Wednesday, January 6, 2016
KFSN TV, Fresno
Farmers welcome series of storms
By Dale Yurong
FRESNO, Calif. — Not much work can get done on valley farms when it rains but growers will take the trade-off.
Farmers are no doubt encouraged by the storms lining up to pass through the valley. But at this point, it is just a good start.
A good soaking was just what Larry Cruff needed in his Selma vineyard. He grows 500 acres of raisin grapes. Cruff explained, “You see no water standing. It’s been raining here all morning and outside a little bit here on the end the water goes down so good here.”
Some of that water was soaking back into the underground aquifer which farmers have been relying on for too long. Cruff said, “We haven’t had any surface water for the last three years now so everything’s been pumped so it’s definitely having an impact on what we’re doing. I’ve probably drilled six or seven new wells in the last three years.”
The wet fruit and muddy orchards meant a break in the citrus harvest. But farmers hoped to see the promise of El Nino fulfilled this season. Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Jacobsen said, “Believe it or not when we go above those 100% years and we’re able to really put water back into the ground we can make some significant improvements to the groundwater levels.”
But a few storms can’t undo almost four years of drought in California. Jacobsen said, “We’re not getting out of this thing year.”
Slow, steady rain remained on the wish list.
Farmers were eager to finally give their groundwater pumps a break. Cruff said, “It’s going to take weeks and weeks of this kind of weather to get anything going. It’s all great but we’re nowhere close to where we need to be.”
Cruff said more storms were needed to recharge aquifers, ponding basins and fill reservoirs.
Water agencies balk at Stanislaus County’s quest for groundwater grants
By Garth Stapley
Stanislaus County’s three largest water districts have failed to get squarely behind county leaders’ latest idea for addressing groundwater problems.
The county is asking state water officials for hefty grants to help pay for expensive groundwater studies. Leaders asked the county’s nine cities, various water agencies and other entities to send support letters. They received several, but got a cold shoulder from the Modesto, Turlock and Oakdale irrigation districts.
MID and TID think that “years of good work” done by them and other water agencies should serve as a starting point for groundwater policy, rather than the county charting a new course, the districts’ general managers wrote in a reply to the county’s request for support.
OID is more concerned with the money that all partners would be asked to contribute toward studies to attract matching state grants. An OID report questions why water districts should pay anything because their river water replenishes aquifers while cities’ pumping strains them.
“This grant application is a county program. Why isn’t the county funding its own program?” reads the report.
That kind of response reminds county Supervisor Terry Withrow, he said, of the resistance water agencies put up when the county formed its Water Advisory Committee in early 2014.
“People in silos want to be sure we’re not treading on their ground,” Withrow said. “Every now and then, the ‘me, me, me’ (refrain) rears its ugly head.”
The county hopes to land two state grants: One would provide $250,000 toward the $585,000 total cost of an environmental impact report on a new county well-permitting process. It’s meant to help “counties with stressed basins.”
But among the eight counties in the San Joaquin Valley, Stanislaus is the only one with basins that are not considered at high risk of “critical overdraft,” or sucking out groundwater at alarming rates, perhaps leading to land-sinking subsidence. In a Dec. 8 letter declining to support the county’s grant application, MID and TID credit “our sustainable management practices.” MID, for example, has spared Modesto from pumping millions of gallons each year by turning Tuolumne River water into tap water, and TID hopes to do the same for Turlock, Ceres and south Modesto.
If state officials approve the application, local cities, water agencies and businesses would be asked to cover the remaining cost. “OID is not in a position to meet the funding needs of a county program … that serves no direct benefit to OID,” its staff report says, adding, “The first burden to pay should come from those who are contributing to the problem.”
City leaders with Modesto, Turlock, Ceres, Patterson, Newman and Riverbank sent letters of support, as did the county’s Water Advisory Committee, several small agencies and the Eastside Water District, which is exploring a recharge project of its own. Not lining up behind the grant application were the large water districts and east side cities of Oakdale, Waterford and Hughson.
The second application, which has yet to be submitted, would pay a consultant about $350,000 to study places best suited for groundwater recharge basins to capture stormwater that otherwise runs down rivers to the ocean.
“It’s a lot of money, but not if you divide it by 16 or 20 partners,” said Keith Boggs, county assistant executive officer.
To win and shore up support, county leaders this week will start paying visits to local agencies. OID General Manager Steve Knell said the county won’t get to him and OID board Chairman Steve Webb until February.
The OID board on Tuesday unanimously agreed to lend moral but not financial support.
Withrow said he hopes fears will subside as the county explains things in person.
“I appreciate their concerns, but we’re all in this together,” he said Tuesday. “Part of the grant process is making sure this benefits everyone. Sometimes we have to help them see the bigger picture.”
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390, firstname.lastname@example.org
Palm Springs Desert Sun
IID presses California to pay for Salton Sea fixes
By Sammy Roth
There’s been a lot of progress at the Salton Sea in the last year, but local officials and activists aren’t taking anything for granted.
In what’s becoming a regular ritual, representatives from the Imperial Irrigation District and other groups trekked to Sacramento on Tuesday to make the case for action on the Salton Sea. They urged state officials to fulfill their promise to pay for fixes at California’s largest lake, and to support geothermal energy development, which many see as critical to generating restoration funds.
The State Water Resources Control Board hosted a workshop Tuesday in response to a petition from the Imperial Irrigation District. The petition threatens to cut off promised water transfers to the Coachella Valley and San Diego County if the state doesn’t live up to its decade-old promise to restore the Salton Sea — a threat that observers credit with sparking a flurry of action over the last year.
While Tuesday’s discussion played out in front of the state water board, Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature will ultimately decide how much money California antes up for the Salton Sea. Several speakers Tuesday said they’re eager to see Brown’s next budget proposal, which is scheduled to be released Thursday.
“I do think we’re going to have to deal with the financing issue really quick,” said water board vice chair Frances Spivy-Weber, who serves on the Salton Sea task force that Brown convened last year. “Once the governor’s budget is out, we’re going to have to reconvene very quickly and look at what we have, and what are the out-of-the-box ideas that we might be pursuing?”
The Salton Sea has been shrinking for years as farm runoff declines, threatening fish and birds and exposing vast swaths of dry lakebed covered in hazardous dust. Tens of thousands of acres are expected to be exposed over the next few decades, creating serious air pollution in the Imperial and Coachella valleys as strong winds blow particulate matter and toxic chemicals into the air.
“Without action, not only will there be an environmental catastrophe, but a public health tragedy. It simply cannot happen,” Ralph Cordova, Imperial County’s executive officer, said Tuesday.
Over the last year, local officials have coalesced around short- and medium-term plans to stave off the worst health and environmental impacts of the lake’s slow collapse, which will accelerate when Colorado River flows are cut off in 2018. Those plans involve building a series of wetlands and canals to ring the current shoreline, surrounding a smaller, saltier center lake.
But it’s unclear who will pay for those projects, which could end up costing several billion dollars. And there’s little agreement on what a long-term strategy should look like, or how much it would cost. Local activists and some elected officials hope to see water imported from Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, although many experts have dismissed that idea as impractical and prohibitively expensive.
Imperial Irrigation District General Manager Kevin Kelley called on state officials to help develop — and ultimately pay for — a long-term restoration plan, even as shorter-term projects to address the immediate crisis move forward.
“We can live with incremental projects. We can accept incremental funding. But we can’t just abide an incremental vision,” Kelley said. “It’s the vision thing that we’re short on.”
Kelley also mentioned a recent report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which concluded that new geothermal plants might generate $210 million, at best, to support the Salton Sea. A previous report commissioned by the Imperial Irrigation District estimated that geothermal developers could contribute as much as $2 billion, a number that lifted the hopes of Salton Sea advocates.
The new report, though, noted that building geothermal plants is so expensive that development near the Salton Sea has already ground to a halt. Requiring energy companies to pay for Salton Sea projects, researchers said, could make development impossible.
The latest study, Kelley argued, underscores the need for state officials to provide more support for geothermal. Advocates have long argued that major utilities and the California Public Utilities Commission are biased against the technology. While it’s more expensive than solar and wind, geothermal plants can generate clean energy around the clock — which solar and wind farms cannot.
If California wants to meet its 50 percent clean energy mandate, Kelley said, it will need geothermal.
“Geothermal has a place at the Salton Sea, and it has a place in the toolbox to address the problems of the Salton Sea,” he said. “The Salton Sea ought to be the climate-change proving grounds for California.”
Sarah Friedman, a senior representative at the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, echoed that assessment. While geothermal has higher up-front costs than wind and solar, she said, it also has major benefits, including the possibility of aiding Salton Sea restoration. Geothermal could also help California avoid the need for polluting gas-fired power plants, which often supplement intermittent wind and solar farms.
The public utilities commission, Friedman said, needs to do a better job of calculating geothermal’s benefits.
“There’s a huge opportunity for geothermal at the Salton Sea…but we’re really going to need further action from the state to make it happen,” she said.
Sammy Roth writes about energy and water for The Desert Sun. He can be reached at email@example.com, (760) 778-4622 and @Sammy_Roth
Bees Hurt by Some Crop Pesticides, But Not All
The EPA says its study shows bees are harmed in some cases, but not all, when it’s used.
By Seth Borenstein
WASHINGTON (AP) — A major pesticide harms honeybees when used on cotton and citrus but not on other big crops like corn, berries and tobacco, the Environmental Protection Agency found.
It’s the first scientific risk assessment of the much-debated class of pesticides called neonicotinoids and how they affect bees on a chronic long-term basis. The EPA found in some cases the chemical didn’t harm bees or their hives but in other cases it posed a significant risk. It mostly depended on the crop, a nuanced answer that neither clears the way for an outright ban nor is a blanket go-ahead for continued use. Both the pesticide maker and anti-pesticide advocates were unhappy with report.
The issue is important because honeybees are in trouble and they do more than make honey. They are crucial to our food supply: About one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination.
Some advocacy groups target neonicotinoids — the chemical works on insects’ central nervous systems and are often called “neonics” — and call for bans on the chemicals. Recent scientific studies have pointed to problems and pesticide makers dispute those studies and this one from the EPA. Europe banned the pesticide class, and then lifted the ban
Don’t expect any future action on this pesticide to solve the dwindling bee problem because it’s not just this pesticide alone, but a complicated puzzle that includes lack of food for bees, parasites, disease and the way different pesticides and fungicides interact, said bee expert May Berenbaum at the University of Illinois.
“Anything to reduce stress on bees is helpful,” said University of Maryland entomologist Dennis vanEngelsdorp. “I am not convinced that neonics are a major driver of colony loss.”
Before it acts on a pesticide, EPA wanted more specific and targeted research. The risk report released Wednesday is the first of four on this class of chemicals. The study was done by the EPA and California’s environmental agency, with a similar one done by Canada.
EPA analysis of detailed tests found a clear level of concentration of the pesticide imidacloprid, the most common neonicotinoid, in which things start to go awry. If nectar brought back to the hive from worker bees had more than 25 parts per billion of the chemical, “there’s a significant effect,” namely fewer bees, less honey and “a less robust hive,” said Jim Jones, EPA’s assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention.
But if the nectar chemical level was below 25 parts per billion, it was as if there were no imidacloprid at all, with no ill effects, Jones said. It was a clear line of harm or no harm, he said.
Levels depended on the crop, Jones said. While nectar of cotton and citrus fruits were above the harmful concentrations, the levels were not harmful for corn — the nation’s top crop by far — most vegetables, berries and tobacco. Other crops weren’t conclusive and need more testing, including legumes, melons, tree nuts and herbs.
Also, the controversial practice of treating seeds with the chemical seemed not to harm bees, Jones said.
The problem crops of cotton and citrus are No. 7 and 9 in U.S. production value in 2014, according to Agriculture Department statistics.
The study looked just at commercial honeybees because they are a good surrogate for all pollinators, Jones said. But Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director of the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity, criticized the agency for ignoring wild bees, like bumblebees, which studies show are much more sensitive to the pesticides, calling the report “weak.”
Jones said this is a draft of a scientific report, not a regulation. After public comments and the report is finalized, then EPA may act.
Imidacloprid-maker Bayer Crop Sciences said EPA “appears to overestimate the potential for harmful exposures in certain crops” and ignore its benefits.
“With hundreds of studies conducted and their demonstrated safe use on farmland across the country, we know more about the safe use of neonics to honeybees than any other pesticide,” Bayer Vice President Dana Sargent said in a statement.
University of Maryland’s vanEngelsdorp said in email that all too often farmers use the pesticide to protect “against pests that are simply very scarce or not found in the landscape. There are studies (including EPA’s) that show no benefit to production when these products are used.”
Last year the EPA proposed banning use of many pesticides that harm bees when crops are in bloom and bees are being used as commercial pollinators and the federal government is also trying to increase wild flower planting to give bees more food.
Honeybees pollinate more than 90 flowering crops, including citrus, peaches, berries, melons, apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus and cucumbers.
County agricultural office to get state funding
By Luis Hernandez
Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner Marilyn Kinoshita said detection and recognition of crop pests receive top priority.
“Anything suspicious is brought in to the staff biologist to be checked,” she said.
Finding a pest at an early stage can help prevent it from spreading, Kinoshita said. Documentation of pest-free crops helps local growers and producers easily ship out local crops.
“The work is done because it’s important for our growers,” she said.
The Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office will receive $187,405 to continue the detection and trapping of crop pests. The Tulare County Board of Supervisors took action on Tuesday, approving a consent agenda item.
Kinoshita said her officer continues to check for the Asian Citrus Psyllid fly, the Melon fruit fly, and the Mediterranean fruit fly, among others. The pests are a threat to county crops, including specialty crops such as peaches, plums, nectarines and avocados. The pests are also a danger to high-cash crops.
Over the summer, county administrators reported the 2014 crop topped $8 billion in sales. According to county administrators, 2014 marked the fourth time Tulare County agricultural sales recorded at more than $8 billion and the fourth consecutive year of record sales.
The state funds will allow the continuation of a program that protects the county’s agricultural economy, county administrators said.
Around Tulare County, there are thousands of pests’ traps, Kinoshita said. The traps area also located within city limits.
“The most risk comes from urban areas,” Kinoshita said.
Even inadvertently, local residents may be responsible for bringing in crop pests while transporting fruit or vegetables from outside the area.
“A lot of people don’t understand the risk,” Kinoshita said.
The funds from the state are retroactive to July. There was a delay in receiving notice. Those are earmarked for the ag commissioner’s 2015-2016 Fiscal Year budget.
Despite the delay in securing the state funding, Kinoshita said her office continued to provide the crop pests’ detection services.
Depending on locations, traps are checked every two weeks to monthly. Even different counties check for different pests. In Tulare County, there are checks for fly pests. In Sacramento County, ag personnel check for beetles, which also present a danger to crops there.
Counties receiving the state funding will provide a working plant and report on pests’ trapping.
“We will submit reports and invoices based on the actions from July 1,  to June 1, ,” Kinoshita said. “It’s month to month.”
Wall Street Journal
The Western Land Revolt
The Bundy siege is wrong, but so is government abuse.
As the FBI seeks to end the citizen takeover of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, it’s worth reflecting on what is behind the rising civil disobedience in the American West. The armed occupation of federal buildings is inexcusable, but so are federal land-management abuses and prosecutorial overreach.
Activists on Saturday broke into an unoccupied building on the 187,000-acre federal refuge in eastern Oregon to protest the imprisonment of two Oregon ranchers. The group’s spokesman is Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy, a Nevadan who in 2014 came to national attention over his standoff with the Bureau of Land Management. The younger Bundy is a political grandstander, and many in Oregon oppose his illegal siege.
The drama is bringing attention to legitimate grievances, especially the appalling federal treatment of the Hammond family. The Hammonds’ problems trace to 1908, when Theodore Roosevelt set aside 89,000 acres around Malheur Lake as a bird refuge. The government has since been on a voracious land-and-water grab, coercing the area’s once-thriving ranchers to sell.
The feds have revoked dozens of grazing permits and raised the price of the few it issues. It has mismanaged the area’s water, allowing ranchlands to flood. It has harassed landowners with regulatory actions that raise the cost of ranching, then has bought out private landowners to more than double the refuge’s size.
The Hammonds are one of the last private owners in the Harney Basin, and they have endured federal harassment over their water rights, the revocation of their grazing permits, restricted access to their property, and prosecutorial abuse.
In 2001 the family told authorities it planned to set a managed fire on its land to fight invasive species. The fire accidently spread over 139 acres of public land before the Hammonds extinguished it. In 2006 the family tried to save its winter feed from a lightning fire by setting “back fires” on its property (a common practice), which burnt an acre of public land.
Years later, in 2011, the feds charged Dwight Hammond and his son Steven with nine counts under the elastic Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. A federal jury found them guilty only of setting the two fires they had admitted to starting, and federal Judge Michael Hogan sentenced the father to three months and the son to a year in prison. He said the federal minimum of five years would not meet “any idea I have of justice, proportionality” and would “shock the conscience.” The feds appealed the sentence and another judge ordered both Hammonds to serve the full five years. They also owe $400,000 in supposed fire-related costs.
Many in rural Oregon view this as a government vendetta. Rusty Inglis, who worked for the Forest Service for 34 years and now runs a local Oregon farm bureau, recently told a trade magazine that it’s “obvious” that “the BLM and the wildlife refuge want that ranch.” The Oregon Farm Bureau called the sentences “gross government overreach.” The ideology of “national” land has become the club to punish private landowners who are the best source of economic stability and conservation.
The Bundy occupation of federal land can’t be tolerated, but the growing Western opposition to government harassment of private landowners ought to be a source of political concern. Ted Cruz and others are right to caution the occupiers against their sit-in, but the federal bureaucracy also needs to be reined in.