Friday, May 20, 2016
Sustainable groundwater agency sought
By Amy Wu
Water was the lone topic on the table.
A consortium held a public forum in the county’s Board of Supervisors Chambers Thursday evening to solicit community input on creating a Groundwater Sustainability Agency or agencies.
If created, the governing body would devise and implement a plan for sustainable groundwater water in Salinas Valley through 2040. This would include everything from monitoring wells to regulating extractions.
The consortium is made up of representatives from the four key stakeholders — the agriculture industry, Monterey County, the five cities in Salinas Valley, and the Water Resources Agency. Salinas and Gonzales are taking the lead in representing the cities.
Gary Petersen, public works director for Salinas, presented a summary of the progress. Members of the public shared their opinions on how they thought the agency should be organized.
The agency should fairly represent the different geographies, and representatives should be appointed rather than elected, some suggested.
Petersen said one of the challenges of forming a local governing body is “agreement.”
“You have a lot of different interests who rightfully feel they need to protect their interests,” Petersen said. “You’re pulling all these interests together to agree on how to provide sustainability.”
It was the second of five public forums to be held this year. Water is a hot-button issue in Salinas Valley, where the economy is driven by agriculture. The first meeting in November drew a packed crowd of 125.
The consortium will likely decide on whether the governing body will be one agency or multiple agencies by March 2017, said District 3 County Supervisor Simon Salinas, a member of the consortium.
The consortium has until June 30, 2017 to launch the agency or agencies that will regulate the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which was signed into law in 2014. Municipalities that don’t successfully create an agency or agencies by the deadline will be regulated by the state.
Water should be locally controlled so different stakeholders can have their interests equally represented, said Petersen.
“It’s about not letting a single agency manage it. … Should we fail to do this at any step, the state is happy to step in and help us with these tasks,” he said.
The agency or agencies have until Jan. 31, 2020 to develop a groundwater sustainability plan, and until 2040 to implement it.
California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act requires that agencies be created for the 127 priority groundwater basins across the state. Salinas Valley is designated a priority groundwater basin, which means the area faces potential challenges with water. This could include flooding or other environmental roadblocks.
In California, water is a premium especially as it faces a continued drought. Here in Salinas Valley, water is especially critical for agricultural. The region, known as the “Salad Bowl of the World,” has agricultural business estimated at $9 billion.
The consortium was created about a year ago when the stakeholders came together to find a way to work together on groundwater basin planning. Creating and running the consortium is estimated at $150,000, with costs split evenly among the stakeholders. The consortium was just awarded a $50,000 grant from the California Department of Water Resources.
The efforts are also backed by a Collaborative Work Group that is made up of volunteer representatives from area organizations that meet twice a month. The stakeholders represent sectors from housing to government to the wine industry.
Members include CHISPA, Cal Water Service, the city of Salinas, Monterey County Farm Bureau, Marina Coast Water District, Monterey County Vintners & Growers, the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, environmental groups such as Land Watch and the Natural Conservancy, and a rural residential well owner.
Last fall, they tapped Gina Bartlett, a senior mediator with the nonprofit Consensus Building Institute, as facilitator for the project. Bartlett said she has worked with the state and Sonoma County to help them launch sustainable groundwater agencies. Bartlett was key is launching a website titled “Salinas Ground Water,” which has updates on the groundwater basin planning process.
The consortium will review the governing models of cities that have launched agencies, including Ventura and San Luis Obispo.
The next public stakeholder meeting is Thursday, Sept. 8.
Contact Government Reporter Amy Wu at 831-754-4285 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Wu on Twitter @wu_salnews or www.facebook.com/amywucalifornian.
Lake Mead shrinks to record low amid ongoing Western drought
By Ken Ritter
LAS VEGAS – The surface level at Lake Mead has dropped as planned to historic low levels, and federal water managers said Thursday the vast Colorado River reservoir is expected to continue to shrink amid ongoing drought.
The closely controlled and measured lake shrunk Wednesday to its lowest point since Hoover Dam was completed in 1936 — with a surface level of 1,074.68 feet above sea level.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation plans to let it drop another few feet by the end of next month. Then, it will be refilled enough by the end of the year to pass a crucial water-level mark to avoid cuts in water deliveries to residents, farms, tribes and businesses in Arizona, Nevada and California.
“We have passed the historic low of June 25, 2015,” said Rose Davis, a spokeswoman for the reclamation bureau, “and we expect the lake to continue to drop to levels near 1,070 feet by the end of June. However, they are expected to be back by Dec. 31 above the levels that would trigger a shortage declaration in 2017.”
The lake is about 37 percent full, Davis said. It’s surrounded by a distinctive white mineral “bathtub ring” showing the 130 feet in surface level it has lost since 2000. It was last at full capacity in 1983.
Las Vegas and its 2 million residents and 40 million tourists a year get almost all their drinking water from Lake Mead.
Officials in Nevada, Arizona and California are working on a deal to keep water in the lake by giving up some of their Colorado River water.
The river serves about 40 million residents in seven Southwest states. Two key points are lakes Powell and Mead, the largest reservoir in the system.
Lake Mead’s high-water capacity is 1,225 feet above sea level. It reaches so-called “dead pool” at just under 900 feet, meaning nothing would flow downstream from Hoover Dam.
San Francisco Chronicle
Point Reyes’ tule elk dilemma
By Peter Fimrite
The silhouette of antlers against the cloudy sky gives away the presence of more than two dozen tule elk moving along a distant grassy ridge in the Point Reyes National Seashore.
The light-brown bulls blend into the terrain, but from our vantage point in an overgrown pasture, we can see through binoculars that they are big bucks, with multiple points beginning to form on their signature candelabra-style racks.
“We call them the bachelor group,” says Dave Press, a wildlife ecologist for the seashore, after shooing away mooing cows. “Those are our prime bulls. I’d say those big guys are all up in the 500-pound range.”
The bulls’ antlers, which drop off every winter, are not anywhere near the size they will be in August.
“If you look closely you can see the spongy, vascular tissue on the outside, like a fuzzy velvet,” Press says, explaining the nature of antler growth. “Fully grown, a set of antlers can be 18 pounds.”
The largest land mammals native to California are fast becoming a common sight on coastal ranchland and along the rugged shoreline in Marin County. They are a symbol of conservation success at the 71,028-acre seashore, which draws nearly 3 million visitors a year. Many tourists come to the seashore specifically to see the magnificent creatures, which can weigh up to 800 pounds.
But the Point Reyes elk have become increasingly controversial as their population has increased. Wild herds now compete with cattle for forage, infuriating the ranching families that helped save the land when it was slated in the 1960s for housing developments, marinas and a freeway.
It is a dilemma for the Park Service, which made a commitment to preserve agriculture in exchange for the sale of ranchland in 1962 when the national seashore was created. Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reiterated that pledge five years ago.
Park officials are also required to preserve the magnificent coastal scenery, including Drakes Estero, where Sir Francis Drake first landed in California in 1579, and to protect native wildlife, including the elk.
It’s become a familiar battle in the western United States, where reintroductions of native species — the most prominent example being wolves — have caused a backlash among property owners.
The effort to restore tule elk populations has been one of the most successful wildlife reintroduction projects in California. There were once about 500,000 tule elk stretching from the lush floodplains of the Central Valley to the grassy coastal hills in California. Early mariners and explorers wrote about vast herds on the Point Reyes peninsula, but the herds were hunted relentlessly after the Gold Rush, and their habitat was converted to crops and cattle grazing land.
The elk were thought to be extinct in 1874, when wealthy landowner Henry Miller discovered a dozen or so in Kern County. The herd grew, and the elk were protected in 1971, prompting reintroductions in several areas of California. There are now about 4,300 tule elk in 25 separate herds in California.
In 1978, 10 tule elk were moved to the 2,600-acre Tomales Point Elk Reserve at Pierce Point. They did so well that the Park Service moved 28 animals to the Limantour Beach area in 1999. Within two years, the free-ranging herd had split up, with some apparently swimming across Drakes Estero, where they began grazing among the cows near the historic ranches.
There are now three elk herds. According to the winter count, 95 free-ranging elk live in the Drakes Beach area, and 130 hang out in the vicinity of Limantour Beach. There are 285 animals in the fenced reserve at Pierce Point.
It is Press’ job to keep tabs on the animals, which split into male and female groups when they aren’t mating. It is now calving season, when all the females hang out together giving birth and raising their young.
“The cow groups have pretty well-defined home areas,” says Press, pointing out 50 females grazing together above Horseshoe Pond, at Drakes Beach.
The issue is that during the rutting season, from August through October, only the biggest, most dominant males get any action, creating an incentive among the others to find places where there aren’t 800-pound competitors swinging their super-size antlers around.
“The ones who aren’t dominant want to look somewhere else” for mates, he says. “Boys are boys no matter what the species. It’s the males who tend to push the boundaries and look around for new territories.”
The free-roaming elk have lately been staking out land set aside for cattle grazing. The Park Service leases the fields to mostly organic dairy ranchers, who have complained about fences being ruined and cows being intimidated by the powerful beasts. Competition for scarce vegetation with antlered ungulates loping around with their chests out threatens the very existence of ranching, they say.
Some ranchers want the elk to be moved, preferably to another fenced area, a suggestion the Park Service is considering along with 20-year lease extensions for 20 or so private dairy and beef operations on the seashore. But the seashore’s pending ranch management plan has been held up by a lawsuit filed last year by the environmental groups Resource Renewal Institute, Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project. While native elk herds are being fenced, the suit claims, cattle are allowed to trample wildflowers, erode coastal bluffs and pollute creeks.
The suit was filed after nearly half of the tule elk in the fenced preserve died, apparently because their water sources dried up. Renewing ranch leases without an Environmental Impact Report, including an analysis of how cattle grazing and fencing effects elk, would violate the law, according to the suit.
Despite all the legal maneuvering, the Point Reyes peninsula, which is bounded by the ocean on one side and Tomales Bay on the other, remains a wondrously peaceful place with stunning views and abundant wildlife. Besides tule elk, visitors to the seashore can spy bald eagles, burrowing owls, badgers, coyotes and bobcats amid the wildflowers.
Mountain lions prowl the woodlands, harbor seals rest on sand bars and a growing population of river otters can be seen in Tomales Bay. Sharp-eyed tourists can spot gray whales migrating past the Point Reyes Lighthouse and elephant seals congregating near Chimney Rock from December through March.
“Aside from grizzly bears, we’ve got all the native wildlife,” says Press as he stands in tall weeds next to historic D Ranch looking at elk gathered on a slope formerly used for cattle grazing.
The seashore is, in fact, the only place in the world where a person can stand on the beach near basking elephant seals watching whales flapping in the water as tule elk graze in the background. The picture would be complete if that same person munched organic cheese produced at a local farm.
The best time to see elk, Press says, is in late summer during rutting season when bulls with big antlers bugle menacingly, charge one another and lock horns in their yearly struggle to see who gets the girl. When not looking for mates, there is usually a group of about 15 males hanging out near the fence at Tomales Point probing for weaknesses and several groups above Drakes Beach.
“Elk are pretty easy to see year round,” Press says, gazing out from the top of a poppy-covered bluff as a cold wind blows in off the brilliant churning sea. “It’s a special place.”
Tule elk docents are stationed at the Tomales Point trailhead and at Windy Gap, 1 mile up the trail, from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. every weekend from August through October.
More information is available at https://www.nps.gov/pore/planyourvisit/wildlife_viewing_tuleelk.htm
Peter Fimrite is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: pfimrite
Santa Rosa Press Democrat
San Francisco police chief quits amid shootings
By Mary Callahan
A decade-old movement to ban genetically modified products from Sonoma County is continuing forward despite a widely publicized, comprehensive new report concluding that there currently exists no “persuasive evidence” of human health risks or adverse environmental effects directly related to genetically engineered foods.
The nearly 400-page study was released Tuesday by an expert committee assembled by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, garnering nationwide headlines about the safety of genetically altered plants, though the report was far more nuanced and acknowledged limits on what can be known about long-term, synergistic impacts. GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, have been widely used only since the mid-1990s.
The study’s authors said they specifically avoided “sweeping, generalized statements about the benefits or adverse effects of GE crops, concluding that, for a number of reasons, such statements are not helpful,” despite what committee Chairman Fred Gould, a professor of insect ecology and evolution at North Carolina State University, described as “impassioned requests to give the public a simple, general, authoritative answer about GE crops.”
Locals aligned with the anti-GMO movement said they don’t think the findings will affect their campaign to join Sonoma County with several others in the region that already prohibit genetically engineered crops and seeds within their boundaries. And none showed any signs of reconsidering their own positions, either.
“I guess they’re not reading the same studies I’m reading,” said Santa Rosa resident Linda Deer Domnitz, who helped collect signatures for the county anti-GMO initiative.
Citizens for Healthy Farms and Families, sponsor of the proposed Transgenic Contamination Prevention Ordinance, already has obtained enough signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot.
But its members are hoping Sonoma County supervisors will adopt the proposed ordinance outright at their Tuesday meeting, when they are scheduled to receive and review a report from the University of California Cooperative Extension analyzing the measure’s potential land use, local business and enforcement cost implications.
The new National Academy of Sciences study notwithstanding, campaign coordinator Karen Hudson said she has assessed peer-reviewed animal testing studies that she deems sufficiently reliable to suggest there are indeed health risks associated with consumption of genetically modified foods.
But she said the local initiative is directed primarily at protecting local farmers from pollen and seed transfer that can contaminate conventional or organic crops and pastures.
A big supporter of the initiative, Straus Family Creamery founder and Chief Executive Officer Albert Straus said Thursday that he, for instance, had been battling GMO-tainted feed labeled certified organic since 2005, when screening was first developed, a result of drift and cross-contamination somewhere in the supply line.
Most corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the United States is now genetically modified.
But in Sonoma County, 80 percent of the dairies are certified organic, Straus said, and they and other farmers could jeopardize their standing under U.S. Department of Agriculture standards if something isn’t done to protect them.
“GMOs are a threat to their livelihood,” Straus said.
The measure is similar to one rejected by Sonoma County voters in 2005. Defeated by a 56 percent to 44 percent vote, it would have imposed a 10-year moratorium on use of genetically engineered products in Sonoma County.
Genetically altered crops and seeds are currently banned in Mendocino, Marin, Trinity, Humboldt and Santa Cruz counties.
It’s unclear if the current initiative drive will boost local participation in Saturday’s fourth annual global protest of the Monsanto Corporation, the international seed giant whose products include many that are genetically doctored for resistance to insects and to herbicides, allowing farmers to spray more readily for nuisance weeds without killing crops.
Monsanto also produces Roundup, a widely utilized weed killer that contains a highly controversial chemical agent called glyphosate, which has been linked to cancer by some scientific entities, though findings on the substance are somewhat contradictory. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, concluded last year that glyphosate was probably carcinogenic to humans.
Protest organizers expect this year’s March on Monsanto to be observed in more than 38 countries and 428 cities worldwide, including Sebastopol.
Hudson and Domnitz are among those playing a role in the local event, which begins at 2 p.m. at the downtown Sebastopol Plaza. It will conclude with presentations by speakers, as well as booths and a plant sale. In the event of heavy rain, it will be held at Analy High School, 6950 Analy Ave.
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.
Wall Street Journal
Why Governors Need an Immigration Plan
A ‘Governors’ Immigration Reform Bill’ could serve as the template for a new effort in Washington.
By Tom Nassif
No one disputes that the U.S. immigration system is broken. In a glimmer of hope, the Senate did pass a bipartisan compromise bill in 2013, but the House failed to act. Maybe the November elections will bring enough new faces and new ideas that immigration reform can re-emerge in 2017. Given the partisan divide in Washington, however, and the fresh wounds after election season, that isn’t likely.
Maybe it’s time to try something completely different. As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
Who can break the gridlock and establish genuine bipartisan consensus? Who can get Congress to finally embrace a reasonable and defensible compromise on immigration? I believe the time has come to look to current and former state governors as potential arbiters of this crisis.
The majority of America’s governors support some version of comprehensive immigration reform. They are elected statewide and have broader support than most members of the House of Representatives. Governors have authority over many things that members of Congress care about in their home states, and thus they have special powers of persuasion. As chief executives, governors know how to get things done. They are problem-solvers who are usually pragmatic and comfortable working across the aisle.
Moreover, most governors across America are deeply engaged with the businesses and public services most affected by the immigration stalemate, including public education, public safety, technology, health care, manufacturing and agriculture.
America’s governors may be the ideal leaders to create a new dynamic that will push immigration reform forward.
What’s to stop a group of current and former governors, from both parties and from all regions, from assembling to take on immigration reform? With the help of think tanks and policy experts they trust, they could develop new proposals to solve the problems that partisan stalemate in Congress has caused in their states.
If a consensus can be reached, the “Governors’ Immigration Reform Bill” could be publicly presented and serve as the template for a new effort in Washington. The governors would then shift from policy developers to advocates for action. A well-funded national campaign featuring the governors and the new solution-oriented proposals they’ve generated could give members of Congress the cover they need to confront the partisan do-nothings in their own parties.
The organization I head, the Western Growers Association, which represents farmers in California, Arizona and Colorado, is willing to partner with its allies in agriculture and other industries, such as construction and technology, to help provide the funding and infrastructure to support such an effort.
That is not to say that my organization wouldn’t back a genuine immigration-reform proposal from Congress. As in the past, we will be engaged and will fight for any legislation that solves this chronically ignored problem.
Judging by the past, however, it would be prudent to pursue a parallel strategy. I suspect if he were alive today, FDR would admonish us: Above all, try something.
Mr. Nassif is president and CEO of the Western Growers Association.
Ventura County Star
Congress needs to quickly douse this political fire
With another year of drought already in the books, a 70 percent chance of a La Niña this fall that typically means more dry weather, millions of dead trees and an ever-warming climate, the last thing Southern California needs is a political dispute to fan the flames of wildfires.
But that’s exactly what the U.S. Forest Service and its parent agency, the Department of Agriculture, have been dealing with the past few years. We probably are naive, but with another potentially horrendous fire season approaching, we believe it’s time for Republicans and Democrats to hold hands and finally resolve this issue.
The problem is fairly simple: With more forest acreage burning every year, the Forest Service is spending more of its budget on firefighting. That means less money for forest management, for dealing with things like dead brush and forest restoration — the very things that can help prevent or reduce the severity of fires.
The solution also is fairly simple: Treat the really big forest fires like we do hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters and provide supplemental federal disaster funding for fighting those blazes.
But as usual, partisan politics muddle it all up, compromise is elusive and the problem grows worse in the meantime.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Tuesday said the five-year drought has left 40 million dead and dried-out trees in California, including 29 million that died just last year. “This creates a tremendous hazard … for fires and firefighting this year,” he said.
The fires are increasing in number and intensity because of climate change, and the wildfire season has grown by 78 days since 1970, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said.
Vilsack pleaded again for Congress to fix the funding issue, and The Associated Press said he sounded frustrated and impatient. We can see why.
In 1995, the Forest Service spent about 16 percent of its budget fighting fires, according to a USDA report in August. Twenty years later, it spent more than 50 percent on fires. By 2025, it could exceed 67 percent, the report said.
A big part of the problem is an increase in what the USDA calls “catastrophic mega-fires.” Those only represent 1 or 2 percent of all the fires the Forest Service fights but 30 percent of total firefighting costs.
Fire staffing in the Forest Service has increased 114 percent from 1998 to 2015, while the number of those managing National Forest lands has decreased by 39 percent.
“Fewer and fewer funds and resources are available to support other agency work — including the very programs and restoration projects that reduce the fire threat,” the USDA report said. “The agency is at a tipping point.”
President Obama has — unsuccessfully, of course — proposed changing the Forest Service’s funding formula and making $855 million available for excessive firefighting costs.
The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act contains similar proposals and has been introduced in the House and Senate, with 66 Republicans and 81 Democrats now as sponsors or co-sponsors. But the bill has not made it out of the Republican-controlled House Natural Resources Committee.
The chairman of that committee, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, says money alone isn’t enough; that excessive environmental regulations and lawsuits hinder culling of fire-prone trees from the forests. The Republicans’ Resilient Federal Forests Act proposes funding fixes as well as expediting logging sales and limiting environmental lawsuits. It passed the House last year but has little chance of getting Obama’s support.
“Congress has an affirmative responsibility and duty to fix this problem,” Agriculture Secretary Vilsack said Tuesday. In parched Southern California, we couldn’t agree more.