BREAKING NEWS: California Water Authorities Sue U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

The following is a joint statement by Jason Peltier, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority and Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District on today’s filing of a lawsuit to compel the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation to reassess its Endangered Species Act (ESA)-related actions.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Fails to Consider the Environmental Impacts of Biological Opinions Which Have Been Devastating Communities

FRESNO, CA-TODAY the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority (SLDMWA) and Westlands Water District (WWD) filed a lawsuit in federal court to compel the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (“Reclamation”) to examine the effectiveness of the existing measures intended to protect endangered species, the environmental impacts of those measures, and whether there are alternatives to those measures that would better protect both endangered fish species and California’s vital water supplies.

San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority The existing measures, adopted in 2008 and 2009, are based on biological opinions issued under the Endangered Species Act.  The measures are responsible for the largest redistribution of Central Valley Project and State Water Project (water supplies away from urban and agricultural uses and have jeopardized the water supply for waterfowl and wildlife refuges.  Since 2008 and 2009, the farms, families, cities and wildlife that depend upon Central Valley Project and State Water Project water supplies have suffered substantial environmental and socio-economic harm from the reduced water deliveries caused by the existing measures, with little apparent benefit for fish.

Reclamation adopted the existing measures without any review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  Federal courts, including the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, held this action violated NEPA, and Reclamation was ordered to perform environmental review.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote:

It is beyond dispute that Reclamation’s implementation of the Biological Opinions (BiOp) has important effects on human interaction with the natural environment.  We know that millions of people and vast areas of some of America’s most productive farmland will be impacted by Reclamation’s actions.  Those impacts were not the focus of the BiOp….  We recognize that the preparation of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIS) will not alter Reclamation’s obligations under the ESA.  But the EIS may well inform Reclamation of the overall costs – including the human costs – of furthering the ESA.

The court-ordered review provided Reclamation a rare opportunity to reexamine the necessity for and the benefits of the existing measures, as well as the resulting impacts on the environment and water supplies, potential alternative measures, and new information and studies developed since 2008 and 2009.  It provided Reclamation an opportunity to make a new and better-informed choice.

Unfortunately, Reclamation neglected to take advantage of that opportunity. In November 2015 Reclamation completed an EIS that did not examine whether the measures are necessary or effective for protecting endangered fish populations.  Instead of analyzing the existing measures, Reclamation accepted them as the status quo.U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

The EIS did not identify any mitigation for the water supply lost to these measures, despite current modeling that estimated how the existing measures would reduce the annual water delivery capabilities of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project. Loss was estimated to be over 1 million acre-feet on a long-term average and in spite of years of harm caused by implementing the measures.

Nor did the EIS try to identify alternatives that could lessen these impacts.  Reclamation attempted to minimize the impacts of lost surface water supply by unreasonably assuming the lost supply would be made up from increased pumping of already stressed groundwater supplies.  In its Record of Decision issued January 11, 2016 Reclamation announced that it would continue on with the existing measures, and provide no mitigation.

It is inexplicable that Reclamation would pass up the opportunity to reassess the existing measures and make a much more careful and robust analysis than what is found in the EIS.  NEPA requires no less.

The lawsuit filed today seeks to compel Reclamation to do the right thing and perform the analysis it should have.  If successful, the lawsuit may ultimately result in measures that actually help fish, and identify mitigation activities or alternatives that lessen or avoid water supply impacts that millions of Californians in the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project depend on.

Many of those affected reside in disadvantaged communities and are already struggling to pay for a water supply made scarce by layers of other, yet equally ill-advised bureaucratic regulations.  California’s water supply is too precious for Reclamation not to make the best informed decision it can.

Tasteful Selections Opens Cal Green Potato Facility

Tasteful Selections Opens Cal Green Potato Facility in Arvin, CA

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Associate Editor

Bob Bender, a partner with CSS Farms, in Watertown, South Dakota, came out to Kern County several years ago to grow many different crops including chip potatoes, garlic, onions and bell peppers, as well as black-eyed peas. “We were looking for an opportunity in California to diversify our company so that we were not so dependent on the chip potato income.”

Bender said he was always looking for crops in which he could diversify, and in 2007, he had the opportunity to grow some baby, bite-sized potatoes for a Canadian company. “This worked out well for a few years, and then we decided in 2009 to pack the baby potatoes under our own CSS Farms label,” Bender said.

“That business started taking off a lot bigger than we expected, and in 2010, we saw that the business was growing to be too much for us to handle. We needed some marketing help because we did not know  much about it,” said Bender. “Plus, we were packing everything in 50-pound cartons, and we knew there would have to be more margin to the product if we sold directly to retail.

Bob Bender, Tasteful Selections
Bob Bender, Tasteful Selections

“That’s when we teamed up with the Wysocki family, owners of the Bancroft, Wisconsin-based RPE Company and experts in packing and marketing,” said Bender. “The marketing took off, and they built our first packing shed in a leased facility in Bakersfield. They sold product in smaller mesh bags for the consumer retail market under the Tasteful Selection brand,” noted Bender, who is now president and general manager of Tasteful Selections.”

Fast forward to March. 18, 2015 when CSS, along with RPE, and Stevens Point, Wisconsin-based Plover River Farms Alliance, Inc. partnered together and opened a new, stainless steel, 200,000 square foot facility in Arvin, near Bakersfield—all dedicated to Tasteful Selections specialty potatoes.

The expansion increases Tasteful Selections’ production capacity from eight to 12 packaging lines, doubles the potato washing capacity and adds more shipping docks and improved refrigeration and storage to meet the company’s double digit growth (over the past five years), leading the specialty potato category.

In all, the company sells eight flavors of potatoes in one-, two- or three-bite sizes, plus offers a medley of flavors in each bite size. The potatoes have unique flavors, creamy textures and tender skins. The products are pre-washed, so consumers do not have to clean or peel the product. And the small sizes equate to faster cooking times.

“Fifty percent of our team is marketing, so we’re not just growing and packing the potatoes. RPE handles all of our marketing and sales, which has been so instrumental in our growth,” said Bender, who now oversees the day-to-day operations in California. RPE has been a tremendous asset to Tasteful Selections; the fact that we are in all fifty states, in 52 percent of all grocery stores, with growth in every store, says a lot about RPE,” Bender noted.

The fact that the facility was built with all stainless steel components is an invaluable addition to our operations and food safety protocols.  The facility’s design honors Cal Green Certification Standards. The Cal Green Certification ensures that we are maximizing our efficiency while reducing our environmental impact. Not only does this benefit us, it also helps the surrounding communities in promoting water savings, environmental responsibility, cost effectiveness and a healthier place to live and work for its currently 257 employees.

Tasteful Selections
Tasteful Selections

Milt Carter is CEO and President of CSS Farms, which grows all the potatoes for Tasteful Selections. “We are co-owner of the company, along with RPE, and the grand opening of our facility is a big day for us as we continue our journey to bring unique potatoes to the potato category and to the table,” said Carter.

“We particularly like the qualities of our baby potatoes, including unique flavors and better taste than the average potato. The uniform sizes we pack allow for uniform cooking times, making cooking easier for the consumer. And the growth we have seen reflects that consumers really like them.”

“When we started Tasteful Selections in 2010, we knew we had something amazing, and even we were surprised by the success that we had,” said Russell Wysocki, President and CEO of RPE. “The opening of this new plant shows that we are consistently investing in our future in specialty potatoes,” he said.

“The new plant will allow us to bring in new product lines, do a better job in precise-sizing, and maintain our high quality standard,” noted Wysocki. “On the farm, Bob and Milt bring us five separate crops a year; we have the ability to deliver the freshest potatoes with the best quality to our customers throughout the country and throughout the season.”

“The one-, two- or three-bite Tasteful Sections potatoes in the one pound or 1.5 pound bag are very popular with consumers.” said Wysocki. “It use to be that you would sell a lot of potatoes in a 10-pound bag, but that’s getting a lot harder to do. However, this product offers consumers a package from which they can get multiple meals, without taking five weeks to consume and perhaps resorting to the garbage can to get rid of them.”

“The baby potatoes are immature potatoes, before they grow bigger, but they still contain all the nutrients found in the larger potatoes,” said Wysocki.

Carter explained, “Our signature flavor Honey Gold baby potatoes are proprietary to Tasteful Selections, and they have a very unique flavor. A high percentage of people the taste distinctive in taste tests, and most like it very much.”

“It’s a great product,” noted Wysocki. “We basically took product that was being discarded in the market 10 years ago. We saw the quality of what was culled, and we felt it was something significant we could bring to the marketplace. So we considered the possibility, then brought it to market, and we have had phenomenal growth,” he said.

EIR Approved to Clear Brush From Salinas River


By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

Norm Groot, Monterey County Farm Bureau Executive Director, commented recently on the completion of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that allows the Salinas River to be unclogged of brush and other plant material. “It’s been a over a three-year process to get the environmental impact report completed and certified, and the Board of Supervisors took action to certify it, so that is the first big step in moving forward to getting the resource agencies to issue permits.

Norm Groot
Monterey County Farm Bureau Executive Director, Norm Groot.

“It’s not perfect at this point, but we feel it’s a good start, and maybe as a short-term project moving into some sort of long-term river management project. Ultimately, this could be a first good step,” said Groot.

“We’re hoping that now that we have this certified EIR, the permits for the Nature Conservancy projects will go forward, and they will be able to hopefully start their maintenance work in October of this fall and complete that work before it starts raining—and we are hoping for rain. It also clears the way for other landowners, or as we’re calling them, River Management Units, to start working on filing for applications and moving their individual projects forward, hopefully, for next year.”

Groot said, This is all in case of flooding that could result from winter rains and cause a lot of damage to the adjacent fields.”

“It’s due to concerns about food safety  and flooded fields being out of production for a lot longer than they were during the last floods in 1995 and 1998,” said Groot. “Things have changed considerably since then, and we do have the potential for having a pretty epic flood here.

“So we’re a little concerned that if we don’t get something done in the riverbed this year and next year, some much larger problems could impact the economy as well as the industry,” said Groot.


Featured Photo credit: Salinas River, San Ardo Oilfield View, Wikipedia.