By Tim Reid (Reuters) - In the middle of one of the worst droughts in California's history, no one knows exactly how many agencies supply the state with water. While state regulators supervise three companies that provide gas and electricity for most of California, drinking water is delivered through a vast network of agencies which collectively do billions of dollars of business, setting rates and handing out contracts with scant oversight. There are so many agencies, in fact, that the California Department of Water Resource, which is responsible for managing and protecting the state's water, concedes that it does not even know the exact number. "We think the total number is about 3,000 but there is no definitive resting place for those numbers," a department spokesman said. Some state officials and water experts are calling for change, arguing that the process of providing water should be as clear as the product, especially in the middle of a drought. As one of the nation's agricultural leaders and a trendsetter in environmental regulation, California's actions could be felt beyond its borders. Wes Strickland, an attorney who specializes in water law, says most of these water agencies do a good job. Cities and towns like controlling their own resources, and most of the agencies are elected, assuring a level of accountability. But, Strickland says, good and bad, most operate "under the radar", with little public scrutiny. "These agencies are at the forefront of the drought response," he added. John Chiang, the California state controller, is pushing for legislation that will increase fines for public water entities that fail to file annual reports with his office, although no agency is responsible for reading the reports once filed. "The lack of transparency provides a breeding ground for unchecked spending, corruption, and fiscal mismanagement," said Chiang, who in October warned nine cities and 117 special districts, some of which were public entities solely responsible for managing and supplying water, that they were delinquent in filing financial records. Just 138 utilities - those owned by investors - are regulated by an outside body, the California Public Utilities Commission, Strickland says. The rest are governed by small boards of locally-elected officials. The former general manager and other unidentified current and former officials at one major water system, southern California's Central Basin Municipal Water District, are accused in a recent whistleblower lawsuit of using a secret $2.7 million fund for groundwater storage as a "slush fund" that funneled cash to political allies, board members and relatives. The lawsuit was filed last month by district board member Leticia Vasquez. Under the whistleblower statute she would stand to gain financially if the lawsuit succeeds. The agency's own lawyers, in a report issued at the end of March after a nine-month investigation, said the water district violated California's open-meeting laws when it created the fund out of the public eye. The former general manager has not yet filed a legal response to the allegations. Efforts to contact him were unsuccessful. The water district said if the case proceeds, it intends to fully cooperate. Records relating to the fund were among those subpoenaed by federal officials last year as part of a wider and ongoing FBI investigation into the financial activities of the water district, which sells imported water to water districts in Los Angeles county. Three subpoenas, seen by Reuters, requested financial records, documents and personnel records from the water district. The FBI and the water district declined to comment or confirm an investigation. California's drought, which is on track to be the third worst since records began in the early 20th century, according to state officials, threatens to have devastating effects in the state and beyond. Farmers are considering idling a half million acres of cropland, a loss of production that could cause billions of dollars in economic damage, and several small communities are at risk of running out of drinking water. The state also recorded its driest winter to date by March. The state's snowpack, which provides water in the spring melt, is at a record low. From the water wars in the movie "Chinatown" to the quote attributed to Mark Twain, "Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting," water in the West has a long history of strife. As California was settled, small communities would establish their own water wells. Economic and political power often stemmed from water rights and no single entity has ever been put in charge of the system, Strickland says. Some of these agencies are scrambling to get new sources of water, which could require wells, water imports and plants to treat tainted water. THE COST OF WATER Water is expensive. For instance, 885 "special districts", which provide drinking water for 11 million Californians had operating expenses of $7.3 billion for fiscal year ending 2012. Their long-term bond debt amounted to $20 billion, according to the controller's office. The state is planning an $8 billion water bond and Democratic assemblyman Anthony Rendon, a sponsor, wants to put provisions for stricter oversight of how bond money is spent. "Past water bonds have gone to so many different places for so many things it is hard to keep track of the money. We don't really have a place where we can find out that information," Rendon said. "There is very little oversight over the management of one of our most sacred and vital resources." State data shows that salaries to water district employees vary widely and that some small agencies are paying big-city wages. The state controller's website, where the latest available records date to 2011, shows the average salary to employees in 45 top-paying water special districts listed by wage totals is over $70,000, and over $100,000 in two districts. The chief executive of the Dublin San Ramon Service District in northern California, which serves 157,000 people, will receive wage and benefits of nearly $338,000 for 2014, according to a water district official. That compares with $345,000 paid to the general manager of the Department of Water and Power (DWP) in Los Angeles - America's second largest city with a population of 3.8 million. Sue Stephenson, a spokeswoman for the Dublin San Ramon district, defended the high salaries, stating that the San Francisco Bay area had a high cost of living. She also said managing a water district is an extremely responsible job, as clean water has to be on tap for users every minute of every day. Most of the agencies are run by elected boards that have to file basic revenue and spending documents, and wage and benefit totals, to California's state controller. But they do not file full budgets and their contracts are not subject to review or singled out in filings. "Nobody pays any attention to these districts. So nobody knows what is going on," said Robert Stern, an open government advocate and an author of California's Political Reform Act, a post-Watergate era law designed to make government more financially transparent. In the Seeley County Water District, which serves just under 400 homes in the desert near the border with Mexico, General Manager David Dale resigned in March 2008. The following month his company Dynamic Consulting Engineers received no-bid contracts from the water district's board worth over $200,000, followed by another contract worth over $200,000 in 2010, to undertake engineering work, according to copies of the signed contracts provided by the water district. Dale said he was giving the board what it wanted by undertaking engineering work, but current Board Director Patrick Harris, who came into office calling for more reform, said the contracts show the lack of accountability. "I can't say it's illegal. But my impression is it's unethical. There was absolutely no oversight," Harris said. Dale said: "Districts are not required to go to competitive bidding for professional services. The board selected me. And before they selected me, I stepped down as general manager." (Reporting by Tim Reid, editing by Peter Henderson)
- Associated Press
Trashed on social media and censured by Louisiana Republicans, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy described himself Wednesday as “at peace” with his vote to convict former President Donald Trump at his impeachment trial and dismissed the scorching GOP backlash he's received. Cassidy joined six other Senate Republicans in voting with Democrats on Feb. 13 to convict Trump of inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in an impeachment trial that saw the former president acquitted.
Eddie Murphy says Ryan Coogler tried to make a 'Coming to America' sequel starring Michael B. Jordan - but he didn't like the idea
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- National Review
A federal judge on Tuesday indefinitely banned the Biden administration from enforcing a 100-day pause on deportations of most illegal immigrants in response to a lawsuit from Texas, which argued that the moratorium violated federal law and could saddle the state with additional costs. U.S. district judge Drew Tipton issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday, dealing a blow to President Biden’s efforts to follow through on his campaign promise to pause most deportations. The pause would not have applied to those who have engaged in terrorism or espionage or who pose a danger to national security. It would also have excluded those who were not present in the U.S. before November 1, 2020, those who agreed to waive the right to remain, and those whom the ICE director individually determined need to be removed by law. Tipton first ruled on January 26 that the pause violated federal law on administrative procedure and that the U.S. failed to show why a deportation pause was justified. He issued a temporary two-week restraining order, which was set to expire Tuesday. Texas attorney general Ken Paxton argued that Biden’s January 20 memorandum violated federal law and an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security that Texas be consulted before reducing immigration enforcement or pausing deportations. As part of the agreement, DHS must give Texas 180 days notice of any proposed change on any matter that would reduce enforcement or increase the number of “removable or inadmissible aliens” in the United States. However, the ruling does not require deportations to resume at their previous pace and immigration agencies have broad discretion in enforcing removals and processing cases. In the wake of the first ruling, authorities deported hundreds of people to Central America and 15 people to Jamaica. The administration has also continued deportations that began under the Trump administration due to a public-health law in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
- Reuters Videos
The minority community of several hundred thousand was decimated first by al Qaeda's rise in the early 2000s and later by Islamic State, which brutally persecuted them and other minority faiths and sects.For many of those who remained, or have returned to Iraq where free worship is again possible, Pope Francis' visit from March 5-8 is welcome recognition of how they have suffered for their beliefs.The trip by the 84-year-old leader of the world's Catholics was announced in December, and will take in the capital Baghdad, as well as Ur, a city linked to the Old Testament figure of Abraham, and Erbil, Mosul, and Qaraqosh in the plain of Nineveh.
- Reuters Videos
More details are emerging over the extent of injuries suffered by Tiger Woods, following his major car accident on Tuesday.In a statement posted on the golf icon’s Twitter account Woods needed to have fractures of his tibia and fibula bones stabilized with a rod.Screws and pins also had to be used for other injuries to his foot and ankle.It goes on to add that the 45-year-old was awake, responsive, and recovering after surgery at Harbor UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.It was not immediately clear what effect the accident might have on his career.Woods was already out of golf action, even before this latest accident, when his car careened off a road and rolled down a hillside early Tuesday morning.He'd been hosting the PGA tour's annual Genesis Invitational at the nearby Riviera Country Club over the weekend, although he did not compete.Woods had a fifth back surgery in December and was quoted only last weekend as saying he was hopeful of playing in April’s Masters in Augusta - a tournament he’s won five times and the scene of his incredible comeback victory in 2019.Messages and tributes have been posted on social media from a host of sporting well wishers.Fellow major winning golfer Phil Mickelson wrote "We are all pulling for you. We are so sorry that you and your family are going through this tough time. Everyone hopes and prays for your full and speedy recovery."Another former champion Ernie Els said of Els “We've been friends a very long time, obviously I'm concerned for his well being. He's always been a fighter and I hope he fully recovers very soon."
- Business Insider
Manhattan DA reportedly looking into Donald Trump Jr. as part of investigation into his dad's business dealings
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- Business Insider
After suing Mike Lindell, Sidney Powell, and Rudy Giuliani, Dominion says it will go after others who spread claims of election fraud - and it's 'not ruling anyone out'
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- USA TODAY Opinion
'What you need to know is that my client believes he won Georgia, the Electoral College and the presidency. As crazy as that sounds, he believes it.'
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- Associated Press
Now, one of the first works of art to emerge in their place depicts an unsung hero of the Lewis and Clark expedition. A huge bust of York, a Black man who was enslaved by William Clark and who was the first African-American to cross the continent and reach the Pacific Ocean, is sitting atop a pedestal amid a lushly forested park in Portland, Oregon. It was placed there in the dead of night last weekend by persons unknown.
- Associated Press Videos
The White House says it continues to stand by Neera Tanden, President Joe Biden's pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, despite the opposition of a growing number of Senators, throwing her nomination increasingly into doubt. (Feb. 23)
- The Telegraph
HMS Queen Elizabeth faces a high risk of “incidents” when it is deployed to the South China Sea, experts have warned. It comes as China said recently that it would carry out "necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty", after it was confirmed that the aircraft carrier, which will be escorted by two Type 45 destroyers, two Type 23 frigates, a nuclear submarine, a Tide-class tanker and RFA Fort Victoria, would travel to the region in its first operational mission. When Boris Johnson was foreign secretary in 2018 he said: “One of the first things we will do with the two new colossal aircraft carriers that we have just built is send them on a freedom of navigation operation to this area, to vindicate our belief in the rules-based international system, and in the freedom of navigation through those waterways which are absolutely vital for world trade.” However, Charles Parton, OBE, senior associate fellow at Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) a British defence and security think tank, warned on Tuesday that as there are more sailings “through the South China Sea we will see more tensions around them, and therefore a greater risk of an incident”. Meia Nouwens, senior fellow for Chinese Defence Policy and Military Modernisation at The International Institute for Strategic Studies, also told the Commons Defence Select Committee that China’s “development of submersibles and unmanned underwater vehicles present an added challenge”. She said: “We know China is developing these capabilities. Where this goes … will be an added challenge in terms of how we deal with grey zone tactics.” Ms Nouwens also noted “the uptick in tempo of exercises” being seen from China and warned that the greater number of air incursions from the People’s Liberation Army, both with different special mission and combat aircraft, was something the UK “should be careful of”. She said so far there have been 44 incursions by the Chinese in 2021, which have been “multiple at both day and night time”. Moreover, Ms Nouwens cautioned that the “vast uptick in types and numbers of these exercises really increases the risk of miscalculation, misunderstanding and misinterpretation, and that’s something we should be careful of.”
- The Week
Tiger Woods has been hospitalized after sustaining injuries in a car accident. The legendary golfer was involved in a "single vehicle roll-over traffic collision" on Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said. The vehicle sustained "major damage," and Woods was extracted from the wreck by firefighters and paramedics with the "Jaws of Life," according to the department. Woods, who was the vehicle's only occupant, was taken to a local hospital for his injuries, officials said. TMZ notes he was in the area for the Genesis Invitational golf tournament. According to CNN, the Los Angeles County Fire Department described his injuries as "moderate to critical." Woods' agent told Golf Digest he "suffered multiple leg injuries" in the accident and "is currently in surgery." The agent added, "We thank you for your privacy and support." Tiger Woods’ vehicle after the crash this morning that now has him in surgery for what his agent is calling “multiple leg injuries.” pic.twitter.com/VbI5qvyj8g — Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 23, 2021 More stories from theweek.comThe MyPillow guy might be Trump's ultimate chumpThe 'most encouraging' aspect of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine may be its effectiveness in South Africa, BrazilLate night hosts laugh at Rudy Giuliani literally running from his $1.3 billion lawsuit, tie in CPAC
Britain must show it is fully using the avenues available under the Brexit divorce deal to minimise trade disruption in Northern Ireland before seeking concessions, a senior EU official said on Tuesday. Britain's exit from the EU's trading orbit in January has created trade barriers between Northern Ireland - which remains in the EU's single market for goods - and the rest of the United Kingdom. Maros Sefcovic, a vice president of the European Commission, said he hoped to learn of British efforts during an online meeting on Wednesday .
U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told lawmakers that U.S. mail system is losing $10 billion a year and urgently needs reform and legislative relief from Congress. "I would suggest that we are on a death spiral," DeJoy told the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform committee at a hearing Wednesday, who did not rule out changing first-class deliver standards or other significant changes. DeJoy, a supporter of former President Donald Trump appointed to head the Postal Service last year, suspended operational changes in August after heavy criticism over postal delays.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher are one of Hollywood's most private couples. Here's a timeline of their 20-year relationship.
Fisher has said being with Cohen is like "winning the lottery" ... even if she has to deal with his many shenanigans.
A 22-year-old Russian social media influencer is facing heavy criticism online for posing naked on top of an endangered elephant in Bali, Indonesia for her 553,000 Instagram followers. Alesya Kafelnikova received backlash for the short video she posted on Feb. 13, where she was filmed lying naked on top of a “critically endangered” Sumatran elephant, according to The Sun. In a follow-up post, Kafelnikova shared an image presumably with the same elephant and said in the caption, “To love nature is human nature.”
European Union government leaders will agree on Thursday to maintain curbs on non-essential travel within the EU despite the bloc's executive asking six countries to ease border restrictions on Tuesday. Unilateral moves by EU member countries to combat the spread of new coronavirus variants has disrupted the flow of goods within the bloc's 27-nation single market and risks shutting parts of the Franco-German border. Draft conclusions for an EU leaders video-conference on Thursday and Friday, seen by Reuters, said countries would agree non-essential travel in the bloc must remain restricted because the risk of COVID-19 contagion remains serious and new variants of the virus pose additional challenges.
- The Week
In a two-page memo addressed to GOP donors, voters, leaders, and activists, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) declared: "The Republican Civil War is now canceled." It isn't clear if his fellow Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, are listening. Scott is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and in the memo, first obtained by Fox News, he writes that Democrats control the White House, Senate, and House, but Republicans have a path to victory in 2022. To win, the GOP must move on from the "impeachment show" and stop with the infighting, he said, adding that a Republican Civil War "does not need to be true, should not be true, and will not be true." While Scott wants unity, not all Republicans are on the same page. After Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican, voted to impeach Trump last month, she was censured by the Wyoming Republican Party and asked to resign. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voted to acquit Trump, but still said there is "no question that former President Trump bears responsibility" for the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. This remark roused Trump, who had been flying under the radar during the trial. He called McConnell a "dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack," and said if Republican senators "are going to stay with him, they will not win again. Where necessary and appropriate, I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again." Three GOP senators are retiring in 2022 — Richard Burr (N.C.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), and Rob Portman (Ohio) — and Scott has said the NRSC will support the remaining incumbents from primary challenges. Trump is letting people know he isn't done with McConnell, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman tweeted Tuesday. Last week, Trump and former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) met for golf and dinner, and people briefed on the day told Haberman "it did not go well." Trump reportedly had "retribution" on his mind, and was focused on McConnell and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who did not go along with Trump's plot to overturn Georgia's election results. Perdue had been contemplating running again in 2022, but said Tuesday he won't. Although no longer in office, Trump still has the support of a majority of Republicans. A Suffolk University/USA Today poll of 1,000 Trump supporters conducted last week found that 46 percent would ditch the Republican Party and join a Trump party if he started one, with 27 percent saying they wouldn't and the rest undecided. A majority said they had more loyalty to Trump than the GOP, and 50 percent said the Republican Party should become "more loyal to Trump." More stories from theweek.comThe MyPillow guy might be Trump's ultimate chumpThe 'most encouraging' aspect of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine may be its effectiveness in South Africa, BrazilLate night hosts laugh at Rudy Giuliani literally running from his $1.3 billion lawsuit, tie in CPAC