Sunday, March 6, 2011

Budget Problems and Water: The Elephant in the Room

Budget Problems and Water: The Elephant in the Room

By Traci Sheehan
Planning and Conservation League

Teachers, firefighters and police officers know what the economy is doing to the vital services they provide. Our most vulnerable aged and disabled are literally feeling the pain of budget cuts; and everyday citizens are tightening their belts by multiple notches at a time.

However, the water establishment is acting like it is immune to federal, State and local budget retractions. Somehow despite the Congressional push for deficit reduction, the State electorate’s distaste for more bond borrowing, and local revenue constraints in the forms of Proposition 219, Proposition 26, and growing ratepayer discomfort, are not getting through.

Bureaucrats from many of the largest water interests continue to propose tens of billions of dollars of spending from myriad of funding sources including, the federal treasury, State borrowing and increased water rates to pay for new facilities and related costs.

Whether or not you agree with any of the specific projects being proposed, first you have to ask, what we can afford and what the highest priorities are for the next 5 to 10 years.

A year ago PCL published “8 Affordable Water Solutions for California.” The publication identifies three key factors driving California water management: the financial crisis, the fisheries collapse and changing hydrology. Followed by, identifying eight near-term solutions California can afford. Significant progress has been made on three of them. These need to be completed and the remaining five need to tee up as funding allows.


On Monday, the Capitol steps were flooded with legislators, safe water advocates, faith-based community members, and concerned residents, rallied together to announce a recently introduced package of bills. The bills are designed to ensure every Californian has the right to turn of their faucet and not be afraid that the water that comes out it will make them sick or that they can not afford the water.

Many are surprised when they hear more than 250,000 Californians in the Central Valley alone lack safe water for drinking, bathing, and other household needs, while many others see their water service disconnected when they cannot afford to pay their water bills. The package of bills announced on Monday will establish the right of every person to have access to clean, affordable water for basic human needs.

The Human Right to Water Bill Package includes the following bills:

AB 685 (Eng) Human Right to Water – This bill would make the human right to water a policy of the state, and five additional bills that implement the policy and promote access to safe water for the health and wellbeing of all Californians.

AB 938 (V.M. Perez) Language Access on Public Health Notifications – This bill would require the public water system provide a written and non written public notice in English, Spanish, and in the language spoken by prescribed numbers of residents of the community served, in the event the public water system does not meet safe water drinking requirements.

AB 983 (Perea) Access to Clean Up and Abatement Funding - This bill will provide clarity to existing legislation in regards to the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving
Fund, This fund continuously appropriates grants and revolving fund loans to provide for the design and construction of projects for public water systems that will enable suppliers to meet safe drinking water standards.

AB 1187 (Fong) Drinking Water Plan – In response to the changing needs of the State’s agricultural, urban and environmental water uses, this bill would require the California Water Plan to include a “Safe Drinking Water Plan.”

AB 1221 (Alejo) Drinking Water SRF – This bill would help with infrastructural projects that deliver safe drinking water and allow for responsible waste water management in rural and disadvantaged communities throughout the state.

SB 244 (Wolk) General Plans - This bill would require, upon each revision of its housing element, a city or county to review and update one or more elements of its general plan, to address pocket areas not incorporated into service areas. The bill works to ensure that these neglected unincorporated communities, are provided with the basic necessities for a safe and healthy living environment.


Traci Sheehan is the Executive Director of The Planning and Conservation League, a statewide, nonprofit lobbying organization. For more than thirty years, PCL has fought to develop a body of environmental laws in California that is the best in the United States.

Submitted by Benjamin Wilson on Sun, 03/06/2011 - 7:32am.

Additionally… “Poor families in Tulare County pay twice as much for safe water as people in many countries considered Third World, and federal officials should intervene, a United Nations lawyer said Friday. Catarina de Albuquerque, who visited the Valley this week to investigate tainted water systems, said many families in Tulare County spend more than 10% of their income on tap and bottled water, which is needed to avoid drinking chemicals from fertilizers, septic systems and dairies.” Mark Grossi, Fresno Bee

On the protected species battle…“A precipitous, decade long decline of delta smelt and salmon - resulting in two canceled commercial fishing seasons and one eight-day season - has become a rallying cry for environmentalists and fishing groups. It has also become a thorn in the side of agricultural interests that control most of the water exported from the delta and a major quandary for policymakers in the midst of crafting a management plan for the West Coast's most important estuary. A draft plan released this month by the stewardship council concluded that not all endangered fish species - delta smelt, in particular - may be saved from extinction in the wrenching battle to preserve the delta and provide a reliable water supply for California.”
Kelly Zito at

Water contractors want to de-list the smelt… A Delta Agreement to "Protect Listed Species" or another Ploy to Export More Water. It also provides time for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) to improve the methodologies it uses to evaluate the impacts of the pumping on the smelt in response to a December ruling by U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger, which invalidated key parts of a much-debated plan to protect the smelt. “Legal battles concerning the decline of and protection for Delta smelt and salmon. Federal Central Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP) pumps that export water to contractors south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are the focus of the dispute. The Court-approved settlement is being celebrated by water contractors, farmers, government officials and environmental groups as a positive development” Patrick Porgan’s commentary.

Then… The San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust is collaborating with San Joaquin River Conservancy on efforts to beautify the parkway contained in 22 miles of river in the rapidly urbanizing Fresno-Madera region using the latest grant. Part of $17.2 million allocation to restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat throughout California. However lawmakers are currently making efforts to strip funding from this project as well.

But… ”On March 1st, a group of Congressmen from the Central Valley of California wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Salazar complaining about the administration of the largest single block of contract water in the federal Central Valley Project – the 2.2 million acre-feet allocated every year to the Sacramento River Settlement Contractors to grow hundreds of thousands of acres of subsidized rice and other crops in the Sacramento Valley. The letter’s authors include many of those who recently sponsored language in the House Continuing Resolution that would block protections for endangered salmon and other species in the Bay-Delta, threatening to shut down completely the massive state and federal water pumps that provide water to many of their constituents”. Kate Poole’s blog

We have hoped the tide is turning… “I don't think I've seen two public calls for cost-benefit analysis of water projects all year. Even more amazing, it is coming from sources that I usually criticize: ACWA and Rep. Tom McClintock.” Jeffery Micheal’ blog

Why Do I post this? While grass roots environmental and conservation groups make substantial gains in protecting the environment, lawmakers; with the stroke of a pen, write legislation to block and negate these efforts while continuing to more deliver water to the wealthiest of Californians. It’s absurd that our trusted public servants disregard the environment and poor communities to serve their constituents. What will California look like when economic gain triumphs environmental sustainability? I may be wrong but it will most likely look like most of Tulare, Fresno, and Madera.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What to do about a WS100 Lottery Pick?

Saturday was a stellar day, woke up anticipating the Western States Lottery; a reunion of veteran 100 milers, friends and upcoming stars. The odds of getting picked are about 1:75 so I never anticipated an easy in. I had a few alternatives in mind, Wasatch, Vermont, Massennutten, Hard Rock or The Bear. But WS is in my own back yard, I have run it twice before and know what to expect.

Having a goal is always a good idea, it keeps us motivated, and being an ultra runner it is a reason for training. Today my plans were nixed, within the first 15 draws I get picked so anxiety was never an issue. Acclimates are spread around but this is not reality. The never before crowd is “In shock” as one nominee put it. It is easy to say I want to run a Hundred miler but to actually do it is another matter.

So the fame and fortune gradually fade and we play the tapes in our heads. Will it be hot on race day, can I break twenty four hours, and will I be able to train ten, fifteen, or even twenty hours per week? But then all the good memories come flooding in, a - pr at Diablo two years ago, a sub 14 hr. Miwok in the rain and with Tina Ure we had to run to stay warm.

Stuck in the high country with Jamie during a hail and lightning storm on a easy twenty five mile out and back (that took ten hours), Getting my butt kicked by Kathy Welch at Bishop (but hanging on for the last15 miles), double double canyons in six hours, running down a Brown Bear close to town or seeing a bobcat catch a bird, as the sun is setting, on a long training run after work.

My experience with running is; get a good base thirty miles or so, then run competitively at events, 50k, 50 mile, and 100k, mix in some casual weekend long runs with friends, these are usually groups of three to five runners. We always stick relatively close together therefore the slowest runner dictates the pace. Hold back when you are with the group but then fly when you are alone. Most elites train alone or with one trusted runner this gives them an edge on race day, leaving people asking what is his real ability?

The issue of competition is not serious. I am a middle of the packer but I tend to tear it up when ever I get the chance. Run as fast as you can as long as you can – recover – repeat; is my mantra. So I am looking forward to a season of hypothermia, heatstroke, pulled muscles, bloody crashes, bruised toenails, avoiding snakebites, skunk spray, poison oak, ticks, gnats, or grueling long runs, back to back weekend runs, going to work beat up on Monday, and buying new shoes every three weeks. So what is the payoff?

At the end of the day we get a tee shirt and another buckle, I once overheard an elite runner say “I think I’m going to melt down my Silver Buckles so I can buy more race entries.”

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A better era for California anglers

A better era for California anglers
August 08, 2010|By David Schurr

The decline in the California king salmon population has affected fishermen like those at Fisherman's Wharf.
Credit: Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle

It was a still and foggy morning. Two anglers loaded their 25-foot sport-fishing boat with sandwiches, ice and bait. Under the calm gray sky, they headed out under the Golden Gate Bridge and north to Duxbury in Marin County. Within minutes, they could smell the familiar odor of decaying marine life left on the rocks by the last high tide. Sea lions were barking and lounging as the boat cleared Point Bonita lighthouse and skirted up the North Channel near the infamous Potato Patch shoals.

It was early September 2005, and the summer salmon season had been stellar. Harbors from Monterey to Crescent City had been jammed with boats claiming their prized salmon. That day, fishermen launched their boats with precision and tact, respecting their fellow warriors. This was a ritual for anglers, because getting out of the harbor early is essential for success, and many days found the ocean too rough to attempt.

After the placid gray morning, the sun broke through the fog, and a ripple came upon the sea. A steady north breeze filled in as more boats appeared. The ocean was alive. Kingfishers and murres dived on anchovies pushed up by schools of voracious salmon gorging themselves. An occasional sea lion popped up in a swirl of blood and scales and flipped a fish high into the air, almost smiling as he looked you in the eye.

On the boat, downriggers held spinning bait at a depth of 90 feet, lines were clipped and the rods were ready. The little boat quickly trolled back and forth while the anglers patiently watched their fish-finders for red dashes or bait clouds.

Suddenly a rod popped up as the downrigger released the deep line, and with a burst of adrenaline, an angler rushed to the back of the boat. Within minutes, a chrome flash neared the top of the water column and dashed off again, peeling 30 or 40 feet of line from the reel.

Finally, the hefty king salmon, with translucent blue and silver hues, was netted from the icy Pacific. This prized game fish has an oily scent that cannot be erased from your mind. Twenty-five five pounds of the richest food source known to man went into the box. As the lines were reset, the boat slowly trolled back. The surface of the briny ocean was slick with fish oil as broken anchovy bodies drifted by, remnants of a feeding frenzy repeated over and over again.

Although the fishing was excellent that year, something was wrong. The juvenile fish known as "shakers," occasionally caught and released, were missing. I interviewed charter boat captains and commercial fishermen in ports up and down the coast, and the consensus was the same: No juveniles were being caught. An entire class of fish was absent from the ecosystem. As a result of this tragedy, research began, and I became a scientist and a fishery advocate.

After a year of dismal fishing in 2006, a sharp decline in numbers was evident. The once sustainable California king salmon had been reduced to a mere brood stock. The wave of upset affected the entire food chain. Birds and mammals are still suffering today. The fishery is gone, the ecosystem has collapsed. Politics aside, this resource has been lost.

Sport fishing and environmental groups are desperately working to reverse this situation, but they face many challenges. Like government subsidies and social programs, when a resource is given away - in this case water, a public trust - it is extremely difficult to get it back.

Since I was a young man, I fished for salmon, first in the rivers then on party boats leaving San Francisco twice daily (when the bite was hot). Finally, I bought my own boat, learned navigation and boating safety and lived to fish for salmon.

This fishing heritage, however, has not been passed on to my son. I remember some years ago when I was talking about the salmon decline to my grandfather, who is a World War II veteran, and he simply said:

"We used to hunt Elk in Bakersfield, too, son."

David Schurr is a longtime fisherman and an advocate for sustainable resources. To comment, contact us via our online form at
(C) San Francisco Chronicle 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pacific Institute by Peter Gleick


Misusing California Water Numbers for Political Purposes: Jobs, Fish and Lies

Anyone who pays attention to water in California knows that the state is just getting over (we hope) a serious three-year drought. And anyone who pays attention to water in California knows that the drought led to very serious political posturing, arguing, and drama, especially in the Central Valley.
Indeed, the drought became a cause celebre for some on the right, Central Valley Tea Partiers, and talk show conservatives, who used it as an excuse to launch a full-scale assault on the environment of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, legal decisions to restore small amounts of water to dried-up rivers, and the Endangered Species Act. Late last summer, Sean Hannity came and held a rally to argue that the drought was caused by politics, not weather, that tens of thousands of farm jobs had been lost because of environmental restrictions, and that the agricultural communities of the Central Valley were being destroyed by efforts to save fish, especially a small fish called the Delta Smelt, from extinction. The problem, they said over and over, was we had to choose "fish versus jobs."
Most of what Hannity and other speakers at that rally said was wrong or misleading, but the two most important pieces picked up and repeated over and over by the media were the arguments that (1) the drought was caused by human decisions, rather than the weather (doubly ironic since these same groups consistently argue that humans cannot be causing climate change), and (2) it had led to massive job losses in the agricultural sector. The two major Republican candidates for Senate and Governor in California continue to use these arguments in their water policy pronouncements.
The problem is that both claims are false. It was apparent, even then, that these arguments were at best partial truths twisted around a core of lies, and I wrote a previous SFGate post about this in August 2009. But new evidence now shows clearly how false those claims were.
What's the real story? A superb article written by reporter Mike Taugher, pulls it all together.
In early 2009, Professor Richard Howitt, a UC Davis agricultural economist, tried to predict the economic impact the natural drought and new legal restrictions on Delta pumping would have on San Joaquin Valley farms. His earliest estimate was that these water problems might cost California around 95,000 jobs. Around the same time, Dr. Jeffrey Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of Pacific did a separate estimate, and came up with a far lower number. After the two of them began comparing notes, assumptions, and data, Dr. Howitt revised his figure downward several times. His first estimate, however, was like throwing red meat to lions, and Hannity and others picked it up and, to this day, continue to use it. A jobs plan that is part of Meg Whitman's gubernatorial campaign is still arguing that the drought and Delta pumping restrictions might have cost California 95,000 jobs. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina puts the number at 40,000 using other outdated and inaccurate numbers.
Howitt and Michael, in an open and remarkable academic collaboration, have gotten together and produced a joint analysis. Their conclusions?
The early estimates of lost jobs were far, far too high. They now say that between 5,500 and 7,500 jobs were lost due to the water availability constraints in the San Joaquin Valley last year, and equally importantly, most of the blame goes to the weather, NOT to environmental protections. Indeed, while some individual farmers and water districts with junior water rights suffered serious impacts, the agricultural sector of the state as a whole, has had pretty good years even with the drought, because of water transfers, temporary use of groundwater, improved efficiency, high prices for some crops, and other adjustments.
Water Numbers: 1,400 to 3,000 jobs (not 95,000 or 40,000). What do the economists now think the actual impacts were? One of the economists put the job loss attributable to environmental protections at 1,400 jobs; the other (using different assumptions and estimates) put the figure closer to 3,000 jobs. Not 95,000. Not 40,000. In comparison, the economic recession cost the region 76,000 construction-related jobs.
Even more ironically, taking water from the environment and the fish costs jobs too, though we've traditionally ignored or failed to estimate these costs. Economist Michael estimates that 1,800 jobs have been lost by the commercial salmon industry due to the ecological destruction of the fisheries because of water withdrawals and other problems in the Delta -- similar to the number of jobs lost to farmers. That shows some of the potential benefits of delivering a little water to the environment to restore healthy fisheries.
As for the politicians, will they change their numbers, websites, and rhetoric? Will they step up for the environment and the salmon fishermen? Professor Howitt said in an email to reporter Mike Taugher, "Yes, it's a problem when candidates don't use the most recent and accurate figures... I have tried to correct this, but this combined report should help put some of the outdated values to rest."
Do certain politicians and talk show hosts care about facts, even when they are inconvenient? Will they correct their positions, or will incorrect numbers continue to be used to drive a political agenda? We'll see.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

davids free pony

This title did stick, here is the story: we live in a rural neighborhood in Cool, Ca.My wife has always loved horses so while our son was growing up we always had one or two to ride, I rode some but always got thrown so I would run instead. Now back to the story, After our son moved out and sold his horse, I sold mine as well, we had one old mare that had been in the family for fifteen years. In our neighbor's pasture there was a similar aged Shetland pony, named "Pony" the two would literally wear a trench in the pasture next to the fence where they would pace back and forth each day. Horses, like people are "herd" animals, they need social interaction.
Finally, my wife and Joe, our neighbor, decided to put in a gate so the two could hang out and graze together. It worked well. The problem was no one ever told me about the arrangement. I am a contractor so I usually work long hours and sometimes commute. It took a while for me to notice the new addition.When I asked D.Ann, my wife, how did Joe's pony get into our pasture? she said, "he gave him to us and that was your "Free pony"

Fast forward ten years I needed a screen name so I could throw rocks at political opponents, That is the job of Freepony!