Unimpaired flows will have unintended consequences

Belltower 9-4-2017

By Michael Raffety


Back in May I attended seminars presented in Monterey by the Association of California Water Agencies. One of the sessions I attended was a large audience venue at a local theater.


The subject was “Statewide Issues Panel – Can We Close the Settlement Deal for the San Joaquin River Flow Plan.” All the panelists, including the moderator were lawyers, with one of them being the chief counsel for the State Water Resources Control Board.

I took some notes, but in reviewing them, it all adds up to a lot of lawyer mumbo jumbo. The real take-away for me came during audience questions. I was struck by a statement from a crusty old guy, whom I later learned was a board member from West Stanislaus Irrigation District. I pegged his age at 89. He pointed out that before the dams salt-water intrusion came all the way to Sacramento.

He was old enough to remember, for sure.

The first big dam was Shasta, completed ahead of schedule in 1945. It took only 26 months to build it. The editor who hired me at the Mountain Democrat, Ursula Smith, married a person who came west to work on Shasta Dam. Ursula left Germany in the 1930s and worked as a photographer in New York City.

She came to work at the Mountain Democrat under Editor Larry Belanger because she had moved to one of the original sections of El Dorado Hills, built in the 1960s.

Ursula had been editor just six months when she hired me in 1978, naming me city editor four months later. Ursula still had a slight German accent.

I’m assuming the Smiths moved up here when construction of Folsom Dam began in 1951, followed by Nimbus Dam in 1952. Folsom was completed in 1955.

It was those dams, along with Oroville — built in 1961 and finished in 1968 –,that regulated flow into the Sacramento and its two major tributaries, the Feather and American rivers. That pushed the salt water out to Carquinez Straight and San Pablo Bay. The only ones complaining about salt-water intrusion are the city of Antioch and sometimes Delta farmers, especially during lower water years or droughts.

All the lawyers talking about the state beating on water rights owners to release more water from dams on the San Joaquin River appeared to go into a lawyer zombie apocalypse when James McLeod stood up and told them the dams kept the salt water from moving with the flood tide back to the city of Sacramento.

The State Water Resources Control Board is working up a scheme to take 40 percent of the “unimpaired flow” from water rights holders before June. Although Michael Lauffer, the chief counsel for the State Water Resources Control Board, at the forum mentioned 65 percent of unimpaired flow to “support the Delta ecosystem.”

“Unimpaired flow is runoff that would have occurred had water flow remained unaltered in rivers and streams instead of stored in reservoirs, imported, exported, or diverted. The data is a measure of the total water supply available for all uses after removing the impacts of most upstream alterations as they occurred over the years. Alterations such as channel improvements, levees, and flood bypasses are assumed to exist,” said a study prepared by the Schwarzenegger administration in 2007.

Here is what the state water board said in an October 2016 press release: “Greater quantities of Delta outflow are needed during the winter and spring to support estuarine processes, habitat, and the species that depend upon them.”

The closest thing to what the Delta was like before it became channelized is the Yolo Bypass. When it is flooded young salmon grow large quickly on the food there.

Unimpaired flows mean flooding or salt-water intrusion.


Shasta, a ‘ghost town’


By Michael Raffety

I had occasion to drive to Klamath Falls, Ore., to conduct some personal business. I had to leave Placerville fairly early to make sure I arrived during banking hours. But the return trip was less hurried, even though Saturday traffic was heavier. For several years I had kept a yellowed clipping about the “ghost town” of Shasta three miles west of Redding.

The June 12, 2011, clipping from the Sunday Bee said Shasta was founded on gold and was the “Queen City’” of the northern mines in the Klamath Range. It was the county seat until 1872 when the Central Pacific bypassed the town and routed the rails through Redding instead. Redding officially became the county seat in 1888.

Shasta features a lot of brick buildings that are in a state of arrested decay, with walls propped up by steel braces. Many were originally two- and three-story buildings, but now only the first story remains.

The 1861 courthouse is a real treat. It is in excellent shape and features original furnishings, law books and a couple of large property tax ledgers. Twin gas lamps light the judge’s bench. The attorneys’ benches are curved, as are the seats for the audience.

The furnishings, complete with a 38-star flag, were saved by county employee George Albro. Albro began working at the Shasta Jail when he was 13. The jail is downstairs in the courthouse. That is how the El Dorado County Courthouse used to be, with the jail downstairs. When former Sheriff Dick Pacileo first began working for the Sheriff’s Department he worked in the jail downstairs.

The Placerville Police Department used to be downstairs when City Hall was on Main Street next to the courthouse. They would look out the window and watch who was coming out of the bars.

When the new courthouse opened in Redding, Albro stored all the Shasta courthouse decorations and furnishings in the attic of the new courthouse. When it was decided to restore the old courthouse in Shasta in the 1950, George Albro was the consultant, though he had already retired. Albro had been a county employee for 75 years.

In the old Shasta courthouse is a roll-top desk that was used by William Bickford who was county auditor-clerk-recorder from 1872-1878.

The room that was identified as the Clerk-Auditor is now an art gallery featuring 98 California paintings collected by former Shasta resident Mae Helene Bacon Boggs. The collection includes some impressive landscapes painted about 1912 by Thaddeus Welch. I had not heard of Welch before, but now I do. The collection includes several paintings by famous Western artist Maynard Dixon. I did a paper on Maynard Dixon for a graduate level photography class. These paintings were simpler, but his more complex western paintings had a clear photographic foundation to them.

Seeing the sign for the Clerk-Auditor reminded me when I reported on the Amador County Board of Supervisors before I came to work at the Mountain Democrat in 1978. At that time the Clerk-Auditor made the agenda and kept the minutes for the Board of Supervisors. He also did the county budget. He showed me how to read a budget and find the highlights.

I’m not sure why Amador County later thought it needed a county administrator. The auditor put together a real clear budget.

The last time El Dorado County had an administrator who didn’t rely on someone else to put together a budget was the 1980s. CAO Kent Taylor would visit all the department heads and elected officials as he began building his budget. Somewhat like the Amador County clerk-auditor, Taylor’s budget was a one-man operation.

Besides the courthouse three buildings have survived – a bakery, which is now a sandwich shop, the Litsch Store and the Leo Store. Since my new grandson’s name is Leo, we went to the Leo Store first. The Litsch Store is a general store chock full of original stock, including locally made whiskey bottles and zinfandel wine bottles so old you wouldn’t dare taste them.

The other building in excellent shape is the oldest chartered Masonic Hall in California, Western Star Lodge No. 2, chartered on May 10, 1848.

The town of Shasta is a state park, largely as a result of art collector Ms. Boggs buying land and buildings in the 1920s. Groups helping the restoration movement were the Native Sons of the Golden West and the Shasta Historical Society. The State Parks Commission bought additional properties in 1937. The state was going to close Shasta State Historical Park July 1, 2012. The Shasta Historical Society raised enough money to keep it open three days a week. Apparently Saturday is one of those days.

Cookie tables, government leaks and ag water

By Michael Raffety


Last year our family attended a friend’s wedding that featured a very small, cake just enough for the bride and groom o do the ritual feeding of cake to each other. I assume that tradition means a lifetime of sharing food with each other. I’m generally OK with that but I never share my ice cream cones. And I never share them with dogs.

The different aspect of that wedding was the guests received cookies instead of cake. I thought that was a pretty neat concept. Then I read about “cookie tables” in the July 8 Wall Street Journal. Cookie tables are an ethnic tradition in Youngstown Ohio, and Pittsburgh, Penn. The tradition is mainly Italian and East European.

Apparently the tradition began during the Depression when families couldn’t afford wedding cakes and instead would organize a family pastry baking party that would enlist neighbors as well.

Families and neighbors still do the baking but the cookie recipes are more elaborate, with recipes being spread on specialty web pages based in Youngstown and Pittsburgh.

Johnna Pro, an employee of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, organized a cookie table of 319 dozen cookies in 39 varieties, for a national Main Street Now Conference this spring. The cookies were for the Traditional Pittsburgh Wedding Cookie Table.

Her top cookie recipe she learned from her Italian mother is Pesche Con Crema – cookies that look like peaches. After baking, small balls of dough are filled with lemon custard and sandwiched together, brushed with peach-colored liqueur and then coated with sugar.

That sure tops the rum balls my mother used to send me when I was in the Navy –- a package my friends always looked forward to.

My two favorite columnists in the Wall Street Journal are Holman Jenkins and Kimberly Strassel. July 7 Strassel’s column put the intelligence leaks in perspective. In the first 126 days of the Trump administration there were 125 intelligence leaks. By contrast in the same time period of the Obama administration there were 18 and most of those were Obama leaking about the previous George W. Bush administration.

The leaks have ranged from the “contents of wiretapped information, names of individuals the U.S. is monitoring and where they are located, communications channels used to monitor targets. Which agencies are monitoring. Intelligence intercepts. FBI interviews. Grand jury subpoenas. Secret surveillance court details. Military operations intelligence. Contents of the presidents calls with foreign leaders.”

That last one has always puzzled me. Who the heck is wire tapping the president’s phone? There are a lot of people who should face criminal charges.

. . .

I keep hearing that agriculture in California uses 80 percent of the water. Not true.

The 80 percent figure was used during a panel of farmers from diverse regions of the state during a Statewide Issues Form May 10 at the spring conference of the Association of California Water Agencies. Moderator for the panel was Dave Kranz, communications/news division manager for the California Farm Bureau.

“Q: You have all heard it. Farmers use 80 percent of the water in California. What do you say about that?”

Two illuminating answers were detailed in the June 16 ACWA News, first by Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of the California Water Alliance:

“You hear agriculture represents only 2 percent of the economy. The result is agriculture produces a $54 billion economy. The accurate statistics are that of ‘developed’ water available in the state, 50 percent goes for environmental purposes; 40 percent to ag and 10 percent to urban.”

Also responding was Jake Wenger, a Modesto farmer and a director at the Modesto Irrigation District:

“The 2 percent if farmgate only … it doesn’t include all of the inputs, the shipping, equipment used … the actual economic benefit is seven to 11 times that number. California is the No. 1 producer, followed by Iowa, Texas. California is the sixth largest ag producer in the world.”

The final question was about corporate farming. California Farm Bureau guy Dave Franz answered that question: “Only 1.1 percent of the farms in California are owned by non-family members.”

Degas and the Paris Millinery Trade and my Aunt Rosie

By Michael Raffety


I recently took in the latest impressionist art show at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, called “Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade.”

As soon as I saw the press invitation for the show that opened June 24 and runs through Sept. 24, the first thing I thought of was a woman myself and my cousins all referred to as Aunt Rosie. I always figured she was called an aunt because she was my grandmother’s best friend. However, there actually was a family connection via my mother’s younger sister Beverly.

Rosa Krann had a millinery shop in Baker, Ore. The eastern Oregon town, set in a valley surrounded by the Blue Mountains, is now Called Baker City, perhaps to distinguish it from Baker, Calif., and Baker, Nev.

At one time there were six millinery shops in Baker, Ore. Aunt Rosie, who had learned millinery work while attending high school in Austria, interned for one of those shops shortly after she arrived in Baker in 1882 with her mother, grandmother and sister and brother.

Once she knew enough people and learned English she opened up her own millinery shop. She operated that shop for 52 years. There is a studio portrait of my grandmother Viva Nordean as a stylish young woman in 1904 sporting one of Rosie’s hats.

Rosie’s sister, a year older than her, married her father Lawrence’s business partner August Meier. August was 42 and Marie was 18. They had five children. The fifth child birth eventually killed her. Just before she died in the hospital in Baker Marie asked Rosa to take care of her children, ages 12, 9, 7, 5 and 18 months. Marie was 31 when she died. Rosa had bought some medicine for her from the druggist to ease her pain. When she went to pay the druggist, Henry Levinger, he asked her to make him one of her fanciest hats. After picking up the hat about 6 p.m. he came back about two and a half hours later and said he had raffled off the hat for $300.67 “to help fund Miss Rosa’s new family.”

The oldest child was Betty, who married the father of the man my mother’s younger sister, Beverly, married. My mother’s youngest sister, Beth, actually worked in Rosa’s hat shop one summer in Baker. Though we all knew Aunt Rosie made women’s hats, we knew her as a friend of my grandmother’s who made us Rice Krispie cookies and would have us over for dinner. She liked children. Never married, she walked each morning to St. Francis de Sales Cathedral to attend Mass.

In 1952 Mamie Eisenhower happened to be traveling through Baker and saw a hat she really liked. She wrote Rosa asking her to make one like it for her, which she did.

A newspaper story noted that among the more lucrative hats she sold were $65 hats to ladies who were part of an element of what Rosa referred to when she said to the society page interviewer, “Well, Baker was a wide open town then.”

Speaking of wide-open town, Paris between 1875 and the First World War had 1,000 milliners working in the fashion capital of the world. Supporting these milliners were an estimated 24,000 artificial flower makers. There were a few milliners who were also clandestine “women of the night.” You’ll quickly note which Degas milliner’s portrait looks a little too fancy and décolletage to be just a hard working hat maker.

The show at the Legion of Honor features more than 40 impressionist paintings and pastels. Besides Degas, who had done 27 paintings of milliners, there are paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edouard Manet, Mary Cassatt and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The works came from the Musee d’Orsay, the Art Institute of Chicago, the J. Paul Getty Museum and the St. Louis Museum of Art. The latter art museum, with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, were co-organizers of the exhibition.

A key highlight of the show is the collection of 19th century women’s hats from collections in Paris, Chicago and gifts to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

The hat that got my attention the most was one by an unknown artist in 1890 made of nutcracker heads and golden pheasant feathers. As close as I can determine, the nutcracker is European, possibly Polish. The golden pheasant is a Chinese bird that has gone wild in the U,S. and Canada and is now considered a game bird, though not as prevalent as its other Chinese cousin, the ring-necked pheasant. My grandfather on my mother’s side and my dad would go pheasant hunting in Baker Valley. Grandfather Will Nordean, being a justice of the peace, knew a lot of ranchers who would let him hunt in their fields. The two of them would come back with a string of pheasants. There was no lack of pheasant feathers for Rosa’s Millinery. Rosa, though would go to Chicago for more exotic feathers, such as ostrich.

The art show at the Legion has some little seen and intriguing works by Degas. My favorites, though, were the Renoirs and a painting by Venetian artist Frederico Zandomeneghi.

Virtual reality invades business world


By Michael Raffety

Every time I see photos of someone wearing one of those virtual reality headsets all I can think of is, “That’s goofy looking and nerdy with little actual real world value.”

Dana Perino, former presidential spokeswoman and current Fox political commentator, described a recent experience she had with a virtual reality headset. It was obviously some kind of psychological test. The VR experience was to take an elevator up and get off. The elevator goes down but the door remains open and you are asked to jump into the shaft.

Well, who would do a darned fool thing like that?

Other than seemingly pointless experiments like that is there any value to virtual reality?

Apparently there is and it’s simply amazing. It is so astounding I have to quote the entire first three paragraphs from a June 6 Wall Street Journal article written by Betsy Morris:

“Gary Steinberg, Stanford University’s head of neurosurgery, has been operating on brains for more that three decades. Only in the past year has he been able to do something that gives him a significant advantage: preview surgery and practice it.

“Donning a virtual reality headset, the 64-year-old works through thickets of digital blood vessels in a precise computer simulation of a patient’s gray matter before he cuts into the real thing.

“’I can figure out how best to approach a tumor and practice it so that when I get into the operation, it’s as if I’ve been there before,’ Dr. Steinberg says. ‘It makes surgeries safer. Outcomes are better.’”

Practice makes perfect. Practice also increases the odds of success. Who wouldn’t like to have their surgeon practice with virtual reality before performing open-heart surgery or some other delicate operation?

I believe this VR practicing is going to be picked up by other brain surgeons and will spread to other kind of surgeries.

And the guy who started this is 64. There’s a doctor who is still open to technical innovation and is obviously extremely bright. I would have to give brain surgeons the edge over rocket scientists in the smarts department.

Are virtual reality headsets going to spread beyond surgeons? Apparently so, because the same article notes that Wal-Mart is using them to train 140,000 employees annually. At $800 apiece they are less than a new iMac computer but similar in price to an iPhone.

I wouldn’t want to go to a movie and experience it in virtual reality, but my guess is practical applications of virtual reality are going to bring about the productivity boost that computers did for the 1980s and the Internet did for the1990s.

They will also provide a boost to technical education. Think about teaching high quality welding by virtual reality before working with the actual materials. Think how it can enhance a student welder’s ability to read blueprints by converting those blueprints into 3-D on a VR headset.

When my wife and I worked with an architectural designer to create our custom home we had no difficulty visualizing it, but that is not always the case with all people who hire architects. To put on a virtual reality headset and take a tour of what the architect designed would be a huge benefit for not only potential homeowners but also school superintendents and school boards preparing to build a new school. It’s not just touring the rooms by VR but seeing how every door opens where all the plugs are, what the light coming in the windows looks like in different times of day and different seasons, and how the overhanging rafters may help cool a room in the summer.

When the Navy sent me to my first specialty school for a piece of UHF radio equipment I used colored pencils to mark out the different type of circuits to help me understand and remember how the entire radio worked. A VR tour of the circuits in that radio would have enhanced and sped up the learning process. Not only that, with VR I could have done the actual maintenance and repair before I got assigned to the base shop at Quonset Point, R.I. Fixing that radio required specialty tools to adjust the frequencies by loosening and tightening gears until each point on the dial lined up with the frequency counter. Not your modern solid-state electronics.

No longer just a gimmick or something for gamers, virtual reality will change a lot about how the civilian work force and the military are trained. In 10 years we’ll look back and say, What did we do without this virtual reality?

Erik Petersen — a hero in war and peace


By Michael Raffety

Before the El Dorado Center moved to Campus Drive off Green Valley Road it was housed in portable buildings along Ray Lawyer Drive. Everyone called it UBR – University Behind Raley’s.

Beginning in 1979 I taught photography there, first in a portable and then in a trailer that featured half a dozen enlargers, a film processing room and a small classroom space.

There was another 55-foot-long trailer that was all classroom space, which I used for lecture space at the beginning of the course. Many people took my photography course as their first college course. I made sure they learned to make a good print and guided them in making a successful composition. Everyone who finished the course came away with some black-and-white photographic prints that they were proud of. This success encouraged many students to take other classes after mine.

One year, in addition to teaching beginning photography I also taught portraiture and studio lighting. As part of that course Erik Petersen came in and demonstrated retouching and spotting (removing dust spots). Erik, a resident of Lotus, was a retired professional photographer who was very expert at retouching portraits and spotting .

He was also one of my personal heroes of the 20th century.

An obituary for Erik Petersen appeared in the May 19 Mountain Democrat. He had moved to Grants Pass, Ore., after getting remarried in 2008. He was 96.

What the obit missed was his service in World War II. It was because of that service that he came into my office in 1987 when the Mountain Democrat was downtown.

Erick brought in a National Geographic article in 1987 that said the Soviets liberated Plzen, Czechoslovakia. Eric was darned mad. He was a tank driver in Patton’s 16th Armored Division, which had liberated Plzen and western Bohemia May 3, 1945, when Gen. Dwight Eisenhower ordered Patton’s Third Army to halt outside Prague. He was there. He knew who liberated Plzen. The town and the Army made a plaque commemorating the U.S. Army’s liberation of Plzen from the Germans. The Soviets later hid that plaque.

Erik persisted in his campaign about the truth of who liberated Plzen. Eventually we had a great photographic spread in our paper of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Plzen in 1995. Erik attended the annual celebration every year, going all the way up through the 65th anniversary in 2010. Furthermore, his enthusiasm seemed to accumulate friends who joined him for his annual May trek to Plzen. The town goes all out on celebrating its liberation in 1945, with everyone dressing up in period costumes and doing reenactments like this country does Civil War reenactments.

Among the friends that Erik swept up into his joyous liberation visits was George Patton Waters. Waters didn’t join the Army. He served five years in the Navy on a destroyer off the South China Sea during the Vietnam War. Then he started a real estate investment company that he operated in Louisiana. He also served on board of the Medal of Honor Foundation, which a little before 2008 issued a book telling the story of then-139 living and recently deceased Medal of Honor winners, with an introduction by then President George W. Bush and essays by Tom Brokow and Sen. John McCain.

His cousin Robert H. Patton –- grandson of Gen. George S. Patton — broke the family tradition and didn’t serve in the military. He became a novelist, then switching to nonfiction with a book in 1994 about the Patton family that relied extensively on letters and diaries held by the Patton family. The history includes service in the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I and World War II and the Vietnam War. I read his more recent book called “Patriot Pirates.”

Gen. George S. Patton, a cavalry officer, decided the newly developed tanks were what he wanted to be part of in World War I. After attending French tank school he developed tactics and commanded the U.S tank battalion until he was wounded while walking in front of his tanks. He was promoted to colonel by the end of the war. Most people know about his WWII tanks and the speed with which his Third Army moved, relentlessly attacking and breaking the Battle of the Bulge.

Gen. Patton died Dec. 21, 1945 as a result of an auto accident.

Most recently I read a book about the cadre of generals that came out of World War I – George Marshall, George Patton and Douglas MacArthur.

I admire these generals, but the most inspirational hero I personally met was Erik Petersen.

A few juicy China tidbits and water thievery


By Michael Raffety

I’ve written about the huge hoard of aluminum shifted from Mexico to Vietnam by

China’s Zhongwang Holdings Ltd., amounting to 14 percent of the aluminum in the world.

But the world’s biggest producer of aluminum is China’s Hongqiao Group Ltd. That company, employing 60,000, is facing fraud allegations from two short sellers and is feuding with its accountant over the fraud allegations. An April 15 article in the Wall Street Journal by Scott Patterson in London and Brian Spegele in Beijing refers to complaints by American companies of “unfair tactics” and “could also reinforce the broader concerns over what many view as questionable business practices by China’s industrial giants…”

Hongqiao complained to the Chinese Non-Ferrous Metals Industry Association, “saying the short sellers’ claims of inflated profits were forcing the company’s accountant, Ernst & Young ‘to adopt an extremely conservative and careful attitude,’” Patterson and Segele wrote.

“Conservative and careful?” That’s the very definition of accountants. Nobody, at least in America, wants an accountant to be wild and careless.

Ernst & Young suspended its 2016 audit, asking the company to commission an independent investigation of the short sellers’ claims. Without an audit Hongqiao could be investigated by the Hong Kong securties regulators and its credit rating has already dropped into junk status, putting at risk its $10 billion in debt, already $700 million of that facing default without relief from the creditors.

On Feb. 28 Emerson Analytics issued a report accusing Hongqiao of “abnormally high profits” resulting from underreporting producing costs.

. . .

Maybe China can control its bubble economy and maybe it can’t. Here’s an item from the April 1 Wall Street Journal: “Total credit in the Chinese banking system is now 106 percent of deposits, up from 80 percent in 2013. For midsize banks it’s 130 percent.”

From the March 30 WSJ comes the information that Chinese “banks and other financial institutions borrowed $6.4 trillion from each other last month.”

Uncollateralized interbank lending in China totaled $34 trillion last year. Chinese banks are selling “wealth management products” to customers that are backed by largely opaque bundles of debt and assets leveraging “everything from government bonds to garlic.” Now here’s a bet that will ward off vampires and the evil eye.

The nickel summary is Chinese businessmen and women work hard and take chances. Some of them pay off and some of them wind up being kind of shaky, even shady.

. . .

On a completely different subject, the state is trying to steal our water. It was only recently that the governor lifted the drought declaration. Never forget that Gov. Jerry Brown is a lawyer and a former monk. Only he could think of a way to get around the state Water Code and the state Constitution.

He is doing that by “making conservation as a way of life.” There are several bills that his minions in the Legislature are using to implement that scheme by empowering the state water board to impose permanent conservation on all of us by limiting our daily consumption to 55 gallons of water inside and 55 gallons outside.

Look at your EID bill and you will see where it identifies you daily water consumption. The only way I would get down to 55 gallons a day is to eat off paper plates and take out laundry to the laundramat.

That’s not the only way the governor is going to grab senior water rights, such as EID’s which date to 1850 and 1851. The State Water Resources Control Board wants water districts to release “unimpaired flows” from February through June. That would leave EID with not enough water to serve its customers.

For water purveyors throughout the state it is a year of living dangerously as they all battle back against the legislative onslaught.

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