Monday, October 27, 2008
I use a PHD approach, simply Piled Higher and Deeper. My compost pile is just that, a pile of dirt near my garden where I bury the contents of my compost bucket when it's full or getting too ripe for the kitchen. Actually, we separate some of our food scraps into other containers for the chickens or rabbits, which serves as some of the feed for our livestock, who then in turn contribute their manure for further enriching our garden's fertility.
But food scraps are actually the smallest component of my weekly disposal of unwanted stuff, which includes such things as packaging, bottles, cans, junk mail, newspapers, bill envelopes and stuffers. There's also paper scraps from my wife's art work and broken or obsolete small appliances and electronics. All these items are placed religiously into our RECYCLE bins.
If you live in San Jose, you know that we no longer need to separate our recycling into different bins, although I still do. A former Director of Environmental Services, Carl Mosher, thought it would be more "cost effective" to have residents dump all their recyclables into a 96-gallon wheeled cart and have paid workers separate it at a central processing plant.
This one ill-conceived decision led to the downfall of one San Jose mayor and his would-be successor. The new garbage cart would, in theory, eliminate the need for one teamster from the collection crew and be replaced with lower cost workers at the separation conveyor belt who would belong to a different union.
But the Teamsters did not take well to this elimination of a quarter of their drivers, so they demanded that the separation crew be members of the Teamsters union, and the cost would be an extra $5 million over the duration of the contract.
Mayor Ron Gonzales met with the garbage company officials and soon realized that he was in a lose-lose situation. If the Teamsters didn't get their way, they would call for a strike and his political career would soon be in serious jeopardy. Instead, he agreed to get the company the extra money that the teamster-separators would cost, but tried to hide the reason from the council and the public. This eventually led to a grand jury indictment and a call for his resignation by the press and some of the council members.
All this political brouhaha was brought on by one civil(ization) engineer who used economics alone to make a societal shift away from personal responsibility for the materials San Jose residents purchased and throw away (even though there is no away) When residents were using recycling bins to separate their cans, bottles, paper and cardboard, they were providing both a valuable ($5million) volunteer service for City and informally taking a measure of the type and amount of recyclables they were consuming and then disposing.
This personal consumption information may not be the knowledge quest of most people, although as we "green up"our lifestyles to avoid global warming, it might start to be of more general interest. However, yesterday, I read about an environmental studies professor who started a project to save and log all his garbage for a full 365 days. Now he's going to practice Piled Higher and Deeper more than he or his family ever imagined.
PostScript: If you are planning to have a party for Halloween or later in the year, you might want to read this post about greener partying.
Monday, October 20, 2008
My response to her was not too optimistic about getting local or State Health Departments to ever get less cautious about grey water reuse. Remember, a bureaucrat's first job is always CYA, so don't think that a professional health guardian will ever do less to prevent you from spreading disease, even during a serious drought.
Another proponent is taking hope in an actual greywater system that was permitted by the City & People's Republic of Berkeley. His comments can be Downloaded if your curiosity and quest for knowledge care to read Download2 even more.
When a recent call went out by a regional waste(d)water group to speak at a seminar on greywater, no one from the public sector or the many consultant engineers wanted to be a speaker. The only written flyer the organizers could supply was from Australia:
Diversion of Greywater
Greywater is wastewater generated from bathrooms (showers, baths, spas,
and hand basins), laundries (washing machines, troughs) and kitchens (sinks
and dishwashers). However, kitchen water can contain food particles, grease,
oils and fats and its use is not recommended (particularly without treatment).
The quality of greywater can be highly
variable due to factors such as number of
household occupants, their age, lifestyle,
health, water source and products used
(such as soaps, shampoos, detergents).
Greywater may contain:
• Disease causing organisms (bacteria,
viruses, protozoa) from nappies and
other soiled clothing.
• Chemicals from soaps, shampoos,
dyes, mouthwash, toothpaste,
detergents, bleaches, disinfectants and
other products (such as boron,
phosphorus, sodium, ammonia and
other nitrogen based compounds).
• Dirt, lint, food, hair, body cells and fats,
and traces of faeces, urine, and blood.
Risks presented by these contaminants
can be reduced by good management
practices and by sensible use.
Manual Bucketing & Temporary
Manual bucketing onto lawn and garden
areas using water from the bathroom or
laundry, or temporary use of a hose
manually fitted to the washing machine
outlet hose, is permitted subject to the
• Don’t use greywater from washing
clothes soiled by faeces or vomit, for
• Don’t store untreated greywater for
more than 24 hours, as bacteria and
organic contaminants in greywater will
cause it to turn septic and produce
strong and offensive odours.
• Don’t use greywater if others in the
household have diarrhoea or an
infectious disease, as this could
increase the risk of other people
• Don’t use greywater to irrigate fruit,
vegetables, or areas where fruit can fall
to the ground and be eaten.
• Avoid splashing of greywater and wash
your hands before eating or drinking or
• Keep children away from areas watered
with greywater until it has soaked into
Chemical contaminants: detergents,
cleaners and other chemicals
• Environmentally friendly shampoos,
detergents and cleaning products
should be used to protect soil and
plants watered with grey water.
Products containing low levels of boron,
phosphorus and salt should be used.
Boron can be toxic to plants, some
native plants are sensitive to
phosphorous while sodium and other
salts can damage soil structure.
• Washing machine rinse water has lower
concentrations of detergents compared
to wash water. If wash water is used it
should be diluted with rinse water.
• Bleaches and disinfectants can kill
beneficial soil organisms and damage
plants. Avoid using greywater
containing harsh chemicals or bleaches,
or after washing out hair dye or paint
• A useful website that contains
information on laundry products is
• The irrigation setback distances from
swimming pools, bores, dams,
watercourses (inc. River Murray),
buildings and boundaries must be met.
See Section 5 of the Standard for the
Construction, Installation and Operation
of Septic Tank Systems in South
Australia (Supplement B)
• Greywater tends to be slightly alkaline
and this can be harmful to acid loving
plants such as azaleas and camellias.
• Rotate greywater irrigation using mains
(drinking) or rain water, especially in
areas of low rainfall. This will help to
flush salts from the soil.
• Water several locations. This will
prevent salts and other contaminants
accumulating in the soil.
• Prevent pooling and runoff of greywater
onto other properties, into watercourses
and the stormwater system. Pooled
greywater can turn septic and produce
• Don’t over-water your plants –
greywater shouldn’t be used to irrigate
more than you would with other sources
of water. Plants are susceptible to
• Monitor areas and plants irrigated with
greywater. If there is visual evidence of
damage you may need to modify
watering practices, try a different or
bigger irrigation area, or reduce the
amount of water used.
Soils in many parts of Adelaide have a
high clay content. Clay soils tend to be
more susceptible to build up of salts and
have low permeability. Extra care should
be taken when using greywater in areas of
clay soils to avoid long term damage.
Permanent Greywater Systems
Permanent greywater systems such as
diversion devices or treatment systems, or
any device attached to plumbing, can
increase the use of greywater. However
due to potential risks associated with grey
water, permanent devices require
installation approval from your Council or
the Department of Health.
Information on permanent greywater
systems can be obtained from our
Alternative Onsite Wastewater Systems
Wastewater Management Section
Citi Centre Building
11 Hindmarsh Square
Adelaide SA 5000
PO Box 6, Rundle Mall
Adelaide SA 5000
Tel 08 8226 7100
Fax 08 8226 7102
ABN 97 643 356 590
© Department of Health, Government of South
All rights reserved.
Last revised August 2008
But the real folks leading the local charge on grey water are those that actually do it and tell others about their experience. My neighbors Angelica & Sergio recently put the following in our weekly CSA e-mail:
You probably won't hear much from any public agency like San Jose or the Water District encouraging grey water reuse, because of their concern over crossing the health officials they deal with on many other issues. This is unfortunate for the people running water efficiency programs at either agency, for grey water use reduces both water demand and wastewater flow to the South Bay.
San Jose has a State-mandated flow cap on their waste(d)water discharge into the South Bay during summer months. This restriction is in place to keep salt marsh habitat from changing to fresh water marsh due to the large volume of low salinity water coming from the water pollution control plant. And when that habitat is home to two endangered species, San Jose is required to do whatever it takes to comply with the State's order.
Until this State mandate, all the engineering and economic studies that had been funded to examine the feasibility of water recycling were never able to get a positive political response from local decision makers at either San Jose or the Water District. It took a federal law, the Endangered Species Act, to move past the culture of built-in bias against water recycling at the Water District. And as long as San Jose could continue to get all the water it needed for continued growth, the City had no concern of their own about the ever increasing flow of waste(d)water to the Bay, except to make the plant capacity bigger and meet the standard discharge requirements.
All that changed when the State of California issued the order to cap the summer discharge from the San Jose-Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant at 120 million gallons per day (mgd). Today, San Jose has built 108 miles of purple pipe and pump stations which today delivers 10-15 million gallons per day of non-potable reclaimed water through a program called South Bay Water Recycling, managed by my friend and neighbor, Eric Rosenblum.
Much of this water is used for irrigating green spaces, parks, athletic fields, school grounds, common areas and parkway landscaping on major thoroughfares. All this irrigation is also highly regulated by the State Health department, with a continuously cautious eye from the local health department and potablewater purveyors. The latest use of this water will be to irrigate the new community gardens at Guadalupe Parks and Gardens near the corner of Coleman Aveue and Taylor Street. Click here for flyer information.
I wanted to be among the first users of recycled water in California at one of San Jose's community gardens, so I signed up for a plot. Last week I was notified that I would have to attend two trainings as a requirement of the State Health Department for participation as a gardener using recycled water.
The first two-hour session included an introduction to recycled water and the benefits and safeguards involved with using the recycled water to grow food and flowers in our plots. After being told that a specially designed $80 "key" made of brass pipe and a standard hose bib faucet (which had to remain onsite) would be our personal responsibility, a lengthy discussion ensued concerning the security of the garden facility at night, with strong warnings especially from other gardeners who had prior experience with failed security at other community gardens centers.
This was much better than hearing concern for the safety of the water for growing food. During introductions, I mentioned that I had used water from Coyote Creek to irrigate my home gardens for 20 years. I expressed my own concern for some of the constituents of the creek water that I used may have contained chemicals that I would probably not want in my drinking water, but that the plants responded very well to a water supply that contained some plant nutrients and did not have any chlorine, which tends to inhibit growth of living things in the soil and the plants themselves.
Next week we will get assigned our plots and soon we should all be tending our 16x20 plots and growing beautiful plants for both food and flowers. Hopefully this pilot will lead to more green spaces in our urban core, as we evolve our culture to appreciate the wisdom of reusing water, whether it's greywater in our home or recycled water in the community derived from our highly treated municipal waste(d)water supply which also came from our homes and businesses.
Click here to view an award winning PBS-style video on water recycling in California called
Water in an Endless Loop
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Thank you for sharing your concerns with me about protecting California's farm workers. The safety of workers whose jobs require them to be outdoors during the hottest season of the year is truly a matter of life or death. We must do everything in our power to ensure that no other workers suffer the same fate as Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez.
We have enacted the nation's first employer regulations to prevent heat illness, and I cannot stress enough that we are taking aggressive enforcement actions and working with employers as partners. Employers must provide water and heat illness training, allow workers to take breaks in the shade and have an emergency plan if someone becomes ill. There is no excuse for failing to protect worker safety and we will prosecute employers who violate these regulations to the full extent of the law.
My administration has already conducted several hundred employer training seminars for heat illness prevention, completed several thousand surprise worksite inspections, and issued several hundreds of thousands of dollars in citations and temporary stop-work orders to employers in violation of these laws. In conjunction with the Department of Industrial Relations' Division of Occupational Safety and Health, we will continue to do so.
Again, thank you for taking the time to write and express your concerns. I am confident that by working together, we can prevent any further outdoor worker deaths.
The Farm Workers Union has their response at this link.
I don't remember hearing about farm workers dying in the fields like has tragically occurred this year. Is this another sign of global warming? If we want to be able to continue to have food harvested safely, we had better pay attention to these deaths as a warning to start doing things differently, in the fields and OFF.
So where do we Non-Farmworkers go from here?
The road we take may be determined on Nov 4th.
Mr T. Boone Pickens is trying to play Governor in California by putting, Proposition 10, an initiative, on the November ballot. He's an oil-made billionaire, our version of a sheik. He wants our cars and trucks to run on biofuels and NATURAL GAS. That's the stuff that floats on OIL fields.
Natural gas has a lower carbon footprint, but it's still a fossil fuel. And we're still buying from the same cartels. Yes, he says he supports wind and solar, but I'll wait to see if he actually invests his money, instead of $5 Billion in CA State Bonds, that will cost $10 Billion to repay.
The State expects more revenue from DMV fees and sales tax as Californians are offered incentives and rebates to encourage purchase of alternative fuel vehicles, primarily to those that run on biodiesel and natural gas. How much this would reduce our purchase of offshore oil, no one can be sure.
None of TBoone's campaign is convincing environmental organizations in California.
Proposition 7 was also financed by another billionaire, Peter Sperling, of Arizona, and whose father founded the University of Phoenix. Peter builds solar thermal power plants and wants to change the rules in California to make it easier to get permits for such plants in California.
The proposition has even more opposition than the Sheik Pickens' plan.
The League of California Voters says the following on their website:
|Proposition 7||Vote No|
Proposition 7 fails to address the obstacles that have been identified by conservation groups, energy agencies, the renewables industry, and others as barriers to reaching our renewable energy goals. In addition, the proposal jeopardizes achievement of the current requirement of California law, which requires that 20 percent of electricity sold to customers be renewable by 2010.
Proposition 7 threatens the status of small-scale renewable resources under California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Proposition 7 authors amended the definition of “eligible renewable energy resource” by replacing the phrase “an electric generating facility” with “a solar and clean energy facility.” The proposed change puts the entire spectrum of small-scale renewable generation technologies at risk, and requires a two-thirds legislative majority to provide a remedy, leaving Californians stuck with a flawed and inflexible renewable energy policy. The success of California’s renewable energy future is too critical to achieving our clean energy goals to lock in fatally flawed legislation. Environmental, labor and consumer organizations are united in our commitment to the success of California’s renewable energy future– but we are also united in our opposition to Prop 7, which will not deliver that future
|Proposition 10||Vote No|
A fossil fuel corporation owned by Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens spent $3 million dollars to put Proposition 10 on the ballot. That same corporation will almost certainly reap the rewards if Prop 10 passes. California taxpayers will be stuck subsidizing big trucking companies at a cost of $335 million per year; they’ll shell out a total of $2.5 billion in subsidies to trucking companies to purchase “clean” vehicles. Prop 10 does not require any reduction in global warming emissions for trucking companies that get “clean” vehicle handouts of up to $50,000 per truck – and Prop 10 excludes hybrids from its definition of a “clean” vehicle.
The bottom line: California already faces a $15 billion budget deficit crisis, and Prop 10’s raid on the state’s coffers will mean cuts to our schools, our public safety and our health programs. Prop 10 is biased towards investments in natural gas technology— over cleaner alternatives such as wind and solar technology—while draining California’s already over-committed general fund. Although perhaps rooted in a commendable goal of environmental progress, Prop 10 is bad policy for California’s taxpayers and California’s environment.
One Pro comment that I read on the Popular Mechanics web site said this:
It is rather remarkable that California's Prop. 10 is a head scratcher. People with extraordinary resources to make change happen to be the people who will profit from an energy conversion. How is that a problem? How much do the Saudis and Iranians make on the oil they sell us? In the case of the Saudis, it costs $15 a barrel to extract oil. We're sending trillions of dollars offshore, and people want to debate the merits of a plan to replace 20 percent of these imports with natural gas. Never mind that we're fighting a war that will cost trillions before the last soldier is sent home. These are but a few of the compelling reasons to get behind NG conversion. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D., Ill.) is from a state that will benefit from a bigger push on ethanol. He has introduced a bill that would provide tax credits for the purchase of natural-gas vehicles and home-refueling systems, as well as to encourage gas stations to install natural-gas pumps. Pickens develops a plan that will save commuters millions, provide a stop-gap on global warming while reducing oil dependency as we transition to renewable fuels, and he is cast as a villain. We can probably can safely say T. Boone is not financing terrorists with the money he makes from oil and gas. If a profit has to be made -- and it does -- wouldn't it be a far sight better to have someone benefit who is not bent on our destruction. You can read more about NG use in Utah. For more on the Pickens' plan click here. From the Wall Street Journal story: "If we started moving to natural-gas vehicles in large numbers, even if we didn't go to renewables, we'd have plenty of natural gas," said Rich Kolodziej, president of Natural Gas Vehicles for America, a Washington trade association. The industry's goal is to replace 20% of the diesel used in the U.S. -- about 10 billion gallons, or 1.3 billion cubic feet -- with natural gas by 2025, Mr. Kolodziej said.
Monday, October 13, 2008
It's a story about a twenty something man who spends every Sunday having dinner with his four grandparents, who live two homes apart. The cast members are perfect in their parts, with the older actors sorta losing lines just like old folks like us actually do in our own lives.
Give yourself the benefit of this gift and get your tickets while they last.
Friday, October 10, 2008
I found this link in my neighborhood listserve today on the subject of urban chickens.
And for a great series of videos about chickens, cluck here.
I recently read an article on local food harvesting that ended:
Ninety years from now will look like 90 years ago.
Luckily, much of who I am today is me "channeling" my grandfather Teddy.
That's both a blessing and a burden. It was certainly a burden when suddenly, when I was 30 years old, I began to grow a fleet of trucks. This launched a life both familiar to me, but drastically changed from that expected of a professional career in civil engineering. This re-appendage of the trucking business was again as present for me, as it was for my father, and as it was for Teddy, and probably for earlier ancestors as well. There were many days when I referred to it as my genetic flaw.
But Grandpa Teddy was a certifiable urban gardener if I ever saw one. Where an adjacent building lot could have been, was instead half used for a truck barn facing the alley and the front half used for his amazingly productive vegetable garden. In front of his house were two 25 ft. cherry trees that gave life its sweetness when they were ripe. The vegetables were hedged with well-pruned raspberry bushes which rivaled the cherries for best taste ever. But it was too cold to keep a fig tree alive.
That's me and my sister Marcia in my Grandpa Teddy's garden on Ashland Avenue in the city named after the famous geo-hydraulic occurrence called Niagara Falls.
Beside giving us the falls, nature also gave us lake-effect snow blizzards that were ferocious and sometimes life threatening. I could imagine folks here going into complete chaos if such weather were to strike us here in this climatic paradise we know as Silicon Valley or San Jose, if so inclined.
When I arrived in this valley in 1969, the fringes of San Jose were still devoted to economically viable agricultural operations. In 1970, I planted my first garden in San Jose at a duplex on South 18th Street, fertilized with fresh chicken manure from the Olivera Egg Ranch in the Berryessa District in east San Jose. In 1972, I moved about a thousand feet south where I've have lived the life of an riparian urban truck farmer ever since.
Luckily, many can still remember when growing our own food was part of every day life.
And with urban chickens returning, our future seems in one more way to be heading steadily backward toward a more sustainable community.
Friday, October 3, 2008
I wrote responses to both articles in the comments section @ the MercuryNews. com, but I want to add it here for my own record and to share with anyone else who cares to read my musings:
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Coyote Creek is one of San Jose's most valuable assets, serving as:
- A vital riparian corridor for fish, furry and feathered creatures
- The sediment transfer mechanism through the watershed
- A drainage system for conveying storm water runoff from paved surfaces and buildings
- A walking and bikeway system of creek-side trails, allowing the members of this community the enjoyment of the natural, right in the midst of this thriving urban hardscape we call Silicon Valley.
For a short and inspirational video about local creeks, click here.
San Jose is now really growing UP, with ever denser housing in the urban core and even in the burbs, along the light rail lines and elsewhere, sometimes under the moniker of Affordable Housing.
The added stress that accompanies a denser human environment needs a way for all of us to release some of that stress through some contact with nature. Trips to Yosemite are wonderful, but costly in time, fuel and sometime peak use impacts, that greatly reduce the intended benefit of the trip.
Our creeks are right here. Some of the trails are already in place. More will be welcomed as the public input from local residents, students and workers in the urban core make their desires known.
If you want more access to local creeks, restored to their full spectrum of uses listed above, you may want to join and become active in the Santa Clara County Creeks Coalition or a more local group like Friends of Coyote Creek
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Today, I had a melt down when I saw this video on line. This campaign finally got it.
And another today(10/4/08) I found this great jazz number.
And in case you're Irish or tried to be on St Patty's Day, watch this wonderful singing video
This one's just for Sarah. But this one is even better still.
We, in the audience, have to all stand up and pierce the fourth wall from this side of the show.
We must become the media, rather than watch it, letting IT filter our reality, as it gives us only the party line.
We have these tools for a reason, and it's more than just better communication or data storage.
Something jumped off a slide show I was watching a few days ago:
Humans are the strategy of Gaia to produce and accelerate the speed that nature can creatively express herself.
The World's A Stage, Let's PLAY WELL TOGETHER