Tuesday, August 29, 2017

STRONG POLITICAL WINDS

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

WHO IS THE HUCKSTER AND WHO IS THE FOOL?

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

MR. DUNBAR, THE WATCHDOG

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

THE FRESNO BEE AND TRUMP WORLD

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

THE FRESNO BEE CENSORS THE TRUTH

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.