Sunday, June 23, 2013

Being Unretired

Being Un-retired
As a Former Director, Santa Clara Valley Water District
Written for Association of Retired District Employees, June 19, 2013

After 23 years of service, in 1995, I resigned my elected seat on the SCVWD Board of Directors and took on the responsibility of leading a newly-formed non-profit organization named The Silicon Valley Pollution Prevention Center whose mission was to identify sources of water pollution in our local watersheds and convince polluters to change behavior to eliminate their emissions so the water would not require so much costly end-of-pipe treatment. The board of directors of this organization were themselves executives of industry, government and the NGO’s that had filed the Clean Water Act lawsuit against the South Bay dischargers who were then in violation of their discharge permits. Board discussions served as ongoing mediation to determine pragmatic solutions to preventing water pollution and avoid further litigation.

Through numerous educational symposia, we worked with our stakeholders to identify activities and sources, which produced degradation of local water quality.  We worked closely with municipal and industry officials and started with “low hanging fruit” like used oil filter collection/recycling, and began the long process of replacing plastic shopping bags with canvas totes.  We worked hard to get manufacturers to recycle high-quality deionized rinse water and reduce their water demand and sewer discharge by 80%. Harder issues like land use and extended producer responsibility of electronic products generated by many Silicon Valley companies were a tougher nut to crack and eventually made the industrial members lose interest in continuing the dialogue. The Board voted in 2003 to close the organization after eight years and not renew my employment contract.

This timing coincided with my medical leave to get bi-lateral hip replacement, giving me back the mobility that I had suddenly lost earlier in the year. The next few years were the closest I came to being retired. My wife, Cari, was happy to have me home to complete many of my long-deferred maintenance projects on our creek-side home. I sold the last of the moving vans I owned, as I knew those days were certainly behind me. (Many ARDE members were former clients of Ferraro Van Lines.) I used the money from selling the truck to install 36 100-watt solar voltaic panels on my roof plus a solar water heater.

My desire to return to teaching to give back what I had learned during my unconventional engineering career took several years to materialize. I had applied to teach at both San Jose State and De Anza College soon after retiring from SCVWD. I had taught courses at Santa Clara University and Evergreen College during the mid 1970s, and in 1986 I taught a course at SJSU on Groundwater Remediation as a way to better understand the cleanup technologies and our precious groundwater basin.

In 2009, the SJSU Environmental Studies Department needed a lecturer, on very short notice, to teach Water Policy and Water Management to non-engineers in the College of Social Sciences. Since I already had prepared a syllabus for one of these courses when I had applied earlier, I was able to “hit the ground running” and was hired and have been on the faculty since then, enjoying the role of professor and resident “water guru,” as my department chair calls me. I’m also planning on applying to teach similar courses at Santa Clara University and give back to the Jesuit teaching syndicate that educated me at Loyola (Marymount) University in Los Angeles.

In May of 2013, I decided to get back into politics by applying for a vacant seat on the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority (OSA) Board of Directors to fill out the term of the director in my electoral district, who resigned when his family relocated.  This position also required someone who could “hit the ground running” so the OSA Board chose a candidate who had held the seat before the current incumbent.

However, when I interviewed for the OSA position I addressed the board in a way that would educate the agency and promote my passion for protecting water quality. Knowing the high porosity of the Coyote Valley alluvium and other ecosystem values it contained, I summarized all the reasons that the Coyote Valley should be preserved as permanent open space:
       Laguna Seca should be preserved and re-established as a vernal wetlands, creating habitat and reducing potential flooding in downtown San Jose
       A wildlife corridor across Coyote Valley should be established between Diablo and Santa Cruz range
       Buffer setbacks from main stem of Coyote and Fisher Creek should be preserved to protect the ecosystem of the riparian corridor.
       Remaining lands should be preserved as organic farming to minimize adverse impact to aquifer water quality

Finally I proposed a financing option for the Coyote Valley acquisition:
A Joint Powers Authority with Santa Clara Valley Water District. The rationale for this is based on SCVWD’s Water Supply goal in its ends governance policies to aggressively protect groundwater from the threat of contamination. SCVWD also has a Water Resources Stewardship goal to promote the protection of creeks, bays and other aquatic ecosystems from threats of pollution and degradation.

This partnership would give access to existing and future State and local water bonds as a significant funding source. The current Open Space Credit, applied to subsidize agricultural pumping rates, of $6.5 million per year is enough to service the debt on $65 million in revenue bonds, providing funds for acquisition of 6500 acres @$10,000/acre.

I followed this effort with discussions with four of the seven sitting directors of the SCVWD Board and received favorable responses.

In June 2013, I attended a SCVWD stakeholder meeting reviewing the Open Space Credit currently applied to commercial agricultural water rates and presented this proposal for their consideration as well.

This may well be the biggest pollution prevention project ever funded by the District, but one that will benefit future generations with a clean, safe and reliable groundwater supply in perpetuity.

After that, maybe I can really retire. What that will look like would involve continuing to raise fruit and vegetables at home and in the Guadalupe Community Garden, the first one in California permitted to use recycled water. It would also include continuing my campaign to extend that previously mentioned farm water subsidy to urban community agriculture, including larger commercial ventures like Veggielution in San Jose and Full Circle Farm in Sunnyvale. I’ve asked Senator Jim Beall to consider a bill to remove the “commercial” restrictions for receiving the subsidy so all community gardens in the county could receive irrigation water at the lower rate. After all, the Valley of Heart’s Delight still exists; it’s just hidden beneath our feet.