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Clean water act's double standard

Daily Yonder | Posted on September 7, 2017

A California farmer who plowed dry ground faces large fines from the Environmental Protection Agency for polluting America's waterways. Meanwhile, under some conditions, cities can dump raw sewage into major rivers with impunity. How is this fair?

Money-for-water programs work — but for how long?

High Country News | Posted on September 7, 2017

When Freddie Botur, 45, whose ranch spans 72,000 acres outside of Pinedale, Wyoming, first heard about a program that was paying ranchers to let water run down the river instead of irrigating with it, he was skeptical. But Nick Walrath, a project coordinator for Trout Unlimited, told him he’d receive about $200 for every acre-foot of water saved by not watering hay on his Cottonwood Ranch.  For Botur, it would mean over $240,00 for fallowing just over 1,700 acres of hay fields for the latter half of the summer of 2015, letting 1,202 acre-feet of water run past his headgate on Cottonwood and Muddy Creeks, tributaries of the Green River, instead of to his fields. “Oh my god,” he thought, “this is insane.” Botour, talkative and athletic, was wearing mirrored sunglasses and a cowboy hat when we met in June outside a cluster of old homestead buildings on the family ranch that he operates at the foot of the lofty peaks of the Wyoming Range. For Wyoming ranchers, he explained, the kind of money he received for not growing hay represented as much as a third of their annual revenue. The money-for-water program that Botur signed up for was a pilot program, launched in 2014 by the four largest municipal water providers in the Colorado River basin along with the Bureau of Reclamation. The goal: see how complicated it would be to pay ranchers to use less water on their fields and instead let the water flow down the Green, Colorado and San Juan rivers to Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two biggest water storage buckets in the Colorado River system. The result: After three years, the initiative, known as the “System Conservation Pilot Program,” proved popular with skeptical ranchers like Botur, but water officials called a halt to the program after this year until they work out some big challenges. Their task will not be easy. But as climate change alters the hydrology of the Colorado River basin, water planners are searching for ways to adapt a system of century-old water laws to a new reality. If they’re successful, a revamped “system conservation program” could be one way to reshape water management for a hotter drier West.

U.S. Potato Exports, including Processed Products, Reach Record Levels

Potato Business | Posted on September 7, 2017

Exports of all U.S. potatoes and potato products reached a record USD1.7bn for the July 2016 – June 2017 marketing year, and a record volume level of 1,712,364 metric tons (MT), according to Potatoes USA. Fresh potato exports at 491,716 MT were up 9%, potato chip exports up 5% to 52,103 MT and frozen products up 3% to 1,026,429 MT.  

Texas’ immigration legislation collides with Harvey

The Washington Times | Posted on August 31, 2017

Texas’ crackdown on illegal immigration is about to run smack into Harvey, with local officials saying they’ll refuse to comply with a new state law that goes into effect Friday requiring police to check immigration status for those they believe to be in the U.S. illegally. Known as SB4, the law would be the furthest-reaching crackdown of any state. It punishes leaders of sanctuary cities, including police officials, and spurs officers to determine immigration status of those they encounter. A number of cities had already sued to block the law. But Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said there’s no need to wait for a judge to decide, calling for the state to suspend the law. He said his city won’t be enforcing it during hurricane relief efforts.

FDA Releases Sixth Chapter of Draft Guidance for the PC-Human Food Rule

FDA | Posted on August 31, 2017

Today, the FDA announced the availability of guidance for food facilities that explains how to establish and implement a heat treatment, such as baking or cooking, to prevent contamination by disease-causing bacteria. This is the sixth chapter of the draft guidance, entitled “Draft Guidance for Industry: Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food,” designed to help food facilities comply with the preventive controls for human food rule, mandated by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.The final rule, entitled “Current Good Manufacturing Practices, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food,” published on September 17, 2015, builds on previous food safety requirements and introduces others that together establish a more modern, preventive, and risk-based approach to food safety.This draft guidance is intended to help food facilities comply with specific requirements of the rule, such as developing a written food safety plan, establishing preventive controls, and taking corrective actions. The FDA intends to publish at least 14 chapters of the guidance and will continue to announce the availability of each chapter as it becomes available.   A compliance date is approaching on September 18, 2017 for small businesses (those with fewer than 500 full-time employees) that are required to comply with the preventive controls for human food rule.

Texas hurricane exposes flaws in flood protections

High Country News | Posted on August 31, 2017

“Today, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America estimates that homeowners covered by federal flood insurance pay just half of the “true-risk cost” to insure their properties. In the highest-risk areas, they pay just a third.” A series of disasters has left the NFIP struggling financially. Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy devastated the flood insurance program’s budget and today, the program is about $24 billion in debt. As climate change fuels an increase in disasters, storms of the same caliber may become the norm.“There is actually a 50 percent chance within a 10-year period the NFIP will once again experience Hurricane Sandy-size losses,” Roy Wright, the director of the NFIP, wrote.Financial concerns aside, there are other problems as well. The program encourages people to build and stay in areas that flood constantly. There’s no incentive to leave because taxpayer subsidies rebuild homes and buildings, even if those structures have repeatedly flooded.Attempts to overhaul the NFIP have not been successful and repeatedly have been met with backlash. In 2012, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) introduced the Biggert-Waters Act, a law that would increase the rates for business properties in special flood zones and properties that experience repeated flooding. These proposed increases would have led to an enormous spike in premiums. According to a 2013 RAND Corporation study, premiums in flood prone areas in New York City would have increased by $5,000 to $10,000 a year. Even Rep. Waters was outraged once the numbers came in and was part of a bipartisan effort to draft a bill to make sure premiums wouldn’t suddenly spike. In 2014, Congress passed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which delayed the Biggert-Waters reforms for two years. Today, premiums now have slowly begun to increase. The current White House proposal for the program would certainly lead to more financial headaches. As part of deciding which areas are riskier, FEMA creates flood maps—but many of them are out-of-date. Funds had been previously allocated to update them, but Trump’s proposed 2018 budget included cutting $190 million from this effort. Without that money, FEMA would be forced to find money from somewhere else to fund mapping.Financial solvability aside, the NFIP is must be reauthorized by September 30. 

Advocacy group sues USDA over poultry operation loan guarante

Meatingplace (free registration required) | Posted on August 31, 2017

Food & Water Watch has filed a federal lawsuit accusing USDA’s Farm Service Agency of failing to adequately consider environmental impacts before supporting a loan guarantee for a poultry operation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore two years ago. The nonprofit group said the loan guarantee for nearly $1.1 million in 2015 opened the door for construction of a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in an area already besieged by pollution from existing poultry companies. The lawsuit claims that FSA’s review of the environmental impacts of a new chicken plant proposed by One More Haul Farm “fell far short” of what is required under the federal National Environmental Policy Act.

India, China jointly propose removal of US, EU farm subsidies

Live Mint | Posted on August 31, 2017

China and India have jointly proposed the elimination of $160 billion of trade-distorting farm subsidies in the US, European Union and other wealthy nations, a move that has come as a game changer in global farm trade negotiations at the World Trade Organization, say trade envoys familiar with the development. As the WTO’s 164 members prepare for the crucial eleventh ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires starting on 10 December, China and India have turned the tables by calling for the elimination of what is called the Aggregate Measurement of Support (AMS) or “the most trade distorting element in the global trade in agriculture.”

Local farmers say immigration reform should not hurt their operations

Tribune Democrat | Posted on August 30, 2017

With a presidential administration that continues to call for immigration reform and secured borders, local farmers say any solution should consider the potential effects on the agriculture industry’s workforce.  “Americans don’t want to do a lot of the things farmers need done,” said Marty Yahner, of Patton, who owns a sixth-generation farm with his brother, Rick, that produces corn, oats, wheat, hay and soybeans. “You can’t pay them to do it,” added Jim Benshoff, another sixth-generation vegetable farmer, calling much of the work on his farm “stoop labor,” which requires stooping down to hand-pick peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and cabbage. “We have to have this labor.” Not every migrant worker “is a violent criminal or a drug mule,” Benshoff added, saying they are often reliable and experienced. 

More vets, medical groups join fight to keep dog testing at VA | Posted on August 30, 2017

More veterans, military and medical organizations have come out against legislation limiting medical experiments on dogs at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Advocates and lawmakers attempting to shut down dog testing in the VA gained a new adversary earlier this month, when Paralyzed Veterans of America argued that stopping the research would limit future medical advancements. More than 80 organizations joined the opposition.Friends of VA Medical Care and Health Research, or FOVA, represents more than 83 groups. It lobbies for increased research at the VA and makes recommendations each year on funding levels for VA research and research facilities.