Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Look for these stories in 2013

A year ago, the Sierra snowpack was an anemic 20% of normal. Now it’s a whopping 146%.

At this time last year, the San Joaquin Valley was gasping through a 44-day siege of federal air violations — dangerous soot and debris. This year, the Valley only had five violations in December.

California’s capricious weather makes all the difference.

At the same time, some things I cover in the Earth Log and in the news columns have not changed much. My beat has had a kidney stone of a year. Thankfully, it has passed. But 2013 might be more of the same.

— The complex San Joaquin River restoration continues to move forward. Experiments included trapping adult salmon and hauling them upstream near Fresno to spawn. The billion-dollar restoration still lags behind the initial and ambitious timetable. Many big projects, such as replacing Sack Dam, are expected to make progress this year.

— A dozen years after setting aside more than 300,000 acres for the Giant Sequoia National Monument, people are still arguing about how to manage it. The latest plan was released during 2012. The Sierra Club and others have appealed the plan.

— Yosemite National Park has an even longer-running discussion. A dozen years ago, I wrote a story about the park’s Merced River protection plan — which was already about a decade late. I lose track of how many times it has been rewritten by court order. By July 2013, the National Park Service is supposed to have another plan out. This might be the one that finally gets through.

— Dozens of cities are now lined up to sue Dow Chemical and Shell Oil, the manufacturers of a now-defunct farm fumigant. The fumigant contained a chemical called 1,2,3-trichloropropane or TCP, a powerful cancer-linked toxin. It’s in the drinking water across a wide swath of the Valley, including Fresno, Clovis, Bakersfield and a host of other cities. It may take hundreds of millions of dollars to protect the public.

— Small towns throughout the Valley still wait for the California Department of Public Health for funding to clean up nitrates in their drinking water. Nitrates come from fertilizers, septic systems, animal waste and rotting vegetation. A University of California study says the problem threatens drinking water for 250,000 people.

— Kettleman City, the Latino town in western Kings County, has its own special water problem. It needs the financial help of Chemical Waste, the owner of the hazardous waste landfill near town. The landfill needs to expand so it can offer the financial help. But plenty of Kettleman residents would rather see that landfill close.

— The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District approved a new plan to clear up tiny specks of pollution called PM-2.5. As they often do, environmentalists did not think the plan was tough enough. That’s often a prelude to a legal challenge — a very familiar scenario.


Alan Kandel says:

I went to the Weather Underground site to find out what the precipitation totals are since July 1. 3.66 inches of rain recorded so far. I think I recall seeing on television this being something like 139 percent of normal.

You report that the Valley in December has only five violations for fine particle pollution. If I recall correctly, two winters ago resulted in relatively few such violations as well. I also remember that being a relatively wet winter.

I would hate to think that weather dictate all in whether or not the Valley’s winter air is relatively clean or not so much.

Hopefully, with the new plan lowering the soot threshold to 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air above which a violation would occur, will reduce such pollution – hopefully.

8TM says:

In the Fresno/Clovis metro region, we easily put enough fine particulate matter into the air on any given day that, without the wind, we handily approach levels of this pollutant that violate the Federal daily standard. And on a holiday night like New Years Eve, if 10,000 people have the same bright idea of warming in the New Year with a wood-fire, throw in a few sky rockets and some citrus farmers trying to stave off a frost and you get the kind of extremes, such as last night, that constitute an air emergency. I don’t fault the Air District for not anticipating it, truth is we will never have a year without a daily exceedance of the federal daily standard as long as wood-burning persists in our urban area, but one would think that with all the money invested in a warning system, that we could do better than wake up to the same bland assurances that “the air quality is predicted to be moderate and please burn cleanly,” not after a night when the District’s warning system is showing PM 2.5 levels on our local air monitors at more than four times the daily standard.

With over 300 employees, the Air District needs to do better than that. Public service announcements should go out canceling the allowed burning or at least broad warnings on all the media to make people aware that there are dangerous levels of soot in the air and please don’t burn, and surely any permitted Ag burning could be canceled. It’s very difficult to predict exactly how much wind we will have 24 hours in advance and even more difficult to predict human behavior, but the system now in place has proven itself inadequate to protect the public health too many times. And our Air District has provided absolutely no rational reason for delaying the imposition of the stronger 20 microgram threshold for calling a mandatory wood-burning curtailment. Seyed Sadredin has been asked repeatedly why this should be delayed, and has yet to provide a coherent answer.

Kevin Hall says:

And let’s not forget Sen. Rubio’s CEQA “reform.”

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