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May 2012

DFF's Focus on Conservation
 with Ron Forbes

O, sir, doubt not that angling is an art; is it not an art to deceive a trout with an artificial fly.

------ Isaac Walton

The problem is worse than we thought. (Ag chemistry)

Last year I wrote an article for Delta Fly Fishers newsletter regarding the request of farmers, farm coalitions, and farm bureaus to be granted yet another waiver of compliance with California's Clean Water Act. Unlike industry, business, and urban users, California farmers have enjoyed total exemption of compliance for the 7 million acres they farm for 30 years. The waiver was granted by the State Regional Water Quality Control Board (SRWQCB). 

Row crops in the west San Joaquin valley. Photo courtesy of DWR.

As I sat in the meetings and listened to the coalitions present their cases, they kept extolling the fact that they were an outstanding example of a group that was very capable of enforcing the state Clean Water Act and therefore should not have the state control them. Their main argument was that they had spent millions of dollars examining alleged possible agriculture pollution in the unmonitored use of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizes and had the situation well under control. During the day I had asked several farm groups just how they went about this. They asserted that when a farmer out of compliance and was reported, they, "Checked his farm, told him of the issues, and told him he had to comply with the Clean Water Act." When I ask how they enforced their position I was told that the farmers were sent a notification of "non-compliance. When I asked about the "notice of non-compliance", I was told that they had no legal right of enforcement. The fact is that even thought they roared like powerful lions during these meetings,  they are, in fact, nothing more than an 30 year old lion with neither teeth nor claws. Because of these waivers, agricultural pollution has gone unchecked, and will continue to do so.

Let me made it clear. I do not intend to put all farmers in a bad light. After my post-graduate work, I returned in 1965 to live in Lodi. In my circle of friends I am fortunate to have many that are farmers. To a person they are ethical, hard working people and try to the best of their abilities to comply with the state's Clean Water Act. One of these farmers worked for a farm chemical company and I was always impressed with his knowledge of the chemistry and science involved in his job. Unfortunately, there are some who are only interested in the bottom line profit. With the help of the state granting waivers to the compliance of the Clean Water Act and the state allowing permits to use of banned chemicals, some of these products are now in the soil and ground water. 

Deformed bird fetuses, Kesterson Wildlife Refuge, 1982.Will the San Luis Sink follow this tragic path due to agricultural run off? Photo courtesy of C-WIN
Several years ago many divergent groups went to Sacramento with a common purpose. Their commonly held belief is that it is a basic human right to have clean, safe water for drinking, bathing, and food preparation. Last year it was thought that 150,000 people in the southern San Joaquin and Salinas Valleys were  living in areas where the water is toxic and unfit for human consumption. Economically, they are a deprived people and many have to drive 10-15 miles to get bottled water to survive. It’s an economic burden they can’t afford.

Both the assembly and senate passed legislation and the bill was passed to the governor to become law. However, former-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill because of the concerns of Westlands Water District, Paramount Farms etcetera on how the bill might affect their water allotments. Many find it ironic that they were against clean water for the workers that make their huge profits possible.

However, a new and ugly snake has raised its head. In March of this year, U.C. Davis scientists working for U.C. Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, have released the most comprehensive  study to date that  shows  nitrate pollution is far worst that previously thought. The study has shown that agriculture is responsible for 96% of the nitrate contamination in five counties studied. These counties are in the southern San Joaquin and Salinas Valleys and are 5 of the top 10 agriculture producing counties in the nation. The U.C. Davis researchers feel that 10% of the 2.65 million people in the counties tested may be drinking nitrate-contaminated ground water. This study includes the cities of Bakersfield, Fresno, and Salinas. If the pollution trend continues, 80% of those residents will be drinking nitrate-laced water by 2050. This will amount to 40% of the states irrigated crop land.

There are two major sources  for the nitrates from agriculture. One source is ammonium nitrate fertilizers and the other source is cow manure. These nitrates filter into the soil and  run off  contaminating both the groundwater and  wells. After the high-nitrate laden water runs off, it also causes problems in our lakes and ocean with  increased bacterial activity and loss of oxygen. This in turn leads to algal blooms and dead aquatic areas in which neither fish nor other aquatic species can survive

The toxicity caused by nitrates in humans is devastating. In infants, nitrate overexposure can cause, "blue baby exposure" (methemoglobinemia). The nitrate inhibits the child's hemoglobin from carrying the amount of oxygen needed and has resulted in the children’s death. In adults, nitrates have been linked to cancer of the thyroid, skin rashes, and hair loss. Many of the towns in the area studied have experienced unexplained deaths much higher than the national average. One source I read claimed the tolerable level for nitrates is less than 45 ppm. In one town with a high unexplained death rate the nitrate level is 106 ppm.

The cost of solving this problem is high. In San Gerardo, their water bill was $25 per month; it is now $130 per month. Fresno has had to shut down tainted wells. The research concluded that about 1 person in 10 in the studied area is drinking unsafe water. Jay Lund, one of the co-authors of the study said that it will cost between $20 million to $35million a year to give them clean water. To solve the problem, "You would have to shut down huge amounts of agriculture or greatly reduce its profitability. It would be devastating to a lot of these areas."

Valley residents at a clean water rally. Photo courtesy of Mecca
At present there are two methods thought to help the nitrate leeching. One technique is to only plant crops that require more nitrogen. The other is to use nitrate-contaminated groundwater for irrigation purposes partially cleansing the polluted groundwater. Both techniques show some promise 

Restore the Delta has asked for our help

At the April Board of Directors meeting I informed the board that Restore the Delta has asked for our help in writing two letters to Jared Huffman, Chairman of the Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee. Both of these pieces of legislation are critical for the understanding the cost of a canal through the Delta and establishing new water flow criteria in the Delta that will protect our anadromous fish populations.

The first bill is AB 2421 (Berryhill) which asks for the Legislative Analyst Office analysis before the construction of a peripheral canal. It is hard to believe the state is proceeding with trying to build one of the largest project ever constructed in California with no idea of its cost. 

The second bill, AB 1813 (Buchannan) is calling for the "establishment of flow criteria established by the State Water Resources Control Board to ensure there is no lowering of water quality in the Delta channels and to include flows into, within, and out of the Delta channels that replicate conditions that existed when local and anadromous fish populations where at a healthy and self-sustaining level."

The first bill is critical for a clear understanding of what a potential peripheral will actually cost . The second is critical to protect our Delta fisheries. At the BOD meeting I informed the board that as Conservation Chair, I am writing letters of Delta Fly Fishers support of both bills. Your individual support in writing letters on both issues would also be greatly appreciated . When you write these letter please let me know.

Fax your letter to Assembly Member Jared Huffman, Chairman, Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee at 916 319 2106.

You can also send letter via regular mail to:

   The Honorable Jared Huffman, Chairman

   Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee

   State Capitol, Room 3120

   Sacramento, Ca.95814

Go to Restore the Delta's website: http://restorethedelta.org for examples you can use or use you own thoughts. Thank you!

Governor Brown and a Peripheral Canal

Despite our politician’s consistent rhetoric about their beliefs in the rights of the American voter, they consistently do whatever it takes to abrogate those rights. Earlier this April, Record staff writer Alex Breitler wrote an article titled, "Agency to Adsorb Delta Council." Mr. Brietler's article is an excellent case in point.

Peripheral canal
A tunnel larger and longer than the English Channel "Chunnel" (today's cost 20 billion dollars) and no price tag yet? Artwork courtesy of the Public Policy Institute of California. 
When our former governor put groups and committees  together to support and built a peripheral canal, all groups representing the Delta were systematically ignored and excluded. Under Jerry Brown this system continues.

Our legislature created the Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) to act as an independent agency to audit what was going on with the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which is pushing for the canal at the expense of our fisheries and the environment. At this point, the DSC is our only real voice to express our interest in protecting the Delta

However, in the last week in March, Gov. Brown released his plan to "reorganize" the state's water bureaucracy. The plan is to make 5 agencies into 3. The idea is to streamline the state government. However buried deep in the "reorganization" is a small section that will put the independent Delta Stewardship Council under the control of the State Resources Agency. If this occurs the DSC will lose all independence

Bill Jennings of California Sportfishing Protection Alliance said, "This is kind of a stealth move. It’s not been publicly announced, it’s not been vetted, it’s not been analyzed. Clearly the legislature had intended this (council) to be an independent body to evaluate proposals brought before it."

Brown wants to take away DSC's independence by placing them under State Resources Agency. That's Brown's concept of streamlining. The final decision will be made April 25th by the Little Hoover commission.

Ron Forbes

Conservation Chair


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