Legislators: Help us with hyacinth

Legislators from San Joaquin County today asked for federal help combatting the huge water hyacinth problem here.

In a letter to California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross, the legislators asked her to seek “sustained” funding from the federal government.

The request comes after the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded this region $750,000 earlier this year to seek a comprehensive solution. The legislators are essentially saying that more funding will be needed on an ongoing basis.

Read the letter.

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‘At best, a down payment on our water future’

The Pacific Institute issued a lukewarm report this morning about Proposition 1, the water bond on the November ballot.

While taking no formal position on the bond, the institute found that the bond “can be, at best, a down payment on our water future,” depending on how the money is spent, and warned that surely more investment will be necessary down the road.

Some highlights from the institute’s report:

• WHO PAYS?: The new bond will be funded by taxpayers, as opposed to those who directly benefit from whatever projects are build. That’s in contrast to the 1960 bond that paid for the construction of the State Water Project, money which came initially from the state’s general fund but was later repaid by project beneficiaries. Concerns about taxpayers footing the bill are “legitimate,” the institute found.

• GROWING DEBT: The size of water-related bonds has “increased dramatically.” Between 2000 and 2013, California voters approved six water-related bonds totaling $24.8 billion. November’s proposed bond is the fourth-largest in state history.

• BUT FOR CONTEXT: While California has the largest bond debt of all 50 states, on a per capita basis the state’s public debt in 2011 was about $4,000 per resident, ranking 21st in the U.S.

• WHAT GETS FUNDED?: Most of the money in the bond is dedicated to water storage, whether above- or below-ground. In fact, even though this bond is much smaller than its predecessor, the proportion of total funding for storage increased from 30 percent to 36 percent. “Far less” money is available in the new bond for recycling, stormwater capture or water efficiency projects, despite the fact that those strategies typically provide more water at a lower cost. “Funding for water conservation and efficiency is especially low,” the institute finds.

• ”TILT” TOWARD SURFACE STORAGE: When it comes to surface storage vs. groundwater storage, the categories of benefits that must be considered — including recreation — “are considered to be tilted toward favoring surface storage.”

• BANG FOR THE BUCK: Bond money will be doled out through a competitive grants process. However, “there is no requirement that all water supply options compete with one another” when it comes to cost effectiveness. In other words, a proposed dam doesn’t have to compete with new water conservation initiatives. “Thus, there is no assurance that the public is getting the greatest benefit from its investment.”

• TUNNEL TALK: Regarding the Delta tunnels: The bond won’t pay for them. “Proposition 1 does provide some funding for Delta habitat restoration, which is part of the cost of the overall Bay Delta Conservation (Plan) objectives, but this funding is far more limited than in the 2009 proposed bond, which included $1.5 billion explicitly for the BDCP.”

• NO QUICK FIX: Proposition 1 “will do little to alleviate the current drought.”

• MUCH-NEEDED HELP: The bond allocates “considerable funding” to disadvantaged communities — at least $696 million, or 9 percent of the total bond. Most of that money would be for drinking water or wastewater projects.

BOTTOM LINE: IF the bond passes, and IF the funds go to “effective projects,” and IF those projects are well-designed and implemented, “the long-term benefits could include a reduction in the risk of future droughts and floods as well as improvements in the health of California’s aquatic ecosystems.”

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Water and the economy, neck-and-neck

Some water highlights from the Public Policy Institute of California’s latest poll, released tonight:

–So much for “It’s the economy, stupid!” Water and the state’s economy are just about equally important in the eyes of the public, with 30 percent identifying the economy as the most important issue facing California and 28 percent identifying water or the drought. Four years ago the economy got a whopping 59 percent of that pie.

–Water issues are more closely watched this year than the governor’s race. Sixty-two percent said they were following water news “very closely” and another 30 percent were following water news “fairly closely.”

–Fifty-seven percent say the government isn’t doing enough about the drought. That number is even higher in the Central Valley — 62 percent.

–The water bond enjoys a healthy lead. Fifty-six percent of likely voters support Proposition 1, with 32 percent in opposition.

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Bill Wells: Hyacinth a ‘disaster,’ possible national security threat

Bill Wells, head of the California Delta Chamber & Visitors Bureau, wrote a letter today to California Resources Secretary John Laird about the worsening water hyacinth situation. Full text below.

Dear Secretary Laird,

The hyacinth situation in parts of the California Delta has become a disaster.  The navigable part of the Calaveras River is completely filled in with the pest as are Buckley Cove, Downtown Stockton harbor, Whiskey Slough, much of the San Joaquin River and many other areas — this is just a sampling.

This plant has gone from being a nuisance to now being a security and safety hazard,  it is killing fish and wildlife and is serving as a breeding ground for disease transmitting mosquitoes.   Boats cannot operate which has caused operations at many marinas to come to a standstill as well as preventing people from visiting waterside restaurants and businesses.  Law enforcement boats cannot travel through the hyacinth and this opens up a possible national security threat as terrorists could attack ships traveling up our rivers.

This has been a problem that has been developing for the last several years ever since Ray Tsuneyoshi left the Department of Boating and Waterways in 2010.  I am not going to discuss how the ball got dropped or how this problem could have been avoided but I urge you at this time to take decisive action to control the infestation.  The permitted pesticide spraying period ends on November 1st.  You need to free up every available resource to spray as much as possible between now and the first.  I recommend hiring outside contractors to help with the task.  Once the spraying period is over you need to move forward with an aggressive campaign of mechanical removal of the plant.  Once again this would probably involve outside contractors.

Many private businesses have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own funds to try to control the hyacinth but ultimately I feel the  responsibility for controlling the pest lies with the Natural Resources Agency.  It has been disappointing to me and many of my associates trying to report the problem over the last few years that the Department (now Division) of Boating and Waterways will never answer the phone or return a message.  It makes it appear that they do not want to address or solve the problem.  Let me emphasize to you that now it has reached the critical stage and with the plant being able to double in area in less than two weeks the time for action is today!   Please feel free to contact me if I can be of any assistance.

Best Regards,

Bill Wells

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‘Almost somewhere’

Correction: Thursday’s presentation starts at 6:30 p.m., per REI’s website. I’ve updated this post as well.

If you’ve ever hiked one inch of the John Muir Trail from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney — or if you’ve dreamed of hiking the whole thing — I highly recommend attending a talk Thursday night at Stockton REI.

Suzanne Roberts was fresh out of college when she hiked the trail 20 years ago with a couple of girlfriends. Roberts’ book, “Almost Somewhere,” chronicles the beauty and diversity of the trail, of course, but also the personal hardships that each young woman had to overcome along the way.

Check it out. Thursday’s presentation begins at 6:30 p.m.

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That’s California water for ya

San Joaquin County supervisors on Tuesday will declare this to be “California Flood Preparedness Week” and then, several agenda items later, will discuss the ongoing drought.

Reminds me of this recent story by my colleague Roger Phillips. At a meeting in September, the Stockton City Council approved almost $50,000 to repair rainwater damage at City Hall; almost simultaneously, the council approved new mandatory water conservation rules for Stockton residents.

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Could desal solve our problems after all?

Every month or so someone sends me his or her “solution” to California’s water problems.

Those quotation marks aren’t meant to sound snide. These folks are all a heck of a lot smarter than I am. Or at least, more determined. You’d have to be, to spend your spare time trying to figure this mess out.

The latest proposal comes from Tualatin, Ore.-based Bella Machines, which wants to build a massive subterranean desalination plant near Los Angeles that would run on hydraulic power.

If I understand the plan correctly, water would flow from mountain reservoirs into a conduit connecting to the underground desal plant. Meanwhile, a separate conduit will deliver ocean water (sea critters would be filtered out somehow).

The fresh water coming down the first conduit would power a high-pressure pump that would force the ocean water through a membrane to remove the salt.

In other words, unlike an “ordinary” desal plant that requires tremendous amounts of electricity, this one would run on the tremendous force of  falling water.

The authors contend this would be better than the current system by reducing the amount of power needed to convey Northern California water to Southern California. “Every gallon of water that is generated in LA is one less gallon that must be pumped out of the Central Valley,” they write.

It would also reduce demands on the Delta. by generating up to 1.12 million acre feet per year of “new” water according to the authors. The proponents estimate the system would cost $31 billion.

They argue the plan is a viable alternative to the twin tunnels because it would involve less land disruption and require less mitigation. Eighty percent of construction would take place in the Mojave Deserve, and the rest would be underground, as compared with the Delta and it’s vast farms, utilities and highways.

No big, ugly desal plants spoiling the scenic Southern California coastline.

“The LA Desalination Project needs to be on the table and warrants the serious consideration of the California voters and decisionmakers,” the group writes.

Read the whole proposal here.

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Incoming invasive

East end of Buckley Cove

Took a quick tour of hyacinth hot spots on the west side of town on Monday — here’s how it’s looking out there.

In downtown Stockton, the marina is still mostly open, though some slips were choked with hyacinth on Monday:

Slips at Stockton Marina

The Morelli boat launch just to the west is in somewhat worse shape:

Looking west. Note narrow band of hyacinth across entire channel.

The Morelli launch. Suffice it to say, no one was launching there.

Moving down the channel, conditions continued to deteriorate:

Louis Park launch into the bay between Dad's Point and the mainland

And a closer look

Hyacinth colonizing the banks of the Deep Water Ship Channel at Louis Park

And finally, Buckley Cove at the west end of March Lane. Check 0ut Ladd’s Marina:

Socked in

… and the mouth of Buckley Cove at the San Joaquin River:

Take it slow

These photos were taken on Oct. 13 — pretty early for hyacinth season. Just about everyone I spoke with yesterday said they figured it’ll be another nasty year out there.

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Why are we preserving stripers?

Longtime Lodi resident and recent Stockton transplant Joshua Hutchison cast a few lines my way about yesterday’s game warden story (see previous post).

Hutchison asks whether striped bass populations really should be preserved by these wardens, given the fact that stripers eat endangered fish.

This is a topic we’ve covered a number of times; I didn’t crack open that can o’ worms for this story.

But for the record, here’s what Hutchison has to say:

“I enjoyed your article on California game wardens. I considered applying to be game warden myself, and loved hearing Perry Schultz’s motivation is the preservation of the ecosystem for his offspring and all the future.
“The quote from Schultz about having no pity for people taking undersized striped bass disturbed me because studies have proven that striped bass, which are a non-native invasive species, are predating (eating) salmon, steelhead, and other threatened species. The policy of the Department of Fish and Game to protect striped bass from being taken before they reach reproductive age is only in the interest of preserving sport fishing at the cost of the ecosystem. It seems like the department is more worried about reducing the revenues from licenses and fines than it is concerned about protecting the populations of threatened species.
“I understand that there are concerns about the economic impacts of allowing sport fishing of striped bass to no longer have the protection from the regulations of the government agency that protects the habitat in which these fish live. However, this in not a corporation, and companies that sell bass boats, lures, and equipment are not shareholders. The policies need to address the long term effect of a government sponsoring and protecting an invasive species that consumes the young of the threatened species in the same habitat. These policies were debated recently, and changes were considered that would not have protected the striped bass.
“I hope you would consider publishing an article about this issue in the future that highlights this perspective on the issue.”

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‘The thin green line’

Enjoyed a ride-along last week with state Fish and Wildlife warden Perry Schultz, one of five wardens charged with protecting San Joaquin County’s natural resources.

Here’s the story, and here’s a bit of video we shot out in the field.

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    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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