Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Los Angeles Times
Sen. Dianne Feinstein pushes Senate subcommittee for water bill to address California’s drought
By Sarah D. Wire
El Niño’s rains didn’t end California’s drought, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein urged Senate colleagues Tuesday to hurry and find a compromise on a package of bills to address the water crisis in the West.
“There appears to be no immediate end in sight,” Feinstein said. “The drought is going to continue through next year.”
Feinstein testified Tuesday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Water and Power Subcommittee about her proposal, which includes short-term drought relief for California and long-term water projects for more than a dozen Western states.
The rain and snow brought by El Niño over the winter eased but did not alleviate California’s four-year drought.
The bill attempts to respond to the Golden State’s water crisis, balancing preserving waterways and protecting endangered species such as the Delta smelt in the north against agricultural needs and drying wells in the Central Valley and Southern California.
California’s congressional delegation has long wrangled with what role the federal government should play in addressing the state’s water issue.
The 184-page bill does not mandate how much water should be pumped from the Central Valley Project or the State Water Project, which each move water from Northern California to farms and cities in the south. Those decisions would be left in the hands of state and federal officials.
For the short term, the legislation includes provisions aimed at capturing water from winter storms. It would allow water agencies to increase pumping for more of the year, and they would no longer be required to pay back the increase by reducing pumping later.
For long-term water needs, Feinstein’s bill proposes $1.3 billion for Western states for desalination, recycling and storage.
Her proposal is one of several drought bills the Senate is considering. The subcommittee on Tuesday did not act on the bill.
Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has indicated that she wants a water bill that would benefit all the Western states facing a drought, and several subcommittee members spoke Tuesday about compiling various proposals to create a comprehensive water bill.
House Republicans passed their proposal to address California’s water needs last year. The bill, sponsored by Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford), focuses on funneling more water to San Joaquin Valley growers by reducing the amount used to support endangered fish populations.
“The House has passed a bill that I don’t believe, candidly, can pass the Senate. So, our goal has been to craft legislation that could pass the Senate and then hopefully be able to conference with the House,” Feinstein told the subcommittee.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said when Feinstein’s bill was filed in February that he hoped the Senate would pass it so the House and Senate could meet to reconcile the two plans. But the full Senate has not taken up her proposal.
California’s House Democrats are not all on board with Feinstein’s newest attempt.
Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) on Tuesday filed House Resolution 5247, which is identical to Feinstein’s measure. But eight Bay Area Democrats, along with members from Oregon and Washington, released a statement saying they have major concerns with the bills.
“This legislation’s modification of environmental laws not only sets a troubling precedent, but also pressures federal and state agencies to increase diversions from an increasingly damaged ecosystem that is close to a devastating collapse,” the statement read.
The lawmakers also said they oppose the Senate passing Feinstein’s bill and reconciling it with Valadao’s, saying “any legislation that emerges from a conference would not be acceptable to many of the diverse stakeholders in our home states.”
The federal agencies and advocacy groups testifying Tuesday called the proposal a good step forward.
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Estevan Lopez told the subcommittee Tuesday that the bureau was “confident and comfortable with the measured approach” in Feinstein’s bill. But in his written testimony to the committee, Lopez warned that the bureau was concerned the bill’s text contains ambiguities that could lead to new lawsuits over the Endangered Species Act.
He said in the testimony that Feinstein’s bill codifies the flexibility the bureau already has authority to exercise regarding pumping levels during droughts, it doesn’t add to it. He also said the bureau would probably oppose efforts to add additional room to maneuver within the Endangered Species Act to make Feinstein’s bill more like Valadao’s.
Timothy Quinn, executive director of the Assn. of California Water Agencies, told the committee that the nearly 430 public agencies he represents see Feinstein’s bill as headed in the right direction.
The amount of water that might be retained if Feinstein’s bill becomes law, he said, was “a good down payment on California’s drought.”
Dan Keppen, executive director of Family Farm Alliance, which advocates for access to water for irrigation, urged Congress to reconcile the Feinstein and Valadao bills.
“Two separate bills are of absolutely no value to a parched West,” he said. “What is needed is a single bill that can be enacted by Congress and signed into law by the president.”
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Read more about the 55 members of California’s delegation at latimes.com/politics
Woodland Daily Democrat
Congress takes another swing at state’s water infrastructure
By Jim Smith
Congress could be taking another swing at modernizing the state’s water management policies to provide both short- and long-term solutions, under legislation introduced by 3rd District Congressman John Garamendi.
Whether the package introduced Tuesday will make it through Congress, however, is anyone’s guess. California lawmakers have been trying for the last three years to produce a plan that would deal with the state’s drought without success.
Meanwhile, in related action, the California Farm Bureau Federation urged the U.S. Senate to take up drought legislation.
On Tuesday, at the U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on Western drought legislation, Farm Bureau representatives, urged a “prompt markup of a bill for consideration by the full Senate.”
“As another dry summer looms before us, we need the Senate to finalize and pass drought legislation to complement the drought bill already passed by the House of Representatives,” CFBF President Paul Wenger said.
“Californians saw a vivid example of the need for action this past winter,” Wenger said. “Trillions of gallons of water generated by El Niño storms passed through our rivers and out to sea. At least some of that water should have been captured for future human use — and federal drought legislation could help prevent such lost opportunities in future years.”
Wenger said having the Senate bill advance to markup quickly would assure Western residents that Congress will address longstanding issues like the construction of dams, specifically the proposed Sites Reservoir near Maxwell.
“In an election year, people want their representatives to act on matters that affect their livelihoods and the environment around them,” he said. “Drought has plagued California, and human action has made matters worse by unnecessarily reducing water supplies. It’s time for the Senate to send a drought bill to a conference committee, and for Congress to produce commonsense legislation that helps ease the impact of water shortages in California and the West.”
Most recently state Sen. Dianne Feinstein proposed legislation to provide drought relief, but faced so much opposition that she pulled her support.
Garamendi, whose district abuts 200 miles of the Sacramento River is proposing legislation that would specifically align with Proposition 1, the water bond recently passed by California voters. This allow federal, state and local agencies will be able to fully coordinate on the implementation of the projects funded and authorized by the bill.
Garamendi is running for re-election.
“This legislation will accomplish three vital tasks,” said Garamendi. “First, it will use the latest available science and real-time monitoring of endangered fish to assure their protection while maximizing water deliveries. The operational directives within the bill remain consistent with the Endangered Species Act and existing biological opinions. Second, it will provide short-term relief to the communities hit hardest by California’s ongoing drought. And third, it will fully fund the long-term infrastructure we need to maximize our efficiency and become more resilient to California’s drier climate.”
The bill includes proposals to promote regional water self-sufficiency by helping local agencies develop new water supplies and better manage existing supplies, said David Guy, President of the Northern California Water Association. “In addition to improved water supplies for cities, rural communities and farms, the bill also includes provisions to aid birds along the Pacific flyway and promote the recovery of endangered Sacramento Valley salmon runs. We encourage Congress to include these measures in any final drought relief legislation.”
Mark Hennelly, Vice-President of Legislative Affairs and Public Advocacy for the California Waterfowl Association, said: “The bill provides real, and much needed, help to California’s national wildlife refuges and state wildlife management areas. The bill also provides relief to California’s farmers, without taking water away from migratory waterfowl.”
The language of the bill mirrors that of S. 2533, which had been introduced in the Senate by Feinstein. There’s no indication whether the California Farm Bureau has weighed in on Garamendi’s proposal.
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Greenhouse gas emissions from this surprising source could doom the Paris climate accord goal
By Darryl Fears
By now, almost anyone can pick the world’s biggest polluters out of a lineup: power plants, automobile tailpipes and factories. Together they push nearly 70 percent of heat trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Not surprisingly, the trio drew considerable attention during the late 2015 Paris climate talks to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit, by the end of the century.
But a new study released Tuesday says the agreement reached by governments after the United Nations talks will fail if they fail to confront another major source of greenhouse gas emissions: agriculture. Based on some estimates, meat, dairy and crop production emit as much greenhouse gas pollution in the form of methane and nitrous oxide as automobiles emit carbon. The study said farm emissions must fall by a billion tons per year by 2030.
According to the study, current regulations for agriculture will fall up to 5 percent short of what’s needed. “This research is a reality check,” said Eva Wollenberg, leader of the CCAFS Low Emissions Development research program at the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics. “Countries want to take action on agriculture, but the options currently on offer won’t make the dent in emissions needed to meet the global targets agreed to in Paris.”
The U.N.’s current solutions call for more water efficiency in rice production, better forestry practices and lowering food waste. But the study’s authors said governments will have to do better than that. The study advocates identifying specific breeds of cattle that produce less methane, along with a dietary inhibitor that reduce the gas by more than 25 percent.
The study, two years in the making, was published in the journal Global Change Biology. Its more than 20 authors represent research institutions from around the world, including the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, the French National Institute for Agricultural Research in Paris, the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, Philippines, and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture in Cali, Colombia.
“Part of the purpose is to stimulate people to think about these options,” Wollenberg said. “I think it just takes the political will.”
On Earth Day last month, Secretary of State John F. Kerry and the leaders of more than 170 nations signed an agreement to lower greenhouse gas emissions at the U.N. headquarters in New York, “the largest number of countries ever to sign an international agreement in a single day,” Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on the occasion.
Ban called the global effort to fight global warming “a race against time.”
But the effort will fall short without “massive investment, information sharing and technical support to enable a global-scale transition” to address emissions from agriculture, according to a statement from the University of Vermont announcing the study. Agriculture had a 300 million ton carbon footprint in 2012 from food waste alone.
“Promising technical innovations on the horizon include recently developed methane inhibitors that reduce dairy cow emissions by 30 percent without affecting milk yields, breeds of cattle that produce lower methane and varieties of cereal crops that release less nitrous oxide,” the statement said.
Wildfire-fighters warned 2016 could be bad in California
By Elaine Thompson
California could face a dangerous and difficult wildfire season in 2016 despite a relatively wet winter, federal officials warned Tuesday.
Most of the rest of the nation is expected to see an average summer, but even that means thousands of wildfires, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said after a briefing from the U.S. Forest Service, which is part of his department.
A five-year drought has left 40 million dead and dried-out trees in California, including 29 million that died last year alone, Vilsack said.
“This creates a tremendous hazard, potential hazard, for fires and firefighting this year,” he said.
An El Nino weather pattern brought near-normal snowfall to parts of California last winter, but its forests need much more rain and snow to recover fully from the drought, Vilsack said.
Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said Southern California didn’t benefit from the El Nino as much as the state’s northern mountains.
He said the effects of drought will continue to kill California’s trees for at least three more years.
Tidwell and Vilsack said the Forest Service – the primary federal wildfire-fighting agency — has 10,000 firefighters ready nationwide, along with more than 350 aircraft and 900 fire trucks.
Wildfires are increasing in number and intensity in the U.S., and the wildfire season has grown by 78 days since 1970, Tidwell said.
Last year, wildfires burned a record 15,800 square miles. Seven Forest Service firefighters died and 4,500 homes were damaged or destroyed.
Vilsack and Tidwell said climate change was responsible for the worsening fires.
“This is not weather,” Tidwell said. “This is climate change. That’s what we’re dealing with.”
Vilsack and Tidwell’s warnings about the 2016 season largely echoed what forecasters at the National Interagency Fire Coordinating Center said two weeks ago when they issued their outlook for the summer months.
They said Hawaii, Alaska, California and other parts of the Southwest face an above-average threat. The potential for significant fires will be below average for much of Texas, the South and the southern Midwest, they said.
Sounding frustrated and impatient, Vilsack repeated his plea Tuesday for Congress to pay the cost of fighting the worst fires from disaster emergency funds, not the Forest Service budget.
The Forest Service says the largest 1 or 2 percent of wildfires account for about 30 percent of the costs.
Firefighting consumed more than half the Forest Service budget last year, draining money from forest management and other programs, Vilsack said. Fires will soon eat up two-thirds of the agency’s budget, he said.
“Congress has an affirmative responsibility and duty to fix this problem,” he said.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said money alone isn’t enough. He said environmental regulations and lawsuits keep the Forest Service from culling enough fire-prone trees from the forests.
Discussion returns on moving salmon above Don Pedro Reservoir
By John Holland
An intriguing and expensive idea – moving salmon to the Tuolumne River stretch just above Don Pedro Reservoir – will return for discussion Thursday.
The Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts will hold their fifth public workshop on the proposed fish passage, which could be a condition of a federal hydropower license.
The system would use motorized ladders, trucks, canals or some other means of getting salmon around Don Pedro, which covers about 30 river miles when full. Speakers at past workshops have said it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, depending on the technology and scope.
Proponents say the system could greatly increase spawning habitat for salmon, which return to their native rivers after a few years in the Pacific Ocean. The Tuolumne segment at issue stretches more than 25 miles from the upper extent of Don Pedro to San Francisco’s diversion point near Yosemite National Park.
Critics say the districts’ water and power customers would bear the cost of the fish passage, which might end up aiding a small number of salmon.
The project would be a condition of a power license for La Grange Reservoir, a small impoundment 2 miles downstream of Don Pedro. The larger reservoir is undergoing a separate licensing process.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is overseeing two years of study on the fish passage, ending in 2017. Experts are looking at the possible designs, cost and benefits – and whether salmon actually swam the upper river before La Grange was completed in 1893. They also are assessing whether the passage would benefit steelhead trout, another oceangoing fish.
Thursday’s agenda includes studies on river flows, spawning gravel, other creatures in the water and socioeconomic issues raised by the proposal.
What: Meeting on possible fish passage on Tuolumne River
When: 10 a.m. to noon Thursday
Where: Modesto Irrigation District, 1231 11th St., Modesto
More information: www.lagrange-licensing.com
John Holland: 209-578-2385, firstname.lastname@example.org
Labor dispute erupts on blueberry farm
By Lois Henry
A labor dispute that erupted on a blueberry farm near McFarland over Monday and Tuesday illustrates the complexities and hardships of a difficult business not just for farm workers, but farmers as well.
At issue is whether 60 cents is a fair price for the strenuous effort to pick a single pound of blueberries.
A majority of workers on the 124-acre Gourmet Blueberry-California LLC farm off of Kyte Road felt it wasn’t fair and walked off the job Monday.
By Tuesday, the UFW had been called and a full-blown protest, replete with iconic red flags and megaphoned cries of “Huelga! Huelga!” ensued.
For Armando Elenes, national vice president of the UFW, the issue wasn’t just the price of 60 cents, it was that the price had changed.
“They’re playing games with the wages, dropping the prices,” he said. “Workers need stability in what they’re paid.”
He said he’d received an overwhelmingly positive response to a petition for a vote to unionize.
Now the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board, which had people at the farm on Tuesday, will verify signatures and, if they’re accepted, a vote could be held within the next 48 hours.
“If they vote to unionize, we will deal with the issue of wages immediately,” Elenes said. “Then we’d probably negotiate a contract during the off-season.”
But the wage issue is exactly where the complexity of farming comes in, according to farm manager Buck Klein, owner of Klein Management Inc.
That’s because growers don’t get a set price for their product.
When crops start to ripen, farmers can get a higher price. As the fruit “comes on” and floods the market, the market reacts by setting a lower price.
That, in turn, means a lower price per pound for workers, said Klein.
“Fresh fruit is a tough market,” he said.
At the beginning of the season, he was able to get a good enough price for his berries that he could pay workers 95 cents per pound.
“Then you have waves of fruit,” he said. “The market drops so we have to lower our wages. But we never go lower than 60 cents a pound.”
But with more fruit ready to pick, workers are able to rack up a lot more pounds in less time, he explained.
Even at 60 cents a pound, he said, workers on Sunday averaged $17.45 per hour for a seven and a half hour day.
Indeed, a printout of Monday’s wages showed one worker earned $165, or $22 an hour. The lowest paid worker on Monday earned $97.87, or $13.05. California’s minimum wage is $10 per hour.
Klein refuted charges from the UFW’s Elenes that he lowered wages in order to boost profits for the farm.
In fact, with the UFW convention coming up and an anticipated visit from former President Bill Clinton, Klein wondered if he was being made into a political scapegoat.
“The market is the market,” he said. “That’s what dictates our prices. Even if there’s a union contract and we negotiate a price with them, it’s the same thing. The market is the market.”
Klein needs about $2.85 per pound on the berries to make a profit.
Right now, they’re selling for about $2.89 to $3.10 depending on a number of factors, including how they’re packaged.
That price pays for everything, the workers in the fields, shipping, packing, marketing, insurance, growing costs, etc.
Klein was frustrated by the week’s events, saying he’s never had a labor issue in the past.
“I think we treat our workers well,” he said. “When we get good prices, we share that with the workers. I want good workers not just for this season but for next year as well.”
Hand-picking is still the best way to harvest blueberries, he explained.
Blueberries don’t ripen all at once. Each bush can be picked seven or eight times as the berries turn at their own pace, Klein said.
There are machines that can do the work. But machines can’t discern ripe berries from green ones, making for a lot of waste and higher losses.
Workers I spoke with were mixed about the wages and how they were treated.
Cristal Carvajal and Anastasia Franco, who were among the protesters, both said 60 cents a pound was just too low to make a decent wage.
They also complained that the farm expects them to work seven days a week without added compensation.
Klein was flummoxed by that complaint.
“Last year, I tried rotating crews so every crew had at least one day off and they all threatened to quit because they didn’t want to lose a day of work,” he said.
He added that he does pay an extra nickel per pound on Sundays.
“That way they are making time and a half.”
Of the approximately 400 workers typically in the fields at Gourmet Blueberry, only 80 or 90 were working on Tuesday.
Some were happy with the wages, saying even at 60 cents a pound, that was more than they could make hourly (a maximum of $600 per week).
Others continued working because they couldn’t afford not to.
“Wages here were good to start, but the price went lower and lower as the season continued,” said Enedina Santiago as she pulled ripe berries from a branch and dropped them into a bucket tied to her chest.
It’s not fair, she said. But “rent and bills don’t wait for you.”
I asked Klein what he anticipated next.
“My gut feeling is, we’ll have to bring in machines but it’ll be too late. We’ll pick a couple more blocks with the crew we have left and abandon the rest.
“We’ll lose a lot of crop. A lot of money.”
One observer told me the fact that so many people were willing to walk off the job speaks of a serious worker shortage.
Indeed, a commenter on the Delano Life Facebook page, which posted photos of the strike early Tuesday morning, used the opportunity to entice people to work for a different labor contractor.
“…come work for Jaguar contracting we need people 10.25 hr 9 hrs a day 6 days a week,” wrote Isaac Nadal.
Several people quickly responded.
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry. Her column runs Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or email email@example.com.
Lois Henry appears on “First Look with Scott Cox” every Wednesday on KERN 1180 AM and 96.1 FM from 9 to 10 a.m. The show is also broadcast live on www.bakersfield.com. You can get your 2 cents in by calling 842-KERN.