Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bottles, Bottles Everywhere, Just to take a Drink

In case you've been living under or in a rock for the last year or so, the ubiquitous plastic water bottles that grew into the hands of many affluent humans during the last decade have quickly become Politically Uncorrect (PU) and most of us are seeking better ways to carry a small convenient container of drinking water around with us. I recently bought six stainless steel bottles from a small company named Nubius Organics in Santa Cruz. We will use these at home and while strolling around the 'hood.

Today I read a bolg post by Mellissa Byer, ranting about a new bottled water called Tap'dNY, which is, as the name implies, botlled municipal New York City tap water. What set off Ms. Byer was the claim on the label that "No Glaciers Were Harmed in the Bottling of this Water." What purity this water represents is offset by the greenwashing spin of this marketing BS that ignores the carbon cost of bottling and then trucking any water to a potential consumer.

This great video produced Quest for KQED in San Francisco puts the plastic water bottle in its proper perspective

There is an inexpensive way for managing the taste and quality of the tap water, which, in our neighborhood, is fairly good quality well water from a well field a few thousand feet downstream on the west bank of Coyote Creek at East Santa Clara Street and South Seventeenth Street. We use a Brita brand carbon filter that fits into a two-part pitcher and lasts about a month and costs about $5.00. This company is a subsidiary of Chlorox, the makers of the disinfectant of choice of most water companies to protect the water while it is in the pipelines from microbial growth, but which also give tap water its bad rap, causing a foul taste. So the same company that causes the problem, also profits in removing it. What a great business plan!

But Chlorox was recently challenged to stop manufacturing a plastic-case filter containing expensive activated carbon that was simply (for them) disposable. A woman in Oakland, CA created a website called TAKE BACK THE FILTER and began collecting used Brita filters to stage a political action/press conference at Chlorox Headquarters during a shareholders meeting. This example of Blessed Unrest has now caused this large corporation to agree to start taking back its filters in January 2009, which may soon lead to the redesign of the filter product to make it easier to deprocess and reuse the components. Actually, as noted on Beth Terry's blog site, Fake Plastic Fish, she reveals that Brita's filters sold in Europe are recyclable, but not those manufactured for consumption in the US. Wasup with that?

To read more about tap water filter options, click here.

Never Thirst!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Michael Pollan for Farmer In Chief

I have written several posts on growing food locally. My last post was on the potential demise of food production in the San Joaquin Valley due to all the salt that's in the irrigation water.

Today I watched the PBS video archive of Bill Moyers interviewing Michael Pollan and encouraging him to accept, if offered, the cabinet post of Secretary of Agriculture in the Obama cabinet.

Instead of suffering through more of my verbosity on the subject of local food production, I encourage you to view this two-part video interview.


Never Hunger, Never Thirst!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Salt of the Earth

The San Joaquin Valley is the California poster child for desertification through salinization of its soils from using water from the Federal Central Valley Project. This water contains 2 million tons of salt, applied through out each successive irrigation season.

The oceans are the planetary depository for salt. The continents have been contributing salt to the oceans since rain began to fall from the atmosphere. Humans add their piece to the salt flow with their activities, greatly accelerating the salt flow from certain watersheds.

Industrial agriculture adds enormous salt loads to the receiving waters upstream of the ocean and re-distributes salt downstream through irrigation projects, mainly financed by the federal government.

Twenty five years ago, the State was prepared to build a canal around the eastern edge of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and thereby reduce this salt load by half and further restrict pumping if salt levels were too high to deliver water during droughts. That essential piece of plumbing was then called the Peripheral Canal and these have become the most dreaded two words in Sacramento.

In response to the State, certain large agricultural interests financed a campaign to stop the Peripheral Canal with a referendum to reverse the state legislative actions which authorized the Department of Water Resources to build the final link in this massive water system. Most support to kill the canal came from the Delta farmers and cotton empires of the Salyer and JG Boswell, built mostly in Tulare Lake and surrounding wetlands. Read excerpts from The King of California here.

With the success of this one ballot measure, San Joaquin Valley farmers fired the poison dart that would steal this 100 year effort by the US Bureau of Reclamation to reclaim these arid lands for production of food and fiber to supply our nation and much of the world. Over the past twenty-five years, the farm lands have been laced with 50 million tons of salt delivered with the irrigation water, twice as salty as it would have been if the Peripheral Can had been built.

It is while these lands are still a viable agricultural resource that we need to act.

I'd like to see California push toward more sustainable agriculture by lowering the salt content of the irrigation water in the San Joaquin Valley rather than watch the land owners salt it in and then develop the salt flats with urbanscape. This means we build the peripheral canal and design it for considerable sea level rise.

Congress should act soon to simply halt all water rights if land use conversion removes it from its agricultural purposes, even if it is due to loss of productivity due to soil pollution. This will create a major shift in protecting our national agricultural resources by making all farmers perpetual stewards of the land, in exchange for a government-developed supply of water.

This proposal would bring the ag lobby to arms like you've never seen it, but it will be good to force them to show their hand (and strong arm behind it!)

George Miller is one of the few members of Congress who could kick off something like this. Congressman Henry Waxman in Southern California could be his strong ally. Senate allies will probably have to come from outside California, as our incumbent Senators Feinstein and Boxer are already owned by the ag lobby.

When the Peripheral Canal was stopped 25 years ago, I started calling the San Joaquin Valley the new Metropolis of SacroBake, home to 30 million future California residents, unable to grow even a backyard garden in this newly created desert, wondering where their next water will come from: the sky or the good graces of the water managers who control any water coming from the ground or aqueducts and still able to pass the health standards set for salinity? Listen to NPR audio track on California Delta Faces Salty Future.

The world may yet mark us down as one more society that crumbled because of mismanaged irrigated agriculture and a self-imposed victim of too much Salt of The Earth.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Piled Higher and Deeper

One way to REDUCE your flow of garbage to our local landfills is to compost your food scraps from your kitchen. Composting is pretty simple, but if you need guidance you can take a short course at Emma Prusch Park or read more by clicking here.

I use a PHD approach, simply Piled Higher and Deeper. My compost pile is just that, a pile of dirt near my garden where I bury the contents of my compost bucket when it's full or getting too ripe for the kitchen. Actually, we separate some of our food scraps into other containers for the chickens or rabbits, which serves as some of the feed for our livestock, who then in turn contribute their manure for further enriching our garden's fertility.

But food scraps are actually the smallest component of my weekly disposal of unwanted stuff, which includes such things as packaging, bottles, cans, junk mail, newspapers, bill envelopes and stuffers. There's also paper scraps from my wife's art work and broken or obsolete small appliances and electronics. All these items are placed religiously into our RECYCLE bins.

If you live in San Jose, you know that we no longer need to separate our recycling into different bins, although I still do. A former Director of Environmental Services, Carl Mosher, thought it would be more "cost effective" to have residents dump all their recyclables into a 96-gallon wheeled cart and have paid workers separate it at a central processing plant.

This one ill-conceived decision led to the downfall of one San Jose mayor and his would-be successor. The new garbage cart would, in theory, eliminate the need for one teamster from the collection crew and be replaced with lower cost workers at the separation conveyor belt who would belong to a different union.

But the Teamsters did not take well to this elimination of a quarter of their drivers, so they demanded that the separation crew be members of the Teamsters union, and the cost would be an extra $5 million over the duration of the contract.

Mayor Ron Gonzales met with the garbage company officials and soon realized that he was in a lose-lose situation. If the Teamsters didn't get their way, they would call for a strike and his political career would soon be in serious jeopardy. Instead, he agreed to get the company the extra money that the teamster-separators would cost, but tried to hide the reason from the council and the public. This eventually led to a grand jury indictment and a call for his resignation by the press and some of the council members.

All this political brouhaha was brought on by one civil(ization) engineer who used economics alone to make a societal shift away from personal responsibility for the materials San Jose residents purchased and throw away (even though there is no away) When residents were using recycling bins to separate their cans, bottles, paper and cardboard, they were providing both a valuable ($5million) volunteer service for City and informally taking a measure of the type and amount of recyclables they were consuming and then disposing.

This personal consumption information may not be the knowledge quest of most people, although as we "green up"our lifestyles to avoid global warming, it might start to be of more general interest. However, yesterday, I read about an environmental studies professor who started a project to save and log all his garbage for a full 365 days. Now he's going to practice Piled Higher and Deeper more than he or his family ever imagined.

PostScript: If you are planning to have a party for Halloween or later in the year, you might want to read this post about greener partying.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Grey Water For Green Spaces

A few months ago, I received an email from a woman representing the Grey Water Guerrillas trying to organize people to campaign for local ordinances friendly to the concept of grey water reuse at businesses and residences.

My response to her was not too optimistic about getting local or State Health Departments to ever get less cautious about grey water reuse. Remember, a bureaucrat's first job is always CYA, so don't think that a professional health guardian will ever do less to prevent you from spreading disease, even during a serious drought.

Another proponent is taking hope in an actual greywater system that was permitted by the City & People's Republic of Berkeley. His comments can be Downloaded if your curiosity and quest for knowledge care to read Download2 even more.

When a recent call went out by a regional waste(d)water group to speak at a seminar on greywater, no one from the public sector or the many consultant engineers wanted to be a speaker. The only written flyer the organizers could supply was from Australia:


Manual Bucketing & Temporary
Diversion of Greywater

Greywater is wastewater generated from bathrooms (showers, baths, spas,
and hand basins), laundries (washing machines, troughs) and kitchens (sinks
and dishwashers). However, kitchen water can contain food particles, grease,
oils and fats and its use is not recommended (particularly without treatment).

Greywater Characteristics
The quality of greywater can be highly
variable due to factors such as number of
household occupants, their age, lifestyle,
health, water source and products used
(such as soaps, shampoos, detergents).
Greywater may contain:
• Disease causing organisms (bacteria,
viruses, protozoa) from nappies and
other soiled clothing.
• Chemicals from soaps, shampoos,
dyes, mouthwash, toothpaste,
detergents, bleaches, disinfectants and
other products (such as boron,
phosphorus, sodium, ammonia and
other nitrogen based compounds).
• Dirt, lint, food, hair, body cells and fats,
and traces of faeces, urine, and blood.
Risks presented by these contaminants
can be reduced by good management
practices and by sensible use.
Manual Bucketing & Temporary
Diversion
Manual bucketing onto lawn and garden
areas using water from the bathroom or
laundry, or temporary use of a hose
manually fitted to the washing machine
outlet hose, is permitted subject to the
following advice:
• Don’t use greywater from washing
clothes soiled by faeces or vomit, for
example, nappies.
• Don’t store untreated greywater for
more than 24 hours, as bacteria and
organic contaminants in greywater will
cause it to turn septic and produce
strong and offensive odours.
• Don’t use greywater if others in the
household have diarrhoea or an
infectious disease, as this could
increase the risk of other people
becoming ill.
• Don’t use greywater to irrigate fruit,
vegetables, or areas where fruit can fall
to the ground and be eaten.
• Avoid splashing of greywater and wash
your hands before eating or drinking or
smoking.
• Keep children away from areas watered
with greywater until it has soaked into
the ground.
Chemical contaminants: detergents,
cleaners and other chemicals
• Environmentally friendly shampoos,
detergents and cleaning products
should be used to protect soil and
plants watered with grey water.
Products containing low levels of boron,
phosphorus and salt should be used.
Boron can be toxic to plants, some
native plants are sensitive to
phosphorous while sodium and other
salts can damage soil structure.
• Washing machine rinse water has lower
concentrations of detergents compared
to wash water. If wash water is used it
should be diluted with rinse water.
• Bleaches and disinfectants can kill
beneficial soil organisms and damage
plants. Avoid using greywater
containing harsh chemicals or bleaches,
or after washing out hair dye or paint
products.
• A useful website that contains
information on laundry products is
http://www.lanfaxlabs.com.au.
Sensible use
• The irrigation setback distances from
swimming pools, bores, dams,
watercourses (inc. River Murray),
buildings and boundaries must be met.
See Section 5 of the Standard for the
Construction, Installation and Operation
of Septic Tank Systems in South
Australia (Supplement B)

Greywater tends to be slightly alkaline
and this can be harmful to acid loving
plants such as azaleas and camellias.
• Rotate greywater irrigation using mains
(drinking) or rain water, especially in
areas of low rainfall. This will help to
flush salts from the soil.
• Water several locations. This will
prevent salts and other contaminants
accumulating in the soil.
• Prevent pooling and runoff of greywater
onto other properties, into watercourses
and the stormwater system. Pooled
greywater can turn septic and produce
offensive odours.
• Don’t over-water your plants –
greywater shouldn’t be used to irrigate
more than you would with other sources
of water. Plants are susceptible to
waterlogged soil.
• Monitor areas and plants irrigated with
greywater. If there is visual evidence of
damage you may need to modify
watering practices, try a different or
bigger irrigation area, or reduce the
amount of water used.
Soils in many parts of Adelaide have a
high clay content. Clay soils tend to be
more susceptible to build up of salts and
have low permeability. Extra care should
be taken when using greywater in areas of
clay soils to avoid long term damage.
Permanent Greywater Systems
Permanent greywater systems such as
diversion devices or treatment systems, or
any device attached to plumbing, can
increase the use of greywater. However
due to potential risks associated with grey
water, permanent devices require
installation approval from your Council or
the Department of Health.
Information on permanent greywater
systems can be obtained from our
Alternative Onsite Wastewater Systems

Contact
Wastewater Management Section
Public Health
SA Health

1st floor
Citi Centre Building
11 Hindmarsh Square
Adelaide SA 5000

PO Box 6, Rundle Mall
Adelaide SA 5000

Tel 08 8226 7100
Fax 08 8226 7102

ABN 97 643 356 590

Email: public.health@health.sa.gov.au
Web: www.health.sa.gov.au/pehs/environ-
health-index.htm

© Department of Health, Government of South
Australia.
All rights reserved.

Last revised August 2008


But the real folks leading the local charge on grey water are those that actually do it and tell others about their experience. My neighbors Angelica & Sergio recently put the following in our weekly CSA e-mail:

Heard about California's water crisis? For so long we have been letting go of precious (grey) water down our home drains. Our own MANO member Pat Ferraro, former water district board director for Santa Clara Valley taught us the simple thing of saving our bath water to flush the toilet, rather than using 5-6 gallons of clean water every time we flush. Read more about water concerns at Pat's great blog http://neverthirstpatferraro.blogspot.com . As of last weekend we became true guerrillas, as we disconnected our sewer pipes in the bathroom and kitchen sinks to hold on to that water, and the washing machine too. It has made a great difference in the garden and compost piles. Read on about greywater.
What is grey water?
Greywater is water that flows down sink, shower, and washing machine drains--but not the toilet. Greywater may contain traces of dirt, food, grease, hair, and household cleaning products. While greywater may look “dirty,” it is a safe and even beneficial source of irrigation water. If released into rivers, lakes, or estuaries, the nutrients in greywater (mainly phosphate from detergent) become pollutants, but to garden plants, they are valuable fertilizer. Aside from the obvious benefits of saving water (and money on your water bill), reusing your greywater keeps it out of the sewer or septic system, thereby reducing the chance that it will pollute local water bodies Reusing greywater for irrigation reconnects urban residents and our backyard gardens to the natural water cycle.

You probably won't hear much from any public agency like San Jose or the Water District encouraging grey water reuse, because of their concern over crossing the health officials they deal with on many other issues. This is unfortunate for the people running water efficiency programs at either agency, for grey water use reduces both water demand and wastewater flow to the South Bay.

San Jose has a State-mandated flow cap on their waste(d)water discharge into the South Bay during summer months. This restriction is in place to keep salt marsh habitat from changing to fresh water marsh due to the large volume of low salinity water coming from the water pollution control plant.
And when that habitat is home to two endangered species, San Jose is required to do whatever it takes to comply with the State's order.

Until this State mandate, all the engineering and economic studies that had been funded to examine the feasibility of water recycling were never able to get a positive political response from local decision makers at either San Jose or the Water District. It took a federal law, the Endangered Species Act, to move past the culture of built-in bias against water recycling at the Water District. And as long as San Jose could continue to get all the water it needed for continued growth, the City had no concern of their own about the ever increasing flow of waste(d)water to the Bay, except to make the plant capacity bigger and meet the standard discharge requirements.

All that changed when the State of California issued the order to cap the summer discharge from the San Jose-Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant at 120 million gallons per day (mgd). Today, San Jose
has built 108 miles of purple pipe and pump stations which today delivers 10-15 million gallons per day of non-potable reclaimed water through a program called South Bay Water Recycling, managed by my friend and neighbor, Eric Rosenblum.

Much of this water is used for irrigating green spaces, parks, athletic fields, school grounds, common areas and parkway landscaping on major thoroughfares. All this irrigation is also highly regulated by the State Health department, with a continuously cautious eye from the local health department and potablewater purveyors. The latest use of this water will be to irrigate the new community gardens at Guadalupe Parks and Gardens near the corner of Coleman Aveue and Taylor Street. Click here for flyer information.

I wanted to be among the first users of recycled water in California at one of San Jose's community gardens, so I signed up for a plot. Last week I was notified that I would have to attend two trainings as a requirement of the State Health Department for participation as a gardener using recycled water.

The first two-hour session included an introduction to recycled water and the benefits and safeguards involved with using the recycled water to grow food and flowers in our plots. After being told that a specially designed $80 "key" made of brass pipe and a standard hose bib faucet (which had to remain onsite) would be our personal responsibility, a lengthy discussion ensued concerning the security of the garden facility at night, with strong warnings especially from other gardeners who had prior experience with failed security at other community gardens centers.

This was much better than hearing concern for the safety of the water for growing food. During introductions, I mentioned that I had used water from Coyote Creek to irrigate my home gardens for 20 years. I expressed my own concern for some of the constituents of the creek water that I used may have contained chemicals that I would probably not want in my drinking water, but that the plants responded very well to a water supply that contained some plant nutrients and did not have any chlorine, which tends to inhibit growth of living things in the soil and the plants themselves.

Next week we will get assigned our plots and soon we should all be tending our 16x20 plots and growing beautiful plants for both food and flowers. Hopefully this pilot will lead to more green spaces in our urban core, as we evolve our culture to appreciate the wisdom of reusing water, whether it's greywater in our home or recycled water in the community derived from our highly treated municipal waste(d)water supply which also came from our homes and businesses.

Click here to view an award winning PBS-style video on water recycling in California called
Water in an Endless Loop

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

California Warming?

I sign many online petitions through Care2, but today I received this e-mail reply from the Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger himself:

Thank you for sharing your concerns with me about protecting California's farm workers. The safety of workers whose jobs require them to be outdoors during the hottest season of the year is truly a matter of life or death. We must do everything in our power to ensure that no other workers suffer the same fate as Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez.

We have enacted the nation's first employer regulations to prevent heat illness, and I cannot stress enough that we are taking aggressive enforcement actions and working with employers as partners. Employers must provide water and heat illness training, allow workers to take breaks in the shade and have an emergency plan if someone becomes ill. There is no excuse for failing to protect worker safety and we will prosecute employers who violate these regulations to the full extent of the law.

My administration has already conducted several hundred employer training seminars for heat illness prevention, completed several thousand surprise worksite inspections, and issued several hundreds of thousands of dollars in citations and temporary stop-work orders to employers in violation of these laws. In conjunction with the Department of Industrial Relations' Division of Occupational Safety and Health, we will continue to do so.

Again, thank you for taking the time to write and express your concerns. I am confident that by working together, we can prevent any further outdoor worker deaths.

Sincerely,


Arnold Schwarzenegger

The Farm Workers Union has their response at this link.

I don't remember hearing about farm workers dying in the fields like has tragically occurred this year. Is this another sign of global warming? If we want to be able to continue to have food harvested safely, we had better pay attention to these deaths as a warning to start doing things differently, in the fields and OFF.

So where do we Non-Farmworkers go from here?

The road we take may be determined on Nov 4th.

Mr T. Boone Pickens is trying to play Governor in California by putting, Proposition 10, an initiative, on the November ballot. He's an oil-made billionaire, our version of a sheik. He wants our cars and trucks to run on biofuels and NATURAL GAS. That's the stuff that floats on OIL fields.

Natural gas has a lower carbon footprint
, but it's still a fossil fuel. And we're still buying from the same cartels. Yes, he says he supports wind and solar, but I'll wait to see if he actually invests his money, instead of $5 Billion in CA State Bonds, that will cost $10 Billion to repay.

The State expects more revenue from DMV fees and sales tax as Californians are offered incentives and rebates to encourage purchase of alternative fuel vehicles, primarily to those that run on biodiesel and natural gas. How much this would reduce our purchase of offshore oil, no one can be sure.

None of TBoone's campaign is convincing environmental organizations in California.

Proposition 7 was also financed by another billionaire, Peter Sperling, of Arizona, and whose father founded the University of Phoenix. Peter builds solar thermal power plants and wants to change the rules in California to make it easier to get permits for such plants in California.
The proposition has even more opposition than the Sheik Pickens' plan.

The League of California Voters says the following on their website:

Proposition 7 Vote No

No on Proposition 7: Protect small solar producers and encourage solar energy production

Proposition 7 fails to address the obstacles that have been identified by conservation groups, energy agencies, the renewables industry, and others as barriers to reaching our renewable energy goals. In addition, the proposal jeopardizes achievement of the current requirement of California law, which requires that 20 percent of electricity sold to customers be renewable by 2010.

Proposition 7 threatens the status of small-scale renewable resources under California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Proposition 7 authors amended the definition of “eligible renewable energy resource” by replacing the phrase “an electric generating facility” with “a solar and clean energy facility.” The proposed change puts the entire spectrum of small-scale renewable generation technologies at risk, and requires a two-thirds legislative majority to provide a remedy, leaving Californians stuck with a flawed and inflexible renewable energy policy. The success of California’s renewable energy future is too critical to achieving our clean energy goals to lock in fatally flawed legislation. Environmental, labor and consumer organizations are united in our commitment to the success of California’s renewable energy future– but we are also united in our opposition to Prop 7, which will not deliver that future


Proposition 10 Vote No

No on Proposition 10: Protect the environment and taxpayers — and stop the alternative energy scam

A fossil fuel corporation owned by Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens spent $3 million dollars to put Proposition 10 on the ballot. That same corporation will almost certainly reap the rewards if Prop 10 passes. California taxpayers will be stuck subsidizing big trucking companies at a cost of $335 million per year; they’ll shell out a total of $2.5 billion in subsidies to trucking companies to purchase “clean” vehicles. Prop 10 does not require any reduction in global warming emissions for trucking companies that get “clean” vehicle handouts of up to $50,000 per truck – and Prop 10 excludes hybrids from its definition of a “clean” vehicle.

The bottom line: California already faces a $15 billion budget deficit crisis, and Prop 10’s raid on the state’s coffers will mean cuts to our schools, our public safety and our health programs. Prop 10 is biased towards investments in natural gas technology— over cleaner alternatives such as wind and solar technology—while draining California’s already over-committed general fund. Although perhaps rooted in a commendable goal of environmental progress, Prop 10 is bad policy for California’s taxpayers and California’s environment.


One Pro comment that I read on the Popular Mechanics web site said this:
It is rather remarkable that California's Prop. 10 is a head scratcher. People with extraordinary resources to make change happen to be the people who will profit from an energy conversion. How is that a problem? How much do the Saudis and Iranians make on the oil they sell us? In the case of the Saudis, it costs $15 a barrel to extract oil. We're sending trillions of dollars offshore, and people want to debate the merits of a plan to replace 20 percent of these imports with natural gas. Never mind that we're fighting a war that will cost trillions before the last soldier is sent home. These are but a few of the compelling reasons to get behind NG conversion. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D., Ill.) is from a state that will benefit from a bigger push on ethanol. He has introduced a bill that would provide tax credits for the purchase of natural-gas vehicles and home-refueling systems, as well as to encourage gas stations to install natural-gas pumps. Pickens develops a plan that will save commuters millions, provide a stop-gap on global warming while reducing oil dependency as we transition to renewable fuels, and he is cast as a villain. We can probably can safely say T. Boone is not financing terrorists with the money he makes from oil and gas. If a profit has to be made -- and it does -- wouldn't it be a far sight better to have someone benefit who is not bent on our destruction. You can read more about NG use in Utah. For more on the Pickens' plan click here. From the Wall Street Journal story: "If we started moving to natural-gas vehicles in large numbers, even if we didn't go to renewables, we'd have plenty of natural gas," said Rich Kolodziej, president of Natural Gas Vehicles for America, a Washington trade association. The industry's goal is to replace 20% of the diesel used in the U.S. -- about 10 billion gallons, or 1.3 billion cubic feet -- with natural gas by 2025, Mr. Kolodziej said.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Over the River and Through the Woods

The title to this post is actually what my Naglee Park Neighbors have to do to get to Northside Theatre Company in the Olinder Center. There, they will be treated with the sweetest play I have seen there or anywhere lately. It's a stage play called Over the River and Through the Woods. This is just the perfect gift from one of our most treasured neighborhood assets, especially for this time of angst and anger so many are feeling these last few days.

It's a story about a twenty something man who spends every Sunday having dinner with his four grandparents, who live two homes apart. The cast members are perfect in their parts, with the older actors sorta losing lines just like old folks like us actually do in our own lives.

Give yourself the benefit of this gift and get your tickets while they last.

Never Thirst!

Pat

Friday, October 10, 2008

Doing the Funky Chicken

So, what's it mean when being funky farmer suddenly becomes urban chic?

I found this link in my neighborhood listserve today on the subject of urban chickens.
And for a great series of videos about chickens, cluck here.

I recently read an article on local food harvesting that ended:
Ninety years from now will look like 90 years ago.

Luckily, much of who I am today is me "channeling" my grandfather Teddy.
That's both a blessing and a burden. It was certainly a burden when suddenly, when I was 30 years old, I began to grow a fleet of trucks. This launched a life both familiar to me, but drastically changed from that expected of a professional career in civil engineering. This re-appendage of the trucking business was again as present for me, as it was for my father, and as it was for Teddy, and probably for earlier ancestors as well. There were many days when I referred to it as my genetic flaw.

But Grandpa Teddy was a certifiable urban gardener if I ever saw one. Where an adjacent building lot could have been, was instead half used for a truck barn facing the alley and the front half used for his amazingly productive vegetable garden. In front of his house were two 25 ft. cherry trees that gave life its sweetness when they were ripe. The vegetables were hedged with well-pruned raspberry bushes which rivaled the cherries for best taste ever. But it was too cold to keep a fig tree alive.


That's me and my sister Marcia in my Grandpa Teddy's garden on Ashland Avenue in the city named after the famous geo-hydraulic occurrence called Niagara Falls.






Beside giving us the falls, nature also gave us lake-effect snow blizzards that were ferocious and sometimes life threatening. I could imagine folks here going into complete chaos if such weather were to strike us here in this climatic paradise we know as Silicon Valley or San Jose, if so inclined.


When I arrived in this valley in 1969, the fringes of San Jose were still devoted to economically viable agricultural operations. In 1970, I planted my first garden in San Jose at a duplex on South 18th Street, fertilized with fresh chicken manure from the Olivera Egg Ranch in the Berryessa District in east San Jose. In 1972, I moved about a thousand feet south where I've have lived the life of an riparian urban truck farmer ever since.

Luckily, many can still remember when growing our own food was part of every day life.
And with urban chickens returning, our future seems in one more way to be heading steadily backward toward a more sustainable community.

Blessed Be!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Learning While Teaching -The Coyote Valley Lesson of the Day

Last Wednesday and today, dueling Op-Ed pieces appeared in the San Jose Mercury News giving readers the pros and cons of developing a new community college campus in the Coyote Valley by the Gavilan College District.

I wrote responses to both articles in the comments section @ the MercuryNews. com, but I want to add it here for my own record and to share with anyone else who cares to read my musings:
The CV Specific Plan could not get traction under Chuck Reed's administration so Sobrato and others will try to do the development in smaller increments and accomplish the same thing over time.
People, the Coyote Valley is your main groundwater recharge zone. If you get put on hold when calling the Santa Clara Valley Water District (408 265-2600) they say in their recorded message"If you don't want to drink it, don't put it on the ground."
Mr. Kinsela, what are you planning to do with the polluted rainfall runoff from a campus of 10,000 or more students and faculty. Maybe gas will be too expensive to drive like we do now, but even electric cars have hydraulic fluids that can leak onto roads and paved lots. Can your college budget cover treating storm runoff or exporting it north or south to get it away from the recharge zone? I doubt it and why should you spend money on this when you can join in the sensible thing to do by helping to protect the Coyote Valley as our prime water recharge area and help safeguard the quality of our drinking water. Maybe you could use the land as a field classroom for teaching organic farming?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Humans & Creeks, Living Together in the City

I have described my decades-long relationship to Coyote Creek in a prior post.

Coyote Creek is one of San Jose's most valuable assets, serving as:

  • A vital riparian corridor for fish, furry and feathered creatures

  • The sediment transfer mechanism through the watershed

  • A drainage system for conveying storm water runoff from paved surfaces and buildings

  • A walking and bikeway system of creek-side trails, allowing the members of this community the enjoyment of the natural, right in the midst of this thriving urban hardscape we call Silicon Valley.

For a short and inspirational video about local creeks, click here.

San Jose is now really growing UP, with ever denser housing in the urban core and even in the burbs, along the light rail lines and elsewhere, sometimes under the moniker of Affordable Housing.

The added stress that accompanies a denser human environment needs a way for all of us to release some of that stress through some contact with nature. Trips to Yosemite are wonderful, but costly in time, fuel and sometime peak use impacts, that greatly reduce the intended benefit of the trip.

Our creeks are right here. Some of the trails are already in place. More will be welcomed as the public input from local residents, students and workers in the urban core make their desires known.

If you want more access to local creeks, restored to their full spectrum of uses listed above, you may want to join and become active in the Santa Clara County Creeks Coalition or a more local group like Friends of Coyote Creek

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The World's A Stage, Let's PLAY WELL TOGETHER

I found an article in a trade journal about Olin College of Engineering, which tells of how the students' committee sold their curriculum design by writing a stage play as their presentation.

Today, I had a melt down when I saw this video on line. This campaign finally got it.
And another today(10/4/08) I found this great jazz number.
And in case you're Irish or tried to be on St Patty's Day, watch this wonderful singing video
This one's just for Sarah. But this one is even better still.

We, in the audience, have to all stand up and pierce the fourth wall from this side of the show.
We must become the media, rather than watch it, letting IT filter our reality, as it gives us only the party line.

We have these tools for a reason, and it's more than just better communication or data storage.

Something jumped off a slide show I was watching a few days ago:

Humans are the strategy of Gaia to produce and accelerate the speed that nature can creatively express herself.

and remember,

The World's A Stage, Let's PLAY WELL TOGETHER

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Beware of Water Wolves in Economist's Clothing

As we move from one mega issue to the next, the water wizards are lining up to tell you how to price water to penalize water wasters and gluttonous guzzlers.

Today I received a notice about a upcoming two-week event sponsored by the Economist debating water as commodity versus that of an inalienable human right.

From
The Economist
’s online debate on the subject:

It’ll be a two-week long, Oxford-style online debate on the topic of the global water crisis. As both an industrial input and a prerequisite of life, water has become extremely scarce for roughly a billion people who do not have a constant supply of clean and safe water.

The exact proposition is, “This house believes that water, as a scarce resource, should be priced according to its market value.” Some of the issues the debate will cover include: Would water supplies be better managed if it were treated as a commodity, and priced accordingly? Or is water a basic human right that governments should secure for their citizens?

Arguing for the proposition: Stephen J. Hoffmann, founder and president of WaterTech Capital, a merchant and investment banking firm that specializes in serving the myriad of companies that, in aggregate, comprise the water industry, and co-founder of the Palisades Water Indexes.

Arguing for the opposition: Dr. Vandana Shiva, author of Water Wars and founder of Navdanya, an Indian-based, non-governmental organization founded to protect nature and people’s rights to knowledge, biodiversity, water, and food.

Links to additional posts were also listed, authored primarily by David Zetland:

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Bridge That Never Was

This post IS NOT about one of the issues surrounding the Republican Party Vice Presidential candidate's "Bridge to Nowhere."

Instead, it's a story about how a bridge that never was played a role in determining a bit of our local history. As the City of San Jose grew larger even at the turn of the 20th century, local engineers planned to build an additional bridge over the Coyote Creek in San Jose but for some reason, the first design was never built. This bridge would have spanned the Coyote at the east end of San Salvador, near South 16th Street and connect to Williams Street's east-west alignment, south of and parallel to San Salvador . In 1911, the City of San Jose actually paid real money for the acquisition of a triangle of land on the creek center line to build a mid stream column to support the long bridge needed to span the fairly wide flood plain at this point in the river.

Either for economics or safety or both, this design option was abandoned, and a shorter bridge was constructed in its current location on E. William Street. The existing span is a shorter bridge and crosses the river at a skew. In order to have this shorter span, it was required that a embankment be created across much of the floodplain on which to build the western abutment, thereby restricting the flow of the river at flood stage. To mitigate this restriction of the floodway, the land that now is William Street Park was purchased as public open space but also to serve as a flood detention basin.

As subsequent storms proved the inadequacy of the storage volume in the upstream park, more riparian land was purchased upstream, giving us first Kelly Park and the connecting riparian lands in between, and then future purchases were added even further upstream, until urban and park planners realized that they were creating a park chain along one of the two main riparian corridors running through the watersheds draining the city of San Jose.

Today, the Coyote Creek Park Chain is one of San Jose's ecological and recreational assets with the potential to be one of its jewels. The trails along the creek are not yet contiguous from the bay to the base of Andersen Dam in Morgan Hill 30 miles south of the estuary. Our current Council member for District 3, San Liccardo, made one of the planks in his platform printed in his first ballot statement, continuing to connect the spot parks like Kelly, Williams, Roosevelt and Watson Park with creek-side trails.

Whether Sam considered the uproar that would arise from the 60 or so homeowners whose homes backed up to Coyote Creek downstream of the William Street bridge, I'm not sure. This idea had been pretty well vetted by the prior council member, Cindy Chavez during her tenure.

However, the Santa Clara Valley Water District has opened the door for achieving the extension of the creek side trails as part of the Mid-Coyote Creek flood protection project design that has been going on for about a year. The objective of this project is to prevent overflows of flood waters from entering their natural overflow channels to the east of the creek in order to protect the homes and businesses that the City of San Jose has allowed to be built in the bypass channels. The benefit of this project is obviously the prevention of flood damages from occurring, but also to relieve these bypass channel homeowners from the burden of paying annual flood insurance premiums to FEMA, whose regulations actually allowed these homes to be constructed in the floodable areas.

As downtown San Jose continues to densify the housing for its growing population, more demand will occur for contact with the natural environment that the riparian corridor of the Coyote Creek can offer. Despite the innovative approach Councilman Liccardo is proposing for bikeways on some of the one-way street around SJSU campus, continuous trails along the creek can provide off-road bicycle trails that are much more enjoyable and safer.

The Water District has so far ignored the fact that forcing the additional flows to stay within the main channel of the creek will constitute a inverse taking of the creek side properties downstream of the William Street bridge. Upstream diversion of some of the runoff from the Upper Silver Creek watershed has already augmented the flows through this reach of the river. Before the flood control project is implemented. the City and the District will have to address the inverse condemnation that results from the induced flooding of the Silver Creek and the newly proposed flood "protection" project.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Gold and Water in Them Thar Hills

A new video called Flow, about to be released should shake things up a bit.

It' s aimed at the bottled water companies, primarily.

But it also covers the World Bank deals which are forcing privatized water systems in urban areas, where there's lots of people to complain about the high costs and profits going to the corporations that own these water delivery systems.

In my last post, I told the story of the wealthy gold miner who owned the private water company that served water to the port city of San Francisco until 1930, when the City "municipalized" the private company and combined it with the new Hetch Hetchy water project and formed the SF Public Utilities Commission.

San Jose and much of Silicon Valley has gone in almost the opposite direction, although the public is still a strong partner with our local private water companies. In the local cities that have a municipal, rather than an investor-owned private water company, are those cities that wanted to contract for Hetch Hetchy water from the SFPUC. This arrangement was mandated by the Federal legislation, called the Raker Act, which authorized the construction of the dam in Yosemite National Park. Since San Francisco had long battled in court with the private Spring Valley Water Company, it was amenable to a requirement that none of the water or power from the Hetch Hetchy Project could be sold to any private company for resale. Municipal water and sometimes power companies were formed in the Peninsula and the South Bay cities of San Jose, Sunnyvale, Milpitas, Santa Clara, Palo Alto and Mountain View. In some cases like Mountain View and San Jose, investor-owned companies serve some if not most of the water to the residents and business in those cities.

According to their website, San Jose Water Company (SJW) was founded in 1866. SJW is an investor-owned public utility, and is one of the largest urban water system in the United States, serving over 1 million people in the greater San Jose metropolitan area. In the 1970's, the privately-owned Campbell Water Company was acquired by SJW, followed soon after by assuming the management of the municipally-owned Cupertino Water system. Most recently, San Jose Water Corp. has acquired the Canyon Lake Water Service Company in the state of Texas.

Recently, Rich Roth, the President of San Jose Water gave an address to the San Jose Rotary Club which naturally praised the benefits of investor-owned water system ownership, while pointing to many of the problems in the water supply situation we are facing in the coming years. Most of those problems are the result of the very conservative approach the leaders of this valley adopted for the last five decades, opting to obtain half our current water supplies from the State and Federal aqueduct systems, which draws all of its supplies through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Now that the Delta is in ecological collapse and threatened to be destroyed completely by sea level rise from global warming, all that supply is at risk and the $30 million per year mortgage payments for the construction costs of the two aqueducts are still due and payable by the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

But scarier than losing the Delta supply, which is water of marginal quality, is the ever-present threat that San Jose Water Company could be sold to an even larger conglomerate and business decisions could move out of their local Board Room to anywhere on the planet. This threat became very real just a few years ago when American Water Company made a buyout offer for SJW. While the deal was not closed, American Water Company now has three directors from the German company RWE AG, which now owns controllingr interest in American Water Company. These directors are the Chief Financial Officer, Chief Counsel and the head of their mergers and acquisitions unit of RWE AG.

A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor poses the Question: Is Water Becoming the New Oil?
Of course, almost everyone agrees, people can learn to live without oil, but not without water. If water is managed strictly as a profit center for investor-owned corporations, many fear that water will not be considered part of the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

For a entertaining scenario of life with very little water, I recommend the hilarious musical stage play Urinetown.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Temples of Water


Pictured above is the Pulgas Water Temple, built at the western terminus of the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct, constructed by the City of San Francisco in the early 20th century. The inscription chiseled into the crown of the temple reads: “I give Water in the Wilderness and Rivers in the Desert to give Water to my People”(Isaiah 43:20) invoking the an extra-terrestrial god's words to justify desecration of natural beauty in the wilderness. There, in the wilderness, are the formerly-protected glacier-carved granite monoliths of Yosemite National Park, now partially inundated in the Hetch Hetchy Valley, by a dam authorized by Congress and the water commandeered by the San Francisco politicians, still reeling from the loss of most of their city from earthquake and fire in 1906.

Of course this water project did not happen without a fight. Remember the wise words of Mark Twain, "Whiskey's for Drinking, Water's for fighting over." John Muir started the Sierra Club and used it's fledgling support to battle this outrage against some of nature's most beautiful sculptures, and died of a broken spirit as the nation's chief resource protectors, like Gifford Pinchot and Teddy Roosevelt, succumbed to the support San Francisco's Mayor (1896-1902)and later US Senator Phelan built in Congress.

But San Francisco did have a fairly well developed water system before the Hetch Hetchy Water Project was built, and that system was once a privately owned water company called Spring Valley Water Company (SVWC). Elements of the former SVWC are today essential local elements of San Francisco's regional water system and includes groundwater wells in Pleasanton, infiltration galleries in Sunol and the Calaveras Reservoir to the east and the Crystal Springs Reservoir, in San Mateo County, well-viewed by travelers on the "scenic highway" portion of Interstate 280. Picture at right is the Sunol Water Temple.

The cynical version of the Golden Rule which reads "The guy with gold makes the rules" really holds true when you consider the early roots of San Francisco's water system. Wiliam Bowers Bourn II, upon his father's untimely death was given the Empire Mine, which produced 5.8 million ounces of gold, extracted from 367 miles of underground passages. He used this wealth to invest in many other ventures, including vineyards, gas and electric systems consolidations (leading to the formation of PG&E) and the City of San Francisco's water supply. While successfully enlarging the sources of water available to the City through the infrastructure developed by Bourn's Spring Valley Water Company, he also vigorously opposed the construction of the Hetch Hetchy Water Project, which would destroy his monopoly water supply for the west's premier port city. Prior to construction of the Hetch Hetchy aqueduct, half of San Francisco's water supply, approximately 6 million gallons per day passed through the Sunol temple. The SVWC, including both of the temples, was purchased by the City of San Francisco in 1930 for US$40 million.

Bourn bought the entire watershed in San Mateo County where the Crystal Springs Reservoir now resides.
Before selling it to the SVWC, he split off about 654 acres at the southern end of the watershed, overlooking what would become the lake impounded by the Crystal Springs Dam. On this land he built his 36,000 square foot mansion,which he called FILOLI (the first two letters of the three words of his abbreviated philosophy: “FIGHT for a just cause; LOVE your fellow man; LIVE a good life.”) Hikers and naturalists all know that this watershed was placed off limits for all other development or even entry by anyone outside the San Francisco Water Department. Filoli was donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1975 by Mrs Roth, owner of the Matson Shipping empire and second owner of the estate. For a small fee, the public is now welcome to visit the estate and tour the mansion and spectacular well-manicured 16-acre formal gardens.

Today, the San Francisco Water Department has been in high PR mode to gain support for its proposed
$4.3 billion voter-approved Water System Improvement Program to upgrade the SFPUC Regional Water System and ensure reliable water delivery for more than 2.4 million customers in San Francisco and parts of three neighboring counties. Much of the support has come from the 28 retail agencies in those three neighboring counties, as well as PR specialists like the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group ( now the self-anointed Silicon Valley Leadership Group, after leading most of their members' manufacturing jobs offshore between 1990 and 2000, when the tech bubble was burst by the prick of the valley's premier pirates.)

All this expenditure by SFPUC is expected to raise water rates to these 2.4 million water users by about 400%. This will then set a new baseline for what Santa Clara Valley Water District can compare to its rate structure and make it much easier to sell new expensive projects to the Board of Directors and the mostly ignorant public in Santa Clara County.