Monday, June 30, 2008

Union of Concerned Scientists Urge Polluters Pay in AB 32 Policies

This is the model letter that hopefully many Californians will also sign.

Please go to the link below to take action.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger and Chairperson Nichols,

I'm writing to thank you for your leadership in creating a
far-reaching and visionary draft plan for reducing the pollution
that causes global warming in California. The draft plan is the
furthest step any state has taken to put the brakes on global

I especially would like to thank you for clearly recommending
that a third of our state's electricity come from clean,
renewable sources like solar and wind power. More renewable
energy enhances California's potential to lead the country in
new, clean energy jobs and technologies.

I want to make sure that the final plan is as strong as
possible, holding polluters fully accountable. In particular, I
encourage you to carefully limit the amount and types of
"offsets" that would be allowed. A strong plan will ensure that
polluters can't just buy their way into compliance with promises
of emissions reductions--promises that look good on paper but
often fail to come to pass in the real world. Reliance on too
many offsets is bad for business, bad for the economy, and bad
for the long-term health of our environment.

I also urge you to avoid rewarding big polluters with free
pollution permits. A strong plan will level the playing field by
requiring polluters to pay for the global warming pollution they

As you know, California's plan for cleaning up the pollution
that causes global warming will be a model for the rest of the
country and the world. Please make sure that there aren't any
delays in implementing the landmark AB 32 law and that the final
plan is strong and effective and holds polluters fully

Patrick Ferraro
San Jose, CA 95116

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Water Si, Drought No

A piece of a sheet of plywood, painted white with red letters saying, Water Si, Drought No, hanging above my garage doors is a remnant of a local water bond election held in November 1977, the end of a severe two year dry spell that re-taught all of California the meaning of the word DROUGHT

The practical meaning of drought is that there is less water available than we all cumulatively and separately normally expect to be using to sustain our normal daily activity. A great amount of California is plumbed together to share the same watering hole, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. When those watersheds don't fill up their respective upstream buckets every year, the State and Federal Governments step right in to divide the available amount of water to all the contractors who have agreed to pay for all the plumbing to divert this fresh water supply before it flows into the saline reaches of the San Francisco Estuary and the Pacific Ocean.

1977 was also the year that the Santa Clara Valley Water District signed up for getting even more of its future water supply from this already heavily shared watering hole. The District had argued and schemed to get as large a volume of water they could justify through this new straw in the Delta. Our straw, although relying on the Delta diversions, actually began at the western edge of the 2 million acre-ft. off stream storage reservoir on the county line called Los Banos Grande Reservoir, near State Highway 152, known as Pacheco Pass. This is the same pass John Muir walked through over 100 years ago when he first headed from San Francisco to Yosemite.

The price for this new aqueduct had risen from its initial cost estimate of $100 million to over $300 million in the five years since I was first elected to the Water District's Board of Directors in 1972. I had campaigned against this project during my first election, and continued to oppose it until the Water District signed an agreement with the State to reduce its take from San Felipe Aqueduct by 15,000 ac.-ft. and build a local water recycling system that delivered 30,000 ac.-ft., giving the District even more supply and greater control over its future supplies than just getting what the Feds decided was available during a drought year.
This good faith gesture came about only after the State withheld its support for their federal appropriations.

So in 1977, I actually campaigned FOR the bond election. And the political machine I brought to this campaign was my newly acquired 30 ft. bobtail moving van that was sent to me by my father, as we expanded our family moving and storage business from Southern California to San Jose. We had 8x16 ft billboards attached to each side of my truck reading Support Measure H (20). Our first female Board member, Linda Peralta, suggested we overlay the signs with something in Spanish, so we compromised with the slogan Water Si, Drought NO.

Considering we were in a terrible crisis with this two year drought, we still did not invoke mandatory rationing. The first year of the drought, water consumption spiked 25% above normal. The staff brought in its chief hydrologists to give us the extremely low odds of another dry year repeating the following year, which it, of course, it did. But this collection of politicians is the most conservative group you'll ever meet, present company excepted. They firmly held to the position that people should be allowed to reduce water voluntarily before being mandated to do so. Both San Francisco and Oakland's EBMUD had declared mandatory rationing, which included six cities in Santa Clara County that had delivery contracts from San Francisco's Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct from Yosemite National Park.

But 1977 was also the year I first learned the meaning of Public Relations. Because most of the media was reporting on how folks were responding to the mandatory rationing around the Bay area, our water consumption did actually go down, back to what we were using in 1975, but our staff at the water District didn't use 1975 as the base year, but instead used 1976, a year when every one's response to a dry year was to water their landscaping even more to make up for the lack of rain during that first dry year. So the Water District declared that they had managed to get a 25% reduction from its water users in the County without the use of mandatory rationing.

This PR was so obvious to the professionals, that the Public Relations Association of America awarded us their Silver Anvil Award, signifying, I guess that we had beat the facts into looking so shiny and to our advantage that our community good will would increase, though we did almost nothing to earn it. I was selected by our Board to travel to Houston, TX to receive this prestigious award, so I jumped on a plane and had my first experience with this steam bath for 6 million people called Houston.

While visiting my father's sister who was then living there, they informed me that an uncle of mine who worked for Hooker Chemical Company in my home town of Niagara Falls, NY would be stopping by also, as he was in town for business. When he arrived and I inquired of his business, he said he was there to receive some award from this Public Relations Association. Yes, we were both there to get the same award.

So we discussed what his award was for. He had chaired an industrial committee that had generated a report used by the municipal government in its prospectus for a new bond issue. The report detailed all the job and revenue growth projections for the major local industries in Niagara Falls, NY to garner a good rating with the bond market and convince voters to approve the bonds. The bonds passed and the city sold the bonds just in time to avoid filing bankruptcy. The local industry never expanded anything and the City of Niagara Falls got nothing more from industry except the toxic chemicals leaking out of Love Canal.
Today, much of the city's neighborhoods have decayed to slums, with roadways completely crumbled.

Back in San Jose, our own water District staff was getting ready to unload its own delusion on the Board. The $56 million dollars in revenue bonds that were just approved by the voters apparently was not nearly enough to pay for the in-county portion of the new aqueduct's delivery system. The Federal portion of the aqueduct was to end at a 12,000 hp pumping station next to Andersen Dam in Morgan Hill, giving the water enough energy to push water across the valley to Los Gatos, through Almaden Valley, where new pipelines would take water to and from a new 100 million gallon per day treatment plant close to the District headquarters. The bill for all this was suddenly over $150 million. The balance would not come from additional bond proceeds, but instead, cash reserves that would be built up by raising water rates. This essentially meant that current residents would be charged more so that they would be paying now for facilities to serve mostly future growth. And short of voting out the entire Water Board, there wasn't any way to stop this incredible ripoff.

The other shoe dropped in the next year when the staff highjacked the State's study for developing the additional 30,000 ac.-ft of recycled water. Instead of giving the water advanced treatment and recharging the recycled water into its efficient groundwater basin, a system was designed to deliver 30,000 ac.-ft of water to local farmers with a separate pipe irrigation system that would cost $2,000 per ac.-ft. which was immediately dismissed as infeasible. The District again dodged recycling water for a second time in the decade.

They would do it a third time in the mid eighties during Bill Clinton's administration after the new aqueduct went on line in 1987 at the beginning of a six year drought which saw the District draw $12 million from its cash reserves to buy water from the State water bank to put into its new aqueduct that was suppose to deliver 150,000 ac-ft. per year. This time, the recycled water would be made safe for recharging into the local groundwater aquifers, but the unit costs were still kept at $2,000/ac.-ft. by reducing the volume to 20,000 ac.-ft and designing a salt crystallizing disposal system for the concentrate from the reverse osmosis units that purified the water.

Ironically, the $12 million was the amount for the local share of a $100 million recycled water project that I designed for the County in 1971 that would yield 100 million gallons per day of recycled water, treated with reverse osmosis and clean enough for groundwater recharge. To sweeten the deal, US EPA offered to purchase the development rights on the entire Coyote Valley to preserve the valley as permanent agricultural open space, confining, for good, San Jose's southern sprawl.

Felicia Marcus, who was then Regional Administrator for USEPA, Region IX sent the Water District a letter indicating that the water costs for a groundwater recharge project using recycled water would be at competitive levels with other sources if the District would plan on using 80,000 ac.-ft. instead of 20,000 ac.-ft. But The District just ignored the letter, with Director Judge quipping that she wrote exactly what I wanted the letter to say. I'm glad someone, at least, admitted he heard me say it in a Board meeting.

A water recycling project was finally built despite all the District's attempts to avoid it thanks to the City of San Jose who built the project after the State issued a flow cap on their waste(d) water discharge into South San Francisco Bay. The City was found to be in violation of the Endangered Species Act for destroying salt marsh habitat of the California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse. After trying to stall the project by pretending to be interested in being a parter in the San Jose recycling project, the Water District responded by paying the City less than $100 per ac.-ft. for delivered water, subtracting their lost revenue from a fictitious avoided cost they found in current literature.

So as the Delta ecosystem collapses and rains are again short of the state averages this year, drought is back again. The Water District is still studying recycled water. but is moving no where closer to it's green washed goals of meeting 10% of our water needs with this home grown supply by 2020. Instead, they have lobbied to get a purely ridiculous project authorized by Congress to get water from the San Felipe Aqueduct by bypassing the Los Banos Grande Reservoir to avoid the algae that grows in the lake when it gets down to 10% of capacity. This would probably cost as much or more than the original project, considering inflation and put the residents another billion dollars in debt with still no guarantee of water in dry years. Seems like what we've got is Drought Si, Water No, at least not recycled water and sometime no Delta water either.

Never Thirst!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Guest Blog: Free VTA Buses EVERYDAY

This is a letter that my friend, Alexandra Wilson, wrote to the San Jose Mercury News. They chose not to print it, but I think it should be heard so I'm posting it here so others may see it.


It is time for us to publicly finance our public transit system. The VTA needs to greatly increase bus routes, number of buses, and their frequencies in Santa Clara County, and with no fare for riders for any of the buses. That's right-- free of charge. This is how we will get people out of their cars, lowering our demand on oil-- foreign or domestic. Spare the Air Day and Earth Day are not enough dedication on our part to make a difference in the quality of our environment, although with Spare the Air day last Thursday the ridership was at least doubled according to three VTA bus drivers I spoke with.

For people not willing to use public transit even if there were "free" and highly efficient, they would still benefit from the dramatic reduction in traffic, which leads to safer, less congested roads and cleaner air. This will also set a positive trend for surrounding counties to invest in their mass transit systems as well. Investing in our transit system via sales tax is truly a tangible, inarguable way for every person to offset their own carbon use. Also, with efficient, convenient, and free transit near your house, the value of your property will increase, making this a smart investment - not just a waste of our hard-earned money

Lastly, reducing our demand on natural resources is what will prevent acts of terrorism from happening in the future. It is a clear step that we as Americans are taking toward being active participants in the global community, as world leaders not merely through economics, but by setting a positive example for developing nations.

It is a good time to remind each other of our constitutional preamble:

We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

We the People need to help each other out of this crisis or there will not be a people. It is scary to see this "to each his own" attitude that has struck our society. It is our duty as Americans to defend our nation, which is more than a collection of businesses and properties; it is also the delicate beauty of nature that we have inherited and our strong unity that makes us more than a people and a land, but a nation.

Alexandra Wilson

I wrote a shorter version, hoping they might print something less wordy, but alas,


Second Harvest Food Bank is the solution for many who are seeking relief from the impacts of rising oil prices, VTA is also a remedy - but won't be the same level of relief needed until ALL rides are free. The free bus ride day needs to be every day - not just because every day is Earth Day, but because the end of oil is upon us and we need to change our behavior NOW!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

How Clean IS Clean?

I admit that in one election campaign, 1984, I printed and posted signs around my district, using ink and paper and some chemically-based silk screen material. The signs read: Re-Elect Pat Ferraro for Clean Water, Accept No Substitutes. Of course, the substitute I really meant was my competition, three challengers in the primary, and then a runoff election with a conservative poly sci teacher at San Jose City College. The Clean Water part was the buzzword hot button for the electorate. Yes I was FOR, not against, Clean Water. Damn it!

To just finish the story of the election, I was re-elected in the fall runoff, with over 70% of the vote. But not getting a majority of the votes in the primary is usually a deadly situation for an incumbent's future as an elected official. And my opponent, being a specialist on political theory, he knew he had me,

But fortunately for me, an historic event occurred at the Democratic National Convention that summer - a woman was selected to be the vice-presidential candidate in the Fall 1984 Presidential Election. And her name was FERRARO, Aunt Geraldine, as I began referring to her, both in jest and joy. For the next 10 weeks until the election, FERRARO was in no-less-than 80 point fonts on the pages of every newspaper everyday. Women would drive by and cheer out the windows as we were nailing up our campaign signs. My modest and common Italian surname (meaning smith) was suddenly on everyone's lips. So Arnold & I won't be the last persons elected because of name recognition.

But How Clean IS Clean?

This answer requires "wiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting over"sort of thinking. The numeric values that define the "SAFE" consumption of any given water pollutant is the remnants of a long and fierce battle between government regulators and the responsible parties that are currently discharging said pollutant.
These battles are fought and fought again if someone proposes to change them. Remember the punt of the arsenic standard from Clinton's to Bush's so-called administration?

When I first began my sanitary engineering career after graduating from San Jose State University in 1970,
we used the simple standard for toxicity of waste(d) water discharges as a per cent survival of some small fish called three-spined stickleback, held in a sample tank for a week. Of course the water was, by then, a week into the receiving water body and not recallable. So the State could fine the discharger instead, often moving local cash back to the state bureaucrats. Everyone loses.

When I became an elected official of a large metropolitan water agency, my focus on the quality of water widened to include every drop of water that passed the lips of the humans living and working in this county. Defining what quality of water is good or bad for human health now involved doctors, with M.D.'s not PhD's in aquatic biology. It also involves all the research scientists feeding the world data and postulations that certain things are indeed good or bad for human health, from their food, their air and their water.

In the mid 1980's, as Silicon Valley companies were cleaning up their terrible and terrifying mess from their leaking chemicals tanks, their friends at the Industrial Protection Agency began peddling a health impact system they called "Acceptable Risk" Using wildly extrapolated lab animal toxicity studies, these federal regulators began to set clean up standards as the number of additional cancers per million people as an acceptable risk and allowed the residual contamination to be present in the drinking water systems using this groundwater for potable uses by the residents of this valley.

When I testified before the State Water Boards that administered the Clean Water Act in California, I would always refer to these new standards as "Acceptable DEATH" which would make them a bit mad, since they were overwhelmed with data and reports claiming this was good science, or good-enough science to get these companies out from the enormous clean up bills that resulted from such gross negligence.

There are about 200 chemicals contaminants that must be tested (out of 80,000 known chemicals, mostly manufactured) in all municipal drinking water systems, all of, once per year, or less frequently if "the concentrations do not change frequently." An annual report is sent to customers once a year. If you rent and don't get a water bill directly, you don't get the report at all.

The Water District and many cities are actively campaigning against the purchase and use of bottled water, claiming in their advertisements that tap water is safe and tastes good(enough) and doesn't cost nearly as much as plastic bottled water, both in dollars and environmental footprint. And they cite the lax regulation of the bottled water purveyors compared with the above scrutiny on testing public water delivery systems.

The taste issue may drive bottled water sales more then health concerns. Tap water almost always has detectable taste issues. Most of that originates in the residual chlorine that's added to the tap water as it leaves the well head or water treatment plant. Even when chlorine has been replaced with on-site generated ozone, chlorine is still added before the water enters the distribution piping to guard against microbial re-growth before it reaches your tap..

I always point out the "We Pollute, We Clean it Up, Business Couldn't be Better" model when I see it.
Knowing that the Chlorox Company owns Brita Water Filter Company has always amused me. But it's the appropriate technology for a household and an inexpensive and efficient way to protect yourself from many possible chemicals plus taste and odor problems that your Less-Than-Clean water may present you.

Never Thirst!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Subsidizing Local Food Production, Not Just Farmers

Water District, Grand Juries and the Poor Farmers

Water politics plays a huge role in all of California’s agricultural industry. Here in Silicon Valley, it’s no different.

A 2006 civil grand jury delved into Santa Clara Valley Water District’s governance, debt, and cash reserve issues in a report titled Santa Clara Valley Water District—What Lies Beneath the Surface. This close inspection of the water district governance revealed that large landowners increased profits on both farming and land speculation. Farmer/speculators' influence on the countywide water agency yield benefits specifically from low water rates for farmers in Santa Clara County at a 90% discount from the urban water pumping rates.

Of the seven incumbent directors on the water board, five are elected and two are appointed by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Two Directors represent the South County. Rosemary Kamei was originally appointed by the Water District Board and then elected as the representative for South County. She successfully ran for reelection in 2006 to a fourth term. In addition, the board of supervisors appointed Sig Sanchez to the Water Board. As the former mayor of Gilroy who also served four terms as a county supervisor for that area, Sanchez has well represented South County farmers and landowners on the Water Board since he was first appointed in 1980.

No one has been a better friend to the landowner/farmer than Sanchez. He insisted that their water rates be kept way below the revenue needed to pay for the South County’s use of the water infrastructure, knowing that as urbanization took place, higher rates could pay off the mounting debt incurred by the district. The water district readily admits this in its response to the grand jury report. (See the district’s response to recommendation # 6).

Sig Sanchez was a County Supervisor when the current Water Board was designed and put into place by a special act of the State Legislature. Despite having two representatives on the newly formed water district board, the farmers and Gilroy’s residents voted to keep their local water district in place when the other separate agencies merged to form the Santa Clara Valley Water District in 1968. Only after the water from the San Felipe aqueduct, funded by federal money, arrived in 1987 did the Gavilan Water District voters authorize the merger with the Santa Clara Valley Water District, thereby avoiding a double pump tax on all pumpers in the area.

In determining how to spread the costs of this new water, the district chose to abandon its “pooling concept” for setting water rates within the county. Instead, it set up a new zone for the South County farmers, which included the City of Morgan Hill, and set water rates to recover only the costs incurred to serve water within this new zone. The 1977 contract with the federal government, which was based on the farmer’s “ability to pay,” provided that agricultural water be sold to the district at a mere $16 per acre-foot. But the district melded this cost with the local South County supplies and set the local agricultural rate at even less—$5.50 per acre-foot. The new melded rate remained frozen at or below $11.50 per acre-foot until 2001. Meanwhile, pumping rates in the North County went from $100 to $330 per acre-foot for urban water suppliers in that same period.

The district eventually moved away from using crop factors to determine water charges and began putting meters on the wells of the largest agricultural users. The revenue collected from the farmers, however, does not even cover the cost of reading and maintaining the meters. From the district’s net revenue perspective, the water is being delivered for free.

When I was on the water board, I took it upon myself to demonstrate that raising water rates would not severely harm the farmers. Relying on the Agriculture Commissioner’s annual report, I calculated the percentage of water cost for each crop, using a sensitivity analysis for various rate increases. Doubling and even tripling the rates showed only increases of a fraction of a percent of the crop value. Despite this evidence, the board and staff ignored the unauthorized study, stating that it was not District policy to set its water rates on “ability to pay.”

One year when the staff actually recommended significant rate increases for farmers in South County, the Board took a rare position and froze the agricultural rates and instead added an “open space surcharge” on urban rates in the North County to generate the needed revenue that staff had identified. This surcharge is still in place today

Gilroy City Council members would often testify at rate hearings that farmers would quit farming and sell to developers (sooner rather than later) if the agricultural water rates were increased. But securing development rights in exchange for receiving this cheap water was never suggested or required.

Measure A was placed on the ballot in 2006 which threatened the development rights of these farmers. Opponents of the measure hired a San Diego spin master to parade the poor farmers who supposedly would be out of work if Measure A passed. Although it did not pass, one thing is for sure: farmers won’t ever go out of business due to the water rates set in South County for agricultural uses.

Extremely low water rates have been subsidizing farming in the South County for decades without any guarantees that land would remain in open space and productive. If these landowners are truly committed to farming, they can’t have it both ways. Either they accept restrictions on their land or they should pay full tariff on the water they are using to farm their land in the interim prior to development.

In the Omnivore's Dilemma Michael Pollan began to make the case for what he called the locavore movement. Considering the enormous amount of energy involved in growing, harvesting and transporting our food supplies to market, rising fuel costs and global warming would force us to look to local food production for supplying more of our daily bread & butter, etc. In Santa Clara County, once know as the Valley of Heart's Delight, the mild Mediterranean climate, with 300-day average growing seasons, and 400 square miles of fertile alluvial soils, may be one of the greatest agricultural resources in the world.

Since local policy makers have always been heavily vested in the local real estate market, today most of the 400 square miles of fertile soils have been covered over with asphalt, concrete and buildings. Homeowners and community gardeners are still keenly aware of the fertility of our local soils, coupled with great climate and a fairly reliable water supply. Unfortunately using that water, delivered through retail water companies, is now 20 times the price of water paid by commercial farmers in the county. That is not equitable! Food is food, regardless who grows it, as long as it's all locally produced.

City and County General Plans are finally beginning to include discussions about local food production resources. When this concept takes hold politically, it will include both commercial farmers as well as home and community gardeners as part of the local resources. The importance of this local food production will then equally value every square foot of producing soil and implement incentives to protect and encourage food production to occur to feed the local population. When this occurs, the Water Board will then be in the political position to have to extend their 90% discounts for irrigation water to everyone growing food, not just commercial growers.

With the powerful information management tools that we have developed in Silicon Valley, it would be quite feasible for homeowners to document the size of their home-grown vegetable gardens and apply to their local water retailer to receive the same 90% water discount available to the commercial growers who pump water from the common groundwater basin. This program would not necessarily reduce water consumption, but it may be the best incentive for getting homeowners to remove turf grass and replace it with homegrown organic food, grown with a minimal carbon footprint.

Some would think this isn't enough subsidy
. But involving the IRS would result in generating so much bookkeeping that you wouldn't have time to tend to your garden.

A Summer Solstice Ritual - Washing Our Solar Panels

I started this blog with the resolution that I made during our winter solstice celebration. In the dark of winter, we cheer the turning of the wheel and recite litanies about the light returning. At this latitude, we still get plenty of sunlight even at the winter solstice. But now it's the summer solstice and we have the most sunshine we'll see in any day of the year. This year it is extremely hot and dry and fires have been ravaging Santa Cruz County during the past month.

So in this heat, a record 103 yesterday in San Jose and 104 expected today, we don't have much ambition to gather in circle and chant bring back the dark. We did have a few toasts over dinner and finally emerged from our relatively cool shelter about 8PM to take in the new play at Northside Theater Company, that has been a part of our family's lives for the past 25 years. Chrysalis, my daughter, spent over a decade there, from age 10, where she began applying her acting, directing and makeup skills, leading to her career in face and body painting. This year it's been Nick's home-away-from-home as he practices theater tech and occasionally finds himself on stage as one of the actors.

The play we saw last night , Picasso at the Lapin Agile, was a light comedy featuring a fictitious meeting of Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein in a French bar at the turn of the 20th century. A fun debate ensues over whether it is art or science that are the life changing forces that mold the future. But it is love and passion that drives both the scientist and the artist. Albert Einstein is my hero. I once had a favorite hat with his image embroidered above the bill. For it was Einstein that first discovered the photon and ultimately gave birth to science that developed the solar voltaic panels that now power my house.

People ask me how I like my solar panels. My first response was that it makes me feel like a tree- not me exactly, but having my home, which is like my turtle shell, especially in very hot or cold rainy days and nights, heated and cooled with power from my solar panels. The panels just sit on my roof and quietly and efficiently generate about half the electricity that we use throughout the year. Of course, our panels are constructed with doped silicon sheets and not chlorophyll.

I am also asked about maintenance of the panels. This involves about 20 minutes a year of my time, a long handled soft brush attached to a garden hose and about 100 gallons of water. Washing the panels at midsummer (which is the summer solstice, marking the day when the days begin to shorten, even if it continues to get hotter in general as the sun heats the northern hemisphere through the next three months) may become my ritual for the longest day of the year. It's a great way to celebrate this wonderful technology that has so much potential for the future.

Blessed Be and Never Thirst!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Purple Hydrants and Purple Pipes

Five years ago, I had just got home from the hospital for my second hip replacement and found that San Jose Water Company was tearing open my street to replace the 50 year-old water main. They were also adding two new fire hydrants to the main, replacing the one at the corner, which often was hit by cars that miss the slight turn to the William Street bridge over Coyote Creek.

Several years ago, the South Bay Water Recycling Project had installed a purple water main nearby on South 12th Street. Purple is the color code required for all water lines carrying recycled water. This purple pipeline was part of a $250 million project being built by the City of San Jose in response to a flow cap placed on their waste(d) water discharge permit into South San Francisco Bay under the Federal Clean Water Act. This order was issued in response to a violation by San Jose of the Endangered Species Act. The amount of fresh water being discharged all year long into the tidal sloughs was converting salt marsh habitat in the South Bay to brackish marsh, thereby destroying the habitat for two endangered species: the California Clapper Rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse.

The South Bay Water Recycling project constructed a 1500 ft. extension from the 12th St. purple pipeline to William Street Park, just across the bridge from my street, Brookwood Drive, where the water company was replacing its water main and installing the new fire hydrants. It occurred to me that this would have been the best opportunity to also extend the purple pipeline, just 200 feet away and install hydrants on both the conventional water main and the purple pipeline extension.

One of my directors on the Silicon Valley Pollution Prevention Center Board was Andy Gere, the Water Quality Manager for the investor-owned San Jose Water Company. I called him and inquired about the idea of extending purple pipelines into new areas as the old water mains were under reconstruction and also installing purple fire hydrants as a backup for the fire suppression system in the cities neighborhoods.
This suggestion was met with more than contempt. A few weeks later, my Board held a clandestine meeting at San Jose Water Company's offices where they voted to not renew my employment contract with the Silicon Valley Pollution Prevention Center and to shut down the organization.

In the interim, I had in my junk pile an actual fire hydrant that I decided to paint purple and give to Director Richard Santos, an elected member of the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board, who was a fire captain with the San Jose Fire Department before he retired. My son and I loaded the hydrant into my pickup truck and then we dollied the hydrant into the Board Room before their meeting began, placing it on the floor in front of the Board dais. At the beginning of the meeting, I addressed the Board and ceremoniously bequeathed the purple fire hydrant, and purple hydrant key to Director Santos for his future work in getting the fire department's support for installing purple fire hydarnts on all the purple pipelines in San Jose and throughout the County. Unfortunately, this issue takes a permanent back seat to Director Santos' agenda to protect his below-sea-level town of Alviso from flooding. But it was a good thought.

Last month, I requested that the Naglee Park Neighborhood Association Steering Committee agendize the subject of requesting the City of San Jose to install purple fire hydrants on the purple pipeline in the neighborhood as a backup to the fire suppression capabilities of the hydrants on the San Jose Water Company mains. Our downtown council member, Sam Liccardo, responded directly to me in an e-mail that this sounded like a "hellova good idea" so maybe the idea has some potential to be implemented in the future.

Below is the memo that I drafted on the subject to open the discussion on installing purple fire hydrants in San Jose. In an email to a friend in Houston, I mentioned to her that I was working with her brother , here in San Jose, who was the manager of the South Bay Water Recycling project, to install purple fire hydrants.
With tongue-in-cheek, she wrote back with the query: "So are the purple fire hydrants in California to please gay firemen or gay dogs?' I'll take any and all the support I can get.


November 3, 2003

From Patrick T. Ferraro, Executive Director
Silicon Valley Pollution Prevention Center

Subject: Fire Hydrants connected to South Bay Water Recycling purple pipe system

The National Board Of Fire Underwriters once set water system standards for fire flow and each city was continuously being rated for its water system capacity to protect the built environment of various parts of the city. Today that responsibility is met by the public-private partnership of the City and its water utility infrastructure providers.

The City of San Jose is rapidly densifying its urban core, relocating City Hall, and integrating with SJSU’s high new rise development. During a major conflagration in this dense new urban core, most of the water mains would be tapped to flow away from surrounding neighborhoods toward the dense downtown core.

But for some neighborhoods, there may be a backup system almost in place. Naglee Park and the Northside neighborhood are two of the areas fortunate enough to have a secondary system of Purple Pipe/Recycled Water running right through it, all along 12th Street, with feeders along San Carlos to SJSU. and east to William St. Park. However, San Jose has not begun to place purple hydrants along the any of the existing or new lines to make it available for fire fighting.

San Jose Water Company is currently replacing the 50yr+ old water mains on many neighborhood streets. They are also adding more hydrants on the blocks with inadequate spacing. But, to date, San Jose Water is NOT routinely putting a purple pipeline in the streets, nor even considering the option to hook up new hydrants to the recycled water system once it was installed. A ten-foot separation between recycled and potable pipelines is required by the State Department of Health Services.

The City and SCVWD will have invested nearly $250 million in a Recycled Water System by the time it's extended to the Metcalf Energy Center. Local decision makers are currently examining options for using the 90% unused capacity of this significant investment in water supply infrastructure. Using the SBWR system for getting better fire protection and insurance rates seem to be an untapped benefit worth pursuing.

After discussions with SCVWD Director (and former fire captain) Richard Santos and Assistant Fire Chief Jim Carter, San Jose Fire Captain Ralph Ortega requested that I research case studies where recycled water systems feed separate fire flow systems. After a week, six California cities responded to date with their stories about fire systems fed from their water recycling system. Three additional respondents have been added in this version.

Case Study #1. Sonoma State University (SSU) Fire Protection System/
Source Water: City of Santa Rosa Water Reclamation Plant and Pipelines.
Sonoma State University fire and irrigation system was constructed as a loop around the campus fed from a large open pond by an onsite pump.
Eight years ago, the City of Santa Rosa and SSU reached an agreement to have the City’s water recycling system tie in to the campus fire and irrigation system, and SSU became the major customer for recycled water, and the motivation to extend their purple pipeline system out to the campus, and capture several additional customers along the way, that would otherwise have continued using limited potable supplies within the city. The SSU system uses 40% of the current output of the Santa Rosa water reclamation plant.

The Fire Department wanted the SSU fire system to maintain 60 psi, which was a constraint during the evening hours when the irrigation system was in normally in use. Placing controllers on the pumping system, which activated the on-campus pumps at the pond when pressure dropped below the required pressure, solved this problem.
The City Master Plan includes a future 200 million gallon reservoir to be installed at an elevation sufficient to maintain this desired pressure without the need for operating the campus pumps, and will increase the overall reliability of the system. Another constraint was the requirement by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, which prohibited hydrant flushing directly into the streets and storm drain inlets. Hydrant flushes would have to be directed to landscape areas that could contain the flushing water or be conveyed by hose to a sanitary sewer access port.
For further information, contact: Mr. Dan Carlson, City of Santa Rosa
Phone: 707 543-3944; E-mail:

Case Study #2: Marriott’s Great America Amusement Park/Source Water: City of Santa Clara branch/South Bay Water Recycling (SBWR)
The Great America Amusement Park’s fire flow system is connected to the SBWR system and an onsite lake that is incorporated into the park’s landscape.
Discussions with the park’s insurer resulted in agreement that the connection to SBWR, although somewhat less reliable at 99.9%, was acceptable in comparison to the 100% reliability of the potable system due to the higher pressures provided by SBWR in the City of Santa Clara,
For further information, contact: Mr. Robin Saunders, Director of Water & Sewer Utilities, City of Santa Clara. Phone: 408 615-2011;

Case Study #3 Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD)
MMWD has about 12 hydrants in a distribution system of 25 miles. They are primarily used for flushing and providing local fill-up stations for truck hauled recycled water, which is usually practiced only in droughts due to cost of labor.

You can never have too many functioning water systems after an earthquake. As you are probably aware, fire fighting is one of the many uses recognized in Title 22, so there is no regulatory hurdle except for the fire fighters themselves. Since they use pond water, swimming pools, and other non-potable sources it is simply a matter of education to gain acceptance about tertiary water. I tell folks to think of it like swimming pool water. You wouldn't want to make a habit of drinking it, but if you did it wouldn't be a big deal.

Providing recycled water fire hydrants creates new opportunities for cross connections. I recommend that you deal with that by prohibiting any training using the recycled water hydrants. They should be saved for the "big one". Fire departments often rig up multiple connections with hoses going everywhere, so it is just too easy to x-connect to potable. In a real emergency, this risk is small compared to imminent threats to life and safety, which take precedence.

Don't count on the fire fighters knowing what a purple hydrant means. Add some kind of signage.
Contact: Bob Castle, General Manager, Marin Municipal Water District
Phone: 415 924-4600; E-mail:
Case Study #4: Fallbrook Public Utilities District
I've looked into this in the past and received opposition from the Health Dept types. Their primary concern is potential cross connections. Here's the scenario they are concerned about: A pumper truck goes and fights a fire using a hydrant on the reclaimed system. As they are mopping up they are called to another fire and when they pull up to the second location, they connect to the potable system. However, there is still recycled water in the pumper truck tank from the first fire, we now have a cross connection. I know that right about now your eyes are rolling to the back of your head and you are moaning about how "over the top" this concern is, but that's what we've heard. An additional concern that was once expressed by the fire fighters association folks was inhalation of recycled water spray and the potential health effects of that. We countered with "what about all the smoke, particulate and other fumes that they are inhaling while fighting the fire? They backed off somewhat.

Personally, I think it's a great idea and would like to see it accomplished.

Contact: Keith Lewinger, WateReuse Association, CA Chapter President and General Manager, Fallbrook Public Utilities District
Phone: 619 728-1125; E-mail:

Case Study # 5 City of Livermore
The City of Livermore has 60 standard purple fire hydrants connected to the water recycling pipelines, plus 36 buildings (including a Costco) with sprinkler systems fed with recycled water.
Contact: Dean Atkins, Supervisor, Water Reclamation Coordinator
Phone: 925-960-8125, Reclamation Plant: 925-960-8100
Contact: Bob Whitley, Engr. Consultant & WateReuse Association Director E-mail;

Case Study#6 (actually an advisory response & possible future use)
City of San Diego/San Diego County Water Agency
I don't know yet of any hydrant on any of the recycled water systems here in San Diego. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any San Diego agency that is planning to install purple hydrants. This is one area that we would probably pursue in the near future. Although Title 22 allows the use of recycled water for fire fighting in structures, I suggest that the following issues or concerns are addressed:
• Is the recycled water systems reliable? The recycled water system may be shut down for a period of time (ranging from a few hours to a few days) due to plant shut-downs or off-spec. water production. This may not be a major issue for irrigation, but it would be for fire fighting. This may be mitigated by having the ability to supplement the recycled water system with potable water, either at the plant or at various locations in the distribution system, i.e., storage tanks. The City of San Diego's North City WRP and distribution system both have this capability.
• Ability to wash or flush and disinfect fire trucks after recycled water service (unless the trucks are dedicated to recycled water service). This would probably be required judging from previous concerns raised by our local regulators with regard to cross-contamination and back-flow. Discuss this with your local regulators.
• Consider installing guard posts around purple hydrants to protect them from being run over or hit by vehicular traffic. Just an added protection; and again, judging from our local regulator's concern regarding public exposure to recycled water over spray.
Contact: Cesar Lopez, San Diego County Water Agency

Case Study #7 Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts
This is a very interesting topic, and believe it or not, it has come up
several times in the last few months, not only in our service area but in
Riverside and Clark County, Nevada. And the fire department officials have been less than supportive, believing that their firefighters are exposed to enough risks already, without getting sick from ingesting or inhaling reclaimed water from the hose spray! And, while the use of reclaimed water for fire protection is a non-consumptive application by itself, a number of our larger reuse sites (as well as the affected ones in Riverside and Nevada) have fire protection integrated with their reclaimed water system (i.e., common storage reservoirs that also provide the required fire flow). If we could not convince the fire department of the safety of reclaimed water, then numerous large users of reclaimed would have had to have been converted back to potable water. Not only that, but all of our water reclamation plants use reclaimed water for fire protection as well.

Back in June, I put together a Protocol for Fire Fighting as a way of
convincing the various fire services (starting with L.A. County) that
reclaimed water was safe and approved for such use by the State DHS. I'm attaching a copy of this report, along with the supporting data in three Excel files.
Contact: Earle C. Hartling, Water Recycling Coordinator
Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County
1955 Workman Mill Road, P.O. Box 4998, Whittier, CA 90607
tel. (562) 699-7411, x 2806, fax. (562) 908-429

Case Study #8: Dublin-San Ramon Services District
No hydrants were installed with their recycled water pipelines, but they no feel that was an oversight. Besides the benefit for backup fire fighting, the hydrants can have meters attached to enable use of the recycled water for street sweepers, construction water, and short-term irrigation for initial plant establishment periods. “The more access to the reclaimed water system, the better.”
Contact: Dave Requa, General Manager 925-875-2244

Comment #9: San Jose Water Company
As several of the case study participants (above) noted, cross connections are a very serious concern when considering adding fire hydrants to recycled water lines. In the past few years, fire departments in California have been responsible for several very serious cross connection incidents with fire fighting chemicals, including one at Alameda County Water District that contaminated water serving thousands of people. Firefighting agencies, all the way up to the State Fire Marshall level, have historically been uncooperative in working with water utilities to take measures to prevent these types of incidents from occurring in the future. I would not recommend providing hydrants on recycled water mains in any area that is already served by potable water for these reasons. To learn more about public health risks due to cross-connections, go to

Regarding potable water main replacement projects, many of these are driven by fireflow requirements alone. In many cases, San Jose Water Company is replacing water mains that have no leak history, but are undersized to meet current fire flow guidelines. The distribution storage and pumping in our system is sized almost entirely on fire flow requirements, not on consumer demand. For example, to fight the recent fire at Santana Row, San Jose
Water Company supplied firefighters with 5 million gallons of water to extinguish the blaze. This fire was one of the largest in San Jose history, and the existing potable system was more than adequate to fight it.

There are also reliability questions associated with relying on the South
Bay Water Recycling system for to meet fire flows. The recycled water system has very little storage, and no redundant pumping. The system was not designed to meet minimum fireflows and could fail to provide adequate volume and pressure for firefighting since the system was not designed using fireflow criteria.

This is a discussion that should happen among the SVP2Center board members before the white paper is amended. I oppose making these changes to the current board-approved white paper until the board has had an opportunity to meet and discuss the proposed changes.

Contact: Andrew R. Gere, P.E., Manager of Operations and Water Quality
San Jose Water Company
Ph. (408) 279-7815, Fax (408) 292-5812,

Fixing The Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta

Fixing The Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta

My earlier post on the water history of Santa Clara County tells the full story of why Silicon Valley's future is tied to the Delta. As the current governor (and the next) fight the uphill battle to fix the Delta to assure that fresh water can continue to flow to the State's farms and metropolitan areas, this historical account will be lesson to help avoid the knee-jerk reactions that doomed the attempts to fix the problem in 1982 by then Governor Jerry Brown. If Jerry Brown runs again for governor and wins that election, he may get the biggest taste of deja vu ever.

Below is a letter printed in the San Jose Mercury News in response to their reporting on the current negotiation to revive the Peripheral Canal, although the political spin doctors will surely smith many new names to try to avoid the old responses to this most dreaded and maligned piece of plumbing:

Subj: Delta Fix

Date: 9/6/2007 4:08:35 PM Eastern Daylight Time




Despite the Mercury News' support of the Peripheral Canal during the 1982 referendum, Northern California voters crushed the only feasible method of fixing the broken Delta water delivery system. When the State Water Project was designed during Governor "Pat" Brown's administration, the canal was an essential part of the plumbing to make it safe and efficient. Without it, most water officials knew the rivers would run backwards, and fish would suffer serious declines. When his son, Gov. Jerry put restrictions on pumping in dry years to avoid pumping more salt to cities and farm lands, the greedy interests took to the job of conning voters to dump the canal proposal and the restrictions that were tied to it in the enabling legislation. Since then, 2 million tons of extra salt per year have flowed with the diverted water, most of it onto farmlands, with guarantees that the land would no longer support agriculture and then it would be easier to justify paving it over to hold down the dust. We have lost the fish, tomorrow we will lose the farm produce.

Never Thirst!

Pat Ferraro

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Response to Senator Boxer re. Water Conservation

Today I received an e-newsletter appeal from Senator Boxer asking that I conserve water because of the current drought in California. It's admirable that our members of Congress are joining local and State government efforts to reduce water consumption. But there has always been an underbelly to our efforts to reduce per capita water use during droughts.

Below is my response to the Senator through her web site. If I receive anything other than an automatic robo-reply, I'll add it to this post at that time.

Senator Boxer:

Recently, a insightful letter was published in the San Jose Mercury News. It was a short but powerful statement. It said "I'll believe there is a drought when they stop issuing building permits."

I have spent 35 years in water management, 23 as an elected member of the Santa Clara Valley Water District.I have watched this District surcharge water rates so current residents pay for water systems that will be used to serve future growth, while discounting agricultural rates 90% to farmers, until they sell to developers and make millions on the land that many would like to keep in production as a local food supply.

I have been through several droughts and have watched businesses and residents respond to both voluntary and mandatory rationing. Despite all these admirable responses, people did notice that building permits continued to be issued without any concern for the shrinking water supply. Because public entities are often separated between land use agencies and water agencies, there is no nexus to control this problem.

If you want public support for achieving more water use efficiency, I would suggest that you work with the California legislature to find other ways to pay for the State's future growth than on the backs of its current residents and businesses, many of whom have already reduced their per capita water use to minimal levels.

Never Thirst!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Do You Believe in Magic?

Today we celebrate the replication of life by honoring the human seed carriers we call Fathers.

While replication of life on a genetic level is amazing, we don't call it magic. Science tells us the story of DNA replication with an RNA copy that occurs when each living cell gets environmental signals that trigger the process of cell growth or repair. That's what our endocrine system does for us, and why endocrine disruptor or mimickers in our environment are such a concern, for both
human health and all the ecosystems.

My post on Water Quality Protection speaks to behavior rules to protect water quality, but it is far from perfect in eliminating the risks of having pollutants like endocrine disruptors in our water. The source for many of these false messengers is from our own bodies, which excrete artificially high levels of pharmaceuticals, like pain medications and hormone treatments, especially birth control pills. Only a small amount of most pills are metabolized by the body, while most of it passes unchanged through our bodies. THIS IS THE MAIN SOURCE OF WATER POLLUTION, for this kind of chemical, not unused bottles of drugs being dumped into toilets, which is not a good thing to do either.

But back to the subject of this post:

Do You Believe in Magic?

Being an earth loving kind of a guy, my spiritualism naturally brings me to Earth-based rituals to honor the life giving elements of our beautiful planet. We are both humbled and in awe of our home here, orbiting at just the right angle to the only safe nuclear reactor we call the Sun. How all this happened is sometime the stuff of scientists, but more often the stuff of our spiritual practices to ponder and try to explain.

Beyond the elements of earth, air, water and fire, we enjoy life and often tend to focus on spirit, as we communicate with ourselves and each other. The duration of our spirit is what we document in our brains as memories. We'd like this record to go on forever. At the same time we know that we will return our elements to the planet someday, but wish for some magical existence, away from and after our bodies are no longer in the replication mode we call life.

I'm just now finishing the excellent book by Alan Weisman, called "The World Without Us" It is a well-researched look at the transience of human works and how nature would reclaim and undo everything that humanity has wrought on the planet. It also addresses the concept of human transference, where all your individual historical self can be uploaded into cyberspace and live there free of natural constraints, like death.

As human beings continues their foolish lemming-like mass suicidal behavior, many people are already practicing a limited versions of this strange new level of existence. All sorts of people are joining Second Life, where they create a cyber version of a person they want to be and then move that person through a cyber society, doing whatever they chose to become. It's the Sims Gone Wild, and a trip that I have not yet considered joining to date.

But then here's my blog on the Internet, available for anyone to comment and engage me in conversations that could change who I perceive myself to be and possibly changing a reader in some way.

As survivors, we all wish our life would go on forever. What we wish for are also what we call spells. My earth goddess mate, Cari, has produced an edition of an art book called Star Spell, reminding us that even things like wishing on a star is a spell.

Spells and magic are often confused in popular culture. I see magic when I wish for something that has no scientific basis and probability of occurring, but does happen after you, individually, or a group of people wish for something.

This is a very long preface to the following story of the most magical event that ever occurred for me while I have been in my career of water minding here in San Jose and California.

The Miracle March Rains of 1991
In that year, 1991, Drought is the word heard most throughout the State of California. Below normal dryness has continued for the fifth straight year in a state that had barely enough reservoir capacity to just get us through these four prior years.

In many states where rain falls all year, there is not the California obsession about building dams to catch every drop. In fact many states would not want to impede the flow of their mighty rivers, where quantities of water are too threatening and are barely contained behind miles of levees.

Water supplies in California had finally been reduced to about half the amount of normal demand for both urban needs and to sustain the life of agriculture's trees and vines. Groundwater was being overdrafted in every basin in the state, as surface deliveries from all federal, state and local reservoirs were running out.

Santa Clara County had been subject to mandatory rationing for at least three years, but the staff and Board of the Water District were in the process of justifying and mandating that water use would be reduced to 50% of the 1986 base year, and would include an outright ban for watering all landscaping in the County. The usual contentiousness of the Water District Board was much worse than ever, as business groups to homeowners associations begged special consideration to avert the impact on their individual interests. The Landscape Advisory Committee had been formed and was now advising the Board about the enormous economic impact such an action would cost the people of this county.

Lately, most of my time was spent reading the endless reports generated by the staffs of our local water district as well as the state and federal reports which would justify cutbacks of the two aqueducts which our county relied for normally half of our water.
Even in stressful times, recreational reading is advisable to keep one from overdosing on water politics.

A friend and neighbor had married a novelist named Bruce Hendersen, who, with the famous Vincent Bugliosi, wrote a best selling account of a murder and piracy trail filed in the a Federal District Court in Honolulu, Hawaii. Bugliosi learned from his successful novel and movie rights for Helter Skelter, the gruesome account of the Charlie Manson clan and murders, that more comes with story telling than from straight lawyering fees, even being Los Angeles' chief prosecutor.

In the federal court room in Hawaii, Vincent Bugliosi, now the defense lawyer for the woman being tried for these crimes, was successful in a motion for a change of venue. Enormous local publicity was generated over arrest of the defendants for a double murder on a distant atoll in the South Pacific and the nerve of the perps to show up in Honolulu sailing the victims' boat with a new paint job. So in 1985, the trail was moved to the Federal courthouse in San Francisco, CA.

The trial proceeded with jury selection and then began with opening arguments. But on February 14, 1986, (my daughter's first birthday) what weathermen call a "Pineapple Express" set up across the Pacific Ocean and began a two-week deluge that filled every reservoir in Northern California to the brink. Weeks earlier, water districts like ours were contemplating the severity of the mandatory rationing that would be imposed if rain did not come before the end of the 1985-86 rainy season.

Flooding of many communities began within days of the continuous rainfall, and caused many residents in the Bay area to abandon normal commutes, especially from Marin County, where some of the jurors resided. Frustrated, the Federal Judge, the Honorable Samuel King, issued an order from his near empty courtroom in San Francisco that it stop raining by February 18, 1986.

This was what I read on February 19, 1991,in the novel co-authored by Vincent Bugliosi and Bruce Hendersen, that was about to be released as TV movie at the end of this month. Wanting to finish the book before seeing the movie, I came to this account of the judge's order. My senses about water issues were heightened by the drought response we were facing, so, this account in the novel, being weeks on the non-fiction best sellers list, gave me pause.

I made the decision to write a letter to Judge King and plead with him to rescind his order. I wrote (your order) "seems to have worked too well! That was the last real storm to have visited Northern California in the last five years. There may be a lesson here from the Sorcerer's Apprentice, only this time in reverse. For the welfare of the State of California, may I plead with Your Honor to please rescind your order before the entire region dries up and blows away. (Closing with) Never Thirst! Patrick T. Ferraro, Director, Santa Clara Valley Water District."

I faxed the letter from my computer to the Federal Courthouse in Hawaii. The Judge's clerks kindly forwarded my letter to the Judge who was in Los Angeles at the time for the premier of the movie, in which he was cast to play himself.

In a reply on February 26, 1991, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, the Judge King replied to me on official US District Court/Hawaii stationery as follows:

Dear Brother Ferraro:

Your plea is heard and your wish granted.

I hereby rescind my order of February 18, 1986.

I hereby order that rain shall fall again in California by

February 27, 1991.

Aloha kava,

Samuel P. King

When the paperback version of this novel was released the following year, an addition to the book was added about my letter to Judge King and his response:

"That very day rains returned as ordered. What the water experts described as a 'large warm storm coming from Hawaii' deluged drought stricken Northern California with the heaviest rainfall in five years -more than eleven inches in six days." Bugliosi also added "In retrospect, there was considerably more risk than I thought in challenging Judge King's authority."

The local media in San Jose had a great deal of fun covering this exchange over the course of the eight days between February 19 and February 28, and then through the storm that saved California from its worst water shortage in decades.

So be careful what you wish for. Sometimes MAGIC HAPPENS!


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bailing Out Alviso from the Guadalupe River Delta

Alviso has an unfortunate geographical and geological position that it always must battle.

Alviso is our Netherlands. Ever since the water pumpers (that's everyone) pulled the artesian pressure from the gravels below the valley floor, the clay deposits dewatered and then compressed and the ground sank 10 to 12 feet all the way from downtown to the Bay.

Alviso is now that much below sea level and will remain that way until the watersheds and/or we humans fill it in again to sea level. That can be observed in short enough history as the Guadalupe River bottom filled right back to almost sea level between the new District-built levees within just 10 years. Sort of a public-natural partnership, without the watershed actually signing anything, just dumping its sediment load while the water was seeking sea level.

Every river on the planet forms a delta as it reaches the sea. Except in South San Francisco Bay, where our rivers were channelized through the salt ponds for the last 100 years, where the river deltas would otherwise be forming and doing their geomorphology thing. Add that to the adjacent, upstream and below-sea-level Alviso District, and you form the huge real estate blind spot that begs & demands flood protection NOW before you spend any more money upstream.

If we are going design with nature, (Parcel tax is funding CLEAN, SAFE CREEKS AND NATURAL FLOOD PROTECTION) we need to first see what nature would do in Alviso it we weren't here. It would first fill it in with sediment from the watershed, and then form a delta fanning along the bay to distribute sediment across the tidelands, which would then move out through the estuary to the ocean.

The Water District can either work with that natural course of events or just throw away money trying to reverse it temporarily, remembering the sediment that showed up within 10 years between the newest set of levees.

Maybe I'm foolish to think that the District Board or staff can think this big before they spend money. But at least I know that looking at it with a planetary view, this delta approach should be a natural.

Never Thirst!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Water In An Endless Loop I wanted to share this excellent video I helped produce some years ago about the why's and how's of water recycling. It was produced through the then California WateReuse Foundation, which has morphed into a national organization now based in Virginia. Recently the Board of Directors released the video for open source and it soon was posted on my friend, Diana Foss's web site, "Running Water" which she developed during her recent (and unfortunately unsuccessful) bid for election to the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors in San Jose, CA.

This video was produced with contributions from the public and private interests in water recycling. As Chair of the WateReuse Education Committee, I conceived the treatment, raised the funds, selected the excellent prodution company, and labored over the many script drafts and managed the ego-systems that were always in the way of completing this project.

It was produced using PBS specs, so it is 24 minutes long. Getting a Non-PBS production on the air on the PBS network is very difficult, but luckily my sister-in-law works for KQED in San Francisco and gave a copy to the programming director and once it played SF, it was picked up by the remaining PBS stations in CA.

Late in the year, it was awarded the Best Documentary of the Year award by the San Jose Film Commission. This was a mixed blessing because the WateReuse staff immediately thought they could turn this donated production into a cash cow and offered to sell the video rather than distribute it free to school and public libraries. So it sat on the shelf for over a decade, and hardly anyone saw it. I 'm still amazed how greed and short-sightedness can ruin a good thing in any group.

Now that it's posted on the Internet, I am again hopeful that this video will help overcome the ignorance and knee-jerk reactions that are so prevalent surrounding water recycling proposals. With global warming threatening more droughts in the future, we need to reuse every drop of water that we have developed and used in our urban communities.

Never Thirst!


Friday, June 6, 2008

Riparian Girl

A great song parody borrowed from another blogger:

Riparian Girl
By Laura Colangelo (and Madonna)

Some folks want to go out West and
start to use a stream,
but even "beneficial use" won't
guarantee their dream.

They can beg and they can plead and
they can try to fight.
But laws there say the first appropri-
ator has the rights!

I'd rather be living in a riparian world
'cause I am a riparian girl!
You know I'm happy living in a riparian world
and I am a riparian girl.

In the East it's fair and not so
hard to understand:
I can use the water if I
own adjacent land.

Some build docks, some water crops but
these things are ok.
Just don't alter the natural state
of the waterway!

It's so great to be living in a riparian world,
and I am a riparian girl.
You know that we are living in a riparian world
and I am a riparian girl.

Suits may come and suits may go
and that's all right you see.
If my use is reasonable, they can't
take my stream from me!

Oh boy, do I like living in a riparian world
'cause I am a riparian girl.
You know that we are living in a riparian world
and I am a riparian girl.

Coyote Valley Draft EIR Comments

San Jose recently avoided a serious mistake when development interests abandoned a multi-year multi-million dollar campaign to urbanize the Coyote Valley, a 7000-acre valley south of the existing urban service area.

The Water District remained suspiciously silent about this proposal due to the obvious sympathy for growth and development in general expressed in many comments by the Board of Directors. The staff response to the problems identified concerning water resources were that it offered "new challenges."

My response is below and I re-print it here to keep these comments available to address any future attempts to renew this development proposal, which will always be a flawed use of land that is so important to protecting groundwater and reducing flooding on downstream reaches along Coyote Creek:

Patrick T. Ferraro, Retired Director

Santa Clara Valley Water District
351 Brookwood Drive
San Jose, California 95116-2742

May 22, 2007

Mr, Daryl Boyd, Principal Planner
City of San Jose
Department of Planning, Building and Code Enforcement
200 East Santa Clara Street
San Jose, CA 95113
Email only to:

Dear Mr. Boyd:

Attached, please find my comments to the Draft Environmental Impact Report on the Coyote Valley Specific Plan.

Thank you for extending the comment period for review of this document. This will allow additional time to coordinate comments between stakeholders.

I would be happy to meet and discuss these comments at any time that is convenient to you, your staff or any of the Council members.

I hope that this planning process will bring the City of San Jose to a policy position that places sustainability and resources protection above any short-term gains that the proposed CVSP might appear to offer. The loss of value of the region’s natural resources cannot be justified and the proposed project should be replaced with an expanded open space plan that strives to maintain the quality and quantity of our water resources.

Never Thirst!

Patrick T. Ferraro, Former Director
Santa Clara Valley Water District (1972-1995)

Coyote Valley Specific Plan Build-out Environmental Impact Report

Comments on Draft released by the City of San Jose on April 11, 2007

The Draft environmental impact report (DEIR) addresses a myriad of interwoven issues. The ecosystem of the Coyote Valley is addressed from various perspectives in the subject document. I will focus on the water resources in this piece of the greater Coyote Creek Watershed. Since water is a fundamental resource enabling most human and other living activities, the train of impacts on water will be reflected back to every other aspect of concern to us as a community.

A negative impact on water is essentially a lessening of its value to both nature and the economic metrics of the human community. Assessing how a community values its water resources is a challenge that the Santa Clara Valley Water District is constantly measuring. Polls are in progress even during this review period for this DEIR. An existing measure of our community’s value of water comes from reading the Water Board’s Ends Policies that records their direction for operation of the Water District in order to achieve its mission. These policies should be incorporated into this Final EIR by reference to the SCVWD Website link:

Protected water resources are more than a local value, as our own use of these resources impacts the state and the nation as a whole. Harming water resources harms the economic sustainability of the region that shares in our communities’ natural wealth. Former New Jersey Governor and George W. Bush’s head of EPA, Christine Whitman, stated the value quite clearly: “Some watershed land must not be developed. It’s natural value in buffering, storing, filtering and recharging far exceeds whatever commercial value it may hold.”

The following review of the Hydrology/Water Quality section of the Coyote Valley DEIR are my opinions alone, and are NOT necessarily the current Water Board’s policy or CEO’s interpretation, but I would argue that they should be. My comments are made with the intention of providing planners and decision makers with a clearer image of the impacts under discussion, and a stronger sense of the value of the water resources, which can be severely impacted by such a plan were it to be built.

Section 4.8.2 Existing Hydrologic Conditions:
From a hydrologic perspective the “natural" tendency of Coyote Valley is to gather, hold and store water in the ground. If we are to "Design with Nature" (ref: Ian McHarg) we should honor that tendency by protecting the most permeable areas as permanently preserved water shed and providing sufficient and appropriate storm water management to prevent unnatural elevations of groundwater.

Historically High Groundwater Levels Show Coyote Valley Unsuited
to High-Density Hardscape Development

The 7000 acres (+/-) of the Coyote Valley are situated directly downstream of 200 square miles of watershed of Coyote Creek, which is somewhat controlled by two dams, named Andersen and Coyote. Together, these two dams can impound up to 115,000 ac.-ft. of runoff water from this portion of the Diablo Mountain Range, located east, southeast and northeast of the Coyote Valley.

In 1982 and 1983, when an El Nino condition gave the Coyote Watershed two back-to-back record (30 inches/year) rainfall years, late storms produced nearly 10,000 cubic feet per second flows over the spillways of the dams. The two years of exceptionally high runoff eventually raised the local groundwater levels to a condition closely resembling a wetland for the entire 10 miles downstream of Andersen Dam. This condition lasted for several years, and, in places today, the groundwater levels continue to be relatively high and close to the surface.

Section Creek/Coyote Canal
In 1950, when the Andersen dam was planned and constructed, the then-current landowners in the Coyote Valley brought suit against the SCVWD's predecessor agency to request relief from anticipated negative impacts of future operational releases through the dam into Coyote Creek for delivery of water to recharge the groundwater basins to the north. The land-owners claimed that high groundwater was already a constraint on using the lands of the Coyote Valley for farming and related uses, and, that additional releases of water into Coyote Creek would exacerbate that situation. While the suit was never litigated in court, the water conservation district constructed an isolated canal above the creek bed to deliver water through the Coyote Valley to groundwater recharge ponds near Metcalf Road and points further north. These ponds are used for augmenting the yield of the Santa Clara groundwater basin. The recharge capacity of these ponds are about 50,000 ac.-ft. per year, nearly half of the current annual draft by all the wells in north Santa Clara County.

Many high tech manufacturing firms, such as Apple Computer held options on much of the lands in the Coyote Valley in the early 1980’s. They took heed from this extremely wet two-year event, and relinquished their options and abandoned plans to expand their facilities in the Coyote Valley. Engineers from the City of San Jose met with the Water District staff to explore methods of lowering the water table in the Coyote Valley, but no feasible alternative was ever developed or proposed.

Section Flooding Conditions
Being a relatively flat, porous area, the flooding conditions are somewhat dependent on the groundwater table elevation. When the basin is nearly full or beyond, and the area becomes a wetland, the capacity for the land to store runoff is greatly diminished since less of the rainfall can enter and store in the basin, except when surcharging the Laguna Seca on Fisher Creek. This historic flood detention basin in the northern section of the Coyote Valley received surface flows from Fisher Creek, which nature did not connect to Coyote Creek as it does today. Overflows from the Laguna Seca reached Coyote Creek from sheet flows moving down gradient. Ponding of the waters of Fisher Creek resulted in fine clay deposits in and around the Laguna Seca, sealing off the porous alluvium and contributing to the long-term (sometime multi-year) detention of the floodwaters.

The two dams upstream are operated in a manner that often prevents the runoff of storm events from flowing through Coyote Valley. However, when the dams are both full and spilling, subsequent storms will flow through Coyote Valley and then through south San Jose, then downtown San Jose and finally along Alviso & Milpitas and finally discharges to the South San Francisco Bay. Suddenly, a valley that had virtually no upstream watershed will have 200 square miles, capable of generating five to ten thousand cubic feet per second from a storm dropping only an inch or two of water in the watershed above the dams.

In a winter with heavy rains that last for many months, dam releases or spillway overflows occur for extended periods of time, like the El Nino induced weather patters of 1982 and 1983. In those years, the water table in most of the Coyote Valley reached the ground surface and often above. This condition is not conducive to either growing orchards and vines or urban development and damages from rot would be proportional to the level of development. Damage claims from the ’82-83 wet spell were not available, but many high tech companies with options on lands in the Coyote valley cancelled their plans for developing in this narrows. One company that had begun construction was ordered by EPA to cease construction and restore the site because they were in wetlands. Coyote Valley Subbasins/Drainage Patterns & Groundwater Resources
The soil material that constitutes the Coyote Valley is large alluvial gravel, deposited on the top of the bedrock valley during early geologic periods of Coyote Creek. It is these gravel deposits, often shaped into long, twisting lenses, that runoff water can recharge, be transmitted down gradient and then be easily extracted, where needed for human uses.

The Coyote Valley is directly upstream and tributary to the main Santa Clara Groundwater Basin that serves as the de facto largest water reservoir in our county. The Coyote Creek streambed, the adjacent Coyote Valley lands and the downstream percolation ponds combined have the capacity to recharge an average 50,000 ac.-ft. per year into the basin. Currently, 100,000 ac.-ft. per year (90 million gallons per day for one year) of water is produced by public and private pumpers from the main Santa Clara Basin, but well fields are operational, which can extract nearly 200,000 ac.-ft., if, and when, necessary.

In locations where gravel lenses intersect the surface, the SCVWD or its predecessor agency would ordinarily purchase the land and create a recharge pond. These ponds would then be seasonally filled with local runoff stored in reservoirs. After 1965, water imported from the lower Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta through state and federal aqueducts was also delivered to the recharge ponds. The federal San Felipe aqueduct, with a capacity for delivering 150,000 ac.-ft. of Delta water, terminates at the base of Andersen Dam, at the upstream end of Coyote Valley.

Recently adopted stormwater regulations issued by the State of California now require most major new and redevelopment projects to mitigate the impacts of runoff from a "hardened" landscape. One of these impacts is in the form of increased flows from more frequent storms, causing bank erosion and sediment problems. The other impact of major concern is water quality impairment due to pollutant discharge into the creeks and groundwater basin.

The Coyote Valley is of exceptionally high value for recharging, filtering and transmitting surface water that enters the groundwater basin. In order to best protect the water quality and stream bed morphology, a regional urban stormwater plan should be developed as part of the San Jose general planning process to have clear knowledge of stormwater impacts and mitigation costs available for local decision-makers. Within this plan, stormwater treatment and export in an isolated facility should be considered to protect the regional groundwater resources of the County. Such a regional stormwater plans will also be subject to review and approval of the State Regional Water Quality Control Board and the USEPA, Region 9 Administrator, under the Clean Water Act. Groundwater Quality
Perchlorate: UTC used to operate a rocket test site on lands north of Andersen Lake about 1000 feet from the high water line. Unknown tons of perchlorate were generated during the testing of rockets as large as a Titan missile. These tests used to shake the entire Santa Clara Valley and send a plume of perchlorate and other chemicals for miles throughout the surrounding airsheds and watersheds.

4.8.3 Hydrologic Impacts Thresh hold of significance
The paragraph after the bullets says it all. “The proposed project would result in the conversion of land that is currently vacant, fallow or in agricultural production to urban uses, thereby upsetting the existing hydrologic balance in Coyote Valley. Urban uses contain significantly more hardscape which are impermeable and result in an increase in stormwater runoff and less groundwater recharge. Other hydrologic impacts from urbanization include increased water demands and changes in (Read: degrading) water quality” Flooding Impacts within the Development Area Fisher Creek, Coyote Creek
The explanation of the FEMA process documents the perverse process that allows land to be developed in floodways. Our math wizards claim this impact is only 0.8 feet, less than one foot of rise of the flood stage, which is precluded by the National Flood Insurance Act. After using a similar model in 1994, the City of San Jose received similar advice and declared 2000 cfs of discharge from the Evergreen Valley’s development would be insignificant when it reached Coyote Creek. Those folks along Coyote Creek who were flooded in 1997 would argue that such large discharges are significant, if not within Coyote Valley, then certainly downstream. Mitigation capacity upstream exists only until the two reservoirs are full. Downstream landowners that receive damage from these increased flows are possibly involved in an inverse taking of their private property rights.

Impact H/WQ-3 The project will cause downstream flooding impacts due to the build out of the CVSP. (SIGNIFICANT IMPACT) Groundwater impacts
From a community perspective, the greatest impact is to the downstream groundwater basin, which would be deprived of 10,000 to 20,000 acre-feet of water that currently flows through the subsurface from the Coyote Valley. What water did manage to escape around the local water pumps, would be degraded with the pollution loading, which enters the water through the new stormwater detention swales and porous pavement in roadways and open parking areas. Water quality in the groundwater in the Coyote Valley will continue to get worse as pollutants recycle through the basin or until connection to the basin for safe potable use is removed as a beneficial use.

Water demand of 22,500 ac.-ft. by the CVSP would use essentially all the storage capacity of the entire Coyote Valley sub-basin, which in some years would be insufficient. Recycled water plans of the Santa Clara Valley Water District are in early stages of development and cannot be assumed to be available to close the gap in the water balance of the CVSP.

How will the SCVWD know how much water extraction will cause subsidence? Mostly, it is clay deposits that are the type of alluvial deposits to subside. The subsidence occurs when the floodwaters that deposited the clay seeps through it into lower aquifers. This process has been going on for centuries in the area of the Laguna Seca. Since there will be no urban development in this periodic wetland, ground surface subsidence should not be a concern. Any other areas in the Coyote Valley with thick deposits of clay that would be used for urbanscape would be in danger of subsidence.

Impact H/WQ-4: Groundwater extraction will be a significant impact both within the Coyote Valley and in the downstream connected Santa Clara Basin. Impacts will be to both the quality and quantity of water available. Water in both the Coyote and the down gradient Santa Clara Basin will experience a continuous degradation of water quality. Ten to twenty thousand acre-feet of subsurface inflow to the Santa Clara Basin will be eliminated from the water balance of the northern basin. (SIGNIFICANT IMPACT) Water Quality Impacts to Surface Waters
All the water quality impacts prescribed for surface waters are potential impacts to the groundwater quality that is connected by the very porous alluvial materials on the creek bottoms and some banks. Impacts from Stream Erosion
There seems to be even less scientific certainty about the impacts to stream erosion than the other impacts discussed in the draft report. If the proposed CVSP is built as described, the stability of all downstream banks and channel bottoms will be impacted due to increased flows. The proposed Fisher Creek realignment may attempt to create a stable channel, but this might not occur due to unforeseen consequences, which is often the case when trying to understand and reproduce complex natural mechanisms like stream geomorphology and riparian ecosystems.

The CVSP downstream erosion impacts on Coyote Creek, all the way to the South Bay, will add to the cumulative impacts of all the hardscape created in the watershed. When critical velocities are exceeded, banks will fail, and sediment transport will increase, changing the cross sections in downstream reaches, thereby reducing channel capacity and/or destroying spawning areas.

Impact H/WQ-9 Higher flow duration caused by the proposed project will be a significant impact to downstream reaches of Coyote Creek. If implementation of Hydro Modification Plan basins is not feasible in the Coyote Valley, contributions to downstream in-stream improvements would be a futile ongoing and expensive effort for a problem that would exist in perpetuity. (SIGNIFICANT IMPACT) Dam Failure

While the discussion of Andersen Dam describes the probability of failure of the structure to be extremely remote, no mention is made of the stability of the upstream Coyote Dam. For over a decade, the California Division of Safety of Dams has required the SCVWD to keep the Coyote Reservoir at half full due to the west abutment of the dam being on a massive landslide that could cause the dam to fail when the landslide moved down gradient, as it is certain to do at some time in the future. Keeping the reservoir only half full reduces the risk that failure of the upper dam would cause the failure of Andersen Dam, causing a flood wave that would certainly cause death and destruction all the way to the Bay. Coyote Valley residents and businesses would have the least amount of time to evacuate and would suffer the most casualties if such a catastrophe were to occur.

Impact H/WQ –10: The failure of Andersen Dam is a managed risk due to the instability of one abutment of the upstream Coyote Dam. Failure of either dam would cause a significant impact on the CVSP and everything downstream to the Bay. (SIGNIFICANT IMPACT)

4.8.4 Mitigation and Avoidance Measures for Hydrology and Water Quality Impacts Long-term Water Quality Mitigation Measures

This entire section of mitigation/avoidance measures omits the one crucial element by which mitigation can be measured: PERFORMANCE

Without knowing what removal rate of stormwater pollutants entering each type of drainage device, the discussion proceeds as if pollution was not occurring. If performance standards could be in place for each local drainage device, with operational and maintenance budgets secured, better assurance could be made that all these mitigations are maintaining the real value to the water resources of Coyote Creek watershed.

An honest evaluation of this approach would be that it probably would not achieve the satisfactory result of preventing water quality degradation in the Coyote Valley subbasin and the main Santa Clara Basin. Since the State’s water policy is based on non-degradation of its water resources, it is doubtful that the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board would permit any stormwater management plan that allowed discharge of any of the usual stormwater detention devises within the unconfined alluvial material in the Coyote Valley or even some distance north of the valley.

The recreation of an isolated conveyance around the valley, like the original Coyote Canal, might be the only safe method of managing stormwater to protect the aquifers in the valley. The Coyote Canal was built by the Water District in 1950 to enable them to transport the water captured in Andersen and Coyote reservoirs through the Coyote valley without losing it all to the groundwater basin, as would be the case if they had used the Coyote Creek bed. Without using the Coyote Canal, the water table in the Coyote Valley would have steadily risen until the basin became a ten-mile long wetlands.

Collecting all the CVSP stormwater in watertight containers and pumping it through a suitable bypass conduit could conceivably be done, but the costs would be enormous and unlikely to be spent.

MM H/WQ Withdraw the proposed CVSP as an urbanization proposal and begin to fund and transfer the development rights to a local public open space agency. If agricultural leases are granted by the agency, organic and sustainable farming only will be allowed by actual family farmers, marketing all produce for consumption within the state.