Tuesday, June 12, 2007

It has been a long time since I have posted something here. There are two main reasons First, it is not a trivial task to understand what is happening with the delta, what is not happening with water management in California. It takes time, generally more time than any one person should be expected to expend on the issue.

However, I think that I have begun to understand some of it and want to pass that along to any reader who might chance this way. So, here is an index to what I am working on.

  • Just who are the players? There are a plethora of state and federal agencies, non-profit environmental groups, sports associations, community groups and industry advocates, each with a point of view and each with pre-conceived ideas about what the solution should be. Since they all use acronyms when talking to each other, you have to learn the language.
  • Why is so much being made about such a tiny fish? The plight of the tiny delta smelt has become so bad as to be considered endangered. Based on this, a superior court judge in CA ordered that the pumps in Tracy be shut down. Before the appeal on this was heard, the Department of Water Resources (DWR), the California State Agency responsible for water management, shut them down for a few days and then restarted them at 10% of capacity. But why is that one fish so important?
  • What can individuals do in a situation where they have no visible power? In general, all of these discussions are taking place among professionals with differing objectives. Water Districts are deemed to represent the public, but in fact almost never solicit public input. So, where can we, the public, find a leverage point and how do we use it?
  • What are the issues that no one is voicing? Most of the media focuses on the immediate story. The pumps shut down. That was a story. It has immediacy and impact. The delta is sick. That is not a story. They think it too complicated for a public to understand and there are no whale fluke slapping photos to attract our attention. Delta smelt may only be 20mm long. So, they dish out yet another Paris Hilton.
I will work through this in that order. If you want to keep track of what I am getting up, you might want to set up an RSS feed from this site. That way, you will know when I have updated it.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

While some were counting the defeat of Richard Pombo as a victory, there were others who had no time to celebrate. At 8:00 the morning after the election, while others were still pinching themselves to see if it were all still true, those others were in Los Angeles to attend a conference on Visioning the Delta, held at the HQ of the Metropolitan Water District in LA.

Some might find a bit of irony, or even become apprehensive over that choice of locations, as many feel that the Metropolitan Water District is a major contributor to the problem. They have a history of being takers, maybe even as much so as the Taker in Chief, as Stockton Record columnist Mike Fitzgerald labeled Pombo. But, the attitude is still the same. Growth is good, backed by civic boosterism designed to support developer profitability.

The flip side of this is the simple fact that water is an essential component of life and that finite supplies of water must be managed to support many different uses: agriculture, residential living, industry, transportation, recreation and still to maintain a balanced environment. When it gets out of whack in any one area, then everyone has to pay a price and contribute to a solution.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The news about the delta is a bit confusing this week. One day, I read that there is a deal in the work for a flood control bill out of Sacrament. The next day, it is off, then on, then off.

In the middle of all of this, State Senator Don Perata collected a $500,000 contribution to a "committee" that he controls, coming just two days after he had supposedly "killed" the bills.

Yesterday, the Bee Reported that the bills got a second chance. Then today, Daniel Weintraub reported in his insider blog that it appears to be off again.

If you want to know what all of this fuss is about, turn on your television next week and look for the documentary Rising River, Rising Risk, if you happen to have a PBS station that is willing to run it. The people at restorethedelta provided the folloing announcement:

It was just a year ago that Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans causing
the unpredicted spectacle of a major American city buried under water.
With the first anniversary approaching, California Connected's Craig
Miller travels to Sacramento to investigate the current condition of the
city's levees that have recently been under critical review. Even more
primitive than the ones destroyed in Louisiana, the levees in Sacramento
are estimated to cost billions to upgrade and repair. In July,
construction commenced on 29 critical erosion sites, however, since then
the number has risen to 108 sites and continues to rise. These levees
affect local residents as well as Californians statewide. A flood could
not only affect the thousands of new developments along the banks of the
river, but could affect much of the drinking water for much of Southern

California Connected airs on KVIE in Sacramento Fridays at 7:30 pm on
September 8. The series is co-produced by four PBS stations - KCET/Los
Angeles, KPBS/San Diego, KQED/San Francisco and KVIE/Sacramento - and is
broadcast statewide through a unique collaboration with KCSM/San Mateo,
KEET/Eureka, KIXE/Redding, KOCE/Huntington Beach, KRCB/Rohnert Park,
KTEH/San Jose, KVCR/San Bernardino and KVPT/Fresno

Monday, July 31, 2006

Altered Oceans: the LA Times Reports.

This is a must read. The LA Times has just started a 5 part series on our Altered Oceans. If you link the story here with Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, you have a very dismal picture of the future that man is building for himself.

The online story is full of video, graphs, charts. It needs a computer with DSL or cable modem connections to view it, but it is well worth the time to download even if you don't have that.

Then, ask yourself just what should be done to keep the delta from becoming yet another dead zone. Is the decline of certain fish populations the clue we need to be following? I surely think so or I would not be spending so much time on this. Is it going to be easy to solve? Hell no. If it were easy, we would have done it.

In the Delta, we are going to have to realize that there needs to be a way by which agriculture and the environment can coexist. Right now, we have to understand the the flow of nitrates, phosphates (fertilizer) and pesticide run off into delta waters may or may not be the major cause of what we see, but we know deep down that that it has to contribute to the problems.

The rural communities of the San Joaquin Valley are home to some of the most religious people in the country. I hope that they are asking themselves "What would Noah do?"

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Sacramento Bee ran an editorial today regarding Water's coming battle.
When it comes to calibrating water supply and demand, two opposing political philosophies rule. There is the concrete crowd that wants to increase supply. And there is a conservation crowd that seeks to lower the demand.
The while the editorial focuses on the legislative gridlock over increasing supply (build more reserviouse) vs. reducing deman (lower our usage profile) those who have commented on the editorial are focusing on strictly on agricultural subsidies as the cause.

Unfortunately both views oversimplify the issues, and hide the fact that this is not a choice between two opposite policies. Such myopic focus is often only an excuse not to deal with reality, hiding facts behind ideological positions.

Solutions to the problems of water, especially water in the delta, require that we do many things. Not the least of which might be to change the profile of the crops planted by California farmers.

More on this as I figure it out.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Well, the primary race is over and I am doing what I said I would do, calling attention to the conditions in the Delta and suggesting sound solutions to them. The first thing that we have to do is to realize that the waters in the delta are like a toilet. They need flushing, frequently. However, that does not happen enough by nature and we need to be very careful of what we put into thsese waters.

Mike Fitzgerald, a columnist for the Stockton Record, thinks that this is a real issue. He wrote in early May of the "State of river dirty problem."

This morning, I received this notice from the editor of the Fish Sniffer, a fishing magazine for the Western US. I think that we have to make some decisions about the methods of establishing a balance between agricultural necessity and environmental wisdom. We need to have some action on this from someone beside those agricultural interests who oppose all efforts to clean up the mess.
Broad Coalition Urges Water Board To Stop Agribusiness Water Pollution

By Dan Bacher

While municipalities, industry and other water users are subject to water quality standards when they discharge waste water into rivers and streams, agribusiness in the Central Valley and other farming areas of California continue to be exempt from the same pollution controls that others must live by.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board) in July 2003 issued waivers for waste discharges from irrigated farm land, in spite of protests by the Clean Waters/Clean Farms coalition, a wide ranging coalition of fishing, farming and environmental justice organizations

That waiver, adopted in July 2003 under pressure from powerful San Joaquin Valley agribusiness interests, provided for the establishment of “voluntary coalitions” comprised of farmers to establish voluntary programs to address agriculture’s massive pollution of Central Valley waterways.

The Board, in its meeting in Rancho Cordova on June 22-23, will vote whether or not to extend these waivers. Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Carrie McNeil, the Deltakeeper, John Beuttler, spokesman for the Allied Fishing Groups, and others are urging anglers and their supporters to oppose the granting of another waiver for five years.

“Agricultural is the greatest source of unregulated pollution in the Central Valley,” said Jennings. “Agricultural pollution has been unregulated for 40 years. Three years ago the Board granted a waiver for agricultural discharge, relying upon voluntary coalitions and programs to deal with pollution. However, voluntary methods don’t work – if they did we wouldn’t need any civil or criminal codes! If we want to restore Delta and Central Valley fisheries, we must bring the largest source of unregulated discharge under control.”

Agribsiness discharges a “witch’s brew” of herbicides, insecticides, rodenticides, fertilizers and all sorts of nutrients and sediments into Valley waterways, without any regulation or enforcement, according to Jennings. There has been in recent years an amazing amount of “remobilization” of banned toxic chemicals like DDT into valley waterways as land laced with these pesticides is irrigated. Scientists are constantly finding new chemicals and mixtures of chemicals in agricultural waste water.

“One thing is clear,” said Jennings. “Several years of monitoring agriculturally dominated waterways by U.C. Davis staff and limited monitoring by the coalitions have established that the problem is far worse than we ever imagined. Virtually all of these water bodies violate numerous water quality standards and most are toxic to aquatic life.”

Anglers, commercial fishermen, Indian Tribes, environmental justice advocates must join together again with a united voice and send a strong and urgent message to the Regional Board that the public will not tolerate renewing this waiver that has led to continued degradation of Central Valley rivers and the Bay-Delta Estuary.

The attempt of the board to renew this waiver becomes even more alarming in the light of the current food chain/pelagic chain crash that federal and state scientists are currently documenting in the Delta.

The DFG’s annual trawl net survey last fall revealed the lowest ever population of Delta smelt, the second lowest-ever population of longfin smelt, the second lowest documented young-of-the-year stripers, and the tenth lowest population of threadfin shad, according to Chuck Armor, DFG biologist. The threadfin shad population decline over the past several years is particularly alarming, since the shad are considered a very hardy and adaptable fish.

The federal and state governments are currently investigating the causes of a dramatic food chain decline that includes these four species, as well as plankton species that they and other fish forage upon. The three major possible causes they are exploring are (1) changes in Delta water exports (2) the proliferation of invasive species and (3) toxic chemicals, such as pesticides and herbicides found in agricultural waste waters. The main source of the toxic chemicals implicated in the pelagic organism decline is agricultural waste water discharge.

In a letter to the board in late May, John Beuttler, spokesman for the Allied Fishing Groups, emphasized the severe impact that toxics have had upon the Delta ecosystem – and blasted the voluntary coalitions and programs as not addressing or improving the situation with the continued discharged of toxic, pesticide-laden water into Central Valley rivers.

“Today key pelagic organisms are on the verge of collapse,” Beuttler said. “Biologists point to the degraded water quality in the Delta as one of the probable principal causes. Given the condition of the estuary, the numerous species of fish now listed under the state and federal Endangered Species Acts and the long the long term declines of many species, it is time to stop destroying the public fishery resources by allowing huge amounts of toxic flows to be discharged into the Delta.”

Beuttler urged the Board to adopt General Waste Discharge Requirements – the water quality standards that all other water users have to comply with - rather than a waiver as they provide the most effective and enforceable approach for addressing agricultural pollution.

However, if the Board insists on extending the agricultural waiver, he urged them at least to adopt performance goals and yardsticks to require measurable reductions in “pollution mass loading.” All of these measures should have “enforceable timelines” also.

Jennings and McNeill, in a joint statement, detailed how the so-called “voluntary” program is a complete disaster.

“The voluntary coalitions have failed to comply with the most basic waiver requirements including submission of reports, establishment of adequate monitoring programs, or development and implementation of measures to reduce pollution,” they said. “They have even refused to provide the Regional Board with membership lists so that the Board could determine who is in the program.”

Consequently, after three years of waiver implementation, they say that the Regional Board does not know who is discharging pollutants, what pollutants are being discharged, who is participating in the waiver program, or who has or has not implemented best management practices to reduce the toxic effects of agricultural discharges. The volunteer program appears to be the proverbial case of the fox guarding the hen house.

Jennings and McNeil also criticized the Regional Board for failing to initiate enforcement for failure to comply with the explicit conditions of the waiver they adopted and never requiring the coalitions to develop management plans identifying how identified water quality problems will be addressed.

The Regional Board is proposing a 5-year renewal of those waivers, but the proposed new waiver is actually weaker than the one it replaces. “It contains no accountability, no requirement to identify dischargers and provides no assurance that a single management measure to reduce pollution will be implemented or a single pound of pollutant loading will be eliminated,” according to Jennings and McNeill.

“With plummeting numbers of native fish and their food, with growing concerns about drinking water quality, and with continued impairment to the vast Central Valley watershed, we cannot afford this proposed, weaker 2006 waiver,” they concluded.

Already, the coalition has sent a letter of opposition to the Regional Board with 48 names from 48 different organizations signed on. In the letter, doctors, teachers, students, farmworkers, birders, fishermen, environmentalists, public health advocates, cancer advocacy groups, women’s groups, legal defenders, recreational boaters, surfers, political activists, community groups and concerned citizens addressed their “strong opposition” to the proposed conditional waiver for irrigated agriculture.

They are hoping to get 150 signatures of organizational representatives in coming weeks, as well get people to attend the regional water meeting on Thursday, June 22. “

If you’re an angler that wants to continue to catch striped bass, steelhead, black bass, sturgeon, king salmon and other species in the Central Valley Rivers and the Bay-Delta Estuary, this may your last chance to act to restore our fishery. California agribusiness must not be allowed to destroy our fisheries and drinking water supplies by continuing to get away with discharges of toxic, contaminated water into Central Valley.

The “voluntary” program instituted by the Water Board has not succeeded and it is time that California agribusiness, with its use of many herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers and other chemicals that its discharges into waterways, be held accountable for what it is doing to the environment. Please attend the hearing if you can. If you can’t, please write a letter to the Board urging them to voice their strong opposition to the proposed conditional waiver for irrigated agribusiness.

The meeting is scheduled to take place at the Central Valley Regional Water Control Board, 11020 Sun Center Driver, Suite 200, Rancho Cordova, CA. 95670-6114, beginning at 9:30 am. on July 22. For more information, call Bill Jennings.

Send your letter indicating your opposition to the waiver to:

Mr. Robert Schneider, Chair

Board Members

Attn: Pamela Creedon, Executive Officer

Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board

11020 Sun Center Drive, No. 200

Rancho Cordova, California 95670-6114