Central Valley drought may shift California water politics
Westside farmers could make claims to San Joaquin River...MARK GROSSI, The Fresno Bee
FRESNO -- An unprecedented shift of San Joaquin River water from farmers in the east Valley to those in the west could further complicate the scramble to save crops from drought this year.
At stake is precious San Joaquin River water, which has helped east-side farmers cultivate a multibillion-dollar economy on 1 million acres over the last half century.
Many Westside irrigation districts import water from Northern California. But four of them also have historic rights to the river.
Under terms of special contracts drafted decades ago but never exercised, the four could move to the front of the line for water from the San Joaquin.
The deal was made to free up enough river water for east-side farmers.
Facing drought and probable water-pumping restrictions in Northern California, federal authorities must decide if they should tap Millerton Lake, where the river is held back by Friant Dam, for the Westsiders.
On the east side, folks are uneasy. Nobody knows how much water could be lost.
"In the 50 years-plus of the project, there has never been a call like this on the San Joaquin River," said Ron Jacobsma, general manager of the Friant Water Users Authority, representing 15,000 east-side farmers.
During other dry years, officials have managed to avoid this step by providing more water from northern sources. But by next month there may be water-pumping restrictions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to protect dwindling fish.
Reduced pumping means federal officials could not fill the San Luis Reservoir in western Merced County, where Westsiders get their water.
Even if the dry winter turns into a wet spring, the San Luis Reservoir would not get enough water to meet the irrigation demands, water officials fear.
"It's the regulatory issues driving this problem," said Steve Chedester, executive director of the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Authority, representing water users in in the four west-side districts that agreed decades ago to exchange river water for a share of flows from the delta. "Drought you can deal with, but now you have limits to the amount of water you can bring south of the delta."
The exchange contractors include the Central California Irrigation District, Firebaugh Canal Water District, San Luis Canal Co. and Columbia Canal Co. Farmers in these districts grow garlic, tomatoes and other crops on 240,000 acres.
They are different from other federal contractors, such as Westlands Water District, which did not have historic rights to the San Joaquin River.
Under terms of the contracts in which they exchanged rights to river water, the districts receive water from the delta even in dry years when Westlands and others take big cuts.
But this year, even the exchange districts might have to take a 25 percent cut if the snowpack doesn't fatten up in Northern California.
With possible delta pumping restrictions, there may be only enough water in the San Luis Reservoir this summer to supply higher-priority customers, such as cities and wildlife refuges.
Westlands, Panoche, San Luis and other federal water districts could be completely denied federal water this summer. Federal officials, however, must find ways to get water for obligations under the exchange contracts, including possibly taking it from Millerton.
Bureau of Reclamation officials said they hope precipitation picks up significantly to satisfy water demands for all customers. Then, the Millerton option would not be necessary.
"But I think it's fair to say we're concerned about it now," said Michael Jackson, bureau area manager in Fresno.
The Millerton option almost happened in 1992, officials said. There were discussions between Friant and the exchange contractors to negotiate a compromise before federal officials were able to provide water from the north.
Said Chedester of the exchange contractor authority: "I remember Friant folks asking, 'What if we paid you to not irrigate alfalfa?' That was so they could save that water and not run it down the river to us. But we were rescued that year."
Absence of rational water policy makes drought impact worse
State needs underground storage, dams, conservation...Editorial
The growing threat of drought in California is just another reminder of how badly the state has botched its handling of water policy in recent years.
State officials last week warned of the possibility we may be entering a third consecutive year of drought, noting that the Sierra Nevada snowpack -- California's principal source of water -- is less than two-thirds of normal right now, with dwindling chances of storms to bring fresh supplies in the eight weeks that remain in the rainy season.
The state needs -- and has needed for a long time -- a balanced approach to water:
-- Increased surface storage (new dams).
-- More underground storage (water banking).
-- Much greater efforts at conservation.
Instead, we get gridlock.
The imminent prospect of the state running out of money is not the only liquidity crisis we face. We're running out of water, too.
Farmers on the Valley's west side are facing the grim prospect of getting no supplies -- zero -- this year from the federal water system. That means much more pumping from an already depleted aquifer.
The State Water Project has told its customers in Southern California and Kern County that as little as 15% of normal summer deliveries may be available.
Some two dozen urban areas around the state have already begun rationing. Others are asking for voluntary cutbacks.
In Sonoma County, officials are preparing people for the prospect of a 50% cut in water deliveries. San Diego warned residents to expect rationing by July 1.
Through it all, the chances of getting a rational water policy for California remain as remote as ever. The issue isn't even getting lip service in Sacramento right now, with all the focus on the dysfunctional budget process.
We'll all pay for that neglect, with higher food prices, dead lawns, fewer showers, dying fish and the risk of greater fire danger next summer.
State Declares Riverside an 'Emerald City'...Riverside Public Utilities...Press Release
RIVERSIDE, Calif., Jan. 30 /PRNewswire/ Forget Oz, there's no place like Riverside!
The California Department of Conservation recently announced that Riverside will be the first city in the state to be designated an "Emerald City" in its Emerald Cities Pilot Project. This recognition is for sustainable green initiatives and commitment to help the state achieve multiple state environmental priorities.
The state designation will be formally announced Tuesday at the city council evening session in Riverside.
"We chose Riverside because of extraordinary efforts in sustainable activities in many environmental areas, including renewable energy," said Bridgett Luther, director of the California Department of Conservation. "At the end of the pilot, DOC will create an implementation 'road map' to help cities move toward a more sustainable future. It will help California cities achieve what Riverside is already close to achieving."
According to state officials, Riverside will be one of two cities in the pilot project that will gauge their sustainable land uses and development principles; energy conservation and efficiency; water conservation and quality; environmental health of citizens; air quality; and waste reduction and recycling rates. The City of Tracy in Central California is the other city.
"This didn't happen by accident," said Riverside Mayor Ronald Loveridge. "Our Green Action Plan was not created to sit on a shelf for show; it's a real-world guideline for our environmental future. It brings government, businesses and the community together to achieve a cleaner, greener Riverside."
Every city department has had a hand in the Emerald City claim, said Riverside's Sustainability Officer Mike Bacich.
"Riverside Public Utilities, Public Works, Parks, General Services -- to name a few -- have worked together to get Riverside to this point," he said. "We are all working on this together."
For Riverside's Green Action Plan, go to: http://www.riversideca.gov/utilities/pdf/gp/actionplan-aug.pdf
Established in 1895, Riverside Public Utilities is a consumer-owned water and electric utility governed by a Board of nine community volunteers that provides high quality, reliable services to over 106,000 metered electric customers and 63,400 metered water customers throughout the City of Riverside. The Utility is committed to increased use of renewable energy resources and sustainable living practices that help reduce environmental impacts within the City of Riverside and the state of California. For more information on our green events, go to: www.greenriverside.com.
SOURCE Riverside Public Utilities
Construction spending posts record drop in 2008...MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON Construction spending fell for a third straight month in December, closing out a year in which building activity dropped by a record amount as housing continued to plunge. And economists don't expect a quick turnaround amid a severe recession and the ongoing financial crisis.
The Commerce Department said Monday that total construction spending dropped by 1.4 percent in December, slightly worse than the 1.2 percent decline economists expected.
For the year, construction spending fell by a record 5.1 percent, surpassing the 2.6 percent decline in 2007. The weakness in both years reflected huge declines in home construction, which fell 27.2 percent last year, the largest drop on records going back to 1993.
Housing construction surged earlier in the decade as both sales and prices climbed to all-time highs, but the boom ended after 2006. Builders have scrambled to cut back on production in the face of slumping demand and soaring mortgage foreclosures that are dumping more unsold homes on an already glutted market.
For December, housing activity dropped 3.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $319.2 billion.
Nonresidential construction also fell for the third straight month, dropping 0.4 percent to an annual rate of $417.9 billion. But for the year, nonresidential construction rose 15.3 percent, the third straight double-digit gain.
Still, with a severe credit crisis forcing banks to tighten lending standards, developers are finding it harder to get financing for new projects. Analysts expect further weakness in nonresidential construction in 2009, amid a recession now in its second year.
Government spending dropped by 0.8 percent in December to an annual rate of $316.6 billion, reflecting a slowdown in state and local building, which fell by 1.5 percent. Construction spending by the federal government rose 6.3 percent in December.
For the year, government construction activity rose 7.4 percent, following a 12.4 percent gain in 2007.
President Barack Obama is pushing Congress to pass an $819 billion economic stimulus package that would include increases for government infrastructure projects such as highways and bridges.
Homebuilders are lobbying Congress for expanded aid for home buyers in the legislation. The stimulus bill, which passed the House last week and is now in the Senate, includes a $7,500 tax credit for first-time homebuyers who act in the first half of the year. The builders, however, are pushing a larger credit that would last for all of 2009.
In earlier signs of the difficulties facing homebuilders, new home sales in December fell a worse-than-expected 14.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 331,000 while a key gauge of homebuilders' confidence sank to a new record low in January.
Sales of existing homes did post an unexpected increase in December, as consumers grabbed cheap foreclosures in California and Florida. Sales of existing homes rose 6.5 percent from November's pace, the National Association of Realtors said last week.
Water watchers cast a wary eye...Matt Weiser
Water experts are having a hard time finding the right words to describe what lies ahead, after recording a dismally dry January in California.
"Scary," "grim," and possible "conservation mandates" are offered up.
Yet it's easy for the experts to sound out a clear warning: This may become, simply, the worst drought California has ever seen.
"Our worst fears appear to be materializing," said Wendy Martin, drought coordinator at the state Department of Water Resources. "It's going to be a huge challenge."
The bottom line, water officials said, is that right now, everyone must start using less water. The public can expect higher water bills and fines if they don't, because the alternative is a real water shortage – one that is threatening tens of thousands of Valley jobs.
"It's pretty scary," said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, who has more than three decades in the water-supply business. "The public needs to tighten their belts. You have to rearrange all the molecules in your brain to think about using water differently."
What worries the water gurus is not just a likelihood that 2009 may be a third dry year in a row, but what appears to be the state's dramatically reduced flexibility to respond.
Among the reasons:
• Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is in an ecological crisis. It's the funnel for most of California's precipitation, but its ability to move water from north to south is compromised by the need to keep Delta fish from going extinct.
• California has added 10 million people since the last big drought in 1991, substantially boosting demand on the available supply.
• Farmers have shifted hundreds of thousands of acres to permanent crops such as fruit, nuts and grapes, which cannot be fallowed in droughts like the row crops they replaced.
Thousands of acres of row crops already have been fallowed, and more will follow.
"The situation is very grim for all farmers," said Sarah Woolf, spokeswoman for the San Joaquin Valley's giant Westlands Water District, which warned customers they may not get any water this year. "There simply will be drastic fallowing and, in all likelihood, significant impacts that result in some businesses not making it through."
Richard Howitt, professor of resource economics at UC Davis, last week offered sobering numbers to the state Board of Food and Agriculture.
Using computer economic models and DWR water data, Howitt estimates 40,000 jobs will be lost, along with $1.15 billion in income.
But this is just the first splash of trouble, because Howitt's estimate applies only to areas of the Central Valley south of the Delta, and only in the farm sector.
It also relies upon DWR's most recent official estimate that its water contractors will get only 15 percent of normal deliveries. But a DWR official told The Bee last week that the next forecast, expected by mid-February, will almost certainly promise even less water.
All these factors mean the statewide economic impacts will increase substantially from current estimates, Howitt said. He expects this drought will be worse than those in 1977 and 1991, the most severe in modern times.
"What's eye-popping to me is these job losses," Howitt said. "If you say you're losing 40,000 jobs in small Valley towns where the people who are losing their jobs are least able to do anything about it, you're talking about real costs to people's living."
January is one of the months water officials had hoped would yield enough water to pull the state out of a two-year dry spell. But it did the opposite: January, often the wettest month of the year in California, was in 2009 one of the driest on record.
The statewide snowpack, in surveys conducted Thursday, proved to be just 61 percent of average. It was worse, at 49 percent, in the Northern Sierra, home to some of the state's most important reservoirs.
Rainfall totals mirror the bad news. Sacramento in January saw just 1.5 inches of rain, against the historical average of 4.2 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
Redding fared even worse, recording only 0.93 of an inch compared with the January average of 6.5 inches.
Water agencies throughout the state are scrambling to adopt conservation mandates – largely because many customers have so far failed to cut back enough on their use.
The East Bay Municipal Utility District, for instance, ordered 15 percent mandatory conservation in May. Customers achieved 10 percent.
The city of Folsom last year adopted the Sacramento region's strictest measures: a Stage 2 drought alert with a voluntary 20 percent conservation target.
Utilities Director Ken Payne said customers achieved that goal, but consumption this winter soared above normal.
Within weeks it is likely to move to a Stage 3 warning, which will make the 20 percent target mandatory and limit outdoor watering to just two days per week.
The city gets its water from Folsom Lake, which today stands at 25 percent of capacity. If the water level drops another 40 feet, Payne said, the city could have trouble drawing water from its lake intake.
The city of Sacramento does not expect supply problems because it has ample water rights in both the Sacramento and American rivers. But it has come under growing criticism in recent years for its gluttony.
Sacramento's per capita water use, at 278 gallons per day, is double the state average.
The city was forced by a 2004 state law to install water meters at all customer accounts. But it doesn't plan to do so any sooner than a 2025 deadline.
Critics note an ingrained attitude among many Sacramentans, who believe they can use all the water they want because it simply flows back into local rivers.
That perception is false, according to state data.
In the Sacramento Valley, an average of 44 percent of water used for urban purposes is lost to evaporation and plant growth, according to DWR research. This means that in an average year, 312,000 acre-feet of water used in the region doesn't return to rivers. That's enough to serve 600,000 households for a year.
Sacramento has never ordered water rationing in its 160-year history. But Utilities Department spokeswoman Jessica Hess said that on Feb. 24, the City Council will consider such a mandate, along with stronger enforcement against water waste.
"It is not just about us," Hess said in an e-mail. "In times like these, it is important to consider the greater good of the state and region."
San Francisco Chronicle
Keeping Sierra lands wild...Peter Fimrite
The valley known as Perazzo Meadows is a stunning landscape of woods and watershed habitat surrounded by glimmering Sierra Nevada peaks, but there is more to the high-country Shangri-La than sheer beauty.
The 982-acre meadow northwest of Truckee is an integral piece of an unusual land grant made almost 150 years ago that left pristine forests, rivers and valuable wildlife habitat in the northern Sierra in a checkerboard pattern of alternating public and private ownership.
Bisected by a meandering section of the Little Truckee River, the remote, snow-covered meadow was in imminent danger of being sold to developers or parceled out for vacation homes until a conservation coalition purchased it and two other private properties from Siller Brothers Inc. for $6 million.
The Dec. 30 deal is the first major success of the Northern Sierra Partnership, formed in 2007 as part of an unprecedented campaign to take out of private hands 65,000 acres of land over the next three to five years through a combination of purchases, conservation easements and management agreements.
The $130 million effort is part of a broader plan, started in 1991 by the Trust for Public Land of San Francisco, to permanently protect as much as 200,000 acres of private checkerboard property in the region, which stretches from South Lake Tahoe to Lassen Volcanic National Park.
"Protecting these High Sierra meadows with creeks running through them are huge priorities," said David Sutton, the Northern California and Nevada director for the Trust for Public Land. "Perazzo has been a major priority for us since the mid-1990s. Buying it means 2 1/2 miles of the lower Truckee River are protected and the threat of land conversion is ended."
The Trust for Public Land formed the partnership with the Truckee Donner Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Business Council and the Feather River Land Trust in an effort to save the Sierra's most unspoiled forest and wildlife habitat.
The alternating one-acre parcels known as the Sierra checkerboard cover a total of 1.5 million acres - an area roughly 80 miles long and 40 miles wide. On maps, it looks like a checkerboard.
The board-game pattern is the result of an 1862 scheme by the federal government to extend the Transcontinental Railroad over Donner Summit, the infamous site of the cannibalistic travails of the Donner Party 15 years earlier. The Central Pacific Railroad Co. was granted every other square mile of property along the mountainous route as an incentive to build the tracks.
The idea was to allow for enough room for the railroad to meander through the mountains. It also supplied the railroad with property in virtually every location where future towns might pop up, a strong inducement given the money-making possibilities.
Parcels not used were sold to timber and mining companies to help fund construction and, over time, it was all sold. About 40 percent of the railroad land was eventually acquired by Sierra Pacific Industries, a logging company based in Redding that is now the largest private land owner in California. Most of the public squares have since become National Forest lands.
Over the past two decades, the Trust for Public Land has negotiated the acquisition of about 25,000 acres of former railroad property. But Sierra Pacific and other lumber companies, along with ranchers and private investment management companies, still hold some of the most spectacular parcels.
Pressure to sell
With the economic downturn, the private owners have been under increasing pressure to unload their property. It is an opportunity for conservationists, who face the daunting prospect of trying to outbid resort developers and wealthy people looking to build second homes.
Sutton said piecemeal development of the land would destroy forest ecosystems and cut off wildlife corridors by inserting roads and introducing exotic species and domestic animals. Such development in wildland areas also makes firefighting more difficult and prevents consistent forest management planning.
Studies predict that climate change will shrink snowpack in the Sierra, which produces 60 percent of California's water supply, by 36 percent in the next 50 to 100 years. Sutton said the High Sierra forest must be protected for native wildlife to survive, which is why it was so important for the conservation groups to join forces.
"The loss of forest systems are exacerbating the increased temperatures because it means less trees that absorb carbon," Sutton said. "You lose the productivity of the forest with low-density development, and because of increasing temperatures, wildlife is going to have to move to survive. So if you can create solid blocks of land, you are affording those species room to move."
The partnership plans to use foundation grants, state bond money, private donations and philanthropic contributions to protect 40 percent of the approximately 500,000 acres of private lands in the checkerboard, including important watersheds and wildlife corridors.
The idea is to create a conifer zone to the crest of the Sierra and protect watersheds on nine major forks of the American, Yuba, Bear and Little Truckee river systems.
Perazzo Meadows is home to numerous rare species, including willow flycatchers, peregrine falcons, bald and golden eagles and the mountain yellow-legged frog. Native Lahontan cutthroat trout have disappeared from the tributary that meanders through the large, wet valley, but the Truckee River Watershed Council is hoping state Fish and Game officials will agree to reintroduce the threatened fish as part of a major restoration project.
A 400-acre parcel northwest of Castle Peak at the edge of the Paradise Valley was also acquired from Siller. A third property near Collins Lake, in Yuba County, was part of the deal, but it is not part of the checkerboard. It will eventually be transferred to the state Department of Fish and Game.
The Perazzo and Paradise properties will be turned over to the Tahoe National Forest. They are the ninth and 10th squares to be acquired near Castle Peak since the Trust for Public Land began buying property 18 years ago. Four other parcels are still under negotiation, but Perazzo is the most valuable, Sutton said, because it includes high-mountain meadow habitat, a river and wetlands.
Wilderness hopes, fears
The partnership is lobbying Congress to create a Castle Peak wilderness area, which would cover a portion of the Perazzo property. Such a prospect scares some local residents, whose snowmobile tracks can often be seen zig-zagging in the winter between frost-tinged willow trees and across the blanket of snow covering the meadow.
"A lot of people access their property on snowmobiles and might have to pass through the wilderness area, which prohibits snowmobiles," said Ken Bretthauer, a longtime resident who manages a local ranch and campground. "Locals are afraid that access to this area that they have used for years is going to be cut off."
Perry Norris, executive director of the Truckee Donner Land Trust, said the proposed wilderness would not prohibit snowmobiling where it is now popular. He said public access and recreational opportunities will be enhanced - a far cry, he said, from what would have happened if developers had purchased the property.
"With Tahoe basically built out, the development pressure was going to mount in the alpine areas," Norris said. "That is why this acquisition is so critical."
Sutton hopes the purchase is the first of many successes in the group's effort to save the forests and river systems of the Sierra Nevada range.
"The opportunity is greater than it has ever been to have an impact of historic proportions," Sutton said. "If we are going to find a way to keep the American West the way we would like to, this is the kind of solution that we've got to come up with."
Sierra land grants
View a 1924 map of the Sierra checkerboard lands at links.sfgate.com/ZFYH.
States fail in latest prairie dog report card...SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press Writer
While groundhogs will get all the attention Monday, a report being issued by an environmental group says their cousins, the prairie dogs, are in dire straits across the West.
WildEarth Guardians says in its report to be released Monday that North America's five species of prairie dogs have lost more than 90 percent of their historical range because of habitat loss, shooting and poisoning.
It grades three federal land management agencies and a dozen states on their actions over the past year to protect prairie dogs and their habitat.
Not one received an A.
Most grades even dropped from the previous year, but Arizona improved to a B — the highest grade of all the states in prairie dog country. That state reintroduced 74 black-tailed prairie dogs to a small southeast parcel in October.
New Mexico, home to the Gunnison's prairie dog and black-tailed prairie dog, earned a D — the same as last year — because, the group said, state wildlife officials weren't actively conserving prairie dogs.
"It's hard to see the prairie dogs that are missing when you drive across the West because our modern society has no perception about what it was like before we started poisoning prairie dogs," said Lauren McCain, WildEarth Guardians' desert and grassland projects director.
McCain said prairie dogs are an important part of a grassland ecosystem. They are food for hawks, golden eagles, foxes and endangered black-footed ferrets, and their burrows offer shelter for a variety of other species.
McCain said all the animals need federal endangered species protections.
Of the five species, the Utah prairie dog is classified as threatened and the Mexican prairie dog as endangered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued preliminary findings that the black- and white-tailed prairie dogs may warrant federal protection, and the Gunnison's prairie dog is a candidate for protection in part of its range.
Until Arizona's reintroduction, the animals had not been seen in that state for nearly 50 years.
"We're really pleased with the success to the point where we're getting the process ready to start another reintroduction," said James Driscoll, an Arizona Game and Fish Department biologist.
Many people in the West, especially ranchers, consider prairie dogs varmints that destroy grass and cause erosion.
McCain said misperception has resulted in wasteful government programs. She said various agencies have financed and encouraged the poisoning of prairie dogs for years while other agencies pump millions of dollars into recovery efforts aimed at other species that rely on the prairie dog.
"We're hoping that the report card will highlight some of the these inconsistencies in government management of wildlife," McCain said. "These are species that we really do need to protect instead of wasting taxpayer dollars, which is a big concern for a lot of people."
Of the federal agencies, the Bureau of Land Management received the lowest grade: D-minus, the same as last year. The report accuses the agency of exempting energy development companies from complying with rules that would protect prairie dog colonies and habitat.
Bill Merhege, deputy state BLM director for lands and resources in New Mexico, said the agency takes numerous steps, such as moving well pads and roads to avoid prairie dog colonies and prohibiting prairie dog control on land it manages.
"We do what we can on public lands," Merhege said. "Unfortunately, with interspersed landownership, what you do on one section doesn't necessarily follow through on another."
The group graded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at C, up from D the previous year, while the U.S. Forest Service stayed at D.
The group gave an F grade to Kansas, Nebraska and North Dakota. Colorado, Montana, South Dakota and Utah got D grades, and Wyoming earned a D-plus.
On the Net:
WildEarth Guardians: www.wildearthguardians.org/
Bureau of Land Management: www.blm.gov/
Fish and Wildlife Service: www.fws.gov/
Septic shock in state's outback...Editorial
Score one for California's new political force: toilet power. An uprising in rural counties has obliged Sacramento to postpone a crackdown on that backcountry essential, the septic tank.
The piquant dispute has filled meeting halls from Redding to Riverside with near unanimous demands that state authorities back off plans to oversee the backyard mini-sewer systems. The proposal called for inspections every five years - at an expected cost of $325 - backed by the nuclear option for broken systems: a requirement for a new septic set up including an underground box and leech lines that can cost upwards of $25,000.
The regulations, based on a law passed in 2000, gained notice as the state Water Resources Control Board put the final touches on the package expected to take effect next January. But over the past two months an uprising took place as homeowners - and interest groups such as contractors, real estate agencies and property-rights groups - assailed the package.
The final straw was an overflow gathering in Santa Rosa last week that spilled out of the Wells Fargo Center and even backed up traffic onto nearby Highway 101. State water officials, pummeled in earlier meetings, canceled the session, and, days later, gave in. The year end deadline will be postponed indefinitely, it was announced.
Call it a victory for the owners of ranchettes, vacation homes and round-the-bend abodes. But it's an issue that won't -and shouldn't - go away. There are an estimated 1.2 million septic systems, and they are only inspected when first installed. After that, the tanks designed to process you-know-what are largely forgotten until they back up or leak badly. As California hunts for more clean water, it can't afford household pollution to contaminate supplies.
The starting point for the current fuss was a perennial problem on Surfrider Beach in Malibu. The ocean water there was often so tainted that public access was cut off, and the problem was traced back to nearby septic systems. The image of a fouled stretch of paradise led Sacramento to approve a statewide septic clean-up law.
But the crucial details were left to the state water agency, which has studied the matter for nearly a decade. Septic tanks, it turns out, are anything but simple. The now-postponed rules called for testing water wells and adding higher standards for systems near lakes or rivers. While the rules-writing ground away, a fresh problem popped up. The state's tanking economy made it much harder to sell the public on paying for inspections. The steam has built in other ways as county boards of supervisors tipped against the plan with some elected officials calling for a outright appeal.
Calling a halt could help both sides collect themselves. California needs to clean up its wastewater and it can't ignore the risks of faulty septic tanks. While city dwellers already pay for sewer hookups, those with septic lines don't.
But there needs to be assurances that new rules won't be punitive, unworkable or overly broad as government regulation expands. To judge from the public's mood, the balance between a problem and its solution hasn't been struck.
Merced County seeks assets of motorsports park...The Associated Press
MERCED, Calif.—Merced County is taking action to seize the assets of a proposed motorsports park long stalled in the planning process. Officials say Riverside Motorsports Park owes the county about $300,000 in legal and other fees.
The 1,200-acre property northwest of Merced is for sale for $15.5 million.
Merced County officials had seen the park as a potential economic boon, but neighbors fought the project because of noise and traffic concerns.
At one point, the company signed on former NASCAR champion Rusty Wallace to improve design plans for the park's eight tracks.
Company officials did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment.
Information from: Merced Sun-Star, http://www.mercedsun-star.com
Visalia Times Delta
Opinion: Restoring San Joaquin River makes fish a priority...Don Curlee, freelance writer who specializes in agricultural issues
The fishermen and hunters I know don't always get their game, but they seem to know where to find it. Oregon and Alaska are popular destinations to find salmon.
Makes me wonder why some folks propose spending millions to bring salmon to the fishermen of the San Joaquin Valley.
What kind of convoluted reasoning supports spending hundreds of millions in federal tax money and stealing millions of acre feet of agricultural water to restore a river that has been dry for 60 years just so salmon can frolic in the stream?
This is the scenario presently on the table in a bill before Congress. The version omits the $500 million in federal funding that was proposed originally, putting even more of a ridiculous burden on farmers and private enterprise.
At one point the proposal included an even exchange of new water for the amount released down the San Joaquin River. That suggestion also has been withdrawn.
People who discuss the issue point to the decision by federal Judge Oliver Wanger ordering implementation of the plan.
The judgment was based on environmental law and precedence. Water purveyors who disburse water for farm use saw the congressional proposal as the least intrusive of several proposals.
The predicament underscores the awesome power that environmentalists and fish worshipers have achieved. They seem to dictate the costliest, most unreasonable actions based on the flimsiest evidence. They've been doing it for 50 years or more, and they seem to gain momentum with each decision made by helpless judges and intimidated legislators.
Much of what passes for environmental law began with noisy and possibly baseless demonstrations by bunches of environmentalists with nothing better to do. A serious study of the progression of environmental law is likely to reveal that many cases made by the enviros have been hollow and misdirected, even destructive.
The San Joaquin River fiasco might be another of those off-center actions. The 319-foot high Friant Dam near Fresno prevents the salmon from swimming further upstream to spawn. To be attractive to the fish major refurbishing of the area below the dam will be required.
Reports have indicated that the water behind the dam is too warm to encourage the envisioned-salmon migration from the delta. Environmentalist support for the plan ignores or discounts this scientific finding.
Isn't it time to recognize that radical environmentalism has run amok? Isn't it gaining control of every aspect of our lives? Perhaps the environmental movement didn't begin with that goal. Perhaps the movement has been hijacked by experienced political manipulators seeking change at all cost.
From an agricultural perspective it is obvious that each new environmentally inspired regulation or proclamation tightens the vise on agricultural opportunity.
Do we want water for fish to find their way to the base of Friant Dam, or do we want water for the production of food to feed this and other hungry nations.
What hunters and fishermen and society in general need to find is some reality. While the search might take them beyond the banks of the San Joaquin River, they can bring reality home for dinner without buying a hunting or fishing license. Such a deal.