Back on the porcupine beat

A woman called this morning. “This may sound strange,” she said, “but are you the person who wrote an article about porcupines?”

I immediately knew what was up. Every once in a while someone calls me to report a porcupine sighting. See, I wrote a story in 2012 about how porcupines are increasingly rare in the Sierra Nevada. So when people see a porcupine, and they hop on Google to find out how unusual that is, they find my old article and give me a call.

The weirdest such call came a couple of months ago. I wasn’t here so the guy left a voicemail. “I found a porcupine in Winnemucca, Nevada,” he said. Click.

Photo from the National Park Service

Today’s caller, 33-year-old Harper Dial of South Lake Tahoe, was a bit more talkative. But get this: Harper hasn’t seen just one porcupine. No, she’s seen seven of them, over a period of less than three years.

“A bunch of people have told me that they don’t believe me,” she said. “Then they’ve seen one with me. It’s very weird. I think they’re like my spirit animal. I know that sounds really dumb.”

One of the porcupines Harper hit with her car. She took him to a wildlife refuge, and eventually the animal recovered and was released back into the forest.

“I was happy when I went back and it was alive,” she said. “I felt a lot better about the whole thing.”

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Sierra and I’ve never seen a porcupine. Though I’ve never lived there, either. Certainly someone who lives at Tahoe would be more likely over the long haul to have that experience.

Porcupines aren’t endangered. Why have they become more difficult to find? One theory is that porcupines, which have a slow reproductive rate, have never fully recovered from aerial poisonings administered by the government in an effort to protect timber half a century ago.

Whatever the cause of the apparent decline, I’m glad Harper called. If one person saw seven porcupines, then there have to be a heck of a lot of them out there, right?

Any bets on how long before I get another call?

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Coming soon: Tunnels news

As this piece in the Sacramento Bee reports, things are going to start happening quickly on the Delta tunnels front.

Biological opinions describing the project’s possible effects on fish and wildlife may be finished by June 9, according to information presented at a recent Metropolitan Water District of Southern California committee meeting. The opinions are critical to allowing the tunnels to move forward.

Separately, the agencies that would receive water from the tunnels must soon decide whether they’re worth paying for. On Aug. 14, a Metropolitan committee is expected to discuss a potential financing and cost allocation plan, which could then go before the water agency’s entire board on Aug. 22 and theoretically be voted on Sept. 12.

A Metropolitan official told committee members last week that there has been an “increased intensity” of meetings in Sacramento over the question of how to allocate the $15 billion cost.

Here we go. Buckle up.

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Yeah, I’d say the snowmelt is on

Eagle Creek — which dumps into Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe — was running with such force on Monday that you could probably feel the spray just by watching this little video.

On the west shore of Tahoe, nearly all of the snow above about 6,500 feet has melted, but there are little waterfalls everywhere you look as the snow in the higher, impassable wilderness continues to melt.

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Video highlights S.J. County’s flood risks

Lodi resident and videographer Cyndy Green has spent months roaming San Joaquin County in search of compelling flooding and storm imagery.

The result of her labor: a 15-minute video she produced for the county Office of Emergency Services. Check it out. There’s some good information here about the region’s complex flood challenges.

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No pivoting on Smith Canal gate

Elected officials showed no signs of backing off the Smith Canal flood gate project on Thursday, despite a bit of added pressure from the community.

Three separate times, the San Joaquin Area Flood Control Agency board — made up of members of the Stockton City Council and San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors — voted to move forward with various aspects of the $37 million project.

But not before they heard from a handful of people who expressed some familiar, ongoing concerns about the need to build a flood gate in an area that has not flooded in modern times.

The critics included Dominick Gulli, a levee engineer who is suing SJAFCA, and Ernest Tufft, who lives on Smith Canal and has recently become quite vocal about his opposition.

Tuftt urged the board to slow down. “This winter, the performance of those levees was amazing,” he said. “Take a deep breath, relax, and think about this for the long term.”

But two board members who responded to the criticism suggested that the ship has sailed.

“This was discussed and debated extensively for years,” said Supervisor Kathy Miller.

Failure to build the gate would leave thousands still on the hook for flood insurance, and possibly more to come if FEMA widens the flood zone as the agency has suggested it will.

“As passionate as you are about not putting up this wall, we also hear from people who cannot afford the flood insurance,” said Supervisor Tom Patti. “Not a single person in this room woke up and said, ‘Guys, we want to build this wall, we think this is a great idea because we’ve got nothing better to do’… We are forced into the position we are in.”

The turnout for Thursday’s meeting was larger than usual, for a SJAFCA meeting, but that’s not saying much. All told, four people — including Gulli — shared their concerns with the project.

Among the items approved Thursday was the fourth yearly assessment for residents in the flood zone, who voted narrowly to pay for a share of the gate. The latest assessment, which averages $171 for a single family home, will raise nearly $1.7 million. Officials divulged last year that a portion of the assessment fees are also paying for SJAFCA’s legal defense against two lawsuits including Gulli’s.

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Stockton of the future?

Let’s tour Stockton in the year 2100, should an unlikely but “plausible” 10 to 12 feet of sea level rise occur.

Buckle up.

(And by the way: You can look up your own neighborhood — heck, even zoom in on your own house — by clicking here and following the directions.)

Homes in far west Brookside, one of the lowest places in Stockton

More Brookside homes

You'll have to take a boat to Council meetings at Stockton City Hall.

Dameron Hospital

San Joaquin Delta College. The koi are liberated.

The Haggin Museum

Interstate 5 at March Lane

The downtown In-Shape building

Tell me it ain't so... In-N-Out on March Lane is decidedly "out."

San Joaquin County Jail

The water would stretch as far east as the Miracle Mile.

Oak Grove Regional Park becomes boat-in only.

Grocery store at March Lane and Quail Lakes Drive

Spanos Cos. headquarters along Interstate 5 in far north Stockton

Spanos Park West. Some homes completely underwater.

Show's over at Stockton Arena.

Just about every seat is flooded at Stockton Ballpark.

An overview of Stockton, looking from the west toward the east

Weberstown Mall

Trinity Parkway commercial area in northwest Stockton

University Plaza Waterfront Hotel, downtown Stockton

University of the Pacific

The former Washington Mutual building in downtown Stockton

Stockton's wastewater treatment plant near the Port of Stockton

Weston Ranch in southwest Stockton

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Holy CDEC*: New Melones hits 2M acre-feet


New Melones Lake soared past 2 million acre-feet of storage over the past few days, a level that no one thought possible (well, I certainly didn’t) a mere six months ago.

The reservoir is now at its highest mark since 2011.

And still rising. This afternoon’s heat has pushed inflow above 9,000 cubic feet per second as Sierra snow begins to melt.

New Melones is now encroaching into space reserved for flood control. And as a consequence, officials are finally releasing substantial amounts of water from the dam — about 5,000 cfs on Tuesday.

At last, the downstream Stanislaus River is experiencing the kind of high flows that every other San Joaquin River tributary has seen for months now.

Let’s be glad the Stan was late to the party. The fact that the Stanislaus was a relative trickle in February is what saved the lower San Joaquin River region from potentially experiencing a much more serious flood.

I won’t say something dumb like “New Melones reaching 2 million acre feet is another sign the drought is over.” It is, of course.

It’s also another sign that we’re not out of the woods on flooding. It’s time to start paying close attention to Stanislaus River flows and what that means for the entire lower San Joaquin basin.

* For those uninitiated: CDEC is pronounced “C-deck,” which rhymes with “heck.” Clever, huh?


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State’s survey of other tunnel projects scrutinized

As the Delta tunnels hearings resumed in Sacramento this week, an engineering expert for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California testified that many other large tunnels have been drilled “without incurring risk or injury to project stakeholders.”

A list of other tunnels projects surveyed by Delta tunnels officials

But in their “detailed” survey of these projects spread across two continents, Delta tunnels proponents did not actually talk to nearby landowners, who would presumably be considered “stakeholders.”

Instead, officials relied on their meetings with project designers and owners, construction managers, and on written reports available on the Internet.

“In none of those discussions did any issues related to injury to users or other anomalies come up,” testified MWD’s John Bednarski, referring specifically to the Lee Tunnel, a 4-mile drain intended to divert London’s stormwater to a treatment plant.

Testimony of John Bednarski

Stockton attorney Thomas Keeling, representing San Joaquin County in the ongoing hearings, pressed Bednarski on his written testimony that none of the nine projects he referenced caused any harm.

“You made no independent effort to interview local businesses?” Keeling asked, this time referencing the Eastside Access Tunnel in New York.

“No, we did not undertake that,” Bednarski said.

“You made no independent effort to speak to local residents or farmers?” Keeling asked.

“No, we did not do that either,” Bednarski said.

Testimony of John Bednarski

The question of whether other “stakeholders” (ugh, I hate that word) may be harmed is central to the Delta tunnels case. In the hearing underway now, the state must prove that other legal users of water won’t be “injured” by the $15 billion project.

Keeling objected that the names of the experts that Bednarski and other Delta tunnels officials consulted with on these other projects were not included in his testimony. DWR attorneys said that information could be provided.

I can’t just sit around and watch this whole thing as the weeks and months pass. But I’ll try to catch bits and pieces of it. And when something interesting comes up, I’ll post it here. Tips and suggestions welcome.

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‘I’m staying out of the twin tunnels’

That’s what U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein told the crowd at a town hall meeting last night in Los Angeles. Watch her remarks on this clip at 1:08:14 and 1:11:14 (hat tip to Restore the Delta).

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Searching for Delta asparagus

Delta asparagus awaits packaging at the Kings Crown packing shed. Photo by Clifford Oto

Update: Beyond just grocery stores, here’s a new story listing other places you can still get the good stuff.

This month’s story on the steepening decline of Delta asparagus left out one important thing:

Where can you still find it around here?

I’ve spent the past several days trying to find out, sampling a dozen major grocery stores in Stockton. The labels can be confusing, and the source of the asparagus isn’t always entirely clear; if anyone has specific knowledge about any of these locations and would like to provide clarification, please reach out to me and I will update this list.

Here’s what I found:

• Food 4 Less, March Lane. Asparagus from Mexico. $1.99/pound.

• Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, Pacific Avenue: Asparagus from Mexico. $1.99/pound.

• WinCo Foods, March Lane: Asparagus from Mexico. $1.98/pound.

• Smart & Final, Hammer Lane: Asparagus from Mexico. Labeled says “Americas Asparagus” with image of North and South America. $1.99/pound.

• Trader Joe’s: Asparagus from Mexico. $2.49/12 ounces or $3.99/12 ounces for organic.  Microwavable container from Mexico and Peru for $3.49.

• Rancho San Miguel: Asparagus from Mexico. $2.99/pound.

• Save Mart, Quail Lakes Drive: Asparagus from Mexico. $3.99/pound.

• Safeway, Pacific Avenue. Asparagus labeled as a “product of the USA” but no additional information given. Safeway did not respond to request for clarification. $3.99/pound.

• Raley’s, Morada Lane: Some asparagus labeled as a “product of the USA” and some from Mexico. Distributed by Stockton-based Grower Direct Marketing, which does handle some Delta asparagus. $2.99/pound. Organic California asparagus for $5.99/pound.

• Walmart, Trinity Parkway: Asparagus labeled as “California grown” but no additional information given. Walmart did not respond to request for clarification. $1.97/pound.

• Marina Marketplace, Benjamin Holt Drive: Asparagus labeled “product of the USA” but no specific location given. Two bundles for $3.

• Podesto’s: “Delta Queen” asparagus from Stockton-based Klein Family Farms. $3.49/pound. Organic asparagus grown in Capay, west of Woodland, for $4.99/pound.

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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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