December 13, 2007 meeting
RCD staff Karen Whipp announced that the agenda for the meeting was legally posted outside the RCD meeting room in the USDA building on Wardrobe Ave. She also said that staff doesn’t not send out staff reports on agenda items to either board members of members of the public because of time constraints. She said county and city boards do the same.
In fact, it is possible to get staff reports for all items on county Board of Supervisor agendas Friday afternoon before the meeting on the following Tuesday.
Lydia Miller said she requested the November staff reports in a timely manner (11:05 a.m. on the day of the board meeting). In attendance at the meeting, she got a copy of all staff reports at the meeting.
Whipp said she had the original copy of the resignation letter of Bernie Wade, former RCD president, who resigned both his position and his board membership at the November meeting.
The board approved the minutes.
Whipp said she had emailed the Nov. 21 minutes (to Miller??)
Whipp led the board through the latest spreadsheets on various RCD grants.
Wade’s letter was not in the minutes of the November meeting. It was explained that he gave the letter to them after adjournment of that meeting. However, Wade read his letter before adjournment. Yet his resignation was not on the November agenda.
Board member Karen Barstow wondered where to put Wade’s letter. Whipp informed her it would go in the minutes for the December meeting because it came in late.
Board member Glenn Anderson asked if Wade’s resignation would be the cause for an action item. Whipp said Wade’s resignation was to the county Board of Supervisors, not the RCD, so no.
Malia Hildebrandt gave her monthly report for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, beginning by saying that NRCS doesn’t yet have its new budget, so is working on another extension of the federal budget, therefore some local contracts will be lost if funding doesn’t come before the end of 2007.
The US Senate has passed the 2007 Farm Bill and it is now in conference committee. The old Farm Bill is extended until February 2008. Meanwhile, some funding has been sent to the local NRCS.
Regarding funds from state initiatives, NRCS has funded two replacements of diesel engines on farm sites, and funded windbreaks around dairies for dust reduction (PM10) and projects for spray reduction, wood chipping and tillage changes.
Anderson asked if there was an environmental issue when orchards heavily sprayed with pesticides have been chipped.
Hildebrandt said some at least were removed, chips from pruning were left in the orchard and that removal might be to a cogeneration plant.
Barstow remarked that prunings on almond orchards could run to one ton/acre.
Board member Bob Bliss said the ground was already sprayed and the prunings had been exposed to weather.
Board member Tony Azevedo, chairing the meeting, moved the subject to Animal Facility Operations issue: slabs, waste storage, pipelines, flow meters, gate valves, etc. lagoons, “anything to keep waste water on the dairy property. This is part of the whole Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan, (which calls for) new standards.”
Board member Cathy Weber asked if most dairies were up to the standards.
Hildebrandt replied, “No.” However, she noted that the process was opening the eyes of dairy managers. The new standard is to spread manure equal to 1.6 times the nitrogen needed for the fodder crops. It used to be 2 times the amount needed. Today, dairies cannot have more cows than they had in 2005 – the gist of the new regulation (1.6 times to nitrogen need) means either less cows or more acreage. The intent is to get a better mix of clean and lagoon water. “We could use $5 million to help folks (dairies) out,” she said.
Anderson asked if community pipelines could be developed.
Hildebrandt replied that this involves negotiations with irrigation districts to make sure the flows stay separated.
Azevedo said dairymen (at least in his distinct, Stevinson) have to give written notice to the irrigation districts when they are going to pipe lagoon water off-site, and it takes place during restricted hours.
Hildebrandt said the NRCS is telling dairy managers to protect themselves about when and how wastewater goes off their property. She added that water conservation funds sunsetted this year but a new fund is being created, and that in the new Farm Bill perhaps there will be funds to support new applications.
Bliss suggested spreading the funds out at a lower percentage to reach more people.
Hildebrandt replied that that was tried to make special deals for dairies with limited resources and for new dairies, because the way the fund is structured its hurts those who cannot afford to make the upgrades.
Azevedo asked about wildlife.
Hildebrandt said there were funds for riparian habitat restoration along the Merced River, removing replacing rock and dirt and planting trees.
Weber (who lives in Snelling, full of dredge-tailing cobble) asked about projects for Snelling.
Hildebrandt said there was a project near the Kelsey property (Diedre Kelsey is a county supervisor and the family mines dredge tailings for aggregate). Hildebrandt said the project involved layering rock and dirt for better drainage.
Whipp said that the new grant proposal for a watershed coordinator would help coordinate local and state agencies for such projects.
Members of the public at this point wondered if a lack of funding wasn’t a worse problem than a lack of staff. The NRCS reports monthly to RCD, their reports appear to be up-to-date and organized and realistic.
Whipp informed the board that “we” held a watershed workshop meeting on December 12 for over 20 people who want to meet quarterly. RCD board member, RCD/Merced River Alliance staff, and Merced County Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook and Whipp prepared the agenda for the meeting. They are also working on a grant proposal.
The public wondered if the December 12 meeting was a public meeting. Public funds were used to organize it but not all members of the public were invited, even members of the public with well-known, long-term interests in the watersheds of eastern Merced County.
But MID, Department of Fish and Game, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Cramer Sciences, Supervisor Kelsey, state Parks and Recreation, county Public Works and UC Merced were invited and the meeting was duly posted on the bulletin board at the UC Cooperative Extension office (where UCCOP staff were sure to see it).
Whipp and Commissioner Lashbrook said Ezio Sansone and Lynn Sullivan, two members of the Merced River Stakeholders, were very excited about the meeting because this new group, the Watershed Workshop, “will get projects done. It is a project-oriented work group.”
The public attending the RCD meeting – two members of the MRS – viewed this new workshop as simply the latest way RCD staff has devised to destroy the MRS, some of whose members wrote letters opposing that last RCD-staff grant to fund RCD staff.
Commissioner Lashbrook then said something incomprehensible about the Merced Area Groundwater Pool Interests. We would report this public official’s comments more fully if she would speak more clearly. She did add something about Stillwater Sciences and Merced River Alliance coordinator Nancy McConnell working on how to format a final report due in May. This report may be going to MAGPI. The commissioner also announced the upcoming California Women for Agriculture tour of the river, to be led by RCD staff, including the commissioner.
Commissioner Lashbrook continued, saying that the watershed kits (created by another MRA staffer, Terry McLoughlin) are now available for teachers and that a new one is now being assembled at the NRCS office. McLoughlin is now developing a new monitoring kit for groundwater.
The board moved on to nomination of the new president. Azevedo nominated Bliss. Bliss refused. Azevedo said, “We need experience. I haven’t been on the board that long – only three years.” (And he missed some meetings during that period.)
Anderson asked if it were the Year of the Woman.
Again, Commissioner Lashbrook makes a vague comment about “Johnny” Pedrozo having only been on the board of supervisors for two years and already he’s chairman.
Azevedo pleads a “full plate” and reluctance to doing a “half-assed job.”
Commissioner Lashbrook counseled Azevedo: “If you get your board right, it’s not so bad.” Whipp prepares the agendas, she added.
Azevedo said that the president has to make public appearances from time to time.
Commissioner Lashbrook asked Whipp if digital agendas weren’t available for the president. Whipp replied that some presidents have asked, others haven’t.
Bliss philosophized, telling a story about old tires, meant to illuminate the issue.
Commissioner Lashbrook said the trick was “to develop trust and hire the right people.”
Bliss said that Whipp was the best staffer RCD had ever had.
Whipp replied that she had been doing agendas “for controversial agencies for years.”
Commissioner Lashbrook qualified that remark, saying RCD is “only temporarily controversial.”
Anderson nominated Karen Barstow for president.
Bliss seconded, asking if Azevedo would serve as vice president and Weber as treasurer.
Weber declined, citing lack of experience with numbers and money.
Bliss commented: “You walk up the chain to become president, then you become a rabble rouser.”
Commissioner Lashbrook said Weber would not have to be the financial officer. She added that she would follow through with the grants although not being a state-RCD approved officer.
Whipp noted that nobody had ever been a secretary treasurer.
Azevedo said to leave it open until there are more members on the board.
Anderson said he came back on the board with no idea of becoming an officer. “I feel myself transitional,” he said.
Barstow said she was used to running meetings and philosophized that “everyone has to serve.” She asked Weber to be the secretary treasurer.
Weber said she had no business experience.
Azevedo said she was a housewife, wasn’t she?
Weber said she was a physical therapist but not into the business side of it.
The board voted Barstow president, Azevedo vice president.
The next agenda item called for the creation of a personnel committee.
Weber said she was concerned that the RCD was running out of funds. “How does the RCD function without funds?” she asked. She said McConnell told her Mariposa RCD had a personnel committee, therefore a couple of board members could form such a committee and look at the options, anticipate different funding scenarios. “We’ve never come to grips …” with the possibility the RCD will run out of funds in August 2008. “And if we get the DOCIII grant, how will we allocate it?” (What staff will the RCD pay?)
Barstow said the RCD doesn’t have “personnel.”
Weber said Whipp and Commissioner Lashbrook are “contractors.”
Whipp said it would be a good idea to have this committee to develop the scope of work for the upcoming contracts.
Anderson asked, “You mean job descriptions?”
Weber replied that would be part of it but that she didn’t know the full breadth of personnel committees, but one question she had was how to allocate the few funds the RCD may end up with. “We will run out of the bulk of our funds by August,” she said.
Azevedo asked if the personnel committee would look for funds.
Weber said: not for the board.
Whipp said she’d just written that job into the description of the personnel committee, adding that every group she has worked for had a personnel committee.
Azevedo said the board needed more members, otherwise it is the same people.
Commissioner Lashbrook said the DOCIII grant proposal is a personnel grant and that this new proposed personnel committee should come up with some options.
Weber said it would be an advisory committee.
Azevedo and Bliss moved and seconded for the personnel committee.
As far as the public could tell, the motion passed (RCD board voting is sort of a vague process.) But the public was unable to determine what members of the board would serve on the new committee.
Commissioner Lashbrook said it would be nice to have board members involved and bringing reports back to the board.
The public hoped for the sake of the board that these reports would be clearer than board member Commissioner Lashbrook’s reports to the board.
Azevedo asked Hildebrandt where farmers go to find a place on the river to dump riprap.
Hildebrandt referred Azevedo to an agency staff person “to look at it.”
Commissioner Lashbrook asked if concrete was “permittable” on the river.
Hildebrandt said “in some places.”
Azevedo said Stevinson farmers always kept it for floods.
Hildebrandt said “it needed a permit.”
Anderson said, “Suppose we know somebody is doing it?”
Hildebrandt said to contact the Army Corps.
Bliss said to Anderson, “So, you’re the little birdy.”
Whipp informed the board that staff has prepared a draft “work plan” or possibly a “draft narrative” or both for the DOCIII watershed coordinator grant proposal. However, somehow she failed to bring a copy. But Barstow, who had a copies, ran off some more. It is only eight pages of narrative. There was no attached list of what the grant is proposing to fund. The grant will cover all watersheds in the RCD sphere of influence (not just the Merced River). There is money to fund facilitation of only one meeting a year of the Merced River Stakeholders.
Commissioner Lashbrook commented, “…to kind of keep it going.”
The public in attendance wondered what the grant proponents are going to do for stakeholders, but presumably they feel that their new work group will be sufficient to bamboozle state officials deciding on grants.
Whipp said that most of the grant is “project oriented,” for the landowners.
Which landowners, the public present wondered.
Commissioner Lashbrook continued in a low mumble, “…assuming the MRS still wants us hosting one meeting a year.”
Whipp said staff is already “building an amended work plan.” It will be “project oriented, not meeting oriented,” she said, and staff is looking for five projects for collaboration with RCD. She mentioned the Sullivan Ranch restoration, educational programs with MID and county Public Works. However, Whipp added, staff doesn’t need to name the projects at this point. All they need to do is indicate it is a “project-focused proposal” in the preliminary stage.
Staff is thinking of a traveling watershed fair. “What it is will be decided by the RCD,” she said. There is also a brochure developed by the former RCD watershed coordinator, Gwen Huff.
Commissioner Lashbrook said something about adding permitting agencies.
Whipp added that people at the work group really wanted the information on permitting. “They are very much more focused on doing” … than RCD staff and board members would like the world to believe the Merced River Stakeholders are.. In fact, six months earlier a coalition of MRS members successfully stopped a grant to RCD, which has threatened the income flow of RCD staff, because the MRS coalition could find nothing in the grant that had anything to do with anything but income flow to RCD staff.
The public was bemused by seeing that Supervisor Kelsey had taken sides with RCD staff against the Merced River Stakeholders by attending the watershed workshop meeting in December. Like Commissioner Lashbrook, as a public official, some feel it is dumb politics for Kelsey to have attended invitation-only meeting (verging on the secret but with public funds) about the Merced River that do not involve notifying all the MRS members, which has the clear intent, if only for another staff-funding grant, to replace the MRS. But Ms. Kelsey has her own aggregate interests on the river. Nevertheless, her support for one side in a controversy over the lower river at large demonstrates once again that Kelsey doesn’t represent the river, only a handful of landowners in Snelling and staffers like Commissioner Lashbrook.
Whipp said the watershed-group newsletter would be called, “Watersheds Newsletter,” which would list the projects RCD is doing.
Anderson asked what the scope of the projects would be?
Commissioner Lashbrook replied that for homecoming festivals etc. “we would be there with our little dog-and-pony show.”
Whipp clarified: “But on the watersheds,” by which she meant: not only the Merced River.
Public members attending the meeting were not immediately aware of festivals along Deadman Creek, Dutchman Creek, Mariposa Creek and others – homecoming or otherwise – by the public is notoriously ignorant of such events, events like the December watershed workshop. Some thought a Homecoming Festival for recidivists could be held on the bank of Deadman Creek, near the county jail.
Anderson asked: with a local focus?
Commissioner Lashbrook replied: “We would have to get partnership with those communities.” It wouldn’t be like the Merced River Alliance with all its staff.
Whipp clarified again: the intent is to give citizens watershed monitoring experience and establishing protocols. They need good training.
The public wondered at the dimensions of the conflicts involved: staff is “creating” the equipment for this monitoring; state and federal agencies do monitoring; MRS members, which includes most of the landowners and aggregate mines on the lower river do not relish the thought of “citizens” – mainly middle schoolers – doing water monitoring on the river.
Anderson said that after this training, the RCD needs to keep the citizens involved. “You are looking for a particular kind of activist.”
Commissioner Lashbrook expanded, saying the object was “to train the trainer types to take it to the grassroots.”
Weber said the object was to coordinate all the testing and the agencies to determine who is doing what where. The program shouldn’t be duplicative. She asked if oxygen studies had been done everywhere.
Commissioner Lashbrook noted that storm water drainage was one of the least monitored in all the small communities. She said that the idea was for citizens to adopt a park, either upstream or downstream from human activity and track the e. coli impacts on the river. The farmers are already being monitored. But are “urban” areas. There are gaps in the monitoring, apparently.
The public wondered if, now that citizen water-monitoring kits of some kind have been created, at public expense, now a market must be found for them, regardless of need or local desire for more water monitoring.
Anderson said it would be necessary to work out some sort of monitoring protocol.
Commissioner Lashbrook said it had been hard to get the San Joaquin Monitoring Partnership going, but that UC Merced and Merced College were willing to help on this proposal. It would work well in a fourth through eighth-grade curriculum.
Whipp informed the board that only two staffers would be allowed to share in this grant. The grant is only a draft at this stage and that there would be many rewrites in the process. Remaining funding, however, is low and there are only about 36 hours of funding left for grant preparation. So, would the broad approve $3,200 for Whipp and Commissioner Lashbrook to finish preparing the proposal and provide one or two board members to review to 44-page final draft before submission? The draft would probably be done by December 31. It could be reviewed on New Years Eve.
Weber said she could review it on January 2.
Commissioner Lashbrook said staff was getting letters of support and partnership collaboration from groups like Grasslands RCD, Chowchilla River RCD and others.
The board voted unanimously to approve the $3,200.
The board moved on to discuss its five-year plan.
Anderson asked if the RCD mission statement was unique to this RCD or parallel to the state association of RCDs.
Commissioner Lashbrook said it was “from the CARCD template and is in alignment with most RCDs.”
Bliss asked if it needed tinkering.
Azevedo focused on #5: “to actively pursue funding.”
Commissioner Lashbrook said that RCD staff had been doing NRCS outreach to farmers on the EQIP program funding. But that funding really meant getting this grant.
Anderson suggested taking the list of goals home to prioritize them.
Azevedo said he got an opportunity to see the mission statement.
A member of the public pointed out that the RCD mission statement is on the agenda page for the meeting.
Anderson moved to take the items home for individual prioritization. The motion passed.
The board said it would attempt to track down the RCD seeder and Azevedo would inspect it and report.
Anderson said RCD having equipment is a thing of the past.
Bliss said an RCD land plane had gone from Merced to Fresno in a year.
Anderson said that’s been privatized.
Azevedo said let’s see what the seeder looks like.
Barstow brought up the issue of the annexation (an addition to the RCD special district).
Commissioner Lashbrook said she thought the RCD missed the LAFCO deadline “for the money thing – we need to try to get some earmarks. About $2,700 is at stake and there might be further expenses.”
“Earmarks” from whom or what was unclear. A little provision in the county Mental Health budget perhaps? Or will it take an act of Congress to do “the money thing”?
Bliss said that the district excludes the city of Merced but “we get everything from the Grasslands to the mountains. If you take money from the USDA you’re in, whether you are signed up or not.”
Next the board turned to the issue of the Hilmar Cheese deep injection pumps. Azevedo said the company made a presentation. It is doing deep injection and the community had no input into the decision.
Commissioner Lashbrook said the EPA gave them a test permit. Azevedo said he’d learned that once it’s below 1,000 feet it is out of state jurisdiction and into federal (EPA). Anderson said the wells are below 3,000. Azevedo said it is injecting milk processing wastes under pressure. It might work in Texas, he said, but one California earthquake could make a mess. He repeated that nobody local had any input.
Commissioner Lashbrook said there was a little meeting in Modesto she went to, but she didn’t report on what was said at the little meeting.
The next item concerned RCD board participation in the county general plan update. Anderson sits on the agriculture focus group, Weber on the open space group. They invited board to provide input for them to carry back to their focus groups. (The general plan update process involves citizen input in focus groups. The oldest, most active environmental groups in the county, including the one that sued the county to force it to do its original general plan, are excluded from these focus groups because they have sued local governments for violations of the California Environmental Quality Act. Worst of all, they have sued on UC Merced, which stimulated a real estate boom resulting in the county’s top national position for rate of foreclosure.)
Weber said the open space and habitat group was “a really good group and had state agencies in it.” It covers a lot of issues. She said if she’d known she’d have brought the text, which involves smart growth, oak woodlands and a grading ordinance. She said there was no ordinance involving agriculture-to-agriculture conversions (seasonal pasture to orchard deep-ripping).
Azevedo noted that if there is any change to the flow of water that will affect vernal pools, you have to have a permit. Bliss said a former RCD board member had man-made vernal pools.
Weber said assistant planning director Bill Nicholson was at the focus group, that everybody likes the idea of riparian habitat and that it is a “very good group.”
The next item was board recruitment. Anderson asked if they could recruit Hmongs and Hispanics.
The next item was about RCD relations with the MRS. Azevedo asked how well the two mission statements gelled. Bliss said that the RCD controls the lower half of the river. He said to leave the issue alone, see how it works out.
Commissioner Lashbrook said they needed to go beyond the mission statement to how the group is formed. She said RCD needed to revisit the issue if MRS goes ahead with its planned meeting at Washington School on January 23. Do they need Whipp to do email invitations and agendas. She said the RCD agreed to that.
Whipp questioned that, saying there is no money to do that work and that the board would have to pay her to do the notification. Weber asked how much. Bliss said to just give the MRS the list of addressed.
Lydia Miller, a member of the public in attendance and also a member of the MRS, said the MRS also wanted the archived MRS binders (of MRS business).
Whipp said the RCD needed to keep them.
Miller said, just for the meeting. “We’ll commit to bringing them back or give them to an RCD member attending the MRS meeting,” she said.
Bliss said, “We can’t turn loose of that stuff.”
Miller said that MRS archives belong to the MRS.
Then they returned to the Hilmar injection-well situation. It was suggested the board write a letter, but Azevedo was concerned about RCD liability – if it wanted to get involved. Barstow said she’d ask some of the Hilmar Cheese people at her Bible Study group.
The RCD December board meeting adjourned shortly after.
January 16, 2008 East Merced Resource District board meeting
Karen Barstow presides. Four members present. Tony Azevedo is absent.
Karen Whipp, RCD staff, announces that staff reports will not be available to the public before the meeting. Barstow said that board members receive their reports at the meeting. Whipp said she doesn’t get them ready before the meeting.
Board Member and county Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook said: “That’s the way we do it.”
Members of the public present noted that up until two months ago, Whipp had made reports available before meetings. They also noted that without reports being available before the meeting, the public was not able to make public comments on them and that board members we not competent to decide on them, either.
Whipp said RCD staff was going to submit a final proposal for the DOCIII grant (third round of state Department of Conservation grants) and a $6,000 bill at the end of January. Then she discussed the various budget spreadsheets (staff reports) and talked about “recoupments” and “invoice cycles.”
Cherchant dans La Larouse Elementaire (1956) il est decouvert:
Recoupment: n.m. Verification d’un fait au moyen de renseignements provenant de sources diverses. Procede particulier de leve des plans.
Board members and the public were not clear about what she was talking about because they had had no time in advance to study the spreadsheets. Whipp’s report, so to speak, was French aux vaches espanoles.
The next item was Bernard Wade’s resignation as president and from the board in November. Board member Bob Bliss asked if the board had to accept it. Whipp said it was properly submitted to the chairman of the county Board of Supervisors and that the RCD should write a letter to the supervisors requesting them to announce the vacancies on the RCD board.
Barstow asked if there were two vacancies.
Commissioner Lashbrook confirmed. Whipp said the supervisors had already advertised the vacancy for the other position. She added that the RCD could recommend board members to the supervisors. Weber said that if there is more than one candidate, it has to go to one of the election days this year.
Bliss and board member Glenn Anderson discussed adding American Indians or Hispanics because there were already women on the board. Weber said there was a notice board in Snelling where the announcement should be posted. Anderson said there were several notice boards in Hilmar. Weber said there should be more effort at outreach beyond a public notice in the Merced Sun-Star. Anderson suggested a press release.
Commissioner Lashbrook said the board should write to each supervisor for suggestions, noting that almost all of the board members are from Supervisor Diedre Kelsey’s district now. The board decided it was weakest in the Planada/Le Grand area.
Natural Resource Conservation District director Malia Hildebrandt was absent but sent a written report.
Commissioner Lashbrook, RCD and Merced River Alliance staff, said she had not written her report but had spent a lot of time grant writing in the last month and had conducted a watershed tour for the California Women for Agriculture. She added that they should know about the watershed grant by early March.
Anderson noted that the watershed tour was the final forum required by the last grant and that at least 30 of the 80 attendees were local, which was good, he thought.
Commissioner Lashbrook said that UC Merced showcased its local research into dairy groundwater monitoring, global warming and Blue oaks and the Sierra snow pack … “They got to do their commercial,” she said.
The tour went to the dam and the Kelsey aggregate mining project and observed vernal pools on graze land.
Weber said that Supervisor Kelsey had said during the tour that “you can’t deep rip without a permit,” but that we don’t have a grading ordinance that covers agriculture-to-agriculture conversions (which often involve deep ripping).
Commissioner Lashbrook wondered if something could be done with that in the general plan update.
Lydia Miller, a member of the public in attendance, said the county won’t report to the federal agencies on agriculture-to-agriculture conversions, whether deep-ripped or disked. The federal agencies require a permit but there is a question about how much or often they will enforce a violation. The county won’t agree to a grading ordinance on ag-to-ag conversion, she said.
Barstow asked the board if it wanted someone to address this issue at a later meeting.
Anderson said something about “the local culture.”
Commissioner Lashbrook said the CARCD has workshops on this issue and that Mariposa and Solano counties have grading ordinances.
Miller said the county was on notice about ag-to-ag conversions. She added that conversion from non-irrigation to irrigation agriculture should trigger an environmental impact report.
Merced River Alliance staff director, Nancy McConnell’s written report took another angle on the watershed tour, mainly pointed at burying the Merced River Stakeholders.
Whipp announced that the Feb. 11 Alliance dinner at Cathey’s Valley now had an expanded number of (new) participants and would be called, “Vision to Action.” She added that MRA staffer Terry McLoughlin was developing a new water monitoring kit for groundwater.
Anderson noted that groundwater changes through the season and depends to some extent on the irrigation techniques used.
Commissioner Lashbrook said that was why the RCD had to support the $5-million grant proposal of the Merced Area Groundwater Pool Interests to model how groundwater moves, where recharge is viable and where it isn’t.
Barstow canvassed the group to see where groundwater studies were being done. In her area, there were studies, she said. Bliss said he had been preaching groundwater recharge in his area for years but farmers don’t listen, they just want water. Barstow said recharge was another topic for a later meeting.
Staff announced there would be a water-monitoring training in Mariposa for the lower watershed volunteers on February 9. Anderson asked who it would be best to have there. Bliss said teachers. Anderson asked, agriculture or science teachers? Whipp said science teachers. Commissioner Lashbrook though ag teachers would be good, too. Anderson said UC Merced people and what about Merced College.
The next topic was the board’s ethics review, which involves board members watching a DVD and reading a book. Weber and Barstow decided how to break up the chapters so that individual members could make 30-minute reports on ethics in future meetings.
Commissioner Lashbrook said the state association of RCDs has a nice power point presentation on the state law of public meetings or Brown Act.
Commissioner Lashbrook asked about the Riverside Motorsports Park. Weber said the RCD had not taken a position on that project. Barstow said she thought it was going to go through.
Miller said the key was the foreign trade zone at the former Castle Air Force Base, which the base developers cannot get without the RMP project on adjacent land. But, if it doesn’t make it as a racetrack, it would become some other development project. The best thing would be for the supervisors to put it in an easement, she said.
Next, the board briefly discussed its five-year plan and the Hilmar Cheese deep injection wells, noting the wastewater is processed before it is injected but salinity is an issue. It was reported that the company planned to add three more injection pumps and the present one is down to 4,100 feet.
Staff reported that on January 25, the San Joaquin Regional Water Quality Control Board will have a 90-minute public presentation on the injection wells.
Anderson said there were 273 deep injection wells in Florida and that they are leaking into the Gulf. Those are also processed wastewater wells. Someone asked what relation the Hilmar wells have to groundwater studies. The RCD policy seems to be to study deep injection without mentioning Hilmar Cheese.
To recap the Hilmar Cheese wastewater situation for the casual reader of these public minutes, the Sacramento Bee did an expose on the amount of wastewater the company, which bills itself as the largest cheese factory in the world, was dumping into the groundwater around Hilmar, a small farming community in north Merced County, in the northern San Joaquin Valley. Note that neither of the local McClatchy Chain outlets dare to speak of Hilmar Cheese except in the most flattering terms. The Sac Bee articles resulted in the region water board finally fining the company several million dollars, which the company got reduced after the heat was off. But, either stung by this terrible call to accountability or according to a business plan already worked out, the company announced it was building its new plant in the Panhandle of Texas (“more friendly to business than California,” etc.) Meanwhile, the plant is pumping millions of gallons of treated cheese-plant wastewater are being deep injected into the ground.
Moving on to fund-raising, Anderson volunteered Tony Azevedo (absent) to hold professional fund-raising events at his ranch, which has facilities for it.
Next they moved to the subject of educating youth on endangered species. Weber said it was not realistic and that the way to go was with MRA staffer McLoughlin’s water monitoring kits. Commissioner Lashbrook asked if there should be outreach. Weber said the kits are the things. Barstow said RCD should help disseminate the kits and educate the community on them.
Anderson wondered if the grant should “feed Stillwater Science into the community.”
Weber said the grant had a component for that. Commissioner Lashbrook said it would be easy with the grant. Then she mentioned teachers and kits again before her cell phone rang.
Anderson said that confined livestock fits into this, too, and that “we all need enlightenment on this.
Weber said she is starting to work with landowners on riparian vegetation.
Commissioner Lashbrook said the RCD needs library cataloging. “We aren’t sure where things are.”
Then they discussed information it would be necessary to present new board members. The meeting broke down briefly into a multitude of contending themes: Anderson’s New Age library; Bliss’ belief there would be an east side canal; getting county planning staff to RCD workshops; suburban sprawl needs autos, no services in walking distance; and argument between Commissioner Lashbrook and Weber on the utility of the general plan focus groups.
Miller suggested the RCD should consider the field agricultural and conservation easements because it used to be a leader in conservation. She said biologist John Vollmar did good work with RCD, but it got turned around during the property rights hoopla and the incredible misunderstanding fomented by elected officials about the Williamson Act being mitigation for UC Merced. There is lots of funding for easements, she said, suggesting that the RCD should ask UC Merced or the state Department of Fish and Game about the strategic plan for easements to mitigate for UC Merced. Numerous mitigation banks are entering the market, she added. There is a distinction between agricultural and conservation easements and traditional land trusts favor agriculture and are adverse to species-habitat conservation easements, Miller explained.
Anderson said the RCD should be at the center of this “cultural transition, creating hybrids of agriculture and conservation.”
Commissioner Lashbrook interrupted this line of thought to say that the riparian initiative deadline is January 31 and the fund has $1.5 million for landowner incentives – full costs of restoration and $400/acre for 10 years to maintain. She added that (although her land is on the river) she doesn’t have any land “I can back off on” but she’d like to get her neighbors involved in the program.
Anderson said the board needed more maps to visualize their space. He mentioned an upcoming CEQA workshop organized by the WalMart Action Team. Commissioner Lashbrook referred to it as “for grassroots activists.” (County officials will also hold a CEQA workshop the same day.)
Miller said that last CEQA workshop her group organized was mainly attended by attorneys and land-use officials. So attendance varies.
Weber brought up a new Santa Fe Aggregate project to take 400 acres of dredge tailings down to grade level and assume nature will do the reclamation. She couldn’t define what “grade level” meant.
Merced County Planning Commissioner Lashbrook said the RCD is not set up to comment on land-use issues. It needs a steering committee.
Anderson wondered if the board couldn’t have a staffer do comments. (Certainly not a board member.) Weber and Whipp describe the runaround the planning department is giving them on getting project staff reports mailed to the RCD. Nobody checks the RCD post office box, evidently. Barstow said that as long as Planning Commissioner Lashbrook is already there, couldn’t she highlight the items for the RCD? Whipp said the RCD isn’t getting any environmental impact reports. Commissioner Lashbrook said the planning department doesn’t post any staff reports but offers to fax Weber staff reports.
Commissioner Lashbrook said the county had just hired a new lawyer to clean up the planning situation and make the county less “sue-able.”
Bliss and Anderson lurch off into a conversation that ends with Bliss saying a barracuda was caught off San Francisco two weeks ago.
Commissioner Lashbrook said how the grant proposal is expanded to the entire watershed in the RCD district, not just the river.
Miller said that the Merced River Stakeholders need the archive binder of MRS business for its January 28 meeting. (Advance: the RCD did not provide the binder.)
The rest of the meeting was about developing local food systems, a “buy fresh, buy local” campaign, a grant for obesity, enhancing the value of farms, and nostalgia about Korean vegetable gardens grown in human and animal wastes observed by one board member during the Korean War.
The meeting adjourned.