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Kings County: Feeling The Pulse


County Sports 1300 More Jobs Than Year Ago

The number of jobs in Kings County is up 1300 from a year ago. In February 2016 the county jobless rate was 11.3%,unchanged from January but down from February 2015 when it was 12.3%. Surprisingly, there were 400 more farm-related jobs in the county year-over-year despite the drought and 900 more non-farm jobs according to the EDD.

Rail/ Water Initiative Splits Farm Community

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 6.07.20 PMCentral Valley farmers are facing off over a ballot initiative to kill state bond funds for high speed rail that also yanks other bond money earmarked for important water storage projects.Locals don’t see eye-to-eye on the proposed constitutional amendment. On one side is the Kings County Farm Bureau and on the other are the chair of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, Steve Worthley, and small farmer advocate Manuel Cunha.
Worthley is also the chair of the new 5-county JPA working with the state Water Commission to secure state funding for Temperance Flat reservoir above Fresno. The Kings County representative on that JPA is Doug Verboon. Worthley has urged Californians not sign a petition to put the measure on the ballot. “This will set back water projects in the San Joaquin Valley for another  20 years” argues Worthley.
But the JPA as a group has taken no position and Verboon says the Kings County Board of  Supervisors has yet to weigh in.”I am sure we will be asked to take a position.”
The initiative, requiring a simple majority, would prioritize water projects with domestic uses first and irrigation uses second, over environmental, recreational, and other beneficial uses.It would reallocate eight billion dollars in state Prop 1A funds to be used for rail improvements and $2.7 billion in water storage purposes, to fund water storage projects for domestic and irrigation uses.
Westside Backers
The group supporting the measure calls it CA Water 4 All. Major contributors to the initiative include 26 Valley farm entities who are helping to fund signature gathering, most of them to the tune of $25,000. Some 15 farmers have Kings County addresses. Well known farmers from the area include Stone Land, Hansen Ranch,K&M Ag and Harris Ranch. Joining them is the Kings County Farm Bureau and the California Westside Farmers State PAC ($50,000) and California Water Alliance.
Those opposed say not so fast. It’s not that they want to save high speed rail but they fear progress already being made to fund the Valley’s most important new water projects will be lost.
Recently the Kings County Farm Bureau made the case for the measure. “The KCFB board decided to support the initiative” because they “favor redirecting high-speed rail funding to water storage projects.”
“As we enter the fifth year of drought, it’s clear to the board that redirecting up to $8 billion of unissued high-speed rail bonds to building water storage and supply projects statewide is a far better use of this money,” suggested KCFB President Josh Bettencourt.
“We must find a way to protect and increase the state’s water supply, and the board feels that this measure provides reasonable solutions for correcting the current deficiencies,” Bettencourt said.
Meanwhile a group of central San Joaquin Valley agriculture, government and Latino leaders and a group of northern California farmers are urging Californians not to sign petitions being circulated to put the measure on the ballot.
Speaking against the plan is Tulare Supervisor Steve Worthley who also heads up a newly organized water authority aiming to nail down Prop 1A funds for Temperance Flat and Sites Reservoir, each key water storage projects.
Worthley says some $2.7 billion was approved by two-thirds of California voters for water projects and the local authority to secure funding from the state early next year is far along that path.State funding of over $1 billion for Temperance Flat could help insure the federal government make up the difference on the estimated $3 billion needed to build the new dam.
“We’re fully engaged in the process that’s been created by Prop. 1,” says Worthley. “This constitutional amendment would basically change the whole dynamic, pull the money out from under the commission and give it to another authority that doesn’t even exist today.”
Fresno farm leader Manuel Cunha agrees that it would“ take away the millions of dollars and hours that were spent crafting the Prop. 1 water bond to build both Temperance and Sites.”
In recent weeks northern California rice farmers as well as environmental groups like the Nature Conservancy came out against the initiative.

Westlands Solar Park Urges Transmission Upgrades

Westlands Solar Park (WSP), a Visalia-based solar development group, is urging regulators build transmission infrastructure to connect the increasing load of solar power projects in and around Westlands Water District.The group is meeting this month with California energy regulators who are discussing how and where to meet the state’s 50% goal for renewable energy. Working in partnership with the water district, the landowner-based group says there are pending master plans for 6500MW within the water district and 3000MW in the Central Valley that are in line in the state CAISO interconnection queue.The Westlands Water District is expecting to sell some 20,000 acres of retired farmland to solar developers.
But “transmission planning in the San Joaquin Valley is lacking“ points out WSP spokesman Daniel Kim at a March 16 California Energy Commission workshop. He says Kings County alone has 1060MW of pending as well as approved utility-size solar projects. They argue the mid-state location and the lack of environmental impacts make it a good place to connect more solar to the state’s grid. Millions of dollars of transmission upgrades could attract more solar to the Central Valley.

Pesticide Use Falls Statewide and In Kings County

The amount of pesticides used statewide declined in 2014 according to data from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. For a second year in a row, there was a drop in the use of various chemical categories including carcinogens, fumigants, and those with the potential to contaminate ground water. Among the findings – The use of carcinogenic pesticides dropped 6.5 percent to 30.01 million pounds, down from about 32.09 million in 2013. In 2012 California used 33.83 million pounds. The use of pesticides with the potential to pollute the air dropped 5.75 percent to 44.1 million pounds, down from 46.79 million in 2013. In 2012 California used 49.22 million pounds.  The use of fumigant pesticides dropped to 40.39 million pounds, down 5.44 percent from about 42.71 million in 2013. In 2012 California used 44.96 million pounds.
In Kings County total pounds of pesticide applied fell from 7.4 million to 6.9 million year-over-year.

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