Writings and observations

Water rights weekly report for July 3. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

For years, Oregon water activists have proposed a set of serious studies to better understand how the state’s groundwater system works.
The latest attempt, a serious push at the state legislature this year, has collapsed at the Statehouse.

IC Potash on June 12 said that ICP and Intercontinental Potash Corp. (USA) have received a formal offer from the company H20 of Lea County to purchase ICPUSA’s Capitan Reef Complex Aquifer water. H20 is committed to building the required infrastructure and providing the equipment costing approximately USD$2M at no cost to ICPUSA. The potential annual revenue for ICPUSA is USD$4M to USD$6M under the proposed offer by H20.

The regionally well-known Stanley Ranch, located not far from Hawthorne, Nevada, will pass into the hands of the Walker River Pauite Tribe – together with its water rights. Long privately-owned, the ranch in recent years has been held by the Walker Basin Conservancy (which was founded at about the same time).

A water priority call in the Idaho Wood River Valley was dismissed on June 7 by state Department of Water Resources Director Gary Spackman. The rejection does not necessarily mean the request by senior water right holders lacks validity. Instead, the petition from the Big Wood and Little Wood Water Users Association was turned down on what Spackman said was a lack of standing – the association did not itself constitute an affected party.

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Fictional dramas and thrillers employ conspiracies regularly – they’re a good device – but actual, significant, real and successful conspiracies are a rare thing.

In American history, only a few have managed to achieve their purpose, even a limited purpose, before coming unspun. The Lincoln assassination conspiracy was one; the 9-11 conspiracy was another. Most others you might think of either weren’t really conspiracies, or very significant, or didn’t work out. And the Lincoln conspiracy only halfway succeeded; most of the targets were just injured or hurt not at all.

Conspiracies are hard, because they rely on total secrecy (you know what happens when you start sharing your secrets), a good plan, a short time frame, discipline and a tight organization. And other things. The elements seldom come together, and hardly ever when more than a very few people are involved. Conspiracies involving large groups spun out over a long time hardly ever work. When they’re tried, they usually collapse and fail. If someone tries to sell you such a thing, be highly skeptical.

Turning now to the saga of Alex Jones and Chobani.

Jones is the host of the program Infowars – the title always struck me as an unwitting acknowledgement it is waging war on actual information – which peddles conspiracy theories. Most are national and many explicitly political, but Jones ran into problems when he zeroed in on Twin Falls and one of the food processing companies with operations there, Chobani.

Chobani, which makes yogurt, was founded in New York by businessman Hamdi Ulukaya. The name Chobani descends from Turkish and Persian antecedents. Ulukaya himself is a Turkish immigrant and has spoken out about refugee problems. He has followed up with meaningful action, employing more than 300 refugees as employees. (And he and Chobani have been honored for their efforts.)

For people of a certain persuasion, all this may be enough for a bit of a side-eye.

All this also was, naturally, grist for the conspiracy-minded. In April, Infowars reported: “Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists” and said its employees had led to a “500% increase in tuberculosis in Twin Falls.” A big conspiracy was afoot.

And Jones said he would come to Idaho for a reckoning, for reporting that would, “show the Islamists getting off of the planes.” Challenged on all this in a lawsuit filed by Chobani, Jones declared stoutly, “I’m choosing this as a battle. On this I will stand. I will win, or I will die. I’m not backing down. I’m never giving up. I love this.”

Yeah. Well. That was so last month. Here’s what he said, in settling a Chobani defamation lawsuit, this week:

“During the week of April 10, 2017, certain statements were made on the Infowars Twitter feed and YouTube channel regarding Chobani, LLC that I now understand to be wrong. The tweets and video have now been retracted and will not be reposted. On behalf of Infowars, I regret that we mischaracterized Chobani, its employees, and the people of Twin Falls, Idaho, the way we did.”

From what I’ve seen, Ulukaya and the Chobani people have too much class to gloat. At least in public.

So allow me, right here, to do that on their behalf. And offer the reminder that in the real world, actual attempts at conspiracy tend to come undone, in ungainly ways, all on their own, without any help from Alex Jones.

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Despite the fact that the number of persons incarcerated in federal prisons is at a ten-year low, in February U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a Justice Department policy of phasing out the government’s use of private prisons.

Sessions claimed the use of for-profit prisons was necessary “to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.” This was news to the law enforcement community because the federal prison population has been on the decline since 2013. There are presently about 189,000 federal prisoners, of which around 21,000 are in private prisons.

Federal experience with private prisons has been much like that experienced by Idaho. That is,for-profit facilities have had more safety and security problems than government facilities. Let’s not forget the “gladiator school” scandal at the Idaho prison formerly operated by Corrections Corporation of America (now, CoreCivic, which is one of the federal contractors). The Idaho prison was understaffed and time-keeping records were substantially inflated. However, the company did not scrimp on campaign contributions. In sum, the private prison was a bad experience for our good state.

Perhaps Sessions’ rationale for embracing privately run prisons comes into better focus in light of his May 12 directive to federal prosecutors to throw the book at criminal defendants. His view is that mandatory minimum sentences should be levied against even low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, a policy that has been discredited in Idaho and a majority of other states. It resulted in ballooning prison populations and expenditures, without making communities safer.

I have to admit that I supported mandatory minimum sentences for drug kingpins during my tenure as Idaho Attorney General in the 1980s.

However, Idaho and other states have come to realize that long mandatory sentences are not appropriate for every offender. They tie the hands of judges who are best positioned to tailor the appropriate punishment for the crimes committed by a particular defendant. And, while they do not reduce recidivism, they do needlessly inflict damage on the families of low-risk offenders. In 2014, Idaho adopted the Justice Reinvestment Act to provide for earlier release of low-level offenders, to provide greater supervision of those individuals to ensure their success, to reduce the number of repeat offenders, and to reduce the cost of Idaho’s prison program. The legislation had broad-based support and holds out great promise for success.

During the last Congress, bipartisan support was developing to implement similar sentencing reform on the federal level until then-Senator Sessions helped to derail the effort. Even our own Congressman Raul Labrador spoke in favor of reform. Now, it appears that AG Sessions intends to take us back to the bad old days of mass incarceration.

This may be a boon to the private prison companies but it will be no favor to taxpayers. The new federal policy will not affect Idaho’s prison system directly but it may plant the idea that states need to follow the federal leader back to discredited incarceration practices.

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Water rights weekly report for May 1. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

The National Park Service is putting its water shortage action plan into effect, following the state’s call to cease withdrawing water from Annie Creek. Crater Lake National Park staff are asking all visitors and employees to use water wisely during the water supply shortage.

The San Luis Obispo Coastkeepers and Los Padres ForestWatch, two central-coastal California environmental groups, on May 5 sued the Santa Maria Water Conservation District to demand a different schedule on water be released to help with preservaton of the Southern California steelhead trout.

A First Nations geographer, a legal historian and a global expert on water access and sustainability will be asking — and answering — big questions about water at the Calgary Institute for Humanities (CIH) 37th annual community forum, May 12. The forum, Water in the West: Rights to Water/Rights of Water, will explore environmental concerns about water and First Nations’ perspectives on the precious resource. “First Nations are tremendously impacted by water issues, from access to clean water to resource development. And of course there’s also a spiritual dimension to water in almost every culture,” says Jim Ellis, a professor of English and director of the CIH, whose mission is to support and promote the values of humanities-based research.

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Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow.

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Ask a Donald Trump supporter about the developer’s appeal as a candidate and you’ll likely hear – at least in the early days – about how, since he was so rich, no one could buy him. For many, it was an article of faith that the guy would simply underwrite his campaign.

It sounded plausible, on the surface: If a man worth $10 billion, as Trump liked to proclaim he was, really wanted to run for president, surely he could come up with a tenth of that to fund a campaign.

It didn’t work out that way, of course. Trump is surely worth less than $10 billion – how much less is unclear – but he is evidently unable to get his hands on more than a few million at a time. He has spent some money on the race (some of which has been recycled through his businesses), but he most certainly has taken campaign contributions.

At one point last summer, NBC TV reported the Trump campaign was planning to fundraise enough that the candidate can be repaid for his own “contributions” to the campaign.

Trump has been raising contributions.

A lot of contributions, in fact.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Trump’s campaign has raised $218.8 million. About $92 million have come from individuals, but a sizable chunk of that comes from big contributors.

Beholden? He’s plenty beholden. – rs

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A president who aims to look out for this country has to think of its well-being in terms of something more than talking points, and look at it in terms broader than for himself alone.

Donald Trump’s campaign has given us repeated examples to the contrary, enough that several allied points can be drawn from them.

But focus here for a moment on one in particular – the largest catastrophe the United States has faced in at least the last decade.

That was the 2008 crash of the housing market and finance system, a crash foreseen, to one size or another, by a good many people (though not nearly enough of those in a position to do something about it in advance).

Two years before it happened, developer Trump said he doubted a crash would happen. You could ding him to some extent for a lack of foresight, but he was hardly alone on that count.

Where he was unusual, if not totally alone, was on this: He hoped such a crash would happen.

Never mind the terrible effects on millions of people, the collapse of huge businesses, the devastating effect on the United States.

Trump said this:

“I sort of hope that happens because then people like me would go in and buy,” Trump said in a 2006 audiobook from Trump University, answering a question about “gloomy predictions that the real estate market is heading for a spectacular crash.”

As CNN reported, “The U.S. housing bubble burst two years later, triggering the stock market crash of 2008 that plunged the U.S. economy into a deep recession, leaving millions of Americans unemployed. Trump was speaking with Jon Ward, a marketing consultant who “masterminded all the initial education programs for Trump University,” according to his website. The audiobook is available on iTunes.”

Trump continued: “If there is a bubble burst, as they call it, you know you can make a lot of money,” Trump said in the 2006 audio book, “How to Build a Fortune.” “If you’re in a good cash position – which I’m in a good cash position today – then people like me would go in and buy like crazy.”

Don’t count on him to help the United States avert the next crash. – rs

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A good look at how Donald Trump uses the language – the method behind the madness.

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From a statement by the Nampa and Meridian Irrigation District – a complaint about how water is being distributed by the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

Changes proposed by the state in the way water rights are managed in the Treasure Valley would significantly and adversely affect individual and organizational rights to water from the Boise River System. In addition, the more senior the water right, the more devastating the proposal will be because it could lead to reduced water availability and impacts on property values, according to officials with the area’s largest irrigation district.

The potential impact of the change is so serious that Nampa & Meridian Irrigation leaders say the District will go to court if necessary to stop what they call a patently misguided process that is both unfair and contrary to a century of established Idaho water accounting practices.

“We and other districts in the Treasure Valley have exhausted nearly every effort to find a political solution or a negotiated solution to this issue with the Idaho Department of Water Resources so that serious injury to our water right holders will not occur. But we have been stopped cold at every attempt,” advised Daren Coon, NMID Secretary Treasurer.

“The more senior the water right, the more devastating the proposal will be to irrigation district water users. But this is more than just a Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District problem; all water right holders on the Boise River system will eventually be seriously injured if IDWR’s scheme is allowed to take effect,” Coon added.

The controversial Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) plan centers on how to account for “flood control” water released from the three Boise River reservoirs to make space for water running off as the snowpack melts. Under a protocol developed 30 years ago, controlled releases prevent reservoirs from becoming so full of water that huge amounts of water must be suddenly released to avoid overflowing the reservoir resulting in downstream flooding. When the flood period is past, melting snowpack water can then be stored in reservoirs to prepare for the irrigation season.

IDWR and the Idaho Attorney General’s office want to reduce the amount of water allocated to all water right holders, including tens of thousands of urban users, by charging water released for flood control against the senior right holders even though the water is flushed downstream and is never used for irrigation.

“Simply put, IDWR wants to institute a plan where water right holders would be charged for using irrigation water they had zero opportunity to actually use,” Coon explained.

That unused water charged against the user’s yearly allocation could reduce how much water was left for irrigation. In a high flood release year followed by a period of drought that could mean not enough water would be left in the user’s allocation to meet irrigation needs. That would be disastrous for crops such as corn, potatoes and sugar beets all of which require water later into the summer. It would also result in severe damage to urban lawns and gardens.

Boise River water rights are two types of rights: natural flow and storage water. Natural flow is the water in the river that cannot be stored and must be passed through the reservoirs. Storage rights entitle the right owner to have water stored in the reservoirs where it can be used to supplement the right holder’s water supply when the natural flow right is exhausted.

A third element of the right is the priority date. That is the date in which the water right was filed with the state. It dictates exactly what priority the right has relative to all other rights, a concept often called “first in time is first in right.” It literally means the oldest water right gets its water first, the next oldest second and so on until the available water is exhausted.

It is that combination of priority date, natural flow and storage water that permits the irrigation season in the valley to typically last through the first part of October. Without the ability to store water to supplement river flows in the hot summer, the irrigation season would normally end in late June or early July after the snowpack has melted.

This process of natural flow and supplemental storage water has provided a balanced approach since the first reservoir, Arrowrock, was completed in 1915. But now it is threatened by an inexplicable change of direction by State government.

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For a long time, Liberia was ground central for the recent Ebola outbreak in west Africa, accounting for close to half of all cases in the last year, and the largest concentration of cases. For a while it seemed an intractable problem. But yesterday, reports were that ebola was – this was delivered in fingers-crossed fashion – wiped out in Liberia. It can be done, which puts the lie once again to the fear-touting so prevalent in the United States only a few months ago. Remember that? Not many of the political and other figures so worried about ebola are saying anything about it now . . .

Oregon State University reports that a new international program partly based there is working on resolving water issues around the globe. From their statement: “Oregon State University, the University for Peace in Costa Rica, and the UNESCO-IHE Water Education Center in The Netherlands are creating an international joint education program aimed at addressing water conflicts in a more professional manner. The program will launch this fall with about 10 students enrolled to earn master’s degrees, eventually growing to 30 students from around the world. . . . The issues students will deal with are vast. In Oregon, for example, there has been a major conflict over water rights in the Klamath River basin, where agricultural interests compete with fisheries management and tribal rights. These kinds of issues are not unusual in the United States, Wolf pointed out, and can become even more contentious when an international component is added.” . . . – rs

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