Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “Vance Kennedy”

Board of Supervisors Meeting 10/29/13

Water drop

Water drop (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Vance Kennedy

There has been widespread discussion of groundwater problems in the foothills.  The question seems to be “what to do about it”?  Major damage to some smaller property owners is occurring right now and that can be a complete loss of value of home and property, simply because adjacent large plantings of almonds are taking their groundwater.  An estimate of that property loss would be highly appropriate in your investigation.  Legal costs to defend these small properties are simply too expensive to individuals and are prolonged.

You have the police power to stop abuses.  Please use that power as soon as possible.  An immediate moratorium, like that in San Louis Obispo County would be very appropriate…but then what?

A rapid estimate of the problem could be made with existing knowledge by county employees, hydrologists and farmers, using present orchard records and detailed data on approved wells, plus planned almond planting and wells.  That would be a guide.

Rainfall in the low foothills is on the order of 12 inches per year.  Half may reach the water table.  Minimum irrigation needs of almond trees is estimated at 30 inches per year.  Thus, at least 2 feet of water is needed, in addition to rain.  That must come from groundwater, since there is no other source.  Because the pore space in rocks holding available water is roughly 15% (plus or minus 5%), every foot of pumped groundwater should drop the water perhaps 8 feet.  That equals 16 feet per year.  If the water table drops significantly less than that, it means that groundwater is flowing laterally underground to the well from ones’ neighbors and depleting the overall groundwater supply.  That would not be surprising, since lateral movement of groundwater is well known to be much easier than vertical movement.

There is a legal term known as “prescriptive rights”, whereby, if water is taken wrongly, and no objections occur, then at some point in time the right to object is lost.  Since there is no groundwater law in California, the time for a prescriptive right is unknown, but could conceivably be quite short.  You can control that.

A rough estimate of the magnitude of the water problem in the foothills can be made in a week.  Not a year or two, if people use reasonable estimates, as described.  There is certainly enough understanding of the problem by employees of the local irrigation districts to make valid estimates of the problem.  I cannot overstate the need to act now on requiring environmental impacts on properties adjacent to wells.  Also, grand-fathering in of continuing harmful practices absolutely must be avoided.

While I am up here, I would like to put in a plug once again for an influential county/city committee to look at the truly long term needs by our local society for food and water.  Some members of this area seem determined to make the central valley another silicon valley.  that would truly be a local and national disaster.  I believe the average local citizen is concerned but does not know how to register that concern with the decision makers.  A prominent committee could help

WATER EXPORT RULES

I would like to put in a plea that you folks approve the proposed rules on export of groundwater today.  I understand from highly reliable sources that this sort of problem was recognized at least 10 years ago and ignored.  If it had been addressed then we would probably not have the present problems.  There is a phrase to “kick the can down the road” that has been applicable in the past.  Please do not do it in this case.  If there are major unexpected problems with the rules, there is no reason why they cannot be changed in the future.

The county does need a water expert on its staff, who has legal advice available.  Neither the city or county has a lawyer knowledgeable in water precedents….I have asked.  given the tremendous importance of water at present, and even more so in the future, it is imperative that the county have such advice readily available, the sooner the better.

Rumor has it that 40% of natural river flow will be kept for the fish in the future.  Meanwhile, the state requires major increases in housing by the city.  It seems obvious that truly great water challenges lie ahead and that does not even consider potential global warming.

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VANCE KENNEDY AT MID ON SEPTEMBER 17, 2013

Vance C. Kennedy

Since the last MID Board meeting a lawyer friend of mine was kind enough to call my attention to a report, published in 2011,

English: 1. Aquifer 2. Aquitard 3. Unsaturated...

which is applicable to the question of what can be done about the grossly over-drafting of the water table in the foothills.  I have left a partial copy of the reference with Pat, your secretary.

I quote, “The common law doctrine of correlative rights regulates the taking and use of groundwater, unless local arrangements apply.  That doctrine limits groundwater pumping to the ‘safe yield’, being the volume of natural and artificial recharge of the aquifer, which is shared by overlying landowners on an “equitable basis” (regardless of their particular uses), and by non-overlying landowners, if there is sufficient water available.”

That last “if there is sufficient water available” is the key.  There is not sufficient water available to support the water drawn by the existing and proposed deep wells.  The rainfall in the foot hills averages in the range 12 to 14 inches of water per year, of which perhaps half contributes to groundwater.  Almond trees being planted require at least 30 inches of water per year, so there is a shortage of about 24 inches of water above the safe yield.   The shortage is being made up by mining ancient groundwater (2,000 to 13,000 years old) in direct conflict with the doctrine of safe yield.  It causes major and continuing drops in the regional water table.  The result is a short time benefit to the County of a large increase in almond production and a long term societal disaster for the foothills region.  Politically, it is a “hot potato”, but must not be ignored, as in the past.  Irreplaceable and extensive damage has already occurred and must not continue.

In sedimentary rock deposits it is well known that the lateral permeability of rocks is much greater than the vertical permeability.  Therefore, when a deep well operates, it can draw water much more easily from the side than above.  That water comes from the neighbors before it comes from the overlying rock.  California is one of two states that have no groundwater laws, but tort law may very well apply, since a neighbor’s property may become worthless as a result of the almond grower’s actions.  After all, if water is too deep or expensive to pump, a foothill house and land is worthless.  It no longer provides taxes to the County or a livelihood to people.

Who is responsible for filing the lawsuit to recover damages due to these deep high-volume wells?  It’s a valid question.  It is my non-lawyer understanding that if the problem is a purely local one, the affected property owner is responsible for handling the suit, but if it is a regional problem, the public authorities have the responsibility.  There is little doubt that this is a regional problem and therefore the County should file suit to stop the pumping and reimburse the harmed property owners.  There is some discussion of this question in the reference mentioned.

I realize that this is outside the sphere of influence of MID, but I thought the MID members might be interested.

A copy of this talk will be provided to the Board of Supervisors, and, as a water agency, you might be interested in following up on the information I have provided.

Part four in the applicable section: UncommonInnovation

Vance Kennedy Voices Concerns to the MID Board

By Vance Kennedy

1.  There is an estimated minimum need for about $35 million dollars in funds to answer requirements for Don Pedro

Drip Irrigation Layout and its parts.

Drip Irrigation Layout and its parts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

reservoir and the MID irrigation system.  That number is a very approximate one.  To the best of my knowledge, funds have not been saved for this.

2.  That money is too large to be obtained by immediate charges, so a bond issue is necessary.

3.  Recent comments by the head of the Federal Reserve, suggesting an easing of bond buying, caused a very rapid jump in 30-year Treasury interest rates of 0.8 percent.  That still leaves interest rates far below long-term averages.  However, the Federal Reserve immediately hastened to try to calm the fears of a rapid rise in interest rates.  It helped, but did not cause interest rates to return to the prior low rates.

4.  In the past, large-scale printing of money resulted in large increases in inflation, but with a variable time delay.  It seems reasonable to assume a similar occurrence in the future.

5.  Now is the time to sell bonds before the Federal Reserve actually does raise interest rates.

6.  A source of bond repayment must be identified before the bonds can actually be sold.

7.  That means an equitable distribution of charges to water users is needed, which will take time, but the time available is very, very short if we are to take advantage of existing low interest rates and before inflation takes off.

8.  The only way a bond can be issued rapidly is to use MID’s overall credit, with a definite written agreement that raw water users will repay the rest of MID customers as soon as possible, and that means very promptly, with no exemptions.

9.  That will require a major, perhaps gradual, charge causing water rates to increase greatly.

10. When water rates increase greatly, many farmers may forego flooding and use drip irrigation.

11. That will result in dropping the water table greatly, just like in the foothills, due to lack of sufficient groundwater recharge.  Also, it could cause a permanent loss of rights to river water, since flood irrigation is greatly reduced and canal water will not be used beneficially.  That loss of water rights should apply permanently to farmers going to drip irrigation because once water rights are lost, they cannot be easily recovered if, indeed, they ever can be recovered.  Otherwise, drip irrigators will act like parasites on the flood irrigating farmers.  This problem with drip irrigation has not been widely recognized in the past, but can no longer be ignored.

12. To avoid the loss of water rights to the river, the farmers must continue to flood irrigate and pay whatever is required to retain the water rights to canal water.  Cities should also encourage farmers to flood irrigate, since groundwater is their backup in case of a severe or prolonged drought.

13. A rough estimate of the cost to pay off $35 million dollars over 30 years, and cover already existing costs, is on the order of $38 per acre foot, plus or minus $5 per acre foot, assuming the present interest rate of 4.8% on MID bonds.  That will mean at least quadrupling the present raw water charge.  Before city residents get all excited about their water rate increases, they should realize that the water charge is estimated to be less than 2% of their water bill.  Hence, their water bill might go up $3 to $4 dollars per month.  City cost now is 1/5 of a penny per gallon.

14. The immediate reaction to this proposal will be “No way”.  Farmers can either face reality now or pay a lot more in the not too distant future.  I challenge anyone to face the situation realistically and come up with a better way to solve our long-term problems.  Detailed explanation of these ideas have been provided to the Board members will prior to this meeting.  Do the Board members have any questions or comments?  Time is of the essence.  $35 million for each 1% increase in interest cost to pay off $35 million over 30 years.  The total increase in interest costs over that 30 years will be about $10.5 million.

Modesto Bee Heavily Biased in Water Discussion Says Vance Kennedy

By Vance Kennedy

The Chamber of Commerce and developers want to make the San Joaquin Valley another Santa Clara Valley.  It will be

California's San Joaquin Valley and Central Va...

California’s San Joaquin Valley and Central Valley. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

a food disaster for the nation.

MID Talk – The Modesto Bee is heavily biased in discussing the so-called subsidy of farmers by electric rate payers.  There has been extensive coverage of the subject.  There has been essentially no effort made to ask how the farmers are subsidizing the rate payers in return.  I have already mentioned the groundwater recharge that flood irrigating farmers do for the city’s benefit.  That has been largely ignored.  There are many other benefits that need to be emphasized, but have not been.  These include the cleansing of dust particles from the air by vegetation, which is known to occur, but has not been extensively studied in the community.  Another is the fact that agriculture is the main source of outside money for our economy.  The Bee would do well to look for the many pluses that farmers and the irrigation system bring to the Valley and give them equal coverage.

Subsidizing is not necessarily a dirty word.  The federal and state governments do it all the time, when they feel that it is best for the overall community.  The Modesto Bee is apparently pushing to greatly increase farmer’s water rates.  What will that do to the overall community?  I’m told that the dairy farmers are struggling to survive and that many of them across the state are going into bankruptcy.  In Stanislaus County, in the last two years, 61 dairies have gone bankrupt.  In 2 months, 10 dairies,  3 more now ready to go bankrupt.  20 more expected this year.  207 dairies have now gone bankrupt in Stanislaus County.

Water in large quantities is absolutely required to operate a dairy.  Has the Been inquired about the economic impact on the county of water rates were tripled, for example?  Could the job losses far exceed the subsidy that the Bee is so fond of emphasizing?  If it were a responsible organization, it would look into the effect of what they are pushing so hard.

Now, I don’t question that there is a real need to issue more long-term MID bonds while bond interest rates are at an all time low.  When the government prints lots of money, inflation is a usual result, delayed for a varying length of time.  With inflation, prices go up along with interest rates.  Such bonds have a guaranteed source of payoff and that means additional income will be needed.  City residents should realize that only a very small fraction of their water charges is due to the wholesale price of water that the city and the farmers pay.  By far, most of the water charge to city residents is due to treatment and distribution charges.  Even so, I think that the cost to city residents is on the order of 2/10ths of a penny per gallon.  That is guaranteed pure and available in large quantities at the touch of a faucet.  What a deal!  Half of that water is there now because farmers pushed for the Don Pedro dam many years ago.  It raises a familiar old question – “What have you done for me lately?”

Before we price many farmers out of business with water charges, lets have an independent group look at all of the factors that contribute to the community’s welfare.  Some farmers can easily pay considerably more for water.  Others will be wiped out.  What does the community want and what is reasonable for the long-term good of the city residents and businesses, who constitute the over-whelming users of electricity?  It is a very complicated question which must not be ignored.

In Stanislaus County in the last two years 61 dairies have gone bankrupt.     In the last two months 10 dairies went bankrupt, 3  more are on the brink, 20 more are expected this year.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              We have only 207 dairies left in the county.

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