Tuesday, August 29, 2017


Baby Blue Eye: San Joaquin River Gorge

     I would love to believe that local newspapers are a bastion of truth, but what do I usually find? The Fresno Bee is a purveyor of falsehoods time and again. If Donald Trump were truly concerned about truth and journalistic integrity, he would be pointing at The Bee every other day and shouting, “Fake news, fake news!” McClatchy takes full advantage of its monopoly power to promote corporate interests, not the public interest, and does not hesitate to print lies that benefit the top few percent. No longer just a local newspaper, the McClatchy Company has grown into a powerful octopus over the past few years, controlling 29 newspapers in over 14 states—while the quality of its product and its integrity have all but vanished.
     For instance, Fresno Bee reporter Lewis Griswold hardly even makes an effort to present the appearance of balanced, unbiased reporting in a recent front-page article on Temperance Flat Dam (Thursday, August 24, 2017). He had the opportunity to reveal catastrophic weaknesses in the dam proposal but chose instead to omit facts and allow dam supporters to perpetuate lies—in ten times the space that he allotted to people who oppose the dam.  He ended up writing what amounts to an advertisement for the dam, most of which was—tellingly—printed next to a half-page drug advertisement that contains statements that have not been evaluated by the FDA. The one person who got to mention anything in opposition to the dam, Ron Stork, senior policy advocate for Friends of the River, is quoted as saying that the dam has “never been constructed because it’s costly and doesn’t develop more water.” This one sentence, if explained effectively in a fraction of the space granted to prevaricating dam supporters, would poke a hole so big in the dam proposal that all efforts to support the dam would collapse.
     Allow me to explain in one short paragraph.
     The dam would not develop more water because the holders of water rights already have a claim on the water: The State Water Resources Control Board has determined that no more water rights are available on the San Joaquin River. Moreover, according to a recent study, the water from the river has been over-allocated by a whopping 861%. And very little new water will be created because other dams already capture and divert almost all of the river’s flows. The trickle of new water that would be created by the dam would be channeled to landowners and corporations with the water rights.
     Instead of presenting these simple facts, Bee reporter Griswold allows the dam supporters to peddle their snake oil. Despite the fact that the dam is costly and doesn’t develop more water, dam supporters claim that a new dam at Temperance Flat would work wonders, miracles even. Salmon on the lower San Joaquin would thrive due to the cold water provided by the dam, and water from the dam would also be delivered to wildlife refuges. Water from the dam could be used to recharge groundwater and meet the goals of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The dam would help farmers on the east side, the west side, and in the south. Recreation and ecosystem improvements would be “gained”—even though the dam would destroy 5,000 acres of a majestic public park and destroy a stunning river ecosystem. Obviously, dam supporters can say whatever they want, no matter how absurd, and The Bee will print it without making an effort to present the other side.
     The lies go on and on, but the one that always tugs at the heartstrings the most is about the family farmers who have to fallow their land and the agricultural workers who lose their jobs because water runs dry during the Valley’s abiding droughts. According to Assembly Speaker Rendon, “you never forget those faces.” Imagine their faces when they realize they’ve been duped into spending billions of tax dollars and sacrificing a majestic park so that landowners and corporations with the water rights can channel a little more water to their land. Imagine the faces of urban users when they realize that the water will go to many unsustainable crops that should never be grown in a desert, such as almonds, the dominant crop in the valley. (Much of the land has been fallowed due to over-drafting of groundwater that has been used to irrigate crops unsuitable to the region.) Imagine the faces of the people who love the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area when they see the canyon drowned under hundreds of feet of water. Imagine the faces of the poor when they realize this is a land and water grab meant to benefit the top few percent. Imagine the faces of voters when they realize they have been lied to over and over about the miraculous benefits of this dam.
     Ron Stork, senior advocate for Friends of the River, also mentions that the dam obviously “has the political winds behind its sails.”  We can thank The Bee for these political winds because of all the hot air it has printed about this dam bamboozle. Again and again, The Fresno Bee has revealed that it has no journalistic integrity. One way of sending The Bee a message is by hitting McClatchy where it hurts—its profit margin. I have cancelled my subscription to The Bee, and I encourage everyone else, especially wherever McClatchy has a monopoly, for instance in California's Central Valley, to do the same.

Friday, August 18, 2017


Ithuriel's Spears

     It should be crystal clear now to anyone paying attention that politicians who support a dam at Temperance Flat have a keen disregard for the facts. They are carrying the buckets for agribusiness, not protecting the public interest. Dr. Joaquin Arambula, who represents the 31st District of the California Assembly, is one of a cadre of lawmakers who coauthored an op-ed piece published in The Fresno Bee in support of the dam. At best, these lawmakers are uninformed or merely disingenuous. At worst, they are hucksters hustling for the vested interests who got them elected. The list of lawmakers includes Jim Patterson, Frank Bigelow, Adam Gray, Devon Mathis, Heath Flora, Rudy Salas, and Anthony Canella. They all deserve to be voted out of office for being shamelessly deceitful, willfully ignorant, or just plain corrupt.
     Here’s why.
     They claim that a dam at Temperance Flat will “directly and positively” affect the environment of the San Joaquin River, an outright lie that could only be told with a straight face by the most shameless of con men. They do not mention that the dam will wipe out a pristine riparian ecosystem and 5,000 acres of public land. They do not mention that the San Joaquin River is at the top of the list of the most abused and endangered rivers in the U.S.—because of the numerous dams already blotting out its ecosystems. They do not mention that the public will pay billions of dollars to drown our majestic land for the benefit of a few people with water rights: Taxpayers, in other words, will pay an arm and a leg to destroy another stretch of the river to provide socialism for the wealthy vested interests of the hydraulic brotherhood.
     They claim that “aging [dam] facilities don’t have the capacity to keep up with our state’s population growth.” They do not mention that almost every drop of new water will go to the people who already have the water rights, not to growing urban populations. They do not mention that the State Water Resources Control Board has determined that there are no more water rights available on the San Joaquin River. In fact, according to the Friends of the River Fact Sheet, water rights on the river have been over-allocated by a stunning 861%. Our politician friends, in other words, do not mention that these property rights (in the form of water rights) would have to be taken away from established users before new users would see any new water. Yet these politicians claim that this trickle of new water will benefit so many different interests, from communities suffering from undrinkable groundwater, to environmentalists and resource managers, to farmers with depleted aquifers, and on and on.
     Our politician friends claim that “Temperance Flat Dam will nearly triple storage capacity above Friant Dam and deliver water from the San Joaquin River to farms on the west side, ensuring higher and more reliable flows, and restoring the San Joaquin back to the levels and flows that once occurred naturally.” They do not mention that very little new water will be created by the dam, mainly because numerous dams along the river already capture and divert most of the water. According to the Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the Central Valley Project (in other words, the agency that would oversee Temperance Flat Dam), only 21,000 thousand acre feet of new water would be created in dry years (drought being the normal condition in the Central Valley). Compare this 21,000 acre feet to the 300,000 to 600,000 thousand acre feet lost in the drought from aquifer collapse due to over pumping of groundwater in the South Valley, and the 7 million acre feet produced annually by Reclamation’s Central Valley Project. In uncommon wet years, about 60,000 to 90,000 acre feet of new water will be available to miraculously restore the flows of the San Joaquin River and deliver water to the west side, in addition to providing water for the users with the water rights on the east side.
     Oddly, these politicians claim that the dam will play a key role in groundwater recharge when there is so little new water and no new water rights are available. This small amount of water will go to farms on the east side and the west side and restore the river back to flows that once occurred naturally and solve the groundwater crisis. These promises are on par with an attempt to sell a nonexistent bridge.
     They also claim the dam will enhance flood protection downstream, but I can picture a different scenario. Three dams in a row, with a new dam right between two other major dams, enhances the chance for catastrophic dam failure. If an aging upper dam fails, the others could fall like dominoes.
     We are being shamelessly lied to by people who should be representing the public interest. Instead they prevaricate for the top few percent, which is especially sad in the age of Trump when there was once still a glimmer of hope that our local politicians might not feed the public bold-faced lies on behalf of vested interests. With outright lies, with the omission of facts, with alternative facts, and with sheer make-believe, these politicians are selling the public a bill of goods—without even making much of an effort to sound truthful. They apparently believe that there is a sucker born every minute. Mr. Arambula, the good doctor, stepped forward to take most of the credit for this shabby attempt to trick the public. Obviously, just because a man is a doctor doesn’t mean he isn’t also either a fool or a liar. Unfortunately, the other lawmakers who support this con also fit into one of those two categories. Heed their names: Whether fool or liar, each one should be kicked out of office at the next available opportunity.

Friday, April 21, 2017


Fiesta Flowers and Ithuriel's Spears

     A person who has a weak argument often attacks the opposition about unrelated issues. Mike Dunbar, editorial page editor and columnist for the Modesto Bee, does just that in a recent editorial (printed with “Enviros say dams bad—until they need cold water” as the title in The Fresno Bee). First, you’ve got to love his cute nickname for environmentalists, “Enviros,” which sounds a lot like “whackos.” And you’ve got to admire a columnist who, right off the bat, shows his bias, announcing that he has no intention of presenting a reasonable, balanced argument. Even I at first thought I was being too sensitive, but, sure enough, in the third paragraph he lambasts an environmental group for collecting $133 million dollars in contributions in 2015.
      Imagine that! An environmental group that raises enough money to be effective! They must be doing something right. I have more trouble imagining a local newspaper these days that makes enough money to stay in business and consistently issue a quality daily newspaper. Certainly, in the last few years, The Bee in my neck of the woods has started charging twice the price for half the quality. Alas, if only The Bee could be as business-savvy and competent as an environmental group. To Mr. Dunbar, that is unthinkable. He suggests that a large number of people are merely being duped by a group of slick con-artists. That’s why enviros cynically attack farmers—so they can keep “vast rivers of cash” flowing into their coffers. (Apparently, the masses just love it when enviros attack farmers.)

Pink Fairy Lanterns and Chinese Purple Houses

     I would love to watch Mr. Dunbar go up against a powerful industry just to see how far he gets without the help of these organizations. Oh, but then both he and Bill McEwan, editorial page editor of The Fresno Bee, carry the buckets for big ag. (And gee, it’s becoming pretty clear how to get a job as an editorial page editor in the Central Valley….)
    Mr. Dunbar’s main argument is absurd on its face. He implies that enviros complain about dams until they need cold water, which can be found only in deep pools behind dams, to maintain salmon runs. Apparently, in Mr. Dunbar’s confused mind, dams have created the cold water necessary for maintaining salmon populations. Need I remind Mr. Dunbar that the salmon were doing just fine before the dams were built? Where I live, dams completely wiped out a healthy salmon run, which will probably never return. Dams and water diversions have essentially killed the San Joaquin River, which runs dry northwest of Fresno most years. Yet Mr. Dunbar resents releasing cold water from the reservoirs to enable conservationists to maintain salmon runs in a few rivers. On the other hand, diverting eighty percent of the water for agriculture and killing our rivers is just fine and dandy in Mr. Dunbar’s book. If he has ever considered how dams have adversely affected other species or the public, he doesn’t let on. And given the percentage of water used by farmers and his criticism of releasing water for salmon runs, Mr. Dunbar’s concept of “shared use” is simply laughable.

Ithuriel's Spears

     Let’s consider some facts. A Stanford study, according to Mr. Dunbar, “shows the South Valley lost from 336,000 to 600,000 acre-feet of storage capacity during the drought” due to farmers causing aquifers to collapse by over-pumping the groundwater. That’s about ten times the new water that would be created by a dam at Temperance Flat (60,000 thousand acre-feet) in a good year. In dry years, which are quite common in the Valley, the dam would only create about 21,000 acre-feet of new water annually. Mr. Dunbar also mentions that farmers pumped 10 million acre-feet of water during the drought in the past five years. Based on his own facts, how could Mr. Dunbar believe that current farming practices are sustainable? Another dam cannot even begin to counteract farmers’ over-use of groundwater in the Valley. Donald Trump may lie about most things, but he is right about one: “There is no drought.” In the Valley, drought is the normal condition, yet farmers and Mr. Dunbar want to live in a fantasy world where they can pretend that anything can be grown in a desert (as long as more and more dams are built), even almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cotton, rice, fodder crops, and on and on and on. Mr. Dunbar has forgotten his history: The Central Valley Project (CVP) was built in the mid-twentieth century in large part due to farmers severely over-drafting the groundwater. Half a century later, the same problem is rearing its ugly head, even with all the dams and the seven million acre-feet a year that the CVP provides. How can Mr. Dunbar possibly consider this situation sustainable?
     Mr. Dunbar stakes his hopes on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014, which requires all groundwater basins to become sustainable by 2030. As he says, “If no sustainability plan is submitted by 2022, the state will impose one.” This is a state that, unlike most other states, has avoided imposing groundwater regulations for over a century on farmers due to the concentrated power of the hydraulic brotherhood. Most people who are paying attention know there are numerous ways to weaken regulations and enforcement rules and undermine the best laid plans of the public and the government. Call me cynical, but as Mr. Dunbar states, “In the Valley, where farming is a way of life and dependency on our rivers and aquifers is a given, planning is well under way”—no doubt to undermine the sustainability plan. Anyone who believes that this plan will have teeth is a fool—that is, if there is not a well-organized effort by concerned citizens to bird-dog the process every step of the way. A large group of retired volunteers would be ideal, in other words, people who don’t have to worry about being blackballed by a powerful industry—because, as Mr. Dunbar may or may not realize, that is what our democracy is like here in the Central Valley. Perhaps Mr. Dunbar would volunteer to be our watchdog, or maybe Mr. Dunbar would be so kind as to politely ask the enviros with rivers of cash to devote countless hours to making sure the plan is effective.

Lupine, Poppies, Purple Vetch

     If corporate agribusiness is sincere in adhering to reasonable regulations, then we don’t have to worry, or do we? Right now, there are farmers who are planting almond orchards in the foothills and causing the water-table to drop 10 to 20 feet, which in Mr. Dunbar’s words is “clearly unsustainable,” a “slow-motion catastrophe.” Mr. Dunbar refuses to admit that the same slow-motion catastrophe in the entire Valley might not be slow enough to avoid disaster before 2030.
     The Bee, in both Fresno and Modesto, is incapable of presenting the truth about a dam at Temperance Flat, almost as if some evil power has taken control of its word processors and continually censors all the facts. Consider the following. The state has over-allocated water rights on the San Joaquin River by 861 percent, and the river itself is fully appropriated, meaning that no more water rights are available. The river is already so over-used and abused that a dam will create very little new water. This is a river, by the way, that continues to maintain the honor of being one of the most endangered rivers in America. When is the public going to put two and two together? The public will pay billions for a dam that destroys public land mainly for the benefit of people in one industry who maintain water rights—even though that same industry continues to overdraft our subterranean lakes and kill our rivers and take land without compensation that belongs to our children and grandchildren. Mr. Dunbar should crunch the numbers: How much will each holder of water rights gain from a dam at Temperance Flat? Whatever it is, the public will lose something beyond measure. The public should be thankful that the NRDC and other environmental organizations have enough cash and courage to stand up to the likes of Mr. Dunbar and The Bee and agri-business, which is obviously still the most influential industry in the state.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


Ithuriel's Spears and Fiesta Flowers

     Let’s hope someone out there still respects the facts. The Fresno Bee, which has repeatedly trumpeted its support for a dam at Temperance Flat, obviously does not. Sad, since in the San Joaquin Valley The Fresno Bee has maintained a monopoly on the news for decades.
     Reading the Friends of the River Fact Sheet, you can’t help but notice that the proposal for Temperance Flat Dam is a mess of uncertainties and unmitigated problems and that the dam itself would not provide much new water, mainly because eight large dams and reservoirs already divert most of the flow of the San Joaquin River, which often runs dry northwest of Fresno. The San Joaquin River is fully appropriated, which means the State Water Resources Control Board has determined that no more water rights are available. Moreover, a recent UC Davis study found that the state has over-allocated water rights in the San Joaquin River by an astounding 861%, which remains an unresolved issue for any new dam on the river.
     In fact, The Bureau of Reclamation, which completed a draft feasibility report and an environmental impact statement for the dam, examined five different project alternatives but was “unable to identify any preferred alternatives because of serious unresolved issues and a number of project uncertainties.” And even though the dam would produce relatively little new water, it would cost state and federal taxpayers billions of dollars, at a time when, according to The Fresno Bee, taxpayers are currently looking at a bill of $52 billion to shore up already existing dams and levees and another $57 billion in deferred maintenance for roads. Billions more are needed for construction and maintenance for schools and universities as well.
     One of the most important points, which dam supporters, including The Fresno Bee, invariably overlook, is that the dam would drown 5,000 acres of public land, a recreation area known as The San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area (formerly known as Squaw Leap). Another point they fail to mention: This land belongs to all of us, including our children and grandchildren. Nevertheless, dam supporters insist that we, the public, pay billions for the destruction of our own land even though the dam would not benefit farmers in the Valley as a whole very much. The water is spoken for, so the people with the water rights are asking the public to pay billions and to give up our land mainly for their benefit.
     According to the fact sheet, although Temperance Flat Dam could store up to 1.331 MAF13 of water, the Bureau of Reclamation concluded that the new dam would increase average annual water deliveries by only 61,000-94,000 acre feet (depending on the emphasis of the operational scenario). The project alternative that stands as the potential front runner is modeled to produce 70,000 acre-feet, 21,000 in a dry or critically dry year. (To put that in perspective, Reclamation’s Central Valley Project produces 7 million acre-feet. Statewide water use is 42 million acre-feet.) According to the NRDC, investments in water conservation and regional water supplies have consistently been far more cost effective and less environmentally damaging than investments in new, large reservoir projects in California.
     The Friends of the River fact sheet does not mention other possible alternatives, such as recharge basins in the Valley, water conservation, and the planting of sustainable crops. 
     The fact sheet also does not mention that an element of risk always exists with any dam, which can be summed up by three little words: Things. Fall. Apart. The immediate bill for the failing spillways of the Oroville Dam is in the hundreds of millions. The incredibly long list of dams that have failed in recent history does not inspire confidence either. With three dams, Kerckhoff, Temperance Flat, and Friant, all in a row like dominos, the failure of one dam could lead to the catastrophic failure of one or more of the other two, which could potentially have far worse impacts than the Oroville disaster, which so far has included the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people.
     The San Joaquin River is among the most heavily dammed and diverted rivers in America. It ranked number one on the list of most endangered rivers in 2014. In 2016, only one other river system ranked higher on the list than the San Joaquin. Unfortunately, there are not many pristine stretches of the river left for the public to enjoy. Why should the public give up so much for so little, especially when far more effective alternatives exist?
     I know we are dealing with facts here, but I have just one wish. We are stuck with a president who doesn’t respect facts, but can’t we just puh-leeeease have our local newspaper report the facts on this issue for once?

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Lupine and Poppies on Slope

     This letter to the editor, which was not published by The Fresno Bee, challenges Nick C. Kazarian’s assertion in a January 28, 2017 letter to the editor that a dam at Temperance Flat will create a new recreation area:

     Temperance Flat Dam will create a new recreation area for all to enjoy? Wrong! Temperance Flat Dam will destroy the most stunning public park near Fresno, known as the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area (formerly known as Squaw Leap).
     This park is our land! Nick C. Kazarian tells an outright lie (letter, January 28), apparently so that we, the public, will happily pay for the destruction of our own land, primarily for the benefit of one industry.
     Paid for mainly by the public, a new dam will obliterate a park that belongs to everyone—without the state or federal governments bothering to replace it. A new dam? After water diversions for the farmers have already killed our rivers? A new dam—as farmers are exhausting our groundwater for water-guzzling crops that should never have been planted in a desert?
     Grow sustainable crops. Build recharge basins in the Valley, but don't destroy land that belongs to our children and grandchildren—for the benefit of an industry that once again is showing no respect for the public.

     The Bee, which has gone on record supporting a dam at Temperance Flat, is allowing an outright lie to remain unchallenged while censoring the truth and opinions contrary to its own. Abdicating its public trust responsibility, The Bee is supporting the commercial interests of the Valley’s main industry over the interests of the public. No wonder many members of the public, here in the Valley and in the rest of the country, remain furious with the news media.
     The Bee’s criticisms of Donald Trump for his lies, of Devin Nunes for not challenging Trump’s lies, or of anyone else’s lies now stand as the height of hypocrisy.


Thursday, December 29, 2016


Lupine and Poppies above Pine Flat Reservoir

     It's funny how the presentation of facts can be interpreted as hostile criticism. Consider the following:
     From time immemorial, snow melt has coursed down the slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, merging with rivers that flowed out through the delta and the bay into the ocean. The rivers periodically flooded the valley, overflowing into wetlands teeming with life. Much of the water in the wetlands would seep down into aquifers below, creating underground lakes of fresh water.
     Over a hundred years ago, farmers began draining the wetlands and cultivating the land. In the early twentieth century, farmers began over drafting the groundwater, so the government built dams and canals that killed most of the rivers, diverting about eighty percent of the water to farmers, who continued to grow many water-intensive crops in a region with chronic drought conditions.
     Even with all of the dams in California (about 1,400), farmers continue to over draft the groundwater, and the land continues to subside. Due to political clout, farmers in California, unlike in most other states, successfully avoided groundwater regulations until a few years ago. Wetlands are down to about four percent of their historical levels. Tainted by toxic chemicals, irrigation water percolates into the aquifers even as farmers did deeper wells to access what's left of the fresh groundwater.

Native American Village Site at Confluence of Kings River and Sycamore Creek:
Bottom of Pine Flat Reservoir in Drought Conditions

     One vast ecosystem extending from the foothills of the mountains to the San Francisco Bay is gone, and many plants and animals are threatened or endangered. Beds of ancient rivers have remained dry for decades even as water streams through diversion canals. The groundwater is becoming more and more polluted due to pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and defoliants. Many fields will be fallowed and some farming communities will very likely become ghost towns in the near future due to over pumping of groundwater.
     In the mountains, dams have destroyed many of the rivers' habitats. Near urban areas, few places remain that allow public access to pristine stretches of California's rivers. Due to over drafting of groundwater and the Valley's chronic drought conditions, farmers in the past two decades have fought for more dams on public lands. The public will pay the lion's share for them if they are built even as the public loses public parks and access to pristine stretches of river.
     As an environmentalist, I realize that this factual description can easily look like hostile criticism. My goal, however, is to work for sustainable industries and communities. When I began as an activist, I often witnessed how elected officials at public hearings vilified environmentalists, calling them anti-American or communist or anti-business, suggesting that citizens working for sustainable communities were actually nonconformist wackos, unpatriotic, irresponsible, unreliable and unemployable.
     In Requiem for the American Dream (available on Netflix), noted linguist and activist Noam Chomsky points out that in totalitarian societies this strategy has often been used to demonize and marginalize anyone who criticizes concentrated power. He states, “These concepts only arise in a culture, where, if you criticize state power, and by state, I mean, more generally, not just government, but state-corporate power—if you criticize concentrated power, you're against the society, you're against the people. And it's quite striking that it's used in the United States. In fact, we're the only democratic society where this concept isn't ridiculed, and it's a sign of elements of the elite culture which are quite ugly.”

No Man's Land: Pounding Stone in Friant Dam's Inundation Zone

     In a recent editorial in The Fresno Bee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, and The Bee's editorial staff both resemble in no small way commissars who vilify any citizen who criticizes concentrated power. (Commissar: an official in a totalitarian government whose duties include political indoctrination, detection of political deviation and implementation of punishment to make its populace conform.) According to The Fresno Bee's editorial staff, Rep. Nunes in a “sophisticated” critique “cites environmental groups' hostility to farming as being a factor in the state's long history of failing to do the obvious and build more reservoirs and dams to hold more water from the Sierra snow pack.” Even as agribusiness maintains concentrated power through its influence on politicians, The Fresno Bee lauds a politician for using an ugly and distinctively unsophisticated totalitarian strategy to demean and marginalize citizens' groups working for a sustainable future. 
     Conservationists and environmentalist fight to protect what little is left, not from hostility but for the common good. The Bee and Rep. Nunes fail to recognize that there's a world of difference between criticizing unsustainable practices and being hostile. At this crucial time, the ag industry can maintain an openness to more sustainable ways of doing business for everyone's benefit or perpetuate the same destructive practices while, like many tyrants, relying on "commissars" to intimidate and villify people who disagree. Unfortunately, both Rep. Nunes and The Fresno Bee have chosen to use a strategy of the elite culture which is quite ugly.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


The San Joaquin River Gorge

     Depressed at first by Donald Trump's victory, I woke up last Sunday morning and realized that, largely due to local media, I have spent most of my life in Trump land—a domain where facts don't matter, where history is manipulated by the hands of power, where you're not expected to believe much, if anything, you hear. I decided that if I can survive forty-five years in the San Joaquin Valley, in proto-Trump land, then I'm pretty sure that we can survive the next four years (as long as Trump's staff manages to keep the President's busy fingers away from the nuclear launch codes). Then, sipping my coffee, I read The Fresno Bee's editorial supporting a dam at Temperance Flat and an editorial on the facing page about how farmer's are protecting endangered species—when farming is in fact the reason for most of the habitat destruction. (See Letter to the Editor below.) The bald-faced lies, fallacies of logic, and absurdities seemed even worse than before. After Trump's victory, I concluded, the editorial staff of The Fresno Bee has slid headlong into fatuity.
     In true Donald Trump form, The Bee claims that “People have short memories” while neglecting to mention that the public in the Central Valley has already given up an underground sea of groundwater to agribusiness, which has severely over-drafted the aquifers. The public in the Valley has given up most of its river resources to agribusiness as well: Riverbeds in the Valley have remained dry for decades even as water continues to course through diversion canals. The public has given up its land, wiped out by dams in numerous places on the San Joaquin River and well over a thousand other places in California. Now The Fresno Bee is all in favor of the public paying billions of dollars to allow the annihilation of a magnificent public park and the diverting of water resources for agribusiness in a twisted form of socialism for the wealthy—under the guise of recharging the aquifers. The Bee, unlike just about everyone else, refuses to acknowledge that the writing is on the wall due to unregulated groundwater pumping—Another reservoir, which will hold some of the most expensive water in the state, will not for long keep farmers from putting themselves out of business.

Trail into San Joaquin River Gorge, with Pounding Stone to the Left

     The Bee relies on pure hyperbolic fallacy, claiming that a new dam at Temperance Flat would be a “linchpin” within the system of waterworks. A new dam will, quite simply, not hold the various elements of the Central Valley Project's vast system together as farmers race to the bottom to mine the groundwater still within reach. Unlike other states in the nation, farmers have succeeded in pressuring California to avoid imposing groundwater regulations, which has led to a new water war that pits neighbor against neighbor and farms against urban areas as the aquifers run dry. Unrestrained pumping of groundwater for unsustainable crops, not drought, which has always been a chronic condition in the Valley, is the main cause. As farmers race to suck up the last groundwater, the assertion that one dam is going to provide enough water to recharge nearly exhausted aquifers on the Valley's east-side, let alone throughout the Valley, is a ludicrous fallacy.
     Lisa M. Krieger writes in The Mercury News about the proliferation of new wells, “The rush to drill is driven not just by historically dry conditions, but by a host of other factors that promote short-term consumption over long-term survival — new, more moisture-demanding crops; improved drilling technologies; and a surge of corporate investors seeking profits for agricultural ventures....Now those forces are renewing an age-old problem of environmental degradation: Decades ago, overpumping sunk half of the entire San Joaquin Valley, in one area as much as 28 feet. Today new areas are subsiding, some almost a foot each year, damaging bridges and vital canals.”
     Have dams ever solved for long the chronic
Bush Lupine near Trail
problem of over-drafting groundwater? Even with all of California's waterworks, groundwater makes up anywhere from forty to sixty percent of fresh water consumed in California, according to The Sacramento Bee. As The Fresno Bee mentions in its editorial, The Central Valley Project was built in large part because farmers in the early twentieth century were over-pumping groundwater at an alarming rate, yet here we are again with the same old problem despite the dams and water diversions. Despite fledgling groundwater regulations that farmers could tie up in court for decades, no one can be certain that farmers will stop over drafting our groundwater supply before it's too late—even with a new dam.
     Effectively fighting off water regulations for decades and pumping as if there is an unlimited supply of liquid gold, farmers are in the process of creating ghost towns on the east-side of the Valley. Pending regulations are currently vague and in a state of limbo. According to The Sacramento Bee, uncertainties abound about the new California groundwater regulations, including who will fund and who will manage the agencies; how the water use will be tracked and how the violators will be punished; how much water will be drawn overall and how it will be divvied up; and whether or not zoning ordinances should be used to limit new wells and the types of crops that can be planted.
     Whether or not the regulations have any teeth is the essential
Lupine and Poppies by Trail
question. Over the years I have witnessed how industries do a run around regulations by pressuring legislators to under-fund agencies, by getting representatives who are hostile to regulation appointed to water-down rules and enforcement policies, and by limiting citizen representation on rule-making boards. Often industry members step gingerly through a revolving door into rule-making positions. In a place where agribusiness has successfully avoided regulation for the greater part of a century, where even the word regulation can inspire farmers to run for their guns, establishing effective regulatory agencies will be a task that would cause even Hercules to tremble.
     Trump's choice of Scott Pruitt, sworn enemy of environmentalists, to head the Environmental Protection Agency makes the future of the regulations even more uncertain. Considering the bitter water wars of the past and the political effectiveness of the hydraulic brotherhood, as a person who has been politically active for several decades, I have little hope that the regulations will be effective enough to keep the farmers from exhausting our water resources or from putting themselves out of business. The farmers can always sell their land; the public, on the other hand, will be left with no water in the well.
     The public has given up its river resources and its groundwater and its park lands, and has paid a fortune to assist agribusiness, yet the problem of over-drafting continues to rear its ugly head because of an unsustainable system. In the Valley, farmers have continued to plant permanent, unsustainable crops, including almonds, pistachios, and walnuts, and water-guzzling crops, such as cotton and rice, that have no business being grown in a desert. Farmers, like bankers on Wall Street, have created a disaster waiting to happen. With the Temperance Flat Dam proposal, they hope to benefit from the threat of disaster. The Fresno Bee, despite its public trust role, is all too happy to provide the PR for them. If a dam is built at Temperance Flat, unfortunately, the next great loss to the public will no doubt be the Kings River Special Management Area when farmers provide the next installment of disaster capitalism: Farmers have clamored to build a dam at Roger's Crossing for years. California and the federal government have yet to put the brakes on a system that is wildly out of control, and the public will continue to pay for it—with hard-earned cash and the loss of even more public resources.

Trail Below Bluffs: San Joaquin River Gorge

     Despite the minefield of water rights and policies in California, our legislators have neglected one simple fact: Water does not recognize property boundaries. Neglecting this fact is quickly leading to a day of reckoning. At some point, no doubt, the only farmers who survive the exhaustion of ground water resources will be the ones who can afford to drill the deepest wells, but even they will reach a point where it is no longer profitable to drill deeper. Quite simply, California's system of allowing one industry unrestrained access to groundwater and its kooky policy of handing out five times more rights to water than our rivers produce even in a normal year has led to the draining of water resources by one industry, resulting in one loss after another for the public, the loss of rivers and riparian ecosystems and public lands and precious groundwater. The loss of The San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area, which would be wiped out by a dam at Temperance Flat, would be just another tragedy in a lengthy list of losses. Unfortunately, there is not much left for the public to lose.
     When it comes to who gets the water from the new reservoir, even The Bee has acknowledged that much of the water is spoken for. Despite all that the public has given up, the people whose wells have run dry are probably not going to be first on the list to receive water for recharging their aquifers. The farmers are going to continue to receive the lion's share of the water. Instead of addressing the public's needs, The Bee has decided that the public should feel obliged to give up another arm and a leg to perpetuate the unsustainable practices of a private industry, with the net effect of destroying public lands and diverting the vast majority of river water for irrigation even while farmers continue to suck up the groundwater and pollute with toxic chemicals what should be treated as a public resource. The public in the Central Valley is once again the loser. The Bee, which should play a public trust role, is once again twisting the truth for the wealthiest beneficiaries of California's most precious resource.

Tony Francois's statement (opinion Dec. 4) of the diversion of “water of life” by federal water managers from endangered Valley wildlife species for Delta smelt protection, is nothing but an emotional fabrication of the truth.
Vernal pools (filled only by annual rainfall) which host various species of fairy shrimp, the California tiger salamander and unique compositions of vernal pool wildflowers, and the associated grassy uplands containing prime habitat for the San Joaquin kit fox are not threatened by water diversions, but from the incessant conversion of this unique foothill habitat for thousands of acres of new and water-thirsty almond orchards.
The California condor, which nests in remote rocky crags within forested foothills, is not a water-dependent species, but receives its liquids from dead carrion. It is also very doubtful that kayakers are “regularly engaging in recreation” in arid kit fox habitat.
His verbose bashing of federal water managers is just another verse from a very overplayed song of unsubstantiated accusations.
(Thank you, Mr. Zahm!)