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State’s water policies are shameful practices

I did something last week I haven’t done in quite a while – went to Yosemite with snow on the ground.

I visit Yosemite Valley at least once or twice a year but rarely ever in the winter. The roads were clear but there was a fair amount of snow on the ground. The temperature was 21 degrees when we arrived at 9:20 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 17. It was gorgeous, the sun was out, the sky was full of puffy clouds, the falls were going good and cradled in the basin at the top of Lower Yosemite Falls was white nest of icy snow. There was hardly anyone there, a smattering of people unlike the throngs who invade the valley every summer.

It was one of those days when you’re glad you said, no, I’m not going to work today, I’m going to take a vacation day (our company does not give us MLK Day off) and spend precious time with family. I’m so glad I did especially since my second son is moving 1,400 miles away with his family this week.

We took the Highway 132 route so I was able to see the low water levels of both Don Pedro and Lake McClure. Don Pedro is really low, so much so that the old road that led to Jacksonville – the town that was submerged by the creation of the reservoir, had partially reappeared. McClure was even lower. Earlier this month I saw the low water levels of New Melones Reservoir at Parrots Ferry.

It’s ludicrous and sad that the California State Water Resources Control Board has dictated that operators of the dams flush more water out of the reservoirs out to the Delta, thus guaranteeing less water for Valley farmers of less water to grow crops and supply city dwellers.

The reason we build dams – or shall I say used to build dams because the last one was New Melones in 1978 – is to store water for use in dry months. Over 120 years ago farmers in the Valley realized water meant prosperity and prompted the building of those dams. The La Grange Dam was the first local dam, built of stone, in 1883 to supply water to Ceres area farms. Ceres’ own Fred Moffet was on the board of the Turlock Irrigation District which built the first Don Pedro dam on the Tuolumne River from 1921 to 1923. As a kid my parents would take me up to watch the “new” dam being constructed in late 1960s. I remember watching giant skip loaders hauling in dirt for the massive earthen dam.

Members of the Water Board, who were kids or not even born when Don Pedro was finished, have decided that operators must hold back less water for the sake of the fish, and they say to stem saltwater intrusion into the Delta. Keep in mind that without the dams being constructed in the first place, those fish would have died as the rivers choked off in drought years or in dry late fall months.

While environmentalists deem dams as a bad thing, they are immeasurably invaluable to something more important than fish – people – in wet years. A lot of folks in our history-ignorant age are unaware that in 1862 the Central Valley experienced a great flood of enormous proportions. This was before the railroad came through in 1871 and contributed to the establishment of towns like Modesto. What occurred in December 1861 and January 1862 were the same conditions of the so-called “tropical express” in 1997 which would have flooded our Valley then if it weren’t for those disputed dams. The recipe for disaster was a huge snow load followed by several days of warm tropical winds blowing in from the south and a resulting rapid snow melt. Making matters worse was a record amount of rainfall from Jan. 9-12, 1862. Since there were no dams to regulate the torrent of water. The worst disaster ever to strike California resulted. The flooding killed an estimated 4,000 people and created a lake from Stockton to Merced. The future town site of Ceres was inundated with water an estimated 30 feet deep. Knights Ferry was much wiped out. Empire City, a settlement on the south side of the Tuolumne River and just west of the present-day Lakewood Memorial Park, was also obliterated. Sacramento was under water.

What saved the Valley in January 1997 from total calamity were the dams at Don Pedro, New Melones and McClure. But even the dams had limitations and the flood gates at Don Pedro had to be opened to prevent the water from cresting the earthen dam and caused catastrophic failure.

State lawmakers and governors since Reagan have failed providing water solutions. California was home to about 20 million people when New Melones was completed in 1980. Since then the population of the state has doubled with no new water storage projects. Something has to give.

Californians need to be educated about the need for water and support only those policy makers who will see to it that more dams are constructed. Most Democrat lawmakers – especially those from urban areas who are far removed from rural needs –oppose new water storage projects.

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The New York Times issued a piece in which they struggled to explain the violent crime surge in American cities. Well, elections have consequences. When progressives defunded police in some cities, placed prosecutors in office who only slapped the hands of violent criminals and states released prisoners from jail because of COVID reasons, criminals decided they can get away with things. They did conclude that “the fallout from the 2020 racial justice protests and riots could have contributed to the murder spike. Police officers, scared of being caught in the next viral video, may have pulled back on proactive anti-violence practices.”

Why is it so hard to understand that when you go easy on thugs, crime rises?

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I miss Jim DeMartini’s straight shooting horse sense. You may remember that the former Stanislaus County supervisor left California for Nevada last year. He simply had enough of California’s quality of life being driven into the ground.

He didn’t mince words when it came to his take on the homelessness which continues to worsen in our county and state. DeMartini laid the problem right at the feet of the state and the homeless themselves. In March 2020, DeMartini told the Courier: “There’s no accountability for their actions at all. They don’t have to live like that. They choose to. We have unused beds at the Salvation Army and (Modest Union) Gospel Mission that they have rules there. You can’t have drugs or alcohol so they want to live the live the drug culture so they’re out on the street like that and just raising havoc with the community … begging and stealing and open drug use and haul around trash. It’s just horrible what society has become.

“Our whole society is degrading and it’s because of drug abuse and no consequences for your actions … They’re not held accountable for anything that they do and they spend their time shoplifting and panhandling, whatever they can to raise money for their drugs.”

DeMartini is right but his views were not shared by all. In December 2020, Eileen Wyatt wrote a letter to the editor chastising DeMartini for his hardline stance. (Keep in mind Wyatt was not a fan and ran against him in 2016). In her letter, Wyatt wrote: “He compared homeless encampments to those of Third World refugees: ‘They need to live to the standard everyone else does. I don’t live on the street, I don’t shoplift in stores, I don’t have open drug use or drunk in public,’ sayeth he who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Tell us how you really think, Jim!”

DeMartini was indeed fortunate to inherit a farm from his family but he also worked his tail off to keep it in business unfriendly California. Wyatt’s dismissive comments failed to account for the fact that success that people enjoy in life requires hard work. Homeless people won’t find their way out of cars or camps in ditches or under bridges without getting drug-free and engaging in hard work.

While I understand Wyatt’s more sympathetic view toward the homeless – we should be somewhat compassionate toward the downtrodden – but this state has fostered the situation. It is unconscionable that we allow folks to live on the side of freeways. Not only is it dangerous for them, it reinforces the reality that California is the most impoverished state in the union because of Democrat policies. Despite Wyatt’s protest of DeMartini’s characterization that homeless here make our Valley look like that of a Third World country, it’s the sad absolute truth.

The vast majority of homeless are mentally ill or on drugs, likely a combination of both. Many need to be institutionalized and since the state has a $31 billion surplus, the state doesn’t have an excuse for not coming up with a solution to get folks off the street.

It isn’t enough to just build free housing for the homeless. Treatment is required to get folks substance free and productive.

Seattle, that bastion of liberalism, is doing it all wrong. Using the windfall federal COVID relief money – read that as socialism programs that have nothing to do with COVID – the city spent $50 million on three apartment buildings for 165 homeless people. That breaks down to $300,000 per unit!

Likewise, Los Angeles is spending $160 million on a 19-story high-rise apartment building. That’s $580,000 per unit. No doubt the politicians there were influenced by some heavy contributors to take that ridiculous course of action.

I’ll agree with Tucker Carlson who suggested the cities’ priorities seem to: “lavish money on the least productive, most anti-social parasites in our society and then you punish Americans who work for a living.”

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I see things that leave me scratching my head.

Before I say what I’m going to say, I don’t wish to make enemies of anyone in either organization I’m about to mention. But I need to point out something about masks.

When service clubs started meeting again after Newsom locked down the state and destroyed small businesses, Rotarians began meeting again. Part of their meeting involves honoring a “Student of the Month.” A member shoots a photo and emails it to us. It’s a great tradition to honor great kids.

In November the club emailed me two versions of the presentation for Noah De La Cerda – one with masks and the other without. As editor, I especially have a distain of running photos of people with only their eyes showing so I was stoked to see that a photo was submitted showing some beautiful smiles – something we’ve been covering up in our new age of non-normalcy.

The principal in that picture, however, emailed me to request that we “publish the photo with everyone wearing masks please.” Request denied. It had the air of deception. Why try to cover up that at least one point in the meeting people were standing shoulder to shoulder without masks on?

While the service clubs have shot pictures of maskless people – which I prefer – the school board kowtows to the official state dictate and meets all meeting long with masks on.

I think its’ a foregone conclusion that masks don’t do much to stop the spread of COVID. Apparently neither does the shots given that just about everyone I know – myself included – has had COVID and yet we’re here to talk about it.

Let’s face it. Natural immunity has been downplayed as the obsession has been over masks and shots.

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State Senator Scott Wiener, the San Francisco Democrat, has introduced a bill to strip your rights as a parent to decide if your child gets vaccinated in public schools. His Senate Bill 866 would allow kids 12-18 to get any kind of vaccine without their parent’s permission.

Wiener claims “it’s outrageous that a parent would block their child from getting a vaccine that could save their life.” What is outrageous is a lawmaker telling children to ignore what their parents want.

At the far left of the political spectrum, the gay legislator has a reputation for coming up with cringe-worthy bills. In 2021 he came up with a harebrained pilot program in San Francisco to pay a select group of 10 thugs $300 a month to not commit gun crimes such as shoot people. In 2020, his SB 145 lessened the criminal penalties for an adult having oral or anal sex with a consenting minor and as long as the offender is not more than 10 years older. So you could have a 24-year-old messing around with a 14-year-old. SB145 gave judges discretion over sex-offender registration in all cases involving voluntary intercourse between teenagers ages 14 to 17, who cannot legally consent, and adults who are less than 10 years older.

This is what kind of state you get when San Francisco and Los Angeles runs the entire show in Sacramento.

This column is the opinion of Jeff Benziger, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation. How do you feel about this? Let Jeff know at