Folks in the southwest Fresno County town of Lanare avoid drinking arsenic-laced water from their taps. They thought four vending machines in nearby Riverdale were their best option for healthy water.
Now the machines are gone, according to California Rural Legal Assistance, representing Lanare’s 590 residents. The machines apparently were not filtering the water in Riverdale, which also has arsenic contamination.
CRLA said water from the machines was tested at more than three times the safe level. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the threshold is 10 parts per billion.
Instead of the four-mile drive to Riverdale, Lanare residents must drive as far as Fresno, 20 miles away, to buy water for drinking and cooking.
As part of a series titled Living in a Toxic Land, The Bee published a story last month about the environmental risks people must live with every day in Lanare.
The town has no schools, health care or sewer service. The tainted well water is the most immediate problem.
Veronica Garibay, a CRLA community education outreach coordinator, says the Lanare Community Service District has applied to the California Department of Public Health for $50,000 to fund interim water solutions. Some of the money could help provide a water vending machine in Lanare.
If the town gets the money, the machine could be installed at the Lanare Community Center.
Westlands Water District farmers will buy some precious river water from Oakdale Irrigation District in Stanislaus County at $128 per acre-foot, a recent news story reported.
But that’s not what Westlands farmers will pay, says a local water engineer. That’s how much Oakdale Irrigation will get.
The bill for Westlands farmers will be more like $350 to $375 per acre-foot. There are a number of additional costs to get the water to Westlands through the vast canal system in California.
But that’s a cost of doing business this dry year. Farmers are in the grip of a second consecutive dry year and suffering water cutbacks for threatened fish species . Westlands will get only 20% of its contractual allotment from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
What would farmers pay for the contractual water? It’s $48.50 per acre-foot. But with additional delivery costs and fees, farmers pay closer to $129.
Clearly, they are forced to pay much bigger prices in a year like this.
In the Oakdale Irrigation District deal, Westlands will buy 40,000 acre-feet of Stanislaus River water if it’s available. At $350 per acre-foot, farmers would spend $14 million.
That won’t come close to covering the shortfall in Westlands, where the contractual allotment is more than 1.1 million acre-feet annually.
For those who were curious, one acre-foot of water is about 326,000 gallons of water, enough for an average Valley family for 12 to 18 months.
This message has played for years: San Joaquin Valley air quality has come a long way, and we need to celebrate progress. But we’ve still got years of work ahead to achieve all federal standards.
You’ll recognize the theme in the latest annual report from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, which turned 20 years old last year.
The report says winters and summers are the cleanest they’ve ever been here. The Valley has achieved the coarse particle pollution standard — it’s called PM-10, or dust.
But tighter federal ozone and particle pollution standards will come. The Valley probably will still be struggling in the next two decades. The 4 million people here live in a bowl of air that traps pollutants.
The difference now is that there has been a shift in public awareness. I wrote my first news story on the air district in June 1993, and it illustrated the thinking of the time.
The story was titled “Wood-burning rules go on back burner.” People refused fireplace rules. Instead, the district began discussing “voluntary wood-burning rules.”
“The two words (voluntary and rules) go together as much as jumbo and shrimp, and army and intelligence,” said Charles Harness, a board member at the time. The words confusing and toothless also were used.
A dozen years later, people still didn’t want a wood-burning rule, but the district became one of the first places in the country to enforce bans on burning.
The change was forced by air-quality activists and advocates who filed a federal lawsuit. This kind of legal action has been a driving force behind many important changes in Valley air quality.
Today, the fireplace soot problem remains, but Valley winters are nothing like they were in the 1990s.
More importantly, people seem to have come around. The air district now is tightening the wood-burning rule, and many readers have told me that it’s good news.
The wood-burning rule is just one among many important changes over the last 20 years. The air district also has regulated air pollution from farms as well as city sprawl. Air leaders also pioneered an alert system online and via texting to tell the public when pollution is spiking.
All of which is important to recognize with fanfare. After the celebration, though, there’s more work and expense waiting.
There already have been brush fires around O’Neals, Millerton Lake, Porterville and Fresno. Residents are fleeing flames in Southern California. With dry grasslands and forests after another subpar wet season, this could be a very ugly fire season.
The immediate concern is danger to residents, firefighters and homes. Air quality is a secondary concern, but it’s worth noting because it can become a wider public health concern. Pay attention to the warnings from air authorities.
Remember June 2008? There were thousands of fires sparked by lightning. Columns of smoke drifted into the San Joaquin Valley from many directions.
For about a week, dirty air simultaneously breached both the ozone and particle pollution standards. The double whammy happened again in July 2008, though it wasn’t as bad as that June episode.
Fires are known for soot or particle pollution, which can make the air hazardous to breathe. Ozone-creating gases also come from fires. It’s no coincidence that 2008 was the last time the Valley had more than 125 breaches of the ozone standard.
Ozone is a corrosive gas that damages the lungs. Over time, it can create a kind of scarring in lung tissue, health researchers say.
Soot is considered to be PM-2.5, microscopic pollution that evades the body’s defenses and sometimes passes from the lungs into the blood stream.
Older people, small children and folks with lung or heart problems should stay indoors when they hear the warnings from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
The American Lung Association says air quality has improved in San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles. The ozone pollution is no longer among the 10 worst in the country. That’s a step toward reality in the Lung Association’s latest rankings.
San Luis Obispo is tied for 25th now with Tulsa and St. Louis. It’s more appropriate so this is no criticism of the Lung Association, but I’m still mystified. And it has nothing to do with the rankings.
The reason, I think, is the huge difference between places like Hanford and San Luis Obispo, both of which were mentioned in the same sentence as improving.
Here’s what I mean: The last time San Luis Obispo breached the federal eight-hour standard was 2008. Meanwhile, Hanford’s ozone concentration rose above the federal standard eight times just in 2012.
As I said, this is no criticism of the Lung Association, which has a far more complex way of figuring its rankings than the number of times the ozone exceeds the standard. And San Luis Obispo has been bounced all the way down to the bottom of the list.
But it’s just weird to even be talking about improving air quality in a metropolitan area where the ozone standard is exceeded once or twice in a decade.
Yosemite National park would grow by 1,600 acres under a bill introduced Tuesday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.
The bill would allow the National Park Service to buy the Mariposa County land through an existing program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The land was originally part of Yosemite, but Congress stripped its protection in a 1906 concession to industrial interests. The land is near a development called Yosemite West and reportedly was part of naturalist John Muir’s original plan for Yosemite.
“This is a great day for Yosemite,” said Nathan Weaver with Environment California. “We applaud work by California’s leaders to preserve and strengthen one of the most beautiful places in California and the world.”
The current landowners, Pacific Forest Trust and a partnership of private individuals, support the land transfer. And a coalition of state leaders supports expanding Yosemite. The California State Senate passed a resolution last week to show support for expansion.
A voice from the past has joined the backlash against the National Park Service’s plan to protect the Merced River in Yosemite Valley.
Tourism and business leaders in communities, such as Oakhurst, around Yosemite National Park are opposing the proposal, which would remove an ice-skating rink, a bicycle rental business and a few other amenities.
Now former Congressman Tony Coelho, who wrote an amendment to include the Merced River in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) , is opposing the removal of the amenities, saying the law was only intended to include the Merced River outside of Yosemite National Park to the west.
Coelho, once a powerful Democrat based in Merced, wrote a letter saying Yosemite Valley should not be considered wilderness. “Yosemite Valley should be left as it is,” he wrote.
The public comment period ends April 30 on the long-debated Merced River Plan, which has been in and out of court for the last decade. Park leaders have spent the last three years rewriting the plan to comply with court orders and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Federal leaders last week notified California that it needs to account for $455 million for safe drinking water here. The money has not been lost or squandered. It just hasn’t been spent yet.
That all sounds like a picky bureaucratic complaint. After all, the state intends to use that money for improving drinking water.
But this is about accounting to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and taxpayers. This is about seeing the state’s priorities and making sure those in need are getting the help.
Two years ago, The Bee asked questions like these in a series of stories about small towns that have waited years to get funding to fix drinking water problems.
Who will get the money? How is it prioritized? Are the water systems with the most needs getting the help? What is the holdup?
We found towns, such as Seville in Tulare County, that had been bounced to lower priorities over technicalities and delayed for years.
The state rejected a request for a $500,000 grant because the town’s water company had gone bankrupt, and county governments are not allowed to apply for residents.
Progress has been made for funding in Seville over the last 18 months, but there hasn’t been a fix. People with poverty-level incomes are still forced to buy bottled water.
In another instance, the California Department of Public Health, which holds the purse strings, balked at a regional water cleanup that would have helped several towns with contaminated wells. Again, technical reasons were cited.
The concern about the state’s approach has always been about transparency and accountability. Now EPA says it wants to know about nearly a half billion dollars of public money. The state has 60 days to address that concern.
The fracking story Sunday from my colleague Lewis Griswold outlined the vast and lucrative oil opportunities in Monterey shale along the San Joaquin Valley’s west side.
The Valley, indeed, could be a key place to do this business, but not without controversy.
On Monday, environmentalists were cheering a federal court decision that might slow fracking exploration in Monterey County and a small part of west Fresno County.
It could be an important ruling in California and elsewhere for this hot topic.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management a few years ago sold the oil and gas leases for hydraulic fracturing on 2,343 acres in Monterey County and 240 acres in Fresno County. Hyraulic fracturing involves injecting water and chemicals to create conduits for trapped oil and gas to migrate.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club sued, saying BLM had not fully investigated the risks. Environmentalists, some landowners and scientists have raised the possibility of underground water contamination and air quality issues.
In the March 31 ruling, a federal magistrate in San Jose said federal authorities broke the law by selling the leases in west Fresno and Monterey counties to oil drillers without studying the possible risks of hydraulic fracturing.
In his decision, U.S. Magistrate Paul Grewal wrote that the BLM argues the effects of fracking are largely unknown.
“The court agrees,” he wrote. “But this is precisely why proper investigation was so crucial in this case.”
Environmentalists want the lease sales thrown out. Instead, the court told federal authorities and environmentalists to confer on a remedy and submit it to the court by April 15.
Fresno Bee photographer Mark Crosse — yes, his name is very similar to mine — took the stunning photographs in the high Sierra for my story about the snowpack today. But he came back talking about more than just the gorgeous scenery.
Mark Crosse’s photo of Blackcap Basin, taken from PG&E’s helicopter on Tuesday.
Snowpack photo assignments usually involve a quick helicopter ride to one mountain meadow where you take a picture of hydrographers. Not this time.
Crosse wound up as part of the crew, writing down the record of snow measurement at each of the five stops that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. made Tuesday in the Sierra. In these times of economic strain, PG&E has streamlined its operation, so everybody gets involved.
The photographer said he really didn’t know what to expect. He found that PG&E hydrographer Christine Bohrman and pilot Brett Hendricks were amiable companions and keeping records was not difficult.
“It was a fantastic day flying in a helicopter, seeing the Sierra up close and just being part of it,” he said. “My name is in the register as the record keeper for those places.”
The places included wind-swept Blackcap Basin above 10,000 feet in the Kings River watershed. These high Sierra basins are amazing to see in summer, but Crosse had the opportunity to photograph one from a helicopter in March with snow everywhere.
That stop simply was not usually part of the itinerary in past years.
Crosse and I have backpacked for stories at The Bee over the last 18 years — Mount Whitney, Half Dome, lengthy sections of the John Muir Trail. He is no stranger to interesting outdoor photography. But he said this assignment stands out.
“This assignment is on my list as one of the best experiences I’ve had at The Bee,” he said.