Search Results for: Selling water rights

Illegal Marijuana Farms Are Stealing California’s Scarce Water

One day last spring, water pressure in pipelines suddenly crashed In the Antelope Valley, setting off alarms. Demand had inexplicably spiked, swelling to three and half times normal. Water mains broke open, and storage tanks were drawn down to dangerous levels. 

The emergency was so dire in the water-stressed desert area of Hi Vista, between Los Angeles and Mojave, that county health officials considered ordering residents to boil their tap water before drinking it.

“We said, ‘Holy cow, what’s happening?’” said Anish Saraiya, public works deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger. 

It took a while for officials to figure out where all that water was going: Water thieves — likely working for illicit marijuana operations — had pulled water from remote filling stations and tapped into fire hydrants, improperly shutting off valves and triggering a chain reaction that threatened the water supply of nearly 300homes.

As drought grips most of California, water thievery across the state has increased to record levels. Bandits in water trucks are backing up to rivers and lakes and pumping free water they sell on a burgeoning black market. Others, under cover of darkness, plug into city hydrants and top up. Thieves also steal water from homes, farms and private wells, and some even created an elaborate system of dams, reservoirs and pipelines during the last drought. Others are MacGyvering break-ins directly into pressurized water mains, a dangerous and destructive approach known as hot-tapping. 

InMendocino County, the thefts from rivers and streams are compromising already depleted Russian River waterways. In one water district there, thefts from hydrants could compromise a limited water supply for fighting fires, which is why they have put locks on hydrants.

“Any way that you can imagine that somebody is going to grab water, they’re doing it,” said Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall. “For goodness sakes, everybody knows what is going on.”

It’s as predictable as a dreary economics lesson: When a commodity becomes scarce and demand soars, it’s worth stealing. 

Officials say water thefts are increasing at about the same rate as the decline in California’s water supplies. Complaints have risen sharply this year, mirroring the drought’s inexorable advance.

Halfway through this year, 125 Californians have reported thefts to state authorities, more than twice as many as a decade ago. Those numbers don’t capture calls to local officials or small water districts that shoulder the bulk of enforcement responsibility. 

The water thefts not only strain police agencies but also damage valuable equipment. In the Antelope Valley, water main breaks, which can cost $10,000 each to repair, had been averaging about two a year. In the past year, there have been a dozen, Saraiya said.

Water users are now proactively protecting their supplies. Many fire hydrants are being locked or removed altogether. Water tank owners have installed security cameras. In rural areas, residents who have no access to municipal water systems and rely on key-activated water stations are finding their critical lifelines are shut down because of incessant tampering. A robust black market for the keys has popped up, and now most stations operate only during daylight hours.

In the Antelope Valley city of Lancaster, impound yards are hosting growing collections of confiscated water trucks. In one area, fire authorities removed 100 of the area’s 176 hydrants deemed not essential to public safety. Remaining hydrants were fitted with locks.

No cache of water is safe. During the last major drought, businesses, schools and even a fire station were victims of water theft. In 2014, thieves pumped water from storage tanks belonging to the North San Juan Fire Protection District in Nevada County, in the mountains northeast of Sacramento.

“I came to the station one morning and there was a big wet spot,” said Boyd Johnson, the district’s former battalion chief. He said the water was taken for several weeks until they locked the system. “We share that water with CalFire, and, obviously, water was critical to firefighting.”

California’s water and weed 

The most-common culprit of water theft: illegal pot farms. While farmers, ranchers and licensed marijuana growers scramble to obtain water through legal channels, clandestine operations are stealing it or purchasing it from illicit trucks.

In the Sierra Nevada, as many as 4,000 illegal grow sites are operating in Nevada County, according to county estimates. In the Antelope Valley, illegal grows have doubled from 200 last year to 400 today, according to county data, while other estimates put the number in the thousands. 

While the vast desert affords a degree of privacy to pot operations, it lacks a critical component to growing things: water. One cannabis farmer near Lancaster bought a house simply to run a garden hose across the desert to his illegal grow site. Officials shut off the line, but the ever-resourceful thieves tapped into another underground line and kept watering their plants.

Marijuana is not a particularly thirsty crop — using about the same amount of water as a tomato plant — but the drought’s severity means that even a modest water diversion can have impacts.

“Most Californians would be shocked and disappointed at the amount of water these unlicensed, illegal grows are using, especially as California suffers from a drought,” Curt Fallin, a federal Drug Enforcement Agency agent, said during a recent news conference. “By our calculation, the illegal grows in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties require an astounding 5.4 million gallons of water a day, every day.”

That’s enough water for 72,000 people, almost half the population of Lancaster, which is so water-short that the city imposed temporary restrictions on lawn sprinklers last month.

In far northern, mountainous Siskiyou County — which is facing extreme drought conditions this year —  sheriffs estimated that during the last drought, illegal pot sites consumed two million gallons of water a day. That would supply three-quarters of the county’s residents today. 

With climate change driving longer and more severe droughts around the globe, researchers last year estimated that as much as half the world’s water supply is being stolen every year, citing statistics gathered by the United Nations and Interpol in Europe. 

Whack-a-mole in the Mojave

On a recent hot July day, Charles Bostwick, an assistant field deputy for county Supervisor Barger, piloted his Jeep down mile after mile of dusty roads in the Antelope Valley, past dozens of cannabis grow sites.

Stark white “hoop houses” rise from the flat desert floor. When lit at night, the compounds cast an eerie glow. Operators make little effort to hide the sites, which are littered with trash baking in the Mojave Desert sun and guarded by armed men. Scattered along the road to one site was a porcelain toilet, plastic chairs and a coiled garden hose. Bulldozed Joshua trees lay in haphazard piles. The fender of a rusting truck was spray painted “out” and next to it was another one with “keep” scrawled on the side.

Bostwick drove up to a grow that was recently raided and razed in a multi-agency bust. The thieves were nothing if not industrious: Not only had another marijuana compound sprouted across the rutted road, complete with a water tank and a large RV, but the just-destroyed site was in the midst of rapid rebuilding.

“We bust them and they move somewhere else and begin again,” Bostwick said. “It’s a non-stop game of whack-a-mole.”

He said drought is accelerating water theft in the already water-stressed region. 

“We have no water to spare and our farmers are making do with less,” Bostwick said. “We never had water thefts here (in the Antelope Valley) two years ago. A homeless guy climbing over the fence of a trailer park and filling his five-gallon jug in the laundry room — that was our water theft.”

Law enforcement officials around the state are employing satellite imagery and drones in high-tech stakeouts to track water diversions. But the thieves are brazen, no longer confining themselves to nighttime water raids. Los Angeles County supervisors have allocated more than $250,000 for enhanced sheriff’s patrols, hunting for water trucks. 

But, again, the thieves are a step ahead. When it became clear that law enforcement was on the lookout for suspicious water tankers, thieves shifted to putting 275-gallon water cubes in the back of their pickups or on trailers. More recently, they have taken to renting U-Haul vans to hide their cargo. Any conveyance with space to carry is put to work: Bostwick said someone in the area is driving around an old fire truck, and another guy is using what appears to be a converted airline fuel tanker.

The jerry-rigged water haulers are dangerous and road accidents are common, Bostwick said. A cube containing 275 gallons of water weighs a ton. Lashing such a heavy and easy-to-shift cargo on trucks can cause it to tip over. In May, the driver of a pickup truck hauling a water cube died after he lost control on a two-lane road near Lancaster and ran head-on into a semi tractor-trailer.

Everyone seems to be in the water business. Jose Huerta set up shop from his pickup at a remote desert crossroads, selling empty 55-gallon water drums for $55 and water cubes — stout plastic containers surrounded by a metal cage — for $100. Business is brisk, he said, adding that he doesn’t ask what his customers do with the containers. “Everyone needs water,” he said.

Some take a more direct approach. Locals in the Antelope Valley report high-pressure tactics to sell land for the wells or water rights. 

Gailen Kyle grows alfalfa in the arid desert on a farm he works with his wife, Julie. Their home is surrounded by illicit pot operations, which he finds both frightening and frustrating. He’s had intimidating characters come to his door pressuring him to sell out, he said, and other farmers are already reporting that illegal over-pumping is lowering production in their wells.

“I have zero water, all we have is wells,” said Kyle, whose water allocation has been reduced by 50% this year. “They cut my water and these marijuana grows are operating on stolen water. They are getting water from all over and watering hundreds of acres. This is anarchy.”

For those without wells, the problem is more acute. In Lancaster, at a water district parking lot, a water station that supplies residents was in disarray. Scraped and gouged, an armored door appeared to have been opened with a screwdriver rather than a key. A fire hose lay uncoiled on the asphalt, damp and limp.

The water station had been targeted by thieves so often that authorities shut it down. Its digital readout blinked: “Port has been disabled by host.”

Lax penalties and intimidation

The increase in water theft has exposed not only the vulnerabilities in the state systems to secure water, but also the complications of enforcing laws with penalties that no longer reflect the seriousness of the crime.

Authorities in California say they are working with limited tools to understand and combat the problem. In 2018 California law legalized recreational marijuana use by adults, and reduced penalties for cultivation of large quantities of pot from a felony to a misdemeanor. So law enforcement officials say it’s difficult to prosecute water theft for illegal grows because judges are circumspect about issuing search warrants for a low-level crime. 

“I don’t mean to be rude, but the state is taking the word ‘criminal’ out of the dictionary,” said Marina West, general manager of the Bighorn-Desert View Water Agency, which serves about 2,000 customers north of Palm Springs.

“We’re here to provide water to this community, we’re not here to provide cheap water to an illegal business that’s making millions of dollars.”

Another impediment to more robust reporting and enforcement: intimidation. According to Kyle, the Antelope Valley farmer, one of his neighbors was shown a photograph of a bullet-riddled truck and warned by an alleged cartel member that it could be her fate if she made official complaints about the illegal cannabis sites. Growers monitor and routinely photograph anyone coming near their operations. 

Two managers of Southern California water agencies backed out of interviews with CalMatters, saying they were afraid that going public with information about water theft would put their employees at risk.

The state Water Resources Board, which has a modest cadre of 80 investigators who track water diversion and theft from California’s rivers and streams, cannot begin to keep up with the epidemic of stolen water. Nor is the agency’s $1,000 a day fine for water theft proving to be an effective deterrent to offset the rewards for a multi-billion dollar criminal industry.

After the last drought, in 2018, state officers found nearly 1,000 water rights violations and imposed more than $1 million in fines. Last year, inspection work was severely curtailed because of the pandemic.

“What we are recognizing is that water scarcity is the new norm. It’s offensive to see water go to support this illegal industry when legal industries are struggling for water,” said Yvonne West, the water board’s director of enforcement. 

West’s department keeps an eye on 5,000 legal marijuana cultivators, but an estimated 25,000 are operating illegally “outside the program.” The imbalance keeps state enforcement efforts on a constant back foot.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” she said.

Local authorities are seeking more control. Last week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, fed up with water theft and their lack of authority to address it, passed a resolution to petition state legislators to give them power to prosecute water theft, especially during severe droughts. Other counties are either considering similar actions or, like Siskiyou, have already called on Sacramento for help.

“As the state enters another potential drought emergency, we need to ensure that this new activity does not further exacerbate water scarcity,” said Barger, who co-authored the Los Angeles County resolution.

A model from Down Under

As California officials lament the lack of legal teeth to prosecute water thieves, they can find an enforcement model in Australia, the planet’s driest inhabited continent.

Illegally siphoning of the Murray and Darling rivers, which irrigate crops and livestock in Australia’s agricultural heartland, was until a few years ago common — and commonly overlooked. Fruit, grain and cotton growers operated massive pumps at will, often pulling out many times more water than legally permitted and drawing down the river during droughts.

The powerful growers stole water “with no fear of sanction,” said Grant Barnes, chief regulatory officer for the New South Wales’ natural resources department. “There were more parking wardens in a town in New South Wales than regulators in the entire state.”

Barnes estimated that tens of billions of dollars worth of water was being stolen. But Australian authorities had little understanding of the volumes pumped illegally because farmers often removed or tampered with meters. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Barnes said.

That changed in 2018 when the new agency led by Barnes clamped down with a large enforcement team backed by fines and the threat of revocation of water licenses. In their three years on the beat,  the new water cops — about 100 inspectors and other staffers — have prosecuted 31 cases, compared to 8 in the previous 17 years.

Farmers were told “no meter, no pump.” An accurate meter connected to the state system was mandatory before water could be pumped out of rivers.

The New South Wales team employs satellite images, drones, remote-controlled watercraft and software that compares what’s growing on farms with their legal water allocation.

“To steal water, to make it economically viable, you have to take vast volumes and you have to store it. By virtue of that storage you make yourself open to satellite technology,” Barnes said. “Now you can’t hide it.”

CalMatters’ Rachel Becker contributed to this report.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.

How a water war on the Kings River could alter the Valley as we know it

In the 1970’s I was told by then Assemblyman Bob Cline that if you controlled the water, you controlled the State.  For years the Democrats have refused to allow the expansion of dams or the building of new ones—at the same time the population of the State doubled.  Jerry Brown rationed water, killing millions of acres of prime farm land and killing the economy.  The water wars continue.

“Today, the California Water Resources Control Board will take its first steps of formally review of a project pitched by the Semitropic Water Storage District, based in northwest Kern County.

The project’s aim? To move a portion of Kings River water south into Kern County for potential use for recharging the aquifer, irrigating agriculture, or – most intriguingly – selling to Southern California water users.

Standing in its opposition is a cavalcade of strange bedfellows: big and small farmers, social justice advocates, three of the Valley’s counties, and 110 designated disadvantaged communities.

Their argument? The long-term implications of Semitropic’s move serve as an existential threat to the Valley’s survival.”

You read that right.  This action will kill the Central Valley and its farms—a goal of Brown and Newsom.  They prefer housing and solar farms to the growing of food and the creation of jobs and revenues.

How a water war on the Kings River could alter the Valley as we know it

The Tehama-Colusa Canal transports water to irrigate northern California agriculture and communities.

Alex Tavlian, The Sun,  1/6/21 

Serving as a lifeline of sorts for three of the central San Joaquin Valley’s five major counties, the Kings is filled with its own universe of water agencies run by engineers, lawyers, farmers, and politicos jockeying to manage the state’s most precious resource on one stream.

But, in the midst of a global pandemic, locals argue that their source of water is serving as a warning sign more than anything else – one with modern-day echoes of the Owens Valley.

It all centers on what they posit serves as their own apocalyptic battle. This one, unlike the water wars focused on the Delta, doesn’t concern itself with fish.

Instead, it’s a single proposed project, located at the southernmost end of the Kings River, which has turned the regular tenor of aquatic pugilism into an all-out water war.

Today, the California Water Resources Control Board will take its first steps of formally review of a project pitched by the Semitropic Water Storage District, based in northwest Kern County.

The project’s aim? To move a portion of Kings River water south into Kern County for potential use for recharging the aquifer, irrigating agriculture, or – most intriguingly – selling to Southern California water users.

Standing in its opposition is a cavalcade of strange bedfellows: big and small farmers, social justice advocates, three of the Valley’s counties, and 110 designated disadvantaged communities.

Their argument? The long-term implications of Semitropic’s move serve as an existential threat to the Valley’s survival.

How the project came to light begins, as much of California’s water battles have this decade, with four letters: SGMA.

The farmer’s other four-letter expression

Enacted by California Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act sought to rein-in the shift in the state’s freewheeling groundwater pumping, which itself was a side effect of slackening water flows from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and decades of limited investment in surface water infrastructure.

The law set strict guidelines to wean the state away from heavy groundwater pumping, recharge aquifer basins, and boost water storage.

I’ll note that further detail of the Brown-era law is provided in an explainer penned by Sun contributor Don Wright.

San Joaquin Valley farmers bemoaned the 2020 launch of the law, which is projected to put millions of serviceable acres of the Golden State’s fertile farmland out of production.

Like other decisions before it, SGMA is set to accelerate what many long feared: the creation of a robust, wholesale market for water available to the highest bidder.

Through government mandate, SGMA generated an unseen level of water scarcity while establishing built-in incentives to foment a mad dash for water rights and access by the bevy of agricultural, industrial, and municipal water users in the Golden State.

And where overdrafted basins are unable or incapable of financing and gathering water resources to come into compliance with the law, they could be – quite literally – wiped off the map.

Semitropic sits within the Kern County Groundwater Basin, one of nine regions of the state deemed by California’s Department of Water Resources as being in “critical overdraft” of its groundwater.

The Tulare Lake Groundwater Basin and the Tule Groundwater Basin, the two basins neighboring Kern County’s watershed to the north, were also designated as being in “critical overdraft” by state officials.

A problem in search of a solution

In 2015, the public received its first whiff of work being undertaken by Semitropic Water Storage District.

Under the auspices of reducing its overdraft liability under SGMA, the district pitched a plan that was was, and still is, fairly straight forward: cull Kings River floodwater and move it into Semitropic’s sphere of influence within the parched Kern County basin.

As it stands, Kings River floodwater naturally flows into the Tulare Lake bed – the south-central Kings County stretch of dry lake.

It’s important to note that the Tulare Lake bed sits within the critically overdrafted Tulare Lake Groundwater Basin.

Following the 2015 outing of the proposed floodwater project, members of the Kings River Water Association – the collective body of water Kings River water users – and Semitropic attempted negotiations to reach a fair deal over potential use of floodwater.

Negotiations, swiftly, went nowhere. From there, hostilities between the largest players in region swelled.

The district’s plan, as it stands now, is to divert floodwater from the South Fork canal of the Kings River toward a to-be-constructed 15,000-to-30,000 acre feet reservoir near Kettleman City.

From there, water can be shifted from the Tulare Lake basin to the Kern County basin via the California Aqueduct.

Suffice it to say, the current plan is a scaling back of Semitropic’s ambitions for floodwater. More on that front later.

But the core elements of the floodwater project – shifting water out of the Kings River and into the Kern County basin – opened the door for total warfare of an historic shift of water from the Kings River to a place its waters have never touched.

Saber rattling

With negotiations between Kings River water users and Semitropic on ice, a foot race emerged among Semitropic and three of the biggest irrigation districts along the Kings – Fresno Irrigation, Alta Irrigation, and Consolidated Irrigation – to establish legal claims to open or shut down the project.

Within two weeks, the amalgamated Kings River water users and Semitropic had filed competing petitions before the State Water Board requesting one of two things.

For Kings River water users, they wanted to uphold a unique legal designation: that the river was declared a “fully-appropriated stream.”

The designation stretches back to a decision by the state water board in 1967 which assigned “essentially all of the available unappropriated water of the Kings River” to the Kings River Water Association.

The decision left one caveat: that Kings River water users may not be able to accommodate full runoff in a year of extreme flooding.

Twenty-two years later, California’s water board first added the Kings River to its declaration of fully-appropriated streams, barring external water users from utilizing water resources.

Subsequent revisions to the state’s declaration in 1991 and 1998 upheld that determination.

In its petition to open the Kings River up to utilize its floodwater, Semitropic notes the caveat issued by the water board in 1967 but leans more heavily on another allegation.

That allegation? That the Kings River Water Association abandoned two of its licenses granted in late 1960s.

The petition filed by Consolidated, backed by the Water Association, argues that – in the event the Kings River loses its status as fully appropriated – Kings River water users can divert water to meet their groundwater sustainability goals under SGMA within Fresno, Kings, and Tulare counties.

35 different entities weighed in on the dueling petitions in letters to the California Water Board.

Among them were missives penned from County Supervisors in Fresno, Tulare, and Kings counties and the cities of Dinuba, Fowler, Kerman, Sanger, and Selma.

With this positioning, Kings River water users sought to leverage their own SGMA needs as a trump card over a bevy of Kern County water demands and ambitions.

And for good reason, given the history of the project.

Ambitions, revisited

Through the course of negotiating and quarreling with Kings County water users, Semitropic and its users have seen the much-vaunted Tulare Lake Floodwater project go through its own ebbs and flows.

Up through 2018, Semitropic sought $452 million in bond funding generated from the 2014-approved Proposition 1 by leveraging the floodwater project as a method of storing not only Kings River floodwater but also floodwater from the Delta.

Proposition 1, in its own right, was narrowly-tailored (too narrowly, many water advocates argue) and created strict standards for appropriating funds with an intense focus on water projects that benefited the public.

In making its near-half billion dollar pitch to the California Water Commission in 2018, state officials delivered grim news on the project: the rosy projections of public benefit were almost nonexistent.

Semitropic officials tabbed public benefit at $1.62 per dollar invested into its floodwater plan. State officials said it was worth a single penny on the dollar.

Why? It boils down to what happens after the water leaves the Tulare Lake bed and winds up within Semitropic’s control.

To Kern County – and beyond

The punchline of the southern San Joaquin Valley’s cacophonous battle is what, ultimately, Semitropic plans to do with Kings River floodwater obtained via this proposed project.

The answer? It’s complicated.

Hoping to keep its options as open as possible, the district pins its project on benefiting Kern County farmers and meeting groundwater goals for its groundwater sustainability agency.

But, speaking to SJVWater’s Lois Henry, Jason Gianquinto left open the distinct possibility that Semitropic will deal its water to feed the pumps of Southern California metropolises.

And that’s where Kings River watermaster Steve Haugen gets pointed.

“Semitropic’s proposal is an old-fashioned water grab,” Haugen said in a statement issued last week.

The prospect of losing water resources to Southern California is, in no uncertain terms, a threat to the San Joaquin Valley’s survival not only for agriculture, but for habitability.

“It would be devastating to dozens of cities and communities relying on Kings River water, including Fresno and Clovis,” he added. “Dozens of rural areas that would be harmed by Semitropic are disadvantaged. Their residents are already experiencing groundwater quantity and quality issues ranging from significant to severe.”

But in order for the project to work for Semitropic, it requires the cooperation of an ever-growing figure in the Valley’s water landscape.

And as the State Water Board advances from its preliminary hearings Monday into a full inquiry, expect nothing short of a full-court press from both sides of this water war.

Google and Facebook Are Quietly Fighting California’s Privacy Rights Initiative, Emails Reveal

Mark Zuckerberg has been caught lying again.  The CEO of Google has been caught lying, again.  Both have said they want the consumer to have control over the data their firms collect.  Those are words—here are their actions:

“Emails obtained by The Intercept reveal that tech giants are fighting behind the scenes to water down the privacy legislation, hoping to prevent an expensive and potentially losing ballot fight this year.

Andrea Deveau, a lobbyist for TechNet, a trade group for Google, Facebook, and other tech companies, has continually updated an ad-hoc business lobbying coalition formed to defeat the CCPA. In an update sent on Sunday evening, Deveau provided a “compilation of feedback re: the most problematic aspects of AB 375.”

In her update, she listed a vast array of changes lobbyists are still seeking, including a rewrite of the privacy law’s description of what counts as personal information, changes to the conditions under which a consumer can seek legal action, the preservation of arbitration clauses in consumer contracts, and the removal of the mandate that firms display a button on their homepage giving consumers a clear way of opting out of data collection, among other changes.

Lobbyists are seeking a rewrite of what counts as personal information, the preservation of arbitration clauses, and the removal of the mandate for a button to opt out of data collection.”

Silicon Valley wants to own you.  AB 375 allows you a bi of freedom—even that much is too much for the tech giants..freedom is not allowed in their world—they are Kings.

facebook

Google and Facebook Are Quietly Fighting California’s Privacy Rights Initiative, Emails Reveal

Lee Fang, The Intercept,  6/26/18
Lobbyists for the largest technology and telecommunications firms have only three days to prevent the California Consumer Privacy Act, or CCPA, a ballot initiative that would usher in the strongest consumer privacy standards in the country, from going before state voters this November.

The initiative allows consumers to opt out of the sale and collection of their personal data, and vastly expands the definition of personal information to include geolocation, biometrics, and browsing history. The initiative also allows consumers to pursue legal action for violations of the law.

The idea that Californians might gain sweeping new privacy rights has spooked Silicon Valley, internet service providers, and other industries that increasingly rely on data collection, leading to a lobbying push to defeat the initiative before it gains traction. Their best hope may be to convince the sponsors of the initiative, including San Francisco real estate developer Alastair Mactaggart, to pull the proposal in exchange for compromise privacy legislation, AB 375, which would achieve some of the same goals of the initiative. Lawmakers behind the legislation, led by state Assembly Member Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park, and state Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, have promised to swiftly pass their bill this week if sponsors withdraw the CCPA.

Emails obtained by The Intercept reveal that tech giants are fighting behind the scenes to water down the privacy legislation, hoping to prevent an expensive and potentially losing ballot fight this year.

Andrea Deveau, a lobbyist for TechNet, a trade group for Google, Facebook, and other tech companies, has continually updated an ad-hoc business lobbying coalition formed to defeat the CCPA. In an update sent on Sunday evening, Deveau provided a “compilation of feedback re: the most problematic aspects of AB 375.”

In her update, she listed a vast array of changes lobbyists are still seeking, including a rewrite of the privacy law’s description of what counts as personal information, changes to the conditions under which a consumer can seek legal action, the preservation of arbitration clauses in consumer contracts, and the removal of the mandate that firms display a button on their homepage giving consumers a clear way of opting out of data collection, among other changes.

Lobbyists are seeking a rewrite of what counts as personal information, the preservation of arbitration clauses, and the removal of the mandate for a button to opt out of data collection.

Over the last few days, Deveau has continued to update a coalition of Sacramento lobbyists of her team’s efforts to ensure that if AB 375 passes, the bill provides significant changes compared to the original CCPA.

The lobbying coalition convened by Deveau over email includes Ryan Harkins, director of state affairs and public policy at Microsoft; Walter Hughes, the state director of government affairs at Comcast; Mufaddal Ezzy, the California manager of public policy and government relations for Google; Ann Blackwood, the head of public policy for western states at Facebook; Lisa Kohn, the senior manager for public policy at Amazon; Curt Augustine, the senior director of policy and government affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers; Brad Weltman, the vice president for public policy at the Interactive Advertising Bureau; and Kate Ijams, a public affairs specialist at AT&T.

The inclusion of a Facebook representative is notable, given the company’s well-publicized announcement earlier this year that it would end its opposition to the initiative. In February, the company provided $200,000 to an account set up by the California Chamber of Commerce designed to defeat the CCPA initiative. But in April, following revelations about the extent to which British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica provided the Donald Trump campaign with illicit access to Facebook user data, Facebook announced that it would withdraw its opposition to CCPA and not provide additional funding to the Chamber account.

Facebook’s lobbyist this week joined conference calls to strategize about ways to undermine CCPA and the email chains show that Facebook representatives have continued to receive updates from industry allies on ways in which to undermine the CCPA. The firm, however, has maintained its promise not to pledge new money to the opposition effort.

Facebook confirmed its ongoing involvement fighting CCPA. “People should be in control of their information online and companies should be held to high standards in explaining what data they have and how they use it, especially when they sell data,” read a statement provided to The Intercept and attributed to Will Castleberry, Facebook’s vice president of state and local public policy. “We are committed to being clear with people about how our services work, including the fact that we do not sell people’s data. In that spirit, while not perfect, we support AB375 and look forward to working with policymakers on an approach that protects consumers and promotes responsible innovation.”

In addition to Facebook, Google, AT&T, Microsoft, Amazon, Verizon, and the California New Car Dealers Association have each contributed six figure donations to the Chamber account set up to defeat CCPA. Uber, the Data & Marketing Association, Cox Communications, and the Interactive Advertising Bureau have each contributed $50,000 to the account, according to disclosures.

“You should assume we are going to the ballot to fight the Initiative and determine your appetite to fight.”

But experts believe the cost of the campaign could run into well over $100 million or more if the initiative goes before voters this fall. On Monday, the California Secretary of State officially qualified the CCPA initiative, confirming the campaign turned in enough valid signatures.

California campaign finance law mandates that the largest donors to a campaign are listed at the end of each advertisement. Though Silicon Valley firms have the most to lose from the enactment of the CCPA, brand names such as Google and Amazon are nervous to have their logos associated with a slash and burn election effort in opposition to privacy rights.

The tech and cable firms opposed to the bill have leaned heavily on their respective trade associations such as TechNet to head off the initiative.

In her email to the ad-hoc coalition, Deveau noted that AB 375 was moving fast, and that changes to the legislation would have to happen quickly over the coming days. If substantial changes were not made, she encouraged the lobbyists to prepare to begin raising cash for a pricey campaign over CCPA later this year.

“In the meantime, you should assume that we are going to the ballot to fight the Initiative and determine your appetite or the appetite of your clients/members to fight the ballot initiative (meaning push hard to get a sense of how much you/they might be willing to contribute to the opposition campaign) if they feel they cannot live with this new language,” Deveau warned.

The current draft of AB 375, released yesterday, shows that the compromise legislation already differs in several key areas. The legislation, as opposed to CCPA, largely removes the right for consumers to take their own legal action, instead delegating power for enforcement to the attorney general in most circumstances.

“The Consumer Privacy Act prohibited businesses from denying services, charging different rates for the same services, or providing different levels or quality of services, in response to a consumer request that they stop selling data,” said Lily Li, a privacy attorney and owner of Metaverse Law.

In contrast, Li said, “AB 375 generally prohibits such price or service discrimination, but provides a carveout in situations where the difference in price or quality ‘is directly related to the value provided to the consumer by the consumer’s data.’”

The tech lobbying team met yesterday with Hertzberg and Gov. Jerry Brown’s office, along with the leadership of both houses of the California legislature. In a follow-up email, Deveau confirmed the Monday morning meeting between Hertzberg and the “folks leading the charge on the privacy initiative opposition campaign.”

The new bill, crafted behind closed doors by the sponsors and lobbyists, has pleased some privacy advocates as decent compromise that still provides strong new protections for consumers.

“The stakes are astronomical.”

Consumer Watchdog, a consumer advocacy group, endorsed the new AB 375 legislation, calling it an agreement that enacts “meaningful privacy protections” while avoiding a costly ballot initiative battle. “If the initiative ends up on the ballot, Consumer Watchdog will work for its passage. Now, however, we support the AB 375 compromise,” declared John Simpson, director of the group’s Privacy and Technology Project.

As the new bill was officially unveiled Tuesday morning, the tech lobby joined other industry groups in Sacramento to express their concerns that the revised AB 375 bill still provided too many risks for business

“The business community is in an untenable situation. Although AB 375 is deeply flawed, the privacy initiative is even worse. The stakes are astronomical because if the initiative is passed, the legislature will be virtually unable to amend the law in the future,” said Sarah Boot, a lobbyist with the California Chamber of Commerce and the first person to testify in opposition to the legislation at the Senate Judiciary Committee, which in turn is the first committee to oversee the compromise legislation.

After Boot spoke, a parade of other lobbyists moved to the dais to register their disapproval and agree with Boot. No tech company executives or lobbyists appeared publicly, but multiple trade groups representing Silicon Valley spoke up to associate themselves with Boot’s remarks. TechNet’s Deveau, along with representatives of the Internet Association and the Computing Technology Industry Association, agreed that they deeply opposed AB 375, but found the legislation preferable over CCPA.

“Here we are, at the last minute, there’s an initiative on the ballot,” said state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, the chair of the committee, conceding that although the initiative was far from ideal, the issue had been forced because the legislature had not moved on any major privacy legislation.

“Somebody stepped forward and now we are in a Hobson’s choice. Either this goes to the ballot and is a hundred million dollars or more I’m told is likely to be spent. Or if the bill is killed we’re back at ground zero,” Jackson said with a sigh.

After a brief debate, with Chau and Mactaggart answering questions about the bill, the committee passed the legislation. But whether it will be signed by the governor by Thursday to head off the initiative is yet to be seen.

WESTERN WATER: Thirsty Westlands faces escalating woes

While Jerry Brown is giggling about the California economic “recovery”, he has set into motion the destruction of the agriculture industry in the State.  His lack of a water policy has given us what my good friend Madera Supervisor Rick Farinelli calls the “Brown Drought”.  The Brown water policy is fines and threat, misuse of water bond money—or refusal to spend the money as the voters wanted.  He prefers salmon and smelt, to people and food.

“While the securities violation itself isn’t likely to hurt Westlands’ financial prospects, it raises questions about the district’s business model, which relies on relatively cheap water that it receives from the Bureau of Reclamation’s Central Valley Project. When those deliveries don’t materialize — and they often don’t; Westlands is among the last in line in terms of water contract seniority — the district has to buy water from more senior water rights holders and raise prices for its member farmers.

“It makes it extremely tough,” said Rick Blankenship, vice president of farming operations at Woolf Farming Co. of California Inc., which at 25,000 acres is the largest farm in Westlands. “I don’t know where it’s all going to end up, but it’s going to be tough.” Woolf plans to fallow about 9,000 acres of row crops this year and devote the farm’s scant CVP resources to protecting its 5,000 acres of almonds and pistachios, which as permanent crops require annual watering.

That is right—this farm only has enough water for 20% of its operation.  Think the cost of the nuts produced does not go up, employment goes down—and all their vendors down the line lose as well.  Brown and his water policies have done what a Clinton/Sanders/socialist agenda would do—kill off an industry, forcing folks to need government assistance to survive.  Very sad.

cadiz water project

WESTERN WATER: Thirsty Westlands faces escalating woes

Debra Kahn, E&E, 8/3/16

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MENDOTA, Calif. — Driving down Highway 33 through California’s Central Valley, signs of the state’s ongoing drought — and water wars — are everywhere. Fields of green winter wheat and diagonal rows of almond trees alternate with brown fields. Billboards every few miles read, “No water = No jobs.”

“I don’t know who put that sign there,” said Tom Birmingham, the general manager of Westlands Water District. “But what it says is accurate.”

Westlands, the largest agricultural water district in the country, is at the center of it all; the region has some of the most productive farmland in the world — but very little water.

A Greenwire two-part series. Water is scarce in California. Westlands Water District is at the center of the fight for more access — but it’s facing increased scrutiny over its finances, leadership and politics. Click here to read the second part.

The 64-year-old water district is big: about 1,100 square miles, a 75-by-15-mile rectangle stretching northeast and southwest on the western side of the Central Valley. It generates $1 billion per year in crop sales, mostly from pistachios and almonds but also from lettuce, tomatoes, asparagus and a dozen other crops.

And the amount of political clout it wields is equally big.

The district is currently pushing to increase its water deliveries, which environmentalists say would come at the expense of fish and farms elsewhere in the state and water quality in the state’s main water hub, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. And it’s negotiating a deal to clean up salt and selenium buildup that has contaminated the district’s groundwater and soils for decades in exchange for more secure water rights and hundreds of millions of dollars of debt relief from the federal government.

But Westlands has its share of critics, and a series of recent woes has brought it under increased scrutiny.

In March, the Securities and Exchange Commission fined Westlands for overstating the amount of money it had on hand when it sold bonds to investors in 2012.

“It’s not a small matter to be found to be — if you will — cooking the books by the SEC,” said Patricia Schifferle, a former California legislative staffer and environmental activist who has followed Westlands’ activities for years.

While the securities violation itself isn’t likely to hurt Westlands’ financial prospects, it raises questions about the district’s business model, which relies on relatively cheap water that it receives from the Bureau of Reclamation’s Central Valley Project. When those deliveries don’t materialize — and they often don’t; Westlands is among the last in line in terms of water contract seniority — the district has to buy water from more senior water rights holders and raise prices for its member farmers.

“It makes it extremely tough,” said Rick Blankenship, vice president of farming operations at Woolf Farming Co. of California Inc., which at 25,000 acres is the largest farm in Westlands. “I don’t know where it’s all going to end up, but it’s going to be tough.” Woolf plans to fallow about 9,000 acres of row crops this year and devote the farm’s scant CVP resources to protecting its 5,000 acres of almonds and pistachios, which as permanent crops require annual watering.

The complaints of Westlands’ transgressions against the environment are legion. But it was never found doing something flat-out illegal — until now.

Rather than raise rates for its customers, Westlands in 2010 decided to reclassify reserve funds as revenue in order to demonstrate its ability to meet its debt coverage ratio, as promised to bondholders who bought its debt.

On March 9, the SEC announced a $125,000 penalty against Westlands for overstating its financial security in 2010 through “extraordinary accounting transactions” and in a subsequent $77 million bond offering in 2012.

“The undisclosed accounting transactions, which a manager referred to as ‘a little Enron accounting,’ benefited customers but left investors in the dark about Westlands Water District’s true financial condition,” said SEC Enforcement Director Andrew Ceresney.

It was only the second time the SEC had ever levied penalties against a municipal bond issuer. In addition to the penalty against Westlands itself, Birmingham paid $50,000, and a former assistant general manager, Louie Ciapponi, paid $20,000.

As an explanation, Birmingham said federal water deliveries from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta were low that year because of protections for delta smelt that first kicked in the previous year.

“That was the first year after the implementation of the smelt biological opinion, and so our water supply was much lower than we had anticipated,” he said, while stressing that the terms of Westlands’ settlement with the SEC prevented him from admitting or denying the commission’s findings.

“We’ve got $40 million in the bank, and one year we had a hiccup,” he said. “I neither admit nor deny the findings of the commission, but I don’t think the commission said that Westlands couldn’t pay its bills.”

Westlands Water District

Year founded: 1952

Size: ~1,100 square miles (614,700 acres)

Number of farms: ~700, average size 875 acres

Biggest crops: Almonds, tomatoes, pistachios

Value of crops: ~$1 billion annually

Maximum federal water supply: 1.195 million acre-feet per year

Average federal supply over past 20 years: 53.2 percent of maximum

On March 10, Fitch Ratings Inc. said it might downgrade Westlands’ bond rating based on the order. Downgrading the district’s $193 million in bonds would raise its perceived riskiness. Environmentalists who have been dogging Westlands see the SEC citation as a chink in its armor that could demonstrate inability to finance a major project to build tunnels underneath the delta to improve reliability of deliveries. On July 12, Fitch removed the negative ratings watch, saying the SEC and Westlands’ actions since then “mitigate the risk of future misrepresentations and omissions by the district relating to district financial results.”

“The SEC found that they basically cooked their books,” said Schifferle. “The question is, going forward, will they have sufficient revenues in water sales and land charges to meet these incredible costs — for cleanup of all the toxic groundwater within the district, to pay for the tunnels, and to do that on falling water sales and increased debt costs?” she asked.

“That is a serious question that we don’t know the answer to, but right now they are working feverishly in Congress to make sure they get these financial benefits,” she said. “It would make their balance sheet look a lot better.”

One investor who owns about $5 million of Westlands bonds said Fitch’s move in March didn’t affect his opinion of Westlands’ creditworthiness and might even encourage him to buy more.

“Demand for California [municipal] bonds is so high and interest rates are so low, I wouldn’t see them having an issue at this point,” said Michael Johnson, head of research at Gurtin Fixed Income Management LLC, an investment firm with about $10.3 billion under management. “If the market starts to react and gets spooked and we start to see these bonds offered at interest rates that make sense for us, we’re more than willing to buy.”

Johnson doesn’t necessarily think Westlands is in great financial shape, though. Gurtin has rated Westlands’ bonds as a BBB, five grades lower than Fitch’s current AA- rating and four grades lower than the A+ rating from Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC, which decided on March 25 to maintain its current outlook. Anything lower than BBB- is considered too risky for banks. “We have a much different opinion of the credit quality than Fitch does,” he said.

Risk factors include its junior water contract status as well as the fact that agricultural customers won’t pay as much for water as residential customers will — the same underlying issues that led to the SEC violation.

“We view their finances as being adequate, and this is after significant rate increases,” Johnson said. “There’s still long-term water supply issues, as well. When you put all that together, we see it more as a BBB than an AA credit.”

Lawmakers who are probing Westlands’ other activities see the SEC settlement as one piece of a larger puzzle.

“I know it can’t help that they were caught with their hand in the cookie jar lying to their bondholders,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.). “There’s a lot going on right now; you have to have your eyes wide open and look very closely at all the moving parts.”

‘The most efficient farmers in the world’

Westlands is urging Congress to fund a fix for a problem that has been dogging the district since its formation: salt- and selenium-laden irrigation runoff pooling underneath much of the district thanks to a thick layer of clay that keeps water from descending to deeper levels.

The Bureau of Reclamation started building a drainage system, including canals and artificial wetlands to absorb the runoff, but failed to complete the full 290 miles to the ocean before salt and selenium buildup at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge began causing bird deaths, embryo deformities and fish deformities. The subsequent closure of the San Luis Drain in 1985 and ban on depositing runoff into the drain, where it would eventually discharge into the San Joaquin River, meant Westlands developed one of the most advanced drip irrigation networks of its time in order to reduce runoff.

Eighty-five percent of the district’s crops are watered by subsurface irrigation — flat, perforated hoses that underlie each furrow and dispense water according to soil-moisture sensors, avoiding evaporation losses.

“There is not one drop of water that leaves Westlands Water District,” Birmingham said. “The farmers in Westlands are the most efficient farmers in the world.”

After years of litigation, Reclamation proposed a settlement last September that would have Westlands assume responsibility for its drainage issues and drop its suit against the Interior Department in exchange for forgiveness of its outstanding debt from the construction of the CVP itself — a value of about $350 million. Westlands also agreed to retire at least 100,000 acres of salty farmland and reduce its maximum water deliveries from the CVP by 25 percent, to 890,000 acre-feet per year.

Westlands would also receive an upgrade to a permanent contract, rather than one that has to be renewed every two years. The value of that benefit is immeasurable, as contract renewals provide Reclamation an opportunity to change the terms of its agreements — to provide less water, say, or require that the district retire more land. With a permanent contract, the revenue coming into Westlands will be more secure, although it can still have its deliveries cut if supplies are short. The permanent contract also will allow farms larger than 960 acres to be newly eligible for discounted water.

Reclamation and Westlands say the deal would save Interior up to $3.5 billion in drainage costs that it would otherwise be liable for if Westlands kept pressing for a resolution in the courts. Critics argue that Westlands has already retired nearly that much land, rarely receives its full allotment of deliveries anyway, has no concrete plan to deal with the drainage, and is legally responsible for solving its drainage problems even without the settlement.

Huffman and other Democratic House lawmakers called for an investigation into the deal in April and released a report by the Congressional Research Service flagging potential holes in the settlement, including the fact that it doesn’t specify a timeline or specific actions Westlands must take to manage the runoff.

“You can bet there are extra angles both you and I haven’t seen,” Huffman said. “That’s why we want to see more of an investigation. There’s just a lot of things here that don’t add up.”

The dilapidated 85 miles of the San Luis Drain that Reclamation did complete in Westlands’ boundaries is still in need of remediation, and Westlands hasn’t said exactly how it plans to complete the job. It has spent $8 million researching ways to solve its longer-term drainage issues, including evaporating the salty water in gravel beds, processing it with a solar-powered desalination plant, sucking it up by planting nonagricultural shrubs and injecting it far underground.

Westlands insists the deal is a good one for taxpayers.

“Everything is in the eye of the beholder; people who want to be critical of Westlands are going to say it’s a government giveaway,” Birmingham said. “From my perspective, we are letting the government off the hook, and we are taking on an enormous risk.”

Fitch analysts agree the settlement could be risky for Westlands. The same day Fitch lifted its SEC-related negative watch on Westlands’ bonds, it announced a negative ratings outlook based on the drainage settlement. While analysts looked favorably on the forgiveness of CVP construction costs and the permanent water contract, they said the drainage obligation itself could force Westlands to take on significantly more debt. They estimated the settlement could cost Westlands $400 million to 800 million, which at the higher end would represent four times the district’s current outstanding obligations.

Another longtime observer thinks the endgame might be to sell water to wealthier municipal customers, as Westlands is already doing in some cases. It’s selling water to Naval Air Station Lemoore for $1,100 an acre-foot, compared with $315 an acre-foot for agricultural customers receiving CVP water. The district has also sold a significant amount of land to solar power projects and donated some land for a federal prison and is sponsoring a bill in the state Legislature that would require state agencies to consider siting renewable energy projects on salt-impaired farmland.

“These aren’t farmers, these are investors,” said Lloyd Carter, a former United Press International and Fresno Bee reporter and deputy district attorney who has made a career of following Central Valley water issues. “It’s a place where people can park money, and if they lose money on their so-called farm, they can write it off.”

Even if Westlands catches all of its water before it leaves the land, the soil itself is slowly becoming saltier. “They have never solved the drainage problem out there,” Carter said. “They can probably squeeze a few more decades out of the land before it salts up. When it does salt up, they’ll just start to urbanize it.

“What’s valuable in the Westlands, the land or the water?” Carter asked.

Metropolitan Water District: Guilty of Overcharging San Diego–Now Buying Land in NorCal

Is it possible that the Metropolitan Water District is the most corrupt government agency in the State? A court found the District guilty of charging exorbitant prices to the water users in San Diego. The cost of the penalty and fines is, so far, $243 million. Yet the District has refused to obey the court order and continues to steal from the people of San Diego.

Now the same District is buying up land in Northern California—so Guv Brown can build a $200 billion Delta tunnel, to steal water from Northern California, protect fish, not people and give the remaining water to Southern California. Like Barack Obama, is does not matter to the Metropolitan Water District what the law or a court says—they will march on, stealing and violating our rights. Any wonder government has so little respect or trust?

“Two of the tracts are in the path of Gov. Jerry Brown’s $16 million California WaterFix, which would re-plumb the systems connecting Northern California to the thirsty South. The centerpiece of the fix is two tunnels, 50 feet wide, that would act as straws, moving water around and away from the region for the use of thirsty cities and some farmers.

“Right now you’re looking at some of the best prime farmland in California,” says Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta. A fat levee road surrounds Bacon Island’s bowl of land, west of Stockton in San Joaquin County. Farmers grow corn and alfalfa here, in dark rich soil.

Last year, thanks to the confused Guv Brown refusing to create a water policy, over one million acres of prime California farmland went fallow. Now, this effort is to kill maybe the richest and best farm land in California. Is this part of the Brown legacy—kill farming in California?

360_dom_water_shortage_1228

Metropolitan Water District’s $175 Million Land Deal Raises Alarms in Delta

By Molly Peterson, KQED, 4/13/16

In a multimillion-dollar deal, Southern California’s major water provider is acquiring five tracts of land in the heart of the Sacramento Delta, where the state is proposing to re-engineer water delivery systems. With the land purchase, the Metropolitan Water District is also raising suspicions among its new neighbors.

Zurich American, a subsidiary of a Swiss insurance company, is selling Metropolitan about 20,000 acres, including Bacon Island, Bouldin Island, Webb Tract, most of Holland Tract and a piece of Chipps Island.

Two of the tracts are in the path of Gov. Jerry Brown’s $16 million California WaterFix, which would re-plumb the systems connecting Northern California to the thirsty South. The centerpiece of the fix is two tunnels, 50 feet wide, that would act as straws, moving water around and away from the region for the use of thirsty cities and some farmers.

“Right now you’re looking at some of the best prime farmland in California,” says Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta. A fat levee road surrounds Bacon Island’s bowl of land, west of Stockton in San Joaquin County. Farmers grow corn and alfalfa here, in dark rich soil.

“The delta reminds me of Ireland — you have the similarities between the peat soil, and when it’s green here in the spring it’s just absolutely stunning,” she says.

Levees have protected the sinking soils of Bacon Island for almost 150 years. Beyond them is some open water and wetland marshes. A western meadowlark calls on a windy day. It’s one of many reasons Barrigan-Parrilla opposes the California WaterFix.

“This is where the tunnels would come through,” she says. “If the tunnels were built, you’d be looking at piles of muck. Coffer dams. Construction.”

It’s not just Bacon Island. Barrigan-Parrilla argues the purchase is an existential threat to the delta — and a grab for the region’s water.

Metropolitan Water District is positioning itself so that it can have as much water as it wants to export in a watershed that is actually in decline because of climate change,” she argues.

Metropolitan’s general manager, Jeff Kightlinger, denies this.

“It’s not a water grab there, in the sense of getting more.” In fact, he says, “our water supply depends on a healthy functioning delta ecosystem, and we don’t have that.”

Metropolitan is the major financial backer of the California WaterFix. Kightlinger acknowledges that buying the islands could help get those tunnels built, by heading off potential eminent domain fights over access to the route. But he says the purchase wouldn’t dramatically increase the populous South’s rights to Northern California water.

“It actually just makes it safer and more effective to move that water,” he says.

Current landowner Zurich American has sought to use some of the land for water storage and marketing.

While Metropolitan says it has not finalized plans for the land, Kightlinger says water storage isn’t under consideration. Instead, the district may restore habitat, on the theory that a more healthy delta can more regularly deliver supplies south. Kightlinger calls this “enlightened self-interest.”

Some of the land could serve as staging areas for the WaterFix, and storage for construction materials. And yes, twin tunnels could wriggle under Bacon and Bouldin Islands. Kightlinger says that’s preferable to an agricultural use.

“Every year there is further farming causing these islands to shrink and subside, and as they subside they become a threat to the entire state of California,” he says.

Delta interests rebuke that assertion. And according to Stockton lawyers George V. Hermann and Dante Nomellini, restrictions on land use in existing covenants may be able to block Metropolitan’s plans.

Nomellini, who represents neighbors to the island in the Central Delta Water Agency, says Zurich American signed agreements restricting activity on the land back in 2013, including conditions that could keep out the tunnels.

He believes those deals should be honored fully. “What I want is, I want the new buyer to sign our settlement agreement,” Nomellini says.

Nobody at Metropolitan has called Hermann or Nomellini to discuss the agreements. Kightlinger says that since Southern California’s land use plans in the delta don’t include reservoirs, the agreements born from a dispute related to reservoirs don’t apply.

Still, both men say that on behalf of their clients that they’ll do everything possible to enforce the law.

Hermann points out that pumping water to the south over a period of many years has degraded the ecosystem. And Nomellini says he remains suspicious about Kightlinger’s motives. In the delta, opposition to Metropolitan is high and trust in the agency is low.

“I describe them as a dog that kills chickens,” says Nomellini. “They’re real aggressive in the water field, and we in the delta look like chickens.”

It’s far from certain the California WaterFix will move forward. Elected officials from Northern California and delta interests continue to protest vehemently. Last month, the State Water Resources Control Board delayed hearings on the project at the request of another state agency, the Department of Water Resources. And federal agencies have demanded more information about the project, including sending environmental documents back for further analysis.

The purchase also remains controversial with Metropolitan’s own members — two of the largest, Los Angeles and San Diego, opposed the sale, as did Santa Monica. As a result of debate at a meeting in March, Metropolitan’s executive board is slated to revisit the contract later this month, at a special meeting called for April 26.

Arrogant Water Supplier Loses Court Case—Still Charges San Diego ILLEGAL Rates

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is just like Barack Obama—the rules, laws and courts mean nothing to them. The District management need to be jailed—for can spend what you want, charge what you want and when a court says it is illegal—you continue to break the law.  This is why the managers of the District need to be jailed—for contempt of court and massive theft from hundreds of thousands in San Diego.

“A judge ruled last year that the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California charged too much to deliver water to San Diego from the Colorado River. The judge said Metropolitan owes the San Diego County Water Authority at least $243 million, including legal fees and interest.

Yet the Water Authority will be asked to keep paying the same rates that San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow said were improper.

This theft is going to harm the economy of the government, families and businesses of San Diego—where is the Police Chief or DA willing to make the arrests?

court gavel

Despite Loss in Court, Water Supplier Still Sticking San Diego With Big Bills

A judge determined the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California was charging San Diego too much to deliver water to San Diego from the Colorado River. But San Diego will be asked to keep paying the improper rates, as Metropolitan is appealing the ruling and refusing to change the prices in the meantime.

By Ry Rivard, Voice of San Diego,  4/7/16

Even though San Diego water customers may be owed hundreds of millions of dollars by the region’s largest water supplier, it will be a long time before anyone sees a dime.

A judge ruled last year that the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California charged too much to deliver water to San Diego from the Colorado River. The judge said Metropolitan owes the San Diego County Water Authority at least $243 million, including legal fees and interest.

Yet the Water Authority will be asked to keep paying the same rates that San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow said were improper.

That’s because Metropolitan is appealing the ruling and refusing to change its rates in the meantime. Metropolitan’s latest budget proposal sets rates through 2018. It will be voted on next week.

The Water Authority buys water from Metropolitan and then resells that water to local water agencies, like the city of San Diego’s Public Utilities Department. The money from last year’s court victory could be used to provide relief from ever-rising rates.

But don’t count on that anytime soon.

The ruling isn’t final until after the appeal has been heard, said Metropolitan spokesman Bob Muir, who noted cases involving the two agencies have been reversed on appeal before.

The current case centers on Colorado River water. San Diego uses a bunch of water from that distant river. San Diego has specific rights to some Colorado water but can’t get the water here without using Metropolitan’s 242-mile Colorado River Aqueduct. Karnow said Metropolitan had improperly heaped charges on San Diego for use of the aqueduct in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The Water Authority has also already sued Metropolitan for charging the same rates in 2015 and 2016 and is likely going to file a lawsuit over the rates if they remained unchanged in 2017 and 2018.

Mark Weston, chairman of the Water Authority’s board of directors, said Metropolitan’s decision to keep charging the same controversial rates was “alarming.”

The contested bill will only grow in coming years. The Water Authority is planning to use the aqueduct to get more and more Colorado River water as part of a deal with the Imperial Irrigation District. The Water Authority expects the controversial rates may total $500 million in the next five years.

That means, if Metropolitan loses its appeal, it could owe San Diego hundreds of millions more, depending on how long the cases drag on.

There appears almost zero chance that the two sides will settle the cases. Combined, they have spent some $30 million in legal fees.

None of this is surprising to folks in the water world. The relationship between Metropolitan and the Water Authority is not just litigious but caustic – laden with suspicion after years of exhaustive fighting.

But, while Metropolitan doesn’t want to reconsider the fees at the heart of its legal battle with the Water Authority, it is considering changing how it charges all of its customers in Southern California. Those changes affect the price of treated water that Metropolitan sells to San Diego, and the Water Authority has been fighting Metropolitan’s plans.

There are two kinds of water: treated water, which has been cleaned up for drinking; and raw water, which comes from a river or reservoir and is not yet fit for human consumption.

Metropolitan said it’s selling less treated water, in part because of the drought and Gov. Jerry Brown’s order last year that urban water users cut their consumption by 25 percent. Yet, it has several large water treatment plants it has to keep paying for. Right now, it collects money to pay for treated water based only on how much treated water it sells. It wants to create a new fixed fee for its customers, so that it can pay its bills when sales drop.

Under the plan, Metropolitan would collect the same amount of money – $257 million – but its 26 members would pay different portions of that cost. Some will pay less than they otherwise would have, some will pay more, depending on which of several rate plans Metropolitan adopts.

“The way I would describe that is, just like the EPA says, ‘Your mileage may vary,’” said Dennis Cushman, the Water Authority’s assistant general manager.

Under every scenario, the Water Authority pays at least a few million dollars more than it expected to pay for treated water.

The money is still only a small percent of the Water Authority’s $750 million annual budget, but an unwelcome expense nonetheless, and one that could fall hardest on agriculture customers in North County who rely on large volumes of treated water from Metropolitan.

About a tenth of the Water Authority’s water next year will be treated water it buys from Metropolitan. The rest will be raw water that Metropolitan delivers to San Diego but that can be treated locally or water the Water Authority buys from a company with a desalination plant in Carlsbad.

Tom Kennedy, the head of the Rainbow Municipal Water District in North County that has a lot of farmers, said he planned to speak against the new treated water rates but recognized that Metropolitan needs to make some changes in how it pays for its operations.

“I expect it to be an annoying but not a devastating increase,” he said.

San Diego water users aren’t alone in expressing concern about the new treated water rate.

David De Jesus, a Metropolitan board member who represents an inland water district in Los Angeles County, said during a committee meeting a few weeks ago that Metropolitan officials may want to spend more time considering what new rates to adopt.

“I think the best approach would be to take a step back, instead of taking two steps forward,” he said.

 

Water Market Best Hope to Ease California Drought

To paraphrase President Reagan, “If Washington controlled the sand in the Mojave Desert, there would be a shortage of sand.” Obama is trying to control energy and the cost of electricity is going up. Cities like NY and San Fran have rent control, forcing the price of housing to go up for those not “protected”.

However, it’s been shown — most recently in Australia — that making it easier for water owners and users to buy and sell their water supplies and water rights will assure that water will flow to its highest and best uses. In other words, California needs a more active water market, with more decisions made by businesses and consumers — and fewer made by agencies responding to groups (farmers, environmentalists, big-city water users) that wield political power.”

Get government out of the way and we will have surpluses—keep government in control and we will have deficits and shortages. As government makes more rules and regulations for banks, the cost of banking goes up and the interest rates paid savers go down. The free Market succeeds.

RB Drought

Water Market Best Hope to Ease California Drought

State could follow Australia’s lead for stretching water resources

Steven Greenhut, Reason, 6/19/15

As California’s drought enters its fourth year, policy makers here mostly argue over two alternatives – stepping up conservation and water-use enforcement or building new dams and other water-storage facilities. But the solution to the water crisis is more likely to be found on an application that can be downloaded onto our cellphones.

A growing state can’t assure abundant water supplies by fining businesses and residents who use too much water — any more than it can expect new reservoirs to do much to bolster supplies in the near future given the many years it takes to build (and fill) them.

However, it’s been shown — most recently in Australia — that making it easier for water owners and users to buy and sell their water supplies and water rights will assure that water will flow to its highest and best uses. In other words, California needs a more active water market, with more decisions made by businesses and consumers — and fewer made by agencies responding to groups (farmers, environmentalists, big-city water users) that wield political power.

This idea is catching on — and not only by libertarian dreamers. Many environmentalists like the idea because accurate water pricing will discourage consumption. “Other countries that have endured severed droughts have tried another approach — water markets,” explained NPR’s Linda Wertheimer in an April program. “In 2007, in the midst of a year’s-long drought in Australia, the country expanded water rights trading. Farmers were given allocations of water, in addition to the water they’re entitled to, and they could then buy and sell that extra water.”

It appears to have worked. As market advocates note, California has the system of canals, reservoirs and pumps needed to move water around. It needs a more sophisticated way of measuring the water supplies. Before long, Australian users figured out a way to trade this resource efficiently. An online system developed, with buyers and sellers handling transactions on an application known as Waterfind – similar to the way people buy and sell stocks and bonds.

It’s impossible to know exactly how it will work in California until people with a vested interest in making some money selling water – or in getting more water for their businesses or farms — figure it all out. But those people who say water is too complicated for a market-based system haven’t been paying attention to California’s evolving cap-and-trade system. Pollution credits are more complex and harder-to-define than water.

In fact, California water merchants already participate in a market. But it doesn’t work quickly. It’s so complicated — and so open to litigation — “that it scares some people off” and farmers worry “that selling water could put water rights in jeopardy,” explained Nathaniel Johnson in a recent Grist magazine article. He published a complex, Rube-Goldberg-like chart of all the many governmental approvals needed before water owners can sell their water to interested parties.

Even if California legislators scoff at the wide-ranging market system embraced by Australia, there are a number of market-oriented policies they can embrace. The Property and Environment Research Center, a free-market think tank in Bozeman, Mont., has detailed some simple reforms that could make it easier to transfer water supplies — mostly by streamlining state restrictions and making it harder to tie up water transfers with lawsuits. The goal, said PERC’s executive director Reed Watson, is to find “feasible policy reforms that could let water users trade water … without harming other water users or the environment.”

Liberals and conservatives generally agree the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, holds up construction, which is why legislators regularly pass exemptions for their favored projects (such as the Sacramento Kings arena now being built in that city’s downtown). So why can’t they consider similar exemptions for projects that provide a resource that’s far more precious than professional basketball?

I’d add another reform – limiting the California Coastal Commission’s ability to hold up the construction of ocean-water desalination plants, which is another market-oriented approach to the drought. The commission approved a project in Carlsbad, but has delayed a similar Huntington Beach project over fear that it will harm plankton.

A lively water market won’t make it rain. But it might help Californians stretch their water resources long enough until Mother Nature decides to help out.

 

California Water Restrictions Generate Flood of Resistance

The very confused Governor of California wants fines, less water distributed, ending of long showers in an effort to administer the water crisis he is responsible for creating, dating back to 1975.. Lots of punishment. Anything positive and pro-active? Nope. His goal is to kill off jobs and families, forcing both out of the State. This is part of his effort to end the middle class in California—and he is succeeding.

“The Water Board received more than 200 comments from city officials, trade groups, and citizens about the draft regulations. Nearly every city in the strictest conservation tiers is lobbying to reduce its target. Some want an exemption for investing in recycled water or desalination, or for banking water in underground aquifers during wet years. Desert cities argue that they should not be penalized with strict targets because months of 100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures increase water demands. Many of the residents in poorer desert communities use water not for lawns but for “swamp coolers” that evaporate water to cool their homes. Other cities claim that they merit an exemption because they have sufficient local supplies and do not import water from big state reservoirs. Still others want a second set of targets based on winter use.”

Until Brown spend the water bond money on dams, waives environmental laws so desalinization plants can be built and orders millions of acres feet of water stopped from being sent to the ocean, he need to stop the punishment of citizens for the crime of living.

RB Drought

California Water Restrictions Generate Flood of Resistance

Cities object to mandatory limits on water use.

By Brett Walton, Circle of Blue, 4/27/15

California regulators writing the first mandatory urban water restrictions in state history are encountering a deep pool of discontent as many cities in dry California seek to reduce their proposed water conservation target.

In comments submitted last week to the state authorities in charge of writing the new rules and in interviews with Circle of Blue, municipal water suppliers said they fully support saving water. But the water providers also asserted that the requirements to cut statewide urban water use by 25 percent are too blunt, too severe, fail to reward previous efforts to reduce water use, and ignore the peculiarities of a geographically, hydrologically, and financially diverse state.

We’re required to do a lot without the tools we need.”

–Christopher Alakel, water resources manager
Paso Robles, California

The mandatory requirements also come as the California courts seem prepared to drastically limit the use of a decades-old water conservation tool: tiered pricing. Last week, California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled that charging those who use the most water more than those who use less violates a voter-approved amendment to the state Constitution.

“We’re required to do a lot without the tools we need,” Christopher Alakel, water resources manager for Paso Robles, a wine town north of Santa Barbara, told Circle of Blue.

On April 1, Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, announced the mandatory water restrictions, an emergency response to the four-year-old drought that affects all of California. Under the executive order that authorizes the mandatory restrictions, the largest water suppliers must cut use between 8 percent and 36 percent compared to 2013, according to draft rules published April 18 by the State Water Resources Control Board. Each city’s target is based on three months of water use last summer. Cities with higher consumption — typically those in wealthy coastal enclaves and arid interior regions — must cut more deeply than those where residential water use is low.

The Water Board received more than 200 comments from city officials, trade groups, and citizens about the draft regulations. Nearly every city in the strictest conservation tiers is lobbying to reduce its target. Some want an exemption for investing in recycled water or desalination, or for banking water in underground aquifers during wet years. Desert cities argue that they should not be penalized with strict targets because months of 100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures increase water demands. Many of the residents in poorer desert communities use water not for lawns but for “swamp coolers” that evaporate water to cool their homes. Other cities claim that they merit an exemption because they have sufficient local supplies and do not import water from big state reservoirs. Still others want a second set of targets based on winter use.

Changing Values

On the surface, the task of setting mandatory water restrictions is a technical exercise in establishing limits and measuring consumption. The emergency restrictions, though, have also opened a broader discussion about values. What is the appropriate use of water? Who should use scarce supplies and at what cost? How does a city invest in its water future?

With supplies pushed to the limit, nearly every use of water is being questioned. Residents in more than a dozen coastal communities are asking whether stripping the salt from seawater is worth the cost. For Santa Barbara, which will likely spend $US 40 to restart a mothballed desalination plant, and for San Diego, which expects fresh water this fall from a $US 1 billion desalination facility, the answer is yes.

Draft Conservation Rules: The Basics

The State Water Resources Control Board placed the state’s 411 large water suppliers — those serving more than 3,000 connections — into nine conservation tiers. The tiers are based on residential water use per person between July 2014 and September 2014, the months when outdoor use is highest.

The conservation targets are compared with 2013 figures. Conservation achievements in the last two years are taken into account. For example, a city in the 32 percent tier that cut water use by 11 percent between 2013 and today must cut an additional 21 percent. Reductions that took place before 2013 are not considered.

Suppliers that serve fewer than 3,000 connections will be required to conserve 25 percent.

The Water Board will begin assessing compliance with the mandate when the June water use report is published on July 15.

The governor’s water conservation mandate, clearly targeting urban lawns, has reframed that green patch of middle-class Americana as a symbol of waste.

And communities from Sacramento Valley in the north to the Imperial Valley near the Mexican border are questioning whether the size of the state’s farm industry, for decades America’s top producer of nuts, fruits, and vegetables, is the right match for its water resources. Though farmers will get no water from federal canals this year, Brown’s conservation order did not ask the agriculture sector for additional cuts.

This strikes some observers as inequitable. Don Zdeba, general manager of Indian Wells Valley Water District, 240 kilometers (150 miles) north of Los Angeles, pointed out to state authorities that one alfalfa farm in his district uses as much water as all the towns combined, and it faces no water limits.

“While 30,000 people in the community served by IWVWD are being targeted by state mandate to conserve another 36 percent, local agriculture continues to ramp up groundwater use in the valley for pistachios and pump 1.5 times urban use to grow alfalfa,” Zdeba wrote to the Water Board on April 21.

These and similar questions will grow in urgency as reservoirs drain and more wells go dry.

“What we’ve needed to do as a culture is to recognize the value of water,” Martin Querin, water resources manager for the city of Vallejo, told Circle of Blue. The drought and its fallout, Querin said, is shining light into areas such as infrastructure investment that are often neglected.

Local Action Not Sufficient

The mandatory restrictions are necessary, Brown administration officials argue, because municipalities are not doing enough on their own to conserve. In January 2014, the governor asked for a voluntary 20 percent reduction, but the target was met only once since monthly reporting began last June.

“Many cities haven’t stepped up to meet that goal,” said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Office of Emergency Services, during an April 1 press conference to announce the mandatory cuts. “This year has to be different.”

The governor’s April 1 executive order also pointed a finger at local administrators: “I find that conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property continue to exist in California due to water shortage and drought conditions with which local authority is unable to cope.”

Lawn Gone

Given the short timetable for implementing the rules, the playbook for meeting the Water Board’s target is similar across the state. Suppliers are taking aim at outdoor irrigation, the biggest source of savings. Maintaining green lawns can account for more than half of residential water use in a California city. In Bakersfield, an oil town in the Central Valley, lawns and gardens consume 75 percent of city water, according to Jason Meadors, water resources director.

The Bakersfield City Council passed an ordinance on Wednesday to limit lawn watering to three days per week in hopes of meeting its conservation target of 36 percent.

“By restricting watering we’re confident that we can reduce our consumption,” Meadors told Circle of Blue. “But a 36 percent cut will be difficult to hit.”

Other suppliers are throwing money at the problem. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a wholesaler that supplies half of California’s 38 million residents, boosted its conservation budget to $US 100 million over the last two years. Four dollars out of five will go to homeowners who replace water-loving bluegrass with water-efficient landscaping.

The conservation mandate will not only affect the lawn. Deep cuts in water use will test the financial durability of utilities. A utility is in the business of selling water. If sales drop, so does the revenue that the city uses to maintain, operate, and repair the system that delivers clean water at the turn of a faucet.

“There are costs associated with that much conservation,” said Alakel of Paso Robles, which has a 28 percent conservation target. “The state thinks that we can just absorb the financial hits.”

“It’s getting more and more difficult to satisfy the requirements,” Alakel added. “Having the ability to use tiered rates would have gone a long way but it looks like that was taken away from us by the courts.”

The Water Board is trying to be more flexible by showing a willingness to modify the targets. A regulatory framework published on April 4 proposed four conservation tiers. Now there are nine. A second draft will be presented on Tuesday, April 28, and the Water Board will vote on the final rules at its May 5 meeting.

Though the details are still being negotiated, the results will likely lead to a long-term transformation of the city landscape.

“Our culture in general is reactive,” Querin said. “Shortly after the crisis we tend to go back to the way things were. But will we go back to treating water as we did 20 years ago? No.”

Left Lies About California Agriculture and Water Use

Have you noticed the media and pundits knocking the California agriculture industry for not being covered by the recent confused Guv Brown mandates on limiting water use? In fact, this is a great example of the media cherry picking information to give to the public. They use the misinformation to create a hatred of those they dislike—people that produce and work.

“So why didn’t California also demand that ag cut back”?

It actually did, said Doug Parker, director of the University of California Institute of Water Resources. Brown just didn’t talk about that when he made his big announcement (he’s probably kicking himself about that). Growers that rely on the State Water Project are taking an 80 percent cut from their normal water share. Central Valley farmers who draw from the federal system of dams and canals have taken a 100 percent cut. Brown may be going back for further restrictions.

When farmers get these cuts, they cope by pumping groundwater (which is causing problems in some places — more on this later), or buying water from people with senior water rights. But ultimately, cuts in water deliveries lead to cuts in water use. California farmers took about 5 percent of their land out of production last year, and that number will surely go up this year.

Why are the Democrat progressives openly lying about agriculture? Because folks in the Ag community are usually patriotic, free market types (though they do love subsidies). Most of the California AG areas are represented by Republicans. But, they sell to Democrats—so they anti-agriculture policies are causing economic harm to the poor and middle class. The rich do not care, they can spend a buck for a single tomato.

Why does the media lie? Because it can.

RB Drought

Everything I thought I knew about water in California is wrong

By Nathanael Johnson, Topix, 4/20/15

This piece started out as a confident prescription for California’s drought ills. But when I began writing, I kept coming across things that seemed confusing or contradictory. And each time I went to the experts to clarify, they’d explode all my basic assumptions.

So instead of writing that piece, here’s a list of all the (misguided) conventional wisdom I had absorbed — set right, or at least clarified.

California’s hasn’t forced agriculture to cut water use: A myth

Californians just don’t want to be suckers. When Gov. Jerry Brown told the state to cut back water use by 25 percent, he didn’t mention agriculture, and that made people suspicious. It looked to a lot of people like farms were getting a free pass. They (reasonably) thought, I don’t want to be a dupe and scrimp and save if agriculture isn’t doing the same. 

So why didn’t California also demand that ag cut back?

It actually did, said Doug Parker, director of the University of California Institute of Water Resources. Brown just didn’t talk about that when he made his big announcement (he’s probably kicking himself about that). Growers that rely on the State Water Project are taking an 80 percent cut from their normal water share. Central Valley farmers who draw from the federal system of dams and canals have taken a 100 percent cut. Brown may be going back for further restrictions.

When farmers get these cuts, they cope by pumping groundwater (which is causing problems in some places — more on this later), or buying water from people with senior water rights. But ultimately, cuts in water deliveries lead to cuts in water use. California farmers took about 5 percent of their land out of production last year, and that number will surely go up this year.

Agriculture uses 80 percent of California’s water: Not the whole picture

This isn’t exactly wrong, but it’s useful to understand the nuance. Here’s how water is divvied up in California:

You do get farmers using 80 percent of water and cities using 20 percent if you don’t count the other pieces of the pie. But those pieces are important, and by no means guaranteed! We are using that water to create habitat and beauty, to allow lots of species to thrive. Leave that out of the equation and it’s easy to forget about the environment and the human joy that comes with rivers. And in dry years like this the percentage dedicated to the environment isn’t enough for some species: Biologists are worried about salmon, and the delta smelt are on permanent life support.

Dumb laws prevent the buying and selling of water: Not true any more

This was one of the conclusions of my last piece on the drought. And that was true … back in the 1970s. Back then, if you had rights to water, you had to use it or lose it, said Parker. So if you had senior water rights for a patch of rocky desert land, unsuited to growing anything, you still had an incentive to use as much of your water as you could. But that rule changed around 1980. Now, you can take that water and sell it to a city, or a farmer with great soil but little water.

This is confusing — I’d assumed that farmers were slow to adopt water conservation practices because they had cheap water from senior rights. After all, between 40 and 50 percent of farm irrigation in California is flood irrigation: You generally use little sections of curved pipe to siphon water out of a ditch, and flood the furrows between the rows of plants.

This seems wasteful, and indeed it requires a lot more water than drip irrigation. I thought that a market for water would drive otherwise wasteful farmers to adopt better techniques — but that reasoning relied on another incorrect assumption.

Farmers are wasting a lot of water: Myth

Um, not really, said Ellen Hanak, director of the Water Policy Center at the Public Policy Institute of California.

“But let’s say I’m a farmer down in the Imperial Valley,” I said. “I’ve got senior water rights from the Colorado River, and I’ve always used flood irrigation. Now that I can sell my water on the market, shouldn’t I be installing drip irrigation? I’d use a lot less water to grow my lettuce, and I could sell the rest. I make money, there’s more water to go around, everyone wins.”

“You can’t do that,” Hanak said. “Not allowed.”

“Why not?”

Well, basically because flood irrigation is not nearly as wasteful as it looks. Yes, it takes a lot more water than other forms of irrigation, but all that extra water goes somewhere: it seeps into the ground and restores aquifers, or it flows out of the field and back into the river. So, if I sell all my water, it suddenly deprives my neighbors of my backwash, which they’ve come to rely on. Therefore, the law doesn’t allow me to sell that portion that historically passed through my field and then continued on downstream, or underground.

Aha! I thought. So this is the dumb law causing the market to fail! Get rid of this obstacle, and farmers will adopt more efficient practices, leaving us with plenty of water, right?

Wrong, Hanak said. That’s another misconception.

Farm conservation measures can free up plenty of water: One last myth

Switching from flood irrigation to a more efficient system like drip does improve water quality. And you lose less water to evaporation — but just a little bit. You can see how this works in this infographic from the Pacific Institute (don’t pay too much attention to the specific numbers, they are just rough placeholders).

The thing to pay attention to here is that the “more efficient water use” scenario, while it keeps mud and salts out of the river, doesn’t save much more water in the end.

“It’s a very small percentage lost to evaporation,” Hanak said. And in the real world, farmers actually end up using more water when they switch to efficient irrigation, she said. That’s because upgrading irrigation boosts yields: Tomatoes have been setting yield per acre records every year, because farmers have come up with better techniques based on drip irrigation.  You can see the same thing going on with onions, bell peppers, and cotton. With flood irrigation, water flows through farms. With drip irrigation farmers can capture more of that water and grow more food.

The end result: irrigation upgrades increase farm productivity and profits, but also tend to increase the farm’s net water use. “Irrigation efficiency doesn’t save water for the system as a whole,” Hanak said — blowing my mind.

OK, now I know nothing. What is water even for?

Assumptions are useful things — they provide a foundation for understanding the world. The more I read and talked to experts, the less of that foundation I had left, and I found myself asking the most basic question: What is water for?

Well, it’s for drinking. That’s pretty important.

It’s for growing food — at least a bare minimum to feed ourselves.

After that, keeping fish alive and ecosystems healthy is a priority — at least for me.

But even in this historic drought, California has plenty of water left over after those uses. So then we move up the hierarchy of needs to things like lawns and golf courses, and farming as a business (beyond the subsistence level). Hey, we have some of the best growing conditions in the world; maybe we should use the rest of this water to stimulate our economy and export food like almonds.

That’s basically the way that water is divided up at this point. As climate change reduces the water stored in the snowpack, and as populations grow, there will be less water to go around. The system is already under enormous pressure — there’s not going to be a solution that will make everyone happy.

The least societally important, and least profitable use of water, I suspect, will be farming. Cities will expand, and farms will shrink. We already see that shift happening. Since 2000, farm water use has declined. A lot of that decline comes from farmers taking marginal land out of production, Hanak told me. At the same time, farm income is up: Farmers can afford to give up land because they are planting higher-value crops (like almonds) on the rest of their acreage.

What then do we do?

Most places in California have plenty of water to keep humans alive. But, there are neighborhoods in agricultural areas that have lost their drinking water because farmers with deep straws have sucked the wells dry. Some people are beginning to suffer from this classic example of the tragedy of the commons. And it’s always the poor who suffer most.

My first reaction is to look for forceful solutions: Perhaps local governments could stop giving permits to drill wells in sensitive areas. Some are trying to do that, though it can backfire, and may not hold up in court.

People like to seek villains by pointing at almonds or alfalfa (to feed cattle), but it would be nearly impossible to change water use by telling farmers what they can and can’t plant.

“We will be in court arguing for decades if we try to regulate where crops are grown,” said Renata Brillinger, executive director of the California Climate and Agriculture Network, speaking on a panel about farming in California’s drought put on by the Berkeley Food Institute.

It seems self-evident to me that society has an urgent duty to take care of people who lose their water. But when it comes to fixing the systemic problem, it’s probably better to be patient. California communities have to set groundwater management rules by 2020. This is ridiculously late — think of all the expense and strife we could have saved if we had started managing groundwater 20 years ago. But we seem capable of making hard decisions only when we have no other choice — the challenge is to make thoughtful decisions, rather than panicked ones that we’ll regret.

The legislature could have imposed rules from above that would be in place now, but lawmakers wanted to allow the people to craft rules that were contextually appropriate. That seems wise to me. It doesn’t make sense to implement the law overnight, Hanak told me, but it would be in the best interest of many farm communities to make rules sooner rather than later — so they don’t have to wait until 2020.

Meanwhile, we should still be pushing water-conservation practices. Even if irrigation efficiency doesn’t add water to the system, it does clean up the environment, while making California’s farm economy more resilient to climate change.

Instead of taking a reductive approach and looking for a simple evil to vanquish, Brillinger said, we have to understand the system and, as Wendell Berry put it, solve for pattern. Instead of trying to solve problems with centralized, top-down control, we need rules informed by local knowledge and crafted by local water users. Instead of focusing only on big technological solutions, like desalinization plants and dams, we need to look for small-scale and biological solutions, she said. The “only” there is key: the big engineering projects could really help in the crunch times, but they’re not going to make this problem go away.

Humans faced with a crisis want to find a villain, pick a fight, and exercise quick top-down action to bring the accused to justice. This kind of thinking may make sense in a small tribe, but it’s all wrong for a complex societal problem like California’s drought. It’s especially hard to avoid this reductive thinking when conventional wisdom is peppered with misconceptions. California may be getting drier, but we’re still awash in water myths.

 

CA Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Proposes Bill to Provide Professional Sports Cheerleaders With Employee Rights

Seriously, Democrat Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez needs to get her priorities in order. California has $340 billion in debt, a pension system that was forced to increased mandated contributions by 50%, a lack of water caused by government policy, failed government schools and the list is much longer. Yet, she has filed a bill to declare “cheerleaders” are employees with all the rights. Think about it—the cheerleaders knew the situation when they went into the business. Most have managers that handle their schedules and appearances. Now she wants government to interfere between sports team and free choice cheerleaders.

Gonzalez is so big government she is concerned about the lack of employee status of, mostly, women who chose to do this work. Guess Lorena is overwhelmed by the real work of the Legislature.

““NFL teams and their billionaire owners have used professional cheerleaders as part of the game day experience for decades.  They have capitalized on their talents without providing even the most basic workplace protections like a minimum wage,” said Gonzalez, a former collegiate-level cheer athlete who served as a labor leader before assuming elected office in 2013.  “If the guy selling you the beer deserves a minimum wage, so does the woman entertaining you on the field.  All work is dignified and cheerleaders deserve the respect of these basic workplace protections.”

Then don’t be a cheerleader if you do not like the conditions.

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

CA Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Proposes Bill to Provide Professional Sports Cheerleaders With Employee Rights

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalex, 1/29/15

AB 202 would ensure cheerleaders for NFL and other professional sports teams are treated as employees under the law

California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) introduced Assembly Bill 202 today to treat cheerleaders of professional sports teams as employees under California law, a move that will better protect cheer athletes in the state from workplace abuses and bring equity to the multibillion-dollar professional sports landscape.

Recent attention to the issue from lawsuits brought by cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills have reported that, in addition to sub-minimum wage pay, cheerleaders have been forced to spend significant personal funds and work unpaid overtime – practices that would be illegal under the law but were found to be commonplace pressures on teams’ cheerleaders despite the tremendous profits being gained by the teams they cheered for.

“NFL teams and their billionaire owners have used professional cheerleaders as part of the game day experience for decades.  They have capitalized on their talents without providing even the most basic workplace protections like a minimum wage,” said Gonzalez, a former collegiate-level cheer athlete who served as a labor leader before assuming elected office in 2013.  “If the guy selling you the beer deserves a minimum wage, so does the woman entertaining you on the field.  All work is dignified and cheerleaders deserve the respect of these basic workplace protections.”

The Lacy T. et al v The Oakland Raiders class-action complaint filed in 2014 outlined a stunning system of abuses against cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders stemming from the team’s misclassification of these cheerleaders.

AB 202 would explicitly require that professional sports teams provide cheerleaders with the same rights and benefits as other employees, protecting against the sort of financial and personal abuses that have been reported throughout the country.