This letter to the editor by Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa gave us a headache.
The issue is why the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, popularly known as the "stimulus package" did not include funds for a fix in the Delta, called the "Two Gate Solution," that would protect the Delta Smelt, whose population is plummetting to extinction due to over-pumping since the Colorado River Agreement.
Consider the congressman's logic.
He is shocked that the project was not included in the final list for funding. He castigates the bill as Obama's "massive spending plan under the pretense of creating or saving American jobs." As is well known, every farmworker in the San Joaquin Valley is an American citizen or is a legal permanent resident.
He voted against the bill and now damns the funding for "going to projects that improve the environment." The vote from the Valley congressmen went down on straight party lines, Democrats McNerney, Cardoza and Costa, Aye, Radanovich and Nunes, Nay, right in line with California's entire congressional delegation. Actually, the Two Gates project sort of looks like an environmental project itself, to protect an endangered species, with the added boon to mankind of allowing more pumping to the south Valley, where an estimated 40,000 seasonal agricultural jobs are in jeopardy. His fellow Republican, Nunes, has said as high as 80,000 jobs are threatened.
As far as west side water districts facing 0-percent water delivery this year, the press is reporting that even the most threatened districts are going to get some water this year. Meanwhile, a federal district court ruling in Fresno last week opened the door to more pumping at some point.
Radanovich, along with Cardoza, Costa and Nunes, boycotted First Lady Michelle Obama's visit to UC Merced last weekend.
Now, Radinovich is griping that because Obama and Pelosi, "beholden to the environmental community," a small number of large landowners on the west side will not get much surface water this year so will have to pump polluted groundwater on their crops or else fallow land. His own district, which includes the headwaters of four large Sierra rivers that support numerous east side irrigation districts, has one little gerimandered tennis shoe in a part of the west side where growers are getting at least a part of their irrigation water from the Delta, despite the drought. The amount of influence a handful of very wealthy west side agribusiness special interests regularly buy from the Valley congressmen makes an ordinary citizen go cross-eyed with perplexity. Although you wouldn't believe it from his letter below, George Radanovich is not a stupid man. But crop production and basic processing top his list of contributing industries, double its nearest competitor. Radanovich's contributors are making an idiot out of him.
Another side of this nonsense is that Hughson, in Radanovich's district, got $23 million in federal water-project stimulus funds. What is this man babbling on about?
Let's get this right: he votes against the stimulus package; insults the president and the speaker for being stooges of the environmentalists (a laughable claim from an environmental point of view); boycotts the president's wife; misspeaks about the west side water situation; and now cries huge tears because the stimulus package funding did not include $25 million for more Delta "fixing" to preserve thousands of seasonal farm labor jobs and undoubtedly agribusiness bankruptcies.
This is leadership?
You can't make it up. We suspect there has actually been a mental breakdown in the Valley congressional delegation. They've got water on the brain. Just speaking as simple citizens of the San Joaquin Valley, we are finding it more confusing every day to be represented in Congress by a group of headless chickens. We can't even figure out who decapitated them but we're putting our money on their agribusiness contributors who, after beheading their congressmen, cut off their own noses just for spite.
The problem is that agribusiness believes its own propaganda and so do its representatives. It's pride of ownership in grade-A prime flak. In fact, the cumulative adverse environmental impacts from San Joaquin Valley agribusiness are growing and more of them are becoming clearly illegal despite the horrors of upholding the law expressed in a recent water debate in Fresno by Judge Oliver Wanger of US. District Court, Eastern District of California. His advice to several hundred farmers gathered for the debate that night was: Talk to your congressmen and get them to change the law.
OK. Let's start by insulting the president's political party, insult his wife by boycotting her commencement speech at UC Merced, and continue right along with the terribly effective political technique of whining about poverty among people paid the lowest wages in America working for agribusiness, which hauls down billions of dollars in farm subsidies alone ($319 million between 1995-2006 just in Radanovich's district), forgetting the huge, on-going federal water subsidy.
What agribusiness must absolutely deny is any connection between agriculture and nature. Ordinary people, on the other hand, have the vague impression that agriculture is totally dependent on nature. This impression is even held by ordinary Valley residents. Agribusiness spends an enormous amount of money on propaganda and on buying political influence to persuade the public that it is in error and that, in fact, agribusiness and only agribusiness produces food and fiber and if it cannot continue to plunder the environment for all it wants of these vague "inputs" like water, land, illegal aliens, etc., we will forfeit our "food security" and starve to death.
It is pure sorcery. Below find Radanovich's incantations mingled among some serious journalism on water.
Badlands Journal editorial board
Opinion - Community Voices
Support Two Gates and valley's farmers...George Radanovich
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Obama administration are beholden to the environmental community and will fight HR 856 every step of the way. Because of their indifference, the West Side water districts could face a 0 percent
There is a temporary solution, though, that will allow the delta pumps to deliver water to agriculture very quickly. This project would involve installation of two gates near the delta pumps that would keep the hallowed delta smelt safe while simultaneously pushing the lifeblood of the valley to our farmers. The project is permit-ready and, once approved, could be installed as quickly as 90 days.
The Two Gates project was submitted to the Department of Interior as part of a list of shovel-ready projects to be considered for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Shockingly, Two Gates was not included in the ultimate list of water projects.
President Barack Obama sold this massive spending plan under the pretense of stimulating the economy by creating or saving American jobs. While I did not support this legislation, the stimulus funds can and should be used to solve our water crisis. Instead, most of the "job-creating" stimulus funds are going to projects that improve the environment.
The Two Gates project would cost a modest $25 million, a minuscule portion of the $800 billion stimulus bill. It could save up to 40,000 jobs in the San Joaquin Valley -- one of the regions most severely impacted by the economic downturn.
To most, this makes obvious sense, but apparently the Obama administration has other priorities than the well-being of one of America's most productive industries.
We cannot let the agriculture industry become collateral damage in California's water wars. A temporary solution such as the Two Gates project will provide farmers the lifeline they need until a permanent solution is approved and installed. At this point, the only thing keeping Two Gates from becoming a reality is a mountain of red tape at the California Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Department of Interior.
Citizens of California should rally around the Two Gates project and demand that the permitting process be expedited and that our government installs this project immediately.
Radanovich, R-Mariposa, represents the 19th Congressional District, which stretches from Modesto to Fresno.
Contra Costa Times
Pumping water and cash from Delta...Mike Taugher
As the West Coast's largest estuary plunged to the brink of collapse from 2000 to 2007, state water officials pumped unprecedented amounts of water out of the Delta only to effectively buy some of it back at taxpayer expense for a failed environmental protection plan, a MediaNews investigation has found.
The "environmental water account" set up in 2000 to improve the Delta ecosystem spent nearly $200 million mostly to benefit water users while also creating a cash stream for private landowners and water agencies in the Bakersfield area.
Financed with taxpayer-backed environment and water bonds, the program spent most of its money in Kern County, a largely agricultural region at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. There, water was purchased from the state and then traded back to the account for a higher price.
The proceeds were used to fund an employee retirement plan, buy land and groundwater storage facilities and pay miscellaneous costs to keep water bills low, documents and interviews show.
Revenues from those sales also might have helped finance a lawsuit against the Department of Water Resources, the same agency that wrote the checks, documents show.
No one appears to have benefitted more than companies owned or controlled by Stewart Resnick, a Beverly Hills billionaire, philanthropist and major political donor whose companies, including Paramount Farms, own more than 115,000 acres in Kern County. Resnick's water and farm companies collected about 20 cents of every dollar spent by the program.
Those companies sold $30.6 million of water to the state program, participated as a partner in an additional $16 million in sales and received an additional $3.8 million in checks and credits for sales through public water agencies, documents show.
"For a program that was supposed to benefit the environment, it apparently did two things — it didn't benefit the environment and it appears to have enriched private individuals using public money," said Jonas Minton, a water policy adviser to the Planning and Conservation League, a California environmental advocacy group.
Representatives of Resnick's farm and water companies did not respond to repeated requests for interviews. A woman who answered the phone at the Resnick's holding company last week said, "We don't talk to the press. It's company policy." She transferred the call to a company official who did not respond for an interview request.
The state Department of Water Resources also declined to comment for this story.
A paper accounting thing
The idea behind the environmental water account was to protect the Delta ecosystem without taking water away from people, farms and agencies that held growing expectations — and contracts — for water. By setting aside water that could supplement flows from the Delta, biologists would be able to slow Delta pumps at sensitive times, thereby protecting imperiled fish such as Delta smelt.
The water account was meant to enhance existing environmental protections and protect water users from the possibility that regulators might force them to give up more water to protect fish.
Despite good intentions, however, the program lacked the resources to provide the environmental benefits it promised. Traditional users got their water, but the environment suffered. Delta smelt dropped to levels near extinction. Even the backbone of the state's commercial salmon industry, Sacramento River fall-run chinook salmon, broke under the combined strain of ocean fluctuations and a variety of Delta-related problems, possibly including water management. That salmon fishery, which had never before been closed, is now off-limits to anglers for the second consecutive year, leaving supermarkets temporarily devoid of wild California salmon.
The way it was supposed to work was novel. If fish were in danger of being sucked into massive Delta pumping stations, for example, biologists could invoke the account to slow the pumps down. Then, contractors who would otherwise be deprived of water from the slowdown would be made whole with water from the account.
In order to provide that replacement water to contractors, the water account needed water stored south of Delta pumps. The underground water storage facilities in Kern County's aquifers and ancient river formations proved to be its most important source.
But the location at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley was not ideal. It made more sense to store the water closer to the Delta, where distribution would be easier to a wider variety of places.
So the water in Kern County was "exchanged" for Delta water that was being pumped at record high — and environmentally damaging — rates. The Delta water was then deposited in the environmental water account at San Luis Reservoir near Gilroy.
The exchange legally moved the water that was stored underground in Kern County to San Luis, but the water was still there. To complete the trade, then, the underground water had to be treated as if it were being delivered from the Delta.
Sometimes, Kern County water agencies retrieved the "Delta" water from underground for irrigation, but in most cases, the state was delivering so much water they did not need to.
Instead, most of the time all they had to do was simply forego storing the excess Delta water and pocket the difference between the low rates they paid to the state and the higher market rates they collected from the sale to the water account.
"I wouldn't pump that water to sell the (environmental water account)," said Dennis Atkinson, general manager of the Tejon Castaic Water District, which sold about $2 million worth of water to the account. "How are you going to make any money? ... It's a paper accounting thing. We never turned on a pump."
The price of water
The cost to taxpayers for Kern County water averaged $196 per acre-foot. The price Kern County paid for Delta water varied, but in 2007, the last year the environmental water account was operating, Kern County water users paid an average of $86 for Delta water. Some of that water was purchased for as little as $28 from a discount program.
The environmental water account was administered by the state Department of Water Resources, which also operates the state-owned pumps near Tracy. It bought most of its water from the Kern County Water Agency, whose general manager insisted the prices charged to taxpayers were fair and necessary to offset the cost of buying, storing and managing the water.
"The prices were in line with what we felt were the appropriate costs," said general manager James Beck.
Still, Beck acknowledged, there was nothing in contracts to prevent sellers from making money.
Of course, selling reserves can be risky, and Beck said market prices this year are $350 per acre-foot or more. Given this year's water shortages, he said that if Kern County landowners could go back in time and undo those sales, they would "in a heartbeat."
To Atkinson, of the Tejon-Castaic Water District, it made sense for water districts to reap a return on the sales because water contractors have been paying for the state's dams, pumps and canals since the 1960s, while the demand that more Delta water be dedicated to the environment is more recent.
"These guys have showed up lately and want something someone else has," Atkinson said. "Since they don't have infrastructure, they have to get it from the people who made the investment."
The vast majority of the financing for the nearly $200 million program came from state environment and water bonds that will be repaid with interest over the coming years.
Of that total, about 70 percent was used to buy water from entities in Kern County.
And of the Kern County sales, the $30.6 million sold directly by Resnick's Westside Mutual Water Company was more than twice the sales of any other entity, records show.
The environmental water account's effectiveness was hampered by the fact it was perpetually short of the 380,000 acre-feet a year envisioned when it was set up. In addition, a 2002 court decision favorable to water users reduced a separate source of environmental water, a cut that had to be made up by the environmental account, according to a 2005 report by the Environmental Defense Fund.
Also in 2005, three years into the fish collapse but the first year scientists could be sure that what they were seeing was a statistically valid plunge, the Contra Costa Times detailed how biologists worried about Delta smelt near the pumps were unable to get water managers to fully accept recommendations to slow the pumps because of concerns about driving the environmental water account into debt.
A study published last fall in the scientific journal Environmental Management concluded the account improved the reliability of water supplies for Delta water users but it was unclear whether it provided any meaningful environmental benefit.
Meanwhile, while the water account was meant to offset the environmental damage done by pumping water out of the Delta, it was being relied upon during a period when the state Department of Water Resources was ramping Delta water deliveries up to record levels. The environmental water account went into effect in 2000, and the five highest water deliveries from the Delta were 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006, years in which, along with 2007, state water officials also sold large volumes of discount water that Kern County agencies would buy in 2007 for $28 per acre-foot.
The sharp decline in fish populations began around the same time, starting in about 2002. And while there are likely numerous factors that caused the collapse, most scientists studying the problem believe pumping patterns contributed.
Water officials have argued that the increase in discount water deliveries through a program known as Article 21 made no difference, since the price of water has no biological effect and because the amount of water pumped annually was below the maximum authorized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
But regulators disagree.
A permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service, first issued in 2004, contained restrictions that were supposed to protect Delta smelt from going extinct due to water pumping. It was issued based on regulators' understanding that the use of Article 21 would be much less than it turned out to be.
In a 400-page analysis accompanying a replacement permit issued in December, the service's biologists noted that the Article 21 program was used far more extensively than they had been told when they issued the 2004 permit.
And that, in turn, helped drive up overall pumping rates from the Delta, which regulators tied to the environmental decline.
A coalition points elsewhere
Most of the water sold through the Kern County Water Agency originated with about a dozen smaller public water district "member units" and a handful of private interests who previously stored water, mostly from the Delta, in underground reservoirs.
Several of those entities are members of the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, a group that banded together to fight back against pumping restrictions imposed in late 2007 by courts and regulators.
The coalition has filed three lawsuits and threatened to file several more to shift blame away from water pumping's role in the Delta's collapse. The group contends other environmental threats are also to blame for the Delta's demise, including housing development in Delta floodplains, pesticide use, dredging, power plants, sportfishing and pollution from mothballed ships near Benicia.
The Coalition for a Sustainable Delta's phone number is the same as Paramount Farms, and of the four coalition officers listed on tax documents, three are Resnick employees: William Phillimore, chief financial officer and executive vice president for Westside Mutual and Paramount Farming; Scott Hamilton, resource planning manager for Paramount Farming; and Craig B. Cooper, chief legal officer for Roll International, Resnick's holding company.
A spokesman for the coalition said that although it has an employee working out of the Paramount Farms office, the group is governed by dues paying members and not Resnick. He attributed the heavy presence of Resnick's companies on the group's tax returns to issues associated with getting the new coalition up and running.
"It's an ad hoc coalition. You have to organize that way," said spokesman Michael Boccadoro.
Paper shuffle allows for vast supply of easy money...Mike Taugher
It must have seemed like easy money.
The state was delivering more water than ever to its customers, and in Kern County some of those customers sold some of it back, through a simple trade, at a higher price.
Tens of millions of dollars in sales to the "environmental water account" were little more than paper shuffles. It was all perfectly legal.
But the environment lost while Kern County water agencies collected $138 million in sales to the program, the vast majority of which was paid for with the proceeds from taxpayer backed environment and water bonds.
Public water agencies in Kern County used money from sales to an environmental water account to fund an employee retirement plan, buy land and pay for miscellaneous repairs, documents and interviews show.
One document shows that the Kern County Water Agency used revenue from the sales to help finance a lawsuit against the Department of Water Resources — the same agency that wrote the taxpayer-backed check to the agency — to lower its water bills.
The head of the Kern County Water Agency, James Beck, denied the lawsuit was funded with the sales revenue, but he could not explain why the general manager of one of his agency's member districts recounted that version of events to his board of directors.
Beck said revenues from the sales were used to cover the cost districts paid to buy, store and deliver the water. He also said funds were set aside to cover the cost of future purchases to replace water that was sold.
But documents and interviews show the sales were seen by the water agency's "member units," at least in some cases, as a source of revenue that could be used for a wide variety of purposes:
In 2003, the Buena Vista Water Storage District, based in Buttonwillow, put $500,000 in revenues from the environmental water account sales into its employee retirement plan, documents show.
Water districts put environmental water account revenues into their coffers to offset miscellaneous repairs and other costs in order to keep customers' water bills down, said Dennis Atkinson, general manager of the Tejon Castaic Water District. "We take that money and apply it against our bills," Atkinson said.
One district participated only marginally — selling small amounts of water at a relatively low price to the account's precursor one year and participating as a partner to help other water districts complete their sales in another. The Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District, based in Bakersfield, still was able to buy land to expand its groundwater storage capacity and build facilities with the proceeds, said general manager Eric Averett. Increasing the groundwater banking capacity is arguably consistent with managing water for the account, although the district did not sell any water to the account after 2001.
MediaNews identified $8.6 million worth of checks, refunds and credits, presumably to offset water purchases and pumping costs, including more than $3 million to Paramount Farms, that were paid to landowners in public water districts that sold to the water account. Blackwell Land LLC also received more than $3 million in refunds from the sales, while the remainder went to fewer than 10 other private landowners.
In 2003, Westside Mutual Water Company and the Wheeler Ridge-Maricopa Water Storage District negotiated a $600,000 payment to the water company, controlled by Beverly Hills billionaire Stewart Resnick, after a change in circumstances shifted a portion of the sales from Westside Mutual to the water district. At a meeting of sellers to the account, there was "a plea from Westside MWC that some compromise be worked out to adjust for the windfall" to the Wheeler Ridge-Maricopa district, which gained a greater share of the sales at Westside's expense, according to a memorandum from the water district's general manager, William Taube.
Wheeler Ridge, which serves water to about 90,000 acres of farmland south of Bakersfield, shifted $600,000 in sales to Westside Mutual, which still left the district with $1.4 million in "net revenue."
The most unusual use of environmental water account money may have been its apparent use to sue the state Department of Water Resources — the agency that wrote the check for the purchases — to lower Kern County's water bills.
Beck denied that happened, but that is what Taube told his board of directors in May 2007.
In an interview, Taube said that while it was possible he was mistaken, the point he made was that Kern's "member units" would not have to contribute attorneys' fees because enough revenue had been generated from the water sales.
The lawsuit, known as the "Hyatt-Thermalito litigation," is a dispute over how the state prices power from turbines at Lake Oroville. Kern County Water Agency and other water districts north of the Tehachapis, including Bay Area districts, want the prices to reflect market rates, which would increase the cost of water in Southern California — where it takes more electricity to deliver Delta water because of the greater distance and the need to pump the water over the Tehachapis.
The power sales are applied to contractors' debt for the State Water Project's dams, pumps and aqueducts, so raising the price of the electricity would reduce debt for contractors north of the Tehachapis at Southern California's expense.
In May 2007, Taube told his board that at the Kern agency's April board meeting he attended, the Kern board "directed that 2007 EWA sale proceeds accruing to the Agency would be used to fund the Hyatt-Thermalito litigation. This will reduce the litigation cost borne by Member Units and delay the time when Member Unit contributions to this litigation will be necessary," according to minutes of the Wheeler Ridge-Maricopa district's meeting.
Beck said that was incorrect but did not offer an explanation for how a misunderstanding might have occurred.
"That was my understanding at the time," Taube said. "If he (Beck) disagrees, maybe I misunderstood something."
Asked to clarify what his understanding was at the time, Taube said it was that, "They weren't going to need to call on member units ... because of the EWA."
Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow, through a spokesman, declined to comment on the possibility that the proceeds from taxpayer-financed water sales to his agency may have been used to sue his agency.
In response to a formal request under the state Public Records Act, the Kern agency said it had no records showing environmental water account revenues being used to pay for lawyers. The official minutes of the Kern agency's April 2007 meeting contain no mention of the Hyatt-Thermalito lawsuit and its meetings are not recorded.
Water ownership murky, complicated...Mike Taugher
Kern County water users who sold millions of dollars worth of water to a program meant to help the environment said the arrangement made sense because the water was rightfully theirs.
Few would dispute that water that was purchased and stored in Kern County could be sold to the environmental water account.
But the sales were made easier by the fact that the state Department of Water Resources was cranking up water deliveries to unprecedented heights at the same time it was buying water back for the environment.
The general manager of one of the agencies that sold water through the program, Dennis Atkinson of the Tejon-Castaic Water District, acknowledged that the sales only made sense to him if state pumps were delivering more water than his district could immediately use.
In other words, the higher pumping levels not only took an environmental toll on the Delta, they also made water available to buy back to protect the Delta.
Was the state required to deliver all that water or could it have pumped less and potentially saved the cost of buying it back? Put another way, does Delta water belong to contractors or do environmental needs have priority?
The answer is unclear.
Kern County water districts have a contract that awards them about 1 million acre-feet of water a year. And as customers of the State Water Project, they have to make the same payments on the project's dams, pumps and canals no matter how much water they get.
The state's water customers contend the contract obligates the state to make water available, and the contracts and simple fairness support that, at least to some degree.
On the other hand, a consolidated version of the full contract — which runs 348 pages and has nearly 40 amendments — appears to recognize that water shortages can develop "due to drought or any other cause whatsoever."
And the right to water in arid states is always conditional. The government can promise all the water it wants, but it can't make it rain.
Environmental laws, a constitutional requirement that water use be reasonable and beneficial and an ancient legal doctrine that ensures water is used in a way that considers public trust values — including the health of natural resources such as the Delta — further limit the use of water, making the question of who "owns" water complicated.
"Because it's called a right, people tend to think of it like the First Amendment," said Phil Isenberg, a former legislative leader and chairman of a Delta Vision task force appointed in 2007 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to figure out how to fix the Delta.
"The water rights system is a way of figuring out who is first in line when supplies aren't enough to satisfy all of the water needs."
One of the state's biggest difficulties in delivering water to users while protecting the environment is the fact that water has been dramatically overpromised, Isenberg said.
As the Delta Vision committee was wrapping up its work last year, a memo arrived that members had requested from the state agency that administers water rights.
It carried this sobering comparison: The average natural flow of water in the Delta watershed is 29 million acre-feet per year, while the face value of water rights in the same watershed is 245 million acre-feet, or more than eight times the average flow.
"I was dumbfounded," Isenberg said.
Not all of the water in those rights is actually used, some of the rights are double-counted and much of the water that is used finds its way back into rivers where it can be used again.
Nevertheless, the figures are convincing evidence to Isenberg and others that the state has promised far more water than it can deliver.
Further complicating matters, the State Water Project signed contracts with Kern County, Southern California and others at a time when plans called for dams to be built on North Coast rivers that would produce millions of additional acre-feet a year to spill into the Delta for contractors to use. Those dams were never built.
Faced with overpromised water, population growth, a sensitive environment and periodic droughts, it is no surprise California has difficulties managing water.
Those difficulties also are not new.
After the last major drought ended in 1992 a series of deals were struck to fix the system, culminating in 2000 with a plan known as "CalFed."
There may not have been enough water to satisfy farmers, cities and the environment, but when the deal was signed in 2000, the state was awash in money thanks to soaring real estate, stocks and dot-com enterprises.
One of the keys to the CalFed deal was the environmental water account.
The idea was to use the market to strike a new balance between the needs of the environment and people. The account would be used by regulators to enhance the environment by buying water from willing sellers, thereby reducing conflicts that arise when regulators take it away from water users.
In the absence of an environmental water account, water users faced the possibility of additional environmental restrictions, according to a 2001 report by the Legislative Analyst's Office. For that reason, the LAO said water users should help pay for the program.
"Since compliance with endangered species laws is a responsibility of the state and federal water projects, (the environmental water account) in effect reduces the compliance burden for these projects," the LAO found.
Instead, the environmental water account ended up relying almost exclusively on taxpayer-backed bond funds, and most of that money was spent to buy water stored in Kern County.
The Resnicks: farming's power couple...Mike Taugher
Stewart Resnick is not your typical dirt-under-the-fingernails farmer.
The Beverly Hills billionaire's companies, according to tax records, appear to own more than 115,000 acres in Kern County, about the size of four San Franciscos and more than all of the East Bay Regional Park District's parks combined.
The operation is the largest pistachio and almond growing and processing operation in the world, according to the company's Web site, and part of a business empire that Resnick runs with his wife, Lynda, whose Web site asserts they are the largest farmers of tree crops in the country.
The Resnicks' holding company, Roll International, also owns Fiji water, Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice, Teleflora, the largest floral wire service in the world and, until October 2006, the Franklin Mint, the largest collectibles company in the world.
Forbes ranks Roll International as the nation's 246th largest private company.
Resnick, a New Jersey native who graduated from UCLA in 1959, started his own janitorial company to pay his way through college, while Lynda started her first business at 19. The couple bought their first business together in 1979.
Today, the Resnicks' net worth is estimated at more than $1 billion, and they are believed to be among Los Angeles' richest people. They give generously to art museums, throw parties attended by Hollywood stars and donate lavishly to political campaigns — usually, but not always, to Democrats.
During the presidential campaign that ended in November, they gave money to anyone who had a shot at winning, including Democrats Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Edwards, Bill Richardson and Republican John McCain.
In the past decade, the Resnicks and their Kern County farming operations gave more than $1.6 million to political campaigns in California, including a whopping $373,000 to former Gov. Gray Davis.
Shortly after he was elected in 1998, Davis appointed Stewart Resnick as co-chairman of his water and agriculture advisory committee with former Rep. Gary Condit, D-Modesto, and Keith Brackpool, a businessman with plans to develop water storage underground in the Mojave Desert.
Last year, the couple pledged more than $55 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and this year they are opening a charter school in the farm town of Delano. Both sit on an executive committee for UCLA's medical sciences. Stewart Resnick is on the board of directors for the environmental group Conservation International.
Ruling: Humans, not just fish, to factor in divvying delta water...John Ellis
A federal judge stunned and delighted west-side farmers on Friday, ruling that the federal government must consider the effect on humans -- not just fish -- when allocating delta water.
U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger did not tell officials how to operate the Central Valley Project, and he said it was up to them to manage the massive water pumps in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
But Wanger said officials must focus not just on protecting the endangered delta smelt when discussing these issues. They also must take into account "the harm being visited upon humans, the community and the environment." He also said officials must explain and justify how they reached their water-allocation decisions.
A few months ago, the federal government in effect reduced the volume of water pumped out of the delta by issuing new rules to protect the smelt. That means west-side growers are receiving less water for crops.
Wanger's ruling Friday raised growers' hopes of getting some of that water back, although the case is far from over.
As Wanger prepared to rule Friday, west-side farmers and members of the Westlands Water District and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority sat in the courtroom with long faces, expecting the worst. But after a series of losses to environmentalists, they instead found themselves on the winning side.
"The long and short of it for us today is this is a good thing, for the simple fact that it recognizes the impact that is being felt" by farmers and residents of the San Joaquin Valley's west side, said Westlands Water District spokeswoman Sarah Woolf.
Wanger's ruling followed a four-hour hearing on a lawsuit by Westlands and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority to stop the federal government from enforcing a new management plan for the delta smelt.
The lawsuit was filed in March, more than two months after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a new set of federal rules to protect the smelt. The updated rules -- known as a biological opinion -- were drafted after Wanger had invalidated earlier regulations because they did not comply with the federal Endangered Species Act.
A central piece of the lawsuit sought to nullify the updated smelt-management plan. Wanger made no ruling on that part of the lawsuit. But he found that a second claim -- that the new smelt plan lacked an assessment on the environmental effect on humans -- was valid.
The updated smelt-management plan resulted in a sharp reduction in water deliveries for agricultural and urban users, not only in the San Joaquin Valley, but also in the Bay Area and Southern California. It's not known if Wanger's order will prompt the federal government to increase water deliveries from the delta.
But Wanger made it clear that if the water exports stay at current levels -- which west-side officials say are too low and give no consideration to human needs -- federal officials must explain why.
Wanger said the delta smelt remains endangered and at risk of extinction, but he also said Valley residents are facing adverse environmental effects driven by a persistent drought and a cut in water deliveries.
He said the adverse environmental effects include dust rising from fallowed fields that could lead to a decline in air quality. High unemployment rates in west-side Valley towns also are an effect of the water decisions, Wanger said.
Wanger's order is in effect through June 30, or when the water temperature in two delta channels -- Old River and Middle River -- reaches 77 degrees Fahrenheit for three days. Higher temperatures can adversely affect the smelt.
The order's temporary nature almost certainly sets up more legal battles between the two sides. James Maysonett, who represented the federal government, asked Wanger on Friday to hold off on his order while it is appealed.
Wanger denied the motion.
Kate Poole, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said she didn't like Wanger's ruling, but she said no decision had been made on seeking an appeal.
Friday's hearing set up a strange twist: Daniel O'Hanlon, who represented Westlands and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, found himself pitted against federal attorneys who for years were his allies against environmental groups. This time, federal and environmental attorneys were allied against Westlands and San Luis.
Cities, counties receiving water stimulus funds...The Associated Press
Cities and agencies poised to sign contracts for water project stimulus money (Information on specific projects for most counties not immediately available):
1. Eastern Municipal Water District, Riverside $38.4 million
2. Inland Empire Utilities Agency, Riverside $36.5 million
3. City of Millbrae, San Mateo $34 million
4. City of Delano, Kern $33 million for sewage treatment plant completion
5. City of Brawley, Imperial $25.4 million
6. City of Hughson, Stanislaus $23 million
7. Beaumont Cherry Valley Water District, Riverside $17.5 million
8. Piru Wastewater Treatment Plant, Ventura $14 million
9. City of Live Oak, Yuba $16 million
10. Upper San Gabriel Valley Water District $11 million
Source: U.S. EPA and state Water Resources Control Board.
Suit questions fed's smelt protection...John Ellis...5-21-09
A conservative legal organization today waded into the delta smelt controversy, claiming in a lawsuit that the federal government has no constitutional authority to oversee the endangered fish.
The lawsuit — filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno by the Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of three San Joaquin Valley farming operations — claims that the smelt has no commercial value and is not involved in interstate commerce.
Because of that, managing the smelt and placing it under the federal Endangered Species Act violates the U.S. Constitution, which limits federal domestic authority to only things involved in interstate commerce.
The Sacramento-based foundation’s suit also argues that a smelt management plan issued in December — which has resulted in a reduction of water deliveries to west side farmers and urban users in the Bay Area and Southern California — fails to show how the pumping reductions from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta would benefit the smelt, and did not take into account the economic effects of the ruling.
“The federal government is imposing a depression on California’s agriculture industry,” said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Damien Schiff. He said a “policy that puts people behind fish” is “flat-out unconstitutional.”
The lawsuit comes a day before arguments are scheduled before U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger on an effort by the Westlands Water District and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority to stop the federal government from enforcing the new smelt management plan.
That plan — known as a biological opinion — was written after Wanger invalidated an earlier draft because he found it was flawed and violated the Endangered Species Act.
The updated plan led to the water reductions and the lawsuits by Westlands and the Pacific Legal Foundation.
Time to Throw in Towel on Temperance Flat?...John Lindt
California - Despite the fact he introduced the legislation in 2003 to build a new storage reservoir above Fresno at Temperance Flat, Congressman Devin Nunes says the San Joaquin River Settlement kills any construction of that dam.
“The dam is over with. It's not going to get built,” Nunes told a water forum in Tulare a few weeks ago.
He says the language in the settlement doesn't allow the use of the reservoir to store water for farm use, only for the fish.
An aide explained that it wouldn't make sense to build a dam since the water would simply head to sea anyway.
Other than Nunes, another long-time cheerleader for the project has been Ron Jacobsma, general manger of the Friant Water Authority that represents the 20 water contractors on the eastside of the Valley who signed the settlement agreement.
“It's not time to give up on this project. Developing the water supply is more critical than ever with all the water shortage problems in the state.”
New Study Pending
In fact, the federal Bureau of Reclamation is reviewing a final cost benefit study right now on the feasibly of the dam, says Jacobsma. The study will look at how much new water could be developed if the reservoir was built.
Jacobsma expects the report to be released this month or next.
Jacobsma says a 1.3 million acre foot dam has been estimated to yield just 100,000 acre feet of new water, but with an eye popping cost of $3 billion.
Critics have pointed to the escalating cost and the relatively low yield as reasons enough to forget about the plan. Some say farmers should foot the bill for the whole thing.
But Jacobsma says there are indications the new study, using the latest climate data, may find substantially more yield than before, in part because more winter storms in recent years have added up to lost water that has been sent out to sea because of the relatively small size of the existing dam.
“With global warming and early snow melt in a wet year, we could save a lot of water with a larger dam and the yield could go up,” perhaps by several hundred thousand acre feet.
The usefulness of the Temperance Flat facility as a key regulator for statewide water infrastructure has been a selling point. “We would count on linking the water storage with the rest of the state – to use it to move and store water from both north and south” of the fragile delta area. That water could move south of the delta when endangered fish species were not impacted for example – a key problem now. The conveyance infrastructure could also help save water sent down the river for fish to be recaptured for farm use, either through a trade or sent south through a canal, he argues.
In order to accomplish the salmon restoration on the San Joaquin River, the larger dam has some key benefits as well – particularly storage of cold water needed by the salmon. The dam could provide cold water for over-summering fish and a place to store the up to 60,000 acre feet of water needed to send down the river for the salmon's benefit. “Where else can they store that water?” asks Jacobsma.
Jacobsma says there are other public benefits as well, including water quality improvements on the river, flood control and wet-year water management for all water uses, including exchanges both north and south of the delta. “It's uniquely located.”
Jacobsma says the state – realizing the public benefits for all of California – has suggested through water bond proposals that there could be a 50 percent cost sharing.
“Construction costs will depend on the construction environment” that was high when the last estimate was figured but is far lower today – perhaps 25 percent lower, says Jacobsma.
One driver of the cost is the temperature control devices that need to be built in for the salmon. Also, costs increase because of the need to reduce any impacts on the hydroelectric power that is already in place on the upper San Joaquin.
Originally, the cost estimates some years ago started at $1.2 billion but went to $ 2 billion – now $3 billion.
Dam Building Era Over?
That's enough money to fuel criticism that this is simply a pork barrel project and fits into the long term argument made by environmental groups that the era of expensive dam building is over anyway.
The Temperance Flat project would flood a federal recreation area and possibly a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. powerhouse while providing relatively little water for downstream use, say these critics.
Criticism has come from the Pacific Institute that last year roiled farmers with its suggestions to cut water use on crops to solve the drought. Back in 2006, the institute commented on state of California support to investigate the Temperance Flat project along with the group Friends of the River.
“It's the least cost-efficient dam project we could look at,” said Steve Evans of Friends of the River. “We've almost fully developed the San Joaquin and take something like 98 percent of its water to the point where it usually does not flow anymore.” Evans said the dam would capture runoff only during rare high-water years and provide relatively little water in return.
The Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based think tank, has argued that an aggressive conservation program could cut the state's water use in 2030 by as much as 20 percent below 2000 levels.
In news accounts, the environmentalists summarized their position.
“We may need new reservoirs sometime in the future, but we don't need them now,” said Peter Gleick, the institute's president and a co-author of the study. “New surface storage is far more expensive – environmentally, economically and politically – than improving conservation and efficiency.”
Los Angeles Times
State water deliveries up...Bettina Boxall, Greenspace
State water deliveries are going up again.
The Department of Water Resources announced today that it will give State Water Project contractors 40% of what they requested this year. While that figure remains low, it is far more than earlier delivery forecasts, which started at 15% and then rose to 20% and 30%.
“Early May snow and rain improved the water supply situation enough to allow this modest expansion,” said department director Lester A. Snow. But he cautioned that the state's three-year drought was not over. "Gov. Schwarzenegger’s statewide drought declaration remains in effect and all Californians must heed his call to reduce their water use.”
As of May 1, statewide precipitation and reservoir storage were 80% of average for the date. Runoff was 60% of the norm.
Urban Southern California gets about a third of its water from the state system, which pipes supplies south from the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta east of San Francisco.
Agencies rarely get their full contract amounts from the state. But below average precipitation and environmental restrictions on delta pumping have sharply cut this year's deliveries, prompting Southland water agencies to adopt conservation measures and price hikes.
GEORGE RADANOVICH: Two Gates project can help agriculture survive water wars...George Radanovich
For years, those of us living and working in the San Joaquin Valley have known that the answer to California's chronic water shortages is a peripheral canal, around the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta, and additional storage south of the Delta such as a Temperance Flat dam.
While we have heard every plan, promise, proposal and pledge to fix our state's water woes, we are left with little action and even less water. It appears that the political will to make these changes won't happen until water delivery to all Californians, including urban water users, grinds to a halt.
California's drought is largely man made, as the water supply is being held hostage by the Endangered Species Act. These water restrictions are the reason California will lose 40,000 jobs this year and more than $2 billion of income. Today, many Valley fields are bone dry and empty as 0% to 15% water allocation from the Delta threatens the $90 billion industry that is California agriculture.
Recognizing the impending doom of our region's main economic engine, earlier this year I introduced HR 856, the California Drought Alleviation Act. The bill temporarily suspends the ESA on the Delta pumps to allow them to operate at maximum capacity -- immediately delivering much needed water to our farmers and farmworkers.
While I am making every effort to pass HR 856, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Obama administration are beholden to the environmental community and are fighting this every step of the way. Because of their indifference, the west-side water districts could face a 0% farm water allocation for the next 10 years, putting all Valley agriculture in jeopardy.
There is a temporary solution, though, that will allow the Delta pumps to deliver water to California agriculture very quickly. A proposal called the Two Gates project would require the simple construction and installation of two gates near the Delta pumps that would keep the hallowed Delta smelt safe while simultaneously pushing the lifeblood of the Valley to our farmers. The project is permit-ready and, once approved, could be installed as quickly as 90 days.
The Two Gates project was submitted to the Department of Interior as part of a list of shovel-ready California water infrastructure projects to be considered by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Shockingly, Two Gates was not included in the final list of water projects.
President Obama sold this massive spending plan under the pretense of stimulating the economy by creating or saving American jobs. While I did not support this legislation, the stimulus funds can and should be used to solve our water crisis. Instead, most of the "job creating" stimulus funds are going to projects that "improve the environment."
The Two Gates project would cost a modest amount of money ($25 million), a minuscule portion of the $800 billion stimulus bill. It could save up to 40,000 jobs in the San Joaquin Valley -- one of the region's most severely impacted by the economic downturn.
To most, this makes obvious sense, but apparently the Obama administration has other priorities than the well-being of one of America's most productive industries.
We cannot let the agriculture industry become collateral damage in California's water wars. A temporary solution such as the Two Gates project will provide farmers the lifeline they need until a permanent solution is finally approved and installed.
At this point, the only thing keeping Two Gates from becoming a reality is a mountain of red tape at the California Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Department of Interior.
Citizens of California should rally around the Two Gates project and demand that the permitting process be expedited, the red tape swiftly cut through and that our government installs this project immediately.
California's broken system for water delivery...Mike Taugher, Contra Costa Times
Near the end of a 117-mile canal that takes delta water to the heart of one of California's richest agricultural regions, thousands of farmworkers and their supporters gathered in mid-April to demand more water.
The main artery connecting the vast farms of the western San Joaquin Valley to the heart of California's water delivery system — the delta — is going dry, leaving the nation's largest irrigation district without much of its most unpredictable commodity, water.
For farmers and their employee, the effects are dramatic. Unemployment in Mendota, the southern terminus of the Delta-Mendota Canal, is at 40 percent. Fields are drying up and the possibility is real that some farms might go out of business.
But even among the thousands of protesters who were preparing for a four-day march, one was as likely to find employees of farms with plenty of water as not. Those who retain historic water rights on the San Joaquin River do not have to depend on delta pumps, and they have full shares.
Farmers with several water sources, those with their own reserves and those with older, more senior water rights will fare better than those who do not.
And so it is in a California drought. At stake are the survival of species, the fate of millions of acres of agricultural land and, some argue, the state's economy, not to mention the livelihoods of delta residents and the safety of drinking water in parts of the Bay Area.
In the Westlands Water District, the nation's largest irrigation district, things are bleak. It is heavily dependent on delta pumps, lacks its own storage and is a relative newcomer in its demand for water. The district is likely to get just 10 percent to 15 percent of the water in its contract amount this year, the worst supply in its history.
The focus of marchers' ire was not the weather or drought, but new environmental regulations meant to prevent the dwindling population of delta smelt, which are threatened under the Endangered Species Act, from going extinct.
That anger was somewhat misdirected. The delta smelt rules, according to San Joaquin Valley farmers' own numbers, have cost water districts from here to Southern California 300,000 acre-feet this year. While that's enough water for about 2.4 million people, it is only 5 percent of the 6 million acre-feet that was pumped out of the delta in recent years.
The real reason for the shortages this year is a string of three dry years in a row and decisions, right or wrong, that have drawn reservoirs down to much lower than normal.
Still, the plight here is further evidence that the delta is broken, both as a water delivery system and as an ecosystem.
The largest estuary on the West Coast of North or South America is in a state of ecological collapse in which several fish species are in a nose-dive. For the second year in a row, regulators have banned salmon fishing in California because of extremely low salmon returns, a development that is largely a result in fluctuations in ocean conditions but which researchers say is also linked to the deterioration in the delta.
When normal weather returns, the new environmental rules will make it harder for regions that rely on the delta, particularly Southern California, to recover from the drought.
At least a couple of recent studies suggest California has, in recent years, bumped up against the upper limit of what it can take from the delta, and that the state's farms and cities may have to get by with less.
One solution, according to state government and many of the state's water agencies, is an initiative that seeks to revive the idea of building the peripheral canal, a highly controversial aqueduct around the delta that voters rejected in 1982. It would cost water users and taxpayers billions of dollars, and even then, it is possible cities and farms might not get more water, at least in dry years, as some experts contend.
Also, that course is controversial, particularly in the delta itself.
Even though the delta — a triangle roughly the size of Yosemite National Park with corners at Antioch, Sacramento and Stockton — supplies water to 23 million people and millions of acres of farmland, it remains a vague notion to millions of people who rely on it.
For those familiar with the delta, it is many things — water source, playground, ecosystem, enclave, home.
"This is a place where land and water are intertwined ... unlike any other place I've ever seen," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla of Restore the Delta, a coalition of environmentalists, farmers and locals.
"It really feels endless and open and timeless," added Barrigan-Parrilla, who has lived in Stockton for five years. "I can still get lost on delta roads, which is part of the fun."
While most river deltas fan out off the beach, California's delta is inverted. The Coast Range does not let water flow out to sea except at the relatively narrow gap at the Golden Gate, so the transition from fresh water to brackish water takes place inland.
At the time of the Gold Rush, it was a vast marsh with sinewy rivulets, dense vegetation and birds, fish and other animals in abundance.
Settlers began pushing up berms of dirt to reclaim marshland they could farm. Behind those berms, the farmland was compacted, oxidized and eroded, and over time it began to sink. Farmers pushed the berms up higher.
Today, the delta is a vast complex of channels, levees and about 60 "islands" that are walled off from channels where the water is often 20 feet or more higher than the ground. And the old berms, now referred to as levees, are not sitting on engineered foundations, creating the potential for flooding from earthquakes or spontaneous failures.
It is in these channels between the levees that salmon migrate, smelt swim and water is delivered to the pumps near Tracy, a linchpin to two of the biggest water delivery systems in the country.
One set of pumps is part of the Central Valley Project, which is owned by the federal government and delivers water to Contra Costa Water District and to San Joaquin Valley farmers, especially the Westlands Water District.
The other set of pumps is part of the State Water Project, which delivers water to districts in the East Bay and Silicon Valley, Kern County, the central coast and Southern California.
Since about 2000, the state-owned project increased pumping rates out of the delta and about the same time the populations of several fish species plummeted, including delta smelt.
Scientists studying the environmental collapse in the delta say, in general, that high pumping rates contributed to the decline of fish populations but that other stressors, including invasive, fish-food-eating clams, ammonia from sewage plants and other sources, are probably also to blame.
Still, the link between pumping operations and fish set up a train wreck in which courts, responding to environmentalists' lawsuits, found that the government was not adequately protecting delta smelt and various runs of salmon, steelhead and sturgeon.
That forced water managers to cut back on their water deliveries, inflaming big water users and sending shivers up the spine of water managers across California.
"We've been working it too hard for way too long," said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies. "It cannot be both your infrastructure and natural habitat at the same time."
Quinn supports a plan being put together by state government and many water agencies to revive the peripheral canal, a 43-mile aqueduct project that was proposed in 1980, at the end of a years-long drought, to route fresh Sierra runoff around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Statewide voters defeated the plan two years later.
The canal would take water from the Sacramento River before it reached the delta and deliver it in a new aqueduct to the Tracy pumps.
It would separate water delivery from the ecosystem and reduce the conflict between fish and water supplies, Quinn said.
Critics, however, say the delta could become saltier, more polluted and stagnant if too much freshwater is taken out from the Sacramento.
Several studies on the delta have concluded that, indeed, a new way of getting water through, or around, the delta is needed. But some of those also conclude that resuscitating the estuary will require water users to take less water from the region.
Today, there are at least a dozen active lawsuits on the delta winding through the courts.
That number is certain to climb.