When pigs swim

Shonda Taliaferro spotted this charming pig on the Delta the other day.

And where else could it possibly happen, of course, but Hog/Spud Island?

“Between Windmill Cove and Lost Isle on the north side of the bank,” Shonda told me on Twitter. “Piglets too!”

“I think she lives there,” Shonda added. “There is another adult male that we saw on the Fourth but got no pics.”

This city boy knows nothing about pigs. But I’ve been to Hog/Spud Island and there ain’t nothin’ out there. Can someone guess where this pig came from, and why it’s so fond of swimming in the river?

(Perhaps the dude tossing food into the water can answer that question…)

Photo by Shonda Taliaferro

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Apologies to the smelt

Delta smelt. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A reader called me out yesterday for using the term “infamous” to describe the Delta smelt.

“Infamous,” of course, is not synonymous with “famous.” From Webster’s New World College Dictionary: “Infamous: (adj) Having a very bad reputation; notorious; in disgrace or dishonor.”

Some might find that word appropriate in describing a fish that has crimped, to some extent, California’s water supply.

Others honor the smelt as representative of the well-being of the Delta as a whole.

So, yeah, poor choice of words. But it’s not the first time I’ve gotten in trouble on this subject.

A few years ago I referred to the smelt as a “minnow.” Mind you, I put careful thought into that one. Scientifically speaking, the smelt is not a minnow. I knew that. But my dictionary — my infallible, perfect dictionary — told me it would be acceptable to use “minnow” in generally characterizing any small fish.

The angry emails came from fish biologists in the morning.

“Please stop devaluing nature in your writing,” one wrote. “To say the smelt is ‘a minnow with little ostensible value’ is just not good journalism.”

I stand by the “little ostensible value” part. The smelt has little apparent or clearly evident value to the general public. That is not the same thing as flatly saying it has no value.

Anyway, I never called the smelt a “minnow” again. It’s just not worth the confusion. And it’s not as precise as it could be.

At least I tried to be precise, in that case.

“Infamous” smelt? That’s just sloppy.

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Targeting the tunnels

San Joaquin County’s official comments on the twin tunnels project can be found here.

Supervisors voted 4-0 today to submit these comments and to reaffirm their opposition to the project (the supes first voted to oppose the tunnels in 2012, before the tunnels had even been formally proposed).


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Ambitious man, unassuming grave

We were cruising around the Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Colma last week — (it’s a long story) — when we stumbled on this tombstone:

That’s “Brown” as in Edmund “Pat” Brown, architect of the State Water Project that fuels California’s trillion-dollar economy.

The governor’s resting place is relatively modest, compared with a nearby cavernous marble mausoleum and finely carved columbariums bearing the names of some of San Francisco’s most prominent Catholics. (Joe DiMaggio’s grave is only a moment’s walk up the hill from Brown’s).

Certainly, the simple, black tombstone — adorned only with the governor’s last name, and a cross — stands in contrast with the complex and intricate water delivery system for which Brown is best known.


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Stockton ‘must step up’

Photo courtesy Dale Stocking

Just because Stockton can pump Delta water after all this summer, the city can and should do more to conserve water, says environmentalist Dale Stocking.

His words:

I believe Bob (Granberg, assistant director of the Municipal Utilities Department) and the City are giving the wrong message when they indicate that Stockton will not have a severe water problem now that the Delta Water Supply Project can again begin pumping…
I support the DWSP; however, Stockton and all of California need to begin reducing all water use.
We have stopped watering our lawn areas but are still watering the ornamentals.  I have put the last three years Cal Water usage on a spreadsheet and will be measuring how much water we save not watering just the lawn area.  Hopefully, it will be significant.
Bottom line, Stockton must step up and really work at lowering elective water usage.

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The “A” word

After hearing hours of debate about emergency rules to cut off farmers from their water supply, Tom Howard dropped the “A” word:


Obviously, the debate about curtailments was hot and heavy because this is a critically dry year.

But Howard, the executive director of the State Water Resources Control Board, pointed out that even in normal years officials would likely be able to conclude that water is not available for all of the people who feel they have water rights. Curtailment orders could be issued for junior, post-1914 water-right holders “probably in all average years,” he said.

If the board wants to get into the thorny issue of where water is really available, and who should get it, the board certainly can, Howard said.

“It’s very complicated,” he said. “My personal opinion is the Central Valley would benefit from an adjudication. Because if you really listen to what everyone’s been saying, they don’t have a good idea of how to cut people off because they haven’t got a clearly defined set of priorities for who has water and who doesn’t have water… You’re not going to ever get there minus some sort of adjudication on the system.”

Adjudication basically means that the board — or a judge — sits down and determines once and for all who gets water, and how much. It’s been done on a limited basis in groundwater basins mostly in Southern California, but never across an area as large as the Central Valley.

Any decision to adjudicate the entire Valley would be hugely controversial.

“That’s a 20-year process, but at least our successors 20 years from now will have some assurance they can manage another drought like this in an effective way,” Howard said.

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The proper poppers

Coming this weekend: A “10 Questions” profile on Whitey Rasmussen, longtime Stockton fisherman.

I love profiling fishermen. They tell great stories.

Whitey has also been tying his own flies and  making his own “poppers” (lures) for more than half a century. A guest bedroom in the back of his home is really more a fishing den, with a desk equipped with spools of thread, hooks, bags of feathers and everything else he needs to deceive the next lunker bass.

For any wannabes out there, here’s a clip of Whitey talking technique:


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Stockton’s link to Yosemite — past and present

Alice van Ommeren sent some wonderful images to help illustrate today’s story about Stockton’s connection to Yosemite National Park, which is celebrating 150 years of protection.

In case you missed them:

The Big Oak Flat Road was the route early park visitors took, from Weber Point in downtown Stockton to the floor of Yosemite Valley. As you can see, the journey was a bit harrowing. (And I thought driving over Sonora Pass in my Rav was bad.)

To think we complain today about the 21/2-hour drive to Yosemite. Back then, the trip took days. It was hot and dusty and buggy and you were lucky if you weren’t bruised by the time you gingerly stepped down from the carriage.

Wouldn’t you love to have lived in Stockton in those times? As you can see from this postcard, Stocktonians used the city’s proximity to Yosemite National Park as a marketing tool. Not so much, anymore, though a few scattered businesses and hotels still invoke the name.

Thanks again, Alice.

I also want to share an email I got today from a reader reminding us that, thankfully, our historic connection to Yosemite has not been completely severed.

Dear Alex,

I enjoyed reading your article about Yosemite National Park, which is majestic and beautiful beyond imagination  I hope people who read your article will be inspired to visit.  I noticed you interviewed a couple of people who teach at Delta College and I thought it was too bad that you didn’t interview my husband, Clarence Louie, who works as an EOPS counselor at Delta College.

For the past 33 years, Clarence has taught classes in the EOPS Summer Readiness Program, a program that introduces low income freshman students to college and as the name says, gets them ready for college.  The students take classes in personal development, academic and career exploration, and study skills.  On Fridays, the students go on field trips to visit college campuses, such as UC Davis, Sacramento State, and San Francisco State.  They learn information about transfer requirements and course preparation for their college majors.  Students are encouraged to complete their degrees and return to their community and give back.

For the past 25 years or more, Clarence has chaperoned Summer Readiness students to visit Yosemite as the culminating event and reward for completing the program.  To date, hundreds, maybe thousands, of Delta College students have made the trek to Yosemite.  After a grueling six weeks in the program, a visit to Yosemite serves as the ideal place for these Delta College students to reflect on the opportunities they have, the future they can create, and how they can make a difference by giving meaning and purpose to their goal to attain a higher education.  Indeed, many students who went on to graduate from college have chosen to live in our community and contribute their knowledge and skills by working as doctors, police officers, teachers, counselors, and business people.


Debra Louie

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S.J. Co. water use falls, but not enough

You heard the news that Californians have so far fallen well short of the 20 percent water conservation goal established by Gov. Jerry Brown when he declared drought in January.

On Friday, the State Water Resources Control Board released the results of the survey upon which that news was based. The survey reveals, for the first time, how individual cities and water districts are doing. You can access the spreadsheet from this page.

The nuts and bolts for San Joaquin County:

• Most water providers apparently either did not respond to the survey, or did not provide water usage statistics for 2014. State officials have said that some surveys are still being counted.

• The California Water Service Co. did report its usage this year. Its Stockton customers actually used 9 percent more water in January 2014 than they did on average during the same month the previous three years. (To be fair, the drought wasn’t made official until Jan. 17, and as the state points out, it takes time for the public to respond and take measures to conserve. And of course, January was exceptionally dry, likely boosting demand somewhat.)

CalWater customers did better in February, March, April and May (partial), registering declines of 3 percent, 9 percent, 4 percent and 10 percent respectively compared to the previous three years. Better, but still nowhere near the 20 percent goal established by the governor.

• It was a similar story in the city of Manteca, where water use in January was up 15 percent over the previous three years, but then declined the following months. Manteca customers used 15 percent less water in February, 16 percent less water in March, 9 percent less water in April and 5 percent less water in May (partial) compared to the previous three years.

Again, the city fell short of 20 percent.

• Stockton’s Municipal Utilities Department and the city of Lodi apparently responded to the survey but did not answer questions about water use so far in 2014.

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Delta coalition supports Wolk water bond

With legislative action on a new water bond expected soon, the Delta Counties Coalition weighed in late Friday with a press release announcing support for a $10.5 billion proposal by state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis.

The other bond measures that are under discussion are inadequate because they effectively “underwrite” the governor’s twin tunnels plan and are likely to escalate north-south disputes , the coalition says.

“SB 848 is a leading example of how diverse interests can find common ground on a comprehensive solution to address California’s water needs as opposed to the process currently being followed for the (twin tunnels),” San Joaquin County Supervisor Larry Ruhstaller said in a prepared statement.

But will legislators — not to mention the voting public — find a $10.5 billion bond any more palatable than the $11.1 billion beast that’s already on the ballot? The L.A. Times’ George Skelton addresses this and other areas of controversy.

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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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