State Politics

This category contains 15 posts

California’s Minimum Wage Increases to $10 per Hour


State of California — The Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) reminds California’s employers and workers that effective January 1, 2016, the state’s minimum wage will increase to $10 per hour.

“This increase in the minimum wage is California’s second increase in 18 months. Those earning minimum wage will now have a bit more to take home every paycheck,” said Labor Commissioner Julie Su. The Labor Commissioner’s Office is a division of DIR.

Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation on September 25, 2013, raising California’s minimum wage to $9 per hour on July 1, 2014, with a final adjustment to $10 per hour on January 1, 2016. It marked the first increase in California’s hourly minimum since 2008, when the minimum wage was raised 50 cents to $8.

State law requires employers to post information on wages, hours and working conditions at a worksite area accessible to employees. Notices for the wage orders in English and Spanish can be downloaded and printed from the Workplace postings page on the DIR website.

Almost all employees in California must be paid the minimum wage as required by state law. Workers who are paid less than the minimum wage may file a wage claim with the Labor Commissioner’s office.

DIR protects and improves the health, safety and economic well-being of over 18 million wage earners, and helps their employers comply with state labor laws.

DIR’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), also known as the Labor Commissioner’s Office, enforces prevailing wage rates and apprenticeship standards in public works projects, inspects workplaces for wage and hour violations, adjudicates wage claims, investigates retaliation complaints, issues licenses and registrations for businesses and educates the public on labor laws.

Employees with work-related questions or complaints may contact DIR’s Call Center in English or Spanish at 844-LABOR-DIR (844-522-6734). The California Workers’ Information line at 866-924-9757 provides recorded information in English and Spanish on a variety of work-related topics.

BW News – Your source of local news covering Latino News of the State of California

Grasping at Straws: BDCP & DWR Drown Out Real Data


The California State Seal Outside that Natural Resources Building by Deanna Lynn Wulff

The California State Seal. Natural Resources Building

Gov. Brown’s twin tunnel plan has raised ire since its inception, but the battle has grown more heated with the publication of its latest economic report. Melinda Terry, manager of the North Delta Water Agency, called the document outright fraud, while state water contractors praised it with a fact sheet pointing out its strong points (primarily, its page length). Continue reading

In the Trenches of California’s Water War: A Farmer, an Environmentalist and a Republican Envision the Future


What’s really happening, and will Gov. Brown listen?

Water lazily rolls by, acres of pear trees blanket the horizon, and tiny communities dot the landscape. Walnut Grove is a Delta town with 1,500 residents, just one ice cream shop and a mom-and-pop grocery store. It feels sleepy, humid and slow—like the Sacramento River. Brett Baker, a sixth-generation pear farmer who lives nearby, on Sutter Island, describes the area nostalgically:

The Sacramento River is the largest river in the state. It carries nearly one-third of the total annual runoff of all California streams.

“I enjoy the peace and quiet, the landscape and scenery,” he said. “I have a personal relationship with almost everyone in my town. I have known them all my life, played sports with them, was coached by them growing up. Out here, there is a real sense of community. When tragedy strikes, your neighbors pick you up and help support you.”

Tragedy might be striking.  Just 10 minutes away is the roar of Interstate 5, one of California’s major freeways. Twenty minutes farther is Sacramento and the buzzing State Capitol, where the fate of this farming community, the Delta, the state’s river system, and the largest estuary on the West Coast will be determined.

The Delta is the heart of the state’s water resources. Most rivers flow into it, the ocean meets it, key species migrate in and out of it, 25 million people draw water from it, and a large portion of agriculture relies on it to irrigate crops.  And now, Gov. Jerry Brown wants to forge ahead with a $23 billion plan to build two massive tunnels underneath or around the Delta.

The Tunnel Options – Photo courtesy of PPIC

The stakes are enormous.

The governor’s proposed Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), also known as the tunnel conveyance system or peripheral canal, would carry part of the Sacramento River underneath the Delta in two 35-mile long tunnels to the California Aqueduct. There, the water would be pumped uphill to cities and farms in more parched regions of the state, including the southern Central Valley, Los Angeles and Santa Clara.

The canal plan has been kicking around for decades. Brown’s original peripheral canal project was voted down in a referendum in 1982, but he is back in the saddle again. “We’re going to take into account the opposition,” Brown vowed, “but we’re not going to sit here and twiddle our thumbs and stare at our navel. We’re going to make decisions and get it done.”

But it’s unclear what Brown is trying to get done. The project would continue to move water from one part of the state to another, with questionable benefits for citizens, farmers, fish, fishermen and even state and federal water contractors, who have funded the project thus far. The differing perspectives of a Delta farmer, a seasoned environmentalist and a Republican supervisor show the complexities and contentiousness of what lies ahead.

Brett Baker—Delta Farmer

Delta Farmer Brett Baker and his wife Meredith stand near their 40-acre farm in Courtland, CA. The couple is expecting their first child in October.

“The Delta is the largest contiguous acreage of prime farmland in California,” said Baker. “It has a naturally reliable supply of high quality water and sufficient drainage. Basically, you are taking water from land that has proven to be sustainably productive for over 150 years and moving it to lands with toxic drainage impairments.”

Acre to acre, Delta land is one the most productive farm areas in the state.

The toxic land that Baker refers to is on the west side of San Joaquin River in the Central Valley. The area has long had problems with salinity and selenium, and it’s also a primary importer of Delta water. Salinity on the west side can be flushed out with water, provided there is drainage. But there isn’t excess water or drainage, and there may never be. The taxpayer cost of fixing the drainage problem is $2.6 to $7 billion. Only $346 million in funds are currently allocated.

Selenium presents a more significant problem for the west side. It cannot be safely dispersed into the environment. It bio-accumulates and in large quantities is toxic to wildlife, livestock and humans. In the 1980s, Kesterson Reservoir had to be closed, because of the mass bird and livestock deformities that were discovered there due to selenium build-up. The area has since been cleaned up, but pollutants are still flowing into the San Joaquin River, and more water will not fix the problem.

So why construct a canal or tunnel conveyance system and route water there?

The West Side of the San Joaquin River. Graphic courtesy of the EPA.

A portion of that water flows elsewhere, to the Metropolitan Water District and the Kern County Water Agency, for example. The giant pumps that sit in the southern part of the estuary entrap and kill thousands of fish annually. The pumps also alter the habitat of the estuary by creating a north to south flow across a tidal ecosystem, which would naturally flow east to west. The proposed tunnels would move the intake upstream to locations that might be less harmful to smelt, salmon and other endangered species. They also might avoid delivery disruptions associated with salt water intrusion and climate change.

But under the microscopes of science and regulation, even those benefits begin to look dubious. And that’s because moving intakes upstream will affect water quality for fish and farmers downstream. “If we allow the canal to be built it will ultimately result in the salting up and ruination of one of our state’s most valuable assets,” Baker said. “Research has continued to reveal that shunting more water from the system stands to condemn the canary in the coal mine.”

And Baker is right. The birds are in trouble too. Although endangered fish species get more attention because of their effect on water exports, the Delta is a primary habitat and migratory stop for millions of birds, like tundra swans and sandhill cranes. Nearly 50 percent of the Pacific Flyway’s migrating or wintering waterfowl depend on it.

Altogether, the Delta is home to more than 750 species of plants and animals, 33 of which are endangered, and likely to go extinct within the next 25 to 50 years, if not sooner. Those species includes chinook salmon, smelt, steelhead, splittail, sturgeon and river lamprey, all of which are supposed to be protected by state and federal agencies.

And California hasn’t left much breathing room for its once abundant wildlife, particularly in the Central Valley and the Delta, where most of the land is privately held and about 95 percent of natural wetlands are gone.  And water, the other primary habitat, has been over-allocated to such a high degree that little is left for plants and animals. All total, water rights exist for 531 million acre-feet, which is nearly 10 times as much as is annually available (63 million acre-feet).

The EnvironmentalistLeo Winternitz

Staten Island with sandhill cranes. The area works as a habitat and a farm. Photo courtesy of Leo Winternitz.

Leo Winternitz, associate director of Delta Restoration and Policy for the Nature Conservancy, has been living amidst these water wars for the past 30 years. He has worked for CALFED, the Sacramento Water Forum, the Department of Water Resources, and the State Water Resources Control Board—all major players in water management.

As to how things are going – he says simply, “The situation is more acute. The environment is really suffering from the overuse. We need to think in terms of migratory corridors,” he continues. “If you acquire any piece of property, without a strategic plan then you have postage stamp approach and that doesn’t work. You need to have a corridor of different habitats interconnected.”

But putting that into action is no easy task. The Delta region has more than 500,000 acres of agricultural land, most of which was formerly wetland habitat. About five percent of the original environment is left.

To restore a portion, the Nature Conservancy acquired a 9200-acre tract in the Delta, called Staten Island. The area provides prime habitat for sandhill cranes and other migratory waterfowl. But the $35 million land purchase has been criticized. Half of the money for the acquisition came from the state funds for flood protection, and today, it’s managed primarily as a farmland and wetland—not as a flood plain. The island is below sea level, and it isn’t ideally located for tidal marsh restoration. Still, 15 percent of the Sacramento Valley sandhill crane population and thousands of birds use the area as a winter habitat.

Sandhill cranes and tundra swans fly thousands of miles in the fall to spend their winter in the Delta. Photo courtesy of Leo Winternitz.

The BDCP, at least, has a cohesive plan for restoration. It may include 80,000 acres of tidal marsh habitat and up to 45,000 acres of agricultural and grasslands habitat. But that makes Delta farmers nervous, as does changing the position of the water intake system and increasing exports, which was originally part of the plan.

And that’s where the project starts to hit serious trouble.

The BDCP sets off a series of agency interactions between the Department of Water Resources (DWR), the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), the California Department State Fish and Game (DFG), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Delta Stewardship Council (DSC). Each agency is tasked with a particular aspect of protecting and managing the state’s natural resources. And there is a lot to protect:—California is one of the most bio-diverse places in the world.

Among these water agencies, there is a confusing array of regulations and interactions. But there are clear guidelines. “It is now state policy that we have co-equal goals of ecosystem restoration and water reliability,” Winternitz said, regarding the Delta Reform Act of 2009. “Any solution has to include environmental consideration. That is a big positive. We just have to communicate better about what this means and how to implement it.”

But what’s being communicated is tough medicine for everyone.

The public trust recommendations for the Delta are the hub of public policy, and the agencies are circling around it. To resuscitate the system, scientific research indicates the need to increase river flows and decrease Delta water consumption by nearly 50 percent, or 13.7 to 14.6 million-acre feet. Those recommendations are supposed to play a primary role in water planning and policy—and to some extent they have.

In July, when Brown made his public announcement, he endorsed a 55-page joint set of agency recommendations for the BDCP. The latest version includes a smaller intake system and no guaranteed export amount; instead, continued scientific studies over the 15-year construction period will determine whether exports are higher or lower than they are today. But notably, the joint recommendations also state: “Only a small percentage of research in the Bay Delta is controversial.”

Right now, what keeps the Delta ecosystem intact are court-ordered flow criteria. The current rulings limit south of Delta exports to an average of 4.9 million acre-feet. If you applied the public trust recommendations exports would drop to 3.7 to 3.9 million acre-feet, about 25 percent. That also means that the rest of the state, including cities, irrigation districts and farms, would have to reduce use and put water back into the system.

What would we gain?

Winternitz explains, “The species we are concerned about evolved in the habitats we need to restore. Those ecosystem processes, which provide for water quality and other important benefits, are the same ones that we humans need.  And that’s why there is this whole effort to get these species turned around. If we can repair their world, we can repair our world. We’ll have better air, better places to swim and play, better places to live. It’s really our own system that we are trying to clean up.”

But can California clean up? The quick and easy answer is yes. With water recycling, conservation, efficient technology and better water management, California can meet the needs of the environment, agriculture and a growing population. There is a mountain of data, coming from nearly every water agency, suggesting that improvements can be made. Conservation is the cheapest and easiest way to create to a new supply. There is more new potential water from these investments than California regularly exports from the Delta, and they come without the damage to fish or farmers.

But the long hard truth is that change is difficult.

The Republican SupervisorJim DeMartini

DeMartini spends his mornings on his farm and the afternoons in the county supervisor’s office in downtown Modesto.

Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini knows first-hand just how difficult. In his office in Modesto, just south of the Delta, pictures of George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger hang from the walls. DeMartini is a Republican farmer pushing to preserve prime farmland from sprawling development.

“There is no other place in the world like this; we can grow 200 types of crops here,” he said. “We have good access to water, and right now, there is no permanent protection of agriculture.”

California agriculture produces half of U.S. grown nuts, fruits and vegetables. It is also home to nine of nation’s most productive counties, and Stanislaus County is one of them.

DeMartini owns 1200 acres between Ceres and Patterson and grows a mixture of almonds, walnuts, peaches and grapes on the east side of the Central Valley. Three miles of his land borders the Tuolumne River, a primary tributary to the San Joaquin River, which flows into the Bay-Delta. He has voluntarily remediated about 120 acres and turned it back into wetlands. “Wilderness and agriculture can co-exist; there is no reason we can’t work it out,” he said, “We have 43 species of birds out there, and I want to keep it that way. It’s beautiful.”

Stanislaus County has adopted a land use plan for agriculture, but the cities within the county haven’t come up with their own plans and agreed to control sprawl. “They just want to keep growing out,” DeMartini said. “You can’t keep eroding the farmland and stay self-sufficient. The building association doesn’t want any policy adopted at all. They don’t want any restrictions.”

DeMartini planned a workshop with the Mayor’s Association to create a land use policy for each of the nine cities. “Everyone had a scheduling problem, and I never did hear from them again,” he said. “It’s been more than a year now.”  It’s surprising, since sprawl has never worked for the region. Stanislaus County has double-digit unemployment and high foreclosures—all remnants of the housing crisis.

Still, the area is on the forefront of innovation. The Oakdale Irrigation District is improving its water delivery system, and the Patterson Irrigation District is building a cross-valley channel, which could transport water east to west without going through the Delta. More recently, Modesto farmer Bill Lyons sold 1,603 acres along the Tuolumne River, to be used for wildlife and wetland restoration.

In general, what DeMartini is advocating has little to do with the peripheral canal or the tunnels. But his plans aren’t far from what’s likely to become state law. His proposals mirror the legally-mandated policies set forth by the state’s overarching water plan. California’s  88-year Delta Plan focuses on wetland preservation, habitat restoration, farmland protection and reduced reliance on Delta water. The agency putting the plan together, the Delta Stewardship Council (DSC), has an appellate role regarding the canal and conveyance system. If the BDCP is approved, it will automatically be folded into the Delta Plan without review, unless someone makes an appeal.

Regarding the peripheral canal, DeMartini remains skeptical.  “I don’t think the plan is going to make it past environmental review,” he added. “I don’t know how they will pay for it either. It seems like it’s come out of nowhere.”

The question remains: Where will it go?

Note: This South of Delta Exports chart was updated on August 30, 2012 for clarity. The tunnel intake capacity is 6.5 million acre-feet. The total physical capacity to export water is 11 million acre-feet. A detailed explanation will follow in a forthcoming article.


 

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA23) sent a letter calling on Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Jeffrey Zients to take steps to protect federal workers from renting vehicles under safety recall while they are traveling on official business.

Boxer and Capps are the lead sponsors of House and Senate legislation – the Rachel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2012 – which would ensure the safety of America’s rental car fleet by preventing rental car companies from renting or selling recalled cars or trucks. According to Boxer, the legislation is named in honor of Raechel and Jacqueline Houck, who was killed in a tragic accident in 2004 that she says was caused by an unrepaired defect in a PT Cruiser rented from Enterprise that was under a safety recall.

The two California lawmakers wrote in the letter, “This terrible accident drew attention to the fact that car rental companies are not required to repair vehicles under safety recall before they are rented or sold to the public. We have written legislation to close this loophole and are working with our colleagues in the House and Senate to enact this measure into law.

“In the meantime, we believe it is imperative that we protect people from unsafe recalled vehicles,” the lawmakers wrote. “So today we are urging the Federal government to put in place policies that will ensure that no Federal employee rents a vehicle under safety recall until it has been fixed.”

Opinion: Latino Vote National Tour Welcome to Stockton


By Fr. Dean McFalls

As a Caucasian American born into the middle class and raised in Seattle, I always considered citizenship, voting, and making a political difference as a foregone conclusion.  It never dawned on me that huge sectors of American society might feel themselves isolated, counted-out, or systematically unwelcome in the process of self-determination and of shaping the future of this great democratic nation. Continue reading

JobsPAC derails Parede’s Assembly bid


JobsPAC mailer

California — As voters received their absentee ballots for the 2012 primary election, the California’s 13th Assembly District voters also received a negative campaign mailer by JobsPAC —a mailer that made Xochilt Raya Paredes reconsider her candidacy. Continue reading

STATE OF THE CITY 2011-2012


STOCKTON, CA— “We have to change the way we run this city; we need to change the structure of how we do things,” remarked Mayor of Stockton Ann Johnston at the 2012 State of the City.  She highlighted, “We know that a band aide approach will not solve this… We have to do radical surgery to this patient —in that general fund.”

 The city’s gloomy finances, a budget deficit, and sky rocketing crime shadow the city’s sunny days and in her State of the City Address, Mayor Johnston gave a detail account of the past, present and hopeful future for Stockton.

 How did we get here?

 Johnson explained the unsustainable retiree benefits costing 417 million dollars, the large bond debt of 319 million for infrastructure projects like local community, fire houses, the ball park and the arena that we are still paying on today. Generous labor contracts and State raids on City finances such as the removal of vehicle license fees and removal of the Redevelopment agency that she says helped to transform Stockton’s waterfront. The Prior council made mistakes and mismanaged funds without any back-up plan for a rainy day. The Valley continued deeper into its own recession beyond that of the country with extreme unemployment, foreclosures and housing market collapse (from 3,000 home built in 2007 to only 150 in 2011) with the next year’s budget looking just as gloomy.

 Whats the problem?

The total budget for the city is 520 million, however only 125 million is accessible and in crisis. The 366 million that is left behind is in restricted funds for things like sewage, water, and measure k that cannot be touched. Past city councils tried to move some of the 366 million to the general to cover things like police, community centers and library’s but the city was sued and lost. With a little more than a month left, the council has until July 1st, 2012 to pass a balanced budget.

 What is our current situation?

 The city must pass a balanced budget; the city cannot print money or borrow. The city is required by the state and city charter to balance. Only three options, to tax, to cut, or to negotiate however, the taxes that the city would have to pay to get out of this debt would be unconscionable, the city has already cut the budget by 90 million and cannot cut any further without jeopardizing the safety of its residence, so  Johnson says “We have to change the way we run this city we need to change the structure ,” by negotiating with debtors in a process called AB506, a new law, Stockton is one of two cities in the State (Mammouth Lakes is the other) that will be going through this process.

CRIME

STOCKTON, CA – “We have an increase in crime.  We have had an increase in violent crimes; most of it a result of lifestyle choices like prostitution, gangs and drugs but the city says they remain committed,” said Mayor Ann Johnson at the State of the City address early this month at the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce annual event at the Stockton Port, “We remain committed to cracking down on the criminals that are terrorizing our citizens.”

 

Johnston explained that the city is presently working on the following:

 

  • Two weeks ago the U.S. Marshalls fugitive task force began working with the city, and they have a top ten list and Johnson reported they have arrested 13 that have made it to that list.

 

  • The city received 8 million to hire 17 more police officers, with 20 vacancies, the new police Chief, Eric Jones believes he will have 50 new police officers sometime this summer after they complete their training.

 

  • Chief Jones announced a new initiative, community response teams to work specialized hot spots to do real-time policing to address the problem areas.

 

  • The city is also working with the County that has a fire arms consortium to get the guns off the street and a county-wide gang task force.

 

  • The City developed the Marshall Plan Steering Committee to look at a comprehensive plan for the city.

 

  • The city held a crime crackdown for one weekend that brought police from other areas. In order to do so the City police worked with highway patrol, probation, parole, police from Manteca, Lodi and Tracy. The city had FBI, AFT, and the U.S. Marshalls join in. The result of the weekend crime crackdown included 101 arrests, and  17 firearms confiscated.

 

  • Stockton Downtown Alliance and the Miracle Mile improvement district with the University of Pacific are working as city partners to fund bike patrols in the downtown, the Miracle Mile improvement district to increase their security.

 

  • Neighborhood watches are stepping up and getting to know their community, now they can text tip, with online reporting.

The Silver Lining

 

Johnson Said that it was not all bad. The city is overhauling the Community Development Department to make it easier to do business, and that over 100 people are taking out business licenses a month that want to do business here. The city is working with Public Works to create the delta water supply project – a 200 million project which will bring us a reliable water source.

“Many would be envious of the water we have,”added Johnson. The city has also partnered to create a coalition to fight the state to take Delta water, to save the delta adding that it would be an “Economic disastaster should anything take our water around the delta instead of through our delta.”

Johnston continued, “The city will continue with infrustruture for restricted funds, infrastructure like the I-5 interchange project that seeks to connect 99 to bring in more business to the south side of Stockton,”

The State has invested in a prison Hospital in Stockton, with a 50% local hire requirement the state will bring 2400 employees on board in 2013.

 The port, as reported by the Port Commissioner, is an international point of commerce,  it is the only port on the west coast that is exporting more than importing- a good economic sign.

Martinez to appointed by State Controller


SACRAMENTO, CA – State Controller John Chiang announced his appointment of Capitol veteran Julio Martinez to serve as the Controller’s Director of Legislative Affairs. Continue reading

California Act that would allow farm and labor workers to work lawfully moves ahead


SACRAMENTO, CA — AB 1544, the California Agricultural Jobs and Industry Stabilization Act of 2012 that would allow undocumented farm and service-sector workers to stay in California lawfully, was approved on Wednesday,  April  18,  in the California Assembly Committee on Labor and is now ready to move to the next committee—the Appropriations Committee. Continue reading

Water Measures Request Third Party


EDITORS NOTE: Earlier this year, Investigative Reporter Deanna Lynn Wulff  discovered the Peripheral Canal‘s 12 Billion dollar projection may be closer to 40 billion.

SACRAMENTO – Assemblyman Bill Berryhill announced  April 24, 2012 that the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife passed out two common sense water measures, Assembly Bills 2421 and 2422. 

AB 2421 requires that an independent third party Cost/Benefit analysis must be completed on any plan that is submitted as part of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP).  Many in the Delta have strongly expressed skepticism to the BDCP’s ability to achieve the co-equal goals that were mandated by the Legislature in 2009.  Nearly all of the options being studied, including a tunnel that could divert the entire Sacramento River around the Delta, will have a significant financial burden on California. Continue reading

A delegation from the LXI Legislature of Mexico`s Senate visits Sacramento


Sacramento, CA — The Consulate General of Mexico in Sacramento participated in  a visit from a delegation of  the LXI Legislature of the Senate of Mexico to the California State Assembly.  The visit was in response to an invitation from the California State Assembly Speaker, John A. Perez, in response to his visit to Mexico City in September 2011.


With Cónsul Carlos González Gutiérrez, Sen. Silvano Aureoles, Sen. Amira Gómez, Sen. Claudia Corichi and Sen. Adriana González at the Mexican Consulate in Sacramento.
(Photo Courtesy of the Mexican Consulate)

 

 

The Mexican delegation seeks to promote and keep open communication channels with the California State Legislature, as well as acknowledge the leadership of the legislature in promoting a constructive approach to address the phenomenon of immigration and to the several issues on the bilateral agenda with Mexico.

The delegation will be headed by Senator Silvano Aureoles Conejo, vice president of the Senate, and includes Senator Adriana González Carrillo, president of the Committee on Foreign Relations, North America, Senator Claudia Sofia Corichi Garcia, secretary of the Committee on Foreign Relations, North America, and Senator Amira Gómez Tueme, secretary of the Committee on Foreign Relations, North America.

Five ways California is helping the immigrant community


Pablo Rodriguez former CEO of Dolores Huerta Foundation

SACRAMENTO, CA – There’s no doubt immigration reform has a long way to go to ensure family reunification and a path to citizenship for the undocumented community. We must continue to fight for a federal DREAM Act and demand an end to Secure Communities and 287(g) programs that allow state and local law enforcement agencies to partner with ICE. But I remain hopeful because California had major victories last year that prove just how powerful uniting with dignity as our moral compass can be.

Continue reading

California’s Choices: Two Big Expensive Tunnels or Just Better Water Management


The Delta. Graphic adapted from BDCP documentation.

The big unveiling last week, long anticipated, was the estimated cost of the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan’s (BDCP) tunnel conveyance system, or peripheral canal. The total cost estimates for the entire project, which proposes to fix California’s water system,  are now approximately $23 billion, which includes construction, habitat restoration, monitoring and adaptive management. However, that’s just the base estimate.

The debt servicing costs associated with the project are $1.1 billion a year for 35 years, which significantly increases the price.

So what will citizens, rate payers and water districts get in exchange? Two 33-foot-diameter tunnels, which would carry part of the Sacramento River’s flow underneath the Delta for 37-miles to the California Aqueduct. There, the water would be pumped and distributed to state and federal water contractors, which include farmers, cities and water districts in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

But there are considerable hurdles and doubts about the project. Among them, whether the water will actually be available and how the project will mitigate its environmental effects.

BDCP plans to increase water exports to 5.9 million acre-feet, which is 16 to 24 percent higher than average. And that’s troubling given the public trust recommendations for rivers and the Delta, as set forth by the State Water Resources Control Board. Those recommendations indicate the need to reduce Delta water consumption by nearly 50 percent.

(Learn more about the public trust recommendations here.)  While these recommendations must be weighed against economic needs, the indication is clear: California has to reduce surface water use to keep its ecosystems intact.

The Sacramento River

Why? The Delta is home to more than 750 species of plants and animals, 33 of which are endangered, and likely to go extinct within the next 25 to 50 years, if not sooner. This includes chinook salmon, Delta smelt and steelhead. While the Delta’s decline is due to many factors, including pollution, invasive species and loss of wetlands, one of the primary reasons for species loss are water diversions and excessive pumping in the estuary. The San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers are the Delta’s primary tributaries, and the San Joaquin River has often run dry due to diversions, and the Sacramento River, which once flowed out to sea, is used to convey water to federal and state pumps so that it can be exported.

So why build the tunnel? The pumps kill thousands of fish annually and alter the habitat of the estuary by creating a north to south flow across a tidal ecosystem, which would naturally flow east to west. The proposed tunnels would move the intake upstream to locations that might be less harmful. It would also secure water exports from threats such as earthquakes, floods and sea level rise. Some state and federal contractors view the project as vital to the state’s economic well being, but others are highly critical.

“Everyone knows that they want more water from the Delta, and you can’t revive the system and bleed more water from the system. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too,” said Lloyd G. Carter, former Fresno Bee reporter and President of the California Save Our Streams Council. “It’s a shell game, and the legislature won’t even do the most basic examination of the cost.”

Photo Courtesy of USDA - Flood Irrigated Field

Thus far, the BDCP has no plans for a cost-benefit analysis, which might indicate the value of the project to citizens and water districts over the long term.

“Because of its large costs and significant impact on those who do not benefit from the project, it’s appropriate to perform a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis,” said Dr. Jeffrey Michael, Director of the Eberhardt School of Business. “But the BDCP is only doing a cost feasibility study, which simply answers the question, whether it can be paid for, and who will pay for it.  The question is, should we build this project?”

Regardless of costs, the project does not directly address the need to reduce surface water consumption in order to increase river flows. Some suggest that the state and federal water systems aren’t currently set up to respond to a changing environment.

“Overall, California’s water system functions in ways that are fundamentally different than how major state and federal agencies conceive the water supply system and plan investigations,” said Dr. Jay Lund, Director of U.C. Davis Center for Watershed Sciences. “This causes many federal and state planning studies to be ineffective, costly, prolonged and distracting of public attention, rather than insightful and useful. At the local level, many water districts and agencies are doing a far better job of developing integrated portfolios. They are smart and want to save, and the state is often better in a supporting role.”

Already, individual farmers and local water districts are making smart changes that have big effects.

Photo Courtesy of USDA - Drip Irrigation on an Almond Orchard

Since agriculture uses the majority of California’s water, about 80 percent of the average annual supply, its conservation efforts can yield significant water savings. (Learn more about urban conservation efforts here.) But for farmers, dealing with less surface water requires new management techniques and some capital investment, which can cost time and money.

According to the Department of Water Resources, from 1967 to 2007, the gross revenue for California agriculture increased 84 percent from $19.9 billion to $36.6 billion while total crop-applied water fell by 15 percent.

What happened? Farmers became more efficient, each in their own way. A straight-forward fix begins with system evaluations. A farm’s soil, water, climate and slope are analyzed and adjustments are then made. “You can’t generalize solutions, because all farms are different. You have to know the infiltration rate and the time that water sits on different parts of the field to estimate how evenly water soaks in across the field. You also need to know the application and runoff rates, which are somewhat difficult to measure in a surface irrigated field,” said Dr. Richard L. Snyder, U.C. Davis Bio-meteorology Specialist. “The farmer can do this, but it takes work and effort.”

Photo Courtesy of USDA, Micro Sprinkler

To help with this, the USDA funds the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which provides technical and financial assistance to producers who develop conservation plans. Farmers can receive a 50 percent discount on costs when they implement an efficient water plan.

That may mean moving from flood irrigation to drip irrigation systems. Drip irrigation is the direct application of low pressure water to soil and plants using tubes or tape. If properly applied, it can be the most efficient irrigation method, but it requires up-front capital investment and maintenance.

“Based on the figures that I’ve seen, we get a greater than 20 percent savings of water with pressurized irrigation systems, and that can be quite a lot savings,” said Joe Mota, NRCS soil conservationist. “This is a very popular program; we usually have more interest than funding. With these systems, it’s not just saving water; it’s saving time and energy, and you can spoon feed trees and not apply pesticides or apply very little. It’s all depends on the type of ground you’re on. Drip irrigation systems also reduce erosion as well as make trees and plants grow faster.”

Flood irrigation is still a primary watering technique in California; it uses on average 13.5 million acre-feet a year. Reducing water demand on flood irrigated crops by 20 percent would equal nearly 3 million acre-feet, or about the average annual flow of the Merced and Tuolumne rivers, combined. However, replacing flood irrigation doesn’t work for every crop, and it isn’t the only solution. It’s one of many.

Total Channel Control Water Distribution System

On the water district level, Oakdale Irrigation District (OID) is evaluating a water distribution system on two of its key canals, which may yeild 8 to 10 percent in water savings. “Most irrigation districts are manually controlled. To ensure that all water orders are filled in a canal you send extra water down, and any surplus water spills at the end of the canal,” said Steve Knell, OID General Manager. “The technology, called Total Channel Control (TCC), allows districts to eliminate or reduce this spilling. You minimize the need for this extra water, so you have little no wasted water.” In 2011, the OID installed a TCC system, which uses software, control engineering and a wireless and solar systems to remotely manage flume gates, which distribute water to farms.

Modernizing water districts could produce huge water savings.

OID receives water from the Stanislaus River and New Melones Reservoir. Its estimated annual operational losses vary but are approximately 100,000 acre-feet. Those losses come from spills (17-22 percent), canal seepage to groundwater (32-38 percent), surface evaporation (1-3 percent), riparian losses (1-3 percent) and on-farm losses (45-55 percent). Each area presents an opportunity for increased efficiency, but spills are the current focus.

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Steve Knell Oakdale Irrigation District General Manager

“OID’s 5-year average of diversions is about 232,000 acre feet, and  spill water makes up about 20,000 acre feet of that. So you can see the advantage of a modernization system that focuses on spill savings,” Knell said. “Even if you could reduce spills 75 percent you could generate 15,000 acre-feet in water savings.”

The total cost for the two canal system was $2.9 million; Rubicon Systems America, an Australian company marketing the TCC system, contributed $1.7 million to the project, with OID contributing $1.2 million. The pilot system was installed on 15 out of the OID’s 265 miles of service canals. A complete system is estimated to cost about $30 million.

In past, OID had invested little in replacement and modernization, but that’s changed due to increased revenues. “Until districts manage their water well, farmers have little ability to manage their water well,” Knell said. “It has to start with us.”

Opinion: Fear or Rights?


 

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By  Pablo Rodriguez

On Monday April 4, 2011, dozens of Tea Party members and anti-immigrant supporters met in Sacramento, California to listen to Assembly Member Tim Donnelly and Arizona’s Senator/author of [Senate Bill] SB 1070, Russell Pearce, as they introduced a new bill, known as Assembly Bill (AB) 26. Donnelly and Pearce said they would work arduously to pass immigration laws in California similar to those passed in Arizona. Leaders of immigrant rights movements decided not to give any media attention to Donnelly or Pearce. AB 26 died quietly the following day at the Judicial Assembly Committee of California.

The prompt defeat of AB 26 was one of the many defeats coming for both Donnelly and Pearce. Tired of the divided politics, and Pearce’s corruption, a volunteer army under the leadership of organizer Randy Parraz, and operating under the name “Citizens for a Better Arizona”, led a successful and historic campaign against Senator Pearce who was removed from office. This was the first time in the United States where a President of the Senate was removed from his duties during session.

In California, Assembly Member Tim Donnelly found another opportunity for right wing radio. Immediately following Governor Jerry Brown signing the second part of the California Dream Act (AB 131) in October, Donnelly and his right wing supporters started a campaign to overturn the California Dream Act. Donnelly said to the media, “All we need is 504,000 valid signatures, and I believe we will probably have a million.” Target gift cards and professional signature gatherers were able to reach 447,514 signatures by the deadline January 5, 2012.

The first week of 2012 turned out to be a bad week for Assembly Member Donnelly. At the beginning of the week, he was detained and ticketed for having a loaded 45 caliber gun and a secondary bullet charger with five bullets in a Southwest Airlines flight at Ontario’s Airport. Days after being cited, Donnelly affirmed that he was armed following recent death threats as a result of his campaign to defeat the California Dream Act. He insists that he erroneously left the weapon on his suitcase and he forgot to take it out before boarding the flight to Sacramento.

There is an evident contradiction in Donnelly’s story. He did not notify the office of the California State Assembly Speaker or the Sergeant at Arms about the presumed death threats. If he really felt threatened, he could have asked for—and he would have received— additional security by the California Highway Patrol.

Donnelly has frequently noted that he is a patriot who would like to impose the “right to bear arms.” It would be interesting to see if he will continue leading the “right to bear arms”, when he is before a judge that may condemn him to a year behind bars. Will he be as vocal about the “rights to bear arms” with the Security and Transportation Administration that could also impose a $10,000 fine? I predict that Donnelly “the Patriot” will coward.

Pablo Rodriguez is Executive Director of Communities for a New California, formally the Director of the Community Organization Institute of Dolores Huerta

The 2011 Top 10 Stories Most Read


As we begin 2012, Bilingual Weekly’s newsroom extracted the top 10 most read stories during the last 352 days.  Please note that the top 10 stories were not selected by the Bilingual Weekly’s staff, our team ran the http://www.bilingualweekly.com English website’s analytics’ report which evaluates the hits received daily and it ranked each story from the highest number of hits to the lowest ranking in local news coverage. The following stories are briefs of the top 10 stories you, our readers clicked on.

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