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Westlands receives only 20 percent water allocation

HANFORD — The Bureau of Reclamation announced the initial 2018 water supply allocation for many Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors on Tuesday, and left western Kings County farmers in Westlands Water District with very little to work with.

Westlands and other agricultural districts south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta will get 20 percent of their contracted supply, the Bureau announced in a written statement.

“It’s not enough, we need 100 percent,” Kings County Supervisor Doug Verboon said. “You can’t live off of 20 percent of your paycheck. You can’t live off of 20 percent of anything.”

Westlands Water District includes about 40,000 acres in Kings County, Supervisor Joe Neves said. He said most of the water is used to grow permanent crops, like almonds and pistachios.

The water allocation is based on a conservative estimate of the amount of water that will be available for delivery to CVP water users and reflects current reservoir storages, precipitation and snowpack in the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada.

The 2017 water year was the wettest on record for most of northern California and CVP reservoirs were essentially full for the first time in five years; however, precipitation so far this year has been far below average.

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) reports that as of Feb. 15, the statewide average snow water equivalent in the Sierra Nevada was 4.3 inches (20 percent of the historical average).

“Despite the historic rainfall last year, California’s lack of sufficient water storage forces us to operate on a year-to-year basis. The amount we can store in our reservoirs is not enough to get us through these very dry years,” David Murillo, Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Regional Director, said in a released statement. “Given what we know today, and what we see in the forecast, we must be very conservative with our allocation. If this lack of rain and snow continues, we could very well be right back in drought operations. A situation like this really underscores the need for more storage in California.”

Congressman David G. Valadao (R-Hanford) released a statement Wednesday in response to the announcement where he voiced his dissatisfaction with the allocation amounts.

"This announcement is both incredibly disappointing and unexpected and I urge President Trump's Administration and the U.S. Department of the Interior to reconsider the 2018 CVP allocations as soon as possible so our farmers are able to make critical decisions early in the growing season,” Valadao said in the statement.

Valadao also said the issue must be resolved through legislation and recommended Congress come together to provide solutions for California growers, mentioning H.R. 23, his GROW Act bill meant to expand water infrastructure and allow for more water conveyance while protecting the water rights of users across the state.

“The House has already passed H.R. 23 and now, the Senate must act to eliminate burdensome federal regulations and provide desperately needed investments in our water infrastructure,” Valadao concluded.

Neves said a lack of sustainable surface water leads to a higher demand for groundwater and wells. Using groundwater comes with certain disadvantages, he said, including the water not being as good for soil as surface water and the energy cost of pumping the water.

“It’s a little bit of a scarier process to rely on wells than from sustainable surface water,” Neves said.

Murillo said many factors are considered when determining CVP allocations, including hydrologic conditions, reservoir storage levels, water quality requirements, water rights priority, contractual obligations and endangered species protections.

Should conditions change, CVP supplies could also change. The Bureau said it will continue working with the DWR, federal and state fishery agencies, contractors and others to effectively carry out project operations and improve water supply.

Current dry conditions and the dry forecast underscore the need for all Californians to be conservative in their water use this spring, Murillo said. He said without significant rain and snow this spring, conditions could worsen.

As the water year progresses, the Bureau said changes in hydrology and opportunities to deliver additional water will influence future allocations.

Neves said it would be nice if March brought some more rain and snow, and he’s hopeful the allocation will increase and take the burden off the aquifer.

If not, both Verboon and Neves said it could end up being a tough year not just for growers and the entire farming industry, but the consumers as well.

"Everyone benefits from a good farming year," Verboon said.

“It’d be a bad deal if California slips back into another water deficit,” Neves said.

Trump mulls pulling immigration agents from California

SAN DIEGO (AP) — President Donald Trump said Thursday that he may pull the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency out of California, an idea so unlikely that some of his staunchest critics dismissed it as an empty taunt against the state over immigration policies.

Withdrawing ICE, partially or completely, runs counter to Trump's record of dramatically increasing deportation arrests and pledging to beef up the agency with an additional 10,000 employees. The administration has been threatening more — not less — immigration enforcement in California in response to a new state law that sharply limits cooperation with federal authorities.

The president's suggestion, however impractical, was his latest attention-grabbing statement to pressure so-called "sanctuary" jurisdictions, which the administration claims are a magnet for immigrants who commit crimes.

"Frankly, if I wanted to pull our people from California you would have a crime nest like you've never seen in California," he said at the White House during a meeting with state and local officials on school safety and gun violence. "All I'd have to do is say is, 'ICE and Border Patrol, let California alone,' you'd be inundated. You would see crime like nobody has ever seen crime in this country."

"If we ever pulled our ICE out, and we ever said, 'Hey, let California alone, let them figure it out for themselves,' in two months they'd be begging for us to come back. They would be begging. And you know what, I'm thinking about doing it," he continued.

Withdrawing ICE from the state with the largest number of people in the country illegally, two of its largest detention centers and thousands of investigators had never been floated or seriously considered.

ICE referred questions to the White House, where spokesman Raj Shah said the administration wanted California "to actually enforce immigration law rather than get in the way of it."

The National ICE Council, the union representing detention officers and an early supporter of Trump's presidential bid, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thomas Homan, ICE's acting director, has been saying for months that limits on cooperation in local jails would lead to a more active street presence of deportation officers.

"California better hold on tight," he told Fox News last month. "They're about to see a lot more special agents, a lot more deportation officers in the state of California. If the politicians in California don't want to protect their communities, then ICE will."

Last Friday, as ICE announced results of an operation in the Los Angeles area that included more than 200 arrests, Homan declared, "Fewer jail arrests mean more arrests on the street, and that also requires more resources, which is why we are forced to send additional resources to those areas to meet operational needs and officer safety."

Trump's comments were part of a broader swipe against heavily Democratic California, which gave Hillary Clinton a resounding victory in the 2016 presidential race. He said the state was "doing a lousy management job" and criticized it for high taxes.

Trump told the group that included Attorney General Jeff Sessions that his administration has targeted members of the violent MS-13 gang but has been "getting no help from the state of California."

The Justice Department has threatened to deny millions of dollars in federal grants to communities that refuse to share information with federal immigration authorities. Many cities have defied the threats, with lawsuits pending in Chicago, Philadelphia and California over whether the administration has overstepped its authority.

The administration stepped up criticism of California after Jan. 1, when a law took effect to largely prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from detaining people at ICE's request unless they have been convicted of any of hundreds of crimes outlined in a 2013 state law.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democratic, said Trump's comments were mean-spirited.

"President Trump today renewed his attacks on California with more insults and threats. The president's obsession with our state is growing more outrageous by the day," she said.

Some of ICE's strongest critics in California dismissed the idea.

"His erratic comments reflect an obsession with criminalizing immigrants and shows a deep lack of knowledge of California and immigration laws," said the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, an advocacy group in Los Angeles.

State Sen. Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat who authored the new law, said, "The president's plan sounds perfectly fine but we know that will never happen and we'll work with ICE to remove actual dangerous criminals from our neighborhoods."

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat and frequent Trump critic, didn't directly address the president's comments. He issued a brief statement saying the state works with federal law enforcement daily and its efforts are geared toward stopping drug dealers, sex traffickers and other public safety threats.

Council appoints city manager

LEMOORE—The vote to appoint the city manager at Tuesday's meeting passed with a 3-2 vote with councilwoman Holly Blair and councilman Eddie Neal against.

Nathan Olson was hired as the city manager with some opposition.


Nathan Olson

During public comment, 12 people spoke in favor of his appointment and two people spoke in opposition.

The council approved a three-year contract with Olson effective Feb. 20, 2018. His annual compensation will include a salary of $145,800 and $400 a month car allowance.

Former city manager Andi Welsh had a three-year contract with compensation including an initial salary of $128,760 and $400 a month car allowance. Less than a year after hiring Welsh, the city council raised her salary to $135,348.

Since Olson lives in Lemoore with his wife and children, he did not receive a relocation stipend of $2,000 as Welsh did.

A majority of the City Council can terminate the contract by providing 30 days written notice to Olson. Olson would be entitled to severance compensation for the remainder of his contract or six months’ pay, whichever is less.

At any time the Council can terminate him with cause by delivering a written notice to him.

Welsh had her contract amended so her severance would have 12 months instead of six months in the event of termination without cause.

During this meeting, there was also a decision to move forward with voting district map 104. This map was suggested by Shalice Tilton with the National Demographics Corporation to be the safe choice in regards to avoiding a lawsuit.

If a voting district can be drawn where a minority race has the majority in a district, the map must be used Tilton said. Map 104 had a district with 49 percent of people in the current voting age population identifying as Latino.

Sentinel file photo 

San Luis Reservoir, pictured here in March 2017, feeds Westlands Water District. Westlands will receive only 20 percent of amount of irrigation water they are contracted to receive annually from the Central Valley Project.

New charges brought against ex-Trump campaign associates

WASHINGTON — Dramatically escalating the pressure and stakes, special counsel Robert Mueller filed additional criminal charges Thursday against President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman and his business associate.

The filing adds allegations of tax evasion and bank fraud and significantly increases the legal jeopardy facing Paul Manafort, who managed Trump's campaign for several months in 2016, and longtime associate Rick Gates. Both had already faced the prospect of at least a decade in prison if convicted at trial.

The two men were initially charged in a 12-count indictment in October that accused them of a multimillion-dollar money-laundering conspiracy tied to lobbying work for a Russia-friendly Ukrainian political party. Manafort and Gates, who also worked on Trump's campaign, both pleaded not guilty after that indictment.

The new charges, contained in a 32-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Virginia, allege that Manafort and Gates doctored financial documents, lied to tax preparers and defrauded banks — using money they cycled through offshore accounts to spend lavishly, including on real estate, interior decorating and other luxury goods.

The new criminal case, assigned to U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, comes a week after a separate Mueller indictment charged 13 Russians and three companies in a conspiracy to undermine the 2016 U.S. presidential election through a hidden social media propaganda effort. The charges against Manafort and Gates don't relate to any allegations of misconduct related to Trump's campaign, though Mueller is continuing to investigate potential ties to the Kremlin.

Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni said in a statement that the former Trump campaign chairman is innocent and stressed that the charges "have nothing to do with Russia and 2016 election interference/collusion."

Manafort "is confident that he will be acquitted of all charges," Maloni said.

The charges against Manafort and Gates arise from their foreign lobbying and efforts that prosecutors say they made to conceal their income by disguising it as loans from offshore companies. More recently, after their Ukrainian work dwindled, the indictment also accuses them of fraudulently obtaining more than $20 million in loans from financial institutions.

The new indictment increases the amount of money Manafort, with the assistance of Gates, is accused of laundering to $30 million. It also charges Manafort and Gates with filing false tax returns from 2010 through 2014 and in most of those years concealing their foreign bank accounts from the IRS.

The indictment contains references to other conspirators who are accused of helping Manafort and Gates in obtaining fraudulent loans. It doesn't name the conspirators but notes that one of them worked at one of the lenders.

In a document that accompanied the new indictment, prosecutors said they had filed the charges in Virginia, rather than Washington where the other case is pending, because the alleged conduct occurred there and one of the defendants objected to them being brought in Washington. It did not say which defendant objected.

The indictment comes amid ongoing turmoil in the Manafort and Gates defense camps. Manafort has been unable to reach an agreement with prosecutors over the terms of his bail and remains under house arrest, while Gates' lawyers withdrew from the case after acknowledging "irreconcilable differences" with their client. A new lawyer, Thomas Green, entered an appearance Thursday on Gates' behalf.

Green confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday evening that he represented Gates but did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new charges.

Mueller was appointed in May to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. He took over an ongoing FBI investigation into Manafort's foreign lobbying work.

After a two-month stretch that produced no charges, the new indictment is part of a flurry of activity for Mueller's team within the past week.

Besides the charges against the Russians, Mueller's team on Tuesday unsealed a guilty plea from a Dutch lawyer who admitted he lied to investigators about his contacts with Gates.

Two other people who aided Trump in the campaign or in the White House — former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos — have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their foreign contacts. Neither man has been sentenced. Both are cooperating with the investigation.

Mueller is also examining whether Trump obstructed justice through actions including the firing last May of FBI Director James Comey. His team has expressed interest in interviewing the president.


Nathan Olson