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In the News - Friday, February 20, 2009


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)

The winter scene in the Giant Forest as viewed from the

Crescent Meadow Road. The road is currently snow-covered

and closed to vehicles, but is easily accessible

via cross-country skis or snowshoes.

Showers in weekend forecast

   It was short of an official drought-buster, but the powerful Pacific storm that moved through Kaweah Country earlier in the week had California water officials breathing a cautious sigh of relief. That’s because many areas in the foothills and mountains received rainfall measured in the inches and several feet of snow, respectively.
   The biggest amounts of snow accumulated in elevations above 7,000 feet. Reports from the Mineral King valley are indicating that there is now nearly six feet on the ground at 7,800 feet.
   The snow sensor at Farewell Gap (9,600 ft.) is indicating 92 inches on the ground with water content at 25 inches. That’s great news, especially in light of the paltry totals that had been reported on February 1.
   Those surveys were showing the statewide statistics for Sierra snow at approximately 66 percent of the norm. The February 16 to 17 storm nudged those totals upward to 80 percent with drainages in the central Sierra leading slightly over their northern and southern counterparts.
   In Three Rivers, rain gauges at 1,000 feet were brimming with 1.34 inches on Tuesday morning. Most of that accumulation came from intermittent downpours on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning.
   The total for the season so far in Three Rivers is 12.05 inches of rainfall. The current season is slowing closing the gap with last season but remains almost three inches behind the Feb. 20, 2008, total of 14.97 inches.
   But don’t wish for an instant replay of last year. For the rest of the 2008 season, it only rained three-and-a-half inches, and one inch of that total came in one storm (May 23-25).
   The 2008 Mineral King snowpack that measured 110 percent of normal on March 1 rapidly evaporated with a spring warming trend that was way too much too soon.
   Currently, there is a large, moisture-laden system making its way onto the West Coast. Low pressure is expected to cause the system to dig southward into Central California with the best chance for more rain and snow in Kaweah Country late Sunday.

State budget finally passed

   Each day that the State of California continued without a budget, the state government was running out of cash and threatening to lay off thousands, stop road and infrastructure projects, and shut down more healthcare programs. The stress and worry in Tulare County alone, California’s biggest per capita recipient, was enough to push public officials to the brink of disaster.
   But now the budget has been passed thanks to the fourth consecutive all-night lockdown. Nobody was permitted to leave until lawmakers had a deal.
   It will be some time until all the details are known but Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is touting the bipartisan reforms as creating a real opportunity for solving California’s budget crisis once and for all.

  “The problem is we still don’t know where all the cuts will come from and how to plan for them,” said Supervisor Allen Ishida.
The word he used to describe the 11th-hour negotiations in Sacramento was “hysteria.”
   The main stumbling block was how to close California’s unprecedented shortfall in excess of $41 billion. Adding even more to the hysteria was Senator Barbara Boxer, who on Wednesday threatened to rescind a huge chunk of federal stimulus cash.
   The most intense in-fighting was over $14 billion in new taxes being proposed to help shore things up.

  “Anyone who runs around and says that this can be done without raising taxes, I think, has not really looked at it carefully, or has a math problem and has to go back and take Math 101,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told members of the media Wednesday.
   Obviously frustrated, the Republican governor made the comments on the heels of Wednesday’s reorganization of the 15-member Senate Republican Caucus. The Republicans ousted Minority Leader Dave Cogdill of Fresno. Cogdill, who formerly opposed any new taxes but reversed his position in the past week, agreed to the proposal that would raise taxes by $14.4 billion.
   Cogdill apparently joined with Senator Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield) in supporting the new taxes. Sen. Ashburn represents Kern and Tulare counties, including Three Rivers. That Central Valley alliance had left budget proponents just one vote shy of the two-thirds majority for final approval.
   The swing vote came from Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria). He is a moderate who was holding out for a pledge that there will be political reforms including a ballot measure for creating a non-partisan system similar to county supervisors for state offices.
   According to supporters of that measure, office holders wouldn’t be tied to party lines and that could put an end to the annual budget bickering. Sen. Maldonado has also called for docking legislators’ pay when they fail to pass a budget on time.
   Apparently, a last-minute compromise was reached that at least included a new, open format for California primary elections.
   Now that the state budget has passed, a special election will be held May 19 to decide how the state raises and spends much of the money. At least five measures will be on the ballot, including revisions to three voter-approved measures that the budget mandates voters must decide.
   They include a lottery measure that allows the state to borrow $5 billion against future revenue and use the money for programs other than schools; revisions to Proposition 98, the school funding formula; Proposition 63 that will revise spending on mental health; Proposition 10 to eliminate the First 5 commission; and a spending cap constitutional amendment that would create a rainy-day fund for lean years.

Exeter’s newest mural

underway by 3R artist

   Jana Botkin knows all about Exeter’s citywide mural project. It was, in large part, her research and at her urging that the community decided to use murals as a tourist attraction beginning in the 1990s.
   Jana Botkin also knows Mineral King, which is the subject of the city’s newest mural to date. Jana met her husband Michael in Mineral King, they were married there in 1986, they share a summer cabin there, and it was Mineral King and its natural and historic landscape that inspired her to become a fulltime artist and owner of Cabinart.
   The new mural is located on the west side of E Street, just north of Pine (Exeter’s main street). At 104 feet, it is the longest of the city’s murals; it is 12 feet high.
   The mural will feature many familiar landmarks such as Sawtooth Peak, Mineral Peak, and Farewell Gap. But no artistic rendering of Mineral King would be complete without the historic cabins, which are the namesake of Jana’s business as well as were her first professional subjects. The cabins will be depicted on the mural within framed insets beneath the mountain range that runs the length of the wall.
   Stop by and watch Jana at work atop the scaffolding. Or virtually visit by logging on to her blog, where she reports on the day-to-day experience of taking on a project of this magnitude: www.cabinart.net/wordpress/ .

3R grad student flies high

at 42nd annual World Ag Expo

   The annual student competition sponsored by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ASABE), held in conjunction with Tulare’s World Ag Expo (February 10 to 12), is sedate compared to the frenzy of the 100,000 attendees roaming the endless rows of exhibits, vendor aisles, food booths, beer gardens, and demo stages. Held as a part of the ASABE annual meeting at the Edison AGTAC facility on the Expo grounds, there’s a friendly rivalry between students from Cal Poly and Fresno State.
   Both schools have excellent departments in agricultural engineering and industrial technology. Recently, Cal Poly has dominated the competition where the top two finishers in both the graduate and undergraduate divisions win prestigious awards.
   That was until last year when Nick Simonian of Three Rivers won first place for his aerial imaging project. In his second year in the graduate program at Fresno State, Nick, who will complete his Master’s of Science degree in Industrial Technology in June, repeated his first-place win in the graduate division.
   In the past year, Nick has perfected his invention and said he’s ready to launch some commercial applications.

  “The plane is now capable of fully autonomous flight,” Nick explained. “I can draw a path using Google Earth software, set the speed and altitude, and it will follow a set flight path and complete any number of tasks.”
   Think of the applications, Nick said, as he explained to all the visitors who stopped by the Edison AGTAC to see the posters on display that highlighted the student entries. The plane, he said, is equipped with a high-resolution digital camera that can take composite images of a farmer’s field, a river and its tributaries, a section of public lands, a house that’s being used for criminal activity, or from just about anywhere on the planet — and at a fraction of the cost of a full-size commercial aircraft.
   Nick designed and built his plane as a result of his passion for flying unmanned model airplanes. With his father Rod in tow, the aerodynamic duo spent many afternoons flying model airplanes at the old Three Rivers Airport, now the grounds adjacent to the Lions Roping Arena.
   Nick’s prototype plane weighs 3.5 pounds, has a wingspan of five feet, and measures three feet nose to tail. It has a runtime of 25 minutes, but that’s only limited by the battery technology.

  “The top speed is 65 m.p.h. with a climb rate of 800 feet per minute,” Nick said. “My prop-driven plane is powered by an electric motor using a polymer lithium battery.”
   But what really has Nick excited is how much he’s been able to improve the imaging capability. Recently, he said, he took a series of images of a 36-acre alfalfa field in 10 minutes.
   After patching the photos together on his computer, Nick created a mosaic image of the entire field.

  “I could see what part of the field was most productive and where there were problems and patches that weren’t growing anything at all,” Nick said. “In minutes, I had a strategy to help the rancher get more production from his acreage.”
   Nick said that’s just one of the most obvious uses for his invention. He’s already completed a mosaic of the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River (above photo) that could be used to spot all kinds of things from invasive plants to illegal construction work being done in the channel.

  “The challenge right now is to figure out where I want to go with the marketing of the commercial applications,” Nick said. “I guess you could say the sky is the limit.”

Cost of postage stamps to increase

   The U.S. Postal Service announced this week that the price of a one-ounce, first-class stamp will rise to 44 cents on May 11.
   Postmaster General John Potter said the price of a stamp is going up because operational costs for the Postal Service are rising while the recession is dragging down mail volume.
   The new price is expected to add about $3 to the average household’s annual mailing expenses, according to the Postal Service. The price for each additional ounce of first-class mail will remain at 17 cents.
   Consumers weary of the annual rise in the price of stamps can stock up on Forever Stamps for 42 cents each until May 11. They can be used on one-ounce letters “forever,” no matter what price stamps are currently selling for.
   Forever Stamps will still be available after May 11, but they will cost 44 cents.
   The price of several other mailing services will also go up on that day.
   It will cost one cent more to mail a postcard: 27 cents.
   The first ounce of a large envelope will rise five cents to 88 cents, while the first ounce of a parcel also goes up five cents, to $1.22.
International mail prices for a one-ounce letter or postcard will be 75 cents to Canada, 79 cents to Mexico, and 98 cents to other countries.
   The Postal Service annually adjusts the price of mailing services in May. Increases generally coincide with changes to the Consumer Price Index.

Grants offered for youth programs

   Grant applications are currently being accepted to benefit local nonprofit arts, sports and recreation, education, and health programs. Ruiz 4 Kids, a nonprofit foundation created by Ruiz Foods of Dinuba, is seeking youth-oriented programs to assist philanthropically.
   A grant application may be downloaded at www.ruiz4kids-.org. The deadline to submit the completed application is Thursday, Feb. 26, at 5 p.m.
   In 2008, a total of $167,780 was awarded to four Tulare County organizations as a part of Ruiz 4 Kids’s “Embracing Children’s Dreams” program.
   Ruiz 4 Kids was founded in 1990 specifically to assist children and families in Tulare County. The organization also distributes thousands of dollars annually in college scholarships to rural Tulare County high school seniors, including those at Woodlake High.
   The 2009 grants will be distributed during a presentation ceremony at the Visalia Convention Center in September.

Healthy Living
Weekly tip

   Fiber and its benefits— Fiber is the part of plant foods that your body isn’t able to use or digest. It is the broom of the digestive tract, sweeping out the buildups of toxic waste.
   Fiber is found in all edible plants, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. It can benefit your health by easing symptoms of some conditions, including constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticular disease, and hemorrhoids.
   Eating high-fiber foods can also lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, aid in weight loss by making you feel full faster, assists in the management of Type 2 diabetes by helping to keep blood glucose levels stable, and possibly contributes to the prevention of colon cancer by eliminating toxic substances from the colon.
   Men 50 and under should consume 38 grams of fiber per day; men over 50 need 30 grams daily.
   Women 50 and under should consume 25 grams of fiber per day; women over 50 need 21 grams daily.

   The amount of fiber is listed on the “Nutrition Facts” label on packaged foods. “Total fiber” is under in the “Carbohydrates” category.
   There are actually two types of fiber:
   Soluble fiber forms a gel when mixed with liquid, so it helps make loose stools more solid. It also binds to fats in the digestive system to help eliminate them and slows your body’s absorption of sugar. Soluble fiber is found in foods like oatmeal, nuts and seeds, dried beans, peas, lentils, strawberries, blueberries, apples, psyllium husks, flaxseeds, and citrus.
   Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stools to help foods move through the digestive system. It also holds water, so it softens stools to prevent constipation and promote regularity. Insoluble fiber is found in foods like seeds, popcorn, wheat bran, whole grains (such as whole-wheat bread and brown rice), and most vegetables.
   Add fiber to your diet gradually (one to three extra grams daily) to avoid bloating, cramping, or gas. It’s also important to increase the amount of water you drink as you increase your fiber intake.
   Add fiber to your diet by:
—Eating high-fiber cereals like bran flakes, shredded wheat, and oatmeal.
—Switching from white to whole wheat and whole grain (rice, pasta, tortillas, bread products, and flour when baking).
—Having vegetables and/or fruit at every meal.
—Snacking on nuts, popcorn, raw vegetables and fruits.
—Adding beans to soups, pasta, and salads.


THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
41841 Sierra Drive (Highway 198), Three Rivers, CA 93271
MAIL: P.O. Box 806, Three Rivers, CA 93271
(559) 561-3627 FAX: (559) 561-0118
© Copyright 2003-2009 The Kaweah Commonwealth