What’s on tap — week of March 31 and beyond

Thursday, April 3: 2014 ”State of Our Rivers Symposium.” 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., San Joaquin Council of Governments, 555 E. Weber Avenue in Stockton. “Gain a broader understanding of the effects the Bay Delta Conservation Plan will have on the rivers and waters of San Joaquin County. Presentations will discuss impacts on the Calaveras, Mokelumne, San Joaquin and Stanislaus rivers.” More details here.

Saturday, April 5: “Tune In and Tune Up” smog-check event at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds. The free event runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., but it’s wise to show up at 6:30 a.m. when the gates open, and even then you may experience a lengthy wait. Cars will be tested to find out if they would pass an actual smog check; cars that fail may be eligible for up to $500 in repairs. This event does not substitute for an actual smog check, and no smog certificates will be awarded. More details here.

Saturday, April 5-Sunday, April 6: Woodbridge Wilderness Area open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. The area is typically open the first three weekends of each month. Explore a quarter-mile of Mokelumne River frontage. Free. More details here.

Sunday, April 6: Stockton Earth Day Festival. Theme: “Living Water Wise.” 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Victory Park. More details here.

Monday, April 7: Campaign for Common Ground meeting. Guest speaker Steve Chase, director of Stockton’s Community Development Department. More details here.

Tuesday, April 8: Audubon Society meeting. Presentation: “Bird Feathers and Bird Bones.” Writer and naturalist David Lukas will talk about bird bones, feather and muscles, and how they work together to help a bird fly and live in its environment. 7:30 p.m., Central United Methodist Church, Stockton.

Thursday, April 10: Presentation on the Bank of Stockton’s photo collection of Lodi Lake and the Mokelumne River. Bill Maxwell, archive manager of the bank’s collection of photographs, will present. 7 p.m., Lodi Police Department Community Room, 215 W. Elm St.

Saturday, April 12: BugFest at Oak Grove Regional Park. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Live insect displays, bug safaris, creepy-crawly cuisine, crafts, games and more. Free, but parking at Oak Grove costs $5. More details here.

Tuesday, April 29: Presentation, “Bike Maintenance Basics.” 7 p.m., Stockton REI. Learn how to prolong the life of your bicycle. More detailshere.

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Update on Delta barriers

Skeptical Delta landowners heard details Thursday night of a state plan to install four rock barriers in the estuary, an effort to block salinity from San Francisco Bay and allow officials to hold back more water in reservoirs this summer.

Without the barriers, three major reservoirs would sink to “dead pool” levels before the coming dry season ends, the Department of Water Resources’ Paul Marshall said at a meeting of the Delta Protection Commission in Stockton.

The barriers, Marshall said, could delay that outcome until perhaps December, when there’s a good chance rain and snow will begin to return.

“We can kind of get over the hump,” he said.

Each barrier would be outfitted with four 48-inch culverts to provide water to downstream users and maintain downstream water quality.

Some landowners weren’t so sure that would work.

Sutter Island farmer Tim Neuharth said he believed the barriers were intended simply to retain water quality to facilitate water exports from the south Delta state and federal pumps. He said he was concerned about impacts to Delta growers.

“You have to remember this is in the middle of our growing season,” Neuharth said. “New cherries, grapes, regular crop rotations cannot handle salinity issues.”

Osha Meserve, an attorney for north Delta landowners, said she would need to see exactly how the barriers would be operated and how the state would mitigate any adverse impacts before she could be “comfortable” with the plan.

Another barriers effort during the 1976-77 drought was executed after the irrigation season was already over, said Melinda Terry, general manager of the North Delta Water Agency.

“This is right when they’re starting,” she said. “The impacts are really much greater.”

Larry Ruhstaller, a San Joaquin County supervisor and chair of the commission, urged state officials to meet with landowners and provide more details about potential impacts.

“They literally are going to be faced with planting or not planting” in the coming weeks, Ruhstaller said.

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Name game: Whooo’s that owl?

A barn owl couple. Courtesy Port of Stockton

The Port of Stockton’s owl cams are a social media smash.

Hundreds of people have commented on and “liked” the owls on Facebook. Most recently, at the suggestion of the port, fans have been suggesting names for their ghostly looking friends.

Some of the most clever suggestions:

–WhoWon and WhoToo (Denny Ah-Tye)

–Delta and Dawn (Rondog Hill)

–Val and Quinn — as in, the Valley San JoaQUIN (John Dumanon)

–Hoot and Holler (Nicole Beadles)

–Weber and Magnolia (Katie Ding)

–Sol and Luna (Lulu Diaz)

–Hootie and Screech (Sarah VinWinkle)

–Captain and Matey (Antoinette McLaughlin)

–The Google Twins (Lance Coleman)

–Owl Sharpton (Debbie Calli)

–Knight and Shadow (Luis Cuiriz)

–Night and Gale — as in the Nightingale School Owls (Ale Hernadez)

–Port and City (Sam Kharufeh)

–Delta King and Delta Queen (Kevin Shawver)

–Google Gaggle, Google Giggle, and Yahoo for the  baby (Jonnee Bardo)

–Archimedes and Athena (Isabel Soto)

–Port and Starboard (Ronald Emens)

–Bob and Hope (Vic Zeiter)

–Chris and Isaac (Vic Zeiter)

We could go on. You get the idea.

Of course, this is only going to get more complicated. People were coming up with names earlier this month based on the picture at the top of this post, showing one of the two barn owl couples that are sharing their lives with us.

Since then, 13 babies have come into the world. Who’s going to name all of them?

Well, the port did announce on Tuesday that one of the owls has, in fact, been named. Meet Sophia, the mama barn owl in the Daggett Road owl box. If you’ve got any suggestions for that ball of fur in front of her, let port officials know. With 13 babies they’ll need all the creative help they can get.

Mama "Sophia," with baby. Courtesy Port of Stockton.

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Crickets

Residents of north Stockton’s Twin Creeks neighborhood don’t seem to be paying much attention to the flood-insurance mandate that could be heading their way.

As of last week, there had been no official word from FEMA that the subdivision would be remapped as a high-risk flood area. But the agency has indicated that a letter is coming, and it’s no secret.

Such an action would require homeowners with mortgages to pay flood insurance.

There are two problems: The levee on the north side of the subdivision is buffered by encroachments built by residents. Progress has been made dealing with that issue.

The levee on the south side might be the bigger headache. It’s privately owned, by someone who lives outside the area, and is not formally maintained. Property owners would likely have to agree to pay to get the levee into shape before a public agency might agree to take it over.

“Someone needs to step up,” Stockton-based levee engineer Chris Neudeck said at a county flood-control meeting last week.

So far, no one has.

“They have their heads in the sand,” Neudeck said. “That first forced-upon flood insurance policy is going to wake them all up.”

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What’s on tap — week of March 24 and beyond

Tuesday, March 25: Presentation, ”Backpacking Basics.” 7 p.m., Stockton REI. Free. Learn how to plan your trip and select the right gear. More details here.

Thursday, March 27: Delta Protection Commission meeting in Stockton. Agenda includes discussion of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and drought conditions in California. More details to be posted here.

Thursday, March 27-Friday, March 28: Delta Stewardship Council meeting. West Sacramento. Agenda available here.

Saturday, March 29: Program, “Never-Failing Streams? A conservation about California’s drought, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, and our Catholic faith.” 9 a.m., Cathedral of the Annunciation, 425 W. Magnolia St. in Stockton. Hosted by the Environmental Justice Project of the Catholic Charities Diocese of Stockton.

Thursday, April 3: 2014 ”State of Our Rivers Symposium.” 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., San Joaquin Council of Governments, 555 E. Weber Avenue in Stockton. “Gain a broader understanding of the effects the Bay Delta Conservation Plan will have on the rivers and waters of San Joaquin County. Presentations will discuss impacts on the Calaveras, Mokelumne, San Joaquin and Stanislaus rivers.” More details here.

Saturday, April 5-Sunday, April 6: Woodbridge Wilderness Area open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. The area is typically open the first three weekends of each month. Explore a quarter-mile of Mokelumne River frontage. Free. More details here.

Sunday, April 6: Stockton Earth Day Festival. Theme: “Living Water Wise.” 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Victory Park. More details here.

Monday, April 7: Campaign for Common Ground meeting. Guest speaker Steve Chase, director of Stockton’s Community Development Department. More details here.

Tuesday, April 8: Audubon Society meeting. Presentation: “Bird Feathers and Bird Bones.” Writer and naturalist David Lukas will talk about bird bones, feather and muscles, and how they work together to help a bird fly and live in its environment. 7:30 p.m., Central United Methodist Church, Stockton.

Thursday, April 10: Presentation on the Bank of Stockton’s photo collection of Lodi Lake and the Mokelumne River. Bill Maxwell, archive manager of the bank’s collection of photographs, will present. 7 p.m., Lodi Police Department Community Room, 215 W. Elm St.

Saturday, April 12: BugFest at Oak Grove Regional Park. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Live insect displays, bug safaris, creepy-crawly cuisine, crafts, games and more. Free, but parking at Oak Grove costs $5. More details here.

Tuesday, April 29: Presentation, “Bike Maintenance Basics.” 7 p.m., Stockton REI. Learn how to prolong the life of your bicycle. More details here.

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A new hyacinth solution?

Could we take this…

One of two piles of harvested water hyacinth at Louis Park

And use it for this?…

New DTE Energy biomass power plant at the Port of Stockton

Eight days ago, I wrote about the opening of Stockton’s new cleaner-burning biomass power plant at the Port of Stockton. It feeds on green waste.

Today, I wrote about an “eyesore” right across the water, at Louis Park, where piles of harvested water hyacinth have been languishing for the past three months.

Connect the dots.

The question of whether the biomass plant could burn off our abundant annual hyacinth crop actually came up during the tour I took last week. Port Director Richard Aschieris congratulated DTE official John Reis on the new plant, and said — somewhat in jest, perhaps — “I might be shipping out some hyacinth.”

Everyone laughed. “We’re going to pull it out of the water and bring it over here and you guys could turn it into green energy,” Aschieris said.

“Seriously,” I interjected, at the risk of exposing my utter ignorance, “could that work?”

The DTE folks said that the hyacinth is awfully wet. It’d have to be thoroughly dried first. But anyone who has seen the piles at Louis Park knows that it’s only a matter of time until it turns into a crumbly brown matt.

The other problem, DTE said, is that hyacinth might be hard to handle because of the sheer density of the plant. “We’ve been in plants where they burn straw, and it’s tough,” one DTE official said.

But perhaps it could be mixed into a more traditional fuel load.

Who knows?

“Well,” Aschieris said, “when we get into the next season, we’ll see what we can work out.”

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‘Oh, the farmers and enviros should be friends…’

Update: Richard Stapler, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Agency, says water deliveries did, indeed, ramp down last year as it become evident that California was headed for a dry winter.

Sometimes water interest groups can be so far apart on the issues that they actually have something in common.

In recent weeks I’ve spoken with environmentalists and Delta advocates who argue the state and feds exported too much water during the two dry years preceding 2013-14. They say the state should have anticipated the possibility of a third dry year and played the game more conservatively. They say this is, at least in part, a man-made drought.

But wait — we heard the same thing from angry farmers in Fresno today. They, too, argue it’s a man-made drought, one exacerbated by decades of increasingly frequent environmental restrictions on water pumping.

Yes, all sides are finding fault with the water managers and the regulators, who deliver either too much water or too little, who allow either precious fish to be slaughtered at the pumps or precious water to rush out to the ocean, who sacrifice either the Delta to Big Ag or multi-generational farms to the “stupid” Delta smelt.

Indeed, they may have very different reasons, but these polar-opposite interests are pointing with equal anger toward the government.

We saw it from one side at this morning’s House Natural Resources Committee hearing in Fresno. U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay, asked California Natural Resources Undersecretary Janelle Beland why water was released from reservoirs last year, “knowing full well we were heading into potentially catastrophic drought?”

Her answer: “We weren’t anticipating the drought to continue.”

Farmers in the room laughed bitterly.

Somewhere, their sworn enemies, the enviros, might have been laughing too.

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‘Young farmers… can’t be the farmers that their fathers and grandfathers were’

My colleague Zack Johnson has already posted this video, but it’s worth a spot here as well.

Watch San Joaquin County farmers describe their feelings about how their jobs have changed over the past century — and how they might continue to change in the future.

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What did John Muir have to say about Stockton?

John Muir. Public domain image.

On second thought, I buried the lede in Saturday’s story on the John Muir papers.

It’s really not a story about the papers themselves, but rather, how a small college like Pacific managed to win them away from the prestigious Bancroft Library at Berkeley.

Talk about a March Madness upset.

Read the story here.

What’s remarkable is the fact that Muir himself had very little connection with the city that now houses an estimated 75 percent of his papers.

Muir’s 7,000 letters and a few of his journals are searchable by keyword. Stockton is mentioned more than 20 times in the letters, mostly because Muir had friends here who he corresponded with.

But I could only find three substantive references to Stockton.

In 1877, Muir wrote of a raft trip down the San Joaquin River, past Stockton and through the “tule region” into the Bay near Martinez. But he gives the city little mention. (For all of these letters, click on “text” to see the transcribed copies.)

Seven years later, in a wonderfully sweet missive to his daughter, Wanda, Muir takes note of the many mosquitoes which he and his wife encountered on the way to Yosemite.

“There are many mosquitoes in Stockton & they stung Mamma and wouldn’t let her sleep,” he wrote.

Finally, in 1905, Edward Hughes of 1230 N. Center St. in Stockton wrote to Muir and alluded to an earlier visit.

“The newspaper people didn’t learn of your visit to Stockton until some three days after you were here,” Hughes wrote.

“Then they came down on me with a rush to learn particulars,” he wrote. “I enjoyed poking fun at them about their lack of enterprise as witnessed by the fact that a man of your size could spend a day here without their being the wiser for it until it was too old for a news item. However, they made one of it.”

Touche. But at least we found out about Steve Martin.

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Delta landowners win in court

A state appeals court has blocked the Department of Water Resources from accessing private lands in the Delta to conduct studies for Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed twin tunnels.

Such access amounts to a “taking” under eminent domain law, the court found. That taking requires formal condemnation procedures which would offer certain protections for landowners.

“Because the right to exclude the government from obtaining and possessing an interest in private property is one of a property owner’s most cherished rights, a private property owner should not be required to lease portions of his land rent free to the government,” two of the three justices agreed.

Here’s the ruling. And here’s the story.

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    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann (a Record copyeditor who fixes all of his mistakes). He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in Stockton. He is on the lookout for a giant ... Read Full
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