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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rainfall in Fresno for January through April? It was a kidney stone of a four-month period. It ranks as the sixth-driest on record, according to the National Weather Service in Hanford.
It’s a relief that those four months have just about passed, but we have more than just a dry spell here. If there’s little or no rainfall between now and the end of June, this will go down as one of the 10 driest years on record for Fresno.
Those records date back to 1878.
I’ve talked with a few meteorologists who say California is in a drought, though the state has not declared one.
Paul Iniguez of the National Weather Service says: “As a meteorologist, I will say that large areas of the state are experiencing meteorological drought.”
The state had a dry year in 2011-2012. It looks like 2012-2013 — water year runs from July 1 through June 20 — will be even drier.
Fresno is a good example. It had 8.15 inches of rain last year, about 75% of average. This year, the city has 5.60 inches, about 52% of average for late April.
The snowpack was a bit of a disaster as well. It was 48% of average on April 1. The year before, it was 54% of average.
With reservoirs still close to average — with the notable exception of San Luis Reservoir in western Merced County — the impact of consecutive dry years could be much worse.
But water managers throughout California already are worrying about next winter.
You can look up your zip code on the final version of the state’s new health screening tool to find out the risk of living wherever you live in California. And you will find it here.
I wrote about this in March for a story about West Fresno, which is ranked the most dangerous place anywhere in the state. The Bee links to the tool have been updated.
I noted at least one change. There are bound to be others.
The change I saw was in the 93656 zip code for Lanare and Riverdale in southwest Fresno County. In the previous version of the tool, the zip was ranked among the top 10% of the riskiest places to live. The new tool shows it is in the top 20%.
I noticed the score for the category on low birth weights had been lowered, meaning there was not as much risk as previously thought.
It may seem like a small change, but these rankings will be used to prioritize the spending of some money raised at cap-and-trade auctions.
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.
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.