Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Butte County supervisors back Proposition 1 funding for Sites Reservoir
By Ryan Olson
Oroville >> Despite some reservations, the Butte County Board of Supervisors unanimously backed a conditional letter of support for the Sites Reservoir project.
The letter, to be sent to the California Water Commission and the Sites Joint Powers Authority, called for using Proposition 1 money to further investigate the off-stream project west of the Sacramento River in Colusa and Glenn counties.
Voters approved Proposition 1 in 2014 to issue $7.12 billion in bonds for water projects, including $2.7 billion for new water storage.
There has been an ongoing effort to have the state use a part of the money for the dam near Maxwell. The reservoir may cost $4 billion to build and store up to 1.8 million acre-feet of water, about half the capacity of Lake Oroville.
Chico-area Supervisor Maureen Kirk questioned officials about the project. She said she didn’t necessarily support Sites, but ultimately supported further study and getting answers to many outstanding issues.
Board Chairman and Oroville-area Supervisor Bill Connelly was more critical of key points of the project and questioned whether Sites would offer a direct benefit to Butte County. He said he wasn’t opposed to the project, but there were many unanswered questions.
Connelly also cautioned against meddling from downstate water contractors and the state Department of Water Resources. He said the community has never been treated right over the operation of Lake Oroville and warned that Sites officials were marching into the same trap.
Chico-area Supervisor Larry Wahl said the project needed to begin sooner rather than later. He noted that if the dam had been built before this year, it would have been able to store Sacramento River water that ended up going out San Francisco Bay into the ocean.
“If we had the opportunity to capture this water, that would be great,” Wahl said.
LOCAL CONTROL SOUGHT
The letter approved by the county board identified some concerns, including protecting the north valley. It stated safeguards were needed to protect the water rights system and Sacramento Valley water users and there should be continued local control through the joint powers authority.
There should also be flexibility for local users and in consideration of the needs of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Also, the Sacramento Valley environment and water rights shouldn’t be degraded by any environmental benefits of future projects.
Thaddeus Bettner, general manager of the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District, addressed some of the concerns, including noting that the authority members must come from the local hydrologic region.
Authority members have invested $7 million to develop a plan for Sites, according to Bettner. The authority members hope for support from the state Water Commission to move forward, but they can walk away if support is lacking.
He said the water rights for the water that may be diverted into Sites have been held by DWR since the 1970s. The authority is seeking to have the rights transferred to its control, so it wouldn’t be proportioned by different interests.
Downstate water buyers will be needed to cover part of the dam’s construction costs, according to Vickie Newlin, assistant director of Butte County Water and Resource Conservation. She said the authority has local commitments for 7.2 percent of potential water, or 130,000 acre-feet.
Bettner said 40 to 50 percent of the yielded water would be dedicated to environmental benefits. There would be discussions on how the water would be dedicated for public benefit, perhaps to bolster the amount of freshwater put into the Delta or to offset cold water storage at Lake Shasta needed for river salmon.
Newlin noted that farmers were impacted last year by restrictions to draw water at certain times to protect the cold water storage.
Kirk was concerned that the discussion questioned whether efforts to meet fishery needs or Delta water qualities would undermine local control of Sites.
“Our fisheries are suffering,” she said. “Some people are OK with that, but I’m not.”
The project’s potential public benefit is important for Proposition 1 funding. State funding can only cover costs related to public benefits, including restoring habitats, bolstering water quality, improving recreation, flood control and emergency response, according to a state analysis.
During public comment, Natalie Carter, executive director of the Butte Environmental Council, asked the board to delay sending the letter until the questions were answered.
Wahl asked how long the county should wait and Carter said until the answers were received.
Colleen Cecil, executive director of the Butte County Farm Bureau, encouraged the county to send the letter to help move the discussion forward. She said any project to relieve pressure on local ground and surface water supplies was a good thing.
Reach reporter Ryan Olson at 896-7763 and facebook.com/NorCalJustice., email@example.com or follow on Twitter: @NorCalJustice.
Palm Springs Desert Sun
Federal water bill would boost Salton Sea projects
By Bartholomew Sullivan
WASHINGTON – A major water resources bill introduced Tuesday in the Senate would allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to partner with local governments and other agencies – not just California officials – on projects to address the problems of the shrinking Salton Sea.
The bill also would require the Army Corps of Engineers to present plans for completing projects that involve restoring ecosystems such as those at the Salton Sea, and that are aimed at tackling threats to public health.
The decline of the Salton Sea, which is set accelerate under a water transfer deal starting in 2018, will expose growing areas of the lakebed and unleash more dust into the air, posing health hazards. The proposed law would take those threats into account in prioritizing projects at the lake.
Under a previous iteration of the bill, the Army Corps of Engineers could only partner with the state on projects affecting the Salton Sea. The bill introduced Tuesday permits the corps to work with local governments, the Salton Sea Authority or Indian tribes in those efforts.
The bill ends the use of the term “pilot projects” for projects to remedy the problems of California’s largest lake and seeks to give priority to certain types of ecosystems based on their importance, for example, as migratory bird sanctuaries. The Salton Sea is a major stopover for birds in the Pacific Flyway, including eared grebes, western sandpipers and the American white pelicans.
Among other things, the bill targets revitalizing the Los Angeles River, Lake Tahoe and other sensitive ecosystems. A list of projects is to be completed within six months of the bill’s passage.
The bill was introduced by Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
In a statement, Boxer said she hopes Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid will move the bill forward “as soon as possible.”
“The revitalization of the LA River will ensure the opportunity for increased economic and recreational development along the river,” Boxer said, “and the restoration of the Salton Sea will provide critical habitat and improve serious air quality issues affecting public health.”
Phil Rosentrater, executive director of the Salton Sea Authority, said the bipartisan support from the top ranks of the committee “bodes well” for its passage.
“We are thrilled to hopefully be back on track with this authorization,” he said. He said he believes federal and state officials recognize the Salton Sea Authority will be “a credible partner and an honest broker” in future projects.
Bruce Wilcox, the assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy at California’s Natural Resources Agency, said he thinks the language of the bill would help preserve funding previously identified for the Salton Sea. He said the modifications to the bill are an example of federal officials working with state and local agencies in developing solutions for the Salton Sea.
Federal officials broke ground in November on a first-of-its-kind restoration project at Red Hill Bay, which will cover 420 acres of exposed lakebed with water from the lake and the nearby Alamo River, creating wetland habitat for migratory birds and suppressing dust. But the project’s final designs aren’t finished, and major work isn’t expected to begin until late this year.
Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, applauded the introduction of the bill.
“This proposal would give the Army Corps of Engineers the authority to support mitigation efforts at the Salton Sea beyond just pilot projects and studies,” Ruiz said. “That means long-term assistance to mitigate the negative health, economic, and environmental consequences of a receding Sea. It is time for action, not more studies, and I thank Senator Barbara Boxer for being a true champion for action at the Sea.”
Ruiz said he aims to have the bipartisan proposal included in the House companion bill.
The proposed Water Resources Development Act would also address aging infrastructure and would seek to aid regions suffering from weather extremes such as the western drought. The bill would provide investments for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure as well as desalination, water recycling and groundwater recharge projects.
Other measures in the bill focus on improving flood protection and investing in the nation’s ports and inland waterways.
President Barack Obama’s administration announced a new “water innovation strategy” in December, saying the country has the potential to dramatically reduce its total water use. The administration has sought to enlist companies and organizations in efforts to promote investments and technologies that can help address water challenges.
In March, the White House held its first national water summit, convening businesspeople, scientists and policymakers for discussions about water issues ranging from climate change to the old, leaky pipes that waste water across the country.
Desert Sun reporter Ian James contributed to this report.
Bad ballot measure would block local water projects
By David Guy
Californians concerned about the drought and who want to build more water storage and other critically needed infrastructure should be extremely concerned with an initiative that has qualified for the November ballot.
It has been well-chronicled that the measure is solely funded by an individual who wants to disrupt a single project – the proposed water tunnels through the Delta.
But regardless of one’s position on that issue, the initiative has far more sweeping implications that will disrupt other infrastructure projects in California that are funded with revenue bonds.
Our organization, representing water suppliers and local governments in Northern California, carefully evaluated this initiative. The board of directors unanimously voted to oppose it – not based on the Delta tunnels, but because it could jeopardize the ability of our members to meet their communities’ various water needs.
While this ballot measure claims to be about “empowering voters” to decide what infrastructure projects to fund, the exact opposite is true. The measure would erode local control by requiring statewide votes on some projects, even when they are funded by local users and ratepayers.
Cities and special districts that want to work with the state and form joint powers authorities to issue revenue bonds to upgrade regional and local water systems, roads, bridges and airports also could have to put their project on a statewide ballot. Why should voters in Los Angeles or Marin counties be able to reject a water storage project in Fresno County?
With the overwhelming voter passage of the 2014 water bond, California is finally on track to fund one or more desperately needed water storage projects. But if approved by the voters, this measure would create another avenue for opponents to try to block the projects, potentially including the Sites and Temperance Flat reservoirs, because they will likely be funded by a mix of water bonds and revenue bonds issued by regional JPAs.
Proponents of this initiative say they declined to define what qualifies as a “project” because they wanted the courts to decide which projects should require a statewide vote. This lack of clarity will undoubtedly be exploited by opponents who will call for statewide votes merely to create litigation and delay.
We have a serious backlog of water supply and distribution projects. The last thing we need is to tie the hands of local communities with new bureaucratic and legal hurdles.
That is why nearly 100 public safety, business, labor, health care, agriculture, water, education and other organizations have already come out in opposition to this initiative. We will continue to urge others to look beyond the misleading campaign slogans and understand the consequences of this dangerous measure.
David Guy is president of the Northern California Water Association. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LA sludge case ‘about risks to Kern County,’ lawyer tells court
By James Burger
VISALIA — After nearly a decade of court battles, the legal fight between the City of Los Angeles and the County of Kern over the land application of biosolids — treated sewage sludge — finally went to trial Tuesday.
Los Angeles’ challenge of Measure E, Kern County’s 2006 voter-approved ban on farming with biosolids in unincorporated areas, has faced dueling motions and rulings at nearly every level of court in the nation.
Now, for the first time, a judge is hearing evidence, witness examination and debate in a full trial. Tulare County Superior Court Judge Lloyd Hicks is presiding over the case, which is expected to run as long as two weeks.
Attorney Brian Condon, speaking for the County of Kern, argued in his opening statement that the case isn’t about how Los Angeles-owned Green Acres Farm is meeting the current regulations that cover biosolids.
“It’s about the risks to Kern County from chemicals that aren’t covered by current rules,” he said.
Testimony will show, he said, that a host of questionable chemicals, including flame retardants, have been found in soil samples in the area.
Kern County voters, Condon argued, shouldn’t have to wait until someone is harmed by those chemicals before they can block Los Angeles from spreading biosolids on Kern County land.
Los Angeles’ attorneys spent their time Tuesday calling a string of witnesses, mostly Green Acres operators, biosolids handlers and city officials, to paint the picture that Los Angeles is operating within the law and recycling much of the city’s sewage solids in a beneficial manner by growing dairy feed crops in Kern County.
Condon and attorney Jonathan Hughes tried to poke holes in that picture and show Los Angeles was trying to do the minimum amount of work and testing to ensure biosolids were safe to spread on farmland.
City of Los Angeles attorney Mike Lampe started the day by questioning Kern County Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine about his role in enforcing county regulations on Green Acres Farm, the 4,700-acre Los Angeles-owned property where most of LA’s biosolids are disposed of.
“Has the Kern County Environmental Health Division… ever made a determination that the flies and odors came from Green Acres Farm?” Lampe asked.
“No,” Constantine said.
Lampe asked Constantine why Kern County Environmental Health Services, in 2011, stopped enforcing a 2003 ordinance that requires Los Angeles to apply only exceptional quality biosolids.
“After consulting with county counsel, I made the decision not to regulate the facility — not to enforce the 2003 AEQ ordinance,” Constantine said. “I did not believe not enforcing the ordinance would create an imminent health risk.”
Did he tell the Kern County Board of Supervisors that he had stopped enforcing the ordinance?
“I don’t remember notifying the board,” Constantine said.
On cross-examination, Condon worked hard to show Lampe was playing games with the facts and that other agencies are regulating impacts from Green Acres,
He asked Constantine about the impact that Measure E had on the 2003 ordinance.
“It repealed it,” Constantine said.
Constantine, prompted further by Condon, explained that the county stopped enforcement of the 2003 ordinance after a federal court dismissed Los Angeles’ case against Measure E several years ago.
Measure E has since been frozen by judge Hicks, who ordered Los Angeles to operate under the 2003 ordinance.
Next up was Rob Fanucchi of Kern County, who farms Green Acres Farm for Los Angeles.
Given a choice of manure or biosolids, he told Lampe, he would prefer to use biosolids.
“If things are planted at the same time, Green Acres Farm can out-produce some of the other areas I farm around there,” Fanucchi said.
Condon asked if Fanucchi knows where the irrigation water goes after it nourishes the crops.
“I don’t know how far down it goes,” he said.
Then Condon asked Fanucchi why he doesn’t use biosolids on his personal farmland, where he has almond and pistachio orchards.
“Because I don’t know if the haulers would allow it — for food quality,” Fanucchi said.
The most heated exchanges of the day came in the afternoon when Lampe called Diane Gilbert-Jones, regulatory liason for the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation, to the stand.
He went over, in detail, the reports, tests and filings Green Acres completes to comply with San Joaquin Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board and other regulatory agencies’ rules.
Then he asked, in a rapid-fire series of short questions, whether anyone has asked for additional testing of the soils, crops or water for either regulated substances or what the County of Kern calls “constituents of emerging concern.”
“No,” Gilbert-Jones said to each question.
Condon jumped in quickly to cross-examine.
“Does the City of Los Angeles monitor the groundwater at Green Acres Farms?”
“No,” Gilbert-Jones said, saying Los Angeles is not required to do so.
Condon also pushed hard on “constituents of emerging concern” — chemicals and substances that could be in biosolids but are not regulated.
He asked her if the City of Los Angeles has any plans to use constituents of concern as a control point in the treatment of biosolids — even though audits of operations called for that action.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Gilbert-Jones said.
She said regulations do not require Los Angeles to test for or treat for those chemicals and substances and — while they monitor studies on the materials — the city isn’t likely to do anything to control them unless regulations change.
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
State targets San Bernardino County areas for war on citrus psyllid
By Jim Steinberg
REDLANDS >> Starting next week, state Department of Food and Agriculture technicians will begin treatments here and in surrounding communities for the tiny insect that can carry a disease which has decimated about half the citrus production in Florida.
The application of an insecticide on citrus foliage is the beginning of a countywide effort, in select target areas, which will extend from the Cadiz Valley on the eastern part of the county to Chino Hills on the west, Jay Van Rein, a CDFA spokesman said Tuesday.
In Southern California, the disease, known as Huanglongbing, or Citrus Greening Disease, has been found only in the Los Angeles County cities of Hacienda Heights and San Gabriel, where the infected trees have been destroyed, Van Rein said.
The disease, and the insect that carries the disease, “have the potential to change the landscape of California,” said Beth Grafton-Cardwell, a research entomologist at University of California, Riverside.
There are an estimated 30 million citrus trees in commercial groves and between 10 to 20 million in backyards, said Grafton-Cardwell, who is also director of the Lindcove Research and Extension Center in Exeter.
Most of those are in Southern California and all are at risk, she said.
Because a tree infected with the disease takes about a year to show symptoms of the always fatal disease, it’s likely there are more infected trees in LA County, she said.
The Asian Citrus psyllid is widespread in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego and Ventura counties, Grafton-Cardwell said.
The state effort in San Bernardino County was prompted by a large cooperative effort by citrus growers in the greater Redlands area to spray their trees.
To help that effort, the state is paying for spraying of residential citrus trees within a 400-meter buffer zone of those groves, Van Rein said.
Some 5,000 property owners in Redlands, Mentone, Yucaipa, Highland and Loma Linda have received notifications for a voluntary spraying effort that involves the largest citrus cluster in San Bernardino County, Van Rein said.
Monday evening, more than 150 people attended an informational public meeting about the spraying effort at the Redlands American Legion Post No. 106.
On Wednesday, another informational hearing will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Yucaipa Community Center, 34900 Oak Glen Rd. Additional meetings will be held in the coming weeks at sites in cities that include Rancho Cucamonga and Rialto, Van Rein said.
The foliage application of an insecticide in the pyrethroid family is designed to reduce populations of the first generation of Asian citrus psyllid, Van Rein said.
The effects of this chemical are very short-lived, he said.
Residents in those buffer zones will receive notification on their front door 48 hours before teams arrive in their area, state officials said.
The state crews will apply insecticide only on citrus trees. Residents may decline the service by calling a number listed on a notification sheet. They can also call the number to reschedule, officials said.
Tom Gillett said he and his wife will decline the free spraying of the citrus trees on their Redlands property out of concern for butterflies, native bees and other beneficial insects.
But due to a computer glitch, the couple could not determine at Monday night’s meeting whether their property was in the buffer zone.
State officials said they would contact the household with an answer Tuesday.
Grafton-Cardwell said that orange trees are not blooming now and therefore pose no threat to pollinating insects like bees.
In about six months, the plan calls for the ground application of a systemic poison that will provide longer term reduction of future generations, Van Rein said.
But that program is contingent upon county citrus growers applying the systemic treatments for their groves, he said.
It’s estimated that the bacterial disease spread by the aphid-sized psyllid has cost Florida more than $1.3 billion in lost revenue and eliminate more than 6,600 jobs over the last five years.
All the commercial orange groves in Florida have the disease, Grafton-Cardwell saiD.
Valley Public Radio, Fresno
Dairymen Join Birders To Help Save The Tricolored Blackbird
By Ezra David Romero
Late last year the Tricolored Blackbird became a candidate for the California Endangered Species List. The population of the bird mostly native to the Golden State has plummeted making flocks harder and harder to find. Both bird enthusiasts and farmers are working to keep the colorful bird from extinction.
On Steve Shehadey’s dairy near Kerman he has over 7,000 cows. But it’s not just heifers and calves on this 5,000 acre farm. There are almond trees and fields of grain used for cattle feed, plus thousands of blackbirds living among Shehadey’s herd.
“You can drive out here anytime and you’ll see colonies of birds picking at insects, looking for food,” Shehadey says. “Over the last several years there’s a lot less dairies, and there’s a lot less ground and with the drought it’s made it tough on the birds.”
Lots of these feathered creatures are Tricolored Blackbirds. They’re about six inches long and look like a normal blackbird, but with a red spot and a white stripe on their shoulders. Shehadey and I meet Samantha Arthur with Audubon California in the middle of one of his grain fields where a colony of over 7,000 birds recently decided to call home.
“We are walking right next to a dense patch of mugwort that tri-colored blackbirds have selected for a colony site,” Arthur says. “And then right over this berm here is a field of triticale where they’re also nesting on the dairy there.”
The birds are nesting here because there’s just not enough natural habitat left in Central California for them to lay their eggs. That’s great for the birds but also potentially a problem when farmers go to harvest which can crush thousands of eggs and baby birds.
“Last week I saw them carrying nesting material here,” says Arthur. “So the females come back they got the grasses in their beaks and this activity probably picking up insects, feeding.”
The birds fly solo most of the year but come together as a colony for about a month during mating and nesting until the nestlings are ready to fly off. Arthur roams the state looking for colonies of the threatened bird.
“Tricolored Blackbirds have experienced an alarming decline in recent year,” Arthur says. “We’ve seen from statewide surveys a 44% drop from to 2014.”
At one time there were millions of these birds flying around the state, but Audubon California reports there are as few as 150,000 left. In response to this drop in population the California Fish and Game Commission is considering listing the bird as an endangered species later this year. Arthur blames that decrease on a loss of foraging ground and marshland for nesting.
“Tricolored Blackbirds are the last bird on land in North America that nests in big groups,” Arthur says. “If you were to walk through a colony you could see tens of nests just right around you.”
When giant colonies of Tricolored Blackbirds choose to nest in grain fields farmers like Shehadey can apply for a payment from the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. It’s a little over $600 per acre to aid in covering the costs of delaying harvest. Shehadey says the program helps, but for some farmers it’s not enough.
“It does create a hardship for the farmers,” says Shehadey. “We’ve got enough ground where we have plenty of feed for our cows, but for a small dairymen that may only have 100 acres and he needs that feed for his cows for a whole year. If he loses a percentage of that it could impact his cows.”
Before this incentive program began some farmers would harvest their fields knowing they’d kill thousands of baby birds because they need the grain. So far seven farmers are participating in the program covering 400 acres. Officials hope other farmers will use the money to buy grain instead of harvesting when the birds are nesting.
About an hour north of the colony of Tricolored Blackbirds at the dairy, Tara Wertz is studying a group of around 5,000 birds at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge.
“[Their] call kind of sounds like a cat,” Wertz says. “That’s the males saying hey parties on right here.”
Wertz planted a plot of grain on the 10,000 acre refuge known for waterfowl. She wanted to attract the Tricolored Blackbird.
“So we had this really nice green lush field of oats and barley and all kinds of great stuff the birds liked last year,” Wertz says. “This year they’re not using it at all, but they love this weed patch that’s growing.”
She found when the birds had the option between natural habitat, like milk thistle, or planted fields they chose the natural option. But Wertz points out there isn’t enough natural habitat left in the state to support a larger population of the species. That’s why programs like the one providing funds to dairymen like Shehadey are essential.
“It shows that farmers are environmentalists,” Shehadey says. “We live and take care of our environment every day. There’s wildlife out here 365 days a year. We have water and feed that helps them sustain their species.”
It’s efforts like this that both dairymen and bird watchers hope that the California Fish and Game Commission take into consideration when making a decision on whether to list the black, red and white bird in December.