Refuge or Ruin

This program is brought to you through the generous support of viewers like you.

Presentation of New Valley is made possible by Intel Cooperation. Taking a leadership role in bringing citizens, business and government together, to examine the impact of growth in the Central Valley.

And by U.S. Home, committed to developing a positive future where we live and work by promoting responsible growth, and preservation of our quality of life.

And by the air districts of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.


Picture our sunrise drifting up from the Central Valley as it could conceivably appear in the valley of 2040…imagine the capitol city skyline that has all but disappeared from view in the valley of our future…and envision a drought of power that on a regular basis brings our lives to a standstill for hours at a time.

When we look at the effect our escalating growth is having on finite resources, the Central Valley's future doesn't look so rosy.

At what point do we start making changes to the way we are growing in the Central Valley? When is the best time to reconsider what we're doing to the valuable resources the valley provides?

There's no time like the present to begin thinking about what we want our New Valley to be: Refuge...or Ruin.

When we study the health of our natural resources there are no county lines. When we're dealing with the air we breath, the water we drink and land we share in this ecosystem of the Great Basin, jurisdictional boundaries don't mean much.

Ten counties from Sacramento to Shasta…eight down to Kern…450 miles of alluvial plain made over into an Eden of agricultural abundance.

With that abundance came the growth that is now making demands on our natural infrastructure -- demands that could conceivably reverse much of what makes the valley an enticing place to live and work.

Kevin Starr, State Librarian-Historian: "You've got to keep that California formula, that interaction of agriculture, urban-suburban, preserved open spaces and wilderness. You've got to keep that formula in dynamic interactivity."

Not an easy task when faced with a burgeoning population putting stress on every resource.

Take a deep breath. This Central Valley geography we've come to know and appreciate as the "Breadbasket of the World" also happens to be a perfect spot for the collection of air pollutants.

A Public Policy Institute poll found that thirty four percent of Californians view air pollution as the most important environmental issue facing the state today. Much of that concern points to the Central Valley.

Amy Zimpfer, Deputy Director, EPA: "As you know, it's surrounded by mountains on the east, west, and the south. So because of that the air movement coming off the Pacific Ocean from the Bay into the Valley, it circulates. It's basically a big bowl. Because of that and the heat, the temperature, it is unfortunately a perfect combination for bad air. That coupled with the larger growth they've experienced over the last decade. So basically, the growth with the geography and the climate has made it an intractable problem."

At the foundation of this Central Valley ecosystem is the land. For centuries it supported a vast wealth of wildlife and natural habitat. Today it also sustains cities, suburbs, a massive agricultural complex, and industries of all shapes and sizes.

According to the California Department of Conservation, between 1996 and 1998 the San Joaquin Valley saw over 9,000 acres of irrigated farmland turned over to urban use.

The loss of wetlands to urban use in the valley can cause changes that have far reaching implications to wildlife using the Pacific Flyway. Interruptions of riparian pathways can cause damage to the natural filtering of water contaminants and deplete aquifers. The Central Valley at one time had over 4 million acres of vast wetlands; today these have diminished to a mere 300,000 acres. The PPIC poll indicates that Central Valley residents are split over how best to use what open space remains.

Eric Vink, Asst. Director, California Dept. of Conservation: "That three part conflict -- or that three part competition -- between the natural environment, agriculture, and urban development is something that is fairly prevalent throughout the Central Valley and throughout much of the state. That's really the competition we see. And really the great difficulty in California is that every resource seems to be spoken for more than one time over."

As we've seen over the last few years, poorly managed energy sources have far reaching ramifications to our environment, our health, and our pocketbooks. According to the California Energy Commission, per capita residential electricity usage in the Central Valley is consistently a third higher than the state average. You can blame the summer valley heat.

The life's blood of California's past and its future is water. Only gold may hold a higher spot in the resources hierarchy. Agricultural interests, manufacturers, tour directors and urban planners can all make a case for needing more of this diminishing resource.

Chris Cabaldon, West Sacramento City Council Member: "In the Great Valley there's not a deep environmental tradition. There's a great amount of suspicion of government and suspicion of environmentalists. And put together, environmentalists managed in some way by government is a double whammy."

Our rivers and streams are the spine of a watershed system that must support wildlife and the growth that is now threatening many prime watersheds in the valley.

Jeff Mount, Ph.D., Chair, Applied Geoscience, UC Davis: "The Cosumnes, located just 20 minutes south of Sacramento, as you can imagine is under threat. And the threats are several. One of course is the steady southward growth of Sacramento, the urban area of Sacramento, particularly Elk Grove."

Our other major waterways, the Sacramento, San Joaquin and American Rivers have all been seriously impacted by growth. Thirteen percent of the rivers and streams in Sacramento County are damaged to some degree. Eleven percent of San Joaquin County's waterways are suffering from growth related pollution.

Air, land, water, and energy… Resource managers are working overtime in their efforts to stay ahead of the growth curve.

It's a challenge since we've already fouled our nest.

It has been the stardust behind every California Dream. It made the Gold Rush possible, and turned the Central Valley into one of the most productive regions on earth. Today, the opportunities it offers for growth and recreation make California one of the most appealing places to live in America.

Kevin Starr, State Librarian-Historian: "There hasn't been a time in our history -- a hundred and fifty year history as American California -- that we have not been not only using water, but inventing ourselves through water."

If water is the lifeblood of the Golden State, then the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is figuratively and literally its heart -- the nexus of all the major river systems in California, and our single most important resource.

Chris Cabaldon, West Sacramento City Council Member: "About 75% of the water use in California is south of Sacramento, and about 75% of the water comes from north of Sacramento. So the Delta has just been the most significant part of that pipe system for some Californians."

Some 22 million Californians, that is. But the Delta provides much more than drinking water; it is the fuel for an agricultural industry worth 30 billion dollars. Although vital to the health of our population and our economy, until recently the Delta itself was in critical condition.

Chris Cabaldon: "The land was affordable. It's flat. It presents all kinds of waterfront development opportunities. So the pressure to fill in the Delta was enormous."

Today, there is a strong consensus that we must resist those pressures. But the Delta still suffers hangovers from the development binges of the past.

Chris Cabaldon: "We see fish kills every year -- significant fish kills after the first rain, because it takes all the oil and pesticides on our lawns and all the other chemicals that make it onto city streets and farms, and dumps them into all the rivers at once."

In many ways the Cosumnes is typical of those rivers that feed the Delta. Its headwaters lie midway up the Sierra, and its name -- meaning "people of the salmon" -- comes from the Miwok Indians who once fished in its waters. But today, it is the sole survivor of the Valley's original watershed.

Jeff Mount, Ph.D., Chair, Applied Geoscience, UC Davis: "It's the last un-dammed link between the Sierra Nevada and the Pacific Ocean. Virtually every Sierran river is disrupted in some way, shape, or form -- typically by dams and diversions. The Cosumnes is the last."

But un-dammed does not mean unharmed…

Ramona Swenson, Project Ecologist, Cosumnes River Preserve: "The Cosumnes in terms of its water resources is probably already over-tapped, over-allocated. There's more people wanting to use the water than…can be sustainable for the river system over the long term. And it's only going to get worse as more straws are put into the aquifer."

Jeff Mount: "You have some of the most drawn groundwater in the Central Valley, in that region. There's the groundwater beneath Elk Grove and nearby Galt that is at significantly greater depths than it was historically. And what that has inadvertently done is contributed to the drying up of the Cosumnes River, particularly during the fall."

Protecting all 80 miles of the river's course is a tall order, but for the last 15 years, the Nature Conservancy and its partners have maintained a 13,000-acre preserve between Walnut Grove and Galt. Serendipity led them to this location.

Ramona Swenson: "What happened on one of these fields is that a levee breached in storms in 1985 or 1986. The farmer didn't remove all the sand and twigs and stuff that came off the river -- he just fixed his levee, continued farming around that area. And what came up was this wonderful cottonwood and willow forest - on its own!"

These riparian forests once covered much of the Valley's floor; but today, 95% of them are gone. In recent years, the preserve staff has used controlled levee breaches to try to encourage more riparian growth. You might think that local farmers would object to deliberate flooding so close to their land. But the Preserve has made allies of its neighbors -- and even brought in more, like Allen Garcia, to farm directly on preserve land.

Allan Garcia, Farmer, Living Farms: "We're sharecrop tenants, and so we pay the preserve part of the crop. So that's our basic relationship. We also -- we're considered a partner with the preserve. We're involved in much more than just basic farming issues, because we're really interested in conservation."

Garcia works with the preserve to time his crops precisely, harvesting his organic rice just before thousands of waterfowl -- most notably the sandhill cranes -- migrate south to the Cosumnes.

He then floods his fields deliberately to provide a habitat, and the birds repay him by digesting the straw left on his farm, turning it into fertilizer for next year's crop.

Allan Garcia: "Rene DuBois, the famous philosopher/biologist, once said that the process of man's relationship with the earth is actually that of wooing the earth, and I think that describes what we're doing here on this farm… We can have our environment and eat it too."

Air pollution knows no boundaries. It drifts from one area to the next, a haze leaving a dangerous aftermath in its wake. Like so many issues facing the Central Valley, the problem of air pollution affects us all and finding a solution is imperative to our well-being.

Jude Lamar, Manager, The Cleaner Air Partnership: "Thirty percent of the households that we survey say someone there has trouble breathing on days when air quality is poor."

One major dilemma is that the geography of the Central Valley makes it difficult to rid itself of pollution.

Dave Crow, E.D., San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District: "We do in the summertime have periods of time when the air stagnates for four or five days and that allows an unhealthful buildup of pollutants in the basin."

That combination has the Sacramento and the San Joaquin Valleys branded as severe areas for ozone pollution during the summer smog season.

Karen Wilson, Director of Strategic Planning, Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District: "Our big problem, though, is mobile sources and that's 70% of our air pollution problem here in the Sacramento region. The mobile source regulatory authority rests with the state and federal governments and so we have no control over what they do and when they choose to achieve those additional emission reductions that we need. And they've been, frankly, kind of slow."

The Federal Environmental Protection Agency oversees the activities of state and local governments. Deputy Director Amy Zimper says one of their top concerns is the San Joaquin Valley, which has some of the worst air quality in the state.

Amy Zimpfer, Deputy Director, EPA: "Unlike any other part of the country, air quality has not gotten better there. They have not been meeting federal standards since the early '70s and that's despite a lot of effort to control emissions and to reduce air pollution."

Dave Crow: "Over the last decade the air has actually been getting cleaner in the Valley in a rather dramatic way. And unfortunately though that hasn't kept pace with what the requirements are in the Federal Clean Air act but the people really are today breathing cleaner air than they were a decade ago."

The air districts have until 2005 to meet the Federal Clean Air Act. If they don't, transportation funding could be in danger.

Jude Lamar: "The Sacramento Region is really, really close to reaching that 1-hour ozone standard in 2005. We have seen the average level of ozone dropping since 1994. It's doing what we want it to do. And ironically, the closer that we get to the standard, the less people perceive that there's an air quality problem, because it's getting better."

Unlike its neighbor to the north, officials at the San Joaquin Air District say they won't be able to show attainment by 2005. In a maneuver of semantics, they're considering asking the EPA to bump them from "severe" to "extreme non-attainment." If they do, it would extend the deadline and give them until 2010 to comply. The only extreme non-attainment region for ozone in the country is Los Angeles.

Dave Crow: "Moving to that extreme designation does not equal a delay in the clean-up effort."

So, how was your day today? According to this air quality index, if it was anything like this, playing outdoors was a bad idea. Although this ozone movie shows a particularly unhealthy day, bluer skies are within our reach.

Jerry Martin, Director of Communications, California Air Resources Board: "We gave ourselves the task of reducing diesel pollution by 80 to 85% in ten years. We did that two years ago. We are on target to do that that is our number one goal because diesel contributes to so many air pollution problems."

Cleaner cars on the road, smog checks, and reformulated gas are also helping the Central Valley, but more needs to be done.

Dave Crow: "We've had combines and farm tractors and other equipment converted to much cleaner technologies. So those kinds of voluntary programs help."

Amy Zimpfer: "If you look at automotive emissions today versus 10 years ago, they are so clean and that's been in large measure due to the efforts of the California Resources Board as well as the EPA for cars that come into the state."

Pollution blowing in from the Bay area should decrease, thanks to a new law called Smog Check II. Governor Gray Davis recently approved a bill that will require drivers in the nine-county Bay Area to follow the same strict vehicle exhaust standards already in affect in every major California urban city.

Gray Davis, Governor: "Scientists estimate smog forming pollutants will be reduced by 26 tons. That is the equivalent of taking 425 thousand cars off the road every day."

Terry Lee, Director of Public Information, Bay Area Air Quality Management District: "We asked UC Riverside to do a modeling study for us on what would the impact be on the bay area and the Central Valley of a partial or fully enhanced smog check program. It showed very slight benefits to certain portions of the valley. It also showed a slight dis-benefit to Contra Costa County."

Jude Lamar: "So every industry wants someone else to do the job. Nobody wants to pay their part of the penalty, so it's a slow, laborious process to get everyone to participate."

While technology and new laws are helping, officials say it's going to take a lot more to clean up the air in the Central Valley.

Amy Zimpfer: "It's really going to take all of us. It's going to take the collective efforts of state, local and federal governments, it's going to take collective efforts of industry, as well as the public to do our part to ensure that we've got clean air to breathe."

Jude Lamar: "The name of the game is change and flexibility."

Jerry Martin: "Clearly we need to work together to find answers because we are all in the same air bubble."

Deregulation of California's electric power and the energy crisis of 2001 brought bankruptcies, blackouts and big electric bills. It also renewed an old debate, played out in communities across the state. Who should control our electric power -- public utilities or private companies like PG&E?

Jann Taber, PG&E Spokesperson: "And no small entity can possibly match, one, the experience of our employees, their professionalism, their dedication to the customer and making sure the lights are on."

Genevieve Shiroma, SMUD Board President: "With being non-profit, everything goes toward the operation of the company, and therefore the rates stay low. And then we're able to have programs that reflect the value of the community."

Community control collides with capitalism. Only about one in four Californians receive electricity from a public entity, one governed by a board of directors elected by the people. The rest get their power from the investor-owned companies like PG&E -- a major force for a hundred years. For nearly as long, however, local communities have fought for control of their power destiny. The Modesto Irrigation District was an early player.

Maree Hawkins, MID Spokesperson: "For instance, in 1923, actually a year or two before that, the Board said we will sell to PG&E and the public said, "No, you'll sell directly to us the power that we produce at Don Pedro reservoir."

The Modesto Irrigation District or MID was created under state law in 1887 to bring water to thirsty farmers. Later the law was amended to allow irrigation districts to sell power. Modesto residents saw advantages over the existing PG&E.

Maree Hawkins: "Our shareholders are our customers. Their dividend is returned to them in the form of low rates. They have local control. They elect -- registered voters elect the Board of Directors."

Modesto's fight for public power wasn't an easy one.

Maree Hawkins: "From 1923 to 1940, we would have MID lines on one side of the street and PG&E lines on the other, and if you were building a house here, we would both come to you and try to persuade you to sign up with MID, or sign up with PG&E."

PG&E's Jann Taber argues that there's nothing wrong with a business wanting to hold onto hits customers. However, eventually the MID bought PG&E's facilities.

Sacramento voters also spent more than 20 years battling PG&E before going public in 1947. But, says Board President Genevieve Shiroma, that wasn't the only challenge in forming the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, or "SMUD."

Genevieve Shiroma: "Forming the company, hiring the staff, making sure the transmission lives were properly constructed."

SMUD stuck with it. The utility says that even after the closure of the controversial Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant in 1989, the utility is seeing the fruits of its struggle. That was particularly true during the 2001 energy crisis.

Genevieve Shiroma: "That the customers in Sacramento wanted to make sure we had reliable power, that it was inexpensive, and it was diversified. So we came into the energy crisis having some of our own generation. We also had long-term, inexpensive contracts."

But the private sector argues deregulation put them at a disadvantage. Public utilities could keep their generation sources and the private sector had to sell theirs. They, also, had to buy more expensive power from the wholesale market.

Jann Taber: "We were selling that electricity for about five cents a kilowatt-hour to our customers, but we had to buy it for about 30 cents."

Taber said PG&E didn't pass the cost onto the consumers. But the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates private companies, did in the form of a surcharge. Studies show customer rates for public utility customers are generally lower than for private utility users. Steve Larson, executive director of the California Energy Commission, says lower rates aren't automatic, especially when a public utility is just forming.

Steve Larson, Executive Director, State Energy Commission: "I think, again, it depends on the kind of deal that's worked out between the existing service organization, if it's a privately owner utility, and the new entity that's created."

The Merced Irrigation District faced some rocky times on its way to public ownership in 1996. In 2000 the district raised rates 33 percent to cover rising wholesale expenses. Now Merced is turning that around.

Garith Krause, Asst. General Manager, MID: "Presently, we're able to provide power costs in the range of 15 to 25% less than the current investor-owned utility provider in this area, which is Pacific Gas & Electric."

A contract that sells power to PG&E expires in 2014. Meanwhile, both utilities coexist in the same community. However, Merced is putting most of its effort into new residential developments. Given the current uncertain energy climate can public entities successfully get into the power game today?

Jann Taber: "There's no way a community in today's environment without that cheap electric power… I mean, the infrastructure's already built. So why duplicate something that's already there?"

Communities that have gone public say it isn't easy, nor will it work everywhere. But it's not impossible.

Garith Krause: "So I think you need to look at this as a long-term project, as opposed to a quick fix for the current price problem."

It looks as though both public and private power are part of the new Valley's future. How it all shakes down remains to be seen in this new energy era.

Can we spell "efficiency"? In the Great Valley Center report, "The State of the Great Central Valley", efficiency may be the watchword: "The long-term success of the region may depend upon the efficient use of limited resources"

It seems to be a fact of life in this young millennium that to survive we must do more with less. We will do more in our next program as we step into the classroom for a primer on the status of education in our New Valley. Are we on the right track to training a workforce for our New Valley economy? Are the scales balanced in providing an equal education for all our children? I hope you will join us for "Making The Grade."

The topics discussed in this series concern all of us, and we welcome you to join the debate. Log on to our website at, and send us your comments via e-mail at

Additional support provided by a grant from the Great Valley Center.

To order a copy of this program for $14.95, call 888-814-3923. Or visit us online at

This program is brought to you through the generous support of viewers like you.

Presentation of New Valley is made possible by Intel Corporation -- taking a leadership role in bringing citizens, business and government together, to examine the impact of growth in the Central Valley.

And by U.S. Home, committed to developing a positive future where we live and work by promoting responsible growth, and preservation of our quality of life.

And by the air districts of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.