Guest Opinion: PacificCorp must accept responsibility for removing its dams

Mail Tribune

by Bruce Shoemaker

We don’t expect Warren Buffett to keep tabs on the inner workings of all the companies he owns. But he needs to know what is going on right now with one of them: Portland-based PacifiCorp. That’s because Buffett and PacifiCorp have an opportunity to simultaneously do something extraordinary for one of the great rivers of the West while making a very prudent financial decision for ratepayers and shareholders.

After decades of controversy and campaigning by area tribes, fishing and environmental groups, what is likely the largest dam removal project to date worldwide is poised to commence on the Klamath River in far-Northern California and Southern Oregon. Four aging hydropower dams are on the brink of being removed, reconnecting hundreds of miles of habitat for salmon and other species blocked for more than a century by dams built without fish passage. In addition, the improvements to water quality and fisheries that will result from dam removal help reduce regulatory burdens on area farmers and ranchers.

But it isn’t only fish and tribes that will benefit from freeing the river. Removing the antiquated dams is in the financial interest of Buffet and his shareholders. That is because the state of California has written a check for $250 million to underwrite more than half the cost. PacifiCorp pledged $200 million, which has already been collected from its customers through a special surcharge. But the agreement that set the terms for dam removal included the idea that PacifiCorp could make its financial contribution to the project and then walk away with no liability. Two dozen parties — including numerous conservation organizations, tribes, federal agencies and two states — agreed to that demand in a settlement deal with PacifiCorp. Many conservation leaders had to swallow hard at giving a wealthy corporation such a sweet deal, but decided it was worth it just to get the dams down as fast as possible.

But the multiparty pact requires the approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which in July signaled approval for the approach in general, but with a twist — PacifiCorp does not get to walk away completely from the project before the dams are removed. The public interest is not served by allowing a utility to make a fortune off an environmentally damaging project without seeing it through to the end, when these dams are removed.

So now PacifiCorp is balking. They want to study the issue. That is code language for delay, and crashing salmon runs don’t have time for corporate dithering.

What’s to study? The issue is crystal-clear.

The options are: 1) Accept a $250 million gift, enjoy layers of liability insurance paid for by the state of California and ratepayers, and restore salmon runs hovering on the brink of extinction, or 2) Walk away from a quarter billion dollars of public money, build new fish ladders and invest in other environmental fixes with costs likely to exceed $500 million, invite lawsuits and additional agency regulations related to endangered species and water quality violations, and perpetuate an injustice on native peoples whose livelihoods and cultures are being decimated by the dams. Talk about liability. And it would all be on PacifiCorp, their customers and their shareholders.

The clock is ticking. FERC wants an answer. California and Oregon want an answer. Tribes want an answer. The conservation community wants an answer. Every delay further endangers critically important salmon runs. PacifiCorp has to either accept the conditions laid down by FERC, or face the scrutiny of an America that is increasingly interested in justice for indigenous communities and other marginalized groups.

Warren Buffett and PacifiCorp, we need your decisive leadership. Please make the decision now that will get this done. This is the very definition of a win-win.

Bruce Shoemaker is a researcher on hydropower and rivers and lead editor of the 2018 book about the World Bank and hydropower, “Dead in the Water” (University of Wisconsin Press). Since 2019, through an affiliation with International Rivers, he has been focusing on dam removal in the Klamath Basin, where he lives.

Source: https://mailtribune.com/opinion/guest-opinions/pacificcorp-must-accept-responsibility-for-removing-its-dams

Guest Opinion: Dam removal is a win-win for river and irrigation

Mail Tribune

by Dave Strahan and David Moryc

A dam removal project in the Rogue River watershed this summer is proving that it’s possible to find solutions that benefit both salmon and farms.

The Lower Bridgepoint Dam on Williams Creek, a tributary to the Applegate River, provides water for irrigation, but restricts habitat for Chinook and coho salmon, as well as steelhead and lamprey. Now, thanks to the collaboration of the Applegate Partnership and Watershed Council and with support from the Bureau of Land Management and private landowners, the dam is coming down and the habitat will be restored.

This dam removal adds to the ongoing restoration efforts in the mighty Rogue River watershed, renowned for its world-class sport fishing. These projects help Rogue River salmon sustain recreational and commercial fishing, despite recent droughts that have devastated fish in other rivers in the state.

One of the keys to this success has been creative thinking around water infrastructure solutions. Two farms that currently rely on the dam for their water — Whistling Duck Farms and Blue Fox Farms — will benefit from a more modern, efficient water supply system. A headgate will be installed to divert water into a new irrigation pipeline, while water in Williams Creek flows unimpeded.

These are the types of win-win projects we need right now, as our region faces multiple interconnected challenges. Healthy rivers are the source of all life, yet they’ve been dammed and degraded for decades, and salmon runs are struggling. The economic downturn is creating new strains for individuals and businesses, while climate change is creating growing threats to water supplies, river health and local food security.

We can strengthen our communities and build resilience in the face of these threats by restoring river health and investing in water infrastructure. American Rivers recently released a report, “Rivers as Economic Engines: Investing in clean water, communities and our future” which details the jobs and economic benefits of clean water and river restoration (read the report at AmericanRivers.org/InvestInRivers)

For example, a 2010 study from the University of Oregon found that every $1 million invested in watershed restoration creates 16 new or sustained jobs on average. Healthy rivers also spur tourism and recreation, which many rural communities rely on for their livelihoods. The Outdoor Industry Association’s National Recreation Economy Report found that Americans participating in water sports and fishing spend over $174 billion on gear and trip-related expenses. And, the outdoor water sports and fishing economy supports over 1.5 million jobs nationwide and 1 out of every 20 in Oregon.

The dam removal project on Williams Creek is a great example of the type of project we need to see more of, here in Oregon and across our region. It’s why American Rivers, the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and local communities are calling on Congress to invest $500 billion over 10 years in rivers and water infrastructure. This kind of investment will pay off in a stronger economy and healthier communities for generations to come.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio has been a staunch supporter of clean water and smart infrastructure investments, including most recently to support critical wildlife migration as a part of a package of legislation that he sponsored and ushered out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which he chairs. We applaud his leadership and urge him to continue support collaborative and creative solutions for healthy rivers and communities.

When Lower Bridgepoint Dam comes down this summer, the story won’t be about what’s being taken away. The story won’t be about losing a dam. It will be about gaining something new — a healthier river, a more efficient water supply and stronger connections between people and nature. It will be about building a better future.

Dave Strahan of Grants Pass is a board member of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. David Moryc is senior director of American Rivers.

Source: https://mailtribune.com/opinion/guest-opinions/dam-removal-is-a-win-win-for-river-and-irrigation

California governor seeks dam demolitions near Oregon border

by Robert Jablon, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom has appealed directly to investor Warren Buffett to support demolishing four hydroelectric dams on a river along the Oregon-California border to save salmon populations that have dwindled to almost nothing.

Newsom on Wednesday sent a letter to Buffett urging him to back the Klamath River project, which would be the largest dam removal in U.S. history.

The dams are owned by PacificCorp, an Oregon-based utility that is part of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. conglomerate.

The $450 million project would reshape California’s second-largest river and empty giant reservoirs. It could also revive plummeting salmon populations by reopening hundreds of miles of potential habitat that has been blocked for more than a century.

That could bring relief to a half-dozen Native American tribes that rely on salmon fishing and are spread across hundreds of miles in southern Oregon and northern California.

“The river is sick, and the Klamath Basin tribes are suffering,” Newsom wrote, calling the removal project “a shining example of what we can accomplish when we act according to our values.”

The letter was sent to Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway’s chairman and PacifiCorp’s president.

Efforts to remove the dams and restore the basin have been in the works for a dozen years. Newsom supports a 2016 agreement under which PacifiCorp would transfer its federal hydroelectric licenses for the dams to a nonprofit coalition, the Klamath River Renewal Corp., that was formed to oversee the demolition.

PacifiCorp ratepayers in Oregon and California are contributing $200 million for the project but the plan allows the utility to avoid liability for additional costs. Another $250 million would come from a 2014 voter-approved California water bond.

But two weeks ago, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission made a decision that could threaten the deal. The agency approved the license transfer on condition that PacifiCorp remain a co-licensee with the Klamath River Renewal Corp.

The agency said it believes the nonprofit is capable of carrying out the project, and it is concerned that the corporation “has limited finances and no experience with hydropower dam operation or dam removal.”

“Costs could escalate beyond the level anticipated and unexpected technical issues could arise. Were the Renewal Corp. to be the sole licensee, it might ultimately be faced with matters that it is not equipped to handle,” the agency said.

The decision creates “significant” challenges but the corporation is confident it can work with stakeholders in the project to “once again craft a balanced solution,” said a letter to Newsom Thursday signed by Stefan A. Bird, president and chief executive officer of Pacific Power, which is owned by PacifiCorp.

“We share your concerns about social and environmental progress and remain committed to solving these deeply rooted cultural and community impacts,” the letter said.

Several tribes as well as fishing and conservation groups issued a joint statement urging Buffett’s support.

“Walking away from the agreement will put PacifiCorp ratepayers on the hook for all the risks and liabilities associated with fish kills, toxic algae blooms, lawsuits, and violations of tribal rights,” the statement said. “We urge Warren Buffett and PacifiCorp to end the delays and move the dam removal process forward immediately.”

The dams are the southernmost of six built in southern Oregon and California’s far north beginning in 1918 to provide electrical power. They are also part of an irrigation system serving vast farming areas.

The four dams to be demolished lack concrete chutes called fish ladders through which fish can pass to reach upstream spawning areas. Renewing the licenses would require hundreds of millions of dollars in federally mandated modifications, including adding fish ladders.

Coho salmon from the Klamath River are listed as threatened under federal and California law, and their population in the river has fallen anywhere from 52% to 95%. Spring chinook, once the Klamath Basin’s largest run, has dwindled by 98%.

Fall chinook, the last to persist in any significant numbers, have been so meager in the past few years that the Yurok canceled fishing for the first time in the tribe’s memory.

More than 1,700 aging dams have been dismantled around the U.S. since 2012, according to the nonprofit group American Rivers. The Klamath River project would be the largest by far if it proceeds.

Source: https://mailtribune.com/news/happening-now/california-governor-seeks-dam-demolitions-near-oregon-border

Monsanto Settlement to Fund Water Cleanup

By Associated Press, Wire Service Content

BY JOHN ROGERS, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Major California cities say they’ll use their share of a $650 million settlement to clean up the now-banned chemical PCB from bays, lakes and other waterways polluted for decades.

The giant chemical company Monsanto announced a tentative agreement Wednesday with government entities that had filed suit since 2015 over waterways and estuaries they say were polluted.

PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls, were used in many industrial and commercial applications, including paint, coolants, sealants and hydraulic fluids from the 1930s until 1977, two years before the United States banned them. Monsanto was their manufacturer.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, PCBs have been shown to cause a variety of health problems, including cancer in animals as well as effects on the immune, nervous and reproductive systems.

The tentative pact was announced along with a pledge from Monsanto that it would also pay up to $10.9 billion to settle litigation involving its weedkiller Roundup, which has triggered thousands of lawsuits over claims it causes cancer.

“Monsanto has profited handsomely for decades and will finally be held responsible for the damage it knowingly caused by manufacturing a product that put the public’s health at risk,” said Mara Elliott, city attorney for San Diego, one of the municipalities that sued over PCB pollution.

The settlement hinges on approval by U.S. District Judge Fernando M. Olguin. After that it will be determined how the money will be divided.

“The class is structured in a way that those who are facing the most significant problems get the most money by a longshot,” said attorney Scott Summy, whose firm, Baron & Budd, represented the government entities. “We think that will go a long way in helping protect the viability of many American waterways.”

Long Beach Deputy City Attorney Dawn McIntosh said her municipality is looking into using its share to fund stormwater-control projects it has had on hold for some time, as well as helping pay for ongoing monitoring projects.

“There’s a lot of things that can be done to further those causes,” she said. “The city will figure out what makes sense when we actually get the money.”

Other government entities positioned to benefit from the settlement are the Washington cities of Spokane and Tacoma, the city of Portland, Oregon, the Port of Portland, the California cities of Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose, Chula Vista, as well as Los Angeles and Baltimore counties, and the city of Baltimore.

Summy said the settlement is believed to be the first reached between the manufacturer of a chemical and government entities that had waterways polluted when it drained into their lakes, bays, estuaries and other waterways in storm runoff.

“This settlement is a groundbreaking effort to protect and restore the city’s water resources,” said Long Beach City Attorney Charles Parkin. He added it will provide his city and others “with funds for monitoring, mitigation and remediation efforts to manage PCBs in stormwater, stormwater systems, sediments and water bodies.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/oregon/articles/2020-06-24/california-cities-monsanto-settlement-to-fund-water-cleanup

Supreme Court won’t consider Western farmers’ water fight

June 22, 2020

Jeremy P. Jacobs, E&E News

The Supreme Court today declined to consider whether federal regulators violated farmers’ constitutional rights when they cut off irrigation water to save fish in the Pacific Northwest.

Facing drought in 2001, the George W. Bush administration shut off water deliveries from the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath River project to farms in south-central Oregon and Northern California. The goal was to provide water to threatened salmon species downriver.

The farmers revolted. They stormed irrigation canals, and one group took a blowtorch to a diversion head gate.

Their efforts were successful. The following year, Reclamation restored irrigation water deliveries to roughly 200,000 acres of cropland. It led to salmon die-off; according to some estimates, up to 70,000 fish washed up on the river’s shores.

Reclamation’s 2001 decision remains controversial nearly 20 years later. A group of farmers contend that the curtailment of water deliveries amounted to a “taking” of their property without just compensation under the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.

The farmers’ legal efforts have been less successful than their protests, however.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled last November that the decision was not a taking because Native American tribes, including the Karuk, Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribes, hold rights to the water that are higher priority than the irrigation project’s claims.

Farmers’ “water rights are subordinate to the Tribes’ federal reserved water rights,” the court ruled. “We therefore see no error in the court’s holding that the Bureau of Reclamation’s action in temporarily halting deliveries of Klamath Project water in 2001 did not constitute a taking of appellants’ property” (Greenwire, Nov. 14, 2019).

The farmers enlisted a veteran Supreme Court water attorney and asked the Supreme Court to review the lower bench’s ruling (Greenwire, March 17).

Today, the justices declined the petition in a short order without explanation, as is customary. The court accepts only a tiny percentage of the petitions it receives.

Source: https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063434523

Portland fluoridation clash echoes in unprecedented trial

Portland Tribune

Nick Budnick

June 17, 2020

California federal case features familiar debate over whether fluoridation should continue, including in Oregon. 

In a broadcast that rewound the clock to pre-coronavirus times, a live-streamed federal trial in San Francisco revisited the fluoridation debate that gripped the city of Portland in 2013. 

Since June 8, Food and Water Watch, the Fluoride Action Network and other groups have engaged in the unprecedented and potentially historic federal trial online, having sued to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to block the addition of fluoride to drinking water to fight cavities.

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA – Federal District Judge Edward M. Chen in San Francisco (lower left) is ruling on a case that could affect Oregon communities that fluoridate their water.

Seven years ago in Portland, lawn signs sprouted and arguments broke out as two camps of people debated — up close and with no masks necessary — whether the benefit of putting fluoridation chemicals in drinking water outweighed the risk of harm.

In the end, Portlanders rejected the position of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Dental Association, voting fluoridation down by a large margin.

Now Portlanders will see if a federal judge, Edward M. Chen, endorses that decision. Both sides made their closing arguments June 17, broadcast through the court’s webpage.

The trial’s outcome could affect the many communities in Oregon that do fluoridate. It could have an impact on other environmental issues as well. Already, the plaintiffs have enjoyed unprecedented success in forcing consideration of recently published studies under a federal safety law. If they win, it could reshape environmental protection for years to come, according to the publication Bloomberg Law.

Dueling science

The groups suing EPA have called as witnesses the scientists who conducted a recent series of long-term studies of human exposure in Canada and Mexico, some approved and funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The studies connected even the low levels found in fluoridated water to subtle impairment in developing brains, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and an average loss of several points of IQ.

But supporters of fluoridation, including some scientists, portray the studies as flawed, inconclusive and potentially biased — an argument that’s also been made by the EPA’s lawyers in court in arguing any conclusions would be premature.

The EPA points to still other studies, including a forthcoming study that has not yet been published, that do not find harm from fluoridation.

It’s unclear when the judge will issue his ruling, and whether it will be appealed.

Source: https://pamplinmedia.com/pt/9-news/470515-380783-portland-fluoridation-clash-echoes-in-unprecedented-trial?wallit_nosession=1

OP ED: Republicans say Supreme Court must prevent uncompensated theft of Western water

June 18. 2020

The Fifth Amendment protects the right to life, liberty, and property. This week, the Supreme Court should take a critical step to protect the private property rights of farmers and ranchers in the Western states. Their rights were infringed upon by a lower court ruling that upended the water laws of the region and abandoned over a century of federal deference to state law for adjudicating and administering water rights.

The Supreme Court is considering whether to grant review in Baley v. United States, a case that involves bedrock principles of Western law, federalism, and the Fifth Amendment. In the West, the use of water for irrigation is a property right, earned by diligent work and beneficial use of the water. The conflict in Baley centers on the federal government taking water developed and stored solely for irrigation uses authorized through the 1905 Klamath Project.

In 2001, after a century of providing safe and affordable food, farmers had their water reallocated to protect endangered species. Specifically, based on advice from wildlife agencies, the Bureau of Reclamation redirected the farmers’ water to the Klamath River to boost instream flows and required all the remaining water to be left in Upper Klamath Lake to provide extra water for two species of suckerfish that live there.

Adding insult to injury, the Natural Resources Council of the National Academy of Sciences found that there was no scientific basis for taking the farmers’ water; more water, it noted, would not entail more fish. But that finding was too late, and the only possible redress was through the courts. The farmers’ claim was simple: Society chose to adopt and implement the Endangered Species Act in a way that took their property, and so, under the Fifth Amendment, the government is required to pay for the property that it took.

Unfortunately, justice has been long delayed. The case saw delays, appeals, and remands in the federal court system. It even required a side trip to the Oregon Supreme Court, which corrected the federal trial court’s misunderstanding of Western water law principles.

Eventually, 16 years after the taking, the trial court recognized that many of the involved water rights were compensable property rights of the landowners. But the trial court and the Court of Appeals went on and made findings that have upset many public and private entities throughout the West. In particular, the lower courts found that there were, as of 2001, senior federal reserved water rights for the benefit of tribal fisheries, which, by their existence, meant that the farmers really didn’t have a right to the water to begin with.

However, this post-hoc rationalization is flawed. Even if there was a reserved right, these courts ignored the Supreme Court’s 1978 ruling, which limited the quantity of a reserved right to the “minimum amount” necessary for the primary purposes called out in the act establishing the reservation. Subsequent rulings establish that the date of priority of a reserved right is the date of the establishment of the act.

Water rights law is complex and determined and quantified in state adjudication proceedings. Also, states administer water rights based on relative priorities of all parties in a system. By contrast, here, the water was taken from one group of parties under the ESA based on opinions of federal agency staff. Court decisions limiting reserved rights, state authority over water, and state water law were ignored. Also, the farms and ranches rely on water that is stored in reservoirs during relatively wet periods for use during the dry summer. Water stored for irrigation under state law cannot be subject to a federal right claim, but the lower courts did not bother to sort that out.

The federal circuit court’s decision is disruptive, inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent, and at odds with fundamental principles of Western water law. “Friend of the court” briefs have been filed by scores of parties, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Oregon Water Resources Congress, New Mexico’s Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the Association of California Water Agencies, the Pacific Legal Foundation, and legal scholars.

The issues in Baley are of broad Western and national importance. The Supreme Court should accept the petition for review of the case to honor the Fifth Amendment and respect the principles of cooperative federalism that guide Western water rights and the economies that depend on those principles.

Rep. Greg Walden represents Oregon’s 2nd District in the U.S. House. Rep. Doug LaMalfa represents California’s 1st District in the U.S. House. Cliff Bentz is an Oregon state senator.

Lawmakers introduce bill to block Trump rule limiting scope of federal water protections

May 14, 2020

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure chair Rep. Peter DeFazio, of Oregon, and Chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Rep. Grace Napolitano, of California, submitted a bill to block the Navigable Waters Protection Rule finalized in April.

The 1972 Clean Water Act made it illegal to discharge any pollutant into “waters of the United States,” unless a permit was obtained.

The exact definition of “waters of the United States” was contested in courts for decades.

The Obama administration attempted to clarify the rule by expanding the definition to include more water bodies that flow directly or indirectly, to navigable waters.

The Trump rule eliminated the 2015 rule and narrowed the definition to four types, leaving other waters under often more lenient state jurisdiction.

The bill’s authors said the Trump administration wrote the rule to benefit polluters at the expense of the health of people who depend on those waters.

“By removing critical protections at the behest of industry, Trump’s Dirty Water Rule will make streams and waterways more vulnerable to pollution, which is devastating for the 117 million Americans who rely on these waterways for drinking water,” said DeFazio.

More than a dozen leading environmental organizations have backed the bill, including Earthjustice, the League of Conservation Voters, the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Sierra Club.

Source: https://www.indianaenvironmentalreporter.org/posts/lawmakers-introduce-bill-to-block-trump-rule-limiting-scope-of-federal-water-protections

Protesters ‘SLAPPback’ as water fight boils over

Four years ago, nine activists in the small town of Weed, Calif., were railing against an Oregon timber company threatening the city’s water supply.

Then the “Weed 9” met an unexpected outcome: They got sued.

“It was devastating,” said Bob Hall, one of the nine and the former mayor of the timber town at the base of Mount Shasta, about 50 miles south of the Oregon border.

With the help of First Amendment experts, the group got the lawsuit tossed by filing a motion under California’s anti-strategic litigation against public participation, or anti-SLAPP, law.

The law is designed to shield defendants from abuses of the legal system, said Evan Mascagni, the policy director of the Public Participation Project.

“That’s the whole point of SLAPPs,” he said. “You want to drain your target financially and also psychologically. They drag you through the court system for years.”

Now, the Weed 9 are going one step further. Two weeks ago, they filed a “SLAPPback” lawsuitagainst the attorneys who represented the timber company. They are seeking damages.

Weed’s water war has raged for years.

The small — population 2,700 — timber town sits at the edge of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. It was established by International Paper Co. for its employees decades ago.

For more than 110 years, Weed has drawn its water from Beaughan Springs, a gravity-fed spring at the base of the dormant Shasta volcano.

The paper company owned the land where the spring sits, and it leased the water for years to the town for $1 per year.

International Paper sold the property to Roseburg Forest Products Co. in 1982.

When the city’s water lease ended in 2016, it didn’t have an alternative water source and was forced to negotiate a new lease with Springfield, Ore.-based Roseburg. The city declared a state of emergency. It ultimate reached a new deal with Roseburg. The cost: nearly $100,000 per year.

At the same time, Roseburg was selling water from the spring to Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water, which markets its bottled water around the world.

Weed’s leaders spoke out. Hall — the 2014 Weed “Citizen of the Year” and a City Council member — worked with a group and formed Water for Citizens of Weed California (WCWC) to protest.

They claimed the new lease violated California’s water rights system; the city, not the timber company, had a historic right to that water. The City Council passed a resolution asking the state to declare that to be the case.

Roseburg struck back with a lawsuit that asked a state court to adjudicate the water rights issue.

But in an unusual twist, the lawsuit didn’t just challenge the city. It also named WCWC and nine individual citizens who had campaigned against Roseburg — even though they didn’t claim any right to the water themselves.

Hall said the lawsuit was designed to shut them up. And it was scary.

“It was, ‘Oh, shit,'” he said. “It was really just intimidating. I had never felt that before.”

Hall and WCWC were immediately put under financial strain. After getting help from the First Amendment Project and others, they filed a motion to get out of the case under the anti-SLAPP law.

At a hearing on the motion in December 2017, Roseburg’s lawyers argued that the case was about cleaning up any “cloud” surrounding who owned the right to the water. And they said Hall and the Weed 9 had threatened their own lawsuit.

California Superior Court Judge Karen Dixon wasn’t convinced. She ruled that the Weed 9 weren’t making a specific claim to the water rights.

“I couldn’t help but notice,” she said, according to a transcript, “that the only reason that these names came specifically to the attention of” Roseburg “is because these were the private citizens who were exercising their privilege and their rights under the Constitution.”

Multiple requests to the law firm, Sacramento-based Churchwell White LLP and the lawyers named in the new case, Barbara Brenner and Robin Baral, who now works for another firm, were not returned. Roseburg similarly did not respond to emails and phone messages.

The prospects of the Weed 9’s new lawsuit are unclear.

That’s mainly because there haven’t been many SLAPPback suits filed, something the Weed 9’s new attorney is well aware of.

“In my 23 years of experience,” said Lauren Regan of the Eugene, Ore.-based Civil Liberties Defense Center, “this is the first SLAPPback that we have filed.”

SLAPPback lawsuits are “rare, rare, rare,” said James Wheaton of the First Amendment Project, who helped draft California’s anti-SLAPP laws.

Typically, once the target of the lawsuit gets the first case thrown out, they don’t want to deal with the costs and stress of more litigation. California’s SLAPPback law is also relatively new; it was enacted in 2005.

Wheaton worked on the first phase of the Weed 9 case and helped get it tossed. He said it is an exception.

“The Weed 9 is so frivolous and so obviously not directed at the people they sued,” he said. “They never should have been sued.”

Often in SLAPPback cases, the company can defend itself by saying it was following the advice of its lawyers by bringing the first suit, Wheaton said.

That doesn’t fit here, however, because the Weed 9’s lawsuit targets the attorneys themselves.

Regan said her clients, several of whom are in their 80s and are former public servants in Weed, are especially motivated.

“They really felt like they wanted to send a message that these type of cases have really undemocratic consequences,” she said.

Mascagni, of the Public Participation Project, said the key criteria in a SLAPPback suit is whether the Weed 9 can show they were the target of a “malicious” prosecution.

And while SLAPPback cases have been uncommon in California, in theory, anyone who prevails in getting the initial case dismissed under California’s anti-SLAPP lawsuit is on solid ground for the SLAPPback suit.

“I’m interested to see how it plays out in this case,” Mascagni said.

The lawsuit between Roseburg and the city eventually was settled for undisclosed terms.

For Hall, the former mayor, major principles are at stake.

“My main motivation now is to bring light to this,” he said. “Freedom of speech is really something you got to defend.”

Source: https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063082309

Climate change: US megadrought ‘already under way’

April 16, 2020

A mega-drought, equal to the worst to have hit the western US in recorded history, is already under way, say scientists.

Researchers say the megadrought is a naturally occurring event that started in the year 2000 and is still ongoing.

Climate change, though, is having a major impact with rising temperatures making the drought more severe.

Some researchers are more cautious, saying that it is too early to say if the region really is seeing a true megadrought.

So what exactly is a megadrought?

hotspotImage copyrightWILLIAMS/SCIENCE

According to the authors of this new paper, a megadrought in North America refers to a multi-decade event, that contains periods of very high severity that last longer than anything observed during the 19th or 20th centuries.

The authors say there have been around 40 drought events over the period from 800-2018 in the western US.

Of these, only four meet the criteria for a megadrought.

These were in the late 800s, the mid-1100s, the 1200s and the late 1500s.

How do researchers know what drought conditions were like in the past?

The key to this new study is the use of tree ring records to reconstruct soil moisture data for the past 1200 years.

The team were also able to use supporting evidence such as medieval tree stumps growing in normally wet river beds, the abandonment of settlements by indigenous civilisations at the peak of the 13th century drought, plus evidence from lake deposits indicating wildfire activity was enhanced during these drought periods.

What did the study find?

graphicImage copyrightWILLIAMS/SCIENCE
Image captionA graphic showing soil moisture across the centuries in the western US. The blue line at the bottom shows mean soil moisture 2000-2018

The researchers discovered that when they compared the worst 19-year drought events in the past to soil moisture records from 2000-2018, the current period is already worse than three of the four megadroughts recorded.

The fourth one, which ran from 1575 to 1603 was likely the worst one of all, but the difference with the present event is slight.

“The first two decades of this drought look just like the first two decades of all of the mega droughts,” said lead author Dr Park Williams, from Columbia University in New York.

“In fact, it is essentially tied with the worst two decades of the worst of the mega droughts.”

Is the current megadrought a natural event or was it caused by climate change?

The authors say that undoubtedly the current drought situation is a natural event but is being made much worse by climate change.

The key event seems to have been the El Niño/La Niña weather phenomenon.

“We know from many lines of evidence that when you have La Niña type conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean, then the southwestern US and northern Mexico get dry. And that’s what we’ve seen over the last two decades,” said Dr Williams.

But climate change has super-charged the current drought.

The authors say that in the western US, temperatures have gone up by 1.2C since 2000. Hotter air holds more moisture and that moisture is being pulled out of the ground.

They believe that climate change is responsible for about half of of the pace and severity of the current event.

“It doesn’t matter if this is exactly the worst drought ever,” said co-author Benjamin Cook, who is affiliated with Columbia University and Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

“What matters is that it has been made much worse than it would have been because of climate change.”

What have been the impacts of the megadrought?

The authors say the two most important water reservoirs in the region, Lake Powell and Lake Mead have both shrunk dramatically during the drought. Wildfires across the region are growing in area.

“At any given year, there’s over ten times more forest area burns than we would have expected in a given year, 40 years ago,” said Dr Williams.

What has helped to mitigate the impact of the drought has been groundwater – the water held underground in aquifers.

This has increasingly been used to bolster supplies for agriculture.

The longer the drought goes on, the deeper into these reserves that people are digging, and they take a long time to replenish.

Is there full agreement among scientists that a megadrought is taking place right now?

No. This new study is contentious, especially as the definition of what exactly a megadrought means is still being argued over.

Some say that it is also way too early to declare that a megadrought is ongoing.

But even those who disagree with the idea, acknowledge there is water stress in the region and this is likely to get worse in the future.

“Whether or not the western US has crossed a threshold into an event that goes by any specific label, what’s been clear this century is that water is an essential resource in the western US, and it’s a precarious one, because the region can have long spells with little precipitation,” said Dr Angeline Pendergrass, a scientist with the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

“And it looks like climate change won’t make it better – indeed, it will likely make it worse.”

The study has been published in the journal Science.

Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-52312260?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.com/news/topics/crjgq115m2jt/western-us-drought&link_location=live-reporting-story