SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY — Starting next week, San Joaquin Delta College will join Verizon Innovative Learning, the education initiative of the Verizon Foundation, to introduce more girls, especially those in rural parts of the country, to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills.
Launched in partnership with the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE), the 2-year program was piloted last summer at five community colleges and will expand to 16 community colleges, engaging over 1,500 students.
Kicking off today, Monday July 9th with a three-week intensive learning experience, about 100 girls from middle schools across Stockton will come to Delta for courses in augmented and virtual reality, coding, 3D design, entrepreneurship and design thinking principles. Following the summer, the students will participate in monthly sessions throughout the academic year where they will develop a technology solution for a community problem that aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Focus areas of the SDGs include poverty reduction, quality education, good health and well-being, climate action, peace and justice or gender equality.
“Our acceptance into Verizon Innovative Learning will help us and our partner, the Verizon Foundation, benefit many young girls in our community by providing them with insight and tools for their future in the digital world,” said Delta College Superintendent/President Kathy Hart.
Women continue to be underrepresented in STEM careers, where a staggering 86 percent of engineers and 74 percent of computer professionals are men. The percentage of women in STEM careers has not improved since 2001, specifically within the engineering (12 percent) and computing (26 percent) work forces. As a member organization of more than 300 community colleges across the country, NACCE is dedicated to supporting job creation and entrepreneurs in local communities.
Verizon Innovative Learning gives free technology, free access and innovative curricula to students impacted by the digital divide to help them realize a brighter future. To date, Verizon has invested $200 million in this initiative and has reached more than one million students. Learn more at http://www.VerizonInnovativeLearning.com.
Stockton, CA — In observance of Independence Day, San Joaquin Regional Transit District (RTD) will close its administrative offices, call center, and Downtown Transit Center (DTC) on Wednesday, July 4. RTD will not operate its regular fixed-route bus services (Stockton Metro, Metro Express, Intercity, Hopper, and San Joaquin Commuter) and Dial-A-Ride services.
A limited, demand-response service that starts at 8:00 a.m. with the last drop-off by 6:00 p.m. will be available by reservation only on a first-come, first-served basis. The fare is $3 per one way for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) certified customers and $5 per one way for the general public. Priority will be given to seniors and persons with disabilities.
Reservations will be accepted beginning Tuesday, June 26, to Friday, June 29, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and will be limited to one round trip per passenger. Call (209) 955-8420 to make reservations.
Greyhound will operate service on July 4. For assistance with Greyhound during the holiday, please call their customer service number. For English, call (800) 231-2222 or visit greyhound.com.
RTD will resume regularly scheduled service and reopen its administrative offices, call center, and DTC on Thursday, July 5.
San Joaquin Regional Transit District (RTD) is the regional transit provider for San Joaquin County. RTD’s mission is to provide a safe, reliable, and efficient transportation system for the region. For more information, visit sjRTD.com, follow RTD on Facebook and Twitter, or call (209) 943-1111.
Spanish Translation: Dos Camiones de Bomberos Un Regalo Por Vida
Stockton, CA – During the morning of Monday March 28, two retired fire engines roared for the last time in Stockton as they headed south to a new home in Empalme, Sonora Mexico. The obsolete engines, “were first line 15-years ago,” explained Captain Jonathan Smith adding, “today the engines are estimated at a $5,000 dollars [each],” scrap metal value.
While the engines may not be suited for U.S. Fire Engine standards, “the two units will make a huge difference to the lives of Empalme Residents,” noted Louie Gonzales who has seen firsthand the need for the firefighting equipment at the sister city. “My wife [Lucero Gonzales] and I, visit Empalme at least once year,” Gonzales recognized that the nearly 100 thousand residents have limited equipment in a city known for its dry and warm weather.
“Two years of hard work, raising funds, completing paperwork between two governments; the project has finally become a reality,” said Rosalinda Galaviz, Chair of the Stockton-Empalme Sister Cities.
Fire Captain Dan Morris remembered the conversation when representatives of the Sister City tour Stockton’s Fire Station 2 and the question was brought up, “what do you do with your older engines when you are done with them?” Morris answered, “They go to auction,” to which rose the question, “is there a way we can get them?”
“It’s a great feeling to know that the engines will be put to good use,” said Captain Morris during a 45 minute departure gathering by community members. The engines are estimated to have more than a decade of functionality and “the two units are compatible; which will be beneficial for parts in the future when one of the two breaks down,” said Morris.
Members of the community gathered to appreciate the City and the Department’s donation. Stockton Catholic Dioceses’ Bishop, Stephen Blair, blessed the drivers, the engines and their journey before the two engines departed to their new home.
While the two volunteer drivers; Tracy Firefighter, Clarence Marquez, and Retired Firefighter Roger Gray will meet their Empalme Counterparts in Tucson. The fire engines will be accompanied by Stockton residents all the way to the destined fire district in Empalme. “I am excited to be the designated drive on heading the caravan,” said Susana Dominguez who will be accompanied by Rosalinda Galaviz and Ana Zapien. They are expected to reach Empalme by March 30, 2016 midday.
Bilingual Weekly (BW News) – Your source of local news covering topics of Latino interest in Stockton, California; and San Joaquin County.
New program at Teachers College of San Joaquin allows transitional kindergarten teachers to obtain certificate required by change in law, SB 876
The San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) Teachers College of San Joaquin (TCSJ) announces that enrollment is open for the new Transitional Kindergarten (TK) Certificate Program that will allow teachers to meet new requirements for teachers following the Kindergarten Readiness Act.
Under a recent change to state law, teachers first assigned to a TK classroom after July 1, 2015, must complete 24 units in child development by Aug. 1, 2020. Recognizing the need, TCSJ developed a program allowing teachers to complete those units while also giving them the option to pursue other educational and professional goals through programs already offered at the college.
“We have worked hard to make the program attractive to a variety of teachers by developing it in such a way that teachers are able to choose multiple pathways, including the pursuit of a Master’s Degree,” said Kimberly Ott, a program developer and SJCOE coordinator of TK support services.
Classes begin in February.
The new certificate requirement comes from Senate Bill 876. The law follows the Kindergarten Readiness Act, which made one year of voluntary, high-quality TK available to every 4-year-old in California to ready them for success in school.
For more information about the TK Certificate Program at TCSJ call (209) 468-4926 or visit: teacherscollegesj.edu.
Teachers College of San Joaquin: Founded in 2009 by the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE), Teachers College of San Joaquin (TCSJ) is the first WASC accredited institution to be housed within a county office of education and serves graduate students from across Northern California, including teachers and administrators who come from both elementary and high school settings. This year, TCSJ has over 1,000 students enrolled, including new TK teachers.
BW News – Your source of Local news covering topics of Latino interest in Stockton, California; and San Joaquin County.
Stockton, CA —The echo of a rope hitting the ground, constant punches to sand bags, and echoes of men and woman on boxing training mode fill the Yaqui Lopez Fat City gym walls — a gym under the leadership of Alvaro “Yaqui” Lopez.
Yaqui Lopez, is remembered for challenging the World Light Heavyweight Boxing title five times; although he did not succeeded as the title holder, he was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame on Saturday, October 13, 2007. “I am pleased to be among the champions who have been inducted into the hall of fame,” shared Lopez.
Today, Lopez’ focus is outside of the ring. He has a vision to help younger generations reach their goals. Lopez now trains and stands at the ring’s corner as Jack Cruz, his late father-in-law and manager, did during his 12-year career.
“I know that this guys have the potential of climbing the boxing later, I know they have the potential to reach their goals,” Lopez highlighted the hard work of each of the participants and what that means to him.
“I started training very young,” explained Abel Carreon, Stockton resident, who spends a minimum of two and a half hours training and runs an average of 10 miles a day. Fat City has kept him out of trouble, “I come from the streets, being here keeps me healthy and out of trouble,” Carreon recognizes the positive impact of Yaqui Lopez’ vision. Similar to Carreon’s story there are others who prefer spending their time training rather than to be in the streets.
The gym is open to the public with a nominal fee to keep the equipment running. “We don’t get paid for all the work we do with the kids,” Lopez is grateful of the support he receives from several volunteers who help him keep and maintain the gym. Lopez explained that, “we ask for a small contribution to maintain the equipment and to get other training equipment needed.”
Fat City Boxing Gym is constantly replacing damaged equipment as its natural boxing use tears and wears many items fast. Many have stepped up to helping Lopez with equipment, and funds, “We operate as a not-for-profit organization; so, we constantly encourage our community to help.”
If you or someone you know is interested in joining Yaqui Lopez’s Fat City Boxing Club you may reach their office at (209) 800-2977. The gym is located at 835 E. Miner Avenue, Stockton, CA 95202.
BW News – Your source of local news covering Latino News in Stockton, California
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
Unofficial Final Results
Updated : Berryhill with 51% district wide Cathleen Galgiani 49% district wide
Preliminary results for election show that President Barack Obama takes the lead in San Joaquin County.
Dianne Fiensteine at 61.05% versus Elizabeth Emkin at 38.06%
US Rep 9th District:
Jerry Mcnerney 54.01 % versus
Ricky Gill 45.09%
US Rep 10th District:
Jeff Denham 53.08% versus
Jose Hernandez 46.02%
Senate 5th District:
Bill Berryhill 51%% versus
Cathleen Galgiani 49%
9th Assembly District:
Antonio Amador 42.07% versus
Richard Pan 57.03%
12th Assembly District:
Kristin Olsen 61.04%versus
Christopher Mateo 38.06%
13th Assembly District:
Susan Eggman 63.05% Versus
K. Jeffery Jaffri 36.05%
Anthony Silva 55.05% versus
Ann Johnston 44.50%
Stockton City Council Dis. 2:
Randy Hatch 41.88% versus
Kathy Miller 58.12%
Stockton City Council Dis 4:
Diana Lowery 50.05 %versus
Moses Zapien 49.95%
Stockton City Council Dis 6:
Michael Tubbs 58.47%
Dale Fritchen 41.53%
Yes on 30
Temporary tax to find education
No on 31
State budget, state and local gov.
No on 32
Payroll deduction for political candidates
No on 33
Driver insurance based on driving history
No on 35
Yes on 35
Yes on 36
Three strikes law
No on 37
Three strikes law
No on 38
Tax for early childhood education
Yes on 39
Business tax for energy funding
Yes on 50
– Results may change as ballots are counted
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:
“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 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.
“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?
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).
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Born and raised in Lamont Bakersfield, Vargas moved to Stockton six years ago to attend the University of the Pacific.
It was during a study abroad program at Lima, Peru where Vargas renewed her interest in the public service. Continue reading
Dunne-Ruiz is a retired police officer from Tracy, author of the Blue Mexican, a novel published in 2009 and currently works as English teacher at San Mary`s High School and the San Joaquin Delta College.
What started as a part time job at the Tracy Police Department, for the young Dunne-Ruiz turned into a police career of twenty years.
“I went from a dispatcher to a patrol man, to detective sergeant.”
(bw) STOCKTON, CA — “These women are courageous, have perseverance, and lots of strength,” said Connie Martinez, co-chair of the Adelita Awards at the Mexican Heritage Center and Gallery while explaining that they selected women who are not necessarily in the spotlight. “There are a lot of women that do not have the opportunity to have a university degree; but they work really hard throughout their lives.” Continue reading
Escalon, CA – May 25, 2012 lavender Season began for lavender Hallow Farms in Escalon, CA.
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
Selenium is Still Leaking into the San Joaquin River
Chris Eacock stands with his hands on his hips and looks out over the Central Valley’s sunny expanse of farms and wetlands and tries to explain the situation. As a natural resource specialist for the Bureau of Reclamation for the past 30 years, he began his career doing soil surveys and handling grazing leases on Bureau-owned land. Today, he manages the tougher side of that equation, the tainted drainage water now coming from farms. Salt and selenium from irrigated land on the west side of the valley have poisoned wetlands, damaged ground water and rendered farms unproductive. Eventually, the waste reaches the San Joaquin River and flows into the Bay-Delta, endangering wildlife and the state’s water supply.
Eacock insists that the situation has improved. “There is less pollution, people are still in business, and we’re all still talking to each other out here,” he said.
But more than a few are critical. “The discharges have gone down significantly, and they get a lot of credit for that,” said Tom Stokely, water policy analyst with the California Water Impact Network. “But there is still contamination happening in the wildlife refuges, and there is virtually an unlimited supply of selenium in those soils.”
In high concentrations, selenium is toxic to fish, livestock, humans and birds.
On the west side of the San Joaquin River, an area of large farms and agribusinesses stretch from Bakersfield to Patterson. The land, about 1.2 million acres, was once an alkaline desert, a sagebrush basin filled with coyotes, foxes, fish and watering holes. The city of Los Banos, in its center, was called the baths in reference to the artesian pools that once existed near the area. But in the 1960s, state and federal projects brought water to the desert via the construction of large reservoirs, water pumping facilities and canals. The Central Valley now has a complex network of interconnected channels and irrigation districts that move water all over the state.
The west side’s warm climate is great for year-round growing, but the land is also naturally rich in salt and selenium, and irrigating it creates a waste water problem and land-use issue, as salt and selenium progressively build up in the soil.
To address this, the Bureau began constructing the San Luis Drain in 1968; it was supposed to ship agricultural waste water to the Delta and the ocean. Instead, the drain was partially constructed and ended at Kesterson Reservoir, north of Los Banos and within a national wildlife refuge. The continuous flow of selenium tainted water poisoned bird, livestock and aquatic life, and in 1984, bird deformities were discovered there.
Kesterson was filled and the drain was closed, but since then, farming has continued on the west side, and selenium has continued to flow into the Grasslands Ecological Area, a 370,000-acre parcel that is the also largest freshwater wetland ecosystem in California. Most of the contamination now comes from the Grassland Drainage Area (GDA)—97,000 acres of irrigated farms within Charleston Drainage District, Pacheco Water District, Panoche Drainage District, part of the Central California Irrigation District (CCID), and Firebaugh Canal Water District.
After Kesterson closed, the drainage flowed into Salt Slough and Mud Slough, and then it flowed into the San Joaquin River. (Sloughs are swampy waterways.)
Today, the drainage water mostly flows into Mud Slough, but discharges are still regularly 5 to10 times higher than recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Eacock says this is still an improvement, “We’ve done better than expected,” he said. “The EPA and the Regional Board established the metrics, and the grasslands area farmers are meeting those limits.” The EPA has removed several water bodies from its impaired waters list, including Salt Slough in 2008 and three segments of the San Joaquin River, and declared the program a success. But the waste is still flowing into Mud Slough via the Grassland Bypass Project (GBP), which is a comprehensive plan to address the problem.
According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Report and the analysis of Dr. Dennis Lemly, a USDA biologist, specializing in contaminants and aquatic ecosystems, the current selenium concentrations in the San Joaquin River put juvenile salmon and steelhead at risk. Lemly writes, “USBR wants it both ways, to identify a problem and then say there is no problem. The correct conclusion is that available data and a reasonable interpretation of it clearly show that significant risks of substantial selenium toxicity exist, which will not be eliminated or substantially lessened by the GBP.”
He continues, “The success of salmon reintroduction depends on good water quality, and the selenium is going to create a significant hazard for those fish. It has to be below 2 parts per billion, anything above that endangers fish. In this case, because of bioaccumulation, the solution to pollution is not dilution. We have known this for decades. This is no secret. They have to stop the selenium at the source.”
That is the plan—eventually. By 2019, discharges to Mud Slough and the San Joaquin River are supposed to be eliminated altogether, with fees charged per pound of selenium over the limit beginning in 2015. That limit, however, is still 5 parts per billion, more than double the recommended amount.
Westside Farming Salting Up – Is There a Cost-effective Solution?
On a larger scale, the Bureau is under court order to provide drainage to the entire San Luis Unit, which includes part of the Grasslands area and Westlands Water District, which is the largest water district in the nation. The current plan includes land retirement, drainage reuse facilities, treatment systems and evaporation ponds.
But it has significant problems. First, it’s pricey.
The official Bureau estimate of the capital cost is $2.6 billion. However, the total taxpayer cost could be more than $7 billion. The annualized cost is estimated at $141 million for 50 years.
“Their own report shows that the project fails most of their standard benefit-cost tests by a wide margin,” said Dr. Jeffrey Michael, Director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific. “It is absurdly expensive, but it really isn’t optional as the courts have ruled that the government is obligated to provide drainage according to the 1960 Act.”
Notably, the money hasn’t been appropriated by Congress; new legislation is required for that. Instead, only $364 million (or 5 to 14 percent of the total) remain from the original authorization.
Second, the plan doesn’t entirely fix the environmental problems caused by selenium and salt. The minerals will have to go somewhere. But where? Some suggest that more land retirement is a better alternative than trying to manage the waste. Lawsuits have ensued; the farming community is demanding drainage service, and the environmental community is calling for discharges to stop. In addition, according to a National Academy of Sciences report on Bay-Delta stressors, the latest version of the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan may increase exports to the area and exacerbate conditions.
No clear resolution is in sight.
A few, frustrated after 30 years of political wrangling and litigation, have stepped up and decided to deal with the issue directly, individually. One of them is Westlands Farmer, John Diener. “The question is, how are we going to solve this problem?” Diener said. “The Bureau of Reclamation is in the middle of this political situation, and everyone goes back and forth, and nothing is happening. So let’s get something done here.”
Diener is getting something done on his own land, Red Rock Ranch in Five Points, CA, located southeast of Fresno; he farms about 3,000 acres of fruit and vegetable crops including almonds, grapes, wheat, alfalfa, tomatoes, onions, garlic and spinach. The combination of continuous irrigation and poor drainage has resulted in concentrated levels of salinity and selenium in the soils. Trapped irrigation water forms a shallow, or perched, water table. With nowhere to go, the salty water rises closer to the surface towards the root zone and affects the fertility of the soil. In Westlands Water District, more than 200,000 acres have saline groundwater within 10 feet of the soil surface. More than 100,000 acres have already been retired.
Diener manages a 640-acre parcel on his ranch that has no discharge at all. He uses a subsurface drain tile system that leaches salt out of the soil and water table, and then returns land to production. The drainage water is then re-cycled several times to irrigate blocks of increasingly salt-tolerant plants (halophytes), such as wheat grass and prickly pear cactus.
“Ultimately, the goal is not exposing the drain water to the community at large, whatever that is – the ducks, people or whatever. It’s a matter of how we treat resources that we have at our disposal and how we manage those things for the best benefit of everybody,” Diener said.
But the situation is anything but easy. “We need to find a way to keep the land productive, but that becomes difficult when you have environmental concerns stemming from soils with naturally high levels of these mineral deposits,” said Dr. Gary Bañuelos, an Agricultural Research Service plant/soil scientist. “We’re hoping to produce crops on unproductive land with minimum water and slowly manage the selenium content out the soil.”
Still, there is no way with typical plants that sufficient quantities of selenium can be removed. All the selenium does is regenerate from a deeper soil depth and slowly migrate towards the surface, Bañuelos added. “Instead, we’re changing the perception that these soils are not useful,” he said.
Prickly pear cactus, a salt-tolerant crop, naturally produces antioxidant rich fruit and adding selenium makes it even healthier. (Selenium is essential to good health in small amounts.) But even with mineral absorption from cacti and other salt-loving plants, eventually, it all gets super concentrated, and Diener ends up with a big pile of salt on his ranch, which is the case for many farms on the west side. Water supplied by the federal and state projects brings the equivalent of 40 railroad cars of salt into the area every day, about 4,000 tons of salt daily.
Diener hopes to sell the excess salt to glass producers, since sodium ash is used in the glass manufacturing process. “The glass factory in Madera needs 20 tons a day, and we can generate that in a minute,” Diener said. “The idea is make the waste into marketable products.”
The next article in this series looks at the big picture – how California’s water plans and projects fit together or don’t.
(Stockton, CA) – The City of Stockton has selected a new director to head its Community Development Department. Steve Chase, Director of Planning and Environment Services with the City of Goleta, will join the City of Stockton in July as the chief official of building, planning and development. Continue reading