‘Above normal’: It sounds so… exemplary

Here’s something to give thanks for tomorrow. Tuesday’s quarter-inch of rain in Stockton ensures that November will be the city’s first month with above-average rainfall this year.

Stockton now has 1.91 inches of rain for the month. Normal is 1.71 inches.

Not exactly a drought-buster, but still, we’ll take it.

Here’s a breakdown of how much rain we got each month this year, compared with “normal,” whatever that means these days:

January: 0.02 inches (2.71 inches is normal)

February: 1.44 inches (2.21 inches is normal)

March: 0.17 inches (1.99 inches is normal)

April: 1.12 inches (1.12 inches is normal)

May: 0.01 inches (0.39 inches is normal)

June: 0.07 inches (0.09 inches is normal)

July: 0.01 inches (0.03 inches is normal)

August: 0.01 inches (0.04 inches is normal)

September: 0.02 inches (0.25 inches is normal)

October: 0.20 inches (0.69 inches is normal)

November: (so far): 1.91 inches (1.71 inches is normal)

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Courting the Valley vote

It’s hard to imagine a sharper contrast in political ideologies than Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and conservative San Joaquin Valley farmers, but as the Sac Bee’s David Siders tells us,  they’re talking water. It’s a great read.

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Activist 2.0

Stockton artist and environmental activist Ryan Camero plans to represent the Delta region at the U.N. climate talks in Paris later this month.

Meet Ryan:

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‘All I do is supply a demand’

FBI photo of Al Capone

Bill Jennings says the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s potential purchase of 20,000 acres of Delta farmland “is like having Al Capone move into your neighborhood.”

I asked Jeffrey Kightlinger, the Met’s general manager, what he thought about that statement. “I don’t think we’ve gunned anyone down recently,” he quipped.

For what it’s worth, not everything thinks the Al Capone analogy is correct.

A Twitter follower, @CuAtSea, says, “Would rather have Elliot Ness.”


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Butte Fire erosion fears: How you can help

A volunteer trims a dead tree on Friday near Mountain Ranch, in an area burned severely by the Butte Fire.

Millions of people either live in the two watersheds burned by the Butte Fire, or receive water pumped from those watersheds.

So, the work that about a dozen ash-coated volunteers were doing Friday atop a 2,700-foot hill scorched by the huge blaze will benefit far more than the Calaveras County residents who live in the immediate area.

Organizers of the erosion-control effort are asking the rest of us to chip in and help, either by donating money or time to travel up the hill and do some difficult but fulfilling work.

“We’re working as hard as we can,” organizer Sean Kriletich told me. “If we don’t have more money to keep materials coming, it’s going to be hard to continue.”

Anyone interested can email info@calaverasgrown.org. Or call (209) 498-8081.

Most of the fire burned within the Calaveras River watershed, a relatively small drainage that feeds New Hogan Lake. New Hogan is a primary source of water for Stockton and east county farmers.

A portion of the fire also scorched the Mokelumne River drainage, which supplies water for 1.3 million people in the East Bay, not to mention the city of Lodi and other local farmers.

A state report predicts that once the rains come, an average 7.8 tons of soil per acre could slide into the rivers and streams that we ultimately drink from. More than 70,000 acres were burned. Do the math.

Obviously, most of us flatlanders have something at stake here.

Some water providers have already suggested they will help. The Stockton East Water District is considering kicking in some cash, said board president Paul Sanguinetti, a Stockton farmer.

The water district recognizes that erosion could affect water quality in New Hogan, making the Calaveras water more difficult to treat and deliver to Stockton residents’ taps, Sanguinetti said.

“I think it’s a good idea what they’re trying to do up there,” Sanguinetti told me. “The way I look at it is, we’ve got to help them out.”

According to the minutes from Stockton East’s meeting last week, the district intends to consider matching whatever donation the Calaveras County Water District decides to provide. A Stockton city representative also asked that the city be included in the effort. Stockton actually gets some water from the Mokelumne as well as the Calaveras, so it has a unique interest in preserving both watersheds.

The money is needed to buy straw to help stabilize scorched hillsides, as well as to provide the volunteers with equipment, Kriletich said. But your physical labor is also welcome.

With El Niño on its way, this is the proverbial race against time. As I write this, the National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch for burn areas across Northern California, including the Butte Fire, fearing that heavy thunderstorms could dump heavy amounts of rain in those areas today.

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Tunnels comments, part deux

(Updated Nov. 20)

Last year I posted some of the public comments that were generated from the first draft of Gov. Jerry Brown’s twin tunnels plan.

Here we go again.

So, I’m going to link to as many of the California Water Fix comments here as I can. Thanks to all who helped me compile these. And please, if your comment isn’t reflected here, send it my way! This post will be updated as I receive them.

Local government agencies and quasi-government organizations

City of Antioch with Appendix

Contra Costa County

Local Agencies of the North Delta

Rural County Representatives of California

Sacramento County

San Joaquin Council of Governments (via Restore the Delta)

San Joaquin County

City of Stockton

Solano County

Suisun Resource Conservation District

San Joaquin County-based interest groups

Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce

Restore the Delta and various environmental groups

San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (via Restore the Delta)

San Joaquin County Mosquito & Vector Control District

San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation

Regional, state and federal government agencies

Delta Protection Commission

Delta Stewardship Council

Environmental Protection Agency

NEW 11-20 NOAA Fisheries // National Marine Fisheries Service

San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District

State Water Resources Control Board

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

NEW 11-20 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Environmental organizations

C-WIN, CSPA and AquAlliance

Earth Law Center (via Restore the Delta)

Environmental Council of Sacramento

Environmental Justice Coalition for Water (via Restore the Delta)

Friends of the River and others (read earlier comments here and here)

Friends of the San Francisco Estuary

Friends of the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge

Natural Resources Defense Council (and others)

Planning and Conservation League

Save Our Sandhill Cranes

Water districts

Central Delta Water Agency part one  part two  part three  part four  part five  part six

Contra Costa Water District

East Bay MUD

Kern County Water Agency

Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority/State Water Contractors

San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority/Westlands Water District

San Joaquin Tributaries Association

Santa Clara Valley Water District

South Delta Water Agency

Business groups

Burbank Chamber of Commerce

California Alliance for Jobs

California Building Industry Association

California Chamber of Commerce

California Delta Chambers page one and page two

Building and Construction Trades Council of Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Merced and Mariposa Counties (substantively similar to many letters submitted by other business, labor and chamber of commerce interest groups. I won’t post them all here.)

Fresno County Farm Bureau

Kings County Farm Bureau

Middle Class Taxpayers Association


Delta Independent Science Board

Jan McCleery, Discovery Bay

Jeff Michael, University of the Pacific Center for Business and Policy Research

League of Women Voters of California

Patrick Porgans and Associates

Save the California Delta Alliance


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The ironic story of Alexander Vogelsang

Unless you’re in your 90s, you’ve never been to the Calaveras County town of Petersburg. It was dunked underwater when they built the original Hogan Dam east of Stockton in 1924.

Piecing together a story about unusually low reservoir levels a couple weeks ago, I stumbled on a tidbit that helps put Petersburg back on the map — historically speaking.

It turns out one of the few native sons of this extinct town, Alexander Vogelsang, was also a leading proponent for the flooding of Hetch Hetchy Valley to provide San Francisco with a water supply of pure snowmelt.

Hetch Hetchy Valley before it was flooded. From the 1908 Sierra Club bulletin.

That’s right. A man who advocated for flooding a valley that John Muir once described as “one of nature’s rarest and most precious mountain temples” would later see his own childhood home destroyed by a dam.

Talk about karma.

Vogelsang came from a large family, and was not the only member bound for notoriety. One brother, Carl, became a high-ranking admiral in World War I. Another brother, Charles, led what was then the California State Board of Fish and Game (a high camp and mountain pass at Yosemite still bear his name).

For his part, Alexander attended public schools in San Joaquin and Calaveras counties, and later the Stockton Business College and Normal Institute, before heading to law school and moving to San Francisco.

He was elected as a San Francisco supervisor in 1911, in the midst of the city’s push to build the reservoir at Hetch Hetchy and secure its future water supply.

Vogelsang traveled to Washington, D.C. and testified before the House of Representatives.

“I am a nature lover, second to none,” he told the House in 1913, “… Every summer of my life my vacation is spent among the crags and streams and the lakes of the mountainous sections of California and Oregon.”

He called himself a “conservationist” and pointed out that he grew up no more than 60 miles away from Hetch Hetchy.

But, Vogelsang testified, there was a “great necessity” for the proposed dam. San Francisco was suffering “most seriously and grievously” for water, and the very “conservation of humanity” was at stake.

“There is probably no other water source on the face of the earth equal to the Hetch Hetchy, for its waters will never be polluted by mining, by milling, by lumbering, by agriculture, or anything of that sort,” he said.

Congress approved the bill, which Vogelsang called the “realization of the most splendid dream ever indulged by the people of San Francisco.” One decade later, Hetch Hetchy Dam was finished. And one century after that, some activists are still fighting it.

As passionate as Vogelsang was about Hetch Hetchy, again, you have to wonder if subsequent events would change his thinking.

I haven’t researched this thoroughly, but it’s unclear to me whether Petersburg’s fate was known in 1913, when Vogelsang lobbied for the dam at Yosemite. Hetch Hetchy was finished in 1923, and construction on Hogan Dam didn’t even begin until 1924. It seems entirely possible that Vogelsang had no idea what was coming.

The old Hogan Dam, which flooded the town of Petersburg in the 1920s, has emerged from the water during the drought. The larger New Hogan Dam is just out of view to the right. Record photo by Calixtro Romias.

Or maybe he didn’t care. Perhaps Petersburg, more of a scattering of wooden homes and barns than a town, was a ramshackle place that simply wasn’t worth saving. It certainly wasn’t Yosemite.

In any case, Stockton has greatly benefited from New Hogan from both a water supply and flood control perspective. The loss of Petersburg was a small price to pay.

Hetch Hetchy? That’s another story.

Hat tip to Calaveras County historian Sal Manna for clueing me in to this bit of interesting and ironic trivia.

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No surprise here: Supes to oppose twin tunnels

San Joaquin County supervisors are poised Tuesday to oppose the latest version of the twin tunnels plan, with a draft staff report referring to the tunnels as “a triumph of project advocacy over sound science.”

There can be little doubt how the supervisors will vote. San Joaquin County has a long track record of opposing “isolated conveyance” — the tunnels, and their ancestor of decades past, the peripheral canal.

The staff report says the new iteration of the tunnels plan has been stripped of “any trappings of habitat conservation, revealing to all who would attempt to wade through the thousands of pages of the (environmental documents) that it is and always has been a water grab which will not produce any new water.”

The staff report, a draft resolution and lengthy technical comments by a consultant can be found in Tuesday’s board packet (starting on page 484).

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Where are those Delta Narratives?

A man waits for a neighbor in central Locke. Record file photo

A link to the Delta Narratives project was cut from a story we ran earlier this week, and I’ve gotten calls from folks who want to read the actual report and accompanying essays.

So… here you go.

Let me know if you learn something you didn’t know before. I did:

• Settlers first named the San Joaquin River after St. Francis, in hopes that the saint would convert the “heathen” American Indians living along the stream. To the Spaniards’ disappointment, the wild swamps provided refuge to the Indians for decades longer than in other areas.

• It was malaria that ultimately killed them. In 1833, explorers found skulls and bodies where villages had been converted into mass graveyards.

• Maybe you’ve been to the Chinese town of Locke, or other “legacy towns” in the Delta. But you probably never have been to Vorden, Onisbo, Paintersville or Emmaton. These are just some of the “forgotten” places of the Delta.

• Speaking of Locke, it was a colorful town home to speakeasies, opium dens and a gambling house. And it wasn’t the only Delta town like that.

• Forget asparagus. Back in the 1920s, Stockton hosted a “Potato Day Festival.” Grower Frederick H. Rindge harvested a world record 57,752 pounds of Burbank potatoes per acre.

• Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, Filipino and Sikh people all worked the fields of the Delta. Stockton alone was home to three chinatowns, the people of which spoke distinct languages.

• Discriminatory laws effectively “immobilized the Chinese community” in the Delta, but they found success by farming swampy places that others could not.

• Mexican braceros would tend the fields using a short hoe referred to “el brazo del Diablo,” or the devil’s arm. It forced them to stoop over and caused many debilitating back injuries. The hoe was banned in 1975.

• Stockton Iron Works produced many of the giant dredges that constructed the Delta levees. They were given names like “Samson,” “Goliath,” “Atlas” and “Hercules.”

• Not all immigrants farmed the Delta. Domenico Ghiradelli came from Italy and opened a chocolate shop in Stockton. It burned down, and San Francisco is today the headquarters for the world-famous Ghiradelli company.

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City needs outside help for Delta pumping plant

The city of Stockton has agreed to pay an employee of the California Water Service Co. to run the city’s $220 million Delta drinking water plant.

The previous operator recently resigned, according to a staff report. The Cal Water employee is a temporary replacement until the city can find its own operator.

An operator is essential to allow the plant to continue pumping water, the city says. The agreement will cost the city a maximum $225,000.

A lack of trained personnel has been a problem before at the plant, which has been forced to cut back on its operations at times as a result. The San Joaquin County Grand Jury brought this up in a report earlier this year, blaming the city’s bankruptcy for speeding up employee turnover.

At the time, the grand jury pointed out that the city had only one “Grade T5″ plant operator. “Without a T5 operator the (plant) has to shut down and water is drawn from other sources,” like groundwater, for which the city must pay a pump tax to the Stockton East Water District.

City watchdog Gary Malloy was not pleased to see the city bring in outside help.

“Why aren’t we training people out there to do that job?” he asked the City Council on Tuesday. “We waste money all the time.”

Vice Mayor Christina Fugazi later responded that the difficulty was in the high level of certification required.

“It isn’t an easy position to fill,” she said. “There’s not an excess of those (operators) everywhere.”

City officials have said they are working to improve training for utility employees.



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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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