Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Los Angeles Times
Feinstein water bill could help with California’s drought—if House GOP gives it a chance
As an attempt to balance many competing interests, the water bill that California Democrat Dianne Feinstein introduced in the Senate last week appears well-thought-through and carefully crafted — and as such it is being greeted by many with the kind of lukewarm response that such attempts often receive. Few seem ready to embrace it without reservation, precisely because it offers a compromise. If it were the product of negotiations among environmental stewards, agribusiness and urban water agencies, it would leave each interest plenty to continue fighting over, yet still infuse the state with the crucial federal investment it needs to update its infrastructure to allow better capture, storage, treatment and reuse of water.
The problem is that it is not the end-point of negotiations but the beginning. Agricultural interests and their supporters in the House, including a core of Central Valley Republicans, see it as only a counter-offer in a continuing battle that they expect will result in more sweeping diversions of the state’s water to farms, fields and ranches, at the expense of the fragile Delta and coastal ecosystems, California’s struggling fishing industry — and U.S. taxpayers. Their opening offer was and remains a House bill that is based on the notion that the rainwater and snowmelt that for thousands of years have sustained the salmon runs that feed ocean life, and in more recent times have created jobs and boosted the state’s economy, are somehow wasted whenever they flow to the sea. In diverting more and more water from the delta they would not simply be driving species toward extinction — in violation of federal law and any semblance of moral stewardship of the planet — but would be furthering the collapse of the very hydrologic system that supplies the fresh water that makes aqueducts worth the investment, keeps crops growing and keeps cities thriving.
Environmental advocates argue that even the Feinstein bill pushes too far in that direction by seeking to maximize pumping from the Delta to the federal Central Valley Project that irrigates farm fields and orchards, and to the State Water Project that serves both agricultural and urban areas, including Los Angeles. That provision is directly contrary, they assert, to a landmark 2009 state law — itself built on a hard-fought compromise — to manage the Delta to further the two “co-equal goals” of protecting the ecosystem and providing a more reliable water supply. How is it possible, they ask, to keep those two goals in balance while at the same time maximizing the water available for human use?
Feinstein’s aides say that under her bill existing laws would be respected, and the delta would continue to operate pursuant to the opinions issued by biologists about how much water must keep flowing, undiverted by pumping, in order to protect salmon and other species, such as the delta smelt. Unlike earlier drafts that actually mandated sustained levels of pumping, the bill would instead require water officials to justify any decision to reduce pumping by showing the data on which they relied.
Between the lines of this bill and earlier drafts it is easy to read frustration, on the part of farmers, water agencies and Feinstein herself, with the current decision-making process on how best to abide by environmental laws and court orders to protect fish species. Environmentalists argue that science and scientists should be allowed to do their work unimpeded by politics. Fine, water agencies say, but those scientists can be a little more aggressive about keeping up with constantly changing conditions in the water so pumping can be maximized whenever it won’t cause fish any actual harm.
Much of the fight comes down to details only water lawyers could love, and raises the prospect of lawsuits seeking to interpret Feinstein’s language in favor of either fish or farms. And that’s a shame, because the bill also presents the prospect of badly needed investment in habitat restoration and species protection, as well as recycling projects that would go a long way toward taking pressure off the delta to supply urban areas like Los Angeles. Proposals that are stuck in Congress today would no longer need individual authorization. More than 100 recycling and desalination projects could be funded and move forward.
Even now, as El Niño precipitation (although so far underwhelming in Southern California) refills Northern California’s reservoirs, the state must look ahead to a future with a diminished Sierra snowcap, less water available for import to Los Angeles and neighboring urban areas, an urgent need for recycling and an even more urgent need to keep as much water as possible available for the species that are nearing extinction. Feinstein’s bill might be considered a constructive step in that direction — were it not for the fact that House Republicans are seeing it as a step the other way.
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San Diego Union-Tribune
Water war: Time for Congress to compromise
Sen. Dianne Feinstein has spent two years trying to fashion a bill that would help California deal with its drought, but she has never been able to come up with a proposal that can bridge the gaps between Central Valley Republicans and her fellow Northern California Democrats. This week, she’s unveiled new legislation that just might prove the basis of a reasonable compromise.
Feinstein’s 184-page bill would give state and federal officials more authority in deciding how much water should be pumped from the Central Valley Project or the State Water Project and provided to farmers and cities — easing limits on how much water can be taken from the imperiled Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta ecosystem and its endangered fish. It would also include measures to help the state retain water from El Niño storms and to promote desalination and water recycling and storage in Western states.
Some Republican lawmakers quickly denounced the measure for not offering more definitive promises of extra water for farmers. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, had an opposite take, questioning the wisdom of changing the Delta water status quo.
But House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, appears to think that Feinstein has taken a meaningful step toward addressing GOP concerns. And Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, quickly offered his support.
We hope this interest in constructive behavior carries the day. California needs help from Congress, not yet another display of gridlock.
Next editorial: How the Pentagon can fight global warming
Los Angeles Times
Proposal would shift bullet train funding for use on new water projects
The state’s powerful agriculture industry and its political allies are gathering signatures for a November ballot initiative that would grab bond money earmarked for California’s bullet train and use it instead for new water projects.
Supporters believe the measure taps two politically powerful sentiments: growing public concern about the state’s future water supply amid a historic drought and increasing opposition to the high speed rail project, which is behind schedule and over budget.
Unlike past grass-roots efforts to kill the high speed rail project, the new proposed initiative has $2 million set aside for a signature-gathering campaign, backers say. And it has moved with such speed that it is barely on potential opponents’ radar screens.
Fierce opposition certainly will come from rail proponents, the construction industry and environmental groups — which have deep commitments to preserving the $68-billion transportation project as well as existing water policy.
The initiative calls for the reallocation of about $8 billion in remaining rail system bonds approved by voters in 2008 and $2.7 billion previously approved for water storage under Proposition 1 in 2014.
Half that money would go to specific projects, including raising Shasta Dam by 18.5 vertical feet, expanding the San Luis Reservoir, building a new reservoir near the Sacramento River and a new storage system on the San Joaquin River.
The other half of the funding is not designated, but could be tapped for such projects as expanding the capture of storm runoff in urban areas.
In addition, the measure would make substantial changes to state water law via a constitutional amendment, setting domestic water use and irrigation as the first- and second- highest priorities — ahead of environmental conservation.
“Water is more important than rail,” said George Runner, a member of the state Board of Equalization who authored the proposition along with Sen. Bob Huff (R-San Dimas).
But the state, said rail authority spokeswoman Lisa Marie Alley, would not only lose jobs, but may have to pay back billions of dollars in federal grants if it loses the bond money.
The effort is being run by the California Water Alliance, a Central Valley nonprofit backed by farmers. The group has hired Michael Arno — who runs one of the nation’s best-known petitioning companies — to gather the 585,000 valid voter signatures needed. Arno said he has 500 to 700 people in the field on any given day collecting signatures, along with volunteers from Central Valley groups opposed to the rail project.
Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of the group, said it has commitments to meet a $2-million budget for the signature campaign. The secretary of state’s campaign fundraising website shows much less, about $250,000 in receipts since Jan. 1.
“Two million dollars is real,” Runner said. “That is what we need to be able to get it on the ballot.”
If the measure does qualify, California’s $53-billion-a-year agriculture industry will probably haul out checkbooks to support it.
But the nation’s biggest engineering and construction firms would probably do the same thing to defend the billions of dollars expected to flow their way for the bullet train, which began construction in the Central Valley last year and is more than two years behind schedule.
The building industry underwrote the campaign to persuade the public to pass the bonds.
In addition, Gov. Jerry Brown has a campaign fund of more than $20 million, which he could use to defend what has become his signature project. Brown’s office declined to comment on the proposition.
Huff said he doubted Brown would fully commit those funds, noting that the governor was deeply interested in two other prospective ballot propositions and may recognize the problems he faces keeping high speed rail on track.
“Even he has to recognizing the waning support,” Huff said. “At some point, when you have a losing hand, you have to fold.”
A recent poll by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution found that 53% of voters would approve of shifting the rail bonds to water projects.
The $2 million collected so far to fund the proposition has come from unidentified agriculture interests in the Central Valley, where thousands of acres of land have been left fallow as water allocations have been slashed in recent years. The industry is also deeply resentful of the rail project’s impact on farms and processing plants.
Along every major highway in the Central Valley, signs plead for more water with slogans like: as “Crops grow where water flows.”
Environmental groups long have supported the bullet train and would strongly oppose the dam construction called for under the proposed initiative. They also certainly would dispute a constitutional amendment that downgraded the environment’s claim to water.
However, environmentalists also are growing weary of the high-speed rail project’s use of greenhouse gas fees — given that the train may not reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the state for decades to come.
The Sierra Club is on record opposing most of the projects that the proposal would fund.
Union positions on the measure are not clear. Although they have strongly supported the bullet train, unions may be indifferent as to whether jobs are produced by dams or a rail project. Labor has other competing interests.
“I don’t know if we will get involved in the fight,” said Robbie Hunter, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California.
If passed, the ballot measure would create a nine-member board, appointed by regional water management agencies, that would control spending decisions.
Bettencourt said the proposal’s guiding principle is more water for every use.
“Conservation communities will get more water than they did before,” she said. “Environmental justice communities will get better water quality.”
But Jim Earp, a member of the California Transportation Commission who led the rail bonds campaign, said the water measure could have a difficult time because its backers were greedy.
“They have basically a deeply flawed measure,” Earp said. “They couldn’t resist overreaching. They couldn’t resist the temptation to rewrite water laws to benefit corporate farmers who are going to underwrite the campaign.”
The other critical issue, Earp said, was that water projects traditionally have been paid for largely by users — whether agricultural or residential.
“They are trying to shift the cost of water from users to taxpayers,” Earp said. “They might as well throw their money into one of the rivers they want to dam. All you have to do is create enough confusion and doubt in the voters’ minds that it won’t pass the smell test.”
Runner said the opposite was true, that voters will see the proposal’s inherent logic.
“This comes at a time when everybody is aware of the water problem,” Runner said. “You have water rationing and you are paying more for water. The average person doesn’t get high speed rail.”
firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Rvartabedian
Obama orders creation of new national monuments in California
By Michael Doyle
President Barack Obama on Friday set aside 1.8 million acres of Southern California desert for protection, using his sometimes controversial executive power to designate three new national monuments.
In a long-anticipated decision, Obama designated the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains national monuments in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
“The California desert is a cherished and irreplaceable resource for the people of Southern California,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said.
The federal government already owns the affected lands, and Jewell noted that “valid existing” uses, including by the U.S. military, can continue.
Obama is designating the new national monuments using powers accorded presidents under the 1906 Antiquities Act. The new monuments join others already created in California, including the Carrizo Plains, Cesar E. Chavez and Giant Sequoia national monuments.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a long-time champion of desert protection, had introduced legislation for the national monuments but a Republican-controlled Congress did not appear likely to move the public lands bill.
“Thanks to the leadership of President Obama and Senator Feinstein, these monuments will allow future generations to explore and enjoy the beauty of the desert for years to come,” Cathedral City Mayor Stan Henry said in a statement.
The Sand to Snow National Monument covers 154,000 acres. The Mojave Trails National Monument spans 1.6 million acres between Barstow and Needles, Calif, some of which is already designated wilderness. The Castle Mountains area is 21,000 acres, surrounded by the existing Mojave National Preserve.
Some past presidential national monument designations, including President Bill Clinton’s election-year designation of the Giant Sequoia National Monument, in 2000, have prompted sharp retorts and congressional oversight hearings by unhappy Republicans.
Michael Doyle: 202-383-0006, @MichaelDoyle10, email@example.com
Marin Independent Journal
Point Reyes ranches could be a battle for West Marin’s ‘soul’
By Dick Spotswood
For years everyone involved in the West Marin scene denied there was any desire to eject or limit cattle ranching within the boundaries of the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Marinites were assured by those successfully fighting to shut the Lunny family’s oyster farm that the effort wasn’t a preliminary step toward closing the peninsula’s historic cattle and dairy ranches.
That fiction has now evaporated.
A lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by a trio of environmental groups — the Resource Renewal Institute, Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project — whose object is to end or greatly restrict cattle grazing in the park.
It’s another step by a faction of the green movement that’s long been frustrated by any private use within the park. Their dream, exemplified by the oyster farm fight, is for Point Reyes to be wilderness.
It’s a form of utopianism that has much appeal to a segment of the green community that hails mostly from East Marin, San Francisco and urban America. What for some is the ideal, for others — longtime ranching families and the Hispanic community that’s thrived working in agriculture and ranching — is a potential disaster.
The impetus for the suit is the U.S. Department of the Interior’s updated Ranch Management Plan which should be unveiled this fall.
After the Lunnys lost their lease, senior Interior Department officials made it clear that they did not intend to evict the cows and steers.
The National Park Service’s accommodation to the ranching status quo led Chance Cutrano of Mill Valley-based Resource Renewal Institute to say, “What’s really needed is a plan for the ranches to fit into the park, not how the park fits into the ranches.” One goal of the litigation is to force their former Interior Department allies into conducting a full environmental impact statement highlighting the long-term implications of all park uses.
Ranching critics wrongly relegate to history’s dustbin the impetus behind the late Rep. Clem Miller’s 1962 legislation creating the Point Reyes National Seashore. The goal was protecting the peninsula’s ranches from real estate speculators.
That vision galvanized those who valued the sustainable agriculture tradition preserved by Point Reyes’ true guardians, the old ranching families, to support the seashore’s formation.
The tactics of green activists, whose goal is a West Marin version of wilderness, have wide implications. Their efforts to cripple the ranchers’ economic foundation by cutting the size of herds, allowing invasive elk to ravage the cattles’ forage and removing fencing is heard around America.
It exemplifies why there’s much opposition to the acquisition of additional land for national parks.
The ripple effect is seen in opposition by longtime backwoods locals to the proposed Maine Woods National Park. The pledge is that the Maine park will be a high-use facility providing desperately needed tourism jobs. Mainers’ justifiable fear is that those environmentalists who pine for an Allagash wilderness will, as in Point Reyes, ultimately sue with the goal of ejecting private-sector “inholdings.”
While courts are poor forums to resolve public policy disputes, that increasingly common trend won’t discourage advocates on either side of the Point Reyes divide from getting passionately involved.
Fights over seashore-located ranches will inevitably result in hard feelings and divided friendships within the environmental movement. The positive side is that it provides opportunities for East Marinites who value ranching as a last bastion of old Marin to vociferously support Point Reyes’ beleaguered agriculture community.
The dispute will make the bitter Oyster War resemble a kindergarten skirmish. The ranchers versus the wilderness advocates will play out as the 21st century’s battle for West Marin’s soul.
Columnist Dick Spotswood of Mill Valley writes about local politics on Sundays and Wednesdays in the IJ. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Organic diet cuts pesticide exposure in children, UC Berkeley study finds
By Alison F. Takemura
BOULDER CREEK — Organic food matters to Camila Torres, so grappling with its higher prices has made her resourceful.
When the Boulder Creek resident makes baby food for her 1-year-old, Liliana, she tosses prepackaged, frozen organic vegetables from Trader Joe’s into a blender, adds a little water, then purees and warms up the mush before “airplaning” a spoonful into her daughter’s mouth.
Torres wants her two girls to grow up on organic food — and frozen products help her afford it.
“I try to find any way within my means to keep potentially harmful things from entering their little bodies,” said Torres, 28, an independent contractor who works with a company that captions videos.
A new scientific study supports her instincts, documenting that organic food can substantially lower pesticide exposure in children from low-income families in both urban and rural areas.
But traces of pesticides were higher than in previous studies involving middle-income, suburban children, suggesting that kids from cities and farming communities may be getting exposed via their environments as well as their diets.
For the peer-reviewed study, researchers at the UC Berkeley Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health analyzed pesticides and their breakdown products in the urine of low-income Latino children: 20 from Oakland’s Fruitvale district and 20 from the rural Salinas Valley.
Researchers analyzed pesticides and their breakdown products in the children’s urine for four days on their normal diet, seven days on an organic one and five more days after reverting to a conventional diet. For the organic phase, the researchers replaced the children’s normal food with organic products: fruits and vegetables, as well as items such as bread, eggs, juices and snacks.
Comparing a conventional diet with an organic one, the researchers found that traces of pesticides dropped substantially during the organic phase of the study. Breakdown products declined up to 49 percent for a class of pesticides called organophosphates.
Past research links these insecticides to health problems, including respiratory disease and higher rates of attention deficit disorder in children.
A 2011 study by the same UC Berkeley research group found that when pregnant women were exposed to organophosphates, their children’s IQs were an average seven points lower than other 7-year-olds.
Whether the pesticide levels found in the latest research levels are harmful is an open question, according to one of the study’s lead authors, Lesliam Quirs-Alcal, an assistant professor of applied environmental health at the University of Maryland.
NO REGS IN PLACE
Regulatory standards simply don’t exist for these chemical traces, said Liza Oates, a food and health researcher at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. And a lack of sufficient data makes it impossible to know whether the levels are safe, she said.
Instead, “the way the system is set up, the onus is very much on the consumer,” Oates said.
Quirs-Alcal underscored that the study results don’t mean parents should avoid giving their children fruits and vegetables that aren’t certified organic.
“We’re having an obesity epidemic,” she said. “We need to give kids a more well-balanced diet.”
To rinse off potentially harmful residues, she recommends washing produce “really well” before eating it.
The study also revealed that different demographic groups aren’t exposed to pesticides equally. Previously, studies have shown that organic food can slash pesticide levels to undetectable amounts in middle-income, largely white kids in suburban neighborhoods, Quirs-Alcal said. But in the new study of poorer Latino children, levels of the chemicals lingered. The additional exposure could be coming from their environment — for example, drifting from fields nearby or sprayed to fight insect infestations in substandard housing, she said.
The popularity of organic food in the U.S. is on the rise. According to a 2015 report by the Department of Agriculture, sales from organic farms have climbed 72 percent since 2008.
But cost can deter parents from totally adopting an organic diet. According to Consumer Reports, organic food typically costs 47 percent more than conventional.
“I really much prefer organic, but what stops me is the price,” said Torres, the Boulder Creek mother. “I hope to switch to totally organic when my (economic) situation changes, or the price drops.”
For now, she not only relies on less expensive, frozen produce but also buys organic versions of products more likely to carry the risk of high pesticide exposure. While she may opt for some conventional produce, “I don’t buy anything nonorganic like berries where you eat the peel,” Torres said. “I try to balance the price like that.”
Mayenne Donkervoort, a farmer at the organic Windmill Farm in Moss Landing, said she thinks organic food is worth the expense.
“The way my partner and I think of it is it’s our priority,” said the mother of two. And organics aren’t expensive compared to some items people commonly buy, she contended, pointing to a small yellow squash that she’s selling at the farmers market.
“That costs 50 cents to a dollar,” she said. “But we spend $3 to $4.50 on a latte.”
Oates said she recommends that consumers look for products where their dollars can buy the most protection. For example, an annual list produced by the Environmental Working Group, a watchdog group based in Washington, spotlights the fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of persistent pesticides detected by the USDA: the so-called Dirty Dozen.
“If you’re going to buy those foods, probably buy those organic,” Oates said.
The Environmental Working Group also puts out a list of produce with the lowest potential pesticide exposure: the Clean 15. If your household budget is an issue in food selection, then organic versions of those foods are less important to buy, Oates said.
Researcher Quirs-Alcal said she would like more studies done — particularly on children exposed to multiple pesticides at once — to help parents decide what to feed their families.
“Children’s research is key,” she said. “They’re very vulnerable to exposure because they’re still developing.”
The Dirty Dozen, Clean 15
The most contaminated with pesticides.
. Cherry tomatoes.
. Snap peas.
. Sweet bell peppers.
The least contaminated with pesticides.
. Sweet corn.
. Sweet peas (frozen).
. Sweet potatoes.