Saturday, December 26, 2009

Rounding Out the Circle of the Solar Trip we call 2009


Hello my fellow Earthship mates.

I have been so absent from blogger land these past four months because I can only do so much key board time until repetitive motion cripples my upper right side. All I need is a good voice command typing program under my solstice bush.

But I have been on my keyboard a great deal during the last four months in order to create 27 seventy-five minute multimedia presentations for the class I taught last semester at San Jose State University. The course was titled Water Policy in The Western United States and was taught in the Environmental Studies Department and known through the SJSU catalog as EnvS 129. All the lecture notes, course syllabus (called greensheets, even though they're not when they are printed on paper), quizzes & the final exam are published in this google-powered web site for the world to use as it will: http://sites.google.com/site/envs129/

I have received much encouragement from friends, colleagues and the students themselves in regard to my teaching this past semester. I am also honored and challenged to teach a second course in the Spring 2010 semester on the more numeric side of water resources called MANAGEMENT. This course is listed as EnvS 128 and requires prerequisites of Statistics and basic Chemistry. I consider that the students will arrive with brains exposed to the type of discipline required in those courses.The web site for EnvS 128 is now "under construction" with as minimal of a footprint that I can MANAGE


But I am not there to teach students to be engineers. There is another college a few feet (and clicks) away which trains minds to conduct water engineering work. Most of the students come to the these courses in the College of Social Science to learn how they can help in building a sustainable future, but they certainly won't be ALL part of an engineering team to physically build parts of a water system.

Every student does, however, participate in using and paying for the water infrastructure components that are proposed and built by engineers and marketed and funded with the great influence of business and government. What they need to know is the language of the engineers, so they can engage in critical thinking and PARTICIPATE competently during the public review process, where many powerful self-interests are often poised and ready to override the public good and public trust of the environment and build some public (WATER) work that is going to have serious negative impacts and , in the long run, threaten our species and the sustainability of the ecosystem, which weaves together all our species.

My deepest ethics about water resources are succinctly expressed in this seven-minute student video, titled Rain Dance The film maker is named Amanda Levensohn and she certainly would have received an A+ if she were doing this work in one of my classes.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Seven Elected Water Board Bill Passes State Senate

The Santa Clara Valley Water District Board was successful in bulldozing its way through the legislature and managed a nearly unanimous vote on AB 466(Cot0), with Senator Simitian of Palo Alto being the only No vote.

Lobbying against the bottomless bank accounts of the Golden Spigot (as Scott Herhold of the SJ Mercury likes to call it) would have been a wasted effort to appear at the hearings in Sacramento to try to stop this effort. But I continued to post a better alternative in my blog and posted a link to Senator Simitian web site to send him comments. At least one of the County's Sacramento delegation is awake and understands bad politics when he sees it.

For the record, the following is the Legislative Analyst's description of the impact of the new bill and the record of votes in the Assembly and the Senate:
THIRD READING

Bill No: AB 466
Author: Coto (D)
Amended: 6/30/09 in Senate
Vote: 21


SENATE LOCAL GOVERNMENT COMMITTEE : 5-0, 6/17/09
AYES: Wiggins, Cox, Aanestad, Kehoe, Wolk

SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE : Senate Rule 28.8

ASSEMBLY FLOOR : 73-0, 5/14/09 - See last page for vote


SUBJECT : Santa Clara Valley Water District

SOURCE : Santa Clara Valley Water District

DIGEST :
This bill changes the composition and
representation of the Santa Clara Valley Water District
Board effective December 3, 2010, expands a district
exemption from special fees, and makes other governance
changes.

Senate Floor Amendments of 6/30/09 clarify when District
directors' terms start.

ANALYSIS :

I. Board of Directors . A seven-member board of
directors governs the Santa Clara Valley Water District
(District), reflecting a compromise that combined the
former Santa Clara Valley Water Conservation District,
the former Santa Clara County Flood Control and Water
Conservation District, and two other water districts.
The former Santa Clara Valley Water Conservation
District had an elected five-member board. The Santa
Clara County Board of Supervisors was the ex officio
board of the former Santa Clara County Flood Control
and Water Conservation district. The two other water
districts had their own elected boards. The District's
current seven-member board has five elected members;
one from each supervisorial district. The county
supervisors appoint the two other directors who must be
voters within the two former water districts. When the
District wants to reduce the board to five elected
members, the Legislature eliminated the appointed
members of the District's board of directors effective
on January 1, 2010, by enacting AB 2435 (Coto), Chapter
279, Statutes of 2006.

This bill repeals the statutes which will reduce the
size of the District's existing seven-member board of
directors to five elected directors on January 1, 2010.

This bill enacts a new governance scheme:

1. Until December 3, 2020, the board consists of:

A. The two appointed directors who served on
the board on December 31, 2008.

B. The five elected directors. The two
directors who were elected in 2006 serve until
December 5, 2010. The three directors who were
elected in 2008 serve until December 7, 2012.

2. Starting December 3, 2010, the board of
directors consists of seven elected directors.

This bill requires the board of directors to adopt by
June 30, 2010, a resolution that creates the seven
electoral districts. Voters elect directors by these
electoral divisions to four-year terms for four
designated seats in November 2010 and the three other
seats in November 2012. The District's elections and
the directors' terms must follow the Uniform District
Elections Law. The board must reapportion the
electoral districts by November 1 of the year following
each decennial census. The bill renumbers the current
provisions for filling board vacancies and recalling
directors.

II. Compensation . The District's directors receive $100
for each day's service, but not more than $600 a month,
plus actual and necessary expenses. State law requires
local governments to adopt reimbursement policies and
disclose payments (AB 1234 [Salinas], Chapter 700,
Statutes of 2005). This bill requires the District to
place quarterly expense reimbursement reports on the
board's agenda and to determine if the reimbursements
comply with the board's policies. This bill prohibits
a member of the District's board of directors from
seeking or accepting compensated employment with the
District while a director, and for one year after the
director's term of office.

III. Governance . This bill requires the District's board
by July 1, 2010, to adopt lobbying regulations that
include registration, reporting, and disclosure
requirements. This bill prohibits directors from
contacting the District's staff on behalf of contract
bidders. This bill prohibits the District's board from
authorizing severance pay when an appointed employee
leaves voluntarily. This bill requires the District
board's minutes to include a public report of actions
taken in closed sessions under the Brown Act.

IV. Reports. The Ralph M. Brown Act requires local
governments to post their agendas, including brief
general descriptions of each item, at least 72 hours
before their regular meeting. The Brown Act provides
that writings which are distributed to a majority of
the legislative body are public records and must be
made available upon request without delay. With five
specific exceptions, this bill requires that reports
prepared by the District's staff that recommended
action by the board at a regular public meeting or
public hearing must be available to the public at least
six days before the meeting or hearing. This bill
declares that this requirement does not require public
release of documents that the California Public Records
Act exempts from disclosure. If a staff report's
recommendation changes because of direction from a
director, the report must disclose that revision.

V. Special Taxes . When the District levies special taxes
that are subject to a 2/3-voter approval, it may charge
minimum uniform rates based on land use category and
size. When levying these special taxes, the District
can exempt residential parcels that are owned and
occupied by taxpayers who are 65 years or older (AB 88
[Alquist], Chapter 63, Statutes of 2001). This bill
also allows the District to exempt residential parcels
that are owned and occupied by taxpayers who qualify as
totally disabled under the federal Social Security Act.

VI. District Budgets . By June 15, the District's board
must meet to consider its proposed budget and hear
public comments. At the same meeting, this bill
requires the board to review its financial reserves and
its reserve management policy.

Comments

More than 40 years after the district took over the
County's flood control duties, local officials continue to
discuss how the District should operate. Since the
enactment of AB 2435 (Coto), local officials have continued
to debate the District's governance. This bill is the
result of the latest round of discussions about how to
improve the District's accountability, transparency, and
responsiveness.

FISCAL EFFECT : Appropriation: No; Fiscal Com.: Yes Local: Yes

SUPPORT : (Verified 7/1/09)

Santa Clara Valley Water District (source)
Association of California Water Agencies
California Special Districts Association
Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce
San Jose/Silicon Valley Branch of the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People


ASSEMBLY FLOOR :
AYES: Adams, Anderson, Arambula, Beall, Bill Berryhill,
Tom Berryhill, Blakeslee, Block, Blumenfield, Brownley,
Buchanan, Caballero, Charles Calderon, Carter, Chesbro,
Conway, Cook, Coto, Davis, De La Torre, De Leon, DeVore,
Duvall, Emmerson, Eng, Evans, Feuer, Fletcher, Fong,
Fuller, Furutani, Galgiani, Gilmore, Hagman, Hall,
Harkey, Hayashi, Hernandez, Hill, Huber, Huffman,
Jeffries, Jones, Knight, Krekorian, Lieu, Logue, Bonnie
Lowenthal, Ma, Mendoza, Miller, Monning, Nava, Nestande,
Niello, Nielsen, John A. Perez, V. Manuel Perez,
Portantino, Price, Ruskin, Salas, Silva, Skinner,
Solorio, Audra Strickland, Swanson, Torlakson, Torres,
Torrico, Tran, Villines, Yamada
NO VOTE RECORDED: Ammiano, Fuentes, Gaines, Garrick,
Saldana, Smyth, Bass


AGB:cm 7/1/09 Senate Floor Analyses

SUPPORT/OPPOSITION: SEE ABOVE
UNOFFICIAL BALLOT
MEASURE: AB 466
AUTHOR: Coto
TOPIC: Santa Clara Valley Water District.
DATE: 08/27/2009
LOCATION: SEN. FLOOR
MOTION: Assembly 3rd Reading AB466 Coto By Maldonado
(AYES 32. NOES 1.) (PASS)


AYES
****

Aanestad Alquist Ashburn Benoit
Cogdill Corbett Correa Cox
Denham Ducheny Dutton Florez
Hancock Harman Hollingsworth Huff
Kehoe Leno Liu Lowenthal
Maldonado Negrete McLeod Pavley Romero
Steinberg Strickland Walters Wiggins
Wolk Wright Wyland Yee


NOES
****

Simitian


ABSENT, ABSTAINING, OR NOT VOTING
*********************************

Calderon Cedillo DeSaulnier Oropeza
Padilla Price Runner

**** END****


























(BY)Pass the SALT

The State's favorite water fight is brewing up again as a package of legislation moves through the Legislature. The sole intention of this package is to fix the Delta watering hole, with its six million acre feet of straws sucking on it's life giving sustenance.

The San Jose Mercury News ran this recent story. And then STAND BACK and watch the vitriol begin.

My response is one familiar to those who have read other posts on this blog:

In addittion to defending the veracity of Dr. Meral's op-ed piece, I commented:

It is the Delta farmers and boaters that are trying to mislead us again. If you really want to end agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley, stop this vital piece of plumbing from being built.

If the canal was built 25 years ago, as the State Legislature and Governor Jerry Brown agreed, 50 million LESS tons of salt would have been deposited on the farmlands as millions of acres were irrigated with salty water from the aqueducts.

With sea level rising, this rate of
salinization will increase and the Central Valley farmlands will become permanently destroyed even sooner without the east Delta bypass channel in place. This may serve farmer/speculators well as salted lands are converted to cheap housing and strip malls.

It's shameful to watch and even encourage the loss of such a huge agricultural resource, after billions of federal and state dollars were invested in dams, pumps and canals to grow enough food and fiber to feed much of the US and several other countries. Farming uses 80% of the State's developed water.

The Canal is really about saving farming not about
SoCal vs NoCal. Please educate yourselves and save us from making the same mistake twice. There won't be a third chance!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

San Jose Goose News


For the third year in a row, those humans with drips on their hats, have brought in harassing canines to attack us while our nesting process is in high mode. While we carry out our genetic mandate to PRO-create, these humans continue to show no regard for our place in the universe, here and now.

Our ancestors flew these paths for thousands of generations. We have always found these wetlands on the way to and from the salty water between the mountains. Each return, we find more habitat is gone and hot black sticky pebbles cover many former water areas. This valley has a bad case of humans.

The humans also must have water to live. Water goes where they want it, and they seem to use water much more often than there are days of rain. The valley is wet everywhere, all the many days between rains. What wetlands we find, we must use. We must create our next generation, as we share the prime directive of all species that contain the spirit of life.

The humans say they want to prevent our unused nutrients from entering the water. But this water has already flowed off the upland streams and through their encampments. The water is then collecting human unused nutrients and shiny floating colors on the top. We have tolerated this unfresh water because there is just not any better alternatives. The people encampments are everywhere there is water flowing into the lowlands.

The editors of Goose News wants to believe that these humans can learn, if we actually are able to get their attention. At the next inter-species congregation, Goose News proposes that a coalition of bird species begin forming word spelling formation groups. Goose News will go from being just another blog, to the spelling of words for humans, and in the actual airways of our home here in this valley.

Father Goose,
The Head of Goose News and


Mother Goose,
the Neck that turns the Head, and Chief Avian Letter-form Designer

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Meandering Demo(n)-stration on Coyote Creek

On Monday, June 1, the Santa Clara Valley Water District held a "Open House" in the Olinder School Cafeteria to discuss their flood control options with the surrounding neighborhoods. About 100 people showed up over a four-hour period to be given docent-guided explanations of the dozens of wall maps, charts and graphs depicting the 10 or so options that had so far been considered by the engineering staff of the Water District.


Many folks showed up to voice their protest about any plans that included removing homes from the creek banks or putting levees around the park to enhance its function as a flood detention basin. In a separate post, I describe why William Street Park and much of the Coyote Creek park chain was developed for the dual purposes of flood detention and recreation.


Purely by coincidence, the next day, the Water District conducted what may have appeared as a demonstration of what it would look like to remove a house along the creek. The pics and video below was taken by me on Tuesday. What you see is the pile of sticks which used to be the Jaffe home on the 300 block of South 17th Street in downtown San Jose on the west bank of Coyote Creek.









video

The story of why this home was demolished began a few weeks after the January 25, 1997 flood on the Coyote Creek. After the flood stage had passed, the Water District began releasing water from Andersen Reservoir, located 20 miles upstream, for the next six weeks or so. Once they reached the elevation of their "rule curve" someone ordered the valve closed at the dam and the water level in the creek downtown dropped 2-3 feet almost instantaneously. Without the water column as a buttress, the saturated banks did what gravity demands and began flowing out into the river and everything above it collapsed.

Another home next to and south of the Jaffe's completely tipped dangerously toward the river, and was soon red tagged and eventually demolished also. There was also some bank failure in the back yard of the home north of the Jaffe home as well. The slippage of the bank unfortunately occurred in the middle of the Jaffe home, so part of the house remained habitable for the time being.

Law suits were, of course, filed against both the District and the City. The District used the immediate defense that the sewer in front of these homes was damaged and leaking and was therefore the cause of the bank failure, not the operation of the reservoir. After I was deposed by the attorney for the home owners, the water District's attorney was not too happy that I supported the theory that the bank slipped due to "draw down failure." In response, they shopped around for someone to write them a report refuting this theory and found a Stanford professor that would back them up, for a considerable fee, of course.

The District won the case but never felt too good about it, apparently, for in about 2006, the District offered to buy the Jaffe's home and remove it, as they have now done. This bring the total to five lots on the west bank of Coyote Creek now restored by the Water District to undeveloped parcels between the William Street bridge and the San Antonio Street bridge. The term used by the District (and others) for homes that back up to the creeks is called "encroachment."

Prior to 1950, before the construction of Andersen Dam, large setbacks from the creek banks were the rule, and streets such as Arroyo Way and Brookwood Drive did not exist, in respect for the need for such setbacks. The City General Plan today includes a 100 ft. setback for new subdivisions, but is seldom enforced, especially if the developer claims they will lose many buildable lots that the City should buy in order to "create" the setback.

The District, for years, has been encouraging Cities and the County to not create subdivisions that allowed homes to back up against the creek banks. Streets were encouraged or at least tolerated, even when floodable, as the District could use these paved surfaces for maintenance, while building homes that backed up to the creeks blocked access and created a continuous source of complaints and often litigation.

In 2000, the voters approved a parcel tax by over a two-thirds margin to fund the "Clean,Safe Creeks and Natural Flood Protection Program." This would generate funds for a period of 15 years to begin several flood control projects throughout the County. One of these projects is the Mid-Coyote Creek planning study, which began near the end of 2007 and has progressed to the state which was on display at the Olinder Cafeteria on Monday.

Yesterday, our District 3 Council member, Sam Liccardo, notified the neighborhoods that a task force would be appointed from all the neighborhoods surrounding the mid-Coyote Creek, between East Hedding St. upstream to Hwy. 280. Over the course of the next year, alternatives will be evaluated and recommended for consideration by the District. Congress member Zoe Lofgren also sent a letter to the neighbors that stated that no project would move forward without her endorsement and that of the neighborhood.

Tomorrow, the Water District will conduct a bus tour for those that signed up on the Monday or Wednesday "open house." The tour will start at Andersen Dam and move downstream, following the virtual flood wave through the reservoir and the creek channel below, heading eventually to South San Francisco Bay. This will hopefully help some of the neighbors visualize the daunting task upon the Water District staff to route a flood wave up to 17,000 cubic feet per second through this highly developed metropolis. It will also be a great opportunity to compare the benefits of flood detention to the less popular and more expensive alternatives of channelization.

But even if most of the flooding can be prevented using the existing reservoirs and other detention facilities like Laguna Seca in Coyote Valley and Lake Cunningham next to Eastridge, the meandering of the river bed through downtown neighborhoods will continue to claim homes built adjacent to Coyote Creek and, in time, we will see a repeat of yesterday's demolition and the demonstration of the forces of the earth, constantly at work in this naturally meandering stream bed.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Another challenge for Henry Waxman: Salt of the Earth

While Henry Waxman takes on climate change from the federal helm, his home state of California is slowly but surely losing its primary resource: Agriculture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Letter to Senator Joe Simitian re Electing Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors

Please read the letter and if you agree,
please email Senator Simitian through this link:


Senator Joseph Simitian
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Senator Simitian:

Recently, the Board of the Santa Clara Valley Water District has asked Assemblyman Joe Coto to carry a bill through the State legislature to amend the District Act as it pertains to electing the Board of Directors as representatives of our community. I respectfully request that you consider introducing a separate bill in the Senate or request substantial amendment of Mr. Coto’s bill. The local delegation of state legislators from Santa Cara County should seize this opportunity to apply the democratic process to management and protection of our local watersheds.

For the past forty years, the Water District board of directors has had five elected directors and two directors appointed by the Board of Supervisors, coupled with budget approval by the BOS, after the District Board review and adoption. This system had a severely distracted Board of Supervisors giving approval to a budget they hardly ever glanced at, let alone vetted for policy compliance and economic or environmental prudence. I called this system the Dilution of Democracy, which involved the appointment of a supervisor's “friend” to either of the two at-large seats on the Water Board to sit as full voting members with the five elected directors.

These appointments were made by alternating north /south appointments between the members of the Board of Supervisors. The boundaries for the residence requirement for the South County appointed seat had about 5-10% of the county’s population while the other seat included the remainder of the County, but actually excluded some cities with Hetch Hetchy contracts. Last year the County finally relinquished this hold on the Water District and the District Act was amended in Sacramento to remove the two appointments and eliminate the BOS budget approval requirement.

It is these two vestiges of old political inertia, scheduled to end on Dec 31, 2009, that has the District Board expressing their desire to keep the number of Board members at seven, using new seven yet-to-be-gerrymandered districts of equal numbers of eligible voters. I believe we deserve and can create a political body that has more practicality than simply preserving the number seven for the available seats on the board of directors.

I hope you will agree that the Water District’s Board, first of all, should represent the very nature of the flow of water, and should be organized by watershed. This is not a new idea for the Water District. When I was first elected to the Board in 1972, there were five separate taxing zones in place, representing the major watersheds in the county: East (Coyote, Silver-Thompson, Penetencia Creeks), Central (Guadalupe/Los Gatos/Alamitos), North Central (Calabasas, San Tomas, Saratoga) Northwest (Baron, Matadero, Stevens & San Francisquito) and South (Uvas/Llagas/Pajaro).

In order to establish the basis for equal representation, each of these watersheds would have to again become separate taxing entities for which watershed activities could be assessed per watershed and not subsidized by other zones with a “revenue surplus.”

The water supply function of the Santa Clara Valley Water District is basically run as a business for the benefit of the entire county. Other water supply wholesalers also operate within the county borders, namely San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and four regional water recycling programs operated within Santa Clara County. This makes for a very complex approach for getting water to people, through their many water retailers, comprised of both municipal and private/investor-owned utilities.

Since the watersheds probably do not have equal populations, each watershed council should have weighted voting when they meet to manage the Water Utility Enterprise as the “Water Supply Board.” A major benefit of this approach is that watershed boundaries cannot be gerrymandered. They are created by nature and will remain the same, regardless of changes in land use and population.

As the Water Utility Enterprise is run as a business, each watershed council represents the resident-shareholders of each watershed, so each council would have a vote in proportion to its population, using the well known and accepted corporate model. This should take care of the equal representation requirement of the government code. The weighted vote for each watershed can simply be adjusted after each 10-year census.

As these Watershed Council members come together as Water Supply Board, still wearing their watershed hats, if you will, they will be more apt to balance the needs of both the human inhabitants AND the instream/riparian needs within the community. This is a somewhat parallel concept to the city councils acting separately as the Redevelopment Boards while still being elected council members.

Watershed Councils should be elected in open, non-partisan, consolidated primary elections with runoffs in the next general election. Appointments to fill vacancies should be required to gather at least 10% of the registered voters’ support in their electoral Districts and should do so using electronic communications appropriate to the current community standards, sort of like getting fans on Facebook, for example.

As the District is an essential service provider to the cities and the County government, these organizations should have a stronger voice in advising the Water District. A water commission currently exists that includes an elected member of each city, the County BOS and a Water Board member. This group should meet at least quarterly, and more often under drought or flood emergencies, and should be required to read and formally comment on the Water District budget before the Board takes final action to approve its annual or two-year budget.

Other advisory committees should be encouraged by the State’s enabling legislation. Agricultural subsidies, if allowed, should apply to ALL water applied for irrigation of a food crop, not just for commercial food and fiber. Water subsidies for food crop irrigation should be passed on through retailers to consumers. Just as individual home water banks were created during the '86-'91 drought, home/food water banks can be similarly created and monitored through efficient and modern electronic means and be an essential tool for emergency drought management, during a state- or locally-declared emergency.

I am hoping that we can construct a body that works as well as nature, so our politics reflects both the force and delicacy of nature and the human spirit.

Thank you for your consideration of this progressive approach to structuring the Water District’s governance. I will be happy to meet with you or your staff at your earliest convenience.

Never Thirst!

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


Reader comments welcome. Send Senator Simitian your comments.

An Earth Day Celebration that will give us our watersheds forever.

Dear Water Brothers and Sisters in the Valley of ValleyWater.org

This Earth Day, the political stars are in alignment. It's a day Sacramento politicians can use to demonstrate that our democratic, of-the-people powered, government can craft for our county, a political system that moves us continuously forward toward local watershed stewardship and a more integrated governance structure, in respect for this most precious element, WATER.

Specifically, a hearing is scheduled on Earth Day, April 22, in Sacramento to consider a bill authored by Assemblyman Coto, D-SanJose. The current status of the proposed legislation, AB 466 today, is linked here and printed at the end of this post below:

The bill, as drafted, allows the Water District Board to create seven new political boundaries from which, seven water directors would be elected to the governing Board of the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

I have proposed a more natural alternative
.
Within a letter to Senator Joe Simitian,
a natural governance structure was offered for
how we elect our local water policy directors.

Please read the letter in the linked post above
and,if you agree, please follow the links to
tell Senator Simitian that you would like him
to ask for changes in AB 466.
Tell him you want a
bill to allow us to elect local water director
s
by watersheds rather than 7 gerrymandered political districts.

CURRENT BILL STATUS


MEASURE : A.B. No. 466
AUTHOR(S) : Coto (Coauthors: Beall, Fong, Ruskin, and Torrico)
(Coauthors: Senators Alquist, DeSaulnier, and Maldonado).
TOPIC : Santa Clara Valley Water District.
HOUSE LOCATION : ASM
+LAST AMENDED DATE : 04/15/2009


TYPE OF BILL :
Active
Non-Urgency
Non-Appropriations
Majority Vote Required
State-Mandated Local Program
Fiscal
Non-Tax Levy

LAST HIST. ACT. DATE: 04/16/2009
LAST HIST. ACTION : Re-referred to Com. on L. GOV.
COMM. LOCATION : ASM LOCAL GOVERNMENT
HEARING DATE : 04/22/2009

TITLE : An act to amend Sections 13.2 and 20 of, to add Sections
7.4, 7.5, 7.6, 7.7, 7.8, 7.9, 7.10, 7.11, and 8 to, and
to repeal and add Sections 7, 7.1, and 7.3 of, the Santa
Clara Valley Water District Act (Chapter 1405 of the
Statutes of 1951), relating to the Santa Clara Valley
Water District.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Spring Loose, Down the Rabbit Hole

video

The Spring celebrations continue across every culture throughout every continent in the Northern half of planet Earth. The Persian New Year of Iran is celebrated as Narouz. The Jewish descendants of Abraham hold Seder and remember again their end of slavery in Egypt. According to Encyclopædia Britannica, the Jewish festival of Purim is probably adopted from the Persian New Year. Christians celebrate the equinox with new life from death, nature's familiar cycles, projected so closely onto their new age rabbi, Jesus, the Christ.

Easter is the Spring celebration I grew up enjoying. Even after my spirituality evolved from the Jesuit (Society of Jesus) school variety into an Earth-based connection to the divine, we continued to celebrate Easter with egg hunts with our young children.


Today, I wish people of any culture the universal greeting of Happy Spring as we continue to ride our beautiful planet on this annual path around the Sun.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

San Jose Gets Back to its Roots

Yesterday, April 4, 2009, the Master Gardeners brought us back in time as they sold heirloom chilies and tomatoes at the San Jose History Park. While this location was not as earthy as the previous sales' location at Emma Prusch Park at Story & King, having the plant sale at the History Park was a fitting and timely reminder that this used to be called the Valley of Heart's Delight, as it grew and processed millions of tons of produce which fed much of the nation.

Today we feed the world information and communication technology, beginning with the silicon chip, which eventually became our new delight and namesake. Laptops, PC's, cell phones and digital storage devices have replaced canned tomatoes, fresh cherries and locally-grown eggs and meat products.

But despite all this advancement in technology and economic benefits, we still require food on a fairly regular basis. A strong message is creeping across our mass consciousness that we need to grow our food locally. As Michael Pollan suggests:" We need to (at least) shake the hand that feeds you."

People are joining Community Supported Agriculture (CSA's) and at least meeting each other in neighbor's homes where shares are divided and bagged for pickup.Our community gardens all have long waiting lists. A big boost was Michele Obama digging up part of the White House lawn on the Spring Equinox and planting an organic garden.

But on this weekend, hundreds of people showed up and quickly filled the adjacent parking lot and whisked off thousand of Chili pepper and tomato starts. Spring gardeners, being energized by the warm sunshine, actually also parked and walked along Coyote Creek for several hundred yards from the Happy Hollow parking lot to the History Park.

I bought just 5 starts from the Master Gardeners, including a had-to-have chili pepper called Neapolitano. I then ventured out to observe what wares and plants other vendors were selling. The old town square gazebo's nearby even had an old gent lecturing on the essential nature of water to gardening, I didn't think that I should intervene with a political discussion of managing mandatory water rationing and, at the same time, planting food that requires three to five feet of irrigation during the summer growing season.

A couple brave Water District employees also were present in a nearby kiosk to answer questions. I would have loved to hear all those conversations as well. But I was certainly not going to reduce, in any way, the enjoyment of so many eager gardener-citizens out on a Spring Saturday morning. Instead, I am hereby quietly rejoicing as I watch as the people of San Jose bring our community back to its roots.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tap Water

My friend, Niki, in Houston sent me this link this morning, of two white 'mercan woman selling glass bottles sporting a label with a picture of a tap and the words tap water.
$12.95 plus shipping, with $2 going to UNICEF.

Below is my response:

Niki,

When I watched this, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

But then I noticed they allowed posting of comments so I did:

" I'll send $2 to UNICEF directly and skip the the considerable carbon footprint of shipping me a glass bottle with the unnecessary and silly label. Are you people just putting me on?"

I thought they would quickly delete my comment. Instead, they posted a comment on my blog.

So I guess they really do have the heart to help people everywhere have safe drinking water through the Tap Project. So click through and make a donation today.

Never Thirst!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Water on my mind.

Today, the San Jose Mercury News featured a story about water rationing by Paul Rogers, to which I posted this reply.

I also drafted a letter to Senator Joe Simitian that asks him to author a bill to create a water board elected by watersheds.

Please read the letter and if you agree, please email Senator Simitian through this link:


Senator Joseph Simitian
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Senator Simitian:

Recently, the Board of the Santa Clara Valley Water District has asked Assemblyman Joe Coto to carry a bill through the State legislature to amend the District Act as it pertains to electing the Board of Directors as representatives of our community. I respectfully request that you consider introducing a separate bill in the Senate or request substantial amendment of Mr. Coto’s bill. The local delegation of state legislators from Santa Cara County should seize this opportunity to apply the democratic process to management and protection of our local watersheds.

For the past forty years, the Water District board of directors has had five elected directors and two directors appointed by the Board of Supervisors, coupled with budget approval by the BOS, after the District Board review and adoption. This system had a severely distracted Board of Supervisors giving approval to a budget they hardly ever glanced at, let alone vetted for policy compliance and economic or environmental prudence. I called this system the Dilution of Democracy, which involved the appointment of a supervisor's “friend” to either of the two at-large seats on the Water Board to sit as full voting members with the five elected directors.

These appointments were made by alternating north /south appointments between the members of the Board of Supervisors. The boundaries for the residence requirement for the South County appointed seat had about 5-10% of the county’s population while the other seat included the remainder of the County, but actually excluded some cities with Hetch Hetchy contracts. Last year the County finally relinquished this hold on the Water District and the District Act was amended in Sacramento to remove the two appointments and eliminate the BOS budget approval requirement.

It is these two vestiges of old political inertia, scheduled to end on Dec 31, 2009, that has the District Board expressing their desire to keep the number of Board members at seven, using new seven yet-to-be-gerrymandered districts of equal numbers of eligible voters. I believe we deserve and can create a political body that has more practicality than simply preserving the number seven for the available seats on the board of directors.

I hope you will agree that the Water District’s Board, first of all, should represent the very nature of the flow of water, and should be organized by watershed. This is not a new idea for the Water District. When I was first elected to the Board in 1972, there were five separate taxing zones in place, representing the major watersheds in the county: East (Coyote, Silver-Thompson, Penetencia Creeks), Central (Guadalupe/Los Gatos/Alamitos), North Central (Calabasas, San Tomas, Saratoga) Northwest (Baron, Matadero, Stevens & San Francisquito) and South (Uvas/Llagas/Pajaro).

In order to establish the basis for equal representation, each of these watersheds would have to again become separate taxing entities for which watershed activities could be assessed per watershed and not subsidized by other zones with a “revenue surplus.”

The water supply function of the Santa Clara Valley Water District is basically run as a business for the benefit of the entire county. Other water supply wholesalers also operate within the county borders, namely San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and four regional water recycling programs operated within Santa Clara County. This makes for a very complex approach for getting water to people, through their many water retailers, comprised of both municipal and private/investor-owned utilities.

Since the watersheds probably do not have equal populations, each watershed council should have weighted voting when they meet to manage the Water Utility Enterprise as the “Water Supply Board.” A major benefit of this approach is that watershed boundaries cannot be gerrymandered. They are created by nature and will remain the same, regardless of changes in land use and population.

As the Water Utility Enterprise is run as a business, each watershed council represents the resident-shareholders of each watershed, so each council would have a vote in proportion to its population, using the well known and accepted corporate model. This should take care of the equal representation requirement of the government code. The weighted vote for each watershed can simply be adjusted after each 10-year census.

As these Watershed Council members come together as Water Supply Board, still wearing their watershed hats, if you will, they will be more apt to balance the needs of both the human inhabitants AND the instream/riparian needs within the community. This is a somewhat parallel concept to the city councils acting separately as the Redevelopment Boards while still being elected council members.

Watershed Councils should be elected in open, non-partisan, consolidated primary elections with runoffs in the next general election. Appointments to fill vacancies should be required to gather at least 10% of the registered voters’ support in their electoral Districts and should do so using electronic communications appropriate to the current community standards, sort of like getting fans on Facebook, for example.

As the District is an essential service provider to the cities and the County government, these organizations should have a stronger voice in advising the Water District. A water commission currently exists that includes an elected member of each city, the County BOS and a Water Board member. This group should meet at least quarterly, and more often under drought or flood emergencies, and should be required to read and formally comment on the Water District budget before the Board takes final action to approve its annual or two-year budget.

Other advisory committees should be encouraged by the State’s enabling legislation. Agricultural subsidies, if allowed, should apply to ALL water applied for irrigation of a food crop, not just for commercial food and fiber. Water subsidies for food crop irrigation should be passed on through retailers to consumers. Just as individual home water banks were created during the '86-'91 drought, home/food water banks can be similarly created and monitored through efficient and modern electronic means and be an essential tool for emergency drought management, during a state- or locally-declared emergency.

I am hoping that we can construct a body that works as well as nature, so our politics reflects both the force and delicacy of nature and the human spirit.

Thank you for your consideration of this progressive approach to structuring the Water District’s governance. I will be happy to meet with you or your staff at your earliest convenience.

Never Thirst!

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


Reader comments welcome. Send Senator Simitian your comments.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

O'Brien, O'Bama, O'FerrarO, again



Today is Saint Patrick's Day, so we're all Irish and join in wearing of the GREEN. just like our Earth Mother in Spring.








The Earth is so green right now, right here in San Jose and much of the northern hemisphere. Here in Norte California, we might call her Madre del Norte.



Many cultures celebrate the Spring equinox as their new year. This past weekend I spent two days of celebration with the Aztec, Zuni and many other native American cultures to celebrate their new year. I was so honored to see three hundred festively garbed dancers in circle on the campus of Hispanic University lead by their chieftains and drummers through ritual moves that represent centuries of tradition which honor our Earth Mother.



video



Now two days later, the rest of the hemisphere can also celebrate the spring as we join our western European earth family members to celebrate around one of their folk heroes, St Patty.

I loved the wonderful singing video about President Obama's Irish roots, which gave great pleasure and tickled everyone who's name name started with O'. This reminded me about a St Patty's Day about 30 years ago when Danny O'Brien put his maniacal energy to work organizing the first ever, (that we're aware of) St Patrick's Day parade through the streets of downtown San Jose.

When Dan was in high gear, everyone around him got involved with his madness of the moment. He got his neighbor Don to get his antique car out of storage and into the parade. And he got me to be the rear guard for the parade using one of my twelve-ton bobtail moving vans. The truck's one decoration was a large GREEN O in front of the Ferraro Van Lines lettering on the side of the truck. The parade was televised on the 6:00 News on Channel 11, KNTV. My dear friend and anchorwoman, Maggie Scura, just cracked up when she had to read O"Ferraro from the teleprompter during the news piece.

Today, I found one of those O's that we taped to the side of the truck. I hung it by our front door, on the same hook that we hang our solstice wreath in December. Later when I went downtown, I taped it where my rear window on my GEM would be, if it had one. Not too many people would know the historical significance of a plastic O, cut out from the bottom of a green plastic garbage can, but it sure tickled me, as nowadays my friends are starting to call me trash man, as I join other trash warriors in removing our rafts of litter from our local creeks.

What better tribute to Mother Nature than for us to gather together on the Spring Equinox, March 21st, to remove the fugitive emissions of our over-packaged consumerism from the habitat of the fish, foul and other creatures who are inhabitants our urban riparian corridors.

This is more hard work than ceremony, but as much of our love for the earth does change our spiritual rituals, it certainly changes our politics, as well. I prefer to only fly the earth flag, except maybe for the 4th of July parade, when I'll ADD a small version of the stars and stripes. My astute and word-smithing mate, Cari, calls this matriatism.

Blessed Be
and Happy St. Patrick's Spring Celebration.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Leave Only Hand Prints


Hikers into wilderness areas know well the golden rule "Leave only footprints" as they pack in and out all sorts of packaged food and camping gear which they have deemed necessities for their sojourn. But here in the city, we hardly think twice, or even once, about the trail of human-made excretia that we leave behind us as we conduct our daily lives in crowded urban conditions.

But as this city gets more crowded, a wonderful thing also happens. Our deep earth-born spirit needs to reconnect with the natural and many folks are finding their way back to nature right here in Silicon Valley, without having to leave on a remote hiking trip into the Sierra Nevada mountains or beyond. While we have paved over nearly 400 square miles of this fertile valley's top soil, we fortunately have not paved over all the local creeks and rivers flowing to South San Francisco Bay and Monterey Bay.



It is in these natural creeks that we can observe the cycles of carbon and water in full operation. We see aquatic organisms, from the microscopic to the avian and terrestial critters that live among us in these verdant strips teeming with life. And we also see the hand of humans, sometime in complete conflict or disregard for those living systems, which did not evolve with these human interferences in their habitat.

We build bridges over rivers, of course. Concrete abutments displace creek bank areas which then preclude tree growth and the reduces water shading of a continuous canopy. We build diversion structures to remove flow from the rivers for flood control or water supply. The most drastic thing that we do to creeks, however, is connect storm drain from streets, highways, and parking lots, allowing unfiltered and rapidly drained rain runoff to be discharged directly into our local creeks, rivers and bays.

Urban storm water runoff is a stew,laced with droppings from our cars and our homes, our commerce and even our farming operations. Fuels, hydraulic fluids, fertilizers and pesticides, fine copper dust from our brake pads, and mercury from mine tailings left in upper Almaden Valley 150 years ago are all sources of pollution that finds its way into our local creeks. Most of this takes a water chemist to identify, and, with local monitoring programs being funded, we are more aware of how serious this kind of pollution is impacting the sustainability of the ecosystems of our local waterways.

But the pollution of the local creeks that is most evident to Joe and Jane Citizen is TRASH. As local residents flock more and more to creekside trails and parks, they become quickly disgusted when they see trash on otherwise beautiful creek banks and water surfaces. Neighborhood organizations, hiking and bicycle clubs and schools are adopting a much more proactive stand in fighting back against the endless flow of trash that is reaching our creeks.

Last week, my Naglee Park neighbors started to mobilize to remove a trash raft in the vicinity of the East San Antonio Street bridge, and began to warm up with picking up trash in Williams Street Park over the weekend. I volunteered to pick up trash on the east bank of Coyote Creek, up and down stream of the William Street.

With rain in the forecast and Water District trucks already dispatched to pick up our haul on Monday, I got a jump on the trash picking on Friday. I started at my home and began scouting below the eucalyptus grove opposite the Water District's Outdoor Classroom, located off Williams Street, just down stream of the William St. bridge.

About 100 feet upstream of my lot line, I found a private garbage dump for the tenants of the duplexes south of my home on Brookwood Drive. My son and I loaded about a half ton of trash into my pickup truck and bagged another half ton and piled it back on the other side of the fence, which so conveniently block these tenants view of their trash pile.

I then contacted the owner by phone and suggested that the solid wooden picket fence be replaced with chain link so that the trash won't seem to just "go away" when someone throws it over the fence. I also called the property manager and asked for some help in hauling this mess to the scheduled pick up location at the William St. bridge abutment, but no one ever showed up, but we proceeded anyway.

This morning, in a light drizzle, I drove my pickup truck to the bridge and unloaded my first load near the north side of the east bridge abutment. My neighbor, Sergio and I also carried five heavy bags across the bridge that were collected along the west bank by Sarabelle Hitchner and Sharon Knopf on Saturday morning. Then the Water District crew showed up and we went into high gear, loading first the remaining mess which, on Friday, Nick & I had pulled through the fence behind the two duplexes just south of my home, and then returned to load all the pile stacked near the William Street bridge. I would guess this entire load weighed one to one and a half tons, and will add to the incredible statistic of the tons of trash removed each year by the Water District crews and volunteer trash warriors.

I was happy to see a sign a sign on the truck designating it as assigned to the Coyote Watershed, the largest watershed in the county, at 320 square miles, with over 100 sq.mi. of paved urbanscape below the Andersen Dam near Morgan Hill.







Paul and Dennis are two Water District employees
who don't have trouble sleeping at night, as they spend their days doing real work, loading their Sterling Compactor with tons of trash removed day after day from creeks throughout Santa Clara County.





The pictures in this blog post were taken by my wife, Cari, and the one at the end is a hand print left by one of the Brookwood kids that have grown up in this wonderful neighborhood. I thank her for helping to document some of my most satisfying water-related action in which I have participated during the last four decades of living near Coyote Creek in downtown San Jose. I am also very encouraged by the neighborhoods response to the call for more attention and mitigation of the creek trash problem.

Blessings & thank you Creek Trash Warriors. The ducks and their colleagues living in the creek appreciate your efforts.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Water Brother From Another Mother

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking to a California History class in the California History Center on the De Anza College campus in Cupertino, California, the real heart of Silicon Valley and home to Apple Computer. The class is taught by my friend of many years, Anne Hickling.

Ann also lives along a riparian corridor as I do. Only she actually grew up in this family home, so, except for her college years, she has spent her entire life as a critter of a local creek.

Ann also takes great pride in her devotion to the study of history and actively sharing her journey of that quest with her students at De Anza College. Yesterday, I was invited to share my thoughts on the water development history of California and Silicon Valley. Paying homage to the screenagers in the classroom (all of us) Ann recorded a video still of the State map which showed rainfall patterns, watersheds & rivers, and engineered aqueducts. The other image in the room was not a hologram but me actually there talking.

In a classroom filled with students, some are there for credit and/or grades, on that paper chase for a degree and a better salary somewhere else. But some people in the room flip open a 'Learning Switch' and actually let some information lodge in that part of the brain where you suddenly connect it as part of your life. You must pay attention to this for your own survival and well being. One or two students did seem to reach this point during the lecture, and Ann is always excited to be learning more about her State and Valley water history and hearing an updated political review of current water management issues.

I explained why I thought the Water District should have a new governance structure that is based on watersheds. This reminded Ann of a poet and philosopher named Gary Snyder. As part of her thanks for my lecturing to her class, Ann sent me the following e-mail which included a great piece about Gary Snyder that deserves to be archived here, as today I realized Gary Snyder is truly a Water Brother From Another Mother:

Hi Pat-

Thank you for the good telling of the story today. It was very good for them to hear it from you.
And thank for the wood smoked mozzarella pizza and conversation.

I think I remember Cari having done a Gary Snyder line in calligraphy... So I send this article I found:

The Wild Mind of Gary Snyder
By Trevor Carolan

For the nineties, the celebrated Beat rebel advocates "wild mind," neighborhood values and watershed politics. "Wild mind," he says, "means elegantly self-disciplined, self-regulating. That's what wilderness is. Nobody has a management plan for it."

Asked if he grows tired of talking about ecological stewardship, digging in, and coalition-building, the poet Gary Snyder responds with candor: "Am I tired of talking about it? I'm tired of doing it!" he roars. "But hey, you've got to keep doing it. That's part of politics, and politics is more than winning and losing at the polls."

These days, there's an honest, conservative-sounding ring to the politics of the celebrated Beat rebel. Gary Snyder, though, has little in common with the right wingers who currently prevail throughout the western world.

"Conservatism has some very valid meanings," he says. "Of course, most of the people who call themselves conservative aren't that, because they're out to extract and use, to turn a profit.
Curiously, eco and artist people and those who work with dharma practice are conservatives in the best sense of the word-we're trying to save a few things!

"Care for the environment is like noblesse oblige," he maintains. "You don't do it because it has to be done. You do it because it's beautiful.
That's the bodhisattva spirit. The bodhisattva is not anxious to do good, or feels obligation or anything like that. In Jodo-shin Buddhism, which my wife was raised in, the bodhisattva just says, 'I picked up the tab for everybody. Goodnight folks...' "

Five years ago, in a prodigious collection of essays called The Practice of the Wild, Gary Snyder introduced a pair of distinctive ideas to our vocabulary of ecological inquiry. Grounded in a lifetime of nature and wilderness observation, Snyder offered the "etiquette of freedom" and "practice of the wild" as root prescriptions for the global crisis.

Informed by East-West poetics, land and wilderness issues, anthropology, benevolent Buddhism, and Snyder's long years of familiarity with the bush and high mountain places, these principles point to the essential and life-sustaining relationship between place and psyche.

Such ideas have been at the heart of Snyder's work for the past forty years. When Jack Kerouac wrote of a new breed of counterculture hero in The Dharma Bums, it was a thinly veiled account of his adventures with Snyder in the mid-l950's. Kerouac's effervescent reprise of a West Coast dharma-warrior's dedication to "soil conservation, the Tennessee Valley Authority, astronomy, geology, Hsuan Tsang's travels, Chinese painting theory, reforestation, Oceanic ecology and food chains" remains emblematic of the terrain Snyder has explored in the course of his life.

One of our most active and productive poets, Gary Snyder has also been one of our most visible.
Returning to California in 1969 after a decade abroad, spent mostly as a lay Zen Buddhist monk in Japan, he homesteaded in the Sierras and worked the lecture trail for sixteen years while raising a young family. By his own reckoning he has seen "practically every university in the United States."

As poet-essayist, Snyder's work has been uncannily well-timed, contributing to his reputation as a farseeing and weatherwise interpreter of cultural change.
With his current collection of essays, A Place In Space, Snyder brings welcome news of what he's been thinking about in recent years. Organized around the themes of "Ethics, Aesthetics and Watersheds," it opens with a discussion of Snyder's Beat Generation experience.

"It was simply a different time in the American economy," he explained when I spoke to him recently in Seattle. "It used to be that you came into a strange town, picked up work, found an apartment, stayed a while, then moved on. Effortless. All you had to have was a few basic skills and be willing to work. That's the kind of mobility you see celebrated by Kerouac in On The Road. For most Americans, it was taken for granted. It gave that insouciant quality to the young working men of North America who didn't have to go
to college if they wanted to get a job.

"I know this because in 1952 I was able to hitch-hike into San Francisco, stay at a friend's, and get a job within three days through the employment agency. With an entry level job, on an entry level wage, I found an apartment on Telegraph Hill that I could afford and I lived in the city for a year. Imagine trying to live in San Francisco or New York-any major city-on an entry level wage now? You can't do it. Furthermore, the jobs aren't that easy to get."

The freedom and openness of the post-war economy made it possible for people such as Snyder, Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lew Welch and others to disaffiliate from mainstream American dreams of respectability. And as Snyder writes, these "proletarian bohemians" chose even further disaffiliation, refusing to write "the sort of thing that middle-class Communist intellectuals think proletarian literature ought to be."

"In making choices like that, we were able to choose and learn other tricks for not being totally engaged with consumer culture," he says. "We learned how to live simply and were very good at it in my generation. That was what probably helped shape our sense of community. We not only knew each other, we depended on each other. We shared with each other. "And there is a new simple-living movement coming back now, I understand," he notes, "where people are getting together, comparing notes about how to live on less money, how to share, living simply."

When Gary Snyder points something out, it generally warrants attention: his thinking has consistently been ahead of the cultural learning curve. Nowhere is his prescience more obvious than in "A Virus Runs Through It," an unpublished review of William Burroughs' 1962 The Ticket That Exploded.
Snyder regarded Burroughs' portrait of a society obsessed with addiction and consumerism, "whipped up by advertising," as an omen. He concluded that Burroughs' "evocation of the politics of addiction, mass madness, and virus panic, is all too prophetic."

"We were very aware of heroin addiction at that time," Snyder explains. "Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Holmes and their circle in New York became fascinated with the metaphor of addiction in the light of heroin, smack. Marijuana was not an issue, but the intense addictive quality of heroin, and the good people who were getting drawn into it, and the romance some people had for it, was a useful framework for thinking about the nature of capitalist society and the addiction to fossil fuels in the industrial sector. It was obvious."

Many of Snyder's original arguments addressing pollution and our addiction to consumption have by now become mainstream: reduced fossil fuel dependence, recycling, responsible resource harvesting. Others remain works-in-progress: effective soil conservation, economics as a "small subbranch of ecology," learning to "break the habit of acquiring unnecessary possessions," division by natural and cultural boundaries rather than arbitrary political boundaries.

As an ecological philosopher, Snyder's role has been to point out first the problems, and then the hard medicine that must be swallowed. Snyder has become synonymous with integrity-a good beginning place if your wilderness poetics honor "clean-running rivers; the presence of pelican and osprey and gray whale in our lives; salmon and trout in our streams; unmuddied language and good dreams."

"My sense of the West Coast," he says, "is that it runs from somewhere about the Big Sur River-the southern-most river that salmon run in-from there north to the Straits of Georgia and beyond, to Glacier Bay in southern Alaska. It is one territory in my mind. People all relate to each other across it; we share a lot of the same concerns and text and a lot of the same trees and birds."

Raised in the Pacific Northwest, Snyder grew up close to the anthropomorphic richness of the local Native American mythology, the rainforest totems of eagle, bear, raven and killer whale that continue to appear in school and community insignias as important elements of regional consciousness. It is unsurprising that they-and roustabout cousins like Coyote-have long been found at the core of Snyder's expansive vision.

Literal-minded rationalists have had difficulty with Snyder's Buddhist-oriented eco-philosophy and poetics. His embrace of Native Indian lore only further ruffled orthodox literary imagination, and in the past his poetry was criticized as being thin, loose or scattered.

As Snyder readers know, the corrective to such interpretations of his work is more fresh air and exercise. Regarding Buddhism, his take is offered simply and efficiently. "The marks of Buddhist teaching," he writes in A Place In Space, "are impermanence, no-self, the inevitability of suffering and connectedness, emptiness, the vastness of mind, and a way to realization."

"It seems evident," he writes, offering insight into the dynamics of his admittedly complex world view, "that there are throughout the world certain social and religious forces that have worked through history toward an ecologically and culturally enlightened state of affairs. Let these be encouraged: Gnostics, hip Marxists, Teilhard de Chardin Catholics, Druids, Taoists, Biologists, Witches, Yogins, Bhikkus, Quakers, Sufis, Tibetans, Zens, Shamans, Bushmen, American Indians, Polynesians, Anarchists, Alchemists, primitive cultures, communal and ashram movements, cooperative ventures."

"Idealistic, these?" he says when asked about such alternative "Third Force" social movements. "In some cases the vision can be mystical; it can be Blake. It crops up historically with William Penn and the Quakers trying to make the Quaker communities in Pennsylvania a righteous place to live-treating the native peoples properly in the process. It crops up in the utopian and communal experience of Thoreau's friends in New England.

"As utopian and impractical as it might seem, it comes through history as a little dream of spiritual elegance and economic simplicity, and collaboration and cooperating communally-all of those things together. It may be that it was the early Christian vision. Certainly it was one part of the early Buddhist vision. It turns up as a reflection of the integrity of tribal culture; as a reflection of the kind of energy that would try to hold together the best lessons of tribal cultures even within the overwhelming power and dynamics of civilization."

Any paradigm for a truly healthy culture, Gary Snyder argues, must begin with surmounting narrow personal identity and finding a commitment to place. Characteristically, he finds a way of remaking the now tired concept of "sense of place" into something fresh and vital. The rural model of place, he emphasizes, is no longer the only model for the healing of our culture.

"Lately I've been noticing how many more people who tend toward counterculture thinking are turning up at readings and book signings in the cities and the suburbs," he says. "They're everywhere. What I emphasize more and more is that a bioregional consciousness is equally powerful in a city or in the suburbs. Just as a watershed flows through each of these places, it also includes them.

"One of the models I use now is how an ecosystem resembles a mandala," he explains. "A big Tibetan mandala has many small figures as well as central figures, and each of them has a key role in the picture: they're all essential. The whole thing is an educational tool for understanding-that's where the ecosystem analogy comes in. Every creature, even the little worms and insects, has value. Everything is
valuable—that's the measure of the system."

To Snyder, value also translates as responsibility. Within his approach to digging in and committing to a place is the acceptance of responsible stewardship. Snyder maintains that it is through this engaged sense of effort and practice-participating in what he salutes as "the tiresome but tangible work of school boards, county supervisors, local foresters, local politics"-that we find our real community, our real culture. "Ultimately, values go back to our real interactions with others," he says. "That's where we live, in our communities.

"You know, I want to say something else," he continues. "In the past months and years Carole my wife has been amazing. I do my teaching and my work with the Yuba Watershed Institute, but she's incredible; she puts out so much energy. One of the things that makes it possible for us and our neighbors to do all this is that the husbands and wives really are partners; they help out and trade off. They develop different areas of expertise and they help keep each other from burning out. It's a great part of being a family and having a marriage-becoming fellow warriors, side to side."

In 1968, Snyder stated flatly that, "The modern American family is the smallest and most barren family that has ever existed." Throughout the years his recommendations concerning new approaches to the idea of family and relationships have customarily had a pagan, tribal flavor. These days he calls it community.

"I'm learning, as we all do, what it takes to have an ongoing relationship with our children," he says. "I have two grown sons, two stepdaughters, a nephew who's twenty-seven, and all their friends whom I know. We're still helping each other out. There's a real cooperative spirit. There's a fatherly responsibility there, and a warm, cooperative sense of interaction, of family as extended family, one that moves imperceptibly toward community and a community-values sense.

"So I'm urging people not to get stuck with that current American catch-phrase 'family values,' and not to throw it away either, but to translate it into community values. Neighborhood values are ecosystem values, because they include all the beings.

"What I suspect may emerge in the political spectrum is a new kind of conservative, one which is socially liberal, in the specific sense that it will be free of racial or religious prejudice. The bugaboo, that one really bad flaw of the right wing, except for the Libertarians, is its racist and anti-Semitic and anti-personal-liberty tone.

"A political spectrum that has respect for traditions, and at the same time is non-racist and tolerant about different cultures, is an interesting development. I'd be willing to bet that it's in the process of emerging, similar in a way to the European Green Parties that say, 'We're neither on the left nor the right; we're in front.'

"One of the things I'm trying to do, and I believe it's the right way to work," he says, "is to be non-adversarial-to go about it as tai chi, as ju-jitsu. To go with the direction of a local community issue, say, and change it slightly. We don't have to run head-on. We can say to the other party, 'You've got a lot of nice energy; let's see if we can run this way' "

Yet as anyone involved in community activism learns, amicable resolutions are not always the result. "Sometimes you do have to go head to head on an issue," he agrees, "and that's kind of fun too. 'Showing up' is good practice."

Snyder remembers a fight some four years ago over open pit mining. "I was the lead person on this one, to get an initiative on the ballot that would ban open pit mining, or at least put a buffer zone around any open pit mine. The mining companies from out of town spent a lot of money and did some really intense, last minute, nasty style campaigning, so we lost at the polls.

"But not a single open pit mine has been tried in our county since then. We understand from our interactions with these people that we won their respect. They were smart enough to see that they may have won it at the polls, but we were ready to raise money and willing to fight. That's standing up."

With the growing importance of community coalition-building, Snyder says he is finding it increasingly useful to narrow down his ideas about bioregionalism, or his notion of a practice of the wild, to a shared neighborhood level.

"That's why I talk about watersheds," he explains. "Symbolically and literally they're the mandalas of our lives. They provide the very idea of the watershed's social enlargement, and quietly present an entry into the spiritual realm that nobody has to think of or recognize as being spiritual.

"The watershed is our only local Buddha mandala, one that gives us all, human and non-human, a territory to interact in. That is the beginning of dharma citizenship: not membership in a social or national sphere, but in a larger community citizenship. In other words, a sangha; a local dharma community. All of that is in there, like Dogen when he says, 'When you find your place, practice begins.' "

Thirteenth-century master Dogen Zenji is a classical Asian voice which Snyder has discussed frequently in recent years. "There are several levels of meaning in what Dogen says. There's the literal meaning, as in when you settle down somewhere. This means finding the right teaching, the right temple, the right village. Then you can get serious about your practice.

"Underneath, there's another level of implication: you have to understand that there are such things as places. That's where Americans have yet to get to. They don't understand that there are places. So I quote Dogen and people say, 'What do you mean, you have to find your place? Anywhere is okay for dharma practice because it's spiritual.' Well, yes, but not just any place. It has to be a place that you've found
yourself. It's never abstract, always concrete."

If embracing the responsibility of the place and the moment is his prescription, a key principle in this creative stewardship is waking up to "wild mind." He clarifies that "wild" in this context does not mean chaotic, excessive or crazy.

"It means self-organizing," he says. "It means elegantly self-disciplined, self-regulating, self-maintained. That's what wilderness is. Nobody has to do the management plan for it. So I say to people, "let's trust in the self-disciplined elegance of wild mind". Practically speaking, a life that is vowed to simplicity, appropriate boldness, good humor, gratitude, unstinting work and play, and lots of walking, brings us close to the actually existing world and its wholeness."

This is Gary Snyder's wild medicine. From the beginning, it has been devotion to this quality that has served as his bedrock of practice, his way of carving out a place of freedom in the wall of American culture. In his omission of the personal in favor of the path, he exemplifies the basics of the Zen tradition in which he was trained.
The influx of trained Asian teachers of the Buddhadharma to the West in recent years has raised questions about whether the first homespun blossoming of Beat-flavored Buddhism in the fifties actually included the notion of practice. As one who was there and has paid his dues East and West, Snyder's response is heartening.

"In Buddhism and Hinduism, there are two streams: the more practice-oriented and the more devotional streams," he explains. "Technically speaking, the two tendencies are called bhakta and jnana. Bhakta means devotional; jnana means wisdom/practice. Contemporary Hinduism, for example, is almost entirely devotional-the bhakta tradition.

"Catholicism is a devotional religion, too, and Jack Kerouac - s Buddhism had the flavor of a devotional Buddhism. In Buddhism the idea that anybody can do practice is strongly present. In Catholicism practice is almost entirely thought of as entering an order or as becoming a lay novitiate of an order. So that explains Jack's devotional flavor. There's nothing wrong with devotional Buddhism. It is its own creative religious approach, and it's very much there in Tibetan Buddhism too.

"Our western Buddhism has been strongly shaped by late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Asian intellectuals," he notes. "D. T. Suzuki was an intellectual strongly influenced by western thought. And the same is true of other early interpreters of Buddhism to the West.

"We came as westerners to Buddhism generally with an educated background," Snyder continues. "So we have tended to over-emphasize the intellectual and spiritual sides of it, with the model at hand of Zen, without realizing that a big part of the flavor of Buddhism, traditionally and historically, is devotional.

This is not necessarily tied to doing a lot of practice, but is tied to having an altar in the house-putting flowers in front of it every day, burning incense in front of it every day, having the children bow and burn incense before it. The family may also observe certain Buddhist holy days such as the Buddha's birthday by visiting a temple together, and so forth.

"With that perspective in mind, it isn't so easy to say, 'Oh well, Jack Kerouac wasn't a real Buddhist.' He was a devotional Buddhist, and like many Asians do, he mixed up his Buddhism with several different religions. So it's okay; there's nothing wrong with that. You can be a perfectly good Buddhist without necessarily doing a lot of exercises and sitting and yoga; you can be equally a good Buddhist by keeping flowers on your altar, or in winter, dry grass or cedar twigs..

"There's a big tendency right now in western Buddhism to psychologize it-to try and take the superstition, the magic, the irrationality out of it and make it into a kind of therapy. You see that a lot," he says. "Let me say that I'm grateful for the fact that I lived in Asia for so long and hung out with Asian Buddhists. I appreciate that Buddhism is a whole practice and isn't just limited to the lecture side of it; that it has stories and superstition and ritual and goofiness like that. I love that aspect of it more and more."

Snyder says that at age sixty-five, he's "working like a demon." For the past ten years he has taught creative writing at the University of California, leading workshops and participating in the interdisciplinary "Nature and Culture" program. This year will also mark the arrival of his long-awaited sequence of forty-five poems called "Mountains and Rivers Without End," portions of which have appeared intermittently since
Jack Kerouac first dropped word of it in The Dharma Bums.

"I realized I wasn't going to live forever and that I'd started a lot of parallel projects, with lots of interesting notes to each one, so it - d be a pity not to put all that information to good use. Once 'Mountains and Rivers' is done I won't have to write anything further. Anything after that is for fun. Maybe I won't be a writer anymore. Maybe I'll clean out my barn."

Aging and health are not at issue with Snyder. He works at keeping in good condition and several months ago spent three weeks hiking in the Himalayas with a group of family and friends

"We trekked up to base camp at Everest, went over 18,000 feet three times, and were seven days above 16,000 feet," he says with obvious relish. "Everybody was in pretty good shape and I only lost four pounds in a month, so I'm not thinking a whole lot about aging."

Snyder's recent journey provided him with insights into the questions of karma and reincarnation, which eco-philosopher Joanna Macy believes may hold special relevance for North Americans. She argues that deeply ingrained American frontier values such as individualism, personal mobility, and independence may contribute to the idea that, "If this is our only one-time life, then we don't have to care about the planet."

"The concept of reincarnation in India can literally shape the way one lives in the world," Snyder notes, "and many Tibetans also believe in reincarnation quite literally. So in that frame of mind, the world becomes completely familiar. You sit down and realize that 'I've been men, women, animals; there are no forms that are alien to me.'

"That's why everyone in India looks like they're living in eternity. They walk along so relaxed, so confident, so unconcerned about their poverty or their illness, or whatever it is, even if they're beggars. It goes beyond just giving you a sense of concern for the planet; it goes so far as to say, 'Planets come and go' It's pretty powerful stuff. It's also there in classical Buddhism where people say, 'I've had enough of experience.' That's where a lot of Buddhism in India starts-'I want out of the meat wheel of existence,' as Jack Kerouac says.

"An ecosystem too, Snyder concludes, can be seen as "Just a big metabolic wheel of energies being passed around and around. You can see it as a great dance, a great ceremony. You can feel either really at home with it, or step out of the circle."

"We are all indigenous," he reminds us. So it is appropriate that in relearning the lessons of fox and bluejay, or city crows and squirrels-"all members present at the assembly"-that we are promised neither too little, nor too much for our perseverance. This poet, who for so many now reads like an old friend, invites us to make only sense. After all, in recommiting to this continent place by place, he reckons, "We may not transform reality, but we may transform ourselves. And
if we transform ourselves, we might just change the world a bit."

The Wild Mind of Gary Snyder, Trevor Carolan, Shambhala Sun, May 1996.


Read more about Gary Snyder on Wikipedia.