Thursday, March 3, 2016
Environmental protection of Colorado River called disjointed
By Dan Elliott
DENVER – Environmental protection for the Colorado River — the lifeblood of the Southwest — is disjointed and too often gets a low priority in the management of the waterway, independent researchers said in a new report.
Four, multimillion-dollar conservation programs do valuable work but would have more impact if they treated the entire 1,450-mile river as a single, integrated system, the report said.
“We can have something different and better than the existing patchwork of programs,” it said.
The research group is an independent organization of academics with expertise in water, agriculture, law and other fields.
Their report said the river is managed primarily as a “plumbing system” to provide water for cities and agriculture and not as an ecosystem.
“I would assert that we can meet water supply needs and have a much healthier and restored river,” Jack Schmidt, a professor of watershed sciences at Utah State University and a member of the research group, said in an interview.
The river supplies water to about 40 million people and 6,300 square miles of farmland in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The river basin — all the areas that eventually drain into the river — covers about 246,000 square miles.
The river starts in the Rocky Mountains and flows southwest through the Grand Canyon toward the Gulf of California in Mexico. It’s so heavily used that it usually dries up before reaching the ocean.
The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery program, the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program and the San Juan River Recovery Implementation Program focus on saving endangered species and restoring habitat along the river and its tributaries.
The Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program concentrates on mitigating environmental impacts in the Grand Canyon and other areas downstream from Lake Powell in Utah.
Combined, the programs spend about $54 million a year. The money comes from federal, tribal and state governments and from conservation groups.
The programs are administered by federal agencies with guidance from various partner agencies. The programs recognize the need for better communication and are working on that, said Marlon Duke, a spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation, which administers two of the programs.
Representatives of several state, federal and tribal agencies met last week and more meetings are planned on a regular basis, he said.
Tom Chart, director of the Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Program, said each program was created for a specific purpose and noted environmental threats and the people affected by them vary from place to place.
The report didn’t suggest who should be in charge of coordinating conservation work.
Ken Neubecker of the conservation group American Rivers also advocated a more unified approach toward the river environment.
“It’s facing a pretty interesting situation,” he said. “I don’t want to say dire, but it could well be.”
Redding Record Searchlight
LaMalfa criticizes dam removal process
By Damon Arthur
A North State Congressman accused the federal government this week of creating a “shell corporation” to disguise its role in removing dams on the Klamath River.
U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa also said there are meetings being held in secret to work out details of a dam removal plan, and leaders of the negotiations are forcing those who attend to sign nondisclosure agreements.
“We’re seeing an administration that claims to be the most transparent in history engaged in closed meetings, neck-deep in a shell corporation and requiring stakeholders to sign nondisclosure agreements just to learn how they’ll be affected,” LaMalfa said in a news release.
“This seems like a front company in a process designed to avoid public scrutiny and avoid open government laws. The (Obama) administration is moving forward with its goal of dam removal while ignoring the water supply issues that impact thousands of residents,” he said.
LaMalfa was referring to an agreement struck last month among Oregon, California, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the dams’ owner, PacifiCorp, to remove four dams on the Klamath River.
The agreement includes creating a private nonprofit corporation to apply for a permit to remove the dams from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
PacificCorp spokesman Bob Gravely said the nonprofit corporation will take over ownership of the dam so the federal government isn’t involved. A previous agreement to remove the dams died at the end of last year after Congress failed to pass legislation approving dam removal.
Because Congress didn’t authorize funding to take out the dams, Oregon, California and PacifiCorp are paying the bill, Gravely said.
But during a Congressional committee hearing Monday, LaMalfa questioned Deputy Interior Secretary Mike Connor about spending money on the project without Congressional approval.
As to the nondisclosure agreements, Gravely said the agreements are routine for negotiations. He said it would be unusual not to ask for a nondisclosure agreement.
But Kevin Eastman, a spokesman for LaMalfa, said negotiations involving public projects should be held in public.
“If it’s common, then it’s inappropriate on a regular basis,” Eastman said.
LaMalfa believes that because the dams are private property the federal government should not be paying to have them removed, Eastman said.
But dam removal proponents say taking out the dams would improve conditions in the river for salmon and other wildlife.
Craig Tucker, a natural resource policy advocate for the Karuk Tribe, said LaMalfa did not participate in the first agreement and did not advocate in Congress for a law to pay for removing the dams, but is now criticizing the current negotiations.
“Where has he been all these years? We’ve been working on this for 10 years,” Tucker said. “There’s nothing shady, secret or unprecedented about any of this.”
LaMalfa also said he was concerned that because the agency will be a nongovernment entity, it would not be subject to federal Freedom of Information Act or California Public Records Act laws.
Damon Arthur covers resources, environment and the outdoors for the Record Searchlight and Redding.com. Facebook @damonarthur_RS firstname.lastname@example.org 530-225-8226
Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Defendants in Rancho Feeding Corp. scandal sentenced
By Paul Payne
A federal judge Wednesday sentenced two men who were part of a scheme at a Petaluma slaughterhouse to process diseased and uninspected cattle, leading to the nationwide recall of 8.7 million pounds of meat.
U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer sentenced Robert Singleton, 79, a partner in the business at Rancho Feeding Corp., to three months in prison and three months of home confinement.
Longtime slaughterhouse yardman Eugene Corda, 65, was sentenced to six months of home confinement and three years of probation.
The two received leniency as part of a deal with federal prosecutors to provide information about slaughterhouse co-owner Jesse “Babe” Amaral Jr., 78, who was sentenced last month to a year in prison.
Amaral is believed to have orchestrated the plot in 2013 and 2014 to process cattle with eye cancer, in some cases ordering cow heads to be cut off and switched with healthy heads so U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors wouldn’t notice problems. In other instances, he is said to have instructed employees to carve out “condemned” stamps from their carcasses.
The scandal, which led to millions of dollars in losses for distributors and ranchers, shook public confidence in food safety and led to calls for changes in the inspection process.
“The nature and circumstances of Singleton’s offenses are disturbing and serious,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in sentencing briefs.
Singleton, who is in poor health, was ordered to turn himself in May 31. On the same day, Breyer will decide if Singleton must pay restitution to the distributors.
He already has paid or agreed to pay more than $2 million to four companies as part of a civil settlement, he said in legal papers.
“A lot of what happened was that I wasn’t overseeing the operation on a daily basis,” Singleton said in a letter to the judge. “I am truly sorry for any problems that I created.”
Amaral, who also is said to be repaying distributors and is ailing, is to report to prison March 25.
Sentencing for a fourth man, slaughterhouse foreman Felix Cabrera, 56, is Wednesday. Cabrera, who worked directly for Amaral, also cooperated with prosecutors.
It was unclear whether he would be sent to prison.
Court documents submitted by Singleton’s lawyer describe his long run in the Sonoma County meat business. The Petaluma native was buying and selling veal calves out of high school starting in the 1950s and opened his own slaughterhouse in 1966.
Singleton met Amaral at a cattle auction and the two formed a partnership with separate corporations. Singleton was president of Rancho Veal, which focused on buying and selling cattle, while Amaral was president of Rancho Feeding, which ran slaughterhouse operations, according to Singleton’s court papers
Another Singleton company owned the slaughterhouse property itself, the papers said.
In early 2013, Singleton became aware of the scheme to bypass the federal inspection process but failed to take action to stop it, his court papers said.
Singleton, who issued employee paychecks, agreed to pay Cabrera $50 for each cow he “slipped” past inspectors. He later mailed invoices to ranchers saying the cattle had died or had been condemned while knowing they were processed for meat, prosecutors said.
At the time, he said he trusted Amaral, his partner of 45 years, to distinguish between safe and dangerous meat. And he thought Cabrera, who was studying to be a USDA inspector after 30 years in the business, had a better idea of what was a passable cow, his papers said.
“This is not offered to in any way excuse Bob’s conduct,” his papers said. “He now fully appreciates that it is not up to him, or any other civilian, to determine what rules should be followed. Rather, it is offered to illustrate that Bob at the time never believed that dangerous meat would ever be passed through to consumers.”
Corda appears to have played a smaller role and did not profit from the scheme.
He and Singleton faced years in prison but had their sentences cut because of their cooperation.
Singleton said he suffered devastating personal and financial losses are a result of the scheme.
In addition to being forced to liquidate his assets, including the slaughterhouse, Singleton agreed never to work in the field again and cut himself off from his friends and business partner, he said.
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or email@example.com. On Twitter @ppayne.
UC Merced event showcases ag technology
By John Holland
Driverless vehicles might someday navigate downtown San Francisco, a researcher said Wednesday, so why not San Joaquin Valley orchards?
That idea – remote-guided rigs that carry cameras and other devices for monitoring crop health – was among several discussed at the Agricultural Technology Fair at the University of California, Merced.
“This is to me similar to what the farmer would see if he walked through his orchard row by row,” said Stefano Carpin, an associate engineering professor who studies robotics.
About 75 people turned out for the fair, which also was a chance for UC Merced students to talk with potential employers. They will graduate into a world where drones and satellites assess farm performance from above and where electronic devices keep track of soil moisture, nutrients in leaves and other aspects of farming.
A key need will be “data analytics” to make use of the crop information, said Seana Day Hull of Patterson, director of business development and strategy at AgTech Insight LLC, which is working to bring investors into the field. She also said technology can help reduce food waste, estimated at 40 percent between farm and table.
YangQuan Chen, another associate engineering professor, said drones have great potential if people follow safety rules for the small, unmanned aircraft. A “melon drone,” for example, looks for slow-growing parts of the patch so extra fertilizer can be applied there.
“Precision agriculture is nothing but a big-data industry,” Chen said, using a term that techies have coined to describe very large sets of information.
The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society hosted the fair with several co-sponsors as part of the university’s 2016 Research Week.
Ted Batkin, retired president of the Citrus Research Board in Visalia, talked about his new venture – treating irrigation water to reduce friction and hence power costs for delivery.
He told of past research efforts in the citrus industry, including detection of psyllids, a major pest. And he noted one that so far has fallen short – a mechanical means of harvesting the fruit. The device could detect when it was ripe, but the robotic hand just can’t pick it cleanly.
“All the juice dropped out,” Batkin said.
A third associate engineering professor, Alberto Cerpa, described his work on reducing water consumption by lawns, which he said cover more acreage than any irrigated crop in the nation. He tested sprinkler heads that can sense the moisture conditions around them and turn on only when needed. They save 23 percent over conventional systems and 12 percent over other advanced systems.
“I started with turf, but I would be interested to hear from the experts in other crops,” Cerpa said.
The sponsors included two based in Modesto – E.&J. Gallo Winery and the Almond Board of California. Other sponsors were from farming, technical and legal fields.
John Holland: 209-578-2385, firstname.lastname@example.org
Food scarcity caused by climate change could cause 500,000 deaths by 2050, study suggests
By Chelsea Harvey
The effects of climate change on food production around the world could lead to more than 500,000 deaths by the year 2050, according to a grim new study. Climate-related impacts on agriculture could lead to an overall global decline in food availability, the research suggests, forcing people to eat fewer fruits and vegetables and less meat. And the public health impacts of these changes could be severe.
Climate experts have long predicted severe consequences for global food security if serious steps are not taken to mitigate climate change. Rising temperatures, more frequent droughts and more severe weather events are expected to cause agriculture in certain areas to suffer, all while the global population — and its demand for food — continues to skyrocket.
So there’s been a great interest in recent years in using models to predict the ways climate change will affect agriculture under various scenarios and what those effects might mean for future human societies. In the new study, which was published Wednesday in the journal The Lancet, a group of scientists from the U.K. took their research a step further.
They decided to take a look at not only how climate-induced changes in agricultural production will affect human food consumption, but also how these dietary changes might influence human mortality. It’s known that diet is connected with human health in many intimate ways, and poor diet has been linked with a number of serious diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.
The researchers, led by Marco Springmann of Oxford University’s Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, used an agricultural model to simulate the effects of future climate change on global food production and consumption. They assumed a severe climate change scenario, one in which global air temperature by 2050 is about two degrees higher than it was in the time period between 1986 and 2005. They then used a health model to predict the way these changes in food production and consumption would affect human health. They compared all of these effects to a reference scenario, which assumes a future with no climate change.
If no climate change were to occur, the model predicted that global food availability would actually increase by 10.3 percent by the year 2050. But under the effects of climate change, it’s a different story, and the model predicted that global food availability would be 3.2 percent lower than was predicted in the scenario with no climate change. Specifically, it found that people would eat 4 percent less fruit and vegetables and 0.7 percent less meat.
These dietary changes translate into hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths. If there were no climate change, the health model found that the projected future increases in global food availability would actually save nearly 2 million lives in 2050 compared with conditions in 2010. But the model predicted that the effects of climate change will reduce the number of lives saved by about 28 percent — this translates into about 529,000 deaths that would not have occurred if there were no climate change.
The food-related deaths would be caused by two major factors: people not getting the right type of nutrition, and people simply being underweight. The majority of all the predicted deaths were found to be caused by the nutrition factors, mostly by people being forced to eat fewer fruits and vegetables. However, the effects were somewhat variable in different regions of the world.
The fruit and vegetable-related deaths, for instance, were most prevalent in high-income countries, as well as low- or middle-income countries in the Western Pacific, Europe and Eastern Mediterranean. Deaths related to weight — in other words, insufficient calorie intake — were a bigger risk factor in Africa and Southeast Asia. Overall, the most climate-related deaths were seen in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia — particularly in China and India.
It’s worth noting that a few countries were predicted to have climate-related decreases in deaths, related to a lower caloric intake. The changes in food availability and consumption were predicted to reduce obesity in some places — a condition also linked with disease and an increased risk of mortality. Regions where lives were actually saved included Central and South America and parts of Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean. But these saved lives were far outnumbered by the amount of extra deaths caused by climate change.
“The results of this study indicate that even quite modest reductions in per-person food availability could lead to changes in the energy content and composition of diets that are associated with substantial negative health implications,” the authors write in the paper. It’s a sobering look at just a single facet of the climate change dilemma. Of course, the impacts of climate change are expected to cause human deaths in a variety of other ways as well. The increased risk of infectious disease, natural disasters, forced migration and civil unrest are just a few examples.
But as far as food security goes, the paper does raise the need for more targeted public health programs in various parts of the world that can start preparing for the potential dietary impacts of a warming climate. “Strengthening of public health programmes aimed at preventing and treating diet and weight-related risk factors could be a suitable climate change adaptation strategy with a goal of reducing climate-related health effects,” the authors write, noting that such interventions should be tailored by region to account for the specific challenges that different parts of the world are expected to face.
In the meantime, climate mitigation efforts could prevent thousands of deaths. The researchers found that by applying a moderate climate change scenario, instead of a severe one, the number of climate related deaths fell by about 30 percent. And in a scenario that assumed highly stringent mitigation efforts, the number of deaths fell by more than 70 percent.
So the public health impact of serious mitigation efforts is clear. And in a comment published in The Lancet alongside the new study, Alistair Woodward of the University of Auckland argues that future research should look at even more long-term effects to really drive the point home.
“Restriction of our view of the consequences of climate change to what might happen in the next 30–40 years is understandable in terms of conventional concerns with data quality and model stability,” he noted, “but might underestimate the size of future risks, and therefore undervalue present actions needed to mitigate and adapt.”
He also pointed out that issues with data caused some small nations, such as the highly climate-vulnerable Pacific Island states, to be left out of the study. This means we still don’t have a complete picture of how individual nations throughout the world might suffer the effects of climate change.
And, of course, there are many questions that the study simply did not have the scope to address. Those include issues related to the ways climate change will directly affect fisheries and livestock or the nutritional quality of produce, as well as the ways that some climate mitigation practices — culling livestock to cut down on methane emissions, for instance — could also affect global food security.
Combining research of different types can help address the many interrelated questions related to climate change, its environmental impacts and their implications for human health. For now, at the very least, the new study serves as a stark reminder that taking climate change seriously is no longer a luxury, but a matter of life and death for thousands of people around the world.
National Public Radio
Slice The Price Of Fruits And Veggies, Save 200,000 Lives?
By Clare Leschin-Hoar
Lowering the price of fruits and vegetables by 30 percent can save nearly 200,000 lives over 15 years — roughly the population of Des Moines, Iowa. That’s the message being touted by researchers this week at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology meeting in Phoenix.
We know eating more fruits and vegetables is good for your heart. Now computer models suggest that making that produce more affordable may actually translate into lower death rates from heart disease and stroke. And, the researchers add, lower prices are more effective at saving lives than traditional campaigns designed to encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables, like “5 A Day.”
Lower prices for fruits and vegetables meant better health across the population, regardless of age, gender, race and ethnicity, lead researcher Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, an academic clinical fellow at Imperial College in London, tells us.
Researchers from the U.K. and Tufts University created a tool called the U.S. IMPACT Food Policy Model that included projections of U.S. demographics and cardiovascular death rates to 2030. They then combined the data with current and projected fruit and vegetable intake figures. The model allowed the team to simulate the effects of different policies on eating habits.
“We were able to take a given change of price, and [determine] what that change in price does to consumption levels,” says Stuttard.
It’s the ability to model outcomes that’s new here, says American Heart Association president Dr. Mark Creager, a cardiovascular disease expert.
“They’re doing the modeling that will demonstrate how pricing affects health. The best example is what’s happened to tobacco. The increase in the cost of the price of cigarettes” deterred some smokers from lighting up, which meant fewer people exposed to the health risks associated with that habit, he says.
“Another example is the price of food like sugar-sweetened beverages,” Creager says. Mexico’s soda tax has pushed consumption rates down. “It’s too early to see outcomes yet, but we can anticipate as they consume less sugar, it will have downstream effects for weight reduction.” And therefore, better health.
So far, no national studies have been done looking at how financial incentives drive healthy eating, the researchers say. But a smaller study conducted in Massachusetts between 2011-2012 mirrored the findings of the modeling done at Tufts and Imperial College.
That previous study — the Healthy Incentives Pilot — tested financial incentives for SNAP recipients that were designed to encourage more consumption of fruits and vegetables. Under the program, some SNAP participants received an extra 30 cents for every dollar of SNAP benefits — but could spend the extra money only on targeted fruits and vegetables.
“We did indeed find the incentive worked: Participants purchased more and consumed more fruits and vegetables than SNAP participants that were not receiving the incentive,” says Susan Bartlett, principal associate at Abt Associates, a public policy consulting firm that worked on the study.
The findings presented this week don’t identify which specific policies should be tweaked to bring the price of produce down. But Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist, epidemiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, has some suggestions.
“At state or national levels, general subsidies could be implemented at the farm or wholesaler level,” Mozaffarian tells us via email. “Grocery store bonus cards could also be a mechanism for providing lower prices.”
Elizabeth Pivonka, president of Produce for Better Health Foundation, a nonprofit working to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, says it isn’t necessarily about moving crop subsidies from corn and soybean to broccoli and oranges. It may be more about the USDA simply putting its money where its mouth is.
Produce for Better Health’s 2015 GAP Analysis report looked at USDA spending on subsidy programs, promotional programs, research education and more and found that it didn’t match with its own dietary guideline recommendations — which encourage Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables and less meat and dairy.
“The government doesn’t put as much funding into fruits and vegetables,” says Pivonka. Instead, it spends “six times more on the protein group,” she says, citing findings from her group’s 2015 report.
Bartlett says a better strategy would be a policy that directly relates to the people who are making the purchases.
“Reducing prices for the people at the market is a promising strategy, and making it available to the population you’re trying to encourage,” says Bartlett.
The end goal, says the American Heart Association’s Creager, is to encourage policymakers to have “these conversations about what can be done in communities that will make healthy foods more accessible and more affordable for people, so they’ll be encouraged to consume a healthy diet.”
Clare Leschin-Hoar is a journalist based in San Diego who covers food policy and sustainability issues.