Well, hello there

In honor of the traditional end-of-summer Labor Day weekend, I post this video Jim Marsh shot of a pine marten he spotted in the Sierra last year.

I’ve been backpacking in the Sierras for years and I’ve never seen a marten.

“This one was more surprised than I at our close encounter,” Marsh wrote. “I’d spied it coming up the opposite stream bank before it saw me. I just stayed put, aimed and opened the shutter as it came closer. Right place, right time.”

Marsh told me he actually saw three martens in a period of 30 days while he participated in the Artist in the Woods program on the Stanislaus National Forest.

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EPA criticizes twin tunnels plan

The Environmental Protection Agency says Gov. Jerry Brown’s twin tunnels “would not protect beneficial uses for aquatic life, thereby violating the Clean Water Act.” Read the agency’s formal comments here.

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Elliott: ‘Really skeptical’ on water bond

Outgoing San Joaquin County supervisors Larry Ruhstaller and Ken Vogel may be willing to cautiously endorse the new $7.5 billion water bond, but at least one other supervisor isn’t so sure.

Bob Elliott — whose tenure on the board will continue at least through 2016 — told me today that he’s “really skeptical” and has not yet taken a formal position.

He likes the $2.7 billion for water storage, among other things.

But Elliott said he’s concerned that a provision in the bond allowing for public funding of water purchases could support the governor’s twin tunnels plan.

“I think there’s just plenty of broadly worded language in there that is certainly subject to interpretation,” Elliott said.

The bond allows taxpayer money to be used to increase river flows to help fish.

But what happens, Elliott asks, once the water has fulfilled its purpose and reached the Delta? Could it be exported through the tunnels?

“Then we have the taxpayers picking up some of the slack for the water contractors,” Elliott said, adding that sounds like a “backdoor approach” to funding the $25 billion project.

Explicit language prohibiting the flows from being exported would have resolved his concerns, Elliott said.

Bond supporters have said the existing language is strong enough. The bond says any taxpayer-funded environmental flows would be above and beyond the amount of water that is required to remain in the rivers even after the tunnels are built.

Could some of that water be exported once it has fulfilled its purpose? Yes. But other diverters will have just as much claim. So the tunnels folks have no particular advantage, bond supporters say. Should the bond forbid spending money on water conservation, since conservation will leave more water in rivers that could then be shipped south?

We’ll be hearing a lot about this the next couple of months.

For the record, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors has taken no formal position on the bond. Ruhstaller and Vogel, who have announced their support with certain caveats, represent the board on the Delta Counties Coalition. That entity has agreed to support the bond.

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Full report by Fritz Grupe and others

We ran a story today about Fritz Grupe, Sunne Wright McPeak and Pete Weber convening a group to tackle California water issues.

It’s called the California Water Fix Coalition and here’s a link to the group’s website. Look under “Documents” for the full report.

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Chill out: It’s not that much water

A familiar sight these days. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/User slgckgc

Some of my friends are grousing about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, given California’s extreme drought.

Look, I’m the biggest water cop on my block. I stalk the streets at night, taking photos of errant sprinklers and gushing gutters, posting them on Twitter. (Kind of creepy, I realize.)

But the Ice Bucket Challenge, in the grand scheme of things, is a drop in the proverbial bucket. Actually, about two drops, by my math.

No one knows exactly how much water has been used in the challenge. Based on an estimated 1.2 million videos posted to Facebook as of last week, various news agencies have come up with anywhere from 5 million gallons to 6 million gallons, depending on the size of the bucket used.

Let’s be conservative and assume 6 million gallons.

First of all, not all of those bucket challenges are taking place in drought-stricken California. Assuming an even distribution across the country — and ignoring any international participation, for the moment — we come up with a total use of 726,114 gallons in the Golden State.

That might sound like a lot, but it’s only 2.2 acre feet of water.

That’s enough to supply two average families with water for about a year, or enough to flood 2 acres of agricultural land with a foot of water.

For comparison, in a decent year California gets about 70 million acre-feet of runoff.

The state would normally have about 15 million acre-feet of water in storage right now. This year we’ve only got 7,659,526 acre-feet, which is atrociously bad.

Still, using the 2.2 acre-foot estimate, the bucket challenge accounts for only 0.000029 percent of our total current storage. That’s equivalent to removing 2 drops of water from our 5-gallon bucket.

Granted, many more ALS challenges might have occurred in the past few days, and many more will doubtless occur in the coming days and weeks. Even if the total number of challenges doubles or triples or quadruples, however, the total amount of water used will remain infinitesimally small compared to the state’s supply.

That having been said, it’s certainly understandable that folks might feel a little guilty about participating. It does seem contrary to the mantra of save, save, save.

So here are some ideas:

• Stand in a kiddie pool when you dunk yourself. You can then use the collected water on houseplants or to give your trees a much-needed midsummer drink.

• Stand on your lawn. That’s certainly better than pavement.

• Make up for the extra water use by skipping your daily shower, if your family and coworkers will stand for that. Or turn off your sprinklers one additional day (hopefully you’ve already scaled back watering consierably).

• Use a small cup of ice instead of water, sans San Joaquin County Supervisor Ken Vogel.

Use dirt instead.

• Forget the gimmicky bucket thing and just donate to ALS or any other cause that you find worthy. After all, it’s not really about the water… right?

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Planet of the Snakes?

Courtesy Dana Baker

Allow me, on behalf of the community at large and ophidiophobics everywhere, to thank San Joaquin Delta College police officer and  PIO Jim Bock for dealing with this little problem at Delta’s new math and science building last week.

It seems this 6-foot-long Colombian red-tail boa constrictor managed to pop the screen cover off of its glass terrarium and escape.

School wasn’t yet in session, and students weren’t around, so the snake went unnoticed until a custodian spotted it, according to Delta police Sgt. Mario Vasquez.

The custodian called police. Fortunately, Bock, in addition to being a heckuva nice guy, also appears to be a skilled snake wrangler.

The boa was recaptured. Vasquez said he believed the snake was then taken home by its owner, a laboratory instructor, though he wasn’t absolutely certain of that.

In the end, all is well. Delta’s sparkling new $40 million building has not been infiltrated by serpents, and humans remain the sentient species on Earth.

For now…

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Why Wolk says bond is ‘tunnel-neutral’

Here’s a quick two-pager from Sen. Lois Wolk’s office explaining, in her eyes, why the new $7.5 billion water bond on the November ballot is neutral on the tunnels.

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Chloramine conversion delayed

Stockton’s conversion to a new chemical to treat city drinking water has been delayed until November due to permitting issues, officials said this week.

The conversion to chloramine was originally supposed to happen in early June.

Some residents have expressed concern about putting a new chemical in the water, despite the fact that chloramine is already used in major cities across the country, and an Environmental Protection Agency toxicologist has said health impacts are “pretty rare.”

Still, it’s important that residents are aware when the conversion takes place, because water with chloramine requires special treatment before it can be used for aquariums or koi ponds, or for kidney dialysis patients.

Once the permitting issues are resolved, chloramine will replace traditional chlorine, a disinfectant used to kill any bacteria that might seep into distribution pipes. Only city of Stockton ratepayers mostly north of the Calaveras River are affected by the change.

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Bond battle begins

Opponents to the new $7.5 billion water bond have filed their formal opposition with the state.

Read it here.

Signatories are Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, one of only two state legislators to vote against the bond last week, as well as Restore the Delta’s Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla and Food and Water Watch’s Conner Everts.

While there are many good things in the bond, they write, “the serious flaws outweigh the benefits to the people of California.”

Meanwhile, state Sen. Lois Wolk penned an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee urging voters — particularly those in the Delta — to pass the measure.

Let the campaigning begin.


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Tit for tat

While the state and federal governments and water exporters question the legality of agricultural diversions within the Delta, Stockton environmentalist Bill Jennings is now questioning the legality of diversions by the state and federal governments and water exporters.

Jennings filed a complaint last week arguing that most of the water pumped south from the Delta is coming from the San Joaquin River system, not the Sacramento River.

The state Department of Water Resources doesn’t have any water for the State Water Project on the San Joaquin side.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation does, but that water is limited to the Stanislaus River and is supposed to serve only Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Calaveras and San Joaquin counties, Jennings writes. It’s not supposed to be exported, he says.

Jennings says Delta farmers should get the water. He asks the State Water Resources Control Board to investigate.

“The last 70 years of California’s water wars must be read in the light of junior water right claimants seeking to break in line and disenfranchise those who hold senior riparian and appropriative water rights,” he wrote. “The reckless accusations by DWR, USBR, Westlands and the State Water Contractors are but the latest example in a long line of assaults on 150 years of water law and precedent.”

It will be interesting to see how the water board handles all of these complaints. Really interesting.

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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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