentalists have sought a ban on all lead ammunition because condors feed on carcases shot by hunters and left in the field. They say the birds ingest lead fragments and pellets, and studies have shown lead causes reproductive problems and death among the birds. "No one wants the hunters to stop hunting. The condors depend on hunters," said Adam Keats, attorney for The Center for Biological Diversity, one of the environmental groups that sued the state Department of Fish and Game in federal court to expand the ban. Depredation hunting was not covered under the original ban. "The condors are scavengers. They rely on hunters, but it's sort of a double-edged sword," Keats said. The intent of a lead ammunition ban in the condor range is to allow the birds and hunters to safely coexist, he said. As part of the settlement, the Fish and Game Commission has also agreed to consider a similar lead ammunition ban for hunting small mammals that are also part of the condor diet, such as jackrabbits and opossums. The condor, a fully protected species under state law, is also granted protections under the state's Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act. During the 1980s and '90s, the California condor — North America's largest land bird with wing spans reaching 10 feet and weighing up to 25 pounds — nearly went extinct. The birds have been making a comeback in the wild through reintroduction efforts such as that of the Ventana Wildlife Society, the only nonprofit organization releasing condors in California. For information about hunting restrictions in the condor range and the lead ammunition ban, see www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/hunting/condor. San Diego Union-TribuneSycuan walks away from gambling compact ...James P. Sweeney, UNION-TRIBUNE SACRAMENTO BUREAU. Staff writer Onell R. Soto contributed to this report. http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20081204-2041-bn04sycuan2.htmlSACRAMENTO – Blaming a punishing economy, the Sycuan band of El Cajon on Thursday walked away from a multibillion-dollar gambling agreement that it had pursued for years and spent $6 million to defend.The deal authorized an expansion from 2,000 slots the tribe now operates to as many as 5,000 machines plus an option for a second, off-reservation casino on newly acquired lands that include the former Singing Hills Country Club. The agreement, or compact, was signed more than two years ago by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sycuan Chairman Daniel Tucker. But it was never ratified by the tribe's 78 adult members, as required by a little-noticed clause. The decision ultimately could cost both the tribe and the state billions of dollars. “It is with sincere regret that Sycuan is unable to take advantage of the August, 2006 amended compact between our tribe and the state,” Tucker said in a letter delivered Thursday morning to the governor. The current economic climate makes “proceeding under the amended compact financially imprudent at this time and for the forseeable future,” Tucker wrote. “We are doing everything we can to avoid having to lay off our valued employees and are continuing to restructure operations to mitigate the impacts of an extremely challenging economic environment,” he added. “In these circumstances, even a modest expansion would be impossible.”The decision was greeted with glee by local opponents of Sycuan's plans to expand its gambling operations and build a destination resort in the Dehesa Valley, a rural retreat served by two-lane roads. “I'm kind of dumbfounded,” said Bill Bengen, leader of a local group known as Residents Against Gambling Expansion. “We thought after the referendum passed earlier this year that the battle was lost. It's quite a turn of events.” In February, voters approved Sycuan's compact and three others that had been challenged with statewide ballot measures. The four tribes, which included Pechanga of Temecula, spent more than $100 million on the campaign. Sycuan contributed $6 million to the effort. A few months later, Schwarzenegger's administration surprised lawmakers when it disclosed that the state would not be receiving $30 million anticipated from Sycuan because the tribe had not ratified its compact. A deadline to execute the deal had passed, but Schwarzenegger agreed to give the tribe an extension that was set to run out on Jan. 1. “We're disappointed but understand the tribe's situation,” said Camille Anderson, a spokeswoman for the governor. Two years ago, Schwarzenegger and Sycuan Chairman Tucker posed for photographs after both signed the agreement that promised to be lucrative for the tribe and the state. Sycuan had agreed to pay much more on its existing slots, roughly 10 percent of net winnings or $20 million a year. It also agreed to pay up to 15 percent on the additional 3,000 slots. Over the life of the deal, which would have run through 2030, the state would collect an estimated $1.6 billion, Schwarzenegger's administration said. The tribe would have received at least several times that. In addition, the compact authorized an off-reservation casino on some 1,600 acres Sycuan has acquired in recent years, lands that adjoin its reservation and include the former Singing Hills resort and golf course. Off-reservation gaming proposals have become increasingly controversial and the Department of Interior declared three years ago that it would no longer even consider compacts that authorized gaming on “lands that are not now, and may never be Indian lands.” George Skibine, acting assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, had warned the provision permitting an off-reservation casino could pose a problem for Sycuan's compact when it reached the Interior Department. But the agreement was submitted with three other compacts from California, all of which reportedly got lost at Interior and were not rediscovered until after a 45-day review period had lapsed. That left federal officials no alternative but to “deem” them approved, as required by federal law. Opponents of Sycuan's compact notified Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in July that his agency had granted final approval to a gaming agreement that had not yet been ratified by the tribe. The Bureau of Indian Affairs referred the matter to its attorneys but to date has taken no action. A spokeswoman for that office declined to return repeated telephone calls Thursday. Although Sycuan decided not to exercise its new deal, it retains the right to build a second casino under its existing compact. But it will no longer have language blessing a casino on its newly acquired land. The tribe also has added several hundred bingo-based machines to its casino. Many electronic bingo machines are considered “Class 2” gaming devices not subject to state regulation or fees under federal law. But state gaming agents concluded that at least some of Sycuan's bingo machines are considered slots under federal criteria. That has prompted a state review of whether the tribe has violated the 2,000-slot limit in its existing compact. Sycuan Chairman Tucker declined to comment beyond his letter to the governor. But analysts and others said the decision reflects a sharp economic downturn that has cut deeply into tribal and commercial gaming profits nationwide. Viejas, Pechanga and other tribes have layed off hundreds of employees and expansion plans have been shelved indefinitely by tribes who operate some of the most successful casinos in the state. Sycuan's was one of five large new gaming agreements that Schwarzenegger negotiated during the summer of 2006. Several of those tribes, such as Pechanga and Morongo of east Riverside County, have scaled back expansion plans. Megan Neuburger, a Native American finances specialist with Fitch Ratings, noted that all of those compacts significantly increased the state's cut of the tribes' gaming revenue. “The terms of these compacts,” Neuburger said, “were negotiated at a time when it was a much more optimistic climate.” The Redding RecordDeath of Auburn dam project focuses more attention on Shasta...Dylan Darlinghttp://www.redding.com/news/2008/dec/04/death-of-auburn-dam-project-focuses-more-on/After decades of delay, construction of Auburn Dam has been canceled - a move that intensifies focus on the potential of raising Shasta Dam."As more (water) storage options are taken off the table that will increase the focus on the remaining options," said Brian Person, who heads the Bureau of Reclamation's Northern California Area Office.Having studied the possibility of raising Shasta Dam since 1980, the bureau is set to release a draft feasibility study and environmental documents by next September, Person said. The federal agency is evaluating the possibility of raising the dam as many as 18 1/2 feet, a project that would add another 634,000 acre-feet to the 4.5 million acre-foot Lake Shasta.An acre-foot is enough water to flood a 1-acre field with water 1 foot deep.Tuesday, a state board revoked federal water claims for Auburn Dam, a project long-proposed for a canyon on the American River 30 miles northeast of Sacramento. The vote effectively ended the chances that a 2.3-million acre- foot reservoir will be built at the site."We are naturally very disappointed," said Lynette Wirth, spokeswoman for the bureau's regional office in Sacramento.Plans for the Auburn Dam were authorized by Congress in 1965 and work on the dam's foundation began in 1974, according to the Bureau's Web site. Work halted after a magnitude 5.7 earthquake shook Oroville Dam about 50 miles from the proposed dam site.The quake raised concerns about the stability of a thin arch concrete dam like that proposed for the American River, according to the Web site. An Association of Engineering Geologists report in 1976 said Auburn Dam would fail in such a temblor.Revised plans for the dam made it able to withstand a quake, but raised its cost to more than $1 billion, which stalled it in Congress.Wirth said the bureau is discussing the State Water Resources Control Board's decision to revoke the water claims with its attorneys, although the board's 5-0 vote doesn't bode well for an appeal.The Western Farm PressSurvey demonstrates efficiency in farm water deliverieshttp://westernfarmpress.com/news/water-survey-1205/A new survey of farm water districts debunks criticism that water is flowing unmeasured to California farms. Improved measurement systems are used on more than 87 percent of the irrigated acreage from surveyed districts, resulting in very efficient management and delivery of farm water.The survey was conducted by the Agricultural Water Management Council, a non-profit organization that works toward increasing agricultural water management efficiency in California. The survey results represent more than 3 million irrigated acres, or more than one-third of all irrigated acreage in the state. “These numbers prove that farm water districts have embraced new technology in order to best manage their water supplies and deliveries,” said AWMC Executive Director Mike Wade. “Efficient Water Management — irrigation district achievements” is a 62-page report available on the Council’s Web site at www.agwatercouncil.org. “Before automation, many districts were opening and closing delivery gates by hand,” explained Wade. “As a result, more water might have been delivered than ordered by the farmer. It could also result in operational spill or water that could be lost from the system operated by the district. “Automation has enabled district personnel to remotely monitor and control the settings of gates, valves or pumps from a central location. Now, operational spills are practically non-existent and farmers are getting the amount of water ordered.” The increase in delivery efficiency is one of several efficiencies documented by the report. Other achievements by farm water districts include: Almost 90 percent of irrigated acreage represented in the survey utilizes volumetric pricing as a component of the water pricing structure. Volumetric pricing guarantees that farmers are paying for every drop of water delivered to their farms. More than half of the transportation systems that move farm water are either pipelines or concrete-lined canals. Other transportation systems utilize earthen canals to deliver water and at the same time recharge the groundwater supply. Almost two-thirds of the irrigated acreage in the responding water districts has an active program to reuse tailwater. Tailwater is water not used by the crop, absorbed into the ground or evaporated and runs off the field. Tailwater is either reused by individual farmers or returned to the district’s supply. About 70 percent of irrigated acreage serviced by water districts conjunctively use both surface and groundwater supplies. Conjunctive use provides a flexible management tool for farmers to irrigate their crops. Not all areas are able to utilize this practice because of soil conditions. Almost 90 percent of the acreage in the survey receives water that is measured at the point of delivery from the district’s canal to a farmer’s field. “The survey also points out that the greatest obstacle to achieving greater agricultural water efficiency is cost,” Wade added. “Responding districts representing 69 percent of the irrigated acreage have developed financial assistance programs for farmers. Many of these programs are grants or low-interest loans for farmers to upgrade irrigation systems, install drainage-reducing tailwater return systems or other infrastructure improvements that reduce water demand or irrecoverable losses.”California Progress ReportCalifornia State Board Revokes Auburn Dams Water Rights: A Victory for Many Friends of the American River...Dan Bacherhttp://www.californiaprogressreport.com/2008/12/california_stat_32.htmlAnglers, conservationists, hikers, and recreational boaters who enjoy the American River above and below Folsom Dam are celebrating a huge milestone in the decades-long battle to stop the construction of Auburn Dam.The California State Water Resources Control Board on December 2 voted unanimously, 5-0, to revoke the U.S. Bureau of Reclamations water rights to build the controversial dam on the American River 35 miles northeast of Sacramento.The landmark order cited Californias tough use it or lose it water rights policy, in which the Water Board noted that the Bureau failed to construct the project and apply water to beneficial use with due diligence as required by state law."This is a death certificate for the Bureau's water rights to build Auburn Dam," said William Rukeyser, board spokesman. "The Bureau can apply for water rights in the future, but as with every application, there are no guarantees."The prospects of Auburn Dam ever being constructed are increasingly dim, since the Bureau now has neither water rights or authorization from Congress to build the project.This is a great victory for millions of people who utilize this river every year, said Ron Stork, senior policy analyst for Friends of the River (FOR). Hopefully, this action closes a chapter on the 35 year effort to build one of Californias most useless and most expensive dam projects ever conceived. Auburn Dam is without purpose, without funding, and now without water.The board’s actions affirmed that water laws are to be applied equally to everybody, said Chris Shutes, FERC projects director for the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA). This decision removes a huge amount of paper water from previously existing permits and paves the way for similar actions in the future.While this ruling does not completely eliminate the possibility of an Auburn Dam, it is another nail in the coffin of the struggle to stop the dam. The dam's backers are certainly going to have to do a lot more work to bring the dam back to life, said Stork.Besides protecting wild trout populations of the North and Middle Forks of the American Rivers and their tributaries, today’s decision will also help fish populations of lower American River. The water of the lower river is already greatly over appropriated and the building of the dam would make the situation of imperiled salmon and steelhead populations on the American and other Central Valley rivers even worse.I believe this decision by the board will ultimately benefit not only water quality in the American and Sacramento rivers, but also all of the fish that call the river their home, said Dave Mierkey of Rip Their Lips Off Guide Service, who guides on the American, Sacramento and Klamath rivers. The better the quality of water and flows in the river, the better the fish will respond. It is just great to see that the board that made this unanimous decision, for once, didnt back down on protecting the public trust.Salmon fishing in ocean waters off California and Oregon and on the lower American River and other Central Valley streams was closed for the first time this year, the result of the collapse of Sacramento River fall chinook salmon populations, due to massive water exports from the California Delta, declining water quality and other factors.The DFG officially supported the revocation of the permits in a policy statement given to the board in July. We believe that such action is consistent with the Fish and Game Code and will be in the public’s best interest overall, according to the Department.The Department takes seriously its responsibility to safeguard the natural resources of the North Fork of the American River, Knickerbocker Creek and the lower American in trust for the public, the DFG said. The sensitive and listed species, including foothill yellow-legged frog, and hardhead minnow in the North Fork American River and steelhead within the Lower American River, remain at risk.The Bureau of Reclamation's representatives didn't comment during Tuesday's board meeting, but they recently submitted written comments on the board's draft order to revoke the water rights for the dam. "Contrary to assertions made at the hearing by the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and Friends of the River, Reclamation is not requesting that the Board apply a different set of rules and regulations to the Federal Government," the Bureau claimed.Since its inception in 1965, the dam has represented a project that was very expensive and destructive to the environment, while at the same time providing little benefit to the region, according to Friends of the River (FOR). FOR, the Save the American River Association (SARA) and other organizations successfully convinced Congress to deny authorization and funding for the Auburn Dam in the 1990s.With no practical prospect of building the dam any time in the foreseeable future, Stork noted that the Bureau was unable to convince the Water Board that it deserved to retain its water rights. Without the state-granted right to store water behind the Auburn Dam, the Bureau will not be able to build the giant structure that threatened to flood more than 50 miles of the American River, including miles of prime wild trout habitat.The review of the Bureaus water rights was prompted in part by a threatened lawsuit in 1999 by then California Attorney General Bill Lockyer. Lockyer noted that the Bureau was illegally diverting water from the North Fork American River at the former Auburn Dam construction site, even though the dam had never been built. Lockyer’s threat led to a recently completed project that closed the Auburn Dam diversion tunnel and restored flows in the surface channel of the river."The board's decision is a great victory for all who care about Central Valley fisheries, summed up Bill Jennings, CSPA Executive Director.I applaud Ron Stork of FOR, Chris Shutes, Mike Jackson and Bill Jennings from the CSPA, Jim Jones, past president of SARA, as well as Defenders of Wildlife and Friends of the North Fork, for their many years of hard work to stop the construction of the dam.For more information, go to http://fotr.convio.net/site/PageServer?pagename=Homepage or http://www.calsport.orgDan Bacher is an editor of The Fish Sniffer , described as "The #1 Newspaper in the World Dedicated Entirely to Fishermen"Press-TelegramWater use splits urban-rural panel...Paul Eakins, Staff Writerhttp://www2.presstelegram.com/news/ci_11143354LONG BEACH - As drought continues to tax the state's water supply, water officials from around California gathered this week in Long Beach to contemplate the challenges ahead. During the Association of California Water Agencies conference, which began Tuesday and ends today at the Long Beach Convention Center, one panel discussion Thursday reflected the polarizing debate over how to address the crisis. Four panelists from rural water districts made clear the differences between their views on water conservation and those of urban officials. Long Beach has led Southern California in conserving water use through public outreach and rules for outdoor water use. On Thursday, local water officials announced that the city's water demand in November set a record 10-year low, falling 12.1 percent below the historical 10-year average and 7.9 percent below November 2007.State water allocations are expected to be 15percent of what water agencies had hoped for in 2009. While the four panelists generally agreed that water conservation is needed, they debated how best to implement it and disagreed on creating explicit local or state mandates. Chris Kapheim of the Alta Irrigation District near Fresno said urban and agricultural water needs differ. "One size that fits all clearly doesn't work in California," Kapheim said. Brad Luckey, a representative from the Imperial Irrigation District in the Imperial Valley, saidpeople there have voluntarily saved water. "I don't think that mandating people to do things (in water use) is ever a good idea," Luckey said. He defended agricultural irrigation, which makes up most of the state's water use. "We take that water into our system, and we grow food," Luckey said. When asked whether environmental water use should ever take a back seat to human needs, Luckey and Kapheim said it should, such as during a serious drought. But Paul Hellikerof the Marin Municipal Water District in Marin County, and Paul Jones II of the Irvine Ranch Water District said the Endangered Species Act clearly takes precedence over farmers' needs. "If you're a fish, there's no real way to make your water use more efficient," Helliker. Ryan Alsop of the Long Beach Water Department said the discussion illustrated the problems facing water conservation. "It's the reason why a lot of work is not done," Alsop said. "There's a lot of competing interests."Salt Lake TribuneSnake Valley pipeline talks focusing on water...Patty Henetzhttp://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_11139611Ongoing talks about a proposal to drain water from Snake Valley in Utah's west desert to feed Las Vegas growth are taking into account environmental concerns along the state line, but not necessarily air quality on the Wasatch Front.Mike Styler, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said Thursday that negotiations with Nevada over the fate of Snake Valley are focusing on how to share an underground aquifer without damaging it."We don't want the valley to dry up. We don't want it to become a dust bowl," Styler said during a meeting of the Utah chapter of the American Society for Public Administration at the Capitol.But worries that a groundwater drawdown would kill the vegetation that holds the Snake Valley soil in place aren't on the discussion agenda quite yet, Styler said afterward. "Air quality has been an issue for lots of people, but not so much for us," he said. Steve Erickson, spokesman for the Great Basin Water Network, a coalition of conservationists, said the valley's aquifer already is at equilibrium, with enough water flowing into to the underground lake to balance what is taken for irrigation. Any disruption of that balance would kill the plants that keep the soil from blowing away.The Wasatch Front, already struggling with particulate air pollution, is downwind of Snake Valley.Negotiations between the two desert states have continued since a 2004 federal law mandated that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management grant a right of way for a pipeline in Nevada to funnel groundwater to Las Vegas.Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, managed to include language in the bill, sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., that required the two states would have to agree on any drawdown of the shared aquifer. The negotiations are confidential. But Styler said that while the Southern Nevada Water Authority has secured enough water from Nevada valleys south of Snake Valley to build the pipeline, questions remain about whether Snake Valley water will run south, too."Utah's official position is, 'We support the pipeline, you just can't have our water,'?" he said.Nevada State Engineer Tracy Taylor will make a decision about Snake Valley and the pipeline at a hearing next fall. Styler said if the two states can agree before then, Taylor might accommodate their recommendations.The water in Snake Valley is runoff from Nevada mountains, but most of the valley itself lies in Utah, where most of the water is used. Because farmers on the Utah side were the first to use the water, they have the oldest rights.In 1989, the Southern Nevada Water Authority applied to the Nevada state engineer to build a $3.5 billion, 285-mile pipeline to bring water to Las Vegas. Previously, Nevada water officials requested a greater share of the Colorado River, but the other six states in a water-sharing pact have told the Silver State to develop its own water first.Las Vegas water officials insist they need the water for the city -- and the state, whose economy is dominated by gambling -- to survive. Conservationists counter that Las Vegas should concentrate first on conservation rather than raiding northern parts of the state and the Great Basin for water.Washington PostEPA Orders Emissions System Warnings...R. Jeffrey Smithhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/04/AR2008120403334_pf.htmlThe Environmental Protection Agency mandated yesterday that manufacturers of heavy diesel trucks and buses install dashboard lights by 2010, like those devised for cars more than a decade ago, to signal whether emissions control equipment is malfunctioning.The equipment is meant to help enforce compliance with pollution limits that the government tightened last year. The EPA has estimated that those limits, which lower emissions of particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, will prevent 8,300 premature deaths and more than 9,500 hospitalizations, bringing $70 billion worth of health benefits in exchange for annual expenses totaling $2.3 billion.The Bush administration's mandate came three months after the EPA approved California's request for legal authority to demand that the state's 400,000 diesel trucks install the new warning lights and related computer equipment. "EPA believes that a consistent nationwide . . . program is a desirable outcome," the agency said in its statement announcing its final regulation.Steve Albu, assistant chief of the Mobile Source Control Division of the California Air Resources Board, said that although the state has been working in tandem with the EPA, California's rules set a slightly lower threshold for some emissions before the warning lights flash. He said that he now expects most engine manufacturers around the nation to install a single monitoring system that meets the state requirement.The announcement is the culmination of a lengthy regulatory process. The EPA began considering the rule in 2006 and submitted a draft final review to the White House in October. But the agency was asked by the Office of Management and Budget to withdraw the regulation from formal interagency review on Nov. 10 because there were "too many other things they are working on" as Bush's tenure draws to a close, said Margo Oge, director of the EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality.The OMB said that the EPA could publish the rule anyway, and its decision was hailed yesterday by environmentalists. "It's the rare positive eleventh-hour Bush administration rule," said Frank O'Donnell, the president of Clean Air Watch, a nonprofit advocacy group.New York TimesInterior Dept. Changes Rule to Remove Congress Veto...Felicity Barringer http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/05/us/05withdraw.html?_r=1&sq=mining&st=cse&scp=3&pagewanted=printIn another regulatory action in the waning days of the Bush administration, the Interior Department on Thursday unveiled a new rule that challenges Congress’s authority to prevent mining planned on public lands. Congress has emergency power to stop mineral development, and has used it six times in the last 32 years. The most recent was in June, when it put a three-year moratorium on uranium mining on one million acres near the Grand Canyon. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has ignored that Congressional directive, saying it was procedurally flawed.The new rule issued by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management comes as environmental groups are suing the bureau in federal court for failing to obey Congress’s directive, which under a 1976 law can be invoked when “an emergency situation exists and extraordinary measures must be taken to preserve values that would otherwise be lost.”The revision of the rule eliminates all references to Congressional authority. The revision moved through the often-cumbersome rule-making process with lightning speed; it was proposed in October, and the public was given just 15 days to comment. The rule seems intended to speed a judicial confrontation on the constitutionality of the 1976 law, and to underscore the Interior Department’s determination to leave public land near Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona open for mineral development.Tina Kreisher, a spokeswoman for the department, said that revising the rule did not relieve the department of its legal obligation to obey Congress. “We are obliged to follow the law,” Ms. Kreisher said.Bill Hedden, the executive director of the Grand Canyon Trust, described the new rule as a power play, saying, “They certainly are wanting to remove anything that might crimp their power” to determine what can be done on public lands. In September, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Grand Canyon Trust and the Sierra Club sued the secretary of the interior for ignoring the mandate of the House Natural Resources Committee. The Interior Department contends that the committee action withdrawing lands from mining was invalid because the panel lacked a quorum. In response, the committee chairman said the appropriate numbers had been present to validate its action.The environmental groups’ lawsuit is the most obvious opportunity for a constitutional challenge to the 1976 law.Congress’s emergency withdrawal power gives “the government an opportunity to reflect on whether or not the lands should be left open to mining or closed,” said Mark Squillace, director of the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado Law School.Because of the broad ability of mining companies to make claims, Mr. Squillace added, “without the time out, the choice is essentially made.” This is not the first time a Republican administration has tried to block the emergency withdrawal provisions; in the early 1980s, a federal judge rejected a challenge brought by Interior Secretary James G. Watt. Asked why the new rule was necessary, Chris Paolino, another department spokesman, said that the law had been dormant since the early 1980s, but that “it has again come forward and that makes this an appropriate time to address this sticking point in our regulations.”The Bush administration is not unique in seeking to put its stamp on rules in the final days of its term. The Clinton administration, for example, did, too. This week another rule made it easier for coal companies to dump rock and dirt from mountaintop mining operations into streams and valleys.CNN MoneyForeclosures soar 76% to record 1.35 millionForeclosure rate hits nearly 3% in the third quarter, while another 7% of borrowers fell behind on their mortgages...Tami Luhbyhttp://money.cnn.com/2008/12/05/news/economy/mortgage_delinquencies/index.htm?postversion=2008120515NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- A record 1.35 million homes were in foreclosure in the third quarter, driving the foreclosure rate up to 2.97%, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Friday.That's a 76% increase from a year ago, according to the group's National Delinquency Survey.At the same time, the number of homeowners falling behind on their mortgages rose to a record 6.99%, up from 5.59% a year ago, the association said. This means that one in 10 borrowers in America are either delinquent or in foreclosure.Many of those troubled borrowers are in California and Florida, which have among the highest delinquency rates in the nation.The weakened economy and mounting job losses are expected to push these numbers even higher. And that will likely affect homeowners with prime, fixed-rate mortgages, which make up the vast majority of loans and have so far held up fairly well. Until now, much of the housing market's problems were concentrated in the subprime, adjustable-rate market, where homeowners with weak financial backgrounds got loans they ultimately couldn't afford."We have not gone into past recessions with the housing market as weak as it is now, so it is likely that a much higher percentage of delinquencies caused by job losses will go to foreclosure than we have seen in the past," said Jay Brinkmann, MBA's chief economist. Unemployment soared to 6.7% as payrolls shrunk 533,000 in November, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday. It was the largest monthly job loss in 34 years, and brought the year's total job losses to 1.9 million.The number of homes going into foreclosure in 2008 is on track to hit 2.2 million, Brinkmann said.Modification efforts evidentThe percentage of homes starting the foreclosure process in the third quarter actually inched down to 1.07% from 1.08% a year ago. But that's due at least in part to the fact that some states have instituted foreclosure moratoriums in order to give troubled borrowers a chance to get their loans modified. But the moratoriums may just delay the inevitable for many, and could push up the foreclosure rate even more in coming quarters. For instance, Massachusetts, which instituted such a moratorium earlier this year, saw a large drop in foreclosures during its moratorium and then a big increase the following quarter, Brinkmann said.Asked how recent government and servicer efforts to modify loans would affect the foreclosure rate in coming quarters, Brinkmann said it depends on how many of those borrowers are interested in workouts. Some reports say that 40% of homes with delinquent mortgages are already vacant.At the same time, the foreclosure moratoriums and foreclosure prevention efforts have pushed up the number of loans that are 90 days or more late to its highest level ever. But this might not be as dire as it sounds, Brinkmann said. Many of the one million homeowners who fall into this category may never go into foreclosure if a more affordable mortgage can be arranged. Another hint of good news in Friday's report is that the number of borrowers one month behind in payments remained fairly steady at 3.39%. This remains below levels seen during the last recession in 2001, Brinkmann said.As for 2009, it all depends on whether the economy recovers, he said."Absent a recession, the 2009 number would likely have fallen by several hundred thousand, but the effects of job losses and general economic deterioration make the 2009 outlook worse, particularly if mortgage problems become more widespread," Brinkmann said. The report is based on 45.5 million mortgages, about 85% of the total number of first mortgages nationwide.California, Florida continue to sufferCalifornia and Florida continue to have the country's highest rates of new foreclosures. These states have about 93,000 and 90,300 of the foreclosure starts in the quarter, respectively, according to the group. The next state, Illinois, is far behind with about 27,500 starts.California and Florida also lead the nation in job losses, with the Golden State losing 101,300 positions over the past year and the Sunshine State shedding 156,200 jobs."Until those two markets turn around, they will continue to drive the national numbers," Brinkmann said.Seven other states had rates of foreclosure starts that were above the national average for the quarter: Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Rhode Island, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. But 20 states saw a decline in their foreclosure start rate, due to the moratoriums and modification efforts.Subprime loans weakenOne in five subprime loans are now delinquent, crossing the 20% threshold for the first time, the group said. That level was up 3.72 percentage points from a year ago.The number of prime loans past due also increased to 4.34%, up 1.22% from a year ago.A growing number of prime borrowers are expected to fall behind on their mortgages as they lose their jobs. Until the economy turns around, the housing market will continue to suffer."It's clear the mortgage market is being driven by fundamental issues with jobs and the economy," Brinkmann saidLost: 1.9 million jobsThe 2008 tally soars after payrolls shrink by 533,000 in November, the biggest one-month decline in nearly 34 years. Unemployment soars to 6.7%...David Goldmanhttp://money.cnn.com/2008/12/05/news/economy/jobs_november/index.htm?postversion=2008120514NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The economy shed 533,000 jobs in November, according to a government report Friday - bringing the year's total job losses to 1.9 million.November had the largest monthly job loss total since December 1974. "This is a dismal jobs report," said Keith Hall, commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at a congressional hearing. "There's very little in this report that's positive. This is maybe one of the worst jobs reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics (founded in 1884) has ever produced." The just-under 1.9 million jobs lost in the current recession, which began in December 2007, surpasses the 1.6 million jobs lost in the 2001 recession. That's noteworthy, because jobs were cut in droves in 2001 during the dot.com bust, which followed a white-hot employment market during the tech boom of the late 1990s. But the job market expansion leading out of the previous recession was drawn out and tepid, so the jobs lost now are more at the core of the nation's economy - a perilous sign.According to the Labor Department's monthly jobs report, the unemployment rate rose to 6.7% from 6.5% in October. Though lower than economists' forecast of 6.8%, it was the highest unemployment rate since October 1993. The rate is compiled in a separate survey from the payroll number.RevisionsEconomists surveyed by Briefing.com had forecast a loss of 325,000 jobs in the month. Revisions to the two prior months brought more dismal news. October's job loss was revised up to 320,000 from 240,000, and September was revised up to 403,000.The revisions brought the 3-month job loss total to 1.3 million. That's equal to two-thirds of this year's total job losses and the third highest, three-month job loss total since World War II.November's report provided the first glimpse at employers' reaction after the peak of the credit crisis, reached in mid-October. With credit largely unavailable and expensive, consumers scaled back their spending, dragging down manufacturing and construction businesses. Travel has also been trimmed, with would-be vacationers opting to stay close to home.Job losses were spread across a wide variety of industries: manufacturing, leisure and hospitality, construction and even, in the midst of the holiday shopping season, retail. Also seeing sharp declines were professional and business services, a category seen by some economists as a proxy for overall economic activity, and financial services, at the heart of the current crisis.Deeper cuts likely to comeWith the economy in a recession and most economic indicators signaling even more difficult times ahead, economists say job losses will likely deepen and continue through at least the first half of 2009.Citing weak economic conditions, a slew of large-scale job-cut announcements came this week. On Thursday alone, AT&T (T, Fortune 500), DuPont (DD, Fortune 500), Viacom (VIA), Credit Suisse (CS) and Avis (CAR, Fortune 500) announced cuts that totaled nearly 23,000 jobs lost, most of which will take place over the next several months. According to a report by the outsourcing agency Challenger, Gray & Christmas, planned job cut announcements by U.S. employers soared to 181,671 last month, the second-highest total on record.Temporary employment, including workers employed by temp agencies, fell by 100,700 jobs last month, the highest on records that go back to 1985. That could mean even more full-time payroll reductions to come, as employers often cut temporary workers before they begin cutting permanent staff.Tig Gilliam, chief executive of placement agency Adecco, the nation's third-largest employment agency, said employers are trying to position their companies to weather the ever intensifying economic storm. "CEOs are trying to get their businesses better positioned for the start of the year so they're not constantly chasing the slowdown" he said. "December will be another very tough month."In another sign of weakness, a growing number of workers were unable to find jobs with the amount of hours they want to work. Those working part-time jobs - because they couldn't find full-time work, or their hours had been cut back due to slack conditions - jumped by 621,000 people to 7.3 million, the highest ever on records that date back to 1955.Underemployment at 12.5%The so-called under-employment rate, which counts those part-time workers, as well as those without jobs who have become discouraged and stopped looking for work, soared to 12.5% from from 11.8%, setting the all-time high for that measure since calculations for it began in January 1994.But there was hiring in some economic sectors last month. Government hiring has stayed strong throughout the downturn, adding another 7,000 jobs in November. Education and health services also grew payrolls, which grew by 52,000 employees.The average hourly work week fell to 33.5 hours last month. Economists expected the workweek to hold at October's level of 33.6 hours. But with a modest 7-cent gain in the average hourly salary, the average weekly paycheck rose by 52 cents to $613.05.Obama: Time for stimulusWith 2008 already the worst year for jobs since 1982 and on pace to become the worst since 1945 - and second worst on records that date back to 1939 - support for a second stimulus package to boost the job market has grown among economists and lawmakers.The prior stimulus package, in the spring, sent tax rebate checks to millions of tax filers. It helped the economy grow in the second quarter, but it did little to stem the tide of job loss in the country. But the proposed stimulus package, supported by President-elect Barack Obama, would focus on aid states and municipalities as well as consumers, adding millions of infrastructure jobs for Americans."Our economy has already lost nearly 2 million jobs during this recession, which is why we need an Economic Recovery Plan that will save or create at least 2.5 million more jobs over two years," said Obama in a statement. "There are no quick or easy fixes to this crisis, which has been many years in the making, and it's likely to get worse before it gets better."Experts say a two-part stimulus package is the right way to stem the tide of mounting job losses. "First, you have to get consumers to spend, since 70% of the GDP is tied to consumer spending, and then you need job stimulus like highway projects to maintain economic job growth," said Gilliam. "This number is so bad that Obama will have to do something drastic soon."In the meantime, Bush administration officials say the priority remains restoring liquidity to the financial system."We have to get the job done that we can while we have time left in office, and that is restoring credit," Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez told CNNMoney.com. "This is the key first step to restoring growth and restoring jobs."The White House echoed the Commerce secretary."We need to focus on the causes of the economic downturn in order to reverse this trend in job creation, said Dana Perino, White House press secretary. "We intend to continue our aggressive efforts to restore health to our credit and housing markets."