Monday, July 28, 2008

Fresh Power With Fresh Sunshine

Forty years ago, it was about flower power.
Today we welcome the wonderful world of sun power.

Regardless of the cost you incur when you install PV's, the feel-good part is priceless.

And if you can combine solar and a plug-in car of some kind, you will feel even better and increase your return by the amount you save on gasoline.

I have solar water and power on our home.

The power panels were installed at the end of 2003, and reduced my power import by 50%, and saved me $600 per year. But I also add $600-800 savings on gasoline, as I drive my neighborhood electric vehicle about 2000 miles per year, and my gas-powered car gets only 10mpg with cold starts in the city.

I have two meters on my house. One gets standard 3-phase power (220 volts) and still powers my HVAC and electric oven. My average bill from the standard meter averages about $50/month. My house was a duplex when first build is the reason I have two meters.

The other meter is a time-of-use meters that measures net energy usage and instantaneous power readings into or out of the grid.

I do not have the Fat Spaniel Technology on my system for online monitoring, but if you like to see lots of data, go for it. Here is a neighbor’s link if you want to see how it works:

I have 36-100 watt panels on my roof, facing southeast on a 4x12 slope. The incentives from CA Energy Commission were better than they are now, but still worth getting. The State is getting the peak power it needs, right where it's needed so the tariffs are generous for peak of day export to the grid, over 30cents per kwh, while off peak rates are abut 8.5 cents/kwh

The result is I build a credit of about $100 during the period from May-Oct, which pays for about the first 1000 kwh that I draw from the grid during evenings and winter. I usually use about 600 kwh in addition to the first 1000kwh, which costs me $5/month, which happens to be the minimum amount billed each month by PG&E.

Hopefully, my experience will help other reach a positive decision to install PV's and maybe even a solar water heater. The EV options may not be what you'd like for transportation, but I have found the GEM good enough to get me going and works great as a vehicle to use in downtown San Jose.An update on solar power in the Economist published 04/15/10 is available here.
To read more about a plan to convert 100% of the US electricity to solar by 2050 click here and then scroll down and click on Grand Solar Plan under further reading.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Take Me Shopping

My friend Frank Schiavo used to tell his Environmental Studies students "If you don't want to make garbage, don't buy garbage." This refers both to the product and the packaging. It also refers to the bags that your purchases come home in.

One of the low-hanging fruit we picked while I was running the Silicon Valley Pollution Prevention Center
(SVP2Center) was to produce and give away strong canvas bags to our seminar attendees. In green ink (of course), the bags were printed with our name and logo and the words "Take Me Shopping"

Today, more and more stores offer cloth bags to their customers for a dollar or less. They still offer paper and plastic bags, but the later may soon be a relic of our no-deposit, no-return society because they are being banned in city after city. The amount of plastic trash bags littering streets, parks and stream channels has finally reached our cumulative YUK level, as we see pictures of the devastating impact these bags have on wildlife when they float on the wind or stormwater runoff into creeks, bays and oceans.

The pollution prevention aspect of store bags took about dozen years to take hold in a major way since we printed those first bags in 1996 for our conference attendees. In fact, almost every issue we discussed during my eight-year tenure as Executive Director of the SVP2 Center, was often a sort of prophetic effort that would be on our radar for action long before it reached general knowledge as environmental problem.

The SVP2Center was created within a consent decree which settled a Clean Water Act lawsuit filed by a coalition of Environmental NGO's, calling themselves CLEAN South Bay. The suit was filed against the three municipal treatment plants in San Jose, Sunnyvale and Palo Alto that discharged waste(d) water generated in thirteen cities in North Santa Clara County. All these discharges were in violation of national limits for heavy metals such as nickel, copper and cadmium being dumped into the circulation-starved South San Francisco Bay.

The largest discharger of nickel into the sewer system was a hard drive manufacturing facility owned by a company named Komag, whose CEO at the time was Bill Whitmer, who served as a board member of the SVP2Center for most of my tenure as Executive Director. The design of this Board was intended to have executives from industry and business, seated with government executives, both elected and appointed and the executive officers of the environmental NGO's. Our mission was to identify the sources of various pollutants and determine the extent that these directors' respective organizations, from the top down, could modify behavior and thereby prevent pollution from reaching local water resources.

The trilateral Board was evenly balanced, with at first three, then four members from each sector. The seed money of $375,000 was contributed from the enterprise funds of the San Jose -Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant and the San Jose City Council appointed all but the environmental members of the Board. In 2000, the Santa Clara Valley Water District committed $350,000 for pollution prevention out of the $15 million per year revenue from its new parcel tax called Clean, Safe Creeks and Natural Flood Protection Program. This allocation was split between three pollution prevention programs: the Santa Clara Valley Urban Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program, The County Pollution Prevention Committee and our NGO. With the Water District's commitment to providing $150,000 per year of funding to our organization came a bylaw change to split the appointing authority between the SJ Council and the District Board.

The Board always included one member from San Jose and the Water District. Trixie Johnson, of the San Jose Council and Stan Williams, CEO of the Water District were charter members of the Board, with Stan serving as the Board's first president. Since Stan and I could not be properly evaluating each others performance, I was offered the position of Executive Director contingent on my resigning from the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors. Not willing to lose my vestiture in CALPERS, I was offered a position on the staff of the District, which would be under contract to allow me to serve as XO of the SVP2Center, with my performance and salary to be controlled by the NGO Board.

In order to have the greatest influence on business and industry, it seemed prudent to have both the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Silicon Valley Manufacturer's Group represented on the Board to better disseminate practical pollution prevention initiatives to the broadest possible audience. These two organizations normally lobbied to prevent environmental regulations from impacting their members. If this new paradigm of ongoing mediations could avoid the long delays previously incurred through the litigation and appealed regulations, environmental protection could occur sooner and without the costly delays incurred during administrative hearings and court expenses.

Other industries, represented at various times on the Board, included Agilent Technologies, a spinoff of Hewlett Packard, the San Jose Mercury News, Pacific Gas and Electric, Pacific Bell, and IBM. IBM had learned the enormous value of pollution prevention after the $90 million cleanup costs from their leaking underground storage tanks which dumped solvents into the local groundwater basin in the late 1980's.
San Jose Water Company was also represented on the Board, having the largest corporate interest in protecting the quality of the water in the valley.

The Government sector directors included small cities like Milpitas and Santa Clara, and the County of Santa Clara. While the County had its own Pollution Prevention Committee, their program focused exclusively on business ("I'm from the Government and I'm here to help") Not willing to take the wrath of other departments within county government, the County P2 Committee refused to ever identify and try to prevent pollution generated by the County's own activities. Our organization had no such fear, although in the end, our successful efforts to move the County away from pesticide use resulted in a very oppositional director, who could not block this effort that was strongly resisted by his boss, the County Executive.

Another of our first initiatives was funded by the Integrated Waste Management Board in Sacramento. We received an $80,000 grant to identify ways and means to have oil filters removed from the solid waste stream and recycled at curbside in a safe and user-friendly manner. We ran a short-term pilot to determine the best container to issue to residents to place used oil filters in along side the used oil containers. This program was funded by a four cent fee on every quart of motor oil sold in the state. The goal was to remove the 2 million oil filters per year from the local solid waste stream that were previously going to landfills, some of which, unfortunately, were sited at the top of our watersheds.

I used to tell my Board that the most valuable product of our organization was the conversation that took place between the directors, and the resulting agreements to change the behavior which was causing pollution of our air, land or water. They may have agreed, but they generally felt funders were not going to contribute resources for us to just talk among ourselves. What the Board wanted was to increase our visibility in the community by holding some large events that could attract other decision-makers and the media. I was asked to organize such an event during my first year on the job.

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) held an annual three-day event called the State of the Estuary Symposium. I volunteered for the conference planning committee, with a notion that we could help contribute reports on our work, which focused on the South Bay watersheds and efforts to protect and restore health to our end of the Bay. The committee chair did not have a vision of having separate segments devoted to each geographical portions of the estuary. Once I realized this, I resigned from the committee and decided to hold our own one-day conference in San Jose, calling it simply the State of the South Bay.

While I served on the Water Board, I was also appointed to the Board of the California WateReuse Association, that was staffed by a law firm, which included former state legislator John Knox.
One of the staff members, Terri Taylor, acted as the event coordinator. Having been impressed again and again with her extremely well-organized events, I contacted her to see if she would consider assisting me in planning and staffing our event. Once she agreed, she gave me a punch list of the details and sequence we would need to follow to craft a successful event.

An essential element for a good conference was lining up a keynote speaker that would attract both attendees and other speakers. My first choice was Felicia Marcus, who agreed immediately to be our keynote speaker. I had met Felicia Marcus at another recent event and was quite impressed with her brilliance and wit, which charmed her audience while encouraging people to do their best to protect the environment. Felicia Marcus had been recently appointed as Regional Director of USEPA by President Clinton after demonstrating her incredible negotiation skills in settling a 75-yr. war between Los Angeles and Inyo County over the Owens Valley water appropriations. As Chair of the LA Public Works Committee, appointed by then Mayor Bradley, she was able to craft an agreement that allowed Mono Lake to refill by replacing the diverted water from the lake's tributary streams with some of LA's recycled waste(d) water, with financial aide provided by the State of California.

Our first symposium was a great success, impressing my Board and Silicon Valley at large. This of course lead to the expectation of more of the same. Over the next seven years, we held numerous other conferences focusing on the Bay and protection of our drinking water supply and the County's streams from urban stormwater pollution. We also held seminars for elected decision-makers to help them understand the linkage between land use and pollution of the groundwater and water demand, in general. My favorite conference was on the subject of industrial water use efficiency and recycling, delighting in hearing local companies dueling over who could use the least amount of water per widget or successfully reuse their process water, rather than simply discharging ultrapure rinse water to the sewers.

In the later years of my tenure, the Board took a noticeable shift. Two of my strongest environmental directors, Ted Smith of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and Craig Breon of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society were forced to shift their attention to new business of their own NGO's and left the Board.
Both the Water District and San Jose's directors shifted their Board appointments to elected members, with Rosemary Kamei replacing CEO Stan Williams, and Chuck Reed replacing the ESD Director, Carl Mosher.
Bill Whitmer, who had been an industrial director originally, had resigned when he left Komag just before it declared bankruptcy. At the suggestion of Director Trish Mulvey, another environmental activist from CLEAN South Bay, Bill Whitmer returned to the Board as an environmental director and took over as Board President. This drastically shifted the governance of the organization from being managed by the Executive Director to being managed by the Board President.

With the environmental sector of the Board in a weakened state, the other sectors started to avoid discussing some of the thornier issues like land use decisions in vulnerable parts of the watershed and the lack of progress in marketing recycled water. At a public meeting, I had a very negative exchange with SV Manufacturer's Group's XO, Carl Guardino, about the proposed development of the Coyote Valley. This fiasco was being lead by John Chambers of Cisco Systems and one of Guardino's bosses. Guardino told my Board President that if I continued opposing this development, he would remove his representative from my Board. This resulted in a Board directive to submit all correspondence to the Board for review before transmittal.

At this point, it became obvious that our mission to prevent pollution was being subverted by the same forces that had decimated the environment during the last forty years of the valley's rampant growth and industrial laissez faire.

I decided to take an extended medical leave to have a bilateral total hip replacement. I attempted to hire a consultant to work with the Board to follow San Francisco's lead on adopting the Precautionary Principle in place of the inferior approach of toxic risk management. The Board flatly rejected this proposal and let the organization exist with no staff during the next four months.

During my recovery from surgery, while San Jose Water Company was replacing the water main and fire hydrants on my street, it dawned on me that this investor-owned water retailer had no interest in extending the recycled water system for use for firefighting or any other allowable uses, like landscape irrigation.
After trying to prevent the publication of an addendum report on the Obstacles to Water Recycling, San Jose Water Company offered their facilities for my Board to hold a clandestine meeting where they voted to not renew my employment contract and close down the organization.

Despite the fact that the current makeup of the Board precluded continuing our mission, it seemed inconceivable that Silicon Valley would lose two of its three pollution prevention programs in the same year. The County had disbanded its Pollution Prevention Committee, salvaging only the Green Business Program. Only the Urban Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program remained, which spent too much of its efforts hiring legal council to try to minimize the requirements mandated by orders of the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

When people asked why the Board shuttered the Silicon Valley Pollution Prevention Center, I would sarcastically reply that there was no more pollution to prevent. More to the truth, these directors probably believed that if no one was discussing pollution, then hopefully the community would not be hearing about pollution and not think about it, and then not get in anyone's way by trying to prevent it.

My retirement gave me a new sense of freedom that I had not enjoyed for these past eight years. Without a Board of Directors, I no longer needed to push an entire Board into alignment before I could engage in a political action. About a month later, I wrote emails to the circulation managers of both the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News. Some telemarketer had signed up all the duplex units on my street to get free delivery of both daily papers to households that only spoke Spanish. All these papers sat in the driveways, getting soaked in the rain, and pulped by the car tires, and the pulp and ink were starting to run into the storm drain inlet at the corner and directly into Coyote Creek. Citing both litter laws with $1,000 fines per incident and possible citizen suits for
violations of the Clean Water Act, both newspapers responded immediately and were picking up their papers within an hour.

After a few years of freedom from being chained to my laptop to produce and transmit all the documents necessary to operate the Silicon Valley Pollution Prevention Center, I am again happily typing these stories into my blog. My hope is that some of this information will keep the spirit of pollution prevention alive in a more sustainable future.

Never Thirst!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I'm A Riparian Water Boy

Last month I posted a great takeoff of the Madonna hit "Material Girl" titled "Riparian Girl."

This month I want to tell a story about being a Riparian Boy, precisely, a Riparian Water Boy.

What follows is my story of coming to live along a vital riparian ecosystem in downtown San Jose.

When I arrived in San Jose in 1969, it was the "Summer of Love" and the spiritual energy level of the community of my peers was at peak and beyond for some. I was referred to San Jose State by Dr. Bill Strangio, who was an instructor at Loyola University. When I expressed to him my disillusion with working for Caltrans, he suggested I talk with Dr. Frank Agardi, the Environmental Engineering Department chair.

Dr. Agardi arranged for me to receive a fellowship stipend from the federal government. The Feds were in essence paying me to go to graduate school after relinquishing their hold on my testicles (I still had two at the time) by changing my draft board status to 4-F. So the money they saved not putting me through bootcamp was coming back to me as student support during the next year of graduate school.

My student housing was located in a 8-unit two-story apartment building near Roosevelt Middle School (now Roosevelt Park) off South 19th Street on a cul de sac named Calhoun Court. Think cheap motel, with cars parked a foot from your doors and windows. But it was cerebral time, right? This was no time for urban farming, like I like to do.

The cul de sac ended on the east bank of the Coyote River, a 100 ft. downstream of the Santa Clara Street bridge. After I graduated, and got married to my dear friend, Lexa, we moved to South 18th Street, into a duplex, with another friend Steve Matulich, moving into the front unit.

Our duplex was across the street from the homes that bordered the east bank of Coyote Creek, 100 ft. downstream of the San Antonio Street Bridge. Steve & I immediately took down a fence separating the back yard and dug in 100 gallons of fresh chicken manure from Olivera's egg ranch, still operating in the Berryessa District. After a rather wet winter, our first summer garden was incredible. We could practically see things growing. And sometimes in paisleys.

For the next two years, I worked for the Chicago-based engineering consultant business named Consoer-Townsend & Associates. I was hired after a referral from one of my SJSU graduate school colleagues, Ken Boyd. I did some work in their San Jose office, but my primary assignment was to work in San Francisco with a team of engineers from Bechtel. So I rode my bike to the Cahill Street train station and took the commuter train to San Francisco, a 90-minute commute each morning and evening. Since I was based in San Jose, I expensed my train tickets and put the travel time as OT on my time card. The extra money soon built into a small but adequate "nest egg" to actually buy a nest for Lexa and myself.

And we didn't have to go far before we found the perfect nest just a block away on Brookwood Drive, which crossed South 18th St. and turned left and followed the east bank of the Coyote Creek up to the William Street Bridge. So with 10% down, a 10% second mortgage and the rest from a real bank, we were finally settled right on the banks of Coyote Creek. Our home sits about 10 feet from the top bank of the creek, but sits 100 feet from the street. Our best topsoil is there in front, so everything but the driveway produces a great abundance of food, fuel and fragrant, festive wildflowers.

We moved into our new home with the help of our friends, Marty and Judith. Judith was a drafts-person-lady at the local engineering office. We had to psychically detach ourselves from our close neighbors, Patty & Ken MacKay and their children, Kirsty and Duff, although we were only moving about a 1000 feet away. The new house was actually a duplex, with two rental spaces already occupied as tenants of the former owner, Irene Segesvery, a lively Hungarian-born woman, who had grown tired of taking care of this amount of property.

We continued to have one tenant for many more years, but I immediately took possession of the probably-illegal third unit and made it my home office until my daughter, Chrysalis, born by my second wife Cari, in 1985. For a couple of years, our rental unit housed the Reverend Barry Verde+, a preacher at the Trinity Episcopal Church on First Street near St. James Park. Barry and his new Canadian-born bride, Trish Hardman, spent their extended honeymoon here on the creek, while working on both community and commercial TV in the early days of cable systems.

So here we were, in our home that is as close to nature as you can get in the middle of a city. I had come to San Jose to become an environmental engineer, and was just beginning to understand what that role in society actually means. From the ENGINEER perspective, it means building infrastructure that mitigates the impacts of the human community, so that natural systems continue to function unimpaired. That obviously does not always get done to the satisfaction of nature, and she takes revenge on her own terms, wiping out species and sometime threatening our own.

From the ENVIRONMENTAL perspective, it was most important for me to live as part of the natural systems as well as being a fairly typical American consumer. This helped me to continue to learn about this delicate human-natural interface that originally was enough to sustain a few humans, but now required that I help build the human-engineered systems to sustain us and our fellow million humans in the valley. What I had learned while working at Bechtel was that every city in the SF Bay area all planned for a population doubling in the next 30 years.

Starting with my studies of projected sewage volumes, I soon was thinking about water supplies for this pending doubling of population in our valley, as I would be elected to the Santa Clara Valley Water District in November of 1972, just four quick months after I had moved into my creekside habitat. Thanks to a warning letter from the Water District's attorney, my employer terminated our relationship the day after the election to avoid any conflict of interests, since the Water District had hired the consortium to do an addendum study with the intent of lessening the potential of water recycling that our original study had indicated was feasible. So considering that my expected monthly income was suddenly reduced to the two $50 per diems paid the Directors of the District at the time, I began to worry about making house payments so I could continue to live in my creekside piece of paradise.

Besides being one of the youngest elected officials in the county's history, I also became one of its youngest consultants. I named my company Water Brothers Environmental Consultants. My friend Ken, who stuck by me, despite everyone from Chicago to Bechtel's headquarters in San Francisco, wondering why he didn't see coming my radical departure from the norm of consulting engineers' everywhere. He made me a beautifully hand-carved shingle to hang at my home office.

So for the next five years, I found a various array of clients that allowed me to use my education and experience to help mitigate and enhance the quality of both humans and the environment by analyzing many engineering projects, from simple land subdivisions to 200 ft earthen dams on top of the San Andreas Fault.
My most interesting assignment was actually the first contract I executed after my departure from the mega engineering companies where I had spent the previous two years.

A new regional government had been created by the State Legislature called the Bay Area Sewerage Services Agency (BASSA) for the purpose of being able to better implement the basin plan for the entire nine counties surrounding the San Francisco Bay. The offices for this new agency were in the elegant Claremont Hotel in the Berkeley hills. I was contracted to be a planning consultant to help launch this new regional government. So I leased a new Volvo and began my consulting career with a 100 mile per day commute. BART was just about complete, but would not be available soon enough to avoid driving 500 miles a week to staff the offices until the Board could hire a manager to administer this new agency, that still needed to define itself.

BASSA was given the rare and powerful authority to sell revenue bonds without any public vote to finance the implementation of the basin plan adopted by the Bay Area Regional Water Quality Control Board, and thereby provide financing whenever a local wastewater authority could not or would not proceed with required construction to comply with the plan. Local governments generally detested the idea of regional government usurping any local authority. Knowing that the wastewater discharges respected no county lines while the cumulative impact of all the sewage outfalls took its toll on the estuary, I could see the State's rationale for creating this regional authority.

I also knew that the federal Clean Water Act had created the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) to gradually move treatment forward until waste(d)waters were clean enough to reuse the water after the pollution was removed from the water. This aspect of the water business was my greatest passion, knowing California's Delta was going to be in jeopardy someday. This water source for much of California, would be interrupted by droughts which would come both from natural causes as well as regulatory and court decrees that would drastically reduce the amount of water currently diverted from the estuary from flows of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers.

All this altruism was finally dashed when the Sanitary District members on the BASSA Board Of Trustees hired one of their own managers to take charge of the agency and declare it to be "the Friendly" Regional agency (unlike the Regional Water Board that issued the regulatory decrees and even fines in addition to developing the basin plan to protect the beneficial uses of San Francisco Bay.) This basically was a signal that this agency would do nothing and the trustees would just meet to have lunch and collect their $50 per diem. A few years later, John Knox, who authored the enabling legislation, introduced legislation to eliminate the agency, knowing it had become a sham government, lobbying against state efforts to protect water rather than helping to implement progressive steps to protect the Bay.

My consultant business continued for about five years when I decided for several reasons to cease this line of work. Since college, I had written enough to fill about three file cabinets with research note, drafts and final reports. I found that I was starting to get writer's block when it was time to draft yet another report.

In 1977, the state was in the midst of a second critically dry year and the bureaucrats in Sacramento were pushing local agencies to reduce per capita consumption and to reuse water to offset the reduced diversions available from the Delta. Many clients were suddenly interested in implementing water recycling systems. While I was designing a water recycling system for a client of another spinoff company from the old Consoer-Townsend staff in San Jose, they were contacted by the City of Gilroy to build a delivery system to bring recycled water to the Bonafonte Gardens and Nursery east of town on Hecker Pass Road. Since this project would have the Santa Clara Valley Water District as a partner, I was asked to terminate my contract to avoid any perception of conflict of interest. Since I was not really an employee of this company, I did not think there really was any conflict, but no one wanted this client to send the work elsewhere, so I terminated my contract and came home to contemplate what should be my next career move.

Coincidentally, during this drought year, I had met another Consoer-Townsend mechanical engineer, Dan O'Brien, at a friend's party. Dan was looking for a place to live with his wife, Mary. There was another house for sale on Coyote Creek just six houses north of ours right on Brookwood Drive. As soon as Dan bought the house and moved in, I proposed that he and I design and build a water pumping system to use the riparian water rights that was part of our property rights in California as creek-side property owners.

California water code is a very schizophrentic set of laws. The Spanish laws that had been applied to water were a very community based approach to sharing water, leading to the concept of Pueblo Water Rights being adopted into the new water code after California statehood was achieved in 1850. This law gives ownership of all the water from the upstream watersheds flowing through the Pueblo to that Pueblo.

The English law, however, used riparian ownership as a key to stake out one's claim for the right to use the water in a stream or river. Most of the cattle barons during early statehood tied up much of the state's stream flows under this law, keeping irrigated agriculture from becoming the vital industry it is today from taking hold in the State until early in the 20th century, when massive irrigation projects were constructed under the Federal Reclamation Act of 1902. These projects relied on yet a third leg of appropriations to use surface or groundwater away from the river or overlying land holdings. First in time, first in right ruled this piece of the water code.

Although the local Water District did not impose mandatory water rationing in the County in 1977, I did not want to ever be in the position of water cop with my immediate neighbors. That was one motivation for building a creek pump to make nonpotable irrigation water available for our landscaping and riparian creek banks vegetation. My other motivation was to demonstrate that nonpotable water systems were a feasible way to reduce costs and increase reliability of the District's water supplies and also benefit the environment. A large percentage of the valley's water supply could be supplied, not with creek water, necessarily, but primarily with reclaimed waste(d) water that we were currently treating to a high degree of purity and then throwing away into San Francisco Bay.

So Dan O'Brien and I designed a pumping and irrigation system for the eight homes adjacent to the creek and after an easy sell to our neighbors, founded the Brookwood Drive Green Watering Association (BDGWA) (BudGawa, as we called it.) For about $1500, we installed a one-horsepower pump and controls, plus 1000 ft. of PVC pipe and three remote timer switches that could activate the pump for up to an hour at a time. Our only out of pocket costs for operation was the power cost for about 800 hours per year of pump operation, costing about $100 per year for the entire street, or $12.50 per household for a full eight month irrigation season.

The pump delivered about 20 gallons per minute, so 800 hours of operation consumed about 1,000,000 gallons of water, or roughly 3 ac.-ft. Agricultural rates in South County were about the only cheaper water in the county, without considering the farmers' energy cost. Wholesale treated water costs from the Water District for urban users was about $120/ac.-ft in 1977, but rose to nearly $600 by 1997, the last year of operation of our pumping system. Since the retail costs of water was at least twice the wholesale cost, our initial payback for the entire capital cost of our irrigation system was about two years, based on the water rates in effect during the first two years. In the final year of operation, we saved our system users a total of $3,600.

The pumping system was severely damaged in January, 1997, when a 6,500 cfs flood wave crested about eight feet above the elevation of the pump level, destroying the control system and spinning the power pole until the romex power cable was wound around it like a spool of thread. I did pull the pump and motor days before the flood, as the upstream reservoirs were full and spilling, the usual antecedent conditions for a major flood in downtown San Jose. Since I was now 20 years older (but only slightly wiser), I decided that I was getting too old for the annual "rights of spring" that involved immersing myself in the decomposing organic sludge on the bottom of the creek bed in order to desilt our "clear well" which consisted of an upside-down shopping cart held in place with pieces of concrete rubble.

Since we had not had a serious drought since the six-year dry spell that ended in 1993, the neighbors did not push to rebuild the pumping system. So without my partner Dan, who had moved away by then, the pump remains in my garage waiting for the day when water costs get so outrageously high or mandatory rationing threatens all our permanent landscape vegetation. Currently water rates have risen so high, my water bill in mid-summer can now cost $100 for a single month, the amount that we used to spend to power a system that irrigated 8 homesteads for a full eight-month irrigation season. My cost for using my riparian water for a month was about $1.50.

Someday, maybe my son, Nick, will again be a riparian water boy.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Up In the Dumps

I've spent most of my engineering career focused on water. And water is the sink for everything we throw into the air, onto the land and directly into the water, which all flows to the sea.

But garbage has always been on my agenda, especially since my days in graduate school when I toured a $2 million proto-type incinerator being tested at the Guadalupe Landfill, poised above the Water District's percolation ponds at the edge of western Almaden Valley. The juxtapositions of the landfill and the Water District's percolation ponds would not dawn on me until a few years later.

The manager of this project was a man named John Siracusa. He was very friendly guy and most enthusiastic about this approach to managing all solid waste for the Valley, including sewage sludge that would be piling up on the floodplain of the lower Coyote Creek (and becoming the primary cause of the Alviso flood of 1983) and elsewhere.

We chatted long after my class tour ended about some of the obstacles facing such a system. He advised me, if I might be interested in working with them after graduation, to research the state of the art systems for materials separation, grinding, and stack gas treatment technology and costs. The only solid material exiting this incinerator was a glass/slag that formed in a water trough below the incinerator, equipped with a chain-driven conveyor feeding into a dumpster. I could also research if this material would this be a good aggregate for asphalt/glassphalt?

Environmental Engineering had an overwhelming scope to it which made it difficult to focus on a curriculum that would produce some actual practical knowledge. This garbage thing suddenly gave me focus. While most of the programs and professors at the the time were focused on water issues, I set off on an academic path that hardly any of my colleagues or professors knew much about. I learned much about many of the problems facing this incineration technology, but after graduating in 1970, FMC and its incineration system folks were losing their hope of ever appeasing the regional Air Quality Management District and getting a permit to construct the full-scale incinerator. So no job in the garbage business for this third-generation Italian-American. And no mafia jokes to endure the rest of my life.

So I rejoined the Water Protection Cadre of Environmental Engineers (WPCEE, woopsee) and got a job with a Chicago-based engineering company that had a satellite office here in San Jose and had a contract with San Jose to design the expansion of the San Jose-Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant. They also just signed a joint venture agreement with the Bechtel Corporation to prepare a regional wastewater treatment system for all the South San Francisco Bay dischargers, below the Dumbarton straits.
This study eventually lead me to run for the local Water District Board of Directors and use my engineering education in the public policy arena instead of on the drafting boards in an engineering company.

I brought an ethic of water use efficiency and pollution prevention to the Board and the Santa Clara Valley Water District that was mostly considered weird at the time. The staff of the District now devoted a great amount of effort trying to debunk my approach, until finally giving way to changing their approach and adopting more sustainable practices like recycling and storm water pollution prevention.

But pollution prevention in the Coyote Valley sub-basin of the 350 square-mile Coyote Creek watershed has been a miserable oversight in the Water District's role as watershed steward. The City of San Jose recently received comments on a developer-funded Environmental Impact Report on a planning fiasco to build industry and residential/commercial development for 80,000 people and 50,000 jobs on top of the main recharge zone for the primary aquifer which yields half of the valley's water supply.There was no alarm sounded by the Water District to ward off this development . The graphics demonstrating that the Coyote Valley was a highly permeable area with very high groundwater levels appeared in a joint SJ Council/Water Board meeting. However, no one spoke the required words of caution about the need to protect the groundwater basin from this potential massive dose of urban storm water pollution.

This omission in the pursuit of their mission, was not, unfortunately, the only time that the Water District went blind to the need for constant vigilance in protecting the water quality of the basin from pollution originating in the Coyote Valley. The following is the deep background of permitting process for siting the Kirby Canyon Landfill.

Kirby Canyon is a small westerly inclined valley tributary to Coyote Creek, located about a mile downstream of Andersen Dam, between US Hwy 101 and Andersen Reservoir, the largest local water impoundment facility owned by the Santa Clara Valley Water District. Directly west of this canyon area are numerous abandoned gravel pits that have refilled with the abundant local high groundwater. It was this location that Waste Management, the largest solid waste management company in the world, picked for a new landfill site.

The land was owned by the American-Hawaiian Land Company, a subsidiary of the Dole Pineapple Company, which had bought much of the watershed lands surrounding the northern end of Andersen Reservoir, including some land inundated by the reservoir. The Water District actually sold them this piece of real estate in order allow them to control the water level overlooked by the lakeside lots they planned to sell in their "new town." Luckily, the Local Agency Formation Commission cast serious doubt on the economic feasibility of servicing this satellite community, not to speak of the problem of protecting the District's water supply from development directly adjacent to the shore of the reservoir.

By "virtue" of strip annexations along highway 101, the lands of the Coyote Valley were within the City of San Jose's land use jurisdiction. Both San Jose and all the cities in the county were also getting desperate to site additional landfill capacity for burying the refuse from a population now approaching 2 million people. NIMBY responses had eliminated every option that had so far been considered.

The County took the lead on the process and would lead the County's Intergovernmental Council through the process of approving the Kirby Canyon as the new landfill site. It would be available to all the county to dump its garbage at this new site located high up in the watershed. They would vote to approve this site, at the very top of the groundwater recharge zone, up gradient of thousand of wells pumping drinking water to the 2 million residents and businesses downstream. They would take this action just two months after approving the model ordinance for protecting the groundwater from Leaking Underground Storage Tanks (LUST)

When I objected at the final discussion before adopting the new County Solid Waste Plan, including the Kirby Canyon Landfill, one councilman said that since the District had not objected to the proposed landfill site, that it must not be a problem. My vote was the only nay vote on the proposal.

Learning why the Water District was silent on this crucial land use issue requires that you follow the money. The first money went to the land holding company that had bought all this rangeland in hopes of high profits from a residential land use scheme that went nowhere. A representative of the company, named Ed Teresi, was often seen with Sig Sanchez. Sig had been on the Water Board since he was appointed by the Board of Supervisors immediately after he retired from that governance body. His tenure on the Board of Supervisors spanned the period when the Andersen lakeside development was being proposed.

The next major expenditure for Waste Management would be the construction of the landfill itself. The company selected for this work was the FERMA Corporation, run by a Mr Ray Ferrari. Ferrari just happened to be a good friend of Mr. John O'Halloran, General Manager of the Santa Clara Valley Water District. John was a regular guest of Mr Ferrari's salmon fishing trips to Alaska. One year while this landfill business was still in review, Mr. O'Halloran showed up at my house to give me a salmon, a well-known signal from mob lore that you could be swimming with the fishes. At the ground breaking ceremony for the landfill, John O'Halloran flew into the site with Ray Ferrari in the company's helicopter. During this process. O'Halloran also took a trip to Italy and Switzerland to "go skiing."

Prior to being General Manager of the Water District, Mr. O'Halloran was the city manager of Mountain View, one of the fifteen incorporated cities in Santa Clara County. During that tenure, he brokered a deal with the private garbage company serving San Francisco to dump its garbage on the shores of San Francisco Bay on the eastern edge of Mt. View. Today that dump site is known as Shoreline Amphitheater.

During one Water Board meeting, I suggested that the District join a lawsuit trying to stop the Kirby Canyon Landfill. A Stanford biology professor had mapped the habitat for the Bay Checkerspot butterfly, which was on the list of endangered species, and a suit was filed to stop its construction. This problem was solved by Waste Management buying an additional 100 acres of land from the holding company and set it aside as a butterfly preserve. The Dole Pineapple people laughed all the way to the bank.

I felt the District should file an amicus brief in the lawsuit concerning the great potential impairment to groundwater quality that this proposed facility could cause down gradient of this site. Recently-retired Director Sanchez loudly objected that the District would do any such thing. At a subsequent meeting Mr O'Halloran had the District geologist, Tom Imamura, address the Board, giving them assurance that the bedrock below the landfill was solid "so it would not allow contamination to pass through it." The fact that the valley's bedrock was inclined at about 30 degrees toward the creek and surrounding aquifer was somehow overlooked in his presentation.

The groundbreaking ceremony was an event Lewis Caroll could not have better scripted. A large white tent was set up for the catered affair. A white grand piano was brought up to the future dump site and was played by a pianist in a white tuxedo with tails. Most attendees, including myself. were brought to the site in a school bus that we boarded at Waste Management's offices in downtown San Jose. My jaw dropped when I saw John O'Halloran get out of Mr. Ferrari's helicopter that landed just before the speech-making commenced. No need to hide their relationship now that everything happened just as they wanted it to be.

During the event, we took a short shuttle ride to the top of the landfill overlooking the entire site, including the water-filled gravel pits down below the creek. I realised that I was standing next to the President of Waste Management. I leaned over and said "If any of this garbage gets into that water down below, I'll see that this dump was shut down and the company held liable for all the cleanup costs." He was so stunned that he didn't respond at all.

Several months after the dump began receiving waste, monitoring wells at the lowest end of the property began showing concentrations of the industrial solvents that had been leaking out of electronic companies across the valley. It seemed that one of those companies had illegally disposed of these solvents into this dump that should never have accepted such waste. The landfill had begun operations without installing either a liner or a leachate collection, treatment or recycling system. The leachate was just flowing, by gravity, right under the dump. along the tight bedrock, heading right into the groundwater basin.

Someone in a legal department discovered some language that implied that if the discovered pollution was only on the landfill site that it did not constitute "a leak." A memo to that effect was distributed to all the City of San Jose pols who could otherwise be embarrassed by this situation and they all began reciting, like a litany, "It's not a leak, It's not a leak" After hearing this at a few meetings, I obtained a copy of the cleanup order issued by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board. The next time I heard the"It's not a leak" litany, I stood up and waving the paper at the group said, "Then this must be a cleanup order for a NON LEAK!" I never heard the litany again.

Waste Management did finally install the liner and the leachate collection system and has stayed in operation, despite this minor embarrassment. The City of San Jose, which receives a "tipping fee" for every load of garbage disposed at the site and Waste Management were hit hard economically when the State later passed a law requiring all cities to reduce their flow of garbage to landfills by 50% within the following decade.

So far the worst has not yet happened. But unknown quantities of the toxic stew that is the landfill's leachate could still be released into the groundwater basin following a strong earthquake on the Calaveras Fault, that runs near or through the site. When that occurs, everyone will be scratching their heads wondering how local decision-makers could ever take such a genocidal action by siting this facility which put our garbage Up in The Dumps.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Water and Power

San Francisco may be among the best water delivered from a municipal water system on the entire planet.

Snow melt, captured in a glorious glacier-carved granite valley in Yosemite National Park, flows, unadulterated, through pipelines and hydroelectric turbines, directly to home and businesses in 28 cities adjacent to south San Francisco Bay.

At one time in the 1970's, an entrepreneur began bottling and selling water that came directly out of the tap from somewhere in San Francisco.

But great tasting water is not all that this water system delivers. The hydroelectric turbines that were designed and built into this water system produce carbon-free electricity, which will only increase in value as carbon taxes are added to fossil fuel-based electrical generation.

Los Angeles and Oakland also built aqueducts that produced power and water supplies which made their investments in infrastructure help pay for itself over the next century of operation. (for a great account of the LA water grab starting in the early 1900's, read Water & Power by William L. Kahrl.) Even major agricultural districts like Modesto Irrigation District have a power division that makes money from power sales to offset some of the cost of the irrigation infrastructure built for the farmers they serve.

The one water agency that stands below all these other major water agencies, when it comes to producing producing both water and power for its operational use and community benefit, is the Santa Clara Valley Water District. While it proudly boasts that it is the only water agency in the state to have water contracts with both the State Water Project and the Federal Central Valley Project, it has mostly ignored its 30 year-old authority to be a power producer as well as a water management agency. The Water District, however, honestly states that they are the single largest user of power in the entire Silicon (Server-Heavy) Valley.

In 1978, the Santa Clara Valley Water District was granted the authority by special State statute to produce power, both for its own use and the betterment of the community. The Water District immediately initiated many feasibility studies for "low head" hydroelectric generating stations in many locales around the County. Nothing was built until Governor Jerry Brown's leadership required that utilities pay for new power at a determined "avoided costs" as the base line rate.

The District installed a one megawatt hydroelectric generator at the base of Andersen Dam in 1988. AND THEN STOPPED! As one Mercury News columnist wrote, if you don't built power plants at the reservoir sites, it was "Just water over the dam."

So why would the admittedly largest electricity user in all of Silicon Valley suddenly eliminate a program which could make their own electricity?
Building self-generated power would, without question, increase the reliability of the water the Water District is expecting and expected to deliver to the residents and businesses through the County.

Part can be blamed on the sunset of the avoided costs tariffs set by the State, placed in the regulations as a concession to the power utilities. The Santa Clara Valley Water District is situated in the service area of Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a very large investor-owned utility that exerts all the political power that goes with operating a monopoly service to most of the San Francisco Bay area. Getting what are called lobbyists in other government halls, what the water district got from PG&E was the External Affairs or Government Affairs Directors of the corporate headquarters.

I realized how powerful PG&E was while I was working on the 21st floor of the Bechtel Building at Mission and Beale in San Francisco in 1970. The east facing widows near my cubicle had a clear view of San Francisco Bay. During the 18 months that I worked there, I watched the Bay view slowly disappear as the new PG&E headquarters rose across Beale Street and completely blocked Steve Bechtel's view of San Francisco's famous and glorious Bay and shipping docks. Also while working at Bechtel, it was the first company I realized used the business model: "We pollute it, We clean it up, Business Couldn't Be Better!"
PG&E's representatives began showing up at many Board meetings, while hardly ever speaking publicly to the Board. Plenty of conversations took place with staff and directors during breaks in the LOBBY. Probably the two most obvious lobbying successes were getting the Board's support for the construction of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant and a District Board resolution opposing municipal preference for re-licensing of hydroelectric sites in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. That was like the District shooting itself in the foot, since their own application for these licenses could have become part of the District's own electricity portfolio.

Erin Brocavich showed us that PG&E doesn't always get their way, especially when they pollute a community's water supply with hexavalent chromium.
It's not just PG&E to blame for stopping this important aspect to the District's infrastructure. ONE electrical generating point in this massive water system is such a poor showing , it clearly demonstrates the Water District's lack of engineering ingenuity coupled with a lack of political will or vision on the Board of Directors.

In 2001, the Water District was shocked to find themselves, along with the rest of California, in the middle of an energy crisis, brought on by corrupt corporations, like ENRON, and as an unintended consequence of a State energy DE-regulation, gone terribly wrong. When the situation degraded to rolling blackouts and power rates started to skyrocket like gasoline prices did in 2008, the District staff rushed a $2 million emergency power band aid onto all their treatment plants.

At all three water treatment plants, diesel-powered standby generators were installed, adjacent to high value residences in the hilltop neighborhoods in San Jose and Los Gatos. No one at the Water District Board or staff, apparently had heard of global warming before Al Gore made his documentary. But they surely would be hearing plenty of noise complaints from their neighbors.

Having been raised in Niagara Falls, I spent my early teen years watching the New York State Power Authority divert the Niagara River under the city through two 60 ft. x 60 ft. conduits to a massive hydroelectric power plant on the lower Niagara River 10 miles below the famous falls. My advocacy for more hydro power development here was one more issue to which my Board colleagues seemed deaf.

I had left the Board of Directors in 1995 to begin serving as the Executive Director of the Silicon Valley Pollution Prevention(P2) Center. My new role was to engage my P2 Center Board in determining ways and means to prevent pollution of our water resources from any source. Since the Water District was a major funder of this NGO and also an appointing authority of the Board, it seemed a proper involvement of the P2 Center to re-examine the hydroelectric feasibility studies that had sat in the District library for 20+ years.

The District and the P2 Center Board both agreed to use our organization to conduct this review. The P2 Center hired the mechanical engineering consultants Salas O'Brien in San Jose to review the operational and economic data from the Andersen Dam hydroelectric generator and review the present day costs and payback time for three other sites, for which prior feasibility studies had been conducted.

Within four months, the engineering report was delivered with a full power point presentation of the recommendations. The highlight of the report was the 5.4 year payback of a "inline" hydroelectric generator on the Calero pipeline with power transmission directly to the Santa Teresa Water Treatment plant three miles to the north.

The report never was agendized and brought before the Water District Board for discussion and action. Despite the excellent engineering analysis and presentation made to the staff by our consultant, the managing staff of the Water District staff blocked it from District Board. It is apparently just easier for the staff to rely on outside power sources than have the bother of building, operating and maintaining additional hydroelectric plants within their system.

The staff did later build a 200 kw solar power system into the carport of their main parking lot along Almaden Expressway, enjoying the high visibility of appearing to be a "green-minded" organization. After they built a small gas turbine generator at the old administration building, they actually issued a press release that the District was going "off grid." But taking the administrative buildings off grid is an insignificant reduction in the enormous amount of power used by the Santa Clara Valley Water District's operations.

The San Felipe Aqueduct alone requires 36,000 horsepower to operate. The new ozone treatment units will greatly increase the power demand of the District's treatment plants, as this more benign disinfectant must be generated onsite using great quantities of electricity. Once the District finally gets into the water recycling business, pumping and advanced treatment like reverse osmosis will be yet another notch up for the District's electrical demand. But while all this activity surrounds the Board and staff, still no one is talking about building any more carbon-free generating capacity from either wind, solar or hydroelectric sources.

As for global warming, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

below is San Francisco's PR for banning bottled water use in the City:

The Importance of Municipal Water

San Francisco’s Phase Out of Bottled Water

USCMfont> Water Utility Subcommittee

May 1, 2008



“To serve San Francisco and its Bay Area customers with reliable, high quality water, while maximizing benefits from power operations and responsibly managing the resources entrusted to our care.”

SFPUC</font> Service Area

SFPUC</font> serves drinking water to 2.4 million people in 5 counties

SFPUC</font> Water and Power System

Major Water and Power System Facilities

  • 280-plus miles of pipelines
  • 60-plus miles of tunnels
  • 22 reservoirs
  • 2 water treatment plants
  • 3 power facilities

Sustainable Wastewater System

  • Low Impact Development (LID)
  • Maximize Renewable Energy Opportunities
  • Water Reuse
  • Biosolids Reuse/Disposal
  • BiofuelSFGreasecycle a model for other cities

SF Government Bottled Water Ban

  • Initiated June 2007
  • Phased in over 6 months
  • Exceptions for public health clinics, emergency use and labor union MOU
  • Received over 50 calls from other cities requesting information

Background for Bottled Water Ban

  • Municipal tap water is a safe, healthy choice
  • San Francisco’s regional water system collects granite-filtered spring snowmelt<!-- from the Sierra Nevada at the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir for delivery to San Francisco and Bay Area taps
  • Water collected at the Hetcht>ont> Hetchynt>ont> Reservoir exceeds all federal and state criteria for water quality and San Francisco’s tap water is tested nearly 90,000 times a year throughout the system to ensure its safety

  • Why Phase out Bottled Water?

    Environmental Concerns:

    • Reducing Carbon Footprint:
      • Pacific Institute estimates that in 2006 the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil were used to make the plastic water bottles Americans use each year.
      • Water coolers and individual water bottles are extremely heavy to transport.
      • Distribution of bottled water by boat, truck and train involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels.
    • Burden to Waste Stream and Landfills:
      • NRDC and others have estimated that Americans threw away 75-85% of non-carbonated PET bottles, which can take more than 1,000 years to biodegrade and can contribute to leaching toxics into ground water.
    • Ecosystem Depletion:
      • Water diverted from local aquifers for the bottled water industry can strain surrounding ecosystems.
    • Water Quality:
      • Bottled water is regulated by the FDA. Municipal tap water is regulated by the EPA and has more stringent requirements for testing. SF Municipal tap water is tested over 90,000 times a year.

    Why Phase Out Bottled Water?


    • Bottled water is over 1000 times more expensive than San Francisco tap water

    • San Francisco will save nearly $1 million annually by phasing out bottled water contract

    Why Phase Out Bottled Water?

    Other issues:

    • Lead by Example
      • SF’s government phase out has led to launch of voluntary restaurant ban
    • SF mandating phase out of other products that negatively impact environment
      • Styrofoam ban
      • Plastic bag ban
    • Promotion of bottled water decreases need for water infrastructure investment in public mind
      • SF investing $4.3 billion in water infrastructure rebuild

    Next Steps

    Recommend that the US Conference of Mayors

    encourages cities and counties to phase out

    government use of bottled water and promote

    importance of municipal water.

    For More Information

    Laura Spanjian

    Assistant General Manager, External Affairs, SFPUC

    1155 Market Street, San Francisco CA 94103