Thursday, September 11, 2014

THE GRAPES OF WRATH II- How a Man-Made Dust Bowl Came to California

Widespread hardship is being felt in the Central Valley among the common folk like these people in the Great Depression.


How a Man-Made Dust Bowl Came to California

By Phaedra Glidden

When I first heard what the topic of this issue of the North Bay Independent was going to be, I jumped at the chance to write about what I feel is one of the most devastating issues occurring in our great State of California: The Delta Smelt Issue.  If you’ve lived in California for any length of time, then you know that this is an issue which rises up on a regular basis, year after year.  We all know of the battles now taking place between the Fish and the Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley.  However, even being a California girl born and bred, I found out when researching this article that I didn’t know half as much as I thought I did on the subject.

When I was a student we were required to read the book by John Steinbeck called “The Grapes of Wrath”, which was about the dust bowls in the 1930’s which caused literally millions of acres of farmland to be destroyed and forced hundreds of thousands of people to abandon Oklahoma and move to California and elsewhere.  In reading that book, not only did we learn about the people living in that era; mostly hardworking farmworkers, but we also learned of the historical basis for the book, as well as the scientific causes of the dust bowl phenomenon.  I hope to accomplish the same thing in this article regarding the Delta Smelt issue.  Steinbecks’ book was very important to me because both of my grandparents on my mother’s side were from Oklahoma and came to California in the 1930’s.  Their families were the migrant farm workers that Steinbeck describes so well in his book.  I clearly remember my grandmother telling me about picking cotton in the fields as a young girl.  When she was older, she met my grandfather picking peaches in the Central Valley.  He went on to become a contractor and built many businesses and homes in Yuba City near Sacramento.  I feel it is important to shed more light on this subject because real people are affected by what we decide to do in the future.  These people are hardworking individuals who are losing their livelihood, and in some cases their homes and land, but most important of all for farmers; their dignity.
I witnessed many small dust devils like the one in this picture on my drive through the central valley on September 8, 2014

What is the Delta Smelt?

The Delta smelt are a small three inch steel blue fish that has a life-span of approximately one year.  They are found only in the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  They mostly live in the area where the fresh and salt water come together and they eat insect larvae, micro-plankton, organisms including copepods, and small crustaceans.

The History of the Delta Smelt

The Delta smelt were abundant in our Delta until the mid 1970’s then, due to a decline in their numbers, they were listed as a threatened species in 1993.  Critical habitat was listed for Delta smelt on December 19, 1994.  Since their numbers continued to decline further, they were listed as an endangered species in 2010.  As per an article entitled “Delta Smelt: A Little Fish with the Delta Blues” by the Center for the Aquatic Biology and Aquaculture (CABA) out of UC Davis “The reason for the decline is not clearly understood but coincides with increased water diversions to the southern half of California for agriculture and domestic use.  Additionally, issues of pollution and problems associated with introduced species in the Delta have been proposed as the reason for the decline of Delta Smelt”.  At the time of their article (2011) there were several scientific research projects in the works to monitor the smelt in order to determine the reason for their decline.  This included trying to tag and track them, looking into the amount of hybridization between the smelt and other smelts, hatchery techniques, and “looking at the potential role of largemouth bass on the decline of the Delta smelt and other pelagic species”.  They are also looking at “the effects of turbidity and salinity on successful feeding and survival of larval (<30mm an="" class="highlightedsearchterm" span="">d juvenile (30- 70 mm) Delta smelt. This laboratory has also looked at the sensitivity of Delta smelt to ammonia.” Probably due to a waste water treatment plant releasing treated water into the Delta.  Unfortunately, this website does not provide any follow up information on the results of these studies, so I was unable to determine if they are complete or on-going.  ( 
The Present Situation

As per Wikipedia, “Efforts to protect the endangered fish from further decline have focused on limiting or modifying the large-scale pumping activities of state and federal water agencies”

On February 12, 2013, pumping restrictions went into effect due to the number of fish killed this year already nearing the annual limit set by the Endangered Species Act.  Apparently, the pumping stations have already killed 232 smelt in the first month and a half of 2013, while rules set by the Endangered Species Act only allows for a total of 305 deaths per year.  An article on KPBS.Org mentions that Mark Corwin with the Department (of Water Resources) said that “the deaths illustrate a need for a new system, one that would include $14 Billion twin tunnels.”  He is referring to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP).  More on the BDCP below. (

In an article entitled “Water Reliability Again Threatened by Delta Smelt Issue”, dated February 12, 2013, Western Growers President and CEO, Tom Nassif said “Endangered Species Act restrictions on water deliveries were invalidated by a federal court two years ago.  In light of that fact, a more moderate approach should be employed while new rules are drafted.  Yet in recent weeks, the federal fish agencies have imposed the same draconian restrictions that were the centerpiece of the rules invalidated by the court”.  (

According to the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) “Pumping restrictions aimed at protecting Delta smelt have reduced deliveries to water agencies in the Central Valley, Southern California and San Francisco Bay Area by more than 700,000 acre-feet since November 1, state officials announced Feb. 13.”  They quoted Department of Water Resources Director, Mark Corwin as saying during a conference call with reporters that water supplies lost as a result of the restrictions would have been enough to meet the needs of ¼ million households for a year or to irrigate 200,000 acres of farmland.  (

The Economic Impact

California is known as the “Salad Bowl of America”.  We are the top producers of a wide variety fruits, nuts, and vegetables, second only to Florida (oranges) and Texas (cattle and cotton).  As per Wikipedia, our total GDP is $1.96 Trillion, which is 13% of the U.S. GDP.  They also said we have the 3rd highest unemployment in the Nation, 9.8% as of November, 2012.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics put out a release dated February 13, 2013 for the December 2012 period that shows that the current unemployment rate in the San Joaquin valley run from a low at 13.5% (Kern County) to a high at 17.2% (Merced County).  San Joaquin County falls in the mid-range at 14.5%.  The average for all eight Counties in the San Joaquin Valley is an average of 14.89%.  These areas have unemployment rates that are more than twice the national average of 7.6%.  In February of last year the City of Mendota reached a high of 40% unemployed.  Certainly, not all of these jobs were in agriculture, or related industries, but one would think that this would be an important factor when considering the water issue.  ( ( ( & (

A fact sheet released by the California Farm Water Coalition said “Water supply cuts in just two months sent 727,863 acre-feet – 237 billion gallons – of water to the ocean”, which would be enough water sufficient to feed 726,000 people for a year, provide 12,386 farm jobs, and $873 million value of crops that could have been grown.  They estimate the total economic impact from farm production at $2.2 Billion.  (

The Politics

In August 2009, 50 mayors from the San Joaquin Valley signed a letter asking President Obama to observe the impact of the draconian water rules firsthand.  Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said at the time that he “doesn’t have the authority to turn on the pumps” that would supply the Delta with waters or “otherwise, they would be on.”  He did have the ability to request intervention from the Department of Interior, under a provision added to the Endangered Species Act in 1978.  However, Mr. Schwarzenegger has refused that remedy.  (

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-El Dorado Hills, was formerly a 22 year California state legislator, and is now is a member of Congress.  He has been very outspoken over the years regarding this issue.  McClintock has been quoted saying that “in many communities, hundreds of thousands of acres of fertile farmland were fallowed.  During 2009 and 2010, the Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress stood by and did nothing while farmers in the Central Valley were deprived of water and left without any work.”  In February 2012, the House passed a comprehensive solution in a bill, H.R. 1837, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act, with a bipartisan vote of 246-175, to restore the Central Valley water.  Unfortunately, the measure died in the Senate.  On January 26, 2010, Congressman McClintock spoke to the House about the dire situation in the Central Valley.  During this speech he said that while the Ob
The little Delta Smelt is the cause for environmental concern.
ama Administration is aware of the effects and has the power, Interior Secretary Salazar admitted that the Obama Administration has the authority to turn the pumps back on but it chooses not to because doing so would be like “admitting failure.”  The Examiner article referenced here has links to the Youtube video of the speech in which he says this.  In March of 2012, McClintock gave a speech in which he drew attention to the “spectacle of unemployed farm workers standing in food lines to receive carrots imported from China – in a region that just a short time before had produced much of American grown fruits and vegetables”.  (,  ( & (

On July 25, 2012, Governor Jerry Brown and U.S. Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, formally announced the Bay Delta Conservation Plan during a press conference at the California Natural Resources Agency building in Sacramento.  Over 300 people, including American Indians, environmentalists, family farmers, and fisherman showed up in protest.  Ken Salazar was quoted as saying “As broken and outdated as California’s water system is, we are also closer than ever to forging a lasting and sustainable solution that strengthens California’s water security and restores the health of the Delta”.  He also said “With science as our guide, we are taking a comprehensive approach to tackling California’s water problems when it comes to increasing efficiency and improving conservation.”  It was also reported that Brown shocked the press corp by saying “I want to get s**t done” when defensively responding to press questions.  The previous day, on July 24, 2012, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors had unanimously adopted a resolution opposing the currently proposed draft of BDCP.  I was hard-pressed to find many supporters of this plan.  (,  (


On October 24, 2012, Congressman John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, held a press conference urging more federal support for levees in rural parts of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and calling for a statewide cost-benefit analysis of the controversial BDCP.  Garamendi is the author of H.R. 6484, the SAFE Levee Act.  According to the Delta Counties Coalition, “the SAFE Levee Act seeks to address two vitally important concerns for our region: the need for additional federal assistance to help maintain and strengthen levees for both water quality purposes and the protection of the Delta agricultural economy, and the need for a full and thorough benefit-cost analysis of all alternatives under consideration through the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process, including at least one option that does not require the construction of one or more water conveyance tunnels.  Such a comprehensive analysis is vitally important to enable a fair comparison between non-structural and structural alternatives for achieving the co-equal goals of improving water supply reliability and protecting and restoring the health of the Delta estuary and wetland ecosystem”. (

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) is a 50 year plan to conserve habitat for endangered and threatened species, while continuing to divert water to agriculture and domestic water users in central and southern California.  It includes employing two tunnels to transport water under the Delta in an effort to guarantee a stable water supply for Californians and contribute to the protection and recovery of the Delta ecosystem and at-risk species.  As per the California Watch blog on February 27, 2013, the total projected cost for this plan is $39 billion ($14 billion for tunnels, $11.1 billion for the proposed water bond, $10 billion for Delta habitat re-creation, and $4 billion for Delta levee repairs.)  The BDCP also proposes to create at least 100,000 acres of wildlife habitat, including tidal marsh and inundated floodplain.  Test drilling for the tunnels is set to begin this spring, however legal efforts by landowners may delay this. (, ( & (

In addition to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, there is a Delta Wetlands Project which would “flood Bacon Island and Webb Tract while converting two more islands into wildlife habitat.”  Farmers have “long opposed this plan because approximately 11,000 acres of farmland would be intentionally flooded”.  This project was defeated by opponents once in 2004, but their latest lawsuit challenging a new environmental impact report was rejected by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Teri L. Jackson.  (

When I was trying to track down information regarding the authors of this plan, I found an eye-opening article called “Defense/intelligence contractor is no longer lead consultant on Delta Tunnel Plan”, by Dan Bacher, dated January 20, 2013.  It this article, Bacher explains that a company called Science Applications International Corporations (SAIC) had been the primary contractor on this project until recently.  He said that “few people are aware that the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a notorious defense and intelligence agency contractor that recently had to pay $500 million in a fraud settlement to New York City, currently bills itself on its website as the lead consulting company for the BDCP.”  According to Bacher, SAIC’s role had been central to the development of the BDCP; they managed a team of more than two dozen subcontractors and had been responsible for the preparation of all aspects of the BDCP document.  Bacher also said that the principal agencies SAIC contracts with are the National Security Agency (NSA), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and Department of Defense (DOD).  As per the article “Together with Booz Allen Hamilton, San Diego-based SAIC stands like a private colossus across the whole intelligence industry,” reported author researcher Tim Shorrock.  “Of SAIC’s 42,000 employees, more than 20,000 hold U.S. government security clearances, making it, with Lockheed Martin, one of the largest private intelligence services in the world”.  The article states that SAIC is among the top five contractors for the CIA.  It also credits this company with managing on of the NSA’s largest efforts in years, the $3 billion Project Trailblazer, which attempted (and failed) to create actionable intelligence from the cacophony of telephone calls, fax messages, and emails that the NSA picks up every day.  Launched in 2001, Trailblazer was cancelled in 2005, due to millions of dollars in cost overruns.  Most recently, SAIC had to  pay over $500 million in a settlement over an employment timekeeping program it managed for New York City, according to an article by Marjorie Censer in the Washington Post on March 18, 2012.  Censer said Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, called problems in the program “perhaps the single largest fraud ever perpetrated on the city of New York.”   Bacher finishes his piece by saying “The credibility of Brown’s plan is furthermore called in doubt when one realizes that the lead consultant for the BDCP until recently was a defense/intelligence agency contractor that had to pay over $500 million over alleged fraud it committed in a contract with New York City”.  I whole-heartedly agree.  ( & (

The Legal & Scientific Aspects

Not surprisingly, numerous law suits have been filed in court over the Delta smelt issue.  I was able to track down a report entitled “Biological Opinions for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta:  A Case Law Summary”, which lists 58 cases filed in court from inception through January 2012.  I will not attempt to summarize all of the case law history, but I would encourage anyone interested in the legal aspect to check this reference out. Instead, in this article I will attempt to point out a few of the highlights and cover more current events that have occurred since the January 2012 print date of the case law summary.  (

The workers and small farmers are suffering the most in this Man-Made drought.
In 2008, a federal biological opinion handed down by District Judge Oliver Wanger limited pumping from state and federal diversion projects in the Delta.  In 2010, Judge Wanger’s decision found that  the FWS “failed to use the best available science in restricting pumping to protect the smelt and did not consider human and other impacts.”  He also said the analyses supporting specific flow requirements “fatally flawed” and mostly unsupported.  He ordered the re-write of the biological opinion for the smelt.  The scientific testimony by the U.S. Department of Interior biologists were later reviewed by an “independent panel” of scientists who offered a mixed bag in their detailed findings.  They essentially cleared the science behind the testimony “finding no evidence of deliberate falsehood or personal opinion”.  They also found that it was “not clear for the record exactly how the biologists reached the conclusions they did”.  Judge Wanger said “the report vindicates his criticism of the Interior Department biologists because it also noted their testimony had inconsistencies and inadequacies.”  News articles at the time claimed that the scientists had been vindicated, but I encourage you to read a rebuttal to their findings by the Pacific Legal Foundation, referenced below.  Judge Wagner retired just following this in August 2011 and has been replaced by Judge Lawrence O’Neill.  On September 11, 2012, the case went before a three judge panel.  The 9th circuit court focused on whether the lower court improperly held a “battle of the experts”.  A decision is expected in a couple of months.  (, ( & (

After a lot of digging, I was able to track down information about this “independent scientific panel”, I discovered that the organization, called “RESOLVE”, was contracted to do this review by the U.S. Department of the Interior.  “RESOLVE” specializes in mediation between all parties on environmental issues.  They have regular on-going Federal contracts with both the EPA and the Department of Interior.  On their website, in the section called “RESOLVE Today”, they state that “Today, RESOLVE works with partners in the U.S. and internationally to design innovative, sustainable solutions to the 21st century’s toughest natural resource, environmental, and public health challenges.  We work to support healthy people and communities, clear air and water, resilient ecosystems, smart energy, sustainable development and solutions to natural resource conflicts.”  In my opinion, this panel looks anything but “independent”.  They appear to have a strong environmental and governmental vein to their organization.  Anyone who is aware of UN Agenda 21/ICLEI will see their earmarks all over this organizations’ website.  While they claim to be peer reviewed, it seems to me there might be a conflict of interest here since they were contracted by the U.S. Department of the Interior to clear the testimony of the U.S. Department of Interior biologists’ testimony.  ( & (

In January, 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asked for a three year extension to the December 2013 deadline for the management plans, or biological opinions. The new judge, U.S. District Judge Lawrence J O’Neill, declined this request.  In his eight page opinion dated January 30, he didn’t outright deny their request for more time, but he did order that more details be provided about the Collaborative Science and Adaptive Management Program (CSAMP), as well as recent changes to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), before making another ruling concerning time frame.  O’Niell wrote that the existing documentation is “as vague as can be imagined about both the agencies concerns regarding the existing scientific record and how the CSAMP aims to correct those deficiencies.”  He gave them until March 1 to submit additional information.  (

As I was researching the science behind this issue, I found many references to “bad” or “faulty” science.  A lot of these were coming from the judges presiding over the court cases who are privy to all of the information available on the subject.  In researching this aspect, I was able to find a “Report in Brief” by the National Academy of Sciences, entitled “A Review of the Use of Science and Adaptive Management in California’s Draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan” dated 2011, which said that the BDCP is “incomplete in a number of important areas”.  It  said that it “omits any analysis of the potential impacts of the plan’s efforts on the San Francisco Bay itself (aside from Suisun Bay)”.  They also said that at the time of their review, the effects analysis was “still in preparation, and was therefore absent from this draft of the plan, representing a critical gap in the science underlying the plan and the corresponding conservation actions”.  In addition, they found that “the purpose of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is not clear, making it difficult to properly understand, interpret, and review the science that underlies the plan.”  It said that there needed to be clarification of the plans goals; protecting listed species while providing a more reliable water supply for the state.  It said that “if the Bay Delta Conservation Plan were a broader conservation plan that aims to protect the ecosystem and provide reliable water supply, then it would be more logical to carry out an effects analysis, and then identify several alternative projects to reach the two goals.  Under the latter scenario, choosing the alternative project before evaluating alternative ways to reach a preferred outcome would be post hoc rationalization---in other words, putting the cart before the horse.  Scientific reasons for not considering alternative actions are not presented in the plan.”  They noted that numerous scientific studies have sought to understand the hydrolic, geologic, and ecological interactions in the Delta but that “is not clear how the authors of the BDCP synthesized this materials and incorporated it into the decision-making process that led to the plan’s conservation actions.  For example, it is not clear whether the analyses carried out by the numerous other Delta conversation plans and scientific assessments were used in the draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan.”  The said that “quantitative evaluation of the environmental stressors that impact species of interest, ideally using life-cycle models, would strengthen the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.  For example, much of the analysis of the decline of the smelt and salmonids in the Delta has focused on water operations, in particular the pumping of water at the south of the Delta for export in other regions.  However, a variety of other environmental factors have potentially large effects on these fishes; and considerable uncertainties remain about the impact that different aspects of flow management of the salinity of the water, have on their survival.”  Another major shortcoming of the plan is the lack of clarity of how much water will be diverted.  They said that without a “clear specification of the volume of water deliveries, the expected impacts to the ecosystem cannot be assessed.  Overall, the panel concluded that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is little more than a list of ecosystem restoration tactics and scientific efforts, with no coordinated strategy for reaching the goals of the plan.”  They concluded by saying that “the absence of scientific synthesis in the draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan draws attention to the fragmented system of management under which the plan was prepared, lacking coordination and accountability.  No single public agency, stakeholder or individual was made accountable for the coherence, thoroughness, and scientific integrity of the final product.”  (

In another article, I read that “The prestigious National Academy of Science, a collection of scientists from around the United States, spent months looking at the cause of species decline in the Delta. Their conclusion was many causes exist that influence the decline and taking action directed at only one factor is doomed to failure. The scientists clearly stated that it would take a multiple-prong approach to resolving population issues of species in the Delta. Those other factors, as they relate to smelt, include predation, water quality, loss of habitat, and more.”  (

In Conclusion

In conclusion, I agree with both of the judges that we should use the best science available and that we must consider humans in the equation.   I also agree with David Luker, general manager of the Desert Water Agency in Southern California, when he said that “When an environmental law doesn’t take into account human beings, they are leaving out the most important species.”  We need to use a more balanced approach both in identifying the problems facing the smelt and in the solutions employed to help them.  (

We should not assume that the problem lies only with the water taken from the Delta for human use in households and on farms.  Indeed, there seem to be other scientific reasons for their decline.  First, there is a waste water treatment plant which releases treated water into the environment that may be causing harm to the smelt.  Second, there are invasive predator fish like the Largemouth Bass and others that may be consuming the smelt.  Also, natural weather occurrences can have an effect on the smelt environment and should also be considered.  El Nino and La Nina weather patterns, as well as the periodic drought conditions prevalent in our state, can mean that the amount of water in the Delta fluctuate from year to year.  This is evident because there was a boost to the smelt numbers in 2011, a year in which we had above average rainfall.  A New York Times article entitled “California’s Delta Ecosystem is Healthier, For Now” said that the “high flows of water from the melting of deep snow in the Sierra provided enough for both the tiny fish known as the delta smelt, long considered on the brink of extinction, and for the farming communities that have chafed under legal rulings requiring them to give up water to keep the smelt and it’s ecosystem going.”  (

While I agree that we should as a society take care of our environment and do what is within reason to protect endangered species, I also think that environmental extremists have hijacked our state and put the well-being of Fish above the health and well being of Humans.  I came across a great piece on this when researching this article.  It was a Washington Times article entitled “When Sustainability is Code for Bigger Government”, dated February 25, 2013, by Paul Driessen.  This is an excellent article and I highly recommend that everyone read it.  In this article, Mr. Driessen said that President Obama’s Science Advisor, Eric Holdren, has said that we cannot talk about sustainability without talking about Politics, Power, and Control.  The author concludes “that “sustainability” has thus become yet another justification for bigger government, in the battle over centralized power versus independent states and sovereign nations, statism versus individual rights and liberties, and the power and influence of activist non-governmental organizations.”  He also said that the outcome of this battle will determine who is to be Master.  I tend to agree with this conclusion: For whoever controls our resources --- whether it be our air, food, land, or water – Controls the World. (

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