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:


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.

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.