Wednesday, February 24, 2016
California water politics could get choppier with new House bill
By Michael Doyle
WASHINGTON – A Sacramento Valley Democrat revealed plans on Tuesday for a big new California water bill that likely will upset some of his colleagues and potentially affect water politics in the U.S. capital.
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said his proposal would provide for new dams, spur water transfers and fund emergency drought aid.
“I want to lay down a marker,” Garamendi said in an interview Tuesday evening, adding that “we can stake steps to address the drought immediately, and to take long-term measures.”
Garamendi’s bill will mirror legislation introduced two weeks ago by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, which was welcomed as a positive step forward by Central Valley farmers. Spanning 184 pages, the Feinstein package was priced at $1.3 billion.
Garamendi’s companion effort, which he said he would introduce soon, was likewise greeted with cautious optimism by some.
Feinstein said in a statement that she was “pleased” that Garamendi is offering a companion to her bill, which she added “candidly is the best we can do at this time” given the circumstances.
“If he is going to introduce a bill, then I’m encouraged,” Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District, said in an interview Tuesday. “It shows there are reasonable people out there that want to compromise.”
Birmingham is joining Thad Bettner, general manager of the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District, and others testifying Wednesday at a House water and power subcommittee hearing intended, in part, to make the case for California water legislation.
But the hearing, like Garamendi’s and Feinstein’s legislation, also reveals the myriad unresolved conflicts that have stymied previous efforts to address the state’s drought. House Democrats who represent the sensitive Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have been particularly concerned about measures sought by farmers south of the Delta, like those in the 600,000-acre Westlands district.
Until now, Northern California Democrats have been united in their resistance to Republican water bills and in their parallel concern about what Feinstein might offer in compromise. Garamendi’s move suggests some cracks in that regional unity, which in turn suggests new political complications ahead.
“Given this legislation’s similarities to its Senate companion, I remain deeply concerned with the operational language and the detrimental effects that diverting more water could have on the health of the Delta’s fragile ecosystem and the families, farmers, and economies of the region,” Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, said Tuesday.
Some of the Democrats worry that anything that moves legislation along to a House and Senate conference will result in bad deal, dictated by the Republicans who control both bodies. Last year, House Republicans tapped Garamendi to negotiate with as lawmakers sought a compromise package, but the talks did not succeed.
“We’ve been playing defense,” Garamendi said. “I want to develop a discussion in the House about good ideas for legislation.”
Michael Doyle: 202-383-0006, @MichaelDoyle10, email@example.com
‘Murky’ rail measure could hurt Sites
By Andrew Creasey
At first glance, a proposed initiative to reallocate bond funds from the controversial high-speed rail project to fund water storage projects seems tailor-made for Northern Californian water leaders who have been pushing for such projects, particularly Sites Reservoir, for decades.
But the North State has staunchly opposed the proposal being circulated for signatures to qualify for the November ballot, saying it would not only delay projects such as Sites Reservoir for years, but would also change the state constitution in a way that would jeopardize the Sacramento Valley’s mostly senior water rights.
Backers of the initiative say those concerns are unfounded, and the proposed initiative would not change existing water rights or delay projects such as Sites Reservoir.
“I don’t think it has any support in Northern California,” said David Guy, president of the Northern California Water Association, which opposes the initiative. “We’ll leave the train politics to others, but this is not helpful to water rights or advancing new water supplies in California. In fact, it will set those projects backwards.”
According to the initiative, proposed by the Hanford-based California Water Alliance and supported by State Sen. Robert Huff, R-Diamond Bar, and state Board of Equalization Member George Runner, R-Lancaster, $8 billion of uncontracted, high-speed rail bonds sit uncommitted and unusable. Meanwhile, the project faces growing concerns its costs will increase, while potential federal and private funding sources are vanishing.
The initiative would reallocate and combine that pot of money with the $2.7 billion allocated for water storage projects in the water bond voters overwhelmingly approved in November 2014. Then, a new body, the State Water and Groundwater Storage Facilities Authority, would be created to choose projects that would receive money from a new fund of about $10.8 billion.
The initiative claims the California Water Commission — the government body currently charged with developing regulations for applying for and dispersing the $2.7 billion in water bond funds — is “an inappropriate authority to fairly oversee the selection and implementation of projects,” claiming it is not a representative body of the populations and regions of California.
But opponents of the proposed initiatives said dissolving the Water Commission would only delay an already sluggish process to approve, fund and construct necessary water storage projects.
“It takes years for these new bodies to get up and running,” Guy said. “We just don’t have time for that. Now is the time to move forward with these important water supply projects.”
Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Plumas Lake, agreed the initiative would delay water storage projects, but said the bigger concern was the change in the state constitution the initiative proposes as it relates to water rights priorities.
“It changes the constitution in a way that would not be helpful to Northern California,” Gallagher said. “It would potentially take water away from the North State and put it to Southern California and corporate interests in the Central Valley.”
Gallagher said the initiative is being proposed by a limited group that did not consult with other interests.
Guy cited similar concerns, calling the proposed amendment “sloppy” and “murky.”
“It looks like they’re trying to say that domestic and agricultural uses are more important than environmental uses, which in our view is a real short-sighted approach,” Guy said. “But it was very unclear. Our water rights attorneys looked at it and didn’t even know what it was.”
Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of the California Water Alliance, said that the proposed initiative would not delay projects. She said that the initiative would allow projects under consideration by the California Water Commission to be considered by the new water authority.
“Any progress that’s been made with the Water Commission, that progress will get rolled right over so that there’s no loss in the timeline for projects like Sites, and funding can be made available right away,” Bettencourt said.
The new initiative also guarantees funding for Sites Reservoir and Temperance Flat, something not promised by Proposition 1, according to the Fresno Bee’s report.
The initiative earmarks $4.2 billion for constructing Sites Reservoir and Temperance Flat, a proposed dam project near Fresno.
Bettencourt also said the initiative will not reprioritize water rights.
“The constitutional amendment is subservient to all existing water rights, so all existing rights are protected regardless of the amendment,” Bettencourt wrote in an email. “The constitutional amendment outlines the priority of use after water has been diverted. Meaning once water has been diverted by right, the first priority is domestic (use).”
Assemblyman James Gallagher said he would support the proposed ballot initiative to reallocate bond money from the high-speed rail project to water storage projects if it stopped there.
Instead, the initiative proposes to create a new government body to allocate the new pool of money and introduces an amendment into the state constitution that changes water rights priorities. That, Gallagher said, he cannot support.
The end goal for Gallagher and most water districts and farmers in Northern California is the construction of Sites Reservoir, a new water storage project that has been proposed for decades but now has its best chance of coming to fruition thanks to new public funds made available with the passage of a water bond, Proposition 1, in November 2014.
“The problem with this initiative is it will delay the process because it creates a whole new bureaucracy for allocating the money,” Gallagher said. “We’re already in the process of hoping to get Sites funded within the next year. If this initiative passes, we could be looking at several more years before we get any money to fund these projects.”
Supporters of the new initiative have until July 25 to collect the 585,407 signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot.
The group hired a professional firm to gather the signatures, according to an article by the Los Angeles Times. Signature gatherers have been spotted in Yuba City, but Gallagher warned his constituents not to sign anything, even if they’re told the proposed initiative would build Sites Reservoir.
“These are paid signature gatherers who will say whatever they can because they’re paid based on how many signatures they collect,” Gallagher said. “This is deceptive. It will not build Sites. It will delay Sites.”
Gallagher has co-authored AB 1866, introduced by Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, that would allow voters to cancel the bullet train project and redirect those funds to water projects, without creating new bureaucracy or amending water rights in the constitution.
CONTACT reporter Andrew Creasey at 749-4780 and on Twitter @AD_Creasey. firstname.lastname@example.org
Palm Springs Desert Sun
Valley activists: Buffer zones for pesticides needed
By Kristen Hwang
Local activists are calling on the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to impose a one-mile buffer zone for applying pesticides near schools.
In news conferences held simultaneously in five California counties Thursday, activists said pesticide use near schools has been regulated too loosely in the past.
Currently, agricultural pesticide use is regulated on a county-by-county basis, but there has been growing concern from parents and activists over the potential health effects of daily pesticide exposure, particularly in children. A University of California, Los Angeles study released Feb. 17 found that fumigant pesticides commonly used in California crops can cause adverse health effects and are likely linked to cancer. The study also found that when pesticides interact, they can become more toxic. The Department of Pesticide Regulation does not regulate the use of more than one pesticide at once.
The agency began looking at developing statewide regulations regarding pesticide use near schools last year and is expected to release preliminary regulations for public comment by the end of February.
“Many schools have been built on prime agricultural land next to farm operations and increasingly, teachers, parents and the general public want to know what chemicals are being applied around them,” said Charlotte Fadipe, assistant director of communications with the department, in a statement from December.
“DPR is preparing a regulation that will take effect when agricultural pesticides are applied close to schools. The regulation is intended to give an additional level of protection to children in schools from potential exposure to pesticides used in surrounding agricultural fields.”
The Department of Pesticide Regulation began holding meetings throughout California in 2015 and has received more than 2,000 public comments on the regulations, Fadipe said in a statement.
Creating healthy communities is not something that happens by accident, said Michele Hasson, regional director for the Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability, a nonprofit that works in San Joaquin and in eastern Coachella to advocate for policies that will help rural communities. Communities must be carefully planned and land use must be regulated with adverse health effects in mind, Hasson said.
“We can work with growers. We don’t have to tell them to stop using them but we have to learn about the cross-sectionality that these pesticides have,” Hasson said, sanding outside of Coachella Valley High School. “If we’re going to use the most hazardous pesticides, they can’t be along a school bus route. There are alternatives.”
Coachella Valley High School and many other schools in the east valley are surrounded by agricultural land where pesticides are used frequently.
Growers in the region have been opposed to the Department of Pesticide Regulation imposing a statewide regulation. During a meeting the agency held in Coachella in June, local farmers said California already has the strictest regulations on what specific pesticides can be used. They also felt that the Riverside County Agricultural Commissioner understood the region best and had sufficient regulations in place.
Riverside County does not have an ordinance banning pesticide use near schools, but the Agricultural Commissioner regulates the most hazardous pesticides on a case-by-case basis. Currently, there is a half-mile buffer zone around schools if a hazardous pesticide is sprayed from an aircraft and there is a quarter-mile buffer zone for all other hazardous pesticide applications.
In October, a pesticide drift incident from a field across the street from Coachella Valley High School resulted in more than 20 students complaining of headaches, dizziness and nausea. The incident is still under investigation by the Agricultural Commissioner’s office.
“It’s critical that the Department of Pesticide Regulation take action at this moment and impose a one-mile buffer zone,” said Blaz Gutierrez, directing attorney for the California Rural Legal Assistance. “This doesn’t mean that all farming, all agricultural activity needs to be ceased, just that the four most hazardous compounds need to be limited near schools. That’s a very sensible approach.”
Kristen Hwang is the education reporter for The Desert Sun. Reach her by email at email@example.com, by phone at (760) 668-2910 or on Twitter @khwangreports.
KSEE TV, Fresno
GMOs Stir Debate in Central Valley
Fresno, Calif. – From plants to animals, the use of bio-engineering – or GMO’s as they are more commonly called – has become a world-wide debate when it comes to our food products. With the amount of crops produced in the valley, it’s a sensitive issue.
GMO’s have caused quite the discussion these past few years. On one side of the aisle, proponents say GMO’s can be useful in helping foods to express desired natural traits, while on the other side of the aisle opponents fear that GMO foods can be harmful to your health.
But what exactly is a GMO? A genetically modified organism is defined as any plant, animal or microorganism whose genetic makeup has been modified in a way that does not occur in nature.
“biotechnology actually allows us to just go after those good traits rather than so many of the negative traits that you get from traditional crossbreeding,” said Ryan Jacobsen, with the Fresno County Farm Bureau.
Jacobsen says people have used genetic modification for many years for a variety of purposes.
“You keep hearing about all the un-safeness of it, it’s actually the exact opposite, there has never been a more safe or more researched technology than the biotechnology we are seeing today,” said Jacobsen.
Applications of genetic modification stretch from the use of bacteria in medicines, such as insulin to treat diabetes, livestock from cattle to salmon which have been modified to grow year-round as opposed to during the spring and summer, to what has likely been GMO’s biggest impact in the valley, agriculture.
“The primary crops that are grown here in the valley when it comes to biotechnology are corn and cotton,” said Jacobsen.
Biotechnologie’s impact on California’s cotton industry may be one of genetic modification’s biggest success stories.
“With b-t cotton it really only targets the bullworm, so not only have we eliminated the sprays, but we’ve boosted our beneficial populations which helps keep the other pests down, so if it wasn’t for b-t cotton we wouldn’t have cotton in southern California,” said Roger Isom, with the California Cotton Grower’s Association.
Isom says after bullworms nearly eliminated the cotton industry in the state genetic engineering not only saved the crop, but helped make it among the best quality in the world.
“We’re really at the tip of the iceberg, we’re looking at Lygus-resistant cotton, aphid resistant cotton, more drought tolerant cotton, we can cut back even more on our water use,” said Isom.
But the expanding use of GMO’s in foods hasn’t come without it’s fair share of controversy.
“It’s carginogenic, cancer-causing. There’s a whole list,” said Dr. Jim Belcher, with Kristina’s Natural Ranch Market.
Dr. Belcher is a retired natropathic doctor and owner of Kristina’s Natural Ranch Market.
“At Kristina’s we do not have any GMO foods, nothing in the store is genetically modified,” said Belcher.
Kristina’s isn’t the only business in the valley who has made itself a niche in the world of natural foods.
“We all try to gear as much as we possibly can towards those things that aren’t genetically modified,” said Dr. Joe Martin, with Doc’s Gym in Clovis.
Dr. Martin works alongside nutritionist Lesley Dresser and recently opened Doc’s Gym.
“we have kind of like a one stop shop,” said Dr. Martin.
For Dresser, it’s undeniable GMO’s pose a risk of harm, but she feels people should first focus their attention on other potentially harmful things in our food.
“There’s so many bigger issues out their when it comes to our food and what’s actually in our food and sugar and all the other things that are making us sick that to me it’s almost a non-issue, it’s almost ridiculous that we’re talking about it,” said Dresser.
But a major issue it has become, with propositions across the country to require companies that use foods made from genetically modified organisms to label their products as such.
“You have to be a very discerning consumer to be able to figure out what it is that you want,” said Annette Levi, the department chair of the Agricultural Business Department at Fresno State University. “When you see those labels, your paying a little extra for that because the company had to do that.”
As with many, Levi admits that the many different labels on foods can be confusing for the consumer, regardless of their opinions on genetically modified foods.
“They are confusing, and then some labeling that doesn’t mean anything, for example when you see the word natural what does that mean? It’s not a regulated label so it really doesn’t mean anything,” said Levi.
With so many labels out there, it can be a little confusing. Products which have been certified GMO free can be found with a logo featuring a plant and butterfly, while products that are simply organically grown will often feature a USDA organic logo.
Copyright 2016 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Supervisors to consider moratorium on B-and-Bs, event centers
By Anne Ternus-Bellamy
Yolo County supervisors appear likely to issue a moratorium on new event centers and bed-and-breakfast establishments in unincorporated areas of the county in a bid to prevent ag land from being taken out of production in the name of agritourism.
Supervisors directed staff on Tuesday to return to the board with language for an ordinance temporarily halting approval of such businesses while the board studies their impact on local agricultural land and activities.
The move comes in the wake of concerns that outside interests are purchasing or planning to purchase agricultural land in rural areas of the county in order to convert them to businesses like event centers and bed-and-breakfasts.
And while such businesses have long fallen under the category of “agritourism” — commercial ventures that support the agricultural industry — some local farmers are not happy with how they are operating.
Winters resident and farmer Bruce Rominger told supervisors Tuesday that agritourism was intended to help existing professional farmers and ranchers — those that derive their primary income from producing food — to supplement their agricultural income.
“This is a legitimate use,” Rominger said.
“Unfortunately, the concept of agritourism has evolved into an opportunity for non-agricultural businesses to develop our farm and ranch lands.
“(They) are masquerading as farmers and ranchers under the guise of agritourism, so they will be allowed to operate hospitality businesses and other non-ag ventures,” Rominger said.
“These developers create many negative impacts for farmers and ranchers and other rural residents. We are very concerned they will ultimately displace the farmers and ranchers who are producing food and fiber for us and for future generations.”
Rominger and others urged supervisors on Tuesday to issue a moratorium on event centers and bed and breakfasts to allow time “to create more effective county regulations that will ultimately preserve farmland for farming.”
According to county planner Eric Parfrey, there are currently two active proposals for event centers and/or bed-and-breakfasts that would be affected by the moratorium — one north of Winters and another south of Esparto.
“I’m interested in hitting pause in some fashion,” Supervisor Don Saylor of Davis said. “There are some issues I’m hearing and seeing that I’d like to have us look more deeply at.”
Saylor said he considered event centers and similar agritourism businesses ways to help current farmers continue farming by ensuring adequate income.
“(But) this is about people purchasing property solely for the purpose of changing ag to something else,” he said.
“There are always unintended consequences,” agreed Supervisor Jim Provenza of Davis.
Provenza suggested the board conduct a future workshop on the matter.
Supervisor Duane Chamberlain, meanwhile, who represents the largely rural 5th District where many of the affected farmers live, said “a lot of these things I’m hearing about … have nothing to do with farming.”
He urged colleagues to ensure that farmland is not taken out of production in order to facilitate non-ag enterprises.
The supervisors comments came during a public hearing Tuesday on updates to the county zoning code. Contained in those updates were proposed changes related to bed and breakfast establishments — primarily a recommendation by staff to keep the bedroom limit to 10 and to include a new definition for cottages that double as bed and breakfasts.
Those zoning code changes were pulled from consideration pending future discussion by the board on a moratorium and agritourism in general.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy.
Orange County Register
Fairness for California farmers plowed under
The California farming industry received a bit of a reprieve from liability for back pay for employees, stemming from a couple of court decisions, with the signing of Assembly Bill 1513 in October – but some were explicitly cut out of the deal for political reasons.
It is common in the farming industry for workers to earn “piece-rate compensation,” in which workers are paid per unit, such as by the amount of crops picked or trucks unloaded, instead of an hourly wage. The legislation arose to protect the industry from potential punitive penalties in the wake of a pair of 2013 California Court of Appeal decisions. The rulings clarified that, in addition to their piece-rate compensation, employees must be paid at least the minimum wage for meals, rest breaks and other unproductive time while they are on the clock. These rulings instantly created a liability that some industry officials estimated at $1 billion or more.
Gerawan Farming and Fowler Packing Co., which have each had some high-profile battles with the United Farm Workers union, cried foul, however, due to provisions that would exempt them from the bill’s protections.
“AB1513 was passed under the cover of darkness and in the final hours of the session without any discussion, and we all know why,” Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, said in a statement. “It was rammed through to hide the fact that Fowler Packing, Gerawan Farming and other companies were unfairly targeted by the UFW and their cronies in the Legislature.”
Fowler and Gerawan are suing the state for its “intentional and arbitrary legislative targeting.” “AB1513 was reverse-engineered via a last-minute legislative ‘gut and amend’ designed to punish Fowler and Gerawan,” the complaint contends. “The targeting was in response to demands by the United Farm Workers of America that these growers be excluded from AB1513’s ‘safe harbor’ provisions as the price for the UFW’s nonopposition to this legislation.”
We are a nation built on equal protection under the law. The Legislature was established to serve all Californians, not to serve as the attack dog for special interests. Legislative carve-outs like those in AB1513 are an affront to those noble ideals and should be swiftly struck down by the courts.