Monday, April 11, 2016
Debate swirls over striped bass role in rivers’ salmon population
By John Holland
The trouble with striped bass started, the story goes, when 132 of the East Coast natives traveled by train to California in 1879.
The fingerlings in the tanks were planted near Martinez and multiplied into a thriving fishery in San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The stripers did something else: They dined on the native salmon that swim these same waters and the rivers that run into the Delta. Today, the predation issue stands front and center in the debate over how to reverse the salmon decline.
Irrigation districts in Stanislaus and nearby counties are renewing their claim that reducing bass numbers would do much more for salmon than the state’s proposal to boost reservoir releases. They warn of major losses in jobs and income if less water goes to farms and cities. They suggest raising the catch limits for bass, or even no limit at all.
“This is fast and it’s free,” said Doug Demko, whose Oakdale-based consulting firm, Fishbio, has worked with districts seeking a way around the increased-flow demands. He cited a 2012 study that found a 96 percent loss of juvenile salmon on the Tuolumne River downstream of Waterford. He mostly blamed the bass.
Environmental groups disagree. They say predation is one of several stresses on salmon, which also suffer from low flows, warm water, pollution and loss of spawning habitat to dams.
And anglers who love to catch the bass, noted for its fighting spirit on the line, have no use for the idea of a sharply reduced fishery.
“To me, that is the last gasp of the water users to get more water,” said Jim Cox of Antioch, president of the California Striped Bass Association and a retired sport fishing guide. Its 3,000-strong membership includes chapters in Modesto and five other locales in and near the Delta.
Striped bass are native to rivers along most of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Like salmon, they spend part of their lives in the ocean. California had a commercial striper fishery until 1935. The sport fishing has continued, but planting of the species ended in 1992.
The predation issue has resurfaced as the districts await a revised state proposal for flows in the lower Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Merced and San Joaquin rivers. The initial plan from the State Water Resources Control Board, released in 2012, would boost river flows to 35 percent of natural, undammed conditions from February through June each year. Fishing and environmental groups have pushed for as much as 60 percent.
These five months are when the districts capture most of the snowmelt and rain runoff that get them through the hot, dry summers. The stored water also generates cheap hydropower during peak demand from air conditoners and industrial plants.
The districts say the reduced supply would force farmers to increase their well pumping. This would complicate the effort to comply with a 2014 state law that requires sustainable groundwater use within a quarter-century.
“There is a litany of things that can happen when this region loses a significant amount of surface water,” said Herb Smart, water resources analyst for the Turlock Irrigation District, at a meeting last week of the Stanislaus County Agricultural Advisory Committee.
TID and the Modesto Irrigation District get about half of the runoff in the Tuolumne watershed, which averages about 1.9 million acre-feet of water per year. Smart said that under current fish rules, they must release 165,003 acre-feet into the lower river in average years, but that would rise to 641,492 under the state proposal. The releases would go from 94,000 to 353,638 acre-feet in very dry years and from 300,923 to 1,371,656 acre-feet in wet years.
TID and MID are fighting the plan with allies that include the Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts on the Stanislaus, the Merced Irrigation District on the Merced, and San Francisco, which diverts Tuolumne water to much of the Bay Area.
They have worked without success to get the California Fish and Game Commission to raise the catch limit on striped bass. They support a new bill by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, that would do away with a federal mandate to double the striper population in the Delta. Demko testified on the issue at a February hearing of the House Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans.
The districts urge other non-flow measures for salmon, including better treatment of city wastewater that flows into the Delta and fish screens on the water intakes for this region’s farmers.
The striped bass fishing group supports limits on the catch to maintain a reproducing population. Cox said the salmon predation claims are overblown and that both species could thrive if water diversions were curtailed.
“It all comes back to how much water is being exported out of the Delta,” he said.
Patrick Koepele, executive director of the Tuolumne River Trust, said salmon could better withstand striped bass if the flows were higher and colder. The San Francisco-based group, which has offices in Modesto and Sonora, urges farmers to redouble their water conservation.
“We think flows should increase quite a bit, and we think that can happen while maintaining a healthy agricultural economy,” Koepele said.
John Holland: 209-578-2385
Los Angeles Times
Drought is the new normal. We need less shaming and more incentivizing
It was a rainy weekend in Southern California, but there have been too few such storms in what had been expected to be a rain-soaked El Niño season. This fifth straight year of drought is further evidence that this may not be a drought at all but a return to a dry norm. Our state may have been built and populated during a rare and narrow, century-long period of unusually wet weather; or it may be that human-induced climate change has altered rainfall patterns and permanently diverted much of the snow that used to fall in the Sierra and much of the rain that used to fall here to points farther north and east. But our thirsty living patterns remain geared to wetter days that are vanishing, and to artificially abundant water.
So how do we move forward in a drier era? How do we continue to quench our thirst sufficiently, prudently and fairly?
Most proposed paths begin responsibly enough, with a new conservation ethic and an arid region’s respect for water as a scarce and precious resource that must not be squandered. In Los Angeles, government has been constructive in supporting that ethic with programs to require more efficient fixtures indoors and more California-oriented plants and landscaping outdoors. It has slowly but finally begun to catch up with people who want to be more water-wise, by rewriting rules that once made it nearly impossible to, for example, reuse washing machine and bath water in the garden.
But farther on, the path through the arid future branches, and one route takes us into a phenomenon that has come to be known as drought-shaming.
Drought-shaming describes a system in which neighbors become snitches and government workers become water cops. It’s a culture of resentment, envy and suspicion, of demands for prosecution and penalties, in which residents with brown yards seethe over the lush green lawns down the street, or even over stories of unseen lawns, like the one belonging to that guy (or family, or company, or whatever) in Bel Air who uses as much water as 90 houses, or, farther afield, like the Saudis who grow thirsty alfalfa down by the Colorado River in order to export it, or the hedge funds that pay farmers to plant almond trees in the desert-like West San Joaquin Valley in order to sell products that most of us never heard of a decade ago, like almond milk. It’s the kind of culture in which Sacramento residents who have recently been required to install water meters bristle over video of some guy in Orange County hosing down his driveway.
Much of the drought-shaming culture makes perfect sense — in a drought. That’s because a drought is by definition a temporary departure from the accustomed abundance. It is a crisis that calls for a crisis response, just like an oil embargo once required gasoline rationing or war once meant limits on how much beef or milk a family could buy each week. Rules are drawn up to get society through the temporary shortage. Cheaters emerge. Some prosper, others are caught. But at some point we get back to normal.
When the crisis continues, though, it ceases to be crisis and becomes a new reality requiring new living patterns. Drivers choose cars that use less gas, or none at all. Families choose different foods. Prices adjust, and people make decisions accordingly.
That may be where California is, or ought to be, with water. Penalizing wasters is a drought response, which is fine as far as it goes. But to meet the future, Californians’ water ought to be priced in a way that incentivizes the Wet Prince of Bel Air to use it prudently — and reimburses the rest of us for the cost of replacing the water that he used.
L.A.’s Board of Water and Power Commissioners recently approved a schedule of water waste fines, and it will soon come before the City Council. Together with new pricing tiers that encourage conservation while keeping sufficient low-priced water available for common household needs, the fines are best seen as a thoughtful and appropriate measure for a time of transition from temporary drought to sustained aridity, rather than a new weapon for an era of drought-shaming. The City Council ought to approve them — and then rededicate itself to projects to capture and reuse storm water and waste water, to quench the city’s thirst in a future with little rain.
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Ag leader touts trade pact benefits for San Joaquin Valley farmers
By Robert Rodriguez
The U.S.’s top agricultural trade negotiator said Friday that California farmers could reap tens of millions of dollars in export business under a 12-country trade agreement that awaits congressional approval.
Ambassador Darci Vetter, chief agricultural negotiator for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, met with members of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.
Vetter said the agreement provides an unprecedented opportunity for farmers in the San Joaquin Valley.
The agreement involves Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States.
As part of the agreement, tariffs on many of the Valley’s top crops would be lowered or completely eliminated. Growers of almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, citrus, tree fruit, dairy, vegetables (fresh and processed) and beef would be affected by lower tariffs.
The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that California farmers of fruits and nuts could generate $562 million in sales, while dairy producers could see $53 million in added revenue.
For beef producers, the trade agreement opens the doors to Japan, one of the most protected markets for U.S. beef. Sales could produce nearly $50 million.
“We have never had this type of access,” Vetter said.
Also important to California farmers is the emerging economies of Vietnam and Malaysia. As their middle class grows, so does spending power for fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products and poultry.
Vetter said the Vietnamese have increased their consumption of cheese, growing by double digits over the past several years.
The challenge Vetter and other trade officials see is convincing Congress to vote on the package before the end of the year. While Vetter is hopeful the agreement will come to a vote this year, there also is a sense of urgency.
Nothing prohibits the TPP partners from signing trade agreements with other countries. Japan has negotiated a trade agreement with Australia, giving the Australians a 10 percent tariff advantage over the U.S.
“Once the TPP goes into effect we will be back on a level playing field,” Vetter said. “It is costly, the longer we wait.”
Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner Les Wright said international trade can be a minefield when political disputes arise.
“And ag is generally the loser in political disputes,” Wright said.
Vetter assured Wright that the agreement includes protections against banning U.S. products for no specific reason. Countries with an ax to grind against the U.S. sometimes will reject loads of fresh fruit or vegetables claiming it has an invasive insect or disease.
“If action is taken it must be done of a scientific reason,” Vetter said.
Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob, firstname.lastname@example.org
Adam C. Gray and Vito Chiesa: California minimum-wage hike is too much, too soon – and it’s forever
By Adam C. Gray and Vito Chiesa
The California Legislature voted to enact a $15 per hour minimum wage for our state. The governor signed the legislation earlier this week.
This wage hike is indexed to inflation to automatically increase when prices rise. Yes, it has a political offramp if the economy collapses. But how likely is it that the governor – any governor – would cut the wages of the poorest Californians in a downturn?
Alan Krueger, the former chairman of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, considers the nationwide push for a $15 minimum wage too risky. While certain cities and high-wage states might be able to sustain it, most will not.
Even employee associations recognize regional disparity in wages, with some contracts calling for tiered salaries depending on the region. If such disparities are not recognized, it is unlikely the Valley will even gain ground, let alone parity, with other parts of California.
If the $15 per hour is appropriate for the Valley, the standard in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley should be even higher – perhaps as much as $21 per hour or even $22.
It is already legal for cities in California to adopt higher minimum-wage laws. San Francisco and Los Angeles have enacted local $15 minimum wages, believing their economies can sustain it.
The Valley, however, has not benefited from the boom fueled by the high-tech sector. We suffer double-digit unemployment rates year after year. Our economy is not diverse. Our agricultural producers compete with growers from overseas and South America.
Farmworkers in those nations won’t see the kind of wages paid in California, meaning farmworkers in California will see fewer jobs.
California has not financed, and local government is not wealthy enough to build, the infrastructure necessary to either improve our economic diversity or ease the commute to higher paying jobs outside our Valley.
Worse, almost every major state initiative regarding water, clean air, education and health ignores the challenges confronting our area. In looking to claim more of our water, the state acknowledges our region will take an economic hit – it just refuses, so far, to say how much.
This minimum-wage law is no different.
The greatest cost of this increase will be borne by small businesses – restaurants, retailers, construction firms and farms, along with young people looking for work. Unemployment insurance, disability and federal, state and local taxes are all tied to the base wage level and will increase as well.
The state itself will have to increase its spending by at least $4 billion annually by 2021 just to meet its own minimum-wage increases. It essentially eliminates the state surplus and money needed for vital additional services.
Some parts of California can possibly benefit from such a minimum-wage increase. They should be permitted to do so. Others should be allowed to see if a lesser increase works well for their residents.
Areas like our own, which have been largely excluded from the economic recovery, neither need nor deserve to be placed in a “one-size-fits-all” straitjacket designed to serve California’s wealthiest areas.
The cost-of-living indexing provision will punish us even when we have no local economic improvement, since it would be determined by improvements in economies elsewhere in California, like Silicon Valley.
This is bad law. It is a major setback for our economy. It is biased against our area. We will not see long-term economic growth here until the state stops enacting “one-size-fits-all” mandates.
Adam Gray represents the 21st Assembly District, which includes all of Merced and part of Stanislaus County; Vito Chiesa is a Stanislaus County supervisor.
San Luis Obispo Tribune
Suspected arson at farmworker housing isn’t a reflection of Nipomo’s values
By Greg France
My family and I have been part of the community of Nipomo for eight years and the broader Santa Maria Valley community for over 25 years. I want to express how saddened we are about the fire at the homes we purchased on Mads Place in Nipomo that would have housed guest workers from Mexico. I want to reiterate how thankful we are that no other properties were damaged and no one was hurt.
The neighbors expressed concern and frustration that they were not informed about plans for housing our workers in these new homes on the Mads Place cul-de-sac. My wife, Donna, and I are sorry for this frustration. While we had met with local officials and told them about our plans for these homes a few months ago, we realized we needed to do a better job of addressing neighbors’ concerns directly and communicating our commitment to maintaining a peaceful environment for the neighbors and our workers.
Ironically, when this fire occurred, we were in the process of organizing an open house for residents as well as planning to walk the neighborhood to meet with residents one-on-one. We have resumed these outreach plans, but we also want to share some of the information we are providing to the neighbors with the broader community.
We are family farmers trying to do the right thing by providing quality housing for our workers who are visitors to this country. Because of a severe labor shortage throughout California, farmers increasingly rely on the H-2A program, which allows employers to bring in foreign-born workers to harvest our crops. This is a government program that requires ag employers to be certified before they are allowed to participate and employ workers from other countries. Foreign-born workers who apply for employment in the United States must be vetted by Homeland Security before work visas are issued. The U.S. Department of Labor provides oversight of the H-2A program to ensure workers are treated fairly and with dignity.
Farmers who employ workers under the H-2A program are required to:
▪ Abide by the applicable hourly wage rate.
▪ Provide free housing to workers with H-2A visas (housing must be inspected and meet Department of Labor safety standards).
▪ Either provide three meals per day to H-2A workers or the housing must include kitchen facilities.
▪ Provide daily transportation to and from job sites for H-2A workers (most workers will not have cars so traffic impact is anticipated to be minimal).
▪ Hire any and all qualified U.S.-born workers who apply for employment.
Many industries rely on similar government programs when labor shortages arise, including construction, nursing, high tech, manufacturing and tourism. While the government doesn’t require housing for those guest-worker programs, many employers from those industries do provide living arrangements, as well.
By purchasing seven new homes on a cul-de-sac, we believed we were providing our workers with a positive home environment to return to each day. We have heard criticisms about the amount of men living in the homes (16 in each); however, the space is consistent with what students experience in college dorms. We are also providing housekeeping and yard service for each home.
To ensure safety and to promote a peaceful environment, we worked with a local firm to install security systems to protect our workers and the neighborhood. This security plan has been revisited and tightened since the fires.
While this crime has shaken my wife and I to the core, we love our community and know that the person(s) responsible for setting this fire is not at all representative of this neighborhood or Nipomo. We sincerely hope the individual(s) responsible is caught or comes forward for the peace of mind of the entire neighborhood.
Greg France and his wife, Donna, are Santa Maria Valley berry growers.
Marin Independent Journal
County right to rally to defend Pt. Reyes ranches
The Marin Board of Supervisors has taken a strong stand behind protecting the historic ranches that have long been part of the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Its stand rightly recognizes the importance of these ranches — 24 leases across 18,000 acres of the park — in the economic sustainability of agriculture in our county.
The county on Tuesday announced its plans to join the National Park Service in fighting a lawsuit aimed at forcing a federal study to consider the phasing out of the ranches that were part of the park when it was created. Their protection was key to congressional approval of the seashore.
But a trio of environmental groups has gone to court, demanding the park service, which already is in the midst of drafting a new management plan, to consider the environmental ramifications of extending the ranches’ longstanding leases — not unlike the park’s controversial closure of the oyster farm in 2015.
The lawsuit has been filed at the outset of the park’s planning process, rather than after a draft plan has been released. It’s a premature legal attack.
The park plan should look at environmental issues relating to the ranches and recommend possible changes and improvements. It should include plans to work with the ranches to become models for environmentally sustaining agriculture. Longer-term leases, as promised by parks leaders, would help lay a strong foundation for improvements.
But setting unreasonable standards that would essentially phase ranchers out of the park would violate a repeated National Park Service promise, including during the formation of the national seashore more than 50 years ago, that ranching would continue.
As Supervisor Katie Rice, who grew up in Marin, said at Tuesday’s board meeting, “This is a no-brainer.”
The county board is standing up for its long-held policies of protecting West Marin’s ranchlands and agriculture.
It was disconcerting, however, that the supervisors took their deliberations behind closed doors to discuss the county’s legal participation in the lawsuit. Although their motive is correct, their reason for meeting in private — other than they legally could — was unconvincing and simply a reminder of the board’s all-too-frequent tendency to duck behind closed doors.
We suggest the board, instead, establish a precedent of avoiding private meetings whenever possible.
But the board’s stand underscores the importance of those 24 leases to the fabric and economy of West Marin and its agricultural heritage. It underscores a longstanding Marin initiative to preserve and protect local ranching and farming, including that its viability depends on an economy of scale that must by saved.
County supervisors’ involvement in this legal dispute is not unexpected, but it is significant.