farm bureau

From left, Ben Curti, daughter Tessa Hall and John Guthrie, Tulare County Farm Bureau president.

On May 3 the Corcoran City Council voted to settle a city-initiated lawsuit against the nearby Curtimade Dairy, records show. City Clerk Marlene Spain confirms that the council voted in closed session to settle the long-standing legal action and reported that out that evening.

”Since then there has been no update,” said Spain.

Online, the settlement notice first appeared in the city's May 25 agenda packet. The council vote was unanimous.

In their complaint, the city had argued that their municipal water wells were increasingly contaminated with high nitrates beginning back in 2004, testing above acceptable limits for toxicity. "Since then nitrate levels have only increased."

Meanwhile, "the city has undertaken an expensive and unsustainable mitigation while at the same time assessing the case of the on-going increasing contamination that is coming from their adjacent neighbor, defendant Curtimade Dairy."

The suit claims Curtimade’s operation produces more than 200 million pounds of manure and almost 800 million gallons of wastewater. That water is applied to about 1,000 acres of land not far from city wells.

In their legal filing, first bought by the city about six years ago against the family dairy, and in subsequent filings, the city asked for $65 million in damages from the contaminated water. The matter has been slow to move forward but had been scheduled to go to court later in 2021.

Curti’s lawyers have suggested that the suit was spearheaded by City Manager Kindon Meik, when the city voted in June of 2015 to pursue legal action against the dairy. They say the case started with a notice of intent to sue for $8 to $9 million, which morphed to a lawsuit seeking $65 million worth of damages by August of 2019.

Meik stepped down as city manager earlier this year.

Curti's lawyers have argued that their nitrate levels applied to the soil have not been out of compliance and that they are monitored by the state.

They argue there is no firm evidence that the 100-year-old dairy has contaminated city water wells. Meanwhile the dairy industry has carried on a full court press against the city fearing this would be a precedent to go after other Central Valley dairies.

In the past year the California dairy industry and the Kings and Tulare County Farm Bureaus have collected donations to help the Curti family in their battle with the city. Farm Bureau leaders also say they are concerned about the precedent aspects that the lawsuit might mean.

Meanwhile the Curti family have said that if they lose they could go out of business. They argue that the city should negotiate with landowners and want the city to seek public funds to drill new wells and seek grants.

Curti attorney Leonard Herr has argued that the burden rests on Corcoran to prove their water was specifically contaminated by Curtimade Dairy. The town is — after all — surrounded by thousands of acres of farmland, farm operations, who all till with fertilizers that may or may not have migrated.

In recent years, the whole town has been sinking with the earth collapsing more than 11 feet, bringing down well infrastructure, levees and canals in the area due to ag water pumping during times of drought.

More news coverage of sinking town of Corcoran

This year’s drought in Kings County makes it likely area farmers will pump more groundwater to supply their crops, again making more bad news for Corcoran-area infrastructure over the next 12 months, suggests a handful of recent news articles.

“Over the past decade, the farming town of Corcoran, California, has been sinking two feet every year as agriculture firms pump underground water to irrigate crops.”

“The 7.47 square-mile area in California's San Joaquin Valley has 21,960 people and has sunk 11.5 feet in the last 14 years.

While Corcoran has sunk about four feet in several places since 2015, the city could sink to another six to eleven feet over the next two decades.”

“…The Corcoran Irrigation District had to build three lift stations to pump water through ditches due to infrastructure disruption.

The river used to flow by gravity alone. Still, the sinking caused sags in the ditches, causing the water to collect rather than flow out. Hence, the district had to spend $1.2 million over ten years on lift stations to help propel the water along, with farmers footing the bill, according to the New York Times.

The newspaper report claimed that the levee had fallen from 195 feet when it was constructed in 1983 to 188 feet in 2017.”

Fire reaching higher mountain elevations

A UC Merced study found the potential is great for forest fires in the west to impact higher elevations due to climate change. Published May 24, 2021, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study found that forest fires are now reaching higher, normally wetter elevations. And they are burning there at rates unprecedented in recent fire history.

While some people focus on historical fire suppression and other forest management practices as reasons for the West’s worsening fire problem, these high-elevation forests have had little human intervention.

As wildfires creep higher up mountains, another tenth of the West’s forest area is now at risk, according to the study.

Stay-at-home survey found more cigarette smoking

According to a new study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, smokers reported smoking more cigarettes following the COVID-19 lockdown order in California. The study cites stress levels to blame.

UC Merced's Nicotine and Cannabis Policy Center (NCPC) researchers did a similar survey in the 11 county Central Valley and reported the same results.

Researchers on the project pointed out that when smokers stayed home during the lockdown, they were no longer covered by California smoke-free workplace laws, which prohibit smoking and vaping indoors. This is important because smoke-free laws, such as those prohibiting smoking in the workplace, may be an important tool that not only protect people from toxic secondhand smoke, but that also can prompt smokers to reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke, or quit altogether.

Hanford could get ReStore

The City of Hanford may sell a surplus lot at 426 W. Lacey with an L shaped building on it, to Habitat for Humanity who want to open one of their popular ReStores. The property was acquired by the City on Dec. 19, 1990. The site was formerly occupied by Goodwill Industries from 2013 to 2016.

Water shortages affect tomato plantings

In the wake of water shortages, food processors have reduced the number of tomatoes they plan to buy from California farmers. A new USDA estimate says tomato acreage will be down nearly 4% from an original planting-intentions survey released in January. The report cites “concern over water availability” for the reduction. It says tomatoes that were planted have been “developing nicely,” and that the overall crop could still be larger than last year’s. 

But acreage is down including a top producer Fresno County who leads with 62,000 acres compared to 72,000 acres planted in 2020. Kings' acreage this year will be 26,000 acres — also down from 2020 when there were 28,400 acres planted, says USDA.

California Farm Bureau contributed to this story.

California median home price reaches $814,000

California Association of Realtors reports that in April the median price for an existing home in California reached an eye popping record. April’s statewide median home price was $813,980, up 7.2 percent from March and up 34.2 percent from April 2020. Home sales soared from last year’s pandemic-level lows.

In Kings County the median price was $305,000 — up smartly from $261,000 a year ago. Sales, year over year, were up 30%.

However the number of new homes being built in Kings County is down through May, said Construction Monitor. During the first five months of 2021 Kings jurisdiction permitted just 56 new homes compared to 122 during the same period last year and 174 during the first five months of 2019.

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