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California Editorial Rdp

July 3, 2019

July 3

Los Angeles Times on the returning smog problem:

For years, California has celebrated what is undoubtedly a great environmental achievement: the dramatic reduction of the lung-searing, eye-burning pollution that used to blanket Southern California and that made this region the smog capital of the United States.

But smog is making a comeback. The worst effects are being felt in San Bernardino, Riverside and other inland communities, which have seen an uptick in unhealthful air days over the last few years, The Times reported.

The worsening air quality comes as the region is facing a federal deadline to slash smog-forming pollution 45% by 2023, or risk penalties, including the loss of federal funding. It was always going to be a struggle to meet that deadline and the more stringent ozone standards that will come in the next decade. But now researchers say climate change appears to be making pollution conditions worse, which means it could be even harder for Southern California to finally clean up its air.

This is yet another potent reminder of how critical it is that California move as quickly as possible toward a zero-emission future, both to protect residents living in the smoggiest areas and to help prevent the most devastating effects of climate change.

Last year, San Bernardino had 102 days when smog reached unhealthful levels. That’s more unhealthful days than the city has logged since the mid-1990s. High levels of ozone pollution can permanently damage children’s lungs and raise adults’ risk of heart attacks and other deadly health effects.

Inland communities, which tend to be lower income, bear the brunt of the region’s air pollution problem. Pollution from cars, trucks and factories gets blown inland, where heat and sunlight transform the chemicals into ozone — or smog — which is trapped over the region by the mountains and weather conditions. By comparison, the coastal Westside had just two unhealthful air days in 2018. Cutting smog-forming emissions is also an environmental justice issue.

But Southern California is facing tremendous challenges. People are driving more. Public transit ridership is down. The movement of goods from the region’s giant shipping ports to warehouses and distribution centers is a rapidly growing, highly polluting industry. More than 80% of the region’s smog-forming pollution is created by vehicles, which are regulated by the state and federal governments. (The transportation sector is also the state’s largest source of the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change.)

The region is falling behind on its plans to meet federal Clean Air Act standards. In 2016, the South Coast Air Quality Management District — the agency responsible for cleaning up the air — adopted a blueprint to slash pollution that relied on somehow procuring $1 billion a year to provide incentives to businesses and individuals to switch to low-emissions cars, trucks and other equipment.

The AQMD has said it needs to raise a total of $14 billion by 2031; so far, the agency is on track to raise about a quarter of that amount. Various funding proposals have been floated, from a fee on shipping containers to a sales tax increase. The Times editorial board has been skeptical of a tax increase.

The region needs a lot more help from the state and federal governments. Unfortunately, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump appears more interested in rolling back air quality protections. But at a minimum, we hope the federal government — which is responsible for enforcing the Clean Air Act — will put up a lot more money to help subsidize the purchase of cleaner vehicles to help the region meet its smog-cutting deadlines.

California has sought to be a world leader on climate change, with ambitious goals to slash greenhouse gases over the coming decades. But the state should also be moving much faster to clean up its transportation systems, and particularly its diesel trucks, in the near term through incentives and regulations. That would do double duty — reducing emissions responsible for smog as well as for climate change.

After decades of progress, Southern California can’t afford to lose the fight for clean air.

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June 30

Desert Sun on Nestle Corp. taking California water:

We’ll go ahead and say it again: Why is this taking so long?

When it comes to Nestle Corp.’s harvesting of spring water for bottling from the nearby San Bernardino National Forest, it always seems that any final resolution of this long-running controversy is always somewhere in the future.

Nearly four years ago, the Editorial Board, in a series of opinions, demanded answers for the public on how Nestle had managed to pull so many millions of gallons of water over so many years under what appeared to be a decades-old, long expired permit, at a cost of a paltry few hundred dollars per year (which apparently often went unpaid).

Since then, there has been some movement to clear up how state and federal overseers had somehow managed to overlook what, at face value, seemed to be Nestle’s unchecked harvesting of water — to the point that critics said the ecology of the Strawberry Creek watershed was being damaged. Meanwhile, other, much-smaller users within the watershed, such as cabin owners, saw strict enforcement of what they were permitted to draw.

As reported by Janet Wilson in a recent Desert Sun story, California regulators notified Nestle in December 2017 that it must limit its take of surface and groundwater via its multi-mile mountain pipeline system to 152 acre-feet — about 49.5 million gallons — per year.

Nestle says it has among the most senior rights to water in the state of California and believes it is entitled to take — at no cost other than the now roughly $2,000 annual federal permit cost for its pipeline system — at least 271 acre-feet (88.3 million gallons) per year. It says it pulled 139 acre-feet of water from its mountain operation in 2018.

Nestle is “sustainably collecting water at volumes believed to be in compliance with all laws and permits at this time,” the Swiss multinational firm said in an email in response to questions submitted by according to emailed responses to questions from The Desert Sun’s Wilson.

And there’s the rub.

“At this time” is nearly a year and a half after the State Water Resources Control Board warned Nestle to not take any unauthorized water. Critics, such as Michael O’Heaney, executive director of the global citizens’ watchdog group Story of Stuff project, have long argued that Nestle has been taking far beyond what it might have ever had rights to and have called into question the validity of its water rights claims. They’ve also blasted the Forest Service’s new pact with Nestle, which was reached even though federal government-vetted studies show current water harvesting is drying up the creek system.

Victor Vasquez, who heads water rights enforcement for the state water board, says the agency’s investigation of Nestle’s operation continues, but hopefully can be wrapped up by December.

We agree with those who say enough already.

Regardless of how “complex” (as Vasquez put it) the entire issue is, the past track record of those charged at the state and federal level with minding the store here is abysmal. While there has been movement — as seen in the new Forest Service/Nestle agreement — the initial excuse given by regulators for their clear lack of oversight after the firm’s prior long-lapsed permit years ago was brought to light amounted to “we’ve had too much to do.”

It really is time to get it all done, folks.

In addition, we believe the potential sanctions Nestle could face if it is found that it did take “unauthorized water” since December 2017 are laughable. A potential fine of $500 to $1000 per day for the giant multinational corporation that reported $10.5 billion in profits last year is likely to be barely felt as just another tiny incidental cost of doing business.

This needs to be a wakeup call for Sacramento. State government — which clamped down on residents’ use of water through stringent conservation mandates imposed during the recent multi-year drought — needs to hold for-profit water users like Nestle to similar tough standards and sanctions.

We expect that those who represent us — state Sen. Jeff Stone, R-La Quinta, Assembly members Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley, and Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, and U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-La Quinta, and U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris — will look at putting more teeth into the enforcement of this industry.

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June 27

The Press Democrat on a water agency’s earthquake preparedness:

Sonoma Water has been preparing for an earthquake for more than a decade, but work remains. Residents need to make sure they have their own emergency plan ready.

By now, everyone has heard the horror stories about what Sonoma County will look like after a major earthquake. Basic services like water, sewer and power will go offline, roads will be trashed, and relief efforts could take days or weeks to arrive.

Sonoma Water provides mostly Russian River water to more than 600,000 people in Sonoma and Marin counties. The public agency doesn’t sell directly to consumers. It’s more like a wholesaler that sells to providers in nine cities and special districts. Those providers in turn sell water to residents and businesses. The providers are the cities of Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Petaluma and Sonoma; the town of Windsor; and Valley of the Moon Water District, Marin Municipal Water District and North Marin Water District.

If Sonoma Water goes offline, it will take down all of those districts. That’s one of the reasons that the Sonoma County Civil Grand Jury gave the system a close look.

After a disaster, Sonoma Water will try to restore service as quickly as possible. The agency already has installed isolation valves so that it can cut off water around breaks and has some emergency water reserves in place. It estimates that water service could be restored in as few as three days after a moderate earthquake.

The grand jury concluded that was an overly rosy prediction. For example, rapid repairs would rely on a handful of long-term employees with deep institutional knowledge, and their expertise hasn’t been adequately documented for other staff. If they aren’t available after a quake, restoration work would slow tremendously.

Getting repair parts also might be a problem. The grand jury found that the current inventory of parts is insufficient and that the agency lacks an accurate record of what’s on the shelves. Meanwhile, some tank maintenance and other system upgrades have fallen behind schedule.

All of which means that Sonoma Water has done a decent job, but not a stellar one. The agency would do well to follow the half-dozen recommendations in the grand jury report.

At least the water agency is doing better than the rest of Sonoma County government. The grand jury found that the county has significant maintenance issues with its buildings and no clear plan for paying for or even prioritizing repairs.

For the more than half-million residents of the region who rely on Sonoma Water, the warning is clear: Prepare for the worst. When the next major earthquake strikes the region, no one should count on government coming to the rescue immediately. Maybe Sonoma Water is right and will restore service in three days. Do you really want to bet your family’s lives on it?

Residents can prepare for the worst with an emergency kit, and water is one of the easiest things to add. Experts recommend one gallon per person per day, so if a family of four wants to have enough on hand for those three optimistic days, 12 gallons is a start.

And keep the pressure up on public agencies to continue making progress on preparing for an earthquake.

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