1-5-09Merced Sun-StarValley banks vie for bailout$46 million application still pending for Capital Corp, parent of Merced's County Bank...TIM SHEEHAN, The Fresno Beehttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/v-print/story/622548.htmlFRESNO -- The big-name national banks aren't the only ones lining up on the steps of the U.S. Treasury.Many of the banks doing business in the central San Joaquin Valley -- including some headquartered here -- are among the hundreds of financial institutions across the country applying for a slice of the $250 billion federal bank bailout.Through Tuesday, more than 200 publicly and privately owned banks had received approval in the Capital Purchase Program to swap preferred shares of their stock for Treasury Department cash. Many more await word on whether their applications have been approved."We hate the term 'bailout,'" said Dan Doyle, president of Fresno's Central Valley Community Bank. "That was almost enough for us to not do it. We didn't want the perception to be that we needed a bailout." On Tuesday, the Treasury Department notified Central Valley Community that it won preliminary approval for its application to sell a $7 million stake to the federal government.Now it's up to the bank's board to decide whether to do the deal.Best investment Doyle said regulators encouraged his bank to apply, "based on the thought that only good, healthy banks will be eligible for the funds -- banks that will be able to continue lending, which is the whole thrust of the program." That point was underscored by Neel Kashkari, the Treasury Department's interim assistant secretary for financial stability, in a speech last month to the Mortgage Bankers Association conference in Washington, D.C.Kashkari said, "If we have a dollar and we give this dollar to a healthy bank or we gave that same dollar to a failing bank or a struggling bank, that healthy bank is much more likely to turn around and extend credit with that same dollar." The Capital Purchase Program is part of the larger $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.The nation's biggest banks with branches in the Valley -- Bank of America, Citibank, Wells Fargo Bank and JPMorgan Chase (which took over the failed Washington Mutual Bank) -- are each receiving $25 billion nationally from the Treasury Department.More modest are the expectations of smaller Valley-owned banks with applications pending, such as Fresno First Bank and Premier Valley Bank in Fresno; Valley Business Bank, headquartered in Visalia; and Merced-based County Bank.Of the four, County Bank and its parent company, Capital Corp of the West, potentially has the most at stake. The company reported a third-quarter loss of $54.6 million and is considered "adequately capitalized" -- rather than "well capitalized" -- by its regulators with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.To raise cash, Capital Corp hopes to sell $46 million in preferred stock to the Treasury Department under the bailout, but officials don't know when -- or whether -- the application will be approved. "Our application is in and it's still pending," said Thomas Smith, Capital Corp's marketing director.Public scrutiny Public perceptions appear to be a concern for Treasury Department officials, who are relying in part on application screenings by regulators at the Federal Reserve Bank, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision to determine whether a bank is a worthy risk for investing taxpayer money."I just can't emphasize enough that this program ... not be used to prop up failing banks or banks that might fail," Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told members of the House Financial Services Committee in November.Paulson and Kashkari have both said that the Treasury Department will not announce banks whose applications are denied or withdrawn -- a tacit nod to the potential harm a public denial could do to a financial institution's reputation.Public confidence was one issue Premier Valley Bank's J. Mike McGowan said his board thought about before filing. "Ours is a wait-and-see strategy," he said. "There's no requirement to accept the money, but filing an application gives us additional time to evaluate a decision." More than two-thirds of the $250 billion in the Capital Purchase Program is "out the door" to banks, Treasury Department spokeswoman Brookly McLaughlin said last week. "There are a substantial number of applications still with the regulators," McLaughlin said.The deadlines to apply to the Treasury Department were Nov. 14 for publicly held banks and Dec. 8 for privately held institutions.But few banks declared their intentions. Premier Valley issued a press release announcing its application, while others either buried a brief comment deep in their quarterly earnings statements or said nothing at all.Just saying no Several banks that declined to apply trumpeted their decisions. But the head of one Valley institution publicizing its no-to-bailout choice said a bank's decision to seek Treasury Department funds shouldn't be seen as a sign of weakness."It's not an indication that a bank is healthy or unhealthy," said Robert Hemsath, chief executive of Fresno's Security First Bank."There are actually a lot of healthy banks that took the money. If a larger, very healthy bank can get $25 million or $30 million, that allows you to deploy that capital in very effective ways." Security First, which operates a single branch, said it would have qualified for less than $2 million based on its small size. "What can you do with $1.8 million to earn a decent return?" Hemsath asked.Sierra Bancorp, the Porterville-based holding company of Bank of the Sierra, said in a statement that even though it would likely qualify to receive about $32 million in the Capital Purchase Program, it would not be in the best interests of the company or its shareholders."There are strings attached," said James Holly, Sierra Bancorp's president. Holly said additional federal cash would be "excessive and inefficient" for the bank's operations.Lodi-based Farmers & Merchants Bank of Central California, whose branches reach south into Merced County, offered similar reasons."We have no need; we have excess capital as it is," F&M President Kent Steinwert said. "Our loan portfolio continues to perform well, and we have substantial amounts of money available for lending." Modesto BeeConstruction spending falls less than expected...MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP Economics Writerhttp://www.modbee.com/2020/v-print/story/553231.htmlConstruction spending fell less than expected in November as record activity on nonresidential projects helped offset another steep decline in housing. The outlook, however, is for significant weakness as the worst recession in at least a quarter-century takes its toll on construction.The Commerce Department reported Monday that construction spending dropped by 0.6 percent in November, less than half of the 1.3 percent decline economists expected. A 4.2 percent fall in housing construction was partially offset by a surprisingly strong 0.7 percent rise in nonresidential activity.But economists expect housing, which has been in a slump for two years, will continue to struggle in the months ahead. They also are concerned that nonresidential projects will falter as developers deal with a severe financial crisis making it hard to get financing amid a yearlong recession that has curbed the appetite for new shopping centers and office buildings.The 0.6 percent decline in total construction followed a 0.4 percent drop in October. The October performance was revised upward from an original estimate that construction had dropped 1.2 percent that month.The back-to-back declines left construction at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1.078 trillion, down 3.3 percent from a year ago.The prolonged weakness in housing, where the current economic troubles began, is showing no signs of bottoming out. Sales of both new and existing homes along with home prices are continuing to plunge, while rising foreclosures are dumping more unsold homes on the already glutted market.For November, the 4.2 percent drop in home construction left residential activity at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $328.3 billion, down 23.4 percent from a year ago.The nation's homebuilders have been reporting large financial losses as demand keeps falling even as they slash production. Hovnanian Enterprises Inc., based in Red Bank, N.J., reported last month that its fiscal fourth-quarter loss totaled $450.5 million as revenue fell by 48 percent.The 0.7 percent rise in nonresidential building left the sector at an all-time high of $428.2 billion at an annual rate, following a 0.4 percent drop in October. But economists are forecasting more declines as the prolonged recession cuts demand for new shopping centers and office buildings, and the worst financial crisis since the 1930s makes it harder for builders to obtain financing.Nearly 40 percent of real estate investors need to refinance part of their portfolios this year, according to more than 1,100 investors surveyed in October by Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services and National Real Estate Investor magazine. The investors also expect prices to decline 15 percent on average this year.General Growth Properties Inc., the country's second-largest mall owner, last month hired a commercial real estate firm to put prominent retail centers in Boston, New York and Baltimore up for sale in a desperate attempt to shore up its finances. The Chicago-based company is saddled with huge amounts of debt it took on during the market's boom years when it aggressively bought assets.Meanwhile, government spending kept rising in November, climbing 1.4 percent to a record annual rate of $321.95 billion. State and local construction rose by 1 percent to a record annual rate of $295.2 billion, while federal construction was up 6 percent to an all-time high of $26.8 billion at an annual rate.President-elect Barack Obama is pushing for a massive stimulus plan to keep the economy from falling into an even deeper recession. Part of that plan would involve increased spending for "shovel ready" infrastructure projects including roads and bridges.Don't give up yet on saving Tuolumne River salmon...Editorialhttp://www.modbee.com/opinion/v-print/story/553039.htmlNearly twice as many salmon were spotted in the Tuolumne River this spawning season as last winter. Some people might consider this a success. But those who know realize this is no reason to celebrate."Twice as many" salmon as last year constitutes only half a disaster -- not a success. Numbers aren't official until March, but the Tuolumne River salmon population clearly is in dire jeopardy. The state faces myriad water problems, but around here this one is significant.Each year adult salmon (2, 3 and 4 years old) swim to the streams where they were hatched and deposit thousands of eggs. Then they die. Once hatched, the salmon fry hang around until large enough to make it into the San Joaquin River, through the delta, into the San Francisco Bay and then out to sea. A few years later, they return to renew the cycle.Biologists canoe the river in early winter, counting salmon carcasses. Last year's counts varied, but all were disappointing. One scientist figured 115 salmon returned to the nests near La Grange to spawn; another put the number at 211. For a river where 40,000 salmon spawned in 1985 and where nearly 18,000 returned just eight years ago, such numbers are a disaster. So is "twice as many."But even this insignificant increase shows the importance of water. In 2005, when most of these fish were heading out to sea, the river had a lot of water -- 152 percent of average, according to figures kept by the Turlock and Modesto irrigation districts. The preceding year the flow had been only 71 percent of average and the year before that 83 percent. More water generally means more fish.Salmon populations all across the West have crashed. There are many explanations: an "upwelling" of warm water in the Pacific Ocean, deteriorating conditions on the rivers where the salmon spawn, etc. Most environmentalists and scientists believe more fish will survive by improving habitat and conditions, but a few say it's already too late. They say most of California's salmon populations are mostly remnants and should be abandoned. We're not ready to give up. Neither are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Cal Trout, the Tuolumne River Trust and others.Survival of salmon has far-reaching impacts for everyone who depends on the Tuolumne and who buys electricity from the Turlock and Modesto Irrigation districts. The TID and MID generate the cleanest electricity possible at Don Pedro dam, a great economic and environmental benefit. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission grants a license to operate the dam, and the relicensing process starts in two years. Impacts on endangered and threatened species must be considered.The districts should work more closely with organizations trying to save the Tuolumne's salmon. Or they very likely will find themselves working against those groups later on.Stockton RecordNuclear waste in Stockton?It could happen if Fresno power plant idea pans out...Alex Breitlerhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090105/A_NEWS/901050307/-1/A_NEWSSTOCKTON - Nuclear waste could be shipped through Stockton if a group of Fresno-area businessmen succeeds in its plan to build the state's first nuclear plant in more than two decades.Don't expect to see cooling towers rise above the farms west of Fresno anytime soon.The state forbids construction of new nuclear plants until there's a proven way to dispose of spent fuel, most of which is being temporarily stored at plants across the country. A national disposal site planned for southern Nevada has been delayed.This doesn't deter John Hutson, head of the Fresno Nuclear Energy Group. He wants the Fresno plant to ship its waste via railroad to the Port of Stockton, where it would be loaded onto a barge and exported to France for reprocessing.Bringing the spent fuel through Stockton was news to some San Joaquin County officials and environmental activists, who said they had not heard of Hutson's group nor its plan."Are there railroad accidents ever? Yes. Are there ship accidents ever? Yes. I don't want nuclear waste shipped through my town," said John Morearty, a longtime Stockton activist.Nuclear waste was hauled through San Joaquin County in the days of the Mare Island naval base in Vallejo, said Ron Baldwin, director of the county's Office of Emergency Services. Today, many other hazardous materials are shipped through the region."Everyone is very concerned with radioactivity," Baldwin said. "But from a practical point of view, the way they ship those things, spent fuel isn't horribly dangerous."The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires spent fuel to be shipped in containers or casks that contain the radioactivity and heat.These fuels no longer produce enough energy for a nuclear reaction, but are "intensely radioactive and continue to generate heat for thousands of years," the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported in 2005.Among the accountability office's findings in that report was that nuclear power plants have been inconsistent in accounting for their spent fuel.Port of Stockton Director Richard Aschieris said he hadn't heard of the Fresno group nor its plans to use the port."We do handle hazardous materials," he said. "But I don't have any personal knowledge of what it takes to ship (nuclear waste)."Hutson said the Fresno group formed about three years ago to consider a plant as one solution to high poverty levels in that city. The plant would provide jobs, reduce utility rates and help curb related problems such as domestic violence, he said. The city's treated wastewater would serve its cooling towers."We thought that if nuclear is going to go in California, it has to be a case where it puts back into the community more than it takes out," Hutson said.He argues that nuclear power will help California meet greenhouse gas emission goals. The state's two operating nuclear plants provide a significant amount of the state's energy from non-fossil fuel sources.There is still the thorny issue of the moratorium. But Hutson said he believes the political winds may shift in favor of lifting the ban on new nuclear plants. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has hinted that he supports nuclear power, contrary to the views of many environmental groups.Two prior efforts to lift the ban on new nuclear power have failed, and there are federal complications with sending nuclear waste overseas, said David Weisman, outreach coordinator for the San Luis Obispo-based Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility."We think the Fresno thing is a lot of hot air," he said.Grazing dustup brewing in LodeStanislaus National Forest set to renew several allotments...Dana M. Nicholshttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090105/A_NEWS/901050308/-1/A_NEWSARNOLD - A long-simmering dispute over grazing in high-country meadows will likely flare anew this year when the Stanislaus National Forest issues a draft plan for renewing four grazing allotments covering roughly 70,000 acres.The allotments had already been approved for renewal for 10 years, but that renewal was overturned in 2007 by the Forest Service's regional office in Vallejo. Regional foresters who considered the appeal by a coalition of environmental groups agreed with the environmentalists on two points: that the Stanislaus forest failed to adequately analyze the cumulative effects of the grazing plan on wildlife and that the forest failed to evaluate alternatives proposed by the public, including reductions in the numbers of cattle and the duration of grazing, or fencing off sensitive habitat such as wetlands to keep them from being trampled.John Buckley is executive director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, one of the groups that filed the appeal. While he is hopeful the new plan will have new measures to reduce the impacts of grazing, he is also frustrated that the old grazing methods have continued the past two seasons."This year we took photos and measurements showing resource damage in scattered areas around the forest. The Forest Service mostly shrugged off those problems, saying it was in the acceptable range," Buckley said.The Bell Meadow, Herring Creek, Long Valley/Eagle Meadow and Stanislaus Meadow allotments are points of contention in part because they are both traditional grazing areas and are popular with hikers headed into nearby wilderness areas.Environmentalists, however, may be disappointed once the new allotment plan is released. Rangeland managers for the Stanislaus say the regional office decision primarily requires them to provide better documentation for their decision, and that the basic grazing plan is in line with both policies and the needs of the environment."I think we were really close to being upheld on the two things," said Susan Forbes, rangeland management specialist for the Stanislaus National Forest. "We had done the analysis and we had answered the questions in our scoping and comments, but it didn't get into the documents as well as it should have."Forbes acknowledges that environmentalists and hikers are sometimes frustrated when they see dust or trampled areas along stream banks, and it appears that forest staff are not responding."The last couple years we've been in a drought, and it really has changed the environment out there," Forbes said.She said forest staff do monitor the results of grazing. One forest standard, for example, requires that no more than 20 percent of stream banks should show signs of trampling. Staff who document such problems will require changes in grazing management.Also, she said, the ranchers who hold the grazing allotments police themselves out of self-interest. They don't want to continue grazing land that isn't capable of feeding their herds. "Last year, some of the permitees went home early," Forbes said.Dick Gaiser is a rancher and the chairman of the Stanislaus National Forest Grazing Permitees. He said he and other ranchers are already struggling to stay in business, and they find it dispiriting when critics complain about hearing cowbells in the high country or accuse cattle of destroying fens, a type of wetland characterized by a neutral or alkaline water chemistry."Those fens have been there and survived with grazing going on for over a hundred years," Gaiser said.The number of cattle allowed to graze in the high meadows has already been greatly reduced in recent decades. Further reductions or additional requirements that ranchers install fences to keep cattle out of particular types of habitat just push up the costs and make high-country grazing less likely to pencil out, say ranchers and forest range experts.That could cause problems elsewhere. If ranchers lose their summer grazing areas, then the lower-altitude lands they own and use for their herds the rest of the year also may no longer be viable as businesses, Forbes said.If the lower-altitude ranches in the Mother Lode aren't viable as ranches, they will likely be carved up and sold for development, reducing habitat for the birds and animals that now live in the lower altitude oak woodlands, Forbes said."If they are able to hold onto their ranches and continue livestock grazing, that space remains with us," Forbes saidGreat gray owls to get new nests with a little help from biologists...Dana M. Nicholshttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090105/A_NEWS/901050306/-1/A_NEWSSAN ANDREAS - There's a housing shortage for great gray owls in the Sierra Nevada, and National Forest biologists are preparing to carve another 15 or so treetop cavities for the large nocturnal predators to use as nests.Although great gray owls also live in Washington, Oregon, Canada and the northern forests of Europe and Asia, they are extremely rare in California's Sierra Nevada, which is the southernmost part of their range.California has listed the great gray as an endangered species since 1980. Biologists believe there are about 50 pairs, or 100, great gray owls statewide, said Roy Bridgman, a wildlife biologist for the Stanislaus National Forest and the leader of the project to create synthetic owl nests. Most of those 50 pairs are in the Stanislaus National Forest or Yosemite National Park, Bridgman said.Bridgman said the nest shortage is in part because logging and fires in Sierra forests have reduced the number of large-diameter trees that break naturally and give the owls the kind of cavity they use for their nests.With a body that can be more than 21/2 feet long and a wingspan of up to 5 feet, the great gray is the largest owl in North America, and it is a stirring, spooky sight."People describe it as ghostlike, because they are so big and so silent and gray-colored. They have these really big, yellow eyes," Bridgman said.Bridgman said he is doing the environmental review of possible nest sites and hopes to send workers armed with chain saws to carve the new homes in late summer.Bridgman said the workers take the tops off conifer trees and hollow them out."It sort of resembles a natural broken top tree," Bridgman said.Good news among the badCommunity Bank of San Joaquin's woes illustrate a silver lining...Editorialhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090105/A_OPINION01/901050314/-1/A_OPINIONCommunity Bank of San Joaquin has become only the second locally based bank during the current economic downdraft to receive a warning from state and federal regulators.Regulators slapped the bank with a cease-and-desist order charging the bank's management with unsafe and unsound banking practices.That's a bitter public pill for longtime banking executive Jane Butterfield, Community Bank's CEO.Butterfield, who is quick to point out that the bank is financially healthy, says she's spending about 75 percent of her time addressing the charges made by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the state Department of Financial Institutions. Changes already have been made to address the regulators' concerns, she said.What chafed regulators was their belief that the bank was not aggressive enough in spotting problem loans and either negotiating paybacks or repossessing assets.Ironically, when more concerns about banks focus on subprime loans, that's not why Community Bank attracted the regulators' attention during a regularly scheduled examination in May.In fact, the bank made no sub-prime loans, Butterfield said. The problem loans were made before 2007 to builders. In other words, they were made to exactly the kind of borrowers you would expect to be doing business with such a bank, and they were seeking loans when business, especially real estate, was booming.The bank has written off about $2.5 million in nonperforming loans and repossessed about $4million in assets.In fairness, no one saw this coming, certainly not the kind of downdraft we've experienced. And with San Joaquin County being the nation's foreclosure capital, the real estate market collapsed here with unprecedented speed and severity.Community Bank has been successful, growing its assets from $11.5million when it opened to $140million today. It chalked up 24 consecutive profitable quarters until the economy suddenly slumped.In October, Manteca-based Delta Bank entered into a consent order with the U.S. Treasury Department's Comptroller of the Currency to address numerous conditions to ensure its financial stability, although at the time regulators declined to specify the terms of enforcement against bank. Among other things, though, the bank was ordered to a name a three-person compliance committee to oversee the ordered changes. Delta Bank President and CEO Warren Wegge said in November that the bank was well on its way to complying with the regulators' demands.Community Bank seems to be reacting to the changed reality, if at first slowly by the regulators' standards.Two points: It is reassuring that regulators spotted problems while they could still be solved, something that seems to have been sorely absent elsewhere in the banking industry. And given what's happened to the economy, it is reassuring that only two San Joaquin County banks have faced public rebukes by regulatorsSan Francisco ChronicleResearchers focus on bringing missing bees back...GENARO C. ARMAS, Associated Press Writerhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2009/01/05/national/a002519S34.DTL&type=printableScientists in the field and the lab are trying to solve a mystery critical to the future of American agriculture: Why are honeybee hives failing at a disturbingly high rate?Some researchers are studying whether pesticides and other chemicals used in fields and gardens might affect honeybees, as well as bumblebees and other insects that pollinate crops. Other research is focusing on building more habitat — planting trees, shrubs and flowers that pollinators prefer.Bees are vital to U.S. agriculture because they pollinate many flowering crops, including almonds, apples and blueberries. The bee pollination is responsible for $15 billion annually in crop value.Honeybees, a non-native species from Europe, are the pollinators of choice because they are easier to manage and are more plentiful — a single colony can contain 20,000 workers. By comparison, a bumblebee colony may have only a couple of hundred worker bees.The honeybees have taken a hit over the years from mites and, most recently, colony collapse disorder, in which beekeepers have found affected hives devoid of most bees. Bees that remain appear much weaker than normal.Beekeepers in 2006 began reporting losing 30 percent to 90 percent of their hives. Since then the annual loss rate has been roughly 33 percent, according to government estimates.The first case of colony collapse disorder was officially reported in Pennsylvania, and Penn State University has been spearheading research. Maryann Frazier, a senior extension associate at the school's entomology department, said researchers remain concerned about the number and combination of pesticides that have been detected in decimated hives."We realize it's much more complicated than what we thought a year ago," Frazier said recently. "From what we know now, it's not something we'll figure out very, very quickly."Native pollinators also are being monitored. The National Academy of Sciences in 2006 found declining populations of several bee species, along with other native pollinators like butterflies, hummingbirds and bats.The report suggested that landowners can take small steps to make sure habitats are more "pollinator friendly," like by growing more native plants.And that's what scientists appear to be doing on a larger scale across the country in hopes of bringing bees back.One such track is at the Environmental Research Institute at Eastern Kentucky University, where apiculturalist Tammy Horn oversees an experiment in apiforestation, a term described by the school as a "new form of reclamation focused on planting pollinator-friendly flowers and trees."The project is in its first year. Horn is working with local coal companies to plant trees, shrubs, and native wildflowers on reclaimed lands that would be attractive to pollinators, rather than the once-typical scenario of planting only high-value hardwoods to establish a timber industry.There are years of study still to go, though there are no signs of colony collapse disorder so far, Horn said.Local support from residents and coal companies has been encouraging to Horn. It helps that locals have family ties to beekeeping, with parents and grandparents perhaps dabbling in the hobby before it started to become less popular locally.The rallying point has been concern about the disappearing bees, she said."That's been important for my project to succeed," Horn said in a phone interview. "Even people who don't care about beekeeping show up to (beekeeping workshops) in eastern Kentucky and know it's important. They like showing up on mine sites to see that coal mines care enough to invest in it."The idea is intriguing enough to draw interest for similar projects in other parts of the country, including California and Pennsylvania."The more of these pollinator-friendly areas we have... the more likely we are able to retain bee species," said Karen Goodell, an ecology professor at Ohio State University trying to find the right mix of plants and trees to build native bee populations.Her project is housed at The Wilds, a private, nonprofit conservation center located on nearly 10,000 acres of reclaimed mine land in rural southeastern Ohio."It's not as much a scientific study as a 'Let's do this and see what happens,'" Goodell said.Though Goodell's work deals with native bees, she said the plight of the honeybees has drawn more attention to her work. Boosting native bees also could end up helping farmers, she added."Those populations would then be contributing to colonizing areas that have lost bees because of poor management," Goodell said. "Definitely, these bees will be playing a role in pollination services."Visalia Times-DeltaOn the surface, ag doesn't pollute water...Don Curlee, freelance writer who specializes in agricultural issues. Write to him at Don Curlee-Public Relations, 457 Armstrong Ave., Clovis, CA 93612.http://www.visaliatimesdelta.com/article/20090105/BUSINESS/901050330/1046/BUSINESSA recent study of water quality by resource economists at the University of California indicates that agriculture doesn't deserve its bad rap for contaminating surface water.However, it suggests that agriculture is just as much at fault as other sources for the contamination of groundwater.Research for the study indicates that only a very small portion of common water pollutants can be positively correlated with agricultural production. The majority of pollutants have no relationship to agriculture at all.Some of them are even negatively correlated, which means the water quality is better because of agriculture.Study resultsThe report was completed by Hossein Farzin, a professor in the Department of Agricultural Resource Economics, or ARE, at University California, Davis, and Kelly Grogan, a Ph. D student in ARE at UC Davis. It was published in ARE's Update for July/August.They measured water quality indicators commonly reported by the eminent state and federal agencies dealing with water quality and maintained by the federal Environmental Protection Act, or EPA.They sampled surface water in California counties that are leaders in agricultural production for levels of 15 pollutants that might occur from four sources: natural (nonhuman), industrial, agricultural and household. The statistical samples of the pollutants were taken from a base of sensitive data called STORET maintained by the EPA.It includes updated water quality information from sources such as the California Department of Water Resources, the EPA National Aquatic Resources Survey, the California Surface Water Monitoring Program, the California State Water Resources Control Board and the National Park Service.The study measured the reported levels of 15 pollutants from ammonia, arsenic and copper through nitrates and nitrites to total coliform, total suspended solids and zinc. Only specific conductivity and sulfates registered a positive impact of crop intensity, while copper levels measured negative.In areas of animal intensity only magnesium and nitrites had a positive effect on surface water quality, while dissolved oxygen was on the negative side in these locations.The authors of the study placed significance on the lack of correlation between the intensity of agriculture and pollutants such as ammonia, arsenic, mercury, total coliform and zinc."This suggests that due to health hazards of these toxins, mitigatory measures already in place work adequately, and policy should address the non-agricultural sources of these pollutants," they said.Additionally, the report said: "This study shows that agriculture is not the main culprit of some typical agricultural pollutants found in surface water. We find that crops do not contribute to total suspended solids and that animal production even appears to decrease TSS."However, the study found that surface water pollutants such as nitrites, nitrates, sulfates, phosphorous and specific conductivity are significantly positively correlated with agricultural production.The authors concluded that these pollutants should be targeted by agriculturally related surface water quality programs, especially in counties with high agricultural intensities.Groundwater quality programs, the authors suggest, may need to study a wider range of pollutants.To put it all in perspective, it appears that swimming in the state's rivers, lakes, streams and ponds is not only permissible, but entirely safe. When water is pumped from the underground it will be a good idea to monitor its quality before swimming in it, drinking it or bathing your pets in it. Apparently, washing your car with it is okay.Press TelegramPeripheral canal time is here...Thomas Elias, Columnist...1-3-09http://www2.presstelegram.com/opinions/ci_11363404Even while a court order cuts water deliveries by one-third as it aims to protect the small, silvery and endangered Delta smelt, the maze of waterways formed at the meeting of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers remains California's leading relay point for water. From pumps at the south end of the Delta, the lifeblood of this state flows to farms and cities like Walnut Creek, Oakland and San Jose, Bakersfield, Los Angeles and San Diego. Everyone knows the Delta is in trouble. Possibly undependable levees threaten housing developments built below the water level of nearby rivers. Saltwater intrusion diminishes water quality. And if Sierra Nevada snowpacks continue to lessen gradually because of global warming, the Delta will receive less and less water. Add it up, and it's plain something needs to be done. The more analysis the Delta gets, the more obvious it becomes that a solution offered as early as 1982 remains the best answer today. That is a peripheral canal. This would be a concrete ditch carrying fresh water from the Sacramento and American rivers around the Delta's eastern edge to the northern end of the state Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project, whose vast aqueducts and reservoirs would store it and later bring it to users sorely in need. A canal could capture floodwaters that now run out to sea without accomplishing anything much. Not all the canal's water would go to cities and farms, either. The canal could have gates and pumps pouring water into the Delta whenever needed to improve water quality and assure healthy wildlife and fish habitats. This was a sound idea in 1982, but was killed by hysteria in Northern California that produced the most successful referendum ever (referenda in this state differ from initiatives because they seek to reverse laws passed by the Legislature rather than creating new ones). After legislators passed a plan to build a peripheral canal, environmental groups and others in Northern California convinced virtually all voters in the vast region that the canal amounted to water theft by Southern California cities from northern rivers. The campaign against the canal argued that it would mean inevitable damming of wild rivers like the Smith and the Eel. Despite the fact such dams were prohibited by the canal law, those claims carried the day. While the anti-canal referendum lost by a 65-35 percent margin in Southern California, it won majorities of 90 percent and more in every Northern California county, the closest thing to a Soviet-style plebiscite this state has ever seen. Now, however, some of the very people who led the charge against the peripheral canal are backing it. "I was mistaken," Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein said late last year. Hers was one of the first signatures on the petitions qualifying the referendum that killed the canal. And Phil Isenberg, ex-mayor of Sacramento and now a lobbyist there, has just finished heading a task force appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to develop solutions for the Delta and the state's water supply. The key idea in his report: something very like the old peripheral canal proposal. Other recommendations include new dams and reservoirs, increasing the amount of recycled water used in the state and cutting statewide water use by 20 percent over the next 11 years. While they applaud other parts of the plan, environmental groups so far have not joined Isenberg and Feinstein in reversing their stance on the canal. Outfits like the Natural Resources Defense Council remain convinced conservation and recycling alone can solve problems like the drought that now threatens to cause water rationing in many areas, a drought not ended despite heavy early winter rains. The timing of the new water report couldn't have been better: It came during the height of the presidential campaign, with the Legislature out of session and almost no one paying attention. So all its components, including the updated canal concept, have had time to percolate and now should be acted on in a non-election year, when politicians are not quite as likely to fear swift constituent retribution as they might be in 2010. The bottom line: Californians must do something to solve the Delta's problems and restore the significant portion of their water supply now flowing uselessly into the ocean because of the smelt-related court ruling and a subsequent order from the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. No one has ever shown conservation and recycling alone can do enough. Which means any comprehensive plan will have to include a way to bring water around the Delta. The list of prices to pay for inaction would surely include a lot of dry throats and brown lawns, severe food price increases and major problems for any attempts at building housing and industries. Los Angeles TimesAustralia knows something about droughtRecent rains have done little to improve California's water situation -- take it from an Aussie...Patrick Whyte, freelance journalist in Brisbane, Australia.http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-whyte4-2009jan04,0,449858,print.storyThat rain you've been having? It doesn't really help much. California is still in the midst of a serious drought. We Australians can empathize -- and we can also offer some advice. Last year, the southeast corner of the northern Australian state of Queensland, where I live, entered its 10th year of drought -- officially the worst period on record. Australia is the driest inhabited continent on Earth, but until recently that was never a huge problem for the 90% of us who live in coastal cities and towns. We'd always thought of dry spells as the farmers' problem. But as the recent drought dragged on, fruit and vegetable prices began to rise. Then public parks went from green to brown. Finally, even city folk began to talk about drought. In May 2005, restrictions were imposed on things like watering gardens, washing cars and filling pools. After that, I could only water the vegetable patch in my backyard with a bucket, and then only three times a week after 7 p.m. on my allotted days.Despite the regulations, by mid-2007 our drought had become deeply alarming. The reservoirs that supply the state's three most populous areas -- Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast -- were at 16% of normal.The water authority, having instituted all possible outdoor restrictions, had no choice but to take water saving into people's homes -- where the majority of water is used. It became personal.The authority set a target of reducing average daily water use from 80 gallons a person to 37 gallons (or 140 liters) a person. The plan was to keep the 37-gallon target in place until the combined level of the reservoirs serving the region went back up to 40% of normal. Officials developed a relatively cheap social marketing campaign, with the aim of getting people to think about individual water use. Ads promoted simple things, such as taking four-minute showers and turning off the tap while brushing your teeth. Crucially, the program set targets, and for the first time put gallon figures on the amount of water used in car washing, toilet flushing and other activities. Before the drought and Target 140, as the program was called, my wife, two sons (ages 8 and 11) and I routinely wasted water. Our faucets dripped, our sprinklers ran, we washed our cars and hosed our driveway without a second thought.Now the radio was awash with talk of water and how to conserve it. Reservoir levels became the subject of everyday conversation.Just two weeks into Target 140, average daily per-person use dropped from 80 to 32 gallons. The water saved was equivalent to bringing a desalination plant online -- overnight. In the United States, people use an average of between 100 to 150 gallons a day, depending on whose statistics you use, so you'd have a little more cutting to do. But it was surprisingly easy. At my house, water-saving fever caught on quickly. We made sure to only do full loads of dish and clothes washing, we bought a four-minute shower timer, and we used a $15 government-funded, one-off plumbing service to fix leaking faucets and install water-saving shower heads. We took advantage of generous government rebates to install rainwater tanks and gray-water systems. It was discouraging to watch the garden die and our green lawn turn to dust. But then so did everybody else's. In fact, healthy gardens raised eyebrows and suspicions. We tracked our progress in our water bill, which displayed household usage on a bar graph, along with our suburb's average and the overall city average.There were some isolated neighborhood tensions and even the odd case of tank theft, but collectively, residents saved about 148 billion gallons of water under Target 140, which ran through July. The typical household saved about 190,000 gallons.Fifteen months into the program, we got unexpected rains that took the reservoirs to the required 40% level, and the target was adjusted up to 45 gallons a person a day, where it remains. But longer-term behavioral change seems to have occurred, and daily use has stabilized at 38 gallons a person.Not surprisingly, water authorities from California and Georgia are interested in this unique, target-style program, as are the water boards of Israel, Singapore, South Africa and the Netherlands.We reformed our water-wasting ways, and I'm betting Californians could do the same. "Target 38" has a certain ring to it, don't you think? Washington PostGroup sues to force EPA to clean up Chesapeake Bay...BRIAN WITTEhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/05/AR2009010501118_pf.htmlWASHINGTON -- A conservation group is suing to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the law and clean up the polluted Chesapeake Bay, citing 25 years of failure to restore the nation's largest estuary.William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act could make it happen within five years."All that's missing is for the EPA to have the will to enforce that law," Baker said.The EPA has said it's committed to fighting pollution, but the agency contends partnerships _ not lawsuits _ are what's needed.But Baker and other supporters of the federal lawsuit say political foot-dragging has gone on too long.Bernie Fowler, a former Maryland state senator who has battled for cleaner water, said the government has pretended to engage in meaningful policies to save the bay."Today is a day of reality, when pretending we're doing something is over," Fowler said.Foundation attorney Jon Mueller said the lawsuit alleges the EPA's administrator has failed to comply with a congressional mandate to clean up the bay as specified in agreements signed in 1983, 1987 and 2000. The lawsuit also alleges agency actions were "unreasonably withheld," and the EPA has failed to meet established deadlines.The foundation hopes President-elect Barack Obama's incoming admistration will take note of the lawsuit and of numerous wastewater improvements in the Chesapeake watershed that a federal stimulus package could help put in motion.Baker called the lawsuit a legal "David and Goliath" case, but said he hopes it sparks broader action."We hope that this will be the beginning of the biggest fight for clean water the nation has ever seen," Baker said.He noted the bay's proximity to Washington makes it a fitting symbol for the government's ability to preserve the nation's environment."Saving the Chesapeake Bay can be a model for success nationwide," Baker said. "Failure to save the bay will be a model of failure nationwide."Poor water quality caused by pollution has harmed the blue crab population, destroyed underwater grasses and hurt bay fish. The losses have badly damaged the soft shell and peeler blue crab fishery industries in Maryland and Virginia, bringing a federal disaster declaration last year.Fishing groups have signed on to the lawsuit, and so has former Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes.The lawsuit was filed in Washington a week after the foundation released a report pointing to pollution and over-harvesting as primary causes of steep declines in the crab population.Last month marked the 25th anniversary of a landmark agreement to clean up the waterway. Subsequent agreements in 1987 and 2000 also have failed to achieve their goals. The 2000 agreement called for reducing nitrogen and phosphorous pollution by 40 percent by 2010 _ a deadline that will not be met.