Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Redding Record Searchlight
Salmon concerns may affect water deliveries
By Damon Arthur
Unlike the past two years, some North State water agencies have received a glimmer of hope they won’t see water cuts this year from the federal government.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has notified senior water rights holders — such as the city of Redding and the Anderson-Cottonwood Irrigation District — the amount of water flowing into Lake Shasta this winter has been high enough to forestall the 25 percent water delivery cuts they have seen the past two years.
But concerns the winter-run chinook salmon is at the brink of extinction has water managers worried federal and state officials will require cutbacks anyway to protect the fish from a third year of a near-total die-off.
“Our supply may not be what we’re contractually entitled to,” said Stan Wangberg, ACID general manager. “The cold water in Lake Shasta is the issue.”
A 2016 drought contingency plan for the State Water Project and bureau’s Central Valley Project says federal fisheries officials are considering curtailing water releases out of Keswick and Shasta dams to keep more cold water available in Lake Shasta to help spawning winter-run salmon.
“In general, the proposed concept involves flow release as low as 2,750 (cubic feet per second) and 3,250 (cfs) until late May or initiation of a water temperature management plan,” the contingency plan says.
During normal water years, flow release from the dams during the summer reaches 13,000 cfs or more.
The restricted releases into the Sacramento River could also persist through the summer under the National Marine Fisheries Service proposal because the agency is also considering a plan to have 2.2 million acre-feet of water in the lake at the end of September and keeping water in the river at an average 53 degrees.
The lake was 35 percent full at the end of September 2015.
The fish, which spawn only in the Redding area, require colder water at 56 degrees or less to ensure the eggs and recent hatches survive. Fish biologists say water temperatures in the summer and fall above 56 degrees are fatal to the eggs and young fish.
With Lake Shasta depleted from the drought, the amount of cold water available in the lake was exhausted in 2014 and severely limited last year, officials said.
That left water in the Sacramento River too warm and fatal to most of the young winter-run salmon.
In 2014 about 95 percent of the eggs and recent hatches died in the river before they could get as far south as Red Bluff on their way to the ocean, where they live for three years. In 2015, 96 percent to 97 percent of the fish died before reaching Red Bluff.
Winter-run salmon once spawned by the thousands in the colder rivers and streams in the mountains upstream of Lake Shasta. But Shasta and Keswick dams now block the fish from reaching their ancestral spawning grounds.
In 2015, an estimated 321,113 young winter-run salmon were counted at the former Red Bluff Diversion Dam, according to the drought plan. That number is down from the 4.4 million counted there in 2009.
Salmon have a three-year life cycle, hatching in fresh water, spending three years in the ocean and then returning to fresh water to spawn and die.
Federal officials said they are concerned that three consecutive years of die-offs may leave too few fish to carry on the species.
Even though his agency would benefit from a higher water allocation this year, Wangberg said he recognizes the salmon’s plight.
“If they lose three years in a row, it very well could be the demise of the species,” he said.
The Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District of Orland is also donating drivers to haul gravel to dump along the Sacramento River in Redding this month.
The district, also a senior water rights holder dating back to 1914, is also concerned about the winter-run, said Cynthia Davis, a spokeswoman for the district. If the winter-run suffer, the district suffers by receiving less water.
The winter-run use the gravel to create spawning nests. Officials said the dams also block the natural flow of gravel down the river, so they have to pour gravel along the river for the fish.
As part of the effort to give the winter-run a boost, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials nearly doubled the number of winter-run salmon raised at the Livingston Stone National Fish Hatchery at Shasta Dam.
On Wednesday and Thursday the service will release about 420,000 salmon into the Sacramento River. Last year the agency released about 600,000 winter-run fingerlings.
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Turlock Irrigation District plans to double water deliveries
By John Holland
Farmers got welcome news Tuesday night: The Turlock Irrigation District expects to at least double its deliveries compared with last year.
The above-average rain and snow since November likely mean at least 36 vertical inches of water over the 2016 season, officials told an overflow crowd of about 170 in the district boardroom.
That assumes that the rest of winter will be below average, said Tou Her, assistant general manager for water resources. If the rain and snow are average or better, the allotment could rise even more.
“Mother Nature has really dealt us a pretty good card so far,” Her said.
In 2015, a fourth straight dry year, TID reduced farmers to 18 inches because of reduced flows in its Tuolumne River watershed and shrinking storage in Don Pedro Reservoir. In better times, farmers typically got 48 inches. Many of them have relied on increased groundwater pumping to keep producing crops.
The board plans to make a final decision on the season March 15, as winter nears an end, and to start up the canals in early April.
Miguel Perez, who grows almonds along West Service Road, was among the audience members pleased with the projection.
“It’s a lot better than last year,” he said. “It’s almost double.”
We will have more on this story Wednesday.
Humboldt marijuana growers lead in water program participation
By Will Houston
Humboldt County accounted for the majority of 51 medical marijuana growers who have chosen to enroll in the North Coast’s mandatory water quality protection program that hopes to serve as a model for California.
As to whether this enrollment number met his expectations, water resource control engineer Kason Grady of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board said there are still several applications to be processed and assured they will have more growers signed up before and after the Monday deadline.
“There are thousands of growers in our region,” Grady said. “I think there is long way to go.”
The end of Monday marks the deadline for medical marijuana growers in the control board’s 10-county district — which stretches from the Oregon border to Santa Rosa — to sign up for the board’s Cannabis Cultivation Waste Discharge Regulatory Program.
Adopted by the water board in August 2015, the program requires medical marijuana growers to comply with state and federal water quality laws pertaining to issues like drainage, road construction, fertilizer storage, water sediment and temperature control, and water diversions.
The program works by placing marijuana grows into tiers that are dependent on the size and qualities of the grow site.
Those at the lowest tier need only comply with standard conditions to be in the water board’s good graces. Those at the highest tier must develop and submit a cleanup and restoration plan for their site within a 45-day period among several other conditions.
Redcrest resident and medical marijuana farmer Sunshine Johnston has a 2,500-square-foot grow that also includes other produce. She enrolled in the program in November and was placed in the lowest tier.
Johnston said her situation is unique compared to other growers she knows of as she is right off a county-maintained road, has no stream crossings, does not use petroleum-based or synthesized fertilizers and grows organically.
“I don’t have any of that expensive stuff to fix,” she said. “I don’t say I have the same challenges as most landowners do.”
Johnston said the “green rush” of growers flowing into Humboldt County and other North Coast areas throughout the years led to several issues like illegally graded roads, poor fertilizer storage, and many other issues that have impacted water quality.
While Johnston said the program is a good idea overall, it is also is a pilot run for all of California, which is finally wrestling to regulate an industry that has long kept out of view if it could avoid it.
The state’s recently approved Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act requires the state’s other eight regional water quality control boards to adopt a similar water quality program.
Growers must also comply with other regulations that differ from county to county. Meanwhile, the state is working to form its own Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation and create a medical marijuana permitting system by 2018.
Then there are the water board’s yearly enrollment fees that range from $1,000 to $10,000 on top of whatever costs go along with making their grow site legal. Despite these many hurdles, Johnston said the alternative is going back to being a criminal in the eyes of the state.
“It’s kind of one of those ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situations,” she said. “If they want to keep farming, well, they’re going to have to sign up for this thing and hope for the best. … You have to love being a farmer and love doing what you do to go through this.”
Monday’s deadline does not mean growers won’t be able to enroll in the program on Tuesday or any day after, North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board enforcement coordinator Diana Henrioulle said.
“It’s not like the door is closed,” she said.
But similar to the end of the countdown in a game of hide-and-seek, the deadline marks the last day the water board will hold back from enforcing its rules and issuing penalties. Henrioulle said they will be reaching out to known growers who have not complied and said any growers are welcome to contact the water board before or after the deadline with questions.
“If you’re cultivating cannabis on private land and you have 2,000 square-feet (of cultivation area), then you need to enroll in our program,” she said.
More information on cannabis water quality program and enrollment requirements can be found online at www.waterboards.ca.gov/northcoast/water_issues/programs/cannabis/.
Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.
Farm groups plow into trade fight
By Vicki Needham
U.S. agriculture groups have begun a massive lobbying campaign aimed at winning congressional approval of President Obama’s sweeping Pacific Rim trade agreement.
Agriculture interests including producers of beef, chicken, grain and corn have emerged as some of the biggest backers of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), giving Obama powerful allies as he seeks to win votes for the agreement.
With the TPP facing headwinds in Congress, the agriculture groups are coming to lawmakers with a simple message: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
“If we are to move the U.S. economy forward, we have to be willing to negotiate and pass deals that better positions the U.S. to compete globally. TPP does that,” Devry Boughner Vorwerk, the vice president of corporate affairs for Cargill, told the International Trade Commission in January.
The trade deal is facing opposition in both parties, with Republicans stressing they won’t help pass the agreement until the White House resolves their concerns about several issues, especially the treatment of pharmaceuticals and tobacco.
Democrats, meanwhile, are mostly against the pact, arguing it will lead to job losses and depressed wages.
The agriculture groups insist that the TPP has far-reaching benefits for U.S. farmers and ranchers in every state. Passing the agreement, they say, would send a powerful message that the United States is ready to seize the economic and strategic reins in the Asia-Pacific.
Many of the agriculture groups are already lobbying for the TPP, taking their message to Capitol Hill and canvassing nearly every congressional district in a fight where every single vote will count.
Beef producers, for example, are taking advantage of this week’s congressional recess to meet with lawmakers in their states.
“We’re doing our best to educate people even as they are getting hit from all sides speculating about how the TPP harms them,” said Kent Bacus, associate director of legislative affairs with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
The early conversations with lawmakers have shown just how much work is ahead to build support.
Bacus said many lawmakers were under the impression that beef had gotten left out of the final TPP agreement.
“It’s going to take a lot of education and coordination moving forward,” he said.
The cattlemen’s association has a TPP website highlighting the losses the industry is facing in the Pacific while the deal remains in limbo.
Bacus acknowledged that there are TPP supporters on Capitol Hill who are politically vulnerable this year but said he hopes more will come out in favor of the deal as the presidential primary season progresses.
“If they don’t take a stand for TPP, which stands to benefit agriculture for many years to come, we want to know why,” Bacus said.
Chicken producers and corn growers are also putting their muscle behind the trade deal.
Tom Super, senior vice president of communications for the National Chicken Council, said poultry interests plan to bring a massive group of advocates to Washington in early March to urge a vote this year on the TPP.
“The sooner the better for us,” Super said.
Super said that his group is focusing its lobbying efforts on lawmakers from what he calls the “Broiler Belt.” The region stretches from central Pennsylvania down through Mid-Atlantic and into the South, and includes Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, along with Texas.
Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama are the top three broiler-chicken producing states, with Mississippi and North Carolina not too far behind. There are smaller operations in California and Minnesota, as well.
“Yes, people eat chicken in every state, but that is where our main focus is,” Super said.
Zach Kinne, director of public policy for the National Corn Growers Association, said the main thrust of their lobbying will be in the 28 states of the “Corn Belt,” though the group also plans to fan out across most of the country.
He said lawmakers in the Corn Belt states are likely to hear the “constant drumbeat of why trade matters and why we need TPP passed this year or as soon as possible.”
Corn growers are also planning to storm Capitol Hill with advocates in March and will coordinate with pro-trade groups like the Trade Benefits America to extend their reach into most other states.
The Corn Belt covers a broad swath of the nation, from the East Coast to as far west as Nebraska and from Louisiana northward into Minnesota.
David Salmonsen, senior director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said his group’s members are casting a wide net across all congressional districts.
The Farm Bureau’s state groups are planning Washington trips and will give special consideration to those districts with members on the House Ways and Means and the Senate Finance committees, which will have to approve the TPP for floor consideration.
Some groups supportive of the trade deal are taking their time to carefully coordinate their message before intensifying their efforts.
Appeals court upholds wage ruling for prune workers
By Harold Kruger
A Sutter County judge correctly interpreted state wage rules covering prune workers, a state appeals court said Tuesday.
The 3rd District Court of Appeals said the case involving farmers Jaswant Bains and Piara Gosal “plumbs the line” between “different overtime pay rates for agricultural workers who harvest fruit and for those who process fruit for market.”
Baswant and Gosal sued the state Department of Industrial Relations in 2013, contending their employees who process dried plums into prunes should not be subject to a higher overtime rate than workers who harvest the fruit.
“Some workers harvest the prunes from the trees, whence they are transported to fixed structures where other workers process them for marketing by drying them,” the appeals court said in its 19-page opinion.
“Neither the fact the fixed structures abut the orchards, nor the fact that the fruit must be dried in order to be marketed alters this distinction in function between the workers, a distinction the department has determined merits a difference in providing overtime wages.”
Sutter County Judge Perry Parker sided with the state agency.
The case stemmed from an inspection of the Bains orchard by a detective from the state Bureau of Field Enforcement.
The detective “believed that workers in the drying facility were not harvesters and therefore were entitled to the more generous overtime benefits,” the appeals court said.
Bains “asserted those workers were to be treated the same as those ‘working in the orchards’ … who therefore received less generous overtime benefits,” the opinion said.
At issue were two wage orders issued by the state: one applied to “operations performed in fixed structures to prepare products for market,” while the other “refers to harvesting products and placing them in containers where they will be taken to the place of first processing,” the appeals court said.
Parker’s “conclusion that harvesting ends and processing begins after the fruit is transported from the orchards to the fixed drying sheds was correct, and therefore the court correctly concluded that the more generous wage order for processing workers, rather than the wage order for harvesters, applied to the workers in the drying sheds,” according to the opinion.
The appeals court “published’ its decision, meaning it has impact statewide.
CONTACT Harold Kruger at 749-4774, email@example.com
Lodi vintners remember Scalia for landmark wine sales ruling
By Kyla Cathey
In the wake of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, questions have risen about the court’s immediate future and the often polarizing Scalia’s legacy.
For Lodi wineries, however, things are a little more concrete. Scalia will be remembered by wine lovers for his swing vote in Granholm v. Heald, which allowed wineries to ship their wines directly to consumers in states that allowed it.
“I never met Justice Scalia personally, but that decision has opened up wine markets for wineries to send wines to consumers in 43 states, and we’re working on the rest of them as well,” said Lodi Mayor Mark Chandler, who was executive director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission in 2005, when the court released its decision on the case.
Scalia passed away last week while on a quail hunting trip in Texas.
What was Granholm v. Heald?
Granholm v. Heald actually began as two separate cases. The first, Swedenburg v. Kelly, included Lodi’s own Lucas Winery among the plaintiffs.
That case argued that a New York law that allowed in-state wineries to ship directly to consumers but required out-of-state wineries to go through state-licensed wholesalers was unconstitutional. Heald v. Engler was a Michigan case making the same argument.
The cases began at the state level. The state of New York won the right to ban out-of-state wine shipments in the Second Circuit Court, but the state of Michigan lost to out-of-state wineries in the Sixth Circuit. That’s when things got a little unusual.
“We ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court, which really surprised me,” said David Lucas, owner of Lucas Winery.
It wasn’t the usual type of case to go before the nation’s highest court, and one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs told them he’d never seen the justices have so much fun with a case, Lucas said.
Their day in court
For Lucas, the opportunity to go before the Supreme Court when the case was argued in December 2004 was an incredible one. The entire attitude of the court is different, because the people who go before the justices are trying to change the law, not accused of breaking it.
“They’re all amazing. They’re really, really smart. They know exactly what they’re after,” Lucas said of the justices.
That incisive intelligence extended to Scalia, he said.
“He was impressive,” he said.
Lucas attended the court while the wineries’ case was argued, and he said that it was an educational experience. The justices don’t sit quietly and listen. Instead, they ask questions, argue with each other, and get deeply involved in tearing apart the case to learn every important detail.
Justice Scalia was no different, Lucas said, and in this case his questions and arguments had a major effect on turning the court in the wineries’ favor.
“The idea of upholding the Constitution and the 21st Amendment was really important to him,” Lucas said.
On May 16, 2005, the court decided in a 5-4 ruling that if states allowed their own wineries to ship their product directly to consumers, they must allow out-of-state wineries the same right.
Scalia joined Justices Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer in the majority.
Effects still felt today
“That ruling going back to 2005 opened the door to much more direct shipping availability for producers here in Lodi and throughout California,” said Stuart Spencer, program director for the Lodi Winegrape Commission.
Before that, wineries were often banned from selling their products in other states, or required to go through complex processes or wholesalers, which could be costly. This essentially shut them out of the market.
Now wineries can ship directly to consumers in 43 states, Spencer said.
This has had an enormous impact on local wineries’ ability to connect to consumers in other states, Chandler said. In fact, direct to consumer sales is the fastest growing segment of the wine industry, though it’s not yet the largest, he said.
Lucas, too, has seen the impact of the ruling. It’s helped Lucas Winery and other local wineries break out of the wholesale and grocery markets, and allowed them to sell directly to wine stores, restaurants, and other consumers.
That means better exposure and press, and brings people to visit the Lodi area — and join local wine clubs.
“I have German visitors, I have Russian visitors,” Lucas said.
It’s a huge change from 12 years ago, when people around the U.S. were asking Lucas to drop the case because they feared there would be a harmful backlash.
And Lucas, at least, thinks Justice Scalia’s role in Granholm v. Heald is partially to thank for this local success.
“Maybe it would be interesting just to remind people, as we think about people who play a role in history, (Scalia) was really important to the Lodi wine industry,” he said.