FURTHER DOWN THE DRAIN
BY LLOYD G. CARTER
“Since pre-Columbian times, the Westlands area was known to be part of the uninhabitable Great California Desert.”
From the history section of the Westlands Water District Website, WWW.WestlandsWater.org
For more than half a century, growers in the fabled Westlands Water District have been the “bad boys” of federal irrigation projects in the American West, ignoring residency and acreage requirements for taxpayer-subsidized water, getting Congress to change laws they didn’t like, seducing both Republicans and Democrat politicians with a river of campaign contributions, and reaping more crop, water and power subsidies, tax breaks, and debt forgiveness than any other group of farmers in America.
Now they are poised to pull off the biggest coup in their controversial history. If they get what they are asking for, 260 billion gallons of publicly-owned water a year for 60 years, they will capture water worth anywhere from $20 to $40 billion - that’s billion with a B - with which they are free to farm tainted soils with, OR resell to urban interests at fantastic profit margins. At the current retail market price of $500-600 an acre-foot in Southern California, the Westlands water, purchased at a fraction of its true valley could be worth $2,000 an acre-foot by 2050, when there could be 60 million Californians. The potential value of 15.6 trillion gallons of water in a drought-stricken climate staggers the imagination.
The catch? Westlands says it will solve a problem being caused by irrigation of its drainage-impaired, highly saline soils, contaminated with the toxic trace element selenium. Westlands makes this promise despite 52 years of federal research and hundreds of millions of dollars in studies that have failed to come up with a wildlife-safe, effective and affordable solution. It gets better. Westlands also wants forgiveness on an already interest free $489 million capital debt for taxpayer construction of its water delivery system it should have already paid off.
But first a little history. After pumping a huge aquifer dry on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley in less than 40 years, the patriarchal families of the West Side, the Giffens, the Harrises, the O’Neills, the Dieners, the Wolfsens and a few others, turned to a folksy tire salesman from Texas named B.F. “Bernie” Sisk. They bankrolled Sisk’s try for Congress and in 1955 he landed in the nation’s capitol. Sisk spent the next five years tirelessly promoting a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation project to bring Northern California (Trinity River) water to western Fresno County.
In a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives in 1959, Sisk promised that if the San Luis Unit (which would have been the last major leg of the Central Valley Project begun in the 1930s) was built, there would 6,000 family farmers on 100-acre ranches on the West Side and peace and prosperity would prevail. It was the first of many misrepresentations Westlands, or its supporters, would make over the next 48 years. Twenty-five years after Sisk’s promise, in 1984, there were still only 240 growers in Westlands and 40 of them, mostly from the original founding families, controlled over half the land and all the politics in the one-acre, one-vote district. Southern Pacific Railroad, Chevron, and cotton king J.G. Boswell were among the major Westlands landholders who influenced and directed district politics.
The late Paul S. Taylor, a University of California economics professor who was a well known critic of Reclamation policies in the mid-20th century wrote a 1964 article in which he quoted Alabama Congressman Oscar Underwood’s1902 speech on the floor of Congress, the year the Reclamation program was created to protect and foster family farming:
“Federal reclamation began as a program to help ‘farm boys’ who ‘want farms of their own’ to obtain them ‘without being driven into the already overcrowded cities to seek employment.’”
Many of the “farm boys” from Westlands would eventually live in multi-million dollar mansions in North Fresno, on the San Joaquin River bluffs or toney Van Ness Extension Avenue, 50 miles from their industrialized farming operations, in a zip code that receives more farm subsidies than any other zip code in America, 93711.
The first thing West Side growers did after the water delivery project was approved by Congress in 1960 was to annex another 200,008 acres known as the West Plains Water Storage into the 400,000-acre Westlands, a move a 1978 Congressional Task Force later concluded was unauthorized by Congress. Ironically, some land in the West Plains district had been designated too salty and unsuitable for irrigation by Bureau engineers in the 1950s when designing the original San Luis project, which included Westlands and three other adjacent small irrigation districts. Irrigation of the upslope West Plains lands, near the Coast Range along Interstate 5, would later worsen salty and selenium-plagued groundwater problems on the low-lying farmland near the trough of the Valley, where the San Joaquin River runs. Congressional funding intended for completing the drainage system was instead diverted to build a water delivery system for West Plains, according to the 1978 Task Force report.
In exchange for bringing cheap subsidized water to the western valley, Westlands growers had agreed to break up the huge estates, including the 106,000 acres owned by Southern Pacific, and the 100,000 acres owned by the Giffen family, after 10 years. The excess land provisions in Reclamation law provided that a husband and wife could own 320 acres but no more than that.
Of course, the Bureau of Reclamation had never enforced the residency requirement or the acreage limitation, which is what drew the wrath of Professor Taylor. When the mid-1970s rolled around, National Land for People, headed by George Ballis, sued to break up the huge ranches and actually give “farm boys” and farmworkers a chance to have ranches of their own. Fat chance.
A celebrated 1977 San Francisco Examiner series titled “The Paper Farmers” chronicled how the big growers were evading the acreage limitations by, in some cases, adding the names of relatives, employees and even unborn children, to land deeds to increase the amount of cheap water they were eligible to receive.
Westlands dragged its feet for several years in the National Land for People case, while the Bureau maintained the status quo on water deliveries, meaning big growers continued to get the cheap water for ranches which often exceeded 5,000 or 10,000 acres. Westlands also went to Congress and Rep. Tony Coelho, who had replaced his mentor Sisk in 1975. Coelho, who would become a powerhouse in the House before resigning following a real estate scandal, helped engineer the so-called “Reclamation Reform Act” in 1982, which didn’t really “reform” anything but did legalize a lot of the outright illegality occurring over the acreage limitation. Coelho was aided by western states congressmen subservient to their own local large growers getting federal water. The Reform Act eliminated the residency requirement and boosted the eligible acreage for the cheap water to 960 acres. It also created an even bigger loophole by allowing growers to get cheap water for lands they leased, rather than owned. As a result, leasing schemes mushroomed overnight and the mega-farms continued to get the cheap water.
Then in 1983-1984, the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge debacle hit, when word leaked out that drainage water from Westlands, being evaporated in 1,280 acres of diked ponds at Kesterson, was poisoning fish, ducks, and shorebirds at the dual purpose ”refuge.” Because of a subterranean clay layer underneath Westlands farmland, salty groundwater accumulated near the root zone. To protect crops the shallow groundwater had to be pumped out and sent somewhere else. The original plan was to funnel the salty drainage through the Delta to the Pacific Ocean. When Bay Area interests objected in the 1970s, Reclamation officials latched on to the risky idea of utilizing evaporation ponds at Kesterson as a stop gap measure while they undertook studies to convince the State Water Resources Control Board the drainwater would not harm the Delta. These studies revealed that much of Westlands’ acreage was riddled with selenium, a trace element which is a micronutrient in very small doses but toxic in slightly higher amounts. Selenium had been washing out of the Coast Range mountains for eons, accumulating in the western valley. Selenium’s toxicity to livestock was well known and Department of Agriculture studies in 1939 had actually detected elevated levels in Fresno County’s western foothills but that information had been overlooked or ignored by Bureau officials eager to build the San Luis Unit.
Many federal scientists saw Kesterson coming although they did not know that it would be selenium, not pesticides, that would cause Kesterson’s Silent Spring. Despite the documented misgivings of field level biologists as early as 1962, the Department of Interior, parent agency of both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation, had actually claimed in the late 1970s that the Westlands salty drainage would be good for the Kesterson wetlands. Amazingly, much of the tab for constructing the Kesterson facilities was deducted from the Westlands’ repayment tab because it was designated a benefit to wildlife and the general public.
The wetlands at the 5,900-acre Kesterson refuge adjacent to the San Joaquin River in Merced County were in the middle of the wintering grounds for hundreds of thousands of migratory ducks supposedly protected by an international treaty, the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. When full strength drainwater began flowing to Kesterson in 1981, high levels of selenium dissolved in the drainage water quickly moved into the food chain, killing fish and birds and triggering grotesque deformities in wildlife. Kesterson neighbors Jim and Karen Claus, who watched their cattle die after drinking water seeping from the evaporation ponds, filed a complaint with the regional water board and sounded the alarm.
On March 15, 1985, following a year of intensive media scrutiny, including a segment on CBS’ “60 Minutes” and front page stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post, Secretary of Interior Donald Hodel ordered the Kesterson ponds closed and irrigation water deliveries to Westlands shut off. Hodel said the evaporation ponds were a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
A delegation of Westlands officials and growers, including former California Secretary of State Bill Jones (Jones’ family owned several thousand acres in Westlands), traveled to Washington to lobby Hodel to resume irrigation deliveries. In exchange for the Bureau to continue the flow of Northern California water to Westlands, the water district officials signed an agreement on April 3, 1985 in which they pledged to halt drainage flows to Kesterson even though this would worsen their drainage crisis. In that 1985 agreement, Westlands also assumed any liability for lawsuits from individual Westlands growers.
In 1991, some growers in a 42,000-acre area of Westlands who had originally drained their wastes to Kesterson filed suit against Westlands and the Bureau of Reclamation for damages caused when the drainage system was closed and plugged. The suit was placed on the back burner during the Clinton years, as Reclamation officials plodded along spending tens of millions of dollars on drainage studies, including a $50 million, five-year investigation by a state-federal team. Their report, issued in 1990, concluded the cheapest solution was to take the high selenium lands out of production and drastically reduce the amount of drainage produced.
When George W. Bush came to office, the growers who had filed the lawsuit a decade earlier began pushing it again. A career Justice Department attorney, Yoshinori H.T. Himel, representing the Department of Interior and the Bureau in the grower suit, filed a motion in August of 2002 to get it dismissed. Himel pointed out that Westlands, in the 1985 agreement, had agreed “to design, install, and operate alternative means for disposal of drain water in an efficient and environmentally sound manner.”
Himel then noted that the 1985 Agreement “placed the obligation on Westlands “to design, install and operate alternative means for disposal of drain water from Westlands.” Himel said alternative means included evaporation ponds, salt tolerant crops and recycling.
While Himel acknowledged it could be argued the 1985 agreement may not have required Westlands to assume long-term responsibility for drainage for the entire San Luis Unit he said Westlands assumed, at the minimum, responsibility for solving the drainage problems of the 49,000 acres that had been draining to Kesterson.
Himel added "One thing the Agreement did alter, however, was Westlands' obligation to indemnify the United States for, among other things, 'losses, damages, claims and liabilities' arising from Westlands’ performance or non-performance of the Agreement. The language 'losses, damages, claims and liabilities' indicates money claims, such as Plaintiffs' money claims in this lawsuit . . . Westlands thus undertook at a minimum to indemnify the United States for lawsuits by those who might be dissatisfied with the results of Westlands’ 'alternative means' for drainage."
A federal court rejected this argument but critical issues of apportionment of liability for the drainage mess remained. Of course, we will never know what would have happened had the apportionment of fault issues been decided by a jury or a judge. Bennett Raley, a Colorado attorney who represented irrigation districts and was appointed Assistant Secretary for Water and Science by his Interior Secretary Gale Norton in 2001, made sure that a trial on the merits did not happen. Raley, undoubtedly with the support of Norton and the White House, undercut Himel and other Justice Department career attorneys defending the suit, agreeing to a $139 million settlement in December of 2002, with most of the money coming from U.S. taxpayers, not Westlands. Raley, of course, gained fame in 2002 for allotting water from Oregon's Klamath River to irrigators rather than to endangered fish, leading to a massive salmon die-off. News reports later indicated Vice President Dick Cheney masterminded the Klamath decision. It is unknown if Cheney or former White House advisor mastermind Karl Rove were consulted or involved in the decision to concede victory to the Westlands growers without a court fight.
In an October, 24, 2002 pre-trial order for partial summary judgment in the growers’ suit, U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger noted that there was no dispute the growers continued to irrigate their lands knowing “that their lands would be damaged without drainage.”
Wanger added, “There are multiple issues to address at trial, however, regarding the operative ‘cause’ of damage to plaintiffs’ land, whether that damage constitutes a public or private nuisance, whether federal defendants and Westlands are concurrent tortfeasors, apportionment of any comparative fault of plaintiffs, and whether plaintiffs consented to or assumed the risk of a nuisance or trespass by demanding water deliveries to their farmlands, despite the knowledge that no drainage facility existed.” (Emphasis added.) In other words, a jury or a judge may have found the growers knowingly ruined their own lands and might not have awarded them a cent in damages. But Raley, as already noted, pre-empted any jury determination of those issues and, contrary to the Justice Department attorneys’ written arguments, settled.
Under the settlement, the federal government was to pay $107 million to have the farmers' lawsuit dismissed. Westlands had to spend $32 million to settle its part of the case,
buying 34,000 acres of the plaintiff’s ruined land and retiring it.
"We weren't batting a thousand with this court," Raley claimed in a 2002 interview with the Sacramento Bee. "They were claiming that we had damaged them, damages in excess of $400 million." Raley did not mention Westlands officials had signed the April 1985 agreement assuming liability for all such lawsuits or that his own government attorneys thought they had a good case and could win in court.
Rep. George Miller and environmental activists howled at the settlement, which they warned would be used as a precedent for the still unsolved drainage problem facing the Western San Joaquin Valley. Having given away $107 million in taxpayer money, Raley returned to private practice representing water districts in December of 2004.
Following the 2002 settlement (in which the federal government admitted no wrongdoing), Westlands worked on getting a new long-term water delivery contract and pressuring Reclamation to come up with a drainage solution because a district court, and then the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, had ruled Reclamation had a legal obligation to try and complete a drainage system for Westlands.
Westlands growers had a powerful ally in Jason Peltier, a native Californian and deputy secretary at Interior who was the Administration’s point man on western water issues and was a former lobbyist for Westlands and other California federal irrigation districts. Peltier claimed in news interviews he had nothing to do with matters involving Westlands. However, Westlands recently hired Peltier at an undisclosed salary. A former regional Reclamation official, Susan Ramos, has also been hired by Westlands.
Which brings us to the present. Westlands general manager and general counsel Tom Birmingham is now pushing a “global” settlement to the outstanding drainage lawsuits (filed by water districts downslope from Westlands) and Westlands’ desire for a long-term secure water supply. In recent closed door meetings with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Valley congressmen Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa (who represents the Westlands area), Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Hamilton Candee and a few others, the various stakeholders have tried to work out a deal. The news media is not permitted to cover these talks while decisions are made involving billions of taxpayer dollars.
Ed Imhoff, a retired federal scientist who headed a post-Kesterson $50 million, five-year study of the drainage problem from 1985-1990, was also kept out of the talks. Feinstein reportedly insisted “too many” people were in on the talks. Imhoff has been critical of the proposed drainage solutions of both Reclamation and Westlands. His 1990 study, dubbed the “Rainbow Report” noted land retirement was the cheapest option.
In the Central Valley Project, water supplies have always been distributed on a first in time, first in right priority system in which the oldest CVP irrigation districts get the water they need before irrigation districts down the totem pole get their water. Westlands, as the last CVP area to come on line, is at the bottom of the totem pole. This has often meant drastically reduced supplies for Westlands. For example, during the 1987-1992 drought, Westlands, in 1990 and 1991, only got 25 percent of its annual contract amount of 1.15 million acre-feet (an acre-foot is 325,851 gallons). Westlands has tried repeatedly in court to get on the same footing as more senior water contractors but to no avail. The drainage crisis, widely misunderstood and mishandled by both Reclamation and Westlands, has provided the growers an opening.
A few months ago, Westlands announced it could solve the drainage dilemma for less than half of the $2.6 billion Reclamation officials say it will cost to provide reverse osmosis, bio-remediation, recycling, and land retirement. Birmingham said that in exchange for letting the Bureau off the hook on drainage, Westlands wanted the Bureau’s extraordinarily valuable state water permit and operational control of the huge San Luis Reservoir near Los Banos. As anticipated, the audacious claim provoked a hostile response from Rep. Miller, Northern California interests and environmental groups statewide.
Birmingham then abandoned that strategy amid a torrent of negative publicity and, in the first week of August, just prior to another closed door meeting with Feinstein he came up with a revised, but still sketchy, proposal. Birmingham suggested that if the federal government would forgive a $489 million debt the Westlands owes for capital construction costs, and would exempt Westlands and other San Luis Unit water districts from acreage limitations and pricing provisions of federal law, Westlands would take over responsibility for the drainage mess.
In addition, Westlands wants a 60-year water delivery contract with rights of renewal (federal law now prohibits federal water contracts in excess of 25 years) and wants the Bureau to authorize transfer of title to various pumping plants, internal distribution systems, and the Coalinga Canal.
Apparently unmentioned in the Feinstein talks is that Westlands signed a “waiver/indemnity agreement” with Interior back on April 3, 1985, after the Kesterson closure or that the federal government admitted no liability in the 2002 settlement. The claim that the United States is somehow responsible for any damage to the former desert lands and thus should make major concessions on water delivery or drainage issues is simply unproven in a court of law.
Feinstein also seems unclear on the concept that even though the Bureau estimates it may take up to $2.6 billion to produce a drainage program, Westlands is ultimately required under the 1960 legislation to pay for it, albeit over 40 or 50 years and interest free. Neither the district court nor the Ninth Circuit has ever held that Congress must appropriate money to build a drainage system or that Westlands would not have to ultimately pay for it.
Moreover, few people in Washington seem to be questioning why Westlands should get off the hook for the $489 million still owed on the delivery system. If a man builds you a house and a plumbing system and fouls up the pipes underneath the bathroom, you don’t get the house for free. You just get your plumbing fixed.
Following a meeting in her office on Aug.1, Senator Feinstein said of a potential agreement “the devil is in the details.” Environmentalists fear she isn’t really paying attention to the details or looking out for the interests of American taxpayers and especially Californians, who are cutting back usage in urban areas while Westlands’ 500-600 growers could get enough water annually to meet the needs of a city of eight million people, or two cities the size of Los Angeles.
Consider this: If Westlands gets 800,000 acre-feet of water a year, which is what it would like, that translates to 260.68 billion gallons of water a year and 15 trillion, 640 billion gallons over the life of the proposed 60-year contract.
If you calculate the urban retail value of 800,000 acre-feet of water at a conservative $500 an acre-foot (Rep. Grace Napolitano of Los Angeles, new chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Water and Power Resources, says its $600 an acre-foot in Southern California) you come up with $400 million a year. Assuming the Westlands pays a generous $100 an acre-foot (they will argue for, and probably get, a cheaper price) that means they will pay $80 million for $400 million worth of water in a given year. Over 60 years, $400 million times 60 turns out to be $24 billion worth of water for a few hundred growers(Westlands claims 600 growers but has never produced a list and critics say it could be as few as 400). And many of those “growers are connected by blood or marriage, or simply entities operating under different corporate names but controlled by the same people. Of course, in my example, they would pay for 20 percent of that water ($100 an acre-foot) which means the retail value of that water delivered over the life of the contract, less what they paid for it, would be $19.2 billion.
Actually, the potential profits of water sale could be much higher. First of all, you can bet that the current urban price of water will be far higher in 60 years, when the western San Joaquin Valley may look like the San Fernando Valley. Water then may be worth $2,000 an acre-foot or even more if climate change produces extended drought.
Although Westlands’ Birmingham contends any guaranteed supply of water is strictly for farming in the district, there is no question it is legally permissible, thanks to a 1992 change in Reclamation law, for Westlands to sell its water on the retail market to the highest bidder, i.e. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which has an insatiable thirst. Indeed, several San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts are already selling water to developers or urban interests and some individual Westlands growers have already offered to sell water to Metropolitan. They understand very well that water is the new cash crop.
Westlands’ so-called solution to the drainage problem is (1) conservation, (2) recycling and the most controversial and unproven, (3) use of sprinklers to disperse the tainted drainage water into the air, with the water evaporating and the salts and selenium falling back onto a gravel bed. The technology has never been tried large scale other than on one California Department of Water Resources test plot that was less than the size of a city lot.
Westlands officials have not explained where the millions of tons of salts that would accumulate over the decades would be hauled for disposal. Or what would happen if their scheme did not work. Environmentalists worry the drift of the salty spray from the sprinklers, especially in windy conditions, could damage surrounding fields or further taint groundwater. And sprinklers, or puddling of water would surely draw wildlife to the tainted water. The spray drift zone downwind would be more than two football fields long. If trees were planted for a drift barrier that would created a selenium-charged terrestrial environment. Huge amounts of land for a safety zone around the sprinklers would be required for the amount of drainage Westlands generates. The district hasn’t said how much land.
So if Westlands’ drainage scheme doesn’t work the growers will simply idle the bad lands and keep the very valuable water which they can resell to the highest bidder under the 1992 law. How fortunate.
At Feinstein’s Aug. 1 meeting with Birmingham and others, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientist Joseph Skorupa was not in attendance although Senator Feinstein reportedly asked for him to be there. Skorupa is probably the premier expert in the United States on the impacts of farm drainage water on wildlife, especially birds, and has been studying San Joaquin Valley drainage since the 1980s. Fish and Wildlife managers, under pressure from Bureau officials, told Sen. Feinstein that Skorupa was unable to attend the Aug. 1 Washington meeting. According to sources at Interior, however, this was an outright lie and Skorupa was both willing, and able, to attend the Feinstein meeting.
Ironically, the same day Skorupa was told he could not attend the Feinstein meeting, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dale Hall was testifying before the House Natural Resources Committee Hearing regarding Interior’s questionable scientific and policy decisions under the Endangered Species Act and claimed that “Science is the cornerstone of the Service’s work; it is what guides the agency’s decisions.” Unless, of course, Westlands is involved.
Westlands growers have making campaign contributions to Feinstein for years, including nearly $5,000 personally from Birmingham. No one has calculated how much. But they have a lot to gain if Feinstein buys off on their proposal and sponsors legislation.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website, in a recent year the largest 10 percent of the farms in the Central Valley Project - which stretches from Redding to Bakersfield - got 67 percent of the water, and of course, Westlands has the biggest CVP farms of all and uses the most water of any district. Twenty-seven large CVP farms, most in the Westlands, received water subsidies averaging in excess of $1 million annually (i.e. the cost of replacement water). One Westlands farm, Woolf Enterprises, received more water by itself than 70 water districts in the Central Valley Project, for a subsidy worth up to $4.2 million annually at urban prices for water. EWG has also documented that CVP farmers get power subsidies to pump that Delta water uphill into the San Joaquin Valley at rates that are about 1/15th what the average citizen pays for the monthly electricity bill. CVP growers’ water rates are about two percent of Los Angeles residents’ rates.
Fortunately, any deal the Westlands/Bush Administration cabal makes with Feinstein must run the gauntlet of a Democratic Congress, which may not be as solicitous of the Westlands as Feinstein is. Rep. Miller and Rep. Napolitano promise to closely monitor any sweetheart water giveaway. California environmental groups, fishing groups and Northern California Native Americans are also mobilizing to fight the latest Westlands scheme.
One question for Congress to ask is how many billions do American taxpayers owe the few hundred Westlands growers? Kesterson whistleblower Felix Smith, a retired Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who first leaked to the news media the selenium-caused bird deformities, has been writing about the Kesterson debacle for 25 years. He estimates the overall subsidy to the Westlands (cheap water, cheap power, interest free construction costs), per acre, is now well over $6,600 per acre, or $3 billion for the whole district. The per acre subsidy is far more than the land is worth.
More worrisome is that if Westlands is guaranteed an enormous amount of water, it will increase the stress on a Delta that is already on the verge of ecological collapse due to overpumping by the State Water Project as well as the federal pumps.
However, Westlands’ “farm boys” are hoping that public apathy and congressional confusion or ignorance will result in one more very big payday. Over 15.6 trillion gallons of water in the middle of a desert. Think of the riches. Their desert may be uninhabitable but it does rain money.
If you want to protect your tax dollars and slow down the Westlands express you can go to, and sign the petition at, www.thepetitionsite.com/1/no-more-secret-deals. The Planning and Conservation League is also adding information on the Westlands proposal to its website. It is your tax money and your public water supply that is being given away. The devil is indeed in the details. Stay informed.
Lloyd Carter has been writing about Westlands water issues for more than 30 years and served as a reporter for United Press International from 1969 to 1984 and again from 1987 to 1990. He spent three years as a reporter at the Fresno Bee from 1984 to 1987. He won the San Francisco Press Club’s Best Environmental Coverage award in 1985 for his stories on the bird deformities at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge caused by selenium-tainted drainage water from Westlands. He is now an attorney in Fresno, CA.