Thursday, July 21, 2011

Whatever it takes

I have spent time this week browsing through the essays in the book Moral Ground Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril. Browsing is a word chosen carefully as I can not really plow straight through a book of 80 plus essays focused on providing an answer to the same question: Do we have a moral obligation to take action to protect the future of a planet in peril? Obviously they all answer with an emphatic YES or there would be no reason to publish such a collection.

While there are many ways to say Yes.. almost like dialects of a common language, I would pick on two particular items to make my point. One by Derrick Jensen and the other by Barack Obama.

Jensen's vision is one of the darkest that I have read. He begins by asking a very different question: "Do you believe that this culture will undergo a voluntary transition to a sane and sustainable way of living?" He finds no indication that such a positive future is in store for us. Most of us who consider ourselves Green, or admit to being an "enviro" all know the word to the litany, we make our daily bended knee, but that is about it. Jensen demands more.
Those who come after -- presuming anyone survives -- are going to wonder what the fuck was wrong with us that we didn't do whatever it takes -- and I mean whatever it takes-- to stop industrial capitalism from killing the planet."

At the same time, Barack Obama's contribution is to describe "The Future I Want for my Daughters." This is not even his real work, but seems to be pulled together from three different sources, each footnoted and all attributed to Senator Barack Obama.
We can turn this crisis of global warming into a moment of opportunity for innovation, and job creation, and an incentive for businesses that will serve as a model for the world. Let's be the generation that makes future generations proud of what we diud here. The time is now to shake off our slumber, and slough off our fear, and make good on the debt we own past and future generations.
It is pretty clear that Obama and Jensen do not inhabit the same world. According to Jensen;
When most people in this culture ask, "How can we stop global warming?" that's not really what they're asking. They're asking "How can we stop global warming, without significantly changing this lifestyle [or deatstyle,, as some call it] that is causing global warming in the first place?"

The answer is that you can't.
So, let me post the future's question to now President Obama. "What the fuck is wrong with you that you are not doing whatever it takes to save a planet in peril."

I received an invitation to join in a protest against Canadian / US Tar Sands projects, especially the building of a long pipeline to carry Albert Tar Sands Crude to US refineries. The asked us to dig out Obama Buttons, if we had them from 2008, and to wear them. Given that Obama has backed this project, and is obviously NOT willing to "do whatever it takes" then it seems that the protest will turn out to be just another of those environmental feel good happenings. The only real reason to have anyone bring an Obama button is to gather them all and ship them to the white house... collect.

At some point, our progressive friend will learn that one part of "whatever it takes" is to divorce themselves from the idea that salvation lies with the Democratic Party.

Monday, July 18, 2011

California Water War: The Diversions are a Diversion

The California Water War has faced its Fort Sumter. The recent introduction of a secession bill in the California State Legislature has revealed the profound character of the division between water users in the state. Coming as it did after the battle of the peripheral canal being fought to a stalemate; it is overdue that we begin to focus on peace talks in Sacramento. We see in this battle all the indicators of a protracted war as were demonstrated after the first battle of Bull Run. But, let’s avoid too much literary license in the comparison with the Civil War.

The issue is water appropriation, or more precisely water diversions. It has been a long time policy for the state of California to seize control of the water resource through various measures including defining in stream flow as a beneficial use, invoking the Public Trust Doctrine, building massive projects to transfer huge amounts of water from one region to another and failing to utilize sources other than freshwater supplies to address regional resource needs. The question is “Where the balance is in this picture?” Or more precisely “Why is there no rational state water policy that establishes consistency in water planning?”

The only consistency to date has been in the willingness to try and placate movers and shakers at the expense of the marginalized. When Arnold Schwarzenegger claimed that “we can have it all” in California water, he clearly misrepresented the current state of affairs. Who is “we” when some of “us” just had our supplies taken from us and when does “all” include what had been “mine” and I still need? What is fair and just about that? How can we (and you) have it all (including what was taken from me and given to him)?

What is seen is that the scale, scope and impacts of the projected uses and allocations are far beyond the realm of accurate quantification. It becomes much too easy for “combat science” to take the place of accurate science in arguing the case for yet another diversion. What is also seen is that the issue of sustainability is twisted to the point that it is no longer recognized as a functioning tool in policy making. As a Green I am unequivocally committed to the integration of human habitation with the world around us. But, never have I seen or heard of the number and scale of diversions as have been proliferated in this state. Never have I seen a more conflated mishmash of water law that makes regional management so profoundly complicated. Never have I seen a state legislature so intimately involved in water administration.

Regional efforts have produced substantive proposals and established goals based on their regional circumstances such as the Santa Cruz report CONSERVATION BLUEPRINT: AN ASSESMENT AND RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE LAND TRUST OF SANTA CRUZ. The report initially characterized the region’s challenges as follows: "Our water supplies are not sufficient to meet long-­term residential and agricultural demand." "Water shortages and pollution, habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, and threats to the viability of local agriculture, are among the many conservation challenges that we must continue to address in the 21st century." But, they are able to establish a proposed set of water objectives: “Water Resources: 1. Protect water supplies to ensure long-term drinking water availability and to meet the needs of local industry, agriculture, and the natural environment. 2. Protect and enhance water quality in natural, urban, and agricultural landscapes. 3. Maintain watershed integrity and ensure resilience to climate change. “pg. xiv.

The recent report from Stanford provides a plethora of examples of regional groundwater management in the state with various models for others. Likewise a recent publication, REGIONAL PLANNING IN AMERICA: PRACTICE AND PROSPECT of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policies provides other models of regional planning from across the nation. It is clear that things are happening at the regional levels in land and water planning. And it is clear that the incentives for regions to prioritize their own plans for land and water use have increased as population continues to grow. What is equally clear is that the presumptive diversions of water by the state of California and the State Legislature in water continue to preclude a sound and holistic approach by regional entities to land and water planning.

It is clear that the first step in Sacramento is to establish a consistent regional planning template that provides real sustainability in the planning process within watersheds and water basins. It is clear that the war between the regions is avoidable when regions are given the autonomy to be self-reliant. There is no question that this will mean a new meaning for sustainability. But, it is equally clear that only the seeds of conflict lie in maintaining the status quo. A scenario addressing regional long-term planning processes that are open and transparent provides a real alternative.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Groundwater and Secession in california

Groundwater in California is the focus of the latest water war between water users in the North and users in the South. Some 38% of water used in the state comes from groundwater mining. The battlefield of this war is the Central Valley of California and the Central Valley Aquifer. Norris Hundley estimated California’s groundwater reserves in his book, THE GREAT THIRST p. 527, amounting to 850 million acre-feet, with the caveat that less than half that amount was usable. Running from the Sacramento Valley to the San Joaquin Valley this aquifer circulates roughly 2 million acre feet of water/per year. Withdrawals account for roughly 11.5 million acre ft. /yr. (Data supplied by the USGS: Groundwater Atlas of the United States ). In December 2009 satellite-imaging projected the loss of 30 cubic kilometers of water since 2003. This is creating an unprecedented political struggle in the state of California. Recently a bill was introduced promoting the secession of the Central Valley counties into a new state. The significance of this lies in the polarization that it demonstrates in the state between water users as represented geographically (between North and South) and politically (between Democrats and Republicans). As Greens we should review this situation in an appropriate context and recognize the validity of all people seeking representation of their ecological needs and concerns. It is most revealing that those who drew the map of this new state failed to include Los Angeles and other coastal regions in the south within the new borders.

The recent report of the Public Policy Institute of California, documented the frequent overdraft in the Tulare and Salinas Basins of the Central Valley. The study proposes the end of the overdraft which is causing subsidence and lowering of the water table. The report proposes the need to establish state infrastructure to measure and monitor groundwater. Its review of “A Way Forward" describes the road traveled as: “California’s failure to regulate groundwater has harmed fish and aquatic life in related streams, compromised groundwater quality, generated conflicts among water users, and hindered the development of groundwater banking and water marketing. Comprehensive basin management, which treats groundwater and surface water in an integrated, sustainable manner, is needed to improve economic and environmental performance of California’s water system.” Its description of the road forward proposes “comprehensive basin management”. It is unfortunate that the writers propose such management in order to “facilitate banking and related water transfers”. The idea that we will be able to map out the aquifers and quantify the groundwater resource would seem to be a long way from the current state of the science. I admit this statement is subject to challenge by those with more scientific background than me. The satellite-imaging data may provide such a capacity.

The hydro-political scenario of a California water secessionist movement is the product of a one party rule of California’s urban governing entities. It is the product of unsustainable population growth that neither party wants to address for their own narrow interests. No one benefits, so long as diversions end the argument. Like the budget deficit talks, both parties prefer to just “kick the can down the road”. Neither political party is prepared to address the structural reforms needed to address adaptive governance. Conjunctive management will happen but it will not solve the issues between Delta users and Central Valley users. Why? Because the concerns are different.

Those calling for secession are right. There will be no representation under the status quo. California water is not governable under the existing paradigm. What we are dealing with is a distinct population of millions, who are knowingly disregarded by a one party system. The sick joke is not the legislation to secede. The sick joke is the power monopolized by the urban centers of the state who manipulate government and public opinion. Groundwater is no different from the other aspects of the water resource- whether supply and demand, monitoring and measurement, water quality or establishing priorities. Until we truly govern together, we cannot manage by ourselves.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Atlanta Test Cheating Kills the Canary in the Mine

The recent exposure of cheating in the Atlanta Public Schools gives me an opportunity to address the issue of public education based on my own personal observations. The issue of massive fraud has characterized urban public schools for some time. My generation went into many urban schools with the attitude of helping the poor and bringing knowledge to those in need. We rarely presumed that the problems in urban schools extended beyond the schools themselves. Since then we certainly have learned better.

The rhetoric of “community leaders” and public officials has continued to obscure the root causes of the failures in the public education system. Unlike the Republicans, I do not give much credence to the Republican claim that teachers’ unions are the blame for school failures. The fact is that they really do not do anything that significantly contributes in any way to teacher job security or professional development. The Democratic argument in regards to funding issues, likewise, doesn’t really address the fundamental flaws in public schools.

What becomes obvious here is that it is the cover-up that reveals the lack of integrity of those caught in its web. The lack of integrity begins with students who refuse to prioritize education in their lives and manipulate the various actors to hold themselves blameless. The lack of integrity continues with parents bullying teachers and administrators with “NOT my Johnny” to cover-up their child’s lack of performance at school. The lack of integrity flows to the teachers who are unwilling to speak publicly in regards to the real issues around discipline and student behavior and their disruption of the education process in the classroom. The lack of integrity appears in the principal’s offices when they seek to put a lid on real issues and work overtime to project an illusion of calm to all. School administrators then play politics with failing schools and leave critical gaps in our children’s education. Federal and state Education officials implement new programs to demonstrate their engagement while failing to delineate the basic responsibilities of the general public in the education process.

The business community has been raising the alarm for some time. They have been dismissed out of hand by public officials seeking to flush the system with cash for their constituents. Business people have noticed it because they can’t find qualified applicants to fit into their job requirements. Politicians use rhetoric and posture as if they were really addressing the substantive issues. Parents point their fingers and yell at school board meetings. Teachers picket the state house to protect their unions and their pension plans as they exist. But no real change is forthcoming.

When schools stop getting tagged, we will know that education has become an important function in the lives of young people. When parents start spending more time with their children with homework, we will know that we are on a road to change. When teachers are able to instruct without the chronic interruptions and violence prevalent in urban public schools, we will know that there will be real change comin’ down the road. Let’s not play games with the future of our state and nation. The canary in the mine was choked to death in the Atlanta Public School system. Let’s skip the drama and get to work on what we all know needs to be done.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

At times, neutrality is only a lack of courage.

If you have followed Martin's excellent series of posts on CA Water, you might wonder what others are trying to do. Surprisingly, the Metropolitan Water District, the largest urban wholesaler in CA has been neutral regarding H.R. 1837, the "San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act".

H.R. 1837 is an effort by the agricultural water districts on the West Side of the Sa Joaquin Valley to ensure that their water is protected, even though they increasingly have to fallow land for other reasons. I refer you to Spreck Rosencran's post at On the Waterfront today. He concludes:
If even a fraction of the provisions in H.R. 1837 pass, the promise of a sustainable ecosystem will be eliminated for all practical purposes. In other words, the BDCP (Bay Delta Conservatiuon Plan)will not be able to protect the Delta and its resources and it will garner little support in many parts of the state.

It’s a curious strategy for urban water agencies to stand by and allow San Joaquin Valley exporters to take a dangerous gamble with such an important segment of the state’s supply for future generations. It is time to stop H.R. 1837 and together develop a solution that works for everybody- farmers, fishermen and urban areas alike.

It does not take much imagination to believe that the Metropolitan is working on their own proposals, including participating in supposed-to-be secret negotiations regarding the financing of a new "conveyance" that would assure their own future supplies. By conveyance I mean either a new peripheral canal around the Delta or a tunnel under it.

The facts of CA water politics are that those most affected: rate payers,the public taxpayers, the residents and daily users of the Delta, are not given a seat at the table. Once the deal is defined, then it is sold to the public so that we are all willing to open out pocketbooks yet again.

Now is perhaps our last opportunity to affect the future of water planning / management in CA, but it won't happen without the exercise of political muscle on a state wide basis.

To Greens care enough to do that?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Water Pricing in a Regional Context

In Chapter 6 of the report MANAGING CALIFORNIA’S WATER: FROM CONFLICT TO RECONCILIATION published by the Public Policy Institute of California the issue of water pricing is raised as a tool for conservation. From page 270-273 under the title “Water Pricing: an underutilized tool for water conservation” the PPIC report examines the market mechanisms that impact on water demand. The issue of Urban Water Pricing was studied in the 50 year water plan of the Middle Rio Grande under the category of “Urban and Rural Conservation Activities” in Chapter 10: RECOMMENDATIONS and it was evaluated by an independent contractor for technical and physical feasibility in the water plan.

In the context of regional planning, the Middle Rio Grande study provided clarity as to the priority that should be accorded to pricing in the implementation of the plan’s numerous recommendations. In its evaluation of the effect of urban pricing on water demand the study found: “A 100 percent increase in water rates, on average, would decrease total urban water use by 10 percent. Total urban consumptive water use in the MRG planning region is estimated at 84,880 acre-feet in 1995.“ The importance of a technical review of recommendations brought forward from the community is that there is a context that improves the accuracy of measurements. Also, there are specific reasons that stakeholders provide input for the various recommendation proposals that are being addressed. By evaluating all the recommendations ahead of time, people impacted by the implementation of the plan’s recommendations see concretely how each recommendation will impact on their lives and the water resource of their region.

The MANAGING WATER report of the PPIC projects an impact of pricing to increase conservation and believes that state reviews of such water rates would “provide an impartial technical analysis, helping to depoliticize rate-setting and helping utilities to maintain a solid financial footing while encouraging water use reductions”. De-politicizing rate setting is not really an achievable goal and when state administrators are empowered to finance their own bureaucracy there is a great potential for mischief. Actions of administrators can easily devolve into a situation in which our communities have little or no influence on the decisions that are made. Further, until the day comes where California has the infrastructure to accurately measure and monitor surface and groundwater in the state, the reliability of decisions based on incomplete or inaccurate data will also be subject to real questions. We have seen all too often how state decisions on diversions have become highly “politicized” and one region can suffer for the benefit of others.

What we need for pricing is not the draconian increases needed to decrease urban demand. What we need are measures that facilitate a region’s ability to provide revenues for it that it can utilize for infrastructure management and improvement. There is also a need for revenues for research and development of new water supplies. This raises the issue of the potential role of a regional, tiered water severance tax. In the setting of the political decisions on these kinds of issues, water boards need to be established that represent users and stakeholders. Colorado has used a resource severance tax and in 2011 collected $34.68 million from the extraction of natural gas and oil. The debates need to move away from the issue of diversions. There can be no effective regional planning when diversions and importation of water are prioritized in addressing water supplies. There is much to be developed in this concept to make it fair and equitable for water users, whether urban or rural. Its success with oil and gas extraction raises the question of whether the severance tax concept can be an effective source of revenue for regions.