Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Officials poised to sign Klamath River dam agreements
By Jonathan J. Cooper
SACRAMENTO, CALIF. – Officials from Oregon, California and the Obama administration are scheduled to sign a pact Wednesday agreeing to seek permission to tear down four hydroelectric dams that are blamed for killing fish and blocking their migration.
They will also agree to protect farmers and ranchers from rising power and water prices as they work on a broader pact to bring peace to long-running water wars in the Klamath River basin, which straddles the Oregon-California border.
The landmark agreement revives a dormant, six-year-old settlement process that Congress failed to approve last year. In addition to removing dams, that original settlement would have restored tribal lands and provided more water for farmers and ranchers.
By removing the dams without congressional approval, and providing price assurances to farmers in exchange, the advocates hope to make the larger deal more palatable for Congress.
“Now we’re regrouping, trying to figure out what’s our path to solve those problems,” said Tricia Hill, treasurer of the Klamath Water Users Association, which advocates for farmers and ranchers. “We’ve got rural communities that rely on the water for jobs … and that hasn’t changed.”
The latest deal is spelled out in two agreements. One or both of them will be signed by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, California Gov. Jerry Brown, high-ranking federal officials, tribal leaders, conservation groups, large-scale water users and dam-owner PacifiCorp.
Dams alter water flows and contribute to fish diseases and algae bloom problems. Three tribes depend on the fish for subsistence and ceremonial needs, and a fourth hopes fish will return once the dams are removed.
“They will recolonize the river immediately,” said Brian Johnson, California director for Trout Unlimited, a conservation group that plans to sign the agreement. “They’re there at the dam every year. So they’ll start going back right away.”
Not everyone is celebrating. Dam removal is a major improvement, but the guarantees for farmers and ranchers don’t belong in the agreement, said Jim McCarthy of the conservation group WaterWatch.
“There’s a bunch of little sweetheart deals that the irrigators want to maintain, and they’re trying to caboose it on this dam-removal train,” McCarthy said.
The PacifiCorp utility has supported a dam-removal agreement because it offers the company liability protections and caps the costs to its customers. Several studies have shown that dam upgrades likely to be required would significantly reduce electricity generation and would cost millions more than dam removal and replacement of hydropower with other sources.
The company will transfer ownership of four Klamath River dams to a nonprofit corporation recently created in California, which will petition the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for approval to tear them down. Two others will be transferred to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which will continue operating them without raising prices for farmers and ranchers who irrigate their fields.
One of the tribes already has obtained senior water rights through the courts, limiting water available for farmers and ranchers, and the others could pursue that process. Klamath Basin agriculture is valued at about $670 million annually.
Funding for the $450 million project would come from PacifiCorp customers in California and Oregon, along with a water bond approved by California voters in 2014.
More water means no water transfers, despite shortage in Southern California
By Heather Hacking
The rains this winter were more or less than expected, depending on where you live and what you expected.
In September of last year, many weather forecasters expected heavier than normal rains in Southern California, and mixed expectations for rains in Northern California.
However, Northern California ended up receiving normal rainfall and Southern California did not.
The unequal distribution of water continues as state and federal water leaders allocate surface water supply. In Northern California, landowners along the Feather and Sacramento rivers expect 100 percent water supply. However, it’s more hit and miss south of the delta.
Folks might think this would lead to many north-to-south water transfers. However, that’s not the case.
Due to environmental restraints on pumping, and the capacity of water delivery canals, there isn’t room in the canals for transfers.
“At this point, nobody in Northern California is contemplating any transfers,” said Thad Bettner, manager of Glenn Colusa Irrigation District, which includes 175,000 acres in Northern California.
Along the Feather River, Western Canal Water District and what are known as the “joint districts” are also expected to receive full water delivery.
However, the 29 State Water Contractors located in various places throughout the state have been told to expect 45 percent water allocations.
Ted Trimble, manager of Western Canal Water District along the Feather River, explained that water transfers are more likely in dry years because there will be excess capacity in the system.
Pumping is limited by environmental constraints, Trimble continued.
During the early months of the year, delta smelt, which are endangered, can be sucked into the powerful pumps at the southern end of the delta. In the spring, salmon can be damaged or routed away from their native river.
Trimble said 100 percent water supply is probably not even possible for many areas. He estimated that 60-70 percent of water supplies through the two aqueducts in the state may be the maximum.
The past few years have been especially rough for Tehama Colusa Canal Authority, which received an allocation of zero the past two years. The district includes 150,000 acres in four counties.
General Manager Jeff Sutton estimated 60,000 acres was not planted last year. Growers put what water was available toward keeping trees from dying. Growers relied heavily on groundwater pumping, which Sutton said is not sustainable, and bought 50,000 acre-feet of groundwater from senior water rights holders in the valley. The price was $500 an acre-foot.
For Tehama-Colusa, it was “definitely a March miracle,” Sutton said.
“Water districts, farmers, everyone dipped into reserves and tried to survive,” Sutton said.
Now that water is available and growers can produce food, prices for both walnuts and rice is expected to be lower this year, he said. But at least his landowners can farm.
“It’s been a challenging time. In the history of the (Tehama-Colusa Canal), something like this has never occurred,” Sutton said.
Even in the drought of 1977, the district received 25 percent of the water supply, he noted.
A combination of water cutbacks and water transfers meant a reduction of about 25 percent in rice planting last year.
Trimble said growers will be eager to get that land back into production.
Fritz Durst is on the board of Reclamation District 108, south of Colusa. The return of water allocation is a relief this year, he said, but he is still concerned about the future.
Durst said his district and others have built projects to improve fish survival. One example is new gates at Knights Landing to keep fish in the main stem of the river. Another project is planned with CalTrout, he said.
But “until fish populations improve we will have a challenge” in the water business, Durst said.
This year Northern California reservoirs were full and the bureau still wavered on whether full water allocations would be given in Northern California. He said he is concerned about water supply next year.
The cost for water in the past few years has increased for landowners able to receive water. The reason, Bettner said, is that the cost to maintain and operate the water delivery system is divided among water users. When water was limited these past few years, the majority of the maintenance costs were passed to those who received water.
In a typical water year, water delivery form the Bureau of Reclamation might cost Glenn-Colusa $30 an acre-foot. One acre foot of water is 325,851 gallons. Last year the water cost was about $125 an acre-foot. He said he expects costs to be high again this year.
At this rate, it would be cheaper for landowners to pay for the energy to pump groundwater.
Contact reporter Heather Hacking at 896-7758.
OID approves water sale worth nearly $14 million
By Garth Stapley
OAKDALE – The Oakdale Irrigation District expects to reap $13.75 million selling Stanislaus River water to buyers from the Fresno area and on the Valley’s drought-scarred West Side, according to a sales agreement unanimously approved Tuesday by the OID board.
The same water – up to 37,500 acre-feet flowing down the Stanislaus – also will meet OID’s obligation for swelling the river in April and May to propel young fish toward the ocean.
“We’re killing two birds with one stone,” board member Herman Doornenbal said. “Government agencies are satisfied because they’re getting water for fish, and we get paid for it.”
Board members Linda Santos and Gail Altieri hesitated for a couple of reasons. The idea of selling water to outsiders “really bothers me,” Santos said; on the other hand, OID should have asked for a lot more money from thirsty buyers, she said.
The 37,500 acre-feet of water in Tuesday’s sale dwarfs the 9,000 acre-feet heading to the same buyers this year in a separate deal that OID calls its On-Farm Conservation Program. That arrangement will pay farmers to fallow farmland, freeing up water to ship south for perhaps $4 million; sellers will get 20 percent in cash and must spend 70 percent on efficiency upgrades, while the OID keeps 5 percent.
The smaller deal, approved on a split vote last month, has resulted in a lawsuit filed Friday against OID alleging that the district failed to address environmental impacts of shipping water away. If not used in this area, the water cannot seep down and replenish local aquifers, the lawsuit says.
OID’s attorney was not reached Tuesday for comment on the lawsuit, which was brought by OID customers Robert Frobose and Louis Brichetto, and a new group called the Oakdale Groundwater Alliance.
The lawsuit also questions how OID board member Gary Osmundson could vote in favor of the water sale shortly after signing up to fallow 110 acres of his own land. He could stand to make $125,400 on the deal, the lawsuit says.
In reality, Osmundson said after the board meeting, he applied to fallow about 105 acres, representing profit of about $119,700; that’s according to the $1,140-per-acre computation used by OID in notices previously mailed to customers to drum up interest in the On-Farm Conservation Program.
“My attorney and OID’s attorney both provided me information saying I can participate (in fallowing), as any other constituent in the district can,” Osmundson said.
A similar conflict-of-interest debate surfaced two weeks ago at a Modesto Irrigation District meeting, when a resident asked about two MID board members who own solar panels participating in discussions affecting solar customers’ rates. MID’s attorney said it’s OK because such votes treat all solar customers alike; after all, farmers’ water rates are determined by farmers sitting on water boards.
OID board Chairman Steve Webb is at the center of a separate conflict issue. Attorney Roger Schrimp, who since has died, had represented OID in various matters while also serving as Webb’s private attorney in a separate legal battle, and Webb had voted with other board members in October to raise Schrimp’s pay from OID.
Webb wanted the board on Tuesday to amend meeting minutes to reflect that he had abstained in October. He dropped the matter when OID attorney James Oliveira said Webb had done nothing wrong.
The OID will team with its partner on the Stanislaus – the South San Joaquin Irrigation District – to sell up to 75,000 acre-feet of water in the deal approved Tuesday. The contract requires that the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority and the California Department of Water Resources pay $300 per acre-foot for the first 65,000 acre-feet, and $400 per acre-foot for the last 10,000.
Santos said Sacramento-area districts fetched from $550 per acre-foot in other fallowing-for-money transfers.
“It’s our fiduciary responsibility as a board,” she said. “If we’re going to sell the district’s water, we should be getting as much (money) as we can.”
OID General Manager Steve Knell said, “prices are determined on a lot of variables.”
If the district were to refuse to cooperate with wildlife and water agencies, state and federal officials could swell the Stanislaus anyway with water stored in New Melones Reservoir, Knell said, and OID would get no money while suffering from poorer relations with the other agencies. OID and SSJID would be forced to sue and would never strike further deals, he said.
After exporting water in both transfers and providing local customers with as much water as they need, OID still will have about 20,000 acre-feet of extra water, Knell said.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390, firstname.lastname@example.org
Marin Independent Journal
Marin officials fight attempt to oust ranchers from National Seashore
By Nels Johnson
Marin County officials are rallying to support ranchers in the fight against a lawsuit they think would end cattle and dairy operations in the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Rep. Jared Huffman joined county supervisors in backing continued ranching activity in the national parkland, an enterprise federal officials promised could continue when families who had farmed the land for generations sold their holdings for inclusion in the park decades ago.
After meeting in closed session, the board announced the county will join the National Park Service in the legal fight to oppose the lawsuit.
Just a year after an oyster farming operation was booted from the seashore amid heated controversy, three environmental groups have taken aim at ranching, saying park officials must update a management plan and conduct an environmental analysis before extending cattle grazing rights. Ranchers fear the lawsuit will doom their leases. Some observers fear an end to ranching in the seashore would erode the farming economy in West Marin, perhaps leading to residential development of vacant farmland parcels.
Huffman and the county board sided squarely with the ranching community Tuesday as a crowd gathered at the Civic Center to boost farming as usual on coastal parkland.
“You are going to see me work shoulder to shoulder with you to defeat this litigation,” Huffman told the county board. “The overwhelming majority of the environmental community supports ranchers.”
“The continuation of the historic ranches and dairies … was really at the core” of what “this community and this county signed up for so many years ago” when the federal government bargained to acquire the property, the congressman added.
Supervisors in turn each expressed support for ranchers.
“This is a no-brainer,” Supervisor Katie Rice said, backing county involvement “in opposing this lawsuit.” Supervisor Judy Arnold agreed, saying, “We’re all totally supportive.” Board president Steve Kinsey, saying national seashore bureaucrats welcome county support, added he was “glad to see the full board recognizes this is the destiny.”
The board then went into closed session to discuss how “muscular” it should be in opposing the lawsuit, with options ranging from filing a “friend of the court” brief to joining the park in an aggressive defense. The board later announced the county will ask the court to allow it to intervene in the matter and join the park service in opposing the suit, with county counsel working in concert with federal lawyers.
The board, most often inclined to discuss all aspects of lawsuits behind closed doors, instead held a public discussion about some of the issues as a crowd dominated by representatives of the ranching community assembled. The audience included representatives of cattle and dairy ranchers, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, the Marin Farm Bureau, the Straus Family Creamery, the county agricultural and farm offices, and the California Cattlemen’s Association, among others.
The parade of speakers included Betty Nunes, whose family has ranched the land for a century, and runs a 220-head organic dairy herd on 650 acres at “A” Ranch. “We have had a great relationship with the park,” she said. “We hope we can keep producing food” for Marin.
In filing suit in federal court earlier this year, the Resource Renewal Institute, Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project contended an in-depth public review of ranching activities was needed.
Huey D. Johnson, president of Resource Renewal Institute and a former state secretary of resources, at the time criticized the park service for a lack of comprehensive planning and environmental analysis. The lawsuit indicates the National Park Service relies on an outdated management plan that fails to consider climate change, increasing recreational use and threats to wildlife including tule elk.
Johnson in 1977 served as president of the Trust for Public Land, helping to acquire more than 2,000 acres for the seashore and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Johnson contends land intended as habitat and recreation area has been inappropriately leased to private ranchers.
Fifteen ranch families have 24 leases of seashore tracts that stretch over 18,000 of the park’s 71,000 acres.
Capital Public Radio
Bill Would Restrict Some Rat Poisons In California
By Ed Joyce
A coalition of 57 conservation, public-health, research and wildlife-rehabilitation groups, is urging California to ban the most toxic rat and mouse poisons.
Assembly bill 2596, introduced by California Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), would restrict the most dangerous rodenticides that have been linked to the poisoning of people and animals.
“The poisons hurt children, pets, and wildlife – including the natural predators of rats and mice,” says Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Rat poisons are silent, indiscriminate killers that end up killing wildlife, such as owls, bobcats and foxes, animals which actually help naturally control the rodent population.”
He says there are safer alternatives.
“Cleaning up unsanitary areas such as trash bins overflowing, eliminating where people are leaving food and water out that attract mice, and sealing up buildings to prevent rats and mice from entering homes in the first place,” says Evans.
Evans says those are effective long-term solutions for rodent problems.
The Assembly bill would ban use of the poisons in residential and commercial areas, but still allow use by the agriculture industry or during an emergency rodent or disease outbreak.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers say more than 8,500 children under age six were poisoned with rodenticides in the United States in 2014.
Evans says wildlife officials have documented poisonings from use of rodenticides in at least 37 different types of animals, including endangered species like the San Joaquin kit fox.
Wall Street Journal
Food Shippers in the U.S. Face New Rules
Move is part of an effort by the FDA to reduce food-borne diseases
By Jesse Newman
Federal regulators on Tuesday introduced rules for food transportation that require shippers to ensure vehicles are properly cleaned and refrigerated.
The move is part of a sweeping effort to reduce food-borne diseases that the Food and Drug Administration said sickens one in six Americans every year, though the agency said major problems created during transportation were “infrequent”.
The new requirements apply to food shipped for people and animals and lay out a set of best practices governing the cleaning of road and rail vehicles between shipments, adequate refrigeration and other protective measures during transport.
The broad-reaching rule “will have a significant effect on how companies in the food industry do business,” said Jeff Barach, a food safety consultant to the Association of Packaging and Processing Technologies, a trade group that represents manufacturers of food packaging and processing equipment.
Mr. Barach said under the rule, shippers will now have to take measures like precooling trucks before loading them with food, and maintaining records showing adequate temperature controls throughout transport.
Shippers have to ensure they’re “not loading an 18-wheeler that’s been sitting in the sun in Florida where its 90 degrees outside,” he said.
The requirement is the sixth of seven major rules that make up the Food Safety Modernization Act, an overhaul of food-safety oversight that Congress passed in 2010, and its completion brings the government nearer to implementation of the law.
The rules follow a series of deadly food-borne illness outbreaks in the past decade linked to tainted fruit, spinach, peanut butter and other products, and are all due to be completed this year.
“Consumers deserve a safe food supply and this final rule will help to ensure that all those involved in the farm-to-fork continuum are doing their part to ensure that the food products that arrive in our grocery stores are safe to eat,” said Michael R. Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.
The transportation rule applies to food shipped within the U.S. by road or rail, as well as imports that are then moved within the U.S.
Large businesses will be required to comply with the rule one year after its publication in the Federal Register, while smaller companies have two years to comply.
Write to Jesse Newman at email@example.com