Earth Log: Weather changes this year, but not the issues

The Fresno BeeJanuary 1, 2013 

A year ago, the Sierra snowpack was an anemic 20% of normal. Now it's a whopping 146%.

At this time last year, the San Joaquin Valley was gasping through a 44-day siege of federal air violations -- dangerous soot and debris clogged the air. This year, the Valley only had five violations in December.

California's capricious weather makes all the difference.

At the same time, some things I cover in the Earth Log and in the news columns have not changed much. The bureaucratic molasses and legal fights seemed just as dominant as ever.

In other words, it was another kidney stone of a year. Thankfully, it has passed. But 2013 might be more of the same. Here are a few of the stories to watch:

The complex San Joaquin River restoration continues to move forward. Experiments included trapping adult salmon and hauling them upstream near Fresno to spawn. The billion-dollar restoration still lags behind the initial and ambitious timetable. Many big projects, such as replacing Sack Dam, are expected to make progress this year.

A dozen years after setting aside more than 350,000 acres for the Giant Sequoia National Monument, people still are arguing about how to manage it. The latest plan was released during 2012. The Sierra Club and others have appealed the plan.

Yosemite National Park has an even longer-running discussion. A dozen years ago, I wrote a story about the park's Merced River protection plan -- which was already about a decade late. I lose track of how many times a court has ordered a revision or major rewrite. By July 2013, the National Park Service is supposed to have another plan out. This might be the one that finally sticks.

Dozens of cities are lined up to sue Dow Chemical and Shell Oil, the manufacturers of a now-defunct farm fumigant. The fumigant contained a chemical called 1,2,3-trichloropropane or TCP, a powerful cancer-linked toxin. It's in the drinking water across a wide swath of the Valley, including Fresno, Clovis, Bakersfield and a host of other cities. It may take hundreds of millions of dollars to protect the public.

Small towns throughout the Valley still wait for the California Department of Public Health for funding to clean up nitrates in the drinking water. Nitrates come from fertilizers, septic systems, animal waste and rotting vegetation. A University of California study says the problem threatens drinking water for 250,000 people.

Kettleman City in western Kings County has its own special water problem. To build a water treatment plant, it needs Chemical Waste Inc., the owner of the nearby hazardous waste landfill, to help the town pay off an old debt. But the landfill needs to expand to stay open. Yet there is plenty of opposition among activists who want to close down the landfill.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District approved a new plan to clear up tiny specks of pollution called PM-2.5. Environmentalists thought the plan was not tough enough. That's often a prelude to legal challenge -- a very familiar scenario.

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