Badlands Journal
Water and alternative energy in the West...Badlands Journal editorial board...10-4-09
Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, predicted that as intensive renewable energy development spreads, water issues will follow.
New York Times
Alternative Energy Projects Stumble on a Need for Water...Todd Woody
AMARGOSA VALLEY, Nev. — In a rural corner of Nevada reeling from the recession, a bit of salvation seemed to arrive last year. A German developer, Solar Millennium, announced plans to build two large solar farms here that would harness the sun to generate electricity, creating hundreds of jobs.The German developer Solar Millennium hopes land in the valley, above, can be home to solar plants. Public opinion, partly because of water issues, appears to be split.
But then things got messy. The company revealed that its preferred method of cooling the power plants would consume 1.3 billion gallons of water a year, about 20 percent of this desert valley’s available water.
Now Solar Millennium finds itself in the midst of a new-age version of a Western water war. The public is divided, pitting some people who hope to make money selling water rights to the company against others concerned about the project’s impact on the community and the environment.
“I’m worried about my well and the wells of my neighbors,” George Tucker, a retired chemical engineer, said on a blazing afternoon.
Here is an inconvenient truth about renewable energy: It can sometimes demand a huge amount of water. Many of the proposed solutions to the nation’s energy problems, from certain types of solar farms to biofuel refineries to cleaner coal plants, could consume billions of gallons of water every year.
“When push comes to shove, water could become the real throttle on renewable energy,” said Michael E. Webber, an assistant professor at the University of Texas in Austin who studies the relationship between energy and water.
Conflicts over water could shape the future of many energy technologies. The most water-efficient renewable technologies are not necessarily the most economical, but water shortages could give them a competitive edge.
In California, solar developers have already been forced to switch to less water-intensive technologies when local officials have refused to turn on the tap. Other big solar projects are mired in disputes with state regulators over water consumption.
To date, the flashpoint for such conflicts has been the Southwest, where dozens of multibillion-dollar solar power plants are planned for thousands of acres of desert. While most forms of energy production consume water, its availability is especially limited in the sunny areas that are otherwise well suited for solar farms.
At public hearings from Albuquerque to San Luis Obispo, Calif., local residents have sounded alarms over the impact that this industrialization will have on wildlife, their desert solitude and, most of all, their water.
Joni Eastley, chairwoman of the county commission in Nye County, Nev., which includes Amargosa Valley, said at one hearing that her area had been “inundated” with requests from renewable energy developers that “far exceed the amount of available water.”
Many projects involve building solar thermal plants, which use cheaper technology than the solar panels often seen on roofs. In such plants, mirrors heat a liquid to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine. As in a fossil fuel power plant, that steam must be condensed back to water and cooled for reuse.
The conventional method is called wet cooling. Hot water flows through a cooling tower where the excess heat evaporates along with some of the water, which must be replenished constantly. An alternative, dry cooling, uses fans and heat exchangers, much like a car’s radiator. Far less water is consumed, but dry cooling adds costs and reduces efficiency — and profits.
The efficiency problem is especially acute with the most tried-and-proven technique, using mirrors arrayed in long troughs. “Trough technology has been more financeable, but now trough presents a separate risk — water,” said Nathaniel Bullard, a solar analyst with New Energy Finance, a London research firm.
That could provide opportunities for developers of photovoltaic power plants, which take the type of solar panels found on residential rooftops and mount them on the ground in huge arrays. They are typically more expensive and less efficient than solar thermal farms but require a relatively small amount of water, mainly to wash the panels.
In California alone, plans are under way for 35 large-scale solar projects that, in bright sunshine, would generate 12,000 megawatts of electricity, equal to the output of about 10 nuclear power plants.
Their water use would vary widely. BrightSource Energy’s dry-cooled Ivanpah project in Southern California would consume an estimated 25 million gallons a year, mainly to wash mirrors. But a wet-cooled solar trough power plant barely half Ivanpah’s size proposed by the Spanish developer Abengoa Solar would draw 705 million gallons of water in an area of the Mojave Desert that receives scant rainfall.
One of the most contentious disputes is over a proposed wet-cooled trough plant that NextEra Energy Resources, a subsidiary of the utility giant FPL Group, plans to build in a dry area east of Bakersfield, Calif.
NextEra wants to tap freshwater wells to supply the 521 million gallons of cooling water the plant, the Beacon Solar Energy Project, would consume in a year, despite a state policy against the use of drinking-quality water for power plant cooling.
Mike Edminston, a city council member from nearby California City, warned at a hearing that groundwater recharge was already “not keeping up with the utilization we have.”
The fight over water has moved into the California Legislature, where a bill has been introduced to allow renewable energy power plants to use drinking water for cooling if certain conditions are met.
“By allowing projects to use fresh water, the bill would remove any incentives that developers have to use technologies that minimize water use,” said Terry O’Brien, a California Energy Commission deputy director.
NextEra has resisted using dry cooling but is considering the feasibility of piping in reclaimed water. “At some point if costs are just layered on, a project becomes uncompetitive,” said Michael O’Sullivan, a senior vice president at NextEra.
Water disputes forced Solar Millennium to abandon wet cooling for a proposed solar trough power plant in Ridgecrest, Calif., after the water district refused to supply the 815 million gallons of water a year the project would need. The company subsequently proposed to dry cool two other massive Southern California solar trough farms it wants to build in the Mojave Desert.
“We will not do any wet cooling in California,” said Rainer Aringhoff, president of Solar Millennium’s American operations. “There are simply no plants being permitted here with wet cooling.”
One solar developer, BrightSource Energy, hopes to capitalize on the water problem with a technology that focuses mirrors on a tower, producing higher-temperature steam than trough systems. The system can use dry cooling without suffering a prohibitive decline in power output, said Tom Doyle, an executive vice president at BrightSource.
The greater water efficiency was one factor that led VantagePoint Venture Partners, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, to invest in BrightSource. “Our approach is high sensitivity to water use,” said Alan E. Salzman, VantagePoint’s chief executive. “We thought that was going to be huge differentiator.”
Even solar projects with low water consumption face hurdles, however. Tessera Solar is planning a large project in the California desert that would use only 12 million gallons annually, mostly to wash mirrors. But because it would draw upon a severely depleted aquifer, Tessera may have to buy rights to 10 times that amount of water and then retire the pumping rights to the water it does not use. For a second big solar farm, Tessera has agreed to fund improvements to a local irrigation district in exchange for access to reclaimed water.
“We have a challenge in finding water even though we’re low water use,” said Sean Gallagher, a Tessera executive. “It forces you to do some creative deals.”
In the Amargosa Valley, Solar Millennium may have to negotiate access to water with scores of individuals and companies who own the right to stick a straw in the aquifer, so to speak, and withdraw a prescribed amount of water each year.
“There are a lot of people out here for whom their water rights are their life savings, their retirement,” said Ed Goedhart, a local farmer and state legislator, as he drove past pockets of sun-beaten mobile homes and luminescent patches of irrigated alfalfa. Farmers will be growing less of the crop, he said, if they decide to sell their water rights to Solar Millennium.
“We’ll be growing megawatts instead of alfalfa,” Mr. Goedhart said.
While water is particularly scarce in the West, it is becoming a problem all over the country as the population grows. Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, predicted that as intensive renewable energy development spreads, water issues will follow.
“When we start getting 20 percent, 30 percent or 40 percent of our power from renewables,” Mr. Kammen said, “water will be a key issue.”
The World according to Modesto...Badlands Journal editorial board...10-4-09
We have no appreciation for the Hun, our governor. We think he is a public embarrassment. But, in terms of the time-honored political phrase – the people get the government they deserve – the Hun is a tribute to the political idiocy of the California population, composed of people who all think state history began when they got here, either is immigrants from the US and elsewhere, or as babies.
But the Hun will surprise you every once in awhile and his act of leaving $1.000 in the fund to pay for millions of state subventions for Williamson Act contracts was, we thought, a reality-based decision. As the two articles from the Modesto Bee below show, developers and their handmaidens in local land-use authorities, planning ahead as usual. Below is a classically pious editorial about the absolute necessity of the county, facing one of the worst foreclosure situations in the nation and experiencing real estate devaluation cutting county revenues, plus state cuts to health and human services budgets. Basically, the Williamson Act is a gift of property tax reductions to prosperous farmers and ranchers and ranchette owners. Those whose farms will fail for lack of the subvention will probably be mainly smaller dairies that have been already gored by processor-distributor rigged milk prices since late last year.
Both the Modesto grown measures and the editorial remind us of why Modesto, along with Merced and Stockton, so regularly lead the nation in foreclosure rates and unemployment. Modesto’s leaders have been stupefied by greed for decades. But the level of idiocy in the town is worse than that, because the “elite” in Modesto have a creed in which they believe with utmost fervor. It is that they are smarter, more successful and even wiser than anyone else in the world – a world that never ventures beyond the city limits of Modesto. Even the Great Valley Center, allegedly encompassing all of Central California, has done nothing but spread the knuckleheaded worldview of Modesto throughout the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys. Fortunately for Central California, many of us have been just too dimwitted to grasp the genius of the World According to Modesto.
The historical perspective on Modesto’s latest and biggest growth measures is provided by Ben Jones on his indispensible thehousingbubbleblog.com.
Badlands Journal editorial board
Modesto Bee
Modesto's biggest growth measures quietly head toward ballot...Garth Stapley
The largest growth questions ever to confront Modesto voters are quietly heading toward the November ballot.
Remember Village I, the much-heralded vision that turned into a fiscal fiasco and, finally, ordinary subdivisions? That headline-grabber was little more than half the size of what Modesto voters will see Nov. 3 with nowhere near the fanfare.
Twelve years ago, voters again were asked to set up annexations for huge tracts on the city's fringe, again with heightened election fervor. That's when Modestans simultaneously updated their right to control the city's growth destiny and said "no thanks" to thousands more acres gobbling prime farmland. Yet this year's bevy of growth measures, most on Modesto's north edge and drawing almost no attention, has even more land at stake.
To be specific, the storied history of Village I centered on 1,775 acres, compared to 2,500 acres in 1997's Measures P and Q, compared with nearly 3,000 acres this year. But aside from scattered news accounts and editorials, Measures A, B, C, D and E are flying under the radar.
While the earlier votes produced mostly houses, this year's crop is much heavier on potential jobs. Three of the five measures have no residential component.
No campaign literature is known to have circulated yet on any of the measures. Supporters of two, Measures B and C, didn't bother to submit official ballot arguments.
It appears that only one growth camp, supporting Measure E, is actively putting out campaign signs, while failing to report its spending to the city clerk. One of its leaders, landowner Frank Bavaro, says he plans to file the documents immediately, and the campaign likely will spend about $24,000.
"Usually, with growth measures you hear a lot of buzz," said Sandy Lucas, who co-hosted a defunct talk show that focused on local politics. "I can honestly tell you, no one's talking about it (this year). It feels like a lot of apathy."
Some are more controversial
The League of Women Voters favors only one of the five areas, Measure C, by far the least controversial because it's already mostly developed with a row of car dealerships. The league opposes three of the others and takes no stand on the largest, Measure A.
The controversial North County Corridor, a future expressway from Salida to Oakdale, is referenced in analyses for four of the five measures. Supporters say their developments will help the freeway, while the league notes that a route hasn't been determined.
If eventually annexed, the four areas would give Mo- desto a huge leap to the north, erasing much of the current agriculture buffer between the city and Riverbank.
"Why wouldn't you build where you have infrastructure?" asked Brent Sinclair, the city's community and economic development director. "Why sprawl somewhere else?"
City Council members, who put all five measures on the ballot and gave themselves specific power to submit ballot arguments, ended up writing only two. Measures A and D show potential for creating jobs north of the city's current limit, they say.
The two furthest to the east, Measures D and E, would bring thousands of homes. Opponents seized on that aspect, writing in ballot arguments against both measures, "Modesto needs more houses like fish need bicycles."
By the way, council members, when it comes to advice from voters on growth areas, can take it or leave it. So whatever voters decide Nov. 3 may not signal the final outcome for any of the areas in question.
On the Net:
Background documents can be viewed at: www.modestogov.com/urbangrowth.
Williamson Act vital to county...Editorial
The true test of your belief in a cause is whether you'll support it with your wallet as well as your words.
That's the challenge facing Stanislaus and other counties now that the state has — at least for 2009-10 — eliminated reimbursement for Williamson Act tax breaks. For more than 30 years those tax breaks have gone to property owners who kept their land in ag use.
We've long considered the Williamson Act a critical component of the effort to save valuable farmland from development. Some farmers simply can't survive financially without the tax breaks they receive from the act.
It's become almost an annual battle to keep the Williamson Act in the state budget. This year, that battle was lost during budget cuts; funding status is unclear for 2010-11 and beyond.
Without the state reimbursement, Stanislaus County will have to absorb the cost out of its general fund, to the tune of about $1.4 million a year. That would mean having to reduce spending in other important areas, including the sheriff's department and parks.
As hard as those other cuts would be, the county needs to continue to support — and fund — the Williamson Act contracts.
It needs to make sure that the tax breaks are not going for land that is being used for ranchettes, for hobby farms or for anything other than true agricultural purposes. Monitoring compliance is no easy task, as currently more than 8,000 parcels involving more than 700,000 acres fall under the Williamson Act in Stanislaus County alone.
Supervisors will be wrestling with this issue later this fall. Three of the five board members have property within the act, so they'll apparently have to draw straws to see who votes.
When that vote comes, we urge the supervisors to put the county's money where its mouth has been — in support of this program that is so essential to our No. 1 industry.
The Biznestate Cycle
-by the Mysterious Flying Miser
I recently had a discussion with a friend about the difference between real estate cycles and real estate bubbles. I thought it would be a good idea to look a few of them up and perform an analysis that might provide some differentiating characteristics. Interestingly enough, what I came across were a few articles layering the concepts of bubbles and cycles in a completely unexpected way.
Firstly, I found the following at http://www.foldvary.net/works/cycle.html, by Fred Foldvary, an economist at Santa Clara University:
Table 1. The Real-Estate Cycle in the US

Peaks in Land Value (Years)
Peaks in Construction (Years)

“Real-estate values and construction have peaked one to two years before a depression, and have stayed at peak levels until the onset of the downturn. The historical evidence is consistent with the theory that speculative booms in real-estate prices and construction act as an impetus for the downturn itself. For an explanation, see my article: “The Business Cycle: A Georgist-Austrian Synthesis.” American Journal of Economics and Sociology 56 (4) (October 1997): 521-41. An updated explanation (2007) is in my booklet, The Depression of 2008, by the Gutenberg Press.
I was surprised to find this table (referenced by multiple other authors), since I have been so imbued with the mantra that “there is no national real-estate market”. According to this dude, not only is there a national real-estate market, but it has been tightly predictable and consistently linked to the US business cycle for about 200 years.
The thing about this table that immediately stood out to me is that our two great real-estate bubbles (today’s bubble and the one preceding the Great Depression) both occurred on time for a normal period of the real-estate cycle, indicating these bubbles were no more than exaggerated versions of a completely periodic event.
The second thing that stood out was that the normal 18-year interval between house-price peaks was only disrupted immediately following the Great Depression. Presumably, the long rise in prices was potentiated by the steep drop preceding it. So what does that say about prospects for future house-price moves in this country? Should people who invest in US real estate immediately following the current crash expect to enjoy steady, long-term appreciation?
Upon further investigation into the above blatant and simple dataset, I came across a 2007 paper, entitled “Housing is the Business Cycle“, by Edward Leamer of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank, the partial introduction and conclusion of which I have manually typed (you’re welcome) below:
“Indeed, if you look up ‘real estate’ in the index to Mankiew’s (2007) best-selling Principles of Macroeconomics, you will find real exchange rates, gross domestic profit (GDP), real interest rates, real variables, and even reality, but no real estate. Under “housing”, you will find a reference to the consumer price index (CPI) and to rent control, but no reference to the business cycle. I have not been able to find any macroeconomic textbook that places real estate front and center, where it belongs
“But it’s not just a problem with our theory. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) macroeconomics data miners have largely missed housing too. The index to Vector Zarnowitz’ (1992) Business Cycle, Theory, History, Indicators, and Forecasting has no reference to real estate or housing. (Actually, there are no ‘h’s in the index at all). Likewise, the index to James H. Stock and Mark W. Watson’s edited volume, Business Cycles, Indicators and Forecasting, has no references to residential investment or to housing. Housing is treated with the same level of interest that building permits has in the index of leading indicators: one of many things that might predict a recession, about as interesting as x7 in the list x1, x2, x3, …,x10.
“There is substantial, mostly older literature on the modeling of residential investment (e.g., Alberts 1962, Fair 1972, Ketchum 1954, de Leeuw and Gramlich 1969). This literature takes the overall business cycle as a given and explores the effects of income and interest rates on residential investment. By including interest rates as explanatory variables, this literature does explicitly explore the link (between) monetary policy (and) housing, but when Maisel (1967), for example, reports that residential investment is an important channel through which monetary policy affects the economy, that finding is treated like the discovery that alcohol (exerts its effects) by depressing the central nervous system, which is a mildly interesting fact that doesn’t at all affect how much we drink. Another round of grog, please.
“Something’s wrong here. Housing is the most important sector in our economic recessions, and any attempt to control the business cycle needs to focus especially on residential investment. But housing presents a special control problem because monetary policy affects mostly the timing of the building, but not the total building. After a surge of building, there has to be a time out, like we are experiencing today, before building can get back to normal and before this channel through which monetary policy affects the real economy is operative again. The Fed can stimulate now or later, but not both.
“The difference in the dynamics of inflation and housing create a problem for the conduct of monetary policy that is aimed at both inflation and housing-related employment. Inflation is very persistent, and needs to be fought every day. For housing, it’s the cycle that is persistent. Once the cycle starts, it keeps on going, like a pebble thrown into a smooth pond of water. The best time to fight the housing cycle with tight monetary policy is when the wave is starting to rise, not when it is cresting. The worst time to stimulate the economy with loose monetary policy is when the wave is starting to rise. That is going to make the crest all the higher, and the crash all the more catastrophic. You know of which I speak, I suppose.
“To put the point as clearly as possible, what I am advocating is a modified Taylor rule that depends on a long-term measure of inflation having little to do with the phase in the cycle and, in place of Taylor’s output gap, housing starts and the change in housing starts, which together form the best forward-looking indicator of the cycle of which I am aware. This would create pre-emptive anti-inflation policy in the middle of the expansions when housing is not so sensitive to interest rates, making it less likely that anti-inflation policies would be needed near the ends of expansions when housing is very interest-rate sensitive, thus making our recessions less frequent/severe.”
“The Pertinent Facts: It’s a Consumer Cycle, not a Business Cycle
“Housing makes an incidental contribution to normal economic growth. The average growth of GDP since 1947 has been 3.47% per year. Only 4.6% of that growth has originated in residential investment.
“Though unimportant in normal periods, weakness in housing is a critical part of US economic recessions. Excepting the DOD downturn in 1953 and the internet comeuppance in 2001, problems in residential investment have contributed 26% of the weakness in the economy in the year before the 8 recessions since World War II, and 11% of the weakness in the 2-year periods commencing with recessions.
“Most of the other leading weakness is also on the consumer side. In the years before recessions, 20% of the weakness is from consumer durables, 10% from consumer services, and 9% from consumer nondurables. Thus, consumers contribute a total of 65% of the leading weakness. In contrast, business spending contributes only 10% of the weakness before recessions, 8% is from equipment and software and 2% from business structures. Most of the weakness on the business side coincides with the recession rather than leading it.
“The first item to soften and the first to turn back up is residential investment. The temporal ordering of the spending weakness is: residential investment, consumer durables, consumer nondurables, and consumer services before the recession. And then, once the recession officially commences, business spending on the short-lived assets equipment and software, and last, business spending on the long-lived assets offices and factories. The ordering in the recovery is exactly the same.
Policy Targets
1. “Smooth the business cycle.
Happiness and well-being are much affected by the collective unwanted idleness we call recessions. It would be helpful if our monetary authorities could do something to make recessions less frequent, less severe, and more short-lived. Housing surely deserves attention in that enterprise.
2. “Keep us working productively.
Happiness and well-being can also be affected if our financial markets absorb too much of our productive time and energy, and if savings are diverted into unwise real investments. It would be helpful if our monetary authorities did what they could to limit the speculative bubbles that absorb our labor and time and that divert savings into low-yielding investments. Housing surely deserves attention in that enterprise.
3. “Limit the redistribution of wealth caused by financial market disruptions
The part of your wealth that comes deservedly from hard work and special foresight is not a problem for me, but I am made miserable when my wealth is transferred to you by unstable and uncaring financial markets. It would be helpful if our monetary policy makers could minimize the extent to which turbulence in financial markets causes redistributions of wealth from one group to another as, for example, when unexpected inflation transfers wealth from lenders to borrowers. Since housing price appreciation effects a substantial redistribution of wealth from renters (future owners) to current homeowners, housing surely deserves attention in that enterprise.
4. “Keep our balance sheets accurately reflecting reality.
Happiness and well-being can also be affected if we do not save enough to provide for the material needs of our elderly. The real assets on which our future depends are the factories and equipment and knowledge and homes that are needed to produce the GDP of the future. The numerical valuations of these assets that we record on our hard drives are only a shadow of those real assets, a shadow that is sometimes larger and sometimes smaller than the real thing. For us to do our planning correctly, we need these numbers to reflect reality. We want our measured asset values to increase when our investments and discoveries make us confident that future GDP will be greater than we had originally thought. We do not want a monetary system that allows us to put phantom assets onto our balance sheets and that signals to us that hard work and savings are not needed to prepare for our retirements. Housing surely deserves attention in that enterprise. Of particular concern is the fact that, absent a change in the technology for transforming residential land into housing services, the contribution of our residential land to GDP is about the same now as it was 5 years ago, but on our hard drives we are recording real values for this land that are double what they were.”
So, what do you guys think? Is housing the business cycle? If so, should the Federal Reserve try to balance out the business cycle by paying special attention to residential investments?
Consequences of stupid, mean and greedy "leaders" at the wheel...Badlands Journal editorial board...10-4-09
It's important for Valley residents to understand just how mean and greedy their "leaders" have been for the last decade as -- without any concern whatsoever for the consequences of real estate speculative bubbles -- they used their local land-use authority to sell land for the benefit of very few, establish our cities as among the least affordable in the nation at the height of the bubble, and then plunge us into economic depression with a rotted safety net. Given the worldwide epidemic of toxic subprime mortgages, our "leaders" have established the Valley as a worldwide symbol of Stupid, Greedy and Mean.
Modesto Bee
Valley's pain not endured equally by all...Michael Doyle
WASHINGTON — San Joaquin Valley cities remain mired in the great economic meltdown, though a new study shows some are suffering more than others.
High unemployment, devastated housing prices and rampant foreclosures are keeping Modesto ranked near the bottom among 100 metropolitan regions evaluated by Brookings Institution experts. Fresno is faring slightly better, though it's not exactly soaring.
"Things are still bad, but they aren't as bad as they were at the beginning of the year," study author Alan Berube stated, adding that conditions "have moderated in most metropolitan areas ... but there is still a great deal of variation."
For residents long accustomed to uniformly grim economic report cards, the latest assessment from Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program offers a somewhat nuanced message: The valley's pain is deep but not distributed equally.
Fresno, in particular, has been having relatively fewer home foreclosures of late. But while Fresno has joined the likes of Sacramento and San Jose among the 20 cities listed in the tier of "second weakest" metropolitan areas, Modesto and Stockton still count among the nation's "weakest" areas, as defined by the Brookings study.
Fresno faring a little better
Most tellingly, a 20.6 percent decline in housing prices since last year ranked Modesto 99 out of 100 cities nationwide. Fresno ranked 92nd, with a 16.6 percent housing price decline.
"Our assessment has (also) been that Fresno has fared somewhat better than its Northern San Joaquin Valley neighbors," agreed Jeffrey Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific's Eberhardt School of Business. "The first year of the recession hit harder in Modesto and Stockton, and the recession was later arriving in Fresno."
Michael's latest forecast predicts that the valley's recovery will lag behind the rest of California. He estimated unemployment will peak in the first half of next year at 17.9 percent in Modesto and 17 percent in Fresno before starting to subside. In part, Michael noted, northern valley communities will be coping for a while with the aftershocks from the closure of the NUMMI auto plant in Fremont.
The subtle contrasts among cities along the Highway 99 corridor, in turn, are much smaller than those between the region as a whole and other, more economically dynamic areas.
"Differences in economic performance among metropolitan areas remained stark," the Brookings study notes.
In this recession, success is strictly relative.
For instance, Omaha's unemployment rate of 5.4 percent in June increased over the past year, but only by 1.7 percent. This ranked Nebraska's largest city at or near the top among areas evaluated by Brookings' economists.
Modesto's unemployment rate in June, by contrast, was 16.5 percent. This was second worst in the nation among all metropolitan areas, ranking above only Detroit. Always high, Modesto's unemployment rate had increased 5.8 percentage points over the prior year.
Four of the five metropolitan areas nationwide with the highest June unemployment rates — Modesto, Stockton, Fresno and Bakersfield — are in the San Joaquin Valley.
Fresno's unemployment rate of 15.3 percent in June marked a 5.7 percentage point increase over the prior year.
While Modesto and Fresno have horrific unemployment in common, they diverge somewhat in foreclosures.
The foreclosure pandemic has left Modesto with the third-highest percentage of bank-owned properties among all metropolitan areas nationwide. Fifteen out of every 1,000 properties in the Modesto area have been taken by banks, the study shows.
In Fresno, by contrast, only about seven out of every 1,000 properties had been taken over by banks as of June. The pace of foreclosures also continued to be notably higher in Modesto than in Fresno from March to June, analysts found.
Limits set on environmental water in Stockton case...Badlands Journal editorial board...10-4-09
Contra Costa Times
Court orders government to pay for water losses
decision could open door for more districts to seek payment for water shifted to fish...Mike Taugher
The federal government must compensate two regional water authorities for water diverted to preserve the environment, a federal appeals court ruled this week in a landmark decision that could open the floodgates for agencies who contend the government is taking water from them for fish.
After a 16-year legal battle, the 2-1 decision came down as California is coping with a drought and new environmental rules that are cutting into the water supplies of farmers and cities across the state. The ruling appears to create an opening for San Joaquin Valley farm districts that are lashing out at environmental regulations to seek payment for water lost to environmental needs.
Whether the districts are entitled to recover damages from the government will depend on language in their water contracts, why specifically water was not delivered and issues beyond the scope of the decision handed down this week, lawyers said.
The ruling, by the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the Federal Circuit, appears to be the first in which an appeals court has concluded the government has breached a water contract when water is diverted from contractors to environmental needs.
Whether the districts are entitled to recover damages from the government will depend on language in their water contracts, why specifically water was not delivered and issues beyond the scope of the decision handed down this week, lawyers said.
The ruling, by the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the Federal Circuit, appears to be the first in which an appeals court has concluded the government has breached a water contract when water is diverted from contractors to environmental needs.
"The door is open for contractors similarly situated to assert the same breach of contract claims, " said Walnut Creek lawyer Roderick E. Walston of Best Best & Krieger, who has argued water cases in the U.S. Supreme Court. "I consider this a very significant decision."
Until recently, courts generally showed deference to federal agencies which shorted water agencies to preserve or enhance the environment. Now, however, the law is shaping up in a way that requires the government to pay water agencies for that lost water, at least in some cases, Walston said. Earlier this year, the same court ruled that government must compensate a Southern California water district for water lost to a fish ladder built for steelhead.
A spokeswoman for the Westlands Water District, which is bearing the brunt of water shortages this year, said the ruling sets a new precedent.
"There is a question as to how much we can take away from contractors, " said district spokeswoman Sarah Woolf. "Contract holders do have some rights."
At issue are contracts for water between the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the two districts, Stockton East Water District and the Central San Joaquin Water Conservation District. The water stored behind New Melones Dam -- the last major government-built dam in California -- that was supposed to go to those districts instead was used to help the Delta and recover salmon populations.
A lawyer for the water districts said their contracts called for them to receive 155,000 acre-feet a year, but they never received more than 90,000 acre-feet and in some years got no water at all. The damages likely will run into many millions of dollars, plaintiffs' lawyers said.
The federal government argued it had no choice but to cut deliveries to the water districts because of the requirements of the 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act, a law co-authored by Rep. George Miller and signed by President George H.W. Bush that rededicated 800,000 acre-feet of water from water users in the project, especially San Joaquin Valley farms, to the environment.
But the court rejected that argument because, it ruled, the contracts allowed the government to underdeliver water only in circumstances that are beyond the control of the federal government. An act of Congress is within the control of the federal government, it ruled.
Whether other water districts would be able to get compensation for water they lost due to the 1992 law or other environmental purposes is not clear. The Stockton contracts refer specifically to issues beyond the control of the federal government, while other contracts do not.
"Those districts would want to sit down and analyze their contracts" and the reasons they were not filled, said Roger Marzulla, a property rights lawyer who represented the Stockton districts and has sued the government many times for what he contends are unconstitutional "taking" of water from recipients of water from government projects.
"There are some that are similar to this case, " he added. "You can't simply turn off the spigot and expect the city of Stockton or the farms in the San Joaquin County to fold up shop and say, well, I guess we have no more water."
The court did not weigh in on whether the government must compensate water contractors for underdeliveries due to cuts made to protect endangered species, Walston said. But, he added, the ruling could be interpreted to mean that the government must compensate water users for those losses.
A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation said the agency had no comment.
The government could ask the appeals court to reconsider the decision before a larger panel or it could petition to the Supreme Court.
Walston said it is hard to predict what the Supreme Court might do but he is skeptical that the government could get the ruling overturned.
Capital Press: Latino Water Coalition an agribusiness front group...Badlands Journal editorial board...10-4-09
Capitol Weekly
Grassroots Latino Water Coalition registered to ag industry lobbyist By Malcolm Maclachlan
Anyone who works in or around the Capitol has likely seen them in the last few months: clumps of Latino farm workers holding blue and white signs with slogans such as "Farm water=Jobs" or "If you like foreign oil, you'll love foreign food."
The California Latino Water Coalition is one of several groups that have sprung up in recent years as the Golden State has tried to address its water woes. But according to critics, those blue signs are hiding another color: the green of Astroturf. In politics, "Astroturfing" means creating and financing a group to make it appear to be a real grass-roots organization when, in fact, it isn't. It is a common practice in the high-stakes world of Sacramento lobbying and communications strategy.
"The Latino Water Coalition is about as real as Schwarzenegger's hair color," said Democratic political consultant Steve Maviglio.
Documents on file with the secretary of state show that the Coalition was formed as a nonprofit and registered by influential Sacramento lobbyist George Soares, whose A-list of about three dozen agricultural clients include the California Rice Commission, the California Cotton Growers and Ginners Associations, the Friant Water Authority, the Nisei Farmers League and The Grape and Tree Fruit League, among others.
The group has been billed as the protector of the jobs of Latino farm workers, although labor leader Dolores Huerta and others have denounced it as a front group.
Mario Santoyo, a top adviser and spokesman for the group, said the coalition receives funding from numerous sources.
"Like any other non-profit, our funding is pretty much dependent on funding we get from individuals, organizations, corporate interests. It's whoever is interested in donating to the purpose and cause of the coalition," said Santoyo, who also is a top executive with the Friant Water Authority.
The Coalition was registered on Dec. 29 of last year by Soares. His firm, Kahn, Soares, & Conway LLP, billed lobbying clients more than $580,000 during the first six months of this year, over 80 percent of it to agricultural clients. The mailing address listed on the Coalition's Web sites is identical to that of Soares' firm, located on L Street across from the Capitol.
Called on Tuesday, an employee of the firm said Soares was out of town until next week, and that he was the only person there who could discuss the Coalition with Capitol Weekly.
Santoyo said growers and other agribusiness interests support the group financially, although he said he did not know exactly who contributed or how much. He also said the group was pushing for $2 billion for "restoring the Delta ecosystem."
Details about the Coalition are not easily obtained. The group's Web site domain, GotWater.org, is registered to DomainsByProxy.com, a company that registers domains for clients who wish to remain anonymous. The Coalition doesn't officially lobby on bills or give money to candidates, so it doesn't show up on the Secretary of State's Cal-Access online database. The Secretary of State's records show that it was registered as a non-profit. On all of those records but one, "Coalition" is misspelled as "Coaltion," which might reflect a single multiplied error if the forms were completed using software with an auto-fill function, according to a representative of the Secretary's office.
The organization does not show up on the online database of non-profits maintained by the State Attorney General, or the Internal Revenue Service's GuideStar system. However, according to Denise Azimi, a spokeswoman for the Franchise Tax Board, it's possible that they have applied for tax exempt status with the state, and also for tax-deductable status with the IRS, but these applications have not yet gone through.
While the Coalition is hardly alone in trying to influence the direction of water policy in the state, no other group has had a more noticeable presence in the public debate. Their rallies are common and often large; an estimated 7,000 people showed up at an event they held in downtown Fresno on July 1.
The Coalition has a celebrity spokesman familiar to many people, Latino actor and comedian Paul Rodriguez. Rodriguez has given numerous rousing speeches on behalf of the group.
While he grew up in East Los Angeles, his family has roots in farming in the Central Valley, something he has often referred to in appearances. In June, he showed up on KFSN-TV News in Fresno, engaging in a shoving match with a white dairy activist-a confrontation that ended with Rodriguez being held back while yelling, "What have you done?!"
Rodriguez has rarely been quoted in press reports about the Coalition, a role that has generally gone to Santoyo.  He did appear in an interview with TV commentator Sean Hannity on "The Valley that Hope Forgot," a special Fox News live broadcast from the Central Valley. Rodriguez said President Barack Obama "cut the water off."
According to the Fresno Bee, Rodriguez and Santoyo were to be in Washington, D.C. this week meeting with California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.
The Coalition has also had a photo montage promoting its work posted on the wall outside Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office since mid-September. When asked about the display, Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said it was there as part of the celebrations of Hispanic Heritage Month, though the governor agreed with the group's goals.
Maviglio, a critic of the Coalition, said that Schwarzenegger was "renting" the space. In a Sept. 15 post on the Majority Report blog, where he is the most prominent contributor, Maviglio wrote that "the Latino Water Coalition is a PR front for Burson-Marsteller, one of the world's largest public relations agencies that has a contract to push dams, canals, and other environmentally-unfriendly 'solutions' in California water policy."
Others have made similar charges. Activist blogger Lloyd Carter has been waging war against the Coalition almost from the moment they came on the scene about two years ago.
"They've got a lot to hide," Carter said. "They're just a front group."
Santoyo did not respond to phone messages requesting further comment this week. The name and telephone number of a Burson-Marsteller employee, Patrick George, has appeared on several Coalition press releases since mid-2007, but he is not identified as a Burson employee. George said the company did not have any current connection to the Coalition.
"We're not doing any work with the Water Coalition anymore," George said. "I've volunteered some of my personal time to help the Coalition because I had a personal interest in the water issue." Asked about his company's past connection to the Coalition, George declined to answer.
According to Carter, the Coalition is funded mainly by large growers and other agribusiness interests in the southern Central Valley. For years, these interests have been fighting for a greater share of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the source of about two-thirds of California's water-a solution that essentially equals dams and a peripheral canal, projects lower Central Valley farmers have been pushing for years. Environmentalists and Delta residents have been fighting against them, seeking to keep a greater share of water for the Delta ecosystem, as well as farmers and residents in northern California.
These growers know that as multimillionaires with holdings ranging into the tens of thousands of acres they don't make the most sympathetic of poster children, Carter said.
This is where the Latino farm workers came in, he said-to add the "human face" and "grassroots" activism that speakers at Coalition rallies often refer to.
A March 27 fundraising letter signed by Rodriguez asked for money "to manage logistics and support marchers including many unemployed farm workers." The fundraising boxes listed were "$1,000," "$2,500," "$5,000 OR MORE," and "Other." Among the group's goals cited in the letter were "to temporarily and immediately relieve severe Endangered Species Act standards that are preventing much needed pumping from the Delta to other regions of California." The letter makes no mention of donations being tax deductable.
Santoyo's employer, Friant, is a "joint powers authority comprised of 22 member districts located in Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties," according to their Web site. He said that Friant has not given any money to the Coalition.
The Coalition's board also includes several other members with water authorities. Treasurer Sylvia Ballin represents the city of San Fernando on the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California board. Southern California chairman S. R. "Al" Lopez is president of the Western Municipal Water District of Southern California. Coastal chairman Tony Estremera "has been a Santa Clara Valley Water District director since 1996," according to the website.
The Coalition is hardly the only group that has sprung up around the water issue. The California Water Alliance formed in June as a 501c4. The group said it is largely funded by growers, but has not yet produced a list of its funders.
Another group, the Coalition Coordinator Alliance for a 21st Century Water Supply, launched in August to promote a "balanced solution" that not only includes a peripheral canal and new storage, but also promotes "restoring the Delta," according to their website. While it does not currently list donors on its website, the group did list several in press materials when it launched. KP Public Affairs, which represents the Alliance said they will send out a list of donors upon request, and that this group includes the California Building Industry Association, the California Chamber of Commerce, the Western Growers Association and several other business groups.
"In order to attract the kind of leading statewide groups necessary to help solve the problem, the Alliance has been completely transparent about who we are, what we are asking for and why," said Nicole Ratcliff, a spokeswoman for the Alliance from KP.
Meanwhile, the chair of the Senate Food and Agriculture Committee - a Latino himself - said that he had always disagreed with "inserting the issue of race into the discussion of water," especially if it turns out that Latinos have merely "lent their names" to an effort run by farmers.
"I believe that the folks involved in the coalition are sincere in their desire to have an equitable water plan for California, I just think that these types of discoveries unfortunately distract from their message," said Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter.
He added, "When it comes to water, nothing surprises me anymore."
Modesto Bee
Court upholds $2M award to Wal-Mart pharmacist...last updated: October 05, 2009 08:58:55 AM
BOSTON -- The highest court in Massachusetts has upheld a $2 million jury award to a former pharmacist at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. who claimed she was fired by the retail chain after asking to be paid the same as her male colleagues.
Cynthia Haddad was fired in 2004 after more than 10 years at a Walmart store in Pittsfield. In 2007, a jury found that the company discriminated against Haddad, and awarded her $1 million in compensatory damages and another $1 million in punitive damages. A judge later revoked the $1 million award for punitive damages.
On Monday, the Supreme Judicial Court reinstated the punitive damages and upheld the total $2 million award.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. claimed Haddad was fired because she allowed a technician to use her computer security code to issue prescriptions during her absence.
Sacramento Bee
Sacramento Nestle Waters bottling plant draws fire...Jim Downing
Sacramento banned bottled water from its City Council meetings last year, but over the summer it welcomed a Nestle Waters plant that would churn out millions of those bottles every week.
With California in its third year of drought and Sacramentans facing watering restrictions, Councilman Kevin McCarty thinks the plant needs a closer look.
"It comes at a bizarre time," said McCarty, whose district includes the project site in the Florin Fruitridge Industrial Park. "Extreme profits are going to be made with Sacramento water ... as we're trying to conserve" it.
Nestlé's Northern California expansion started in a more picturesque place. In 2003, the company signed a contract to build a large, spring-fed plant on the flank of Mount Shasta.
But Siskiyou County locals delayed the project on environmental grounds, and early this year the company began to consider a site in south Sacramento, according to Dave Palais, Nestlé's natural resource manager for the region.
Nestlé signed a lease on an industrial building in July. Mayor Kevin Johnson and the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization both lauded the project, which the company says will employ 40 people.
"This company will not only bring jobs to the city, but it is also nice to have a reaffirmation that many firms still see Sacramento as such a desirable location," Johnson said in a news release at the time.
Staff members said the project didn't need City Council approval because the plant is in an area already zoned for industrial use and Nestlé didn't need to make changes to the site that would require special permits.
Soon afterward, Nestlé officially abandoned the Siskiyou County project. Construction started in south Sacramento last month.
Palais said the plant is likely to draw 30 million gallons of water in 2010 from the city water system. That includes water to be filtered, disinfected and remineralized to produce the company's Pure Life brand, as well as other water needed for plant operations.
In addition, Nestlé plans to truck in about 20 million gallons of spring water for its Arrowhead label from sources in Placer, El Dorado, Tuolumne and Napa counties.
In a memo last month to the City Council, Sacramento Utilities Director Marty Hanneman estimated that the plant would draw about 80 million gallons a year.
Nestlé's Palais said future consumption would depend on the market for its product.
Even 80 million gallons a year is a relatively small fraction - two-tenths of a percent - of the city's total water consumption. The city already has three bottling plants: Alhambra, which used 51.2 million gallons last year; Coca-Cola, which used 55.5 million; and Dr. Pepper Snapple, which used 92 million.
In farming terms, 80 million gallons isn't much - enough to water about 70 acres of almonds for a year.
At 30 million gallons a year, Nestlé's annual water bill would be about $26,000. City spokeswoman Wendy Klock-Johnson said the company's water use didn't require any special permit from the city.
"They are just another customer who is billed for what they consume," she said, adding that the city has adequate water supplies to meet business and residential demand through at least 2030.
That stance frustrates Evan Tucker, a Sacramento landscaper who has organized the group Save Our Water Sacramento to block the project.
"Paying for something doesn't mean that it should happen," he said.
"(The city's) attitude for Nestlé is that they've got plenty of water," he said. "But their attitude for the people who live here is that they should limit the water they use."
Since June, residents have been told to water landscaping only on three specified days per week, and to not water between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Hanneman, the city utilities director, wrote in his memo that "the city has not had difficulty meeting current water supply demands." Asked why restrictions are in place on water use, Jessica Hess, a Utilities Department spokeswoman, said "regulations were implemented because when we look at the big picture, water conservation is just the right thing to do."
Tucker has acquired city documents about the project through the Public Records Act, and posted them at saveourwatersacramento.org.
Some suggest a desire by Nestlé to keep the project quiet as it developed.
In one e-mail in May, city Economic Development Manager James Rinehart refers to the company's "penchant for secrecy." In another, shortly after the signing of the lease in July, Rinehart wrote that the company still didn't want its name revealed because it was "working on a press release that takes into account that there are some people opposed to bottled water firms."
Tucker said he is seeking legal advice on fighting the plant.
McCarty has asked city staffers to address concerns about the plant's water use. It's not clear whether the council has the authority to intervene in the project.
Experts on the bottled-water industry say environmental concerns are part of the reason - along with the bad economy - that the sector's growth halted last year.
U.S. consumption of bottled water grew at an average of 9 percent a year from 1999 to 2007, reaching 8.8 billion gallons, but then dropped 1 percent in 2008, according a report from the trade magazine Beverage World.
Sales of Nestlé's Pure Life brand fell 3.8 percent in 2008, according to the report.
Environmentalists criticize the bottled-water industry for the plastic waste it generates in order to deliver a commodity that is often little different from what comes from the faucet. Plants that tap aquifers or natural springs often come under fire for their ecological impact, as well.
In July, Flagstaff, Ariz., rejected a Nestlé proposal to bottle local spring water. A Crystal Geyser plant that would tap groundwater near Orland, about 100 miles north of Sacramento, is also drawing protests, published reports say.
Nestlé says it is an environmentally responsible company and points to a number of initiatives, such as cutting the amount of plastics in its bottles by a third.
Beverage World editor in chief Jeff Cioletti said that while the bottled-water market has recently slackened, most consumers don't seem ready to abandon the product.
"The portability issue really kind of trumps everything else," Cioletti said.
Environmental Working Group
California’s Climate Change Policy Leaves Agriculture in the Dust:
Major missed opportunities for synergies in climate change mitigation and adaptation...Kari Hamerschlag...September 2009
Executive Summary
Climate change presents California agriculture with two major challenges: how to reduce its contribution to climate change while arming itself against the threats a warming planet poses to agricultural production.
Fortunately, many of the measures that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon in the soil will also make agriculture more resilient to extreme weather patterns, such as the current drought. Cover cropping, composting, conservation tillage, organic fertilization and other best management practices will increase the amount of soil organic matter, reduce erosion, conserve water and enhance fertility. This, in turn, will help increase crop productivity and drought and pest resistance in the face of an increasingly dry and hot climate. According to a January 2009, ground-breaking study by University of California at Davis researchers, these practices, when combined, will generate significant greenhouse gas reduction benefits, primarily through carbon sequestration.1
None of these measures were adopted or promoted in California’s climate change strategy. In fact, agriculture was almost entirely left out in the California Air Resources Board’s (ARB) implementation strategy for AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act. Of the 174 million metric tons of CO2 emissions reductions targeted in California’s legally binding “Scoping Plan,” not one ton is expected to come from agriculture. Of the additional possible 37.4 million tons in voluntary reductions identified in the strategy, just one million tons are expected from agriculture.
Making matters worse, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) recently closed its environment division and currently has no full time staff, resources or web-based information specifically dedicated to the issue of agriculture and climate change. The Agriculture Climate Action Team (AGCAT), an inter-agency group established to give input to the Air Resources Board and ensure follow up on agriculture and climate change measures, has been disbanded; and most of its recommended follow-on actions were ignored.
For a state with a $33 billion-a-year agriculture industry and a history of leadership on climate change, this is completely unacceptable.
The Economic and Technical Advancement Advisory Council (ETAAC), which advises the Air Resources Board on climate change matters, estimates that by 2020, agriculture could achieve an estimated reduction of 17 million metric tons per year, or about 10 percent of California’s goal.
As things currently stand, however, virtually none of this will be achieved, leaving California farmers even more vulnerable to the higher temperatures, increasing drought, frost, floods and shrinking water resources that are already putting significant stresses on the agricultural sector. By 2050, estimates show average temperatures rising by as much as 3.6° F in certain regions and the Sierra Nevada snowpack declining by as much as 40 percent.2 These changes will result in declining crop yields, increased pests and invasive weeds, soil erosion and diminished productivity.
If for no other reason than to protect agriculture from the devastating impacts of warming temperatures, California needs its best minds and most powerful institutions working actively to devise programs, incentives, and in a worst case scenario, regulations, that will dramatically expand the implementation of management practices that both reduce the impact of global warming on agriculture and reduce its contribution to global warming.
This must include research, communication, technical assistance and incentive programs to promote cost-effective best management practices that will reduce emissions as well as help farmers cut energy use, improve water conservation and water quality and build healthier, more productive soils. These are all critical elements in a comprehensive strategy for minimizing and adapting to the serious threats that climate change poses to California agriculture.
As a first step, the Air Resources Board, together with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the California Energy Commission and the Natural Resources Agency, should establish an inter-agency working group on agriculture and climate change. Federal agencies, NGOs and farm groups all have critical roles to play and should be actively involved. The group would provide a much needed forum for the intensive stakeholder engagement and outreach needed to motivate real change in California’s skeptical agriculture sector.
In the conclusion of this report, EWG recommends 10 specific actions that should be carried out under the auspices of a new inter-agency working group and/or under the leadership of California’s chief state agencies concerned with agriculture and climate change.
1 De Gryze, Stephen. Catala, Rosa. Howitt, Richard E, Six, Johan “Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Mitigation in California Agricultural Soils". California Energy Commission, January 2009.
2 California Air Resources Board, Scoping Plan Measures Implementation Timeline, July 15, 2009
Go here for the full report: http://www.ewg.org/Agriculture-Missing-from-Californias-Climate-Change-Strategy
Stockton Record
Reader: Science behind Peripheral Canal is bogus...Michael Fitzgerald's blog
Sandra Jeffries writes: 
I worry that your Oct. 2 piece,although meant to highlight the canal’s absurdity, will spark some to envision the possibilities.  Maybe I am too serious for my own good but after reading Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine- the Rise of Disaster Capitalism I wonder if its principals are being applied here.  
The rush for the peripheral canal while the draught (a disaster no doubt) is in its third year seem to eerily parallel the book.  I worry about the validity of the science in the BDCP.  When a UOP professor questioned the numbers they used to gauge unemployment due to lack of water south the UC Davis researchers cut the numbers in half.  During a California Water Issues Forum held 8-12-09 when they were questioned about the earthquake risk used in calculations that too was cut back substantially.  What does that say about the effort if numbers can be changed so dramatically and without hesitation they still come up with the same conclusion?
The research paper, Comparing Futures for the Sacramento- San Joaquin Delta, which supports the peripheral canal, is prepared by UC Davis engineers, economists, biologists and a geologist.  This research was supported with funding from Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. of the Bechtel Corporation.  This corporation is one of the largest engineering firms in the U.S.  This is the same corporation whose privatized water contract in Bolivia sent prices soaring 300%- they were forced out of the country.  George Shultz, a member of their board of directors, urged action in Iraq.  They made a tidy sum of $2.3 billion in reconstruction but failed in their attempt to roll it over into long term contracts to run the water and electricity systems.  Iraqi citizens did not stand for it.
When our public universities rely on the private sector for funds it makes me nervous.  For instance all 10 of UC Davis professional schools received private support.  The College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences received the largest amount of $39.2 million.  The California Seed Association, the California Crop Improvement Association and others in this industry are partnered with them for the Seed Biotechnologies Center.  Monsanto and Syngenta employees serve on their advisory council. 
This center has taken the time to compose two lists to be used when speaking/writing about genetically modified foods being created;  “words that may convey positive images” and “words that may convey negative images” of biotechnology.  They obviously want to mold public opinion of their efforts- which are another story itself.  Let’s face it- there are a lot more customers (farmers) for their products down south than the Delta.
The agriculture industry has some powerful players and the developers down south some deep pockets.  Of the fastest growing counties in all of the U.S. three of the top five are in Southern California; Riverside, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino. Twelve more Southern California counties are in the top 100.  The supporters of the peripheral canal are motivated by profit and profits alone do not give them any more ideas!
Our first point of agreement: Jeffries is too serious for her own good. But her other points are well taken. UC Davis is compromised, as is the Public Policy Institute of California, by money from vested interests. The whole Peripheral Canal debate has been fascinating to watch. Special interests set up a host of lie factories; the lie factories crank out lies in such overwhelming numbers they dominate the debate; the lies are echoed by Astroturf groups; any referendum will be a democratic exercize in voting on an alternate reality. Precious few people see through this bogus process as Jeffries does.
San Francisco Chronicle
Court upholds $2M award to Wal-Mart pharmacist...DENISE LAVOIE, AP Legal Affairs Writer
BOSTON, (AP) -- A former pharmacist at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. who claimed she was fired after asking to be paid the same as her male colleagues is entitled to $2 million in damages awarded by a jury, the state's highest court ruled Monday.
Cynthia Haddad was fired in 2004 after working more than 10 years for Wal-Mart, seven of them at a store in Pittsfield.
Wal-Mart claimed she was fired because she left the pharmacy unattended and allowed a technician to use her computer security code to issue prescriptions during her absence.
Haddad, however, claimed in a discrimination lawsuit that she was fired because she complained about being paid less than her male counterparts, including a bonus given to pharmacy managers. The company paid the bonus, then fired her two weeks later.
In 2007, a jury found that the company discriminated against Haddad, and awarded her $1 million in compensatory damages and another $1 million in punitive damages. A judge later revoked the $1 million award for punitive damages, finding there was an insufficient basis for the jury's decision.
But the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reinstated the punitive damages and upheld the total $2 million award, ruling that the jury had enough evidence to find that Wal-Mart's stated motive for Haddad's firing was a pretext and that Wal-Mart acted with a "discriminatory animus."
"There was evidence that Wal-Mart paid the plaintiff substantially less than less-experienced male pharmacists, refused to pay the plaintiff the pharmacy manager salary differential that it paid to male pharmacists, and terminated the plaintiff purportedly for a single policy violation but did not terminate male pharmacists for that or for more serious infractions involving violations of State and Federal law," Justice Judith Cowin wrote for the court in the unanimous, 7-0 ruling.
Richard Fradette, one of Haddad's trial attorneys, said the decision was gratifying.
"It's an endorsement of the professional female employee and the assurance that they will be paid equal to their male counterparts," said Fradette, who is also a pharmacist.
Stephen Melnick, one of Wal-Mart's lawyers, declined to comment. A call to Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., was not immediately returned.
S.F. Bay's slide in mud worries scientists...Kelly Zito
Millions of tons of sand and clay that Gold Rush miners scoured from the Sierra Nevada have finally flushed out to sea after more than a century in San Francisco Bay, according to the San Francisco Estuary Institute.
While that has led to a remarkably clearer bay in the past decade, scientists are worried about the implications for fish and wetlands, which require a certain amount of free-floating silt for survival.
"This sediment was introduced during hydraulic mining, and the ecosystem adapted," said Dave Schoellhamer, who leads the program to monitor bay water sediment levels for the U.S. Geological Survey.
"Now that extra pile of mud has been washed out and the ecosystem is adapting to a lower sediment regime."
San Francisco Bay faces increasing pressure on several fronts, including rising sea levels, pollution and invasive fish and vegetation.
Steep reductions in the amount of so-called "suspended sediment," or the tiny, solid particles that drift in the water column, may only compound some of those problems, according to researchers who compiled an annual report on bay water quality to be released today.
Clear not always better
Less sediment means that more sunlight can permeate the bay's waters. That, in turn, spurs growth of phytoplankton, the microscopic plant matter that makes up the base of the food chain.
An overabundance of phytoplankton can result in a massive die-off with plant life sinking to the bottom of the bay to decompose. That process eats up valuable dissolved oxygen necessary for fish.
Free-flowing sediment serves another purpose - namely as a camouflage for certain fish, according to Peter Moyle, a UC Davis zoologist who has studied California estuaries for 35 years.
For instance, the beleaguered delta smelt, a thumb-size fish that resides mainly in Suisun Bay and farther east, depends on all those minuscule particles to hide it from prey.
"Smelt don't like water to be too clear or too cloudy," Moyle said. "They don't school and they're semitransparent, so if the water is more turbid, predators seldom get them."
Sediment loads from the Sierra Nevada peaked in the late 1800s and early 1900s as gold mining operations grew more sophisticated.
Water cannons
Miners employed high-pressure water cannons to break down rocks and hillsides in search of gold. Much of that runoff bled into Central Valley rivers, through the delta and out to San Francisco Bay, where it built up along the bay floor and drifted in the water for generations.
By the late 1990s, however, that sediment had washed out of the system and water clarity dramatically increased. A particularly wet 1998, in fact, created a tipping point by pushing much of the remaining, erodible material into the Pacific, Schoellhamer said.
"That caused this sudden decrease in sediment concentration in the bay," he said.
The 20th century proliferation of levees throughout the delta and dams on California's rivers means that little sediment naturally flows into the bay; instead, it collects near dam bases.
Future in question
Looking forward, Schoellhamer and others are concerned that less sediment may hamper the ecosystem's ability to adjust to climate change. As sea levels rise, sediments will be necessary to maintain and grow wetlands, which offer important buffer zones between water and land and provide key habitats for shorebirds.
Moyle said it may become necessary to replenish sediment and soil in ecologically significant wetlands. Yet to do so perpetually on a large scale "would be too expensive."
The flushing of Gold Rush-era silt from the bay has had at least one bright spot: Levels of mercury contamination have declined as well. Mercury, a toxic metal that can build up in fish tissue, was once used to separate gold from rock.
"Despite some progress in reducing contamination, we're seeing continuing declines in several important fish species," said Jay Davis, lead scientist for the institute's regional water quality monitoring program. "That is a sign that some serious problems in the system remain."
Learn more:To read the full report by the San Francisco Estuary Institute on sediment in the bay, go to www.sfei.org.
Water issue could sink state Dems in 2010...Willie Brown...10-4-09
A political earthquake is rumbling in the Central Valley over water, and it could cause a real tsunami for the Democrats in the 2010 elections if they don't handle it well.
That's the message I'm getting from my Blue Dog Democrat friends in farm country.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Hanford (Kings County), told me unemployment in his district is running at 35 to 45 percent. The once-fruitful federal farm subsides are drying up and so is the water, with people blaming the Democrats on both counts.
The perception is that folks like Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, and environmental activists are orchestrating a policy out of Washington that says "yes" to water for the delta smelt and "no" to water for crops. Anger over putting fish before jobs in these lean times is running as strong as any anti-war, anti-Enron feeling we had up here in the Bay Area during the Bush years.
Not only could the fish fight lead to a split within the Democratic Party, it could also be just the issue Republicans are looking for when the environmentalists' best friend in the Senate, Barbara Boxer, faces re-election in 2010.
California Waterloo – Tide of Debt May Shift from General Fund to Water Users...Dan Bacher
Patrick Porgans discloses how the Debt Affordability Report released by State Treasurer Bill Lockyer found that water infrastructure should be paid for by users, not the General Fund and the state's taxpayers as it has been for decades. Could this mark the beginning of the end for massive rip offs of water and taxpayers' money by Westlands Water District, corporate agribusiness and other wealthy water users, who have presided over the destruction of California's fisheries?
"Profiteering water users have been getting rich at the expense of unsuspecting taxpayers, who incur insurmountable debt to keep unsustainable agricultural 'operations' in the 'green' and out-of-the red," said Porgans. "Perhaps, as the Treasurer suggests, it is time for change."
The report was released at a time when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Darrell Steinberg and corporate agribusiness are pushing for the construction of a massive peripheral canal in order to export more water from the California Delta to southern California and agribusiness.The environmentally destructive project would cost anywhere from $23 billion to $53.8 billion, according to a recent report by Steve Kasower, economist.
PRESS RELEASE: 5 October 2009
Contact Patrick Porgans, Solutionist, Porgans & Associates, Inc. (916) 833-873 or 543-0780:
California Waterloo – Tide of Debt May Shift from General Fund to Water Users

On October 1, State Treasurer Bill Lockyer released the 2009 Debt Affordability Report. The report finds that, "further increasing the General Fund’s debt burden, especially in the next three difficult budgets, would require cutting even deeper into crucial services already reeling from billions of dollars in reductions." The Treasurer therefore found that water infrastructure should be paid for by users, not the General Fund.
Have “we the people” been laboring under a misapprehension or can it be that someone in political office has finally come to his senses. For almost a decade Porgans & Associates (P&A) have voiced concerns about the rising General Fund debt being incurred by Californians to bailout State Water Project (SWP) and other water users. P&A diligently reminded Californians and the “leadership” of the fact that the SWP was sold on the premise that it would pay-for-itself; the beneficiaries, water and power users would pay.
Furthermore, the SWP was also promoted on the premise it would unify the State. The record shows it has done neither. Conversely, the SWP is at the core of the Delta Collapse and the State’s never-ending water wars.
Treasurer Bill Lockyer’s recent epiphany that water infrastructure should be paid by users is a far-flung cry from his support and position on General Fund/General Obligation Bond funding for water users when he was Senate Pro Tem, back in the 1990s. It was at that time, Proposition 204, the first of a series of General Obligation Bonds, ultimately totaling more than $18 billion were launched. Repayment of GO Bonds comes out of the General Fund.
In fact, it was in the ante-chamber of the then Senate Pro Tem Lockyer’s office, back in the 1996, P&A openly tape-recorded former State Senator Costa (D), representing agricultural water use in the San Joaquin Valley, and the who’s who in California’s water contingent, caucusing an “impromptu” so-called “conference committee” discussion, pertaining to the General Obligation Bond poster-child bailout-funding scheme -- Proposition 204.
During that discussion, Senator Costa was the only one seated in the room, in which there was standing room only. Patrick Porgans was the only uninvited participant who witnessed the ante-chamber “legislative” process first hand.
Proposition 204, started out at about $250 million; however, before the discussion in the Senate Pro Tem’s anti- chamber was over, and the ink was dry on the proposed proposition, and all of the water users gave their input as to how many millions it would take for them to come on board the financially sinking SWP flotilla, the final number for Proposition 204 totaled $995 million, plus $776 million in interest. Total cost to the taxpayer is about $1.8 billion, which was more than what the entire SWP was sold to the voters back in 1960; which was $1.75 billion.
Essentially, the GO bond-funding scheme was designed to keep the unsustainable agricultural sectors in the San Joaquin Valley from going bankrupt. Although, Treasurer Lockyer was a player in that get-the-public-to pay script, he is to be commended as the first major elected official to take up the Legislative Analyst Office and the Little Hoover Commission’s recommendations that water users/beneficiaries should pay.
One wonders if his ephinany is a dollar short and a day late, after all, Proposition 204 was only the first of series of water and water-related General Obligation bond acts, commencing in 1996 through 2006; totaling $18.5 billion, with interest it is more than $30 billion. In reality, the “waterloo” that bought this ingenious-funding scheme to its end was the astronomical amount of debt that State incurred. The State is so far in debt that the only way it can get out from under its self-induced financial crisis is to cut jobs, essential services and contemplate selling off public assets.
As P&A has stated, in its 79-page Sixty Day Notice to sue the government, about $6.5 billion in GO bonds were expended through CalFed, which, essentially turned out as a qualified failure to “fix” the Bay-Delta Estuary. Albeit, when you add in the interest for the CalFed debacle, the costs almost double.
It has always been P&A’s objective to follow and expose the source and flow of money. In the process we have been very effective in shedding light on the underlying issues fueling California’s water crisis.
Profiteering water users have been getting rich at the expense of unsuspecting taxpayers, who incur insurmountable debt to keep unsustainable agricultural “operations” in the “green” and out-of-the red. Perhaps, as the Treasurer suggests, it is time for change.
Fishermen Protest Schwarzenegger’s Green Hypocrisy at Global Climate Summit...Dan Bacher...10-4-09
Southern California fishermen exposed the environmental hypocrisy of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at a protest in front of the Hyatt Regency Plaza in Los Angeles during the Global Climate Summit on September 30.
Fishermen Protest Schwarzenegger’s Green Hypocrisy at Global Climate Summit ...Dan Bacher
Southern California fishermen exposed the environmental hypocrisy of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at a protest in front of the Hyatt Regency Plaza in Los Angeles during the Global Climate Summit on September 30. The protesters charged that Schwarzenegger is ignoring ocean pollution while at the same time pushing massive no fishing zones through his fast track Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process.
“Governor Schwarzenegger is trying to build his legacy as a green governor while he simultaneously ignores all the ocean pollution plaguing California’s beaches and coastal waters,” said Wendy Tochihara, coordinator of the protest. “As anyone in Southern California who enjoys the ocean knows, poor water-quality and resulting beach closures are all too common, especially during the rainy season."
Schwarzenegger is imposing these new fishing closures even though a recent peer reviewed scientific study in Science magazine, coauthored by Dr. Ray Hilborn, said that the California Current is the least exploited fishery of any place in the world studied. California already has the most extensive marine protected area in the world, with the entire continental shelf closed to fishing for groundfish, along with numerous existing marine reserves and the most restrictive fishing regulations on the planet.
The 25 protesters included recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, divers, spear fishermen, surfers, kayakers, and business owners. “Fishermen from all over gathered to show how 'green' our Governor really is,” said Tochihara.
The MLPA currently being implemented in Southern California and on the North Coast was supposed to be comprehensive, addressing all aspects that affect the ocean, like pollution, coastal development and fishing. “However, the Governor has abandoned sound science and is instead only duplicating existing fishing ban laws,” she emphasized.
The protesters held colorful signs with slogans including “Terminate Pollution Not Fishermen, “MLPA : Poachers Paradise,” “MLPA: Another Un-Funded Mandate,” and “California Has Sustainable Fisheries.”
On the day before, a broad coalition of North Coast environmentalists, seaweed harvesters and fishermen held a protest in Eureka also blasting the "Green Governor’s" environmental hypocrisy as the Schwarzenegger administration held public meetings regarding the MLPA process on the North Coast.
Mike Carpenter, a sea urchin diver and organizer of a fundraiser for the California Fisheries Coalition in Albion the previous Saturday, made the vital connection between the MLPA process and Scharzenegger's campaign to build a peripheral canal. Carpenter emphasized that the MLPA is just a "cover-up" for the Governor's plans to build a peripheral canal around the California Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas, through the Delta Vision and Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) process.
Many fishermen supported the MLPA when it passed it in 1999. However, under the Republican administration of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, it has become a grotesque parody of what it originally intended to do. I don't think that the original act was intended to strip federally recognized tribal nations such as the Kashia of Sonoma County of their abalone and seaweed harvesting rights - or to appoint an oil company lobbyist like Cathy Reheis-Boyd, who is employed by the Western States Petroleum Association, to head the MLPA South Coast Task Blue Ribbon Force.
Under Schwarzenegger, the "public" process has become hijacked by private corporate funding through the Resource Legacy Fund Foundation, a group with strong ties to water districts and some of the worst corporate greenwashers on the planet. The law is now joined at the hip with the peripheral canal by Schwarzenegger and Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman through the parallel MLPA Initiative, Delta Vision and Bay Delta Conservation Plan processes.
The peripheral canal and MLPA process are intimately linked by:
(1) Leadership: Phil Isenberg presided over both the Central Coast MLPA and the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Forces - and did an equally atrocious job of "leading" both processes.
(2) Funding: The Resource Legacy Foundation has funded both the MLPA process and the Delta Vision Foundation.
(3) Greenwashing: Desperately needed actions to restore our ocean, bay and Delta waters have been substituted under the MLPA process with the imposition of new, redundant fishing closures on the most heavily regulated ocean waters on the planet to further the Governor's "green" facade. In the case of the Delta Vision and BDCP processes, the dire need to restore the Delta by decreasing water exports and retiring drainage impaired land on the San Joaquin Valley's west side has been substituted with plans to build a peripheral canal and increase water exports to corporate agribusiness and southern California while taking Delta family farms out of production and converting them to salt marsh.
(4) Racism and Environmental Elitism: Tribal and environmental justice communities in both processes have been excluded in an egregious, disgusting example of environmental racism.
The racism of the current MLPA process become apparent when the Kashia Tribe was banned from harvesting abalone, mussels and seaweed off Stewarts Point Reservation, as they have done for hundreds of years, by the California Fish and Game Commission at their meeting in August.
“What you are doing to us is taking the food out of our mouths,” said Lester Pinola, the past chairman of the Kashia Rancheria in a public hearing prior to the contentious vote. “When the first settlers came to the coast, they didn’t how to feed themselves. Our people showed them how to eat out of the ocean. In my opinion, this was a big mistake.”
While corporate environmentalists and the Schwarzenegger administration are pushing for further "no take" marine reserves in a largely recovered groundfish fishery, Central Valley salmon, delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon, southern resident killer whales, herring and other species have collapsed to record low population levels in recent years, due to massive exports of water to corporate agribusiness by the state and federal governments. These are species that are nearing extinction!
Yet the same Packard Foundation and Resource Legacy Fund Foundation-funded NGOs that are so fervent about supporting the corrupt MLPA process and praising Schwarzenegger for his "green" leadership appear to be supporting the peripheral canal, an enormously costly project that would seal the doom of collapsing salmon and Delta fish populations, or are refusing to take a stand in opposition to it! What's going on here?
Fortunately, North Coast grassroots environmentalists, Indian Tribes, commercial fishermen and recreational anglers and are now united with southern California fishermen, surfers and kayakers in opposing the current unjust implementation of the MLPA and Schwarzenegger's attempt to greenwash his failed environmental policies at the Global Climate Summit. They realize that there is nothing "green" about Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the worst Governor for fish and the environment in California history.
Contra Costa Times
Editorial: EBMUD's long-term water supply program faces opposition...10-4-09
THERE MAY BE an issue that is more complex, convoluted and contentious than California water policy, but we have yet to discover it.
To make any progress in satisfying a growing demand for dependable supplies of water from limited resources, there are a host of problems to confront. That is especially true when increases in water storage are being considered as part of a long-term proposal.
The East Bay Municipal Utility District, which serves large parts of Alameda and Contra Costa counties, certainly is aware of the process and pitfalls in piecing together a 30-year water supply management program.
After all, it took EBMUD more than three decades to access its American River water, which will begin flowing into the system next year from the district's Freeport intake on the Sacramento River.
It is not enough to win legal battles over water rights. Permits for water storage above and underground are needed. Conservation, recycling and desalination projects also must be weighed. Then there are critically important environmental impacts such as protecting ecosystems, endangered species and prime recreational and historic areas.
That is why cooperation with a number of water interests, including users, those holding senior water rights and environmental groups, is essential for any major water program to advance.
Reaching some kind of compromise with all affected parties with differing views and interests is far from easy. But it is possible.
A shining example of careful planning and cooperation with varied interests is the Contra Costa Water District's Los Vaqueros reservoir. The district worked with environmentalists early to develop a plan that was acceptable to most environmental groups, financially feasible and fair to water users.
The result is that the reservoir was built in a relatively short time with no major litigation and was close to cost estimates.
It's a process that EBMUD should more closely emulate with its water management program. The proposal has many admirable aspects to it, including ambitious conservation and recycling goals along with pilot desalination projects and some groundwater storage.
But it also contains controversial options to enlarge its Pardee Reservoir in the Sierra foothills. There are five potential choices, all but one of which faces firm opposition by environmental groups.
Unless EBMUD reaches some kind of accommodation with environmentalists, it could face a lawsuit under the California Environmental Quality Act challenging the program environmental impact report.
The EBMUD board is scheduled to vote on the PEIR on Oct. 13. The water district would have to do a project EIR if it decides to enlarge Pardee, but environmental groups say they would have to challenge the program EIR to have a firmer legal footing should they wish to sue over the a project EIR in the future.
EBMUD's goal is to provide enough water to a growing number of users, mostly residential, without having to exceed a 10 percent cut in supply if rationing is required during a drought.
Perhaps a bit higher levels of rationing, conservation and recycling would allow EBMUD to consider smaller enlargements of Pardee that would satisfy legitimate environmental concerns.
It is unfortunate that EBMUD and environmental groups have not worked more closely to avoid litigation. It may not be too late. It would be better to delay a vote on the program EIR and try to reach a compromise than to approve it and end up in a protracted, costly legal battle.
Bakersfield Californian
LOIS HENRY: Stop building homes based on dream water...10-3-09
This is not the time to be approving unnecessary housing developments dependent upon shaky water supplies.
(It never really was , but, hey, this is California and that's how we roll.)
I'm talking about the Tejon Mountain Village, which goes before the Kern County Board of Supervisors tomorrow for approval.
It already got a green light from the Planning Department and Planning Commission.
Based on the water issues alone, however, it should never have passed "Go."
According to the environmental impact report, the project's eventual 3,400 homes, two golf courses, 750 hotel rooms and so on, would be entirely reliant on the notoriously unreliable State Water Project.
This is the same water source that has all but dried up for some ag districts on the valley's west side because of concerns over a variety of fish species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The most recent "reliability report"on the state project by the Department of Water Resources pegs its count-on-me factor at between 63 and 68 percent.
But that was waaay back in 2007 when there was just one biological opinion saying the delta smelt needed more water. Since then, another opinion has come out saying other species also need more water.
That brings reliability down to more like 50 percent, according to some local water district folks I've spoken with.
That's not good enough to base a housing development on, not matter how water-wise it is.
And, actually, there's a lot to love, water-wise, about the Tejon Mountain Village.
County planners won't issue building permits unless the water district servicing the village, Tejon-Castac Water District, can prove it has a seven-year reserve for indoor water demand. Each building has a water budget, so residents are automatically rationed. Landscaping has to be drought-tolerant. Outdoor irrigation uses recycled water only.
All great ideas that I hope will be incorporated in every new housing development proposal.
The unreliability of the state water, however, makes even such a watertight plan too much of a leap.
Tejon-Castac did use worst-case scenarios in assessing its supply and, of course, always came up flush.
Its ace in the hole, according to the district, is its water banking efforts.
It has more than 30,000 acre feet in the Kern Water and Pioneer banks, combined, which more than establishes that seven-year reserve.
That's great, but without a steady stream from the state, those won't be replenished.
Water bank accounts are a finite emergency source, not an ongoing supply.
Tejon Mountain Village spokesman Laer Pearce repeatedly reminded me those banks hold more than a 20-year supply for the village at full build-out (estimated to take between 20 and 30 years).
OK, so does that mean all those houses and the people living in them vanish if/when that supply runs out?
Tejon-Castac contracts for about 5,300 acre feet a year of state water. Reliability being what it is, however, even their own water assessment figured they're more likely get an average 3,325 acre feet a year.
The last two years, they only got 1,583 and 1,847 acre feet respectively.
On the demand side, the village will use, at full build-out, about 2,100 acre feet (1,000 acre feet is considered "hard" demand for drinking and other indoor use).
Tejon-Castac also supplies the industrial complex at the foot of the Grapevine which will use, at full build-out, about 740 acre feet a year. Another 100 acre feet a year goes to other users so total demand will be close to 3,000 acre feet a year.
Even if Tejon-Castac does get that 3,325 acre feet per year, that doesn't leave much for savings.
Assuming my water district sources are right, and the state's reliability is truly at 50 percent and if things get worse, not better in the delta, Tejon Mountain Village could suck those water bank accounts dry in short order.
But unlike crops, houses -- even luxury resort homes -- can't be plowed under. Once they're built, they gotta have water.
We can't continue to blitheley approve housing developments based on dream water, where everything is fine as long as all the pieces drop exactly into place.
The reality has never lived up to that dream.
That's why cities (well, other than Bakersfield) all over the state are forcing residents to ration water, farmers are watching crops wither and entire ecosystems are about to seize up.
Supervisors need to look beyond the rosy water numbers Tejon is presenting and keep their votes based firmly in reality.
Los Angeles Times
Coastal oil drilling backers aim to sidestep state's barrier
Supporters want to get around a state commission's opposition to new drilling off California's coast by passing a bill that would create a governor-appointed panel that could then approve the project...Marc Lifsher
Reporting from Sacramento
A Texas oil company's campaign to drill the first new wells in 40 years off the California coast continues despite setbacks in both the Legislature and at a key regulatory agency.
The measure, which passed the state Senate but failed in the Assembly in August, would authorize drilling from an existing maritime platform in state waters off the northern Santa Barbara County coast. Supporters now hope for action this fall.
Boosters of the project say state government stands to get an estimated $14 billion in potential new money to run schools, build prisons and strengthen a tattered social-welfare safety net.
But opponents say they worry about the possibility of an oil spill that could threaten the California coast, an internationally renowned tourism magnet.
Houston-based Plains Exploration & Production Co. and its chief legislative ally, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine), say they hope to move a bill through the Legislature in a fall special session or early next year.
"We are going to keep trying on this. We need the revenue," DeVore said. "I think it's environmentally sound and sound from an economic standpoint. We need the jobs."
Plains, the Texas firm, is asking the Legislature to endorse an unprecedented agreement it has reached with anti-offshore-oil activists in Santa Barbara.
The deal would let the company tap reserves in the Tranquillon Ridge oil field from the active Platform Irene, near Point Arguello. The company agreed to remove Irene and three other platforms after 14 years and to donate 4,000 acres of land on the Gaviota coast as parkland.
"The reality is this project ends oil production on a fixed date," said Plains spokesman John Martini. "It's a win-win for all stakeholders."
But a majority of the members of the State Lands Commission disagreed when it rejected the proposed Plains agreement in January. The commission is a little-known but powerful panel made up of the lieutenant governor, the state controller and the governor's finance director. It must approve projects in state waters and the coastal tidal zone.
Supporters of the drilling proposal want to get around the commission's opposition by passing a bill that would create a government panel appointed by the governor that could approve the Plains project on its own authority. They also hope to see a change in the political makeup of the lands commission that would favor drilling.
Both advocates for more drilling and opponents agree that even a limited lifting of the state's 15-year-old ban on offshore oil production could lead the way to more extensive exploitation of California's potentially large petroleum reserves.
"California has some of the lower-hanging fruit on the outer continental shelf," said Bob Fryklund, a vice president with IHS-Cambridge Energy Research Associates, an international energy consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass. "It seems to me we're cutting our noses off if we don't access places within the United States where there is a high probability of finding oil that we can deliver cheaper than imported oil."
But coastal Democratic lawmakers and some statewide environmental groups have stymied the drilling project in the state-controlled zone. They argue that allowing even one project would send the wrong signal to the federal government, which is studying an expansion of offshore oil exploration.
If the state needs more money, it should raise taxes on existing California oil production and not allow more drilling on the ecologically sensitive coast, said Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara).
"I'm going to introduce a severance tax [on oil] at the first opportunity I can," Nava said. "We've been building a coalition of labor, educators, environmentalists and others that recognizes it's time for the oil companies to pay their fair share."
Slapping a tax on California oil -- similar to levies collected by all major oil-producing states -- would generate about $1.5 billion a year, more than three times the revenue that would come from the Plains lease proposal, Nava said.
The oil industry can be expected to fight the proposed extraction tax as it has on many past occasions. Led by San Ramon-based Chevron Corp., it spent just over $100 million to defeat a 2006 ballot measure that would have set aside tax revenues to develop renewable energy resources. Chevron alone spent $42.4 million, while the smaller Plains contributed $2.9 million to the No on Proposition 87 campaign.
DeVore's fervor for the project and Republican opposition to any new taxes, including one on crude oil, is echoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has taken seemingly contradictory stands on both sides of the drilling and tax issues over the last year.
Schwarzenegger last month wrote Interior Secretary Ken Salazar "to again deliver California's clear position" against "any new leasing of the Outer Continental Shelf for oil and gas exploration, development and production."
But the governor insists that cutting a deal with Plains to pump an estimated 100 million barrels of crude from the offshore Tranquillon Ridge field makes sense.
"We have all this oil sitting offshore," said Tom Sheehy, chief deputy director for policy in Schwarzenegger's finance department. The oil can be safely extracted from an existing, operating platform without violating California's ban on new offshore drilling in the three-mile, state-controlled coastal zone, he said.
No significant oil-rig-related spill has occurred in California since 1969, when a blowout spilled more than 80,000 barrels of crude in the Santa Barbara Channel, Sheehy said.
Schwarzenegger also reversed himself on the oil extraction tax. On New Year's Eve, he proposed a 9.9% tax on crude oil at the wellhead. But he switched to a blanket no-new-taxes-of-any-kind position in May after voters turned down some revenue-raising ballot measures. The governor's earlier endorsement of the oil tax was "a one-time shot," said press secretary Aaron McLear.
While the governor has blocked Democratic efforts to revisit his original offer to raise taxes on oil, he's had no success gaining approval for Plains to drill off Santa Barbara.
His luck could swing the other way early next year if there is a change in the political makeup of the State Lands Commission. One of its three members -- Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, a Democrat -- is expected to win a November special election for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Garamendi had cast one of two "no" votes that shot down the proposed drilling. The governor's representative provided the sole "yes" vote.
That could change if the governor appoints -- and the Legislature supports -- a pro-oil-drilling successor to Garamendi, DeVore speculated. By law, to fill a vacated constitutional office, either the Assembly or the Senate (or both) must vote to confirm a proposed successor -- and neither house can vote to deny confirmation.
"This is absolutely not dead," DeVore said. "There's an urgency for this measure."
Los Angeles Daily News
Finding the hole in the latest theory...Sandy Sand Sandy Sand is a resident of West Hills, a free-lance writer and former editor of the Tolucan.
"THERE were no reports of water main breaks overnight," was the satirical headline read by newsman Dave Williams on KABC Radio's morning news on day recently.
"We're on this story and we'll keep you posted," he added.
There might not have been any breaks overnight that night, but later after Williams went off the air there was another one - in the Valley on Topanga Canyon Boulevard - making it another in a series of burst pipes that began on Sept 5. Since then, there have been a more than 30.
Appropriately enough, the first water main break occurred under Coldwater Canyon Avenue in Studio City and flooded parts of Ventura Boulevard. It was followed by a smaller break in Sherman Oaks that partially sucked down a fire engine.
As long as the deluges - mini and major - continue, it's news when a day passes without the pipes popping under L.A.'s pothole-ravaged streets.
According to the Department of Water and Power, there are roughly 1,400 breaks a year, leaving engineers stumped as to why there has been a spate of bursting pipes. Rather than chalking it up to mere coincidence, they are searching for answers.
Beside acknowledging that the system of more than 7,200 miles of pipes, some a century old, are crumbling, the first theory considered out was the effect of varying temperatures on the city's pipes. That might make sense in parts of the country where the ground freezes in winter, but it doesn't sound too logical in Los Angeles.
Another possibility is that the old pipes have been weakened by earthquakes - not just the big ones that we all feel, but the tiny ones that rattle through the area almost daily.
The "rattletrap clunker domino effect" was my first theory. Anyone who has driven a really old car that's held together with duct tape and superstick glue is familiar with the phenomenon. Replace one rusty old part with a shiny new one and it puts so much stress on the other dilapidated parts that they start failing, one after the other.
I was rather partial to that theory until Jean-Pierre Bardet, chairman of University of Southern California's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and director of USC's Center on Megacities, came up with a better one.
Bardet suggested that the city's new rules limiting sprinkler watering to Mondays and Thursdays are creating water surges and stressing out the pipes.
He might just be onto something.
When Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced the Monday and Thursday lawn-watering plan, the sound of at least 2 million people slapping their heads in wonder and disbelief at the illogic of it echoed throughout the city.
What was he thinking, other than it made it a helluvah a lot easier for his water police to fine violators?
There isn't a person on Earth who doesn't know about water pressure and what happens when they're in the shower and someone flushes the toilet; it can be a sudden scalding or instant ice bath.
And what of firefighting? A sudden drop in water pressure can be as devastating to firefighters as a plummeting of blood pressure can be to a person's health.
Of course, it's always possible that the deluge of water flooding the streets and going to waste is a confluence of many factors, including all of those mentioned above. One of them is surely that for years the city of Los Angeles illegally siphoned off million of dollars of DWP revenue that should have been spent on water infrastructure, a practice that a court finally had to stop.
While one DWP representative said there are no plans to raise rates to pay for replacing the old pipes, others have said they are considering asking the City Council for another rate hike and/or a $2 per month fee on every DWP customer from now into infinity.
That's what happens when tinkerers who don't know what they're doing tinker and don't plan ahead, like building desalination plants and/or reservoirs for runoff.
Now they're crying "drought!" and "conserve!" and that it might have caused undue pressure on the water mains. Who knows? It's one possibility.
Washington Post
AP analysis: Signs of recovery in some US areas...CHRISTOPHER RUGABER and MIKE SCHNEIDER, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- Signs of a slow and fitful recovery emerged in August in some communities across the country where unemployment dropped and foreclosures stabilized, according to The Associated Press' monthly analysis of economic stress in more than 3,100 U.S. counties.
The average county stress score fell slightly, and fewer counties qualified as economically distressed.
But those glimmers of hope are providing scant benefit for most people suffering from the recession. Some of the statistical improvements in employment were inflated by seasonal jobs, workers who quit the labor force and temporary federal stimulus money.
"It's pretty clear that even though the recession likely has ended, not too many people are likely going to be humming that Bobby McFerrin tune, 'Don't Worry, Be Happy,'" said Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida.
The latest results of the AP's Economic Stress Index showed the pain easing in some of the nation's hardest hit areas, such as Elkhart, Ind., and pockets of the Carolinas. But foreclosure hotbeds in metro Las Vegas and South Florida continued to suffer.
The AP calculates a score from 1 to 100 based on a county's unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy rates. Under a rough rule of thumb, a county is considered stressed when its score exceeds 11. The average county's Stress score dipped to 10.3 in August, from 10.54 in July, the first drop in three months. In August 2008, it was 6.94.
About 39 percent of counties had a score of 11 or higher in August, compared with 41 percent in both June and July. That's still up substantially from a year ago, when only 6.6 percent of counties had scores above 11.
As in previous months, Nevada (21.32), Michigan (17.59) and California (16.31) topped the list of the most economically stressed states. North Dakota (4.67), South Dakota (5.3) and Nebraska (5.79) were at the bottom.
The most stressed counties were Imperial County, Calif. (31.83); Yuma County, Ariz. (27.58); Merced County, Calif. (24.28); Lyon County, Nev. (24.02); and Lauderdale, Tenn. (23.56). Imperial and Yuma are agricultural areas with high seasonal unemployment.
The states that showed the most improvement in their stress scores were Colorado, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. All four saw their jobless rates fall.
The states with the biggest year-to-year increases in economic stress in August were Nevada, Oregon and Michigan.
Prince William County, Va., was among the five counties with most improved foreclosure rates over the past year. And Caroline County, Va., was among the five with the best improvement in the past month.
Colorado's stress score fell to 9.96 in August, from 10.47 in July, as its unemployment rate dropped to 7.3 percent from 7.8 percent. But the decline in its unemployment rate was due mainly to a drop in the state's labor force, not to the creation of new jobs, said Tucker Hart Adams of the Adams Group, an economic consulting firm based in Colorado Springs, Co.
When unemployed people give up on their job searches, they are no longer counted in the unemployment rate.
Overall, Colorado's economy is still struggling, Adams said.
"You can go to the mall and fire a cannon and not disturb anyone," she said.
In Cherry Creek, a high-end shopping strip in Denver, there is "lots of empty space" among the storefronts, Adams added.
A trend of frustrated people giving up on job hunting is also evident in North and South Carolina and Virginia, analysts said. The pattern surfaced in national data Friday, when the Labor Department reported that nearly 600,000 people stopped looking for jobs last month.
Some positive signs emerged in the mid-Atlantic, though. A survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond last month found that the region's manufacturers hired more workers in September, for the first time since December 2007. That was up from no change in August and a decline in July.
During the late spring and summer from May to August, pain eased slightly for some of the nation's most stressed areas. Deschutes County, home to Bend, Ore., had been among the 40 most stressed counties in May. But in August, it saw its unemployment dip and its foreclosure rate hold steady.
Much of that relief came from seasonal jobs in landscaping and manufacturing of wood products. And it was limited mainly to blue-collar seasonal workers - not the engineers, planners, architects or designers who lost their jobs when Bend's once-thriving housing market cooled off.
"We didn't add enough full-time jobs for us to turn that corner," said Carolyn Eagan, a regional economist for the state of Oregon. "That's what we need right now."
The unemployment rate in the Elkhart, Ind., area, meanwhile, fell to 16 percent from 16.8 percent. Elkhart, hit hard by layoffs in the RV industry, had suffered some of the largest jumps in unemployment earlier this year. The city has been visited twice by President Barack Obama.
Though a drop in the labor force played a role in lowering the rate, better news arrived last month: Two companies announced they would create about 200 manufacturing jobs in the area.
"They are no longer falling off a cliff," said Jimmy Jean, a regional economist at Moody's Economist.com.
New York Times
Interior Bid for Supreme Court Hearing on $19B Royalties Case Fails...BEN GEMAN of Greenwire
The Supreme Court won't review an appellate decision (pdf) blocking the Interior Department from ending royalty waivers at times of high oil and gas prices for deepwater energy producers in the Gulf of Mexico.
The court's rejection of a federal petition to review Department of Interior, et al., v. Kerr-McGee Oil and Gas Corp. means the government could lose tens of billions of dollars in future royalty revenue. It likely prevents Interior from imposing price-based limits on the royalty incentives -- called "royalty relief" -- for deepwater producers holding federal leases granted between 1996 and 2000.
At issue in the Kerr-McGee case is a 1995 statute that allows royalty-free production of large volumes of oil and gas, an incentive for industry to undertake costly deepwater projects. The law was drafted at a time of low oil prices to encourage expensive deepwater projects.
The case rests on whether Interior can impose ceilings, or price thresholds, that end the royalty waivers when oil and natural gas prices exceed certain limits.
Kerr-McGee Oil and Gas Corp., which was acquired by Anadarko Petroleum Corp. in 2006, had challenged Interior's effort to collect royalties on production from eight deepwater leases when oil and gas prices had exceeded the thresholds.
Anadarko argues that it did not owe more than $350 million in royalties due on the eight leases from production in 2003-2007, according to a Justice Department filing in the appellate case. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in January upheld a lower court ruling in the company's favor.
But the appellate decision also affects other producers. The rejected certiorari petition (pdf) noted 21 other pending administrative appeals for royalty payment orders that were awaiting the outcome of the case.
Also, some other leaseholders had continued paying royalties during the litigation, with the petition noting that roughly $1.5 billion in payments from leases issued in 1996, 1997 and 2000 are "called into doubt" because of the decision.
Future payments that will be forgone could total $19 billion, the petition stated. Other estimates have placed the cost of lost future royalty payments even higher, although any estimates are imprecise because the amount of royalties is tied to future oil and gas prices.
A Government Accountability Office analysis last year concluded that if the Kerr-McGee ruling is upheld, forgone royalties from leases issued in 1996, 1997 and 2000 could top $38 billion over 25 years.
"Whatever the precise amount of forgone future royalties ultimately proves to be, the total cost will be huge, and it will have a direct, adverse affect on the Treasury of the United States," the petition stated.
Leases issued in 1998 and 1999 did not include the price thresholds, an omission that has already jeopardized billions of dollars in future royalty payments.
Interior did not provide comment on the court's rejection of the decision by press time.
Legislation is possible
The case could spur renewed Capitol Hill efforts to ensure royalty collections or other payments from the disputed leases.
Democrats have floated several plans in recent years that targeted the 1998 and 1999 leases. But the plans would also capture the other 1996, 1997 and 2000 leases that allowed royalty waivers regardless of prices because of the appellate decision that the Supreme Court declined to review.
Proposals by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) would bar companies holding leases that are allowed royalty waivers regardless of energy prices from buying new gulf leases -- unless they renegotiate the old contracts or pay other fees. Other plans include new taxes on gulf producers that would be offset by royalty payments, thereby targeting the royalty-free production.
But those plans are opposed by the oil industry, which today applauded the Supreme Court's decision not to review the issue. American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard said in a statement that the 1995 royalty law has worked as intended.
"That act was passed at a time of historically low crude oil prices as a means to increase production and sustain jobs in a struggling industry. It was enormously successful, helping to boost deepwater Gulf of Mexico production by 50 percent in less than a decade," Gerard said.
The appellate case rested on the interplay between two provisions of the Deepwater Royalty Relief Act of 1995. One section broadly authorizes Interior to waive royalties for offshore leases but also allows the department to limit waivers based on energy prices.
Another section governs lease sales during the 1996-2000 period specifically and set levels of royalty-free production available, called suspension volumes. Anadarko had argued that the Interior's ability to impose price thresholds did not apply to the leases sold during those years.
The 1995 law allows royalty waivers on production volumes ranging from 17.5 million barrels of oil equivalent to 87.5 million barrels, depending on the depth.
"The Supreme Court's decision not to hear the case definitively reaffirms the Fifth Circuit's unanimous decision that Congress, when it passed the Deepwater Royalty Relief Act, provided royalty relief, based only on a volume limitation, not on price," Gerard said.
BLM Employees Too Cozy With Advocacy Groups, IG Report Says...NOELLE STRAUB of Greenwire
Bureau of Land Management employees appeared to be "less than objective" and created the potential for illegal behavior when coordinating with environmental groups over the National Landscape Conservation System, the Interior inspector general has found.
The Interior IG investigated the interaction between federal employees and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) after receiving a complaint that NLCS directors were potentially engaged in inappropriate relationships with advocacy groups and possibly violated anti-lobbying statutes and policies. The report (pdf) focuses largely on interactions with the National Wildlife Federation.
"Our investigative efforts revealed that communication between NLCS and certain NGOs in these circumstances gave the appearance of federal employees being less than objective and created the potential for conflicts of interest or violations of law," the IG report states. "We also uncovered a general disregard for establishing and maintaining boundaries among the various entities."
The investigation found that numerous activities and communications took place between NLCS officials and advocacy groups, including discussions about the NLCS budget and the editing of brochures and production of fact sheets by BLM employees for the National Wildlife Federation.
The IG turned over the findings to the chief of public corruption at the U.S. Attorney's Office, who said that the law covering "lobbying with appropriated monies" has no criminal sanctions associated with it and thus declined to prosecute in lieu of administrative action. BLM has 90 days to provide a written response outlining what actions it takes as a result of the IG findings.
The NLCS is a collage of more than 27 million acres of wilderness, conservation areas, rivers and monuments managed and protected by BLM established administratively by President Clinton nearly a decade ago and put into law in March when President Obama signed the public lands omnibus bill.
Last year, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) requested BLM to provide him with documents and correspondence from key NLCS officials. While BLM was reviewing documents in response to that request, BLM's Public Affairs Office identified two e-mails it believed evidenced misconduct by NLCS Division Chief Jeff Jarvis, so BLM Deputy Director Henri Bisson referred the matter to the IG, the report said.
While investigating the complaint, the IG identified several additional issues, including possible disclosure of proprietary information by NLCS Director Elena Daly to advocacy groups concerning the California Desert Conservation Area and assistance from NLCS officials to outside groups for a hunting and fishing brochure and a fact sheet.
In May of 2006, a representative from the Wilderness Society e-mailed Jarvis, informing him that he was scheduled to speak about BLM's budget process at an NLCS Coalition meeting the next month as part of NLCS Outreach Week. Jarvis did give the presentation, according to Bisson. Jarvis told IG investigators that he did not recall the meeting but that he routinely discussed the BLM budget with groups and was aware of specific rules over what could and could not be discussed concerning the budget.
In November of 2007, Jarvis e-mailed a "legislative representative," or lobbyist, for the National Wildlife Federation, saying he was in New Mexico looking at the Galisteo Basin and asking "what would it take to add a few small areas to the legislation" that was then pending to codify the NLCS. The IG report did not identify the lobbyist, but documents obtained by E&E show that it was Denise Ryan (E&E Daily, Nov. 10, 2008).
Ryan, who no longer works for NWF, would not comment on whether it was appropriate for a federal employee to ask her about adding to, or otherwise influencing, legislation, but said the requested changes were not made, the report states.
Daly told the IG that she asked Jarvis about the e-mail and that he responded, "It was felony stupidity. I admit it. But it was nothing more than that." Jarvis denied that his comment was an admission that he was asking for units to be added to the legislation, and said he was trying to get information about the process, the report says.
Also in November 2007, the NWF official asked NLCS and BLM officials for recommendations on a brochure on hunting and fishing opportunities in the NLCS. Several BLM officials agreed to have their staffs review and edit the document. NWF paid for 1,000 copies and BLM paid for the remaining 1,500, plus overnight shipping costs to Arizona, at a cost of $4,328, the report said.
Daly told the IG that BLM's response to the request about the brochure should not be seen as assisting with lobbying efforts because BLM officials only assisted with "fact checking" and wanted to ensure that information that got to the public was accurate. Dwight Fielder, BLM's chief of fish, wildlife, and plant conservation, said he did not know that the NWF official worked in a lobbying capacity or that she used the hunting and fishing brochure to lobby for congressional support for the NLCS.
The NWF legislative representative said the NWF paid the entire balance owed for the printing costs, then BLM reimbursed NWF for the copies it received for "BLM informational uses." She said the brochures were distributed to members of Congress as an "educational piece," not a lobbying piece.
Celia Boddington, BLM assistant director for communications, said NLCS officials did not send the hunting and fishing brochure to the Public Affairs Office for review, thereby violating proper procedures.
The NWF official also coordinated with BLM and NLCS officials on writing a hunting and shooting fact sheet after the National Rifle Association decided not to support the legislation, the report said. Jarvis could not explain to the IG why a version of the fact sheet sent to him from the federation official was nearly the same as the fact sheet that she admittedly used to lobby congressional members nor why the NWF legislative representative thanked him for "whipping a team together" to help with the fact sheet.
NLCS officials told IG investigators that their relationships and communication with outside groups supported an agencywide initiative to develop and maintain partnerships with these entities and that they did not discuss with the groups topics that were off-limits for federal employees. But BLM's deputy ethics counselor characterized the relationship between NLCS and the NWF legislative representative as "incestuous" and stated that NLCS "probably crossed the line" in its contacts with the advocacy groups.
Jim Lyon, NWF's senior vice president of conservation, said, "National Wildlife Federation cooperated fully with the Inspector General's office on this DOI staff matter. With the release of the IG's report, the investigation is now closed, and we have no further comment."
Click here (pdf) to read the IG report. http://www.eenews.net/public/25/12636/features/documents/
After a Devastating Fire, an Intense Study of Its Effects...RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD...10-3-09
ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST, Calif. — The Station fire, which in over a month has burned away nearly a quarter of this vast, mountainous backdrop to the Los Angeles skyline, is finally just about out, sending all but a handful of firefighters home. Now, the scientists swoop in.
Adam Backlin and Liz Gallegos, federal biologists, stood thigh-deep in a stream last week, sweeping a large net over and over like frustrated anglers to collect Santa Ana speckled dace fish as part of research on the damaging effects of fire on fragile wildlife.
Earlier, another biologist, Diana Papoulias, hauled out centrifuges, dry ice, syringes and other equipment to perform autopsies on fish, delving deeper into the role that heat, fire retardant and debris in the water may have played in their demise.
And Todd M. Hoefen, a geophysicist, scooped up white and black ash as part of research to analyze “the impact of it, what blows out of these fires and what are people breathing.”
Fire, typically touched off by lightning strikes, has always been part of the life cycle of the wilderness here and elsewhere, to a large degree crucial to regenerating it. Most wildlife and landscape eventually come back.
But with the increasing frequency and size of fires — 7 of the state’s 10 largest wildfires have occurred in the last six years, and most were caused by people — scientists are intensifying study of the environmental aftermath of the changing burn pattern.
“Fire dynamics have changed a lot, and urbanization has fragmented the landscape,” said Robert N. Fisher, a biologist with the United States Geological Survey, which has coordinated a team to take a closer look at this fire and other recent ones. “We have to figure out a way to give animals a way to persist in a way they did before in a landscape that is burning too fast and too much.”
This week, Mr. Fisher coordinated an unusual evacuation of sorts. A multiagency team of state and federal forest and wildlife representatives removed a colony of mountain yellow-legged tadpoles, endangered in Southern California, from a tributary of the San Gabriel River before rock and debris unleashed by fall and winter rains imperil their creekside habitat.
The tadpoles were taken to the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, where they will be raised, with the young spawned there eventually returned to the wild.
But such maneuvers represent the extreme. Much of the scientists’ work is intended to provide a better understanding of the ecological aftermath of fires, particularly those in areas where development meets wilderness and threatened and endangered species are present.
Scott L. Stephens, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and president of the Association for Fire Ecology, said the Station fire work coincided with a burst of fire science research in recent years designed to answer questions not only about what happens during and after fires but also about the effect climate change and drought may be having on forests and scrubland in high-burn areas.
Underlying much of the interest, Dr. Stephens said, are questions like these: “Are there things we can do to mitigate fire? Are there things managers can do to reduce their impact?”
The Station fire, which was named for its start on Aug. 26 near a ranger station, has destroyed several dozen homes and caused the deaths of two Los Angeles County firefighters. It ranks as the largest fire in the modern history of Los Angeles County. It has burned more than 160,000 acres, or 250 square miles, an area nearly the size of Chicago, and has cut off access to one of Los Angeles’s most popular wilderness getaways, about 20 miles north of downtown.
But the fire may be best remembered for the towering, thundercloud-like plume that loomed for days over the city.
Just what happened to all that ash and how thousands of gallons of fire retardant sprayed on the forest is affecting its creatures is now the focus of much investigation.
Much of the work requires painstaking field research in the deepest reaches of craggy forest.
On a recent afternoon, in the moonscape of the “burn scar,” Mr. Backlin and Ms. Gallegos bounced in a truck along trails and hopped out at the edge of a creek for an afternoon of “fishing.”
With a Forest Service fire truck parked nearby and water-dropping helicopters dashing overhead to hit the last smoldering hot spots, the two cast a literal wide net in an effort to collect small, finger-length speckled daces.
“We’re on fire now,” Mr. Backlin exulted, after several previous efforts turned up nothing but trout and water bugs.
“When the winter rains come, we won’t have any idea what these fish were like if they are washed away,” he said, tossing a few more into a collection bucket.
Later, the two biologists sat in the dirt and measured the specimens, euthanized them and placed them in jars to take back to the laboratory for autopsies.
DNA samples were taken, their internal organs analyzed and other tests performed to assess their overall health and the presence of toxins.
With Forest Service officials already warning that heavy rains could produce severe mudslides because so much vegetation holding the soil in place has burned away, scientists worry about the consequences, particularly to aquatic creatures.
Cascading rock and debris can turn streams into roiling, concrete-like concoctions, burying or shredding all manner of aquatic life, Mr. Fisher said.
Another group of scientists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Arizona State University and the California Institute of Technology plan to take detailed, high-resolution aerial photographs of the burn in the coming days as part of research on erosion and the movement of sediment in the mountains.
“Fire changes a lot of dynamics and releases a lot of sediment,” said Todd Farr, a geologist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, whose offices in La Cañada Flintridge abut the forest.
But even without the rain, the fires created a threat.
Already, scientists have found that ash particles in the streams can shred the fish’s gills and drive up the water’s alkalinity, possibly affecting reproduction and setting the stage for die-offs.
A research ecologist, Edward E. Little, said soil and water samples reddened by retardant were being analyzed to determine toxicity to fish and amphibians, among the creatures most susceptible to environmental changes.
Similar work has been done after fires in Colorado and Idaho, Dr. Little said, but “the interesting thing about the Station fire is it is such a different kind of fire than we have visited, in terms of devastation of vegetation in the area.”
Mr. Hoefen, who also helped analyze ash from the World Trade Center collapse, said ash samples had shown elevated levels of minerals that could be the result of what the burned plants had absorbed from the soil or air pollution. They mirror findings from devastating fires in San Diego in 2007, he said, though additional research is needed to pinpoint how harmful the ash could be to human health and the environment.
With rains expected to wash much of the ash into the watershed, Mr. Hoefen said, the quality of rivers, streams and reservoirs could be affected.
“Hopefully, our science will start to show people that it is not just fire, but there could be problems for the frogs, fish and the runoff,” Mr. Hoefen said. “Wind and rain blowing the ash into streams and ponds could have an effect after the fire.

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