Friday, October 16, 2015


This is a bit of a diversion from my promised series of posts on CA Water and the Delta.  But then, maybe it isn't.  Last month, I read a post by Oregon State professor Michael E. Campana (referenced in my list of sources in Part I.)  based on a review of UC Berkeley engineering professor, David Sedlak's new book, Water 4.0.  Yesterday, I was scanning the new book section at the Morgan Hill Public Library and there it was, Water 4.0.  Now, it is on my table waiting for me to finish it.

The review was written by G. Tracy Mehan III, currently Executive  Director of Government Affairs for the American Water Works Association. That makes him the key lobbyist for those whose business is delivering the water when you turn on the tap.;  Since Water 4.0 intends to turn a lot of this on it's head, that makes Mehan's review doubly meaningful.  Is he more apt to criticize those aspects of Water 4.0 that challenge the function, or the legitimacy of his member organizations?  I can't answer that yet, but welcome the words that conclude his review:
Sedlak has written a stimulating, provocative book that both informs and challenges the reader to think seriously, and creatively, about water management for the next generation.
More pertinent to my thinking, is the idea that we need to dispense with the "grid" as an effective means of distributing water.  As Mehan states, 
He sees climate change with its erratic precipitation patters (too much or too little,) as as the primary driverof this imperative to get beyond this traditional water grid. Other drivers include a growing economy and population; aging infrastructures; escalating costs of water capture, transportation, storage and treatment and tenacious resistance to price increases by local leaders and citizens whether it be for upgrading infrastructure or conservation.
Right now, we have a water grid that is massively expensive to maintain.   The most recent projects from the CA Department of Water Resources calls for spending $10s of billions on infrastructure... known as the tunnels... that will deliver no new water.   It is all part of a gigantic bureaucratic system in which so called stakeholders only pretend to represent the public.  When CA DWR asks for stakeholder input it comes not from the public who use the water, but from the wholesalers like the Metropolitan Water District who continue to need more water to sell to continuing paying for their operation and salaries.These organizations also appear to own the state apparatus that is supposed to oversee the system. 

If this sounds familiar, it should.  The Public Utilities Commission is supposed to regulate electric and gas industry in CA.  We have seen recently where both PUC members and PG&E executives have lost their jobs for being too cozy with each other.  Another hierarchical grid designed for the efficient delivery of  a needed service.  

Maybe it is time to lock up these grids.  The alternatives for electricity are clearly available and it is becoming easier to go off grid or to share locally.  When I sit on my deck, I can look across Anderson Lake to a row of houses on the crest of Finley Ridge to the east.  They are all off grid.  Homes were designed to be energy efficient years ago.  

What we are lacking is a regulatory system to manage this.  Can we envision PG&E as managing the distribution of electricity no matter where or how it is generated?  It might require also rethinking our local governmental structures to work deal with a rapidly changing architecture.  It won't be easy, but at least the pieces are there.  

The problem with Water 4.0 is that the pieces are not yet so clearly identified and the impact of land use is much greater.  Right now, our governmental leaders are not even asking the right questions, the word ecology not being in their vocabulary,  let along coming up with the right answers.  If we need distributed electric generation, and distributed water management might we alo need distributed political power in the manner that only Greens are advocating.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Drought, Water and Politics Part II, Saving the Delta

I don't think that you can understand what is happening regarding the CA Delta if you only consider what you are being told.  There are currents running through the politics that are as dangerous as an Ocean Beach rip tide if they are ignored. I hope to lay out what I think is happening though no one is quite willing to say it... yet.   I guess that stubbornness comes with age.

To begin with, we all need to understand just what the delta is and one good way to do this is to view the recently posted Youtube version of Restore the Delta's award winning documentary, Over Troubled Waters.  Words are not sufficient to tell us all we need to know.  We need the imagery.

There are some who do not think that the Delta can be saved, or at least not all of it.  There are two interlocked issues involved.  First, there is climate change with the inevitable result of sea level rise. That interferes with the multiple use of the Delta and it's water: agricultural land, water supply and an ecology that supports all of it's non-human species.  To view the scope of this problem, we need to look at a map.  The views on these maps show just how much of the Delta is threatened.

I have long espoused the view that the CA Dept of Water Resources has no intention to protect the Delta from climate change driven sea level rise.  That is the only rationale for the twin tunnel project that makes any sense at all.  But, I was waiting to find good substantiation for that.  This past week, the Woodland, CA Daily Democrat published an OpEd by Jerry Meral that lays it all out.
Even without earthquakes and floods, Delta islands will almost certainly be inundated by sea level rise during our lifetimes -- making it no longer possible to move fresh drinking water across the Delta to the Bay Area.

Who, you might ask, is Jerry Meral?  He is a long time Jerry Brown crony from Brown's first administration.  In more recent times, he was Deputy Director of the  Dept. Water Reso.urces in charge of, among other things, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan that includes Gov Brown's major tunnel project.  Earlier this year, he  resigned and joined the National  Heritage Institute as Director of the California Water Program.

It is my opinion that Greens should withhold any support for Delta Water Projects until the State of California has a clear plan what has to be done to deal with sea level rise.  Right now, that plan is often referred to but never worked on.

Major infrastructure investments are apt to be throw away projects if they are built in the Delta.  Two current plans are the tunnel project and a decision by the Metropolitan Water District to buy 4 Delta Islands.  In both cases, the lands involved have a high probability of being inundated by sea level rise before their useful life is completed.  The southern terminus for the twin tunnel project is called the Clifton Court Forebay, and that is only 1 M above mean high tide.  This could by severely affected by 2050 during very high tides. 

I wonder how what the residents of the Delta are going to do as they slowly lose their homes and livelihoods.  I also wonder how the State of CA might attempt to mitigate the financial ruin of those families.  It is not something than anyone wants to talk about and for good reason.  They have no answers.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Drought, Water and Politics Part I, Introduction

Not long ago, I promised that I would work on a review of water issues for the Green Party of CA.  It is a complicated set of issues with a long and often ugly history.  I won't go very far into the history of the issues here unless it applies directly to what we are facing now.
For example, when I started looking seriously at CA water issues I was working to unseat Richard Pombo, at that time Chairman of the House Committee on Resources (now Natural Resources).  Often, we saw Pombo, a Republican, together with Sen. Diane Feinstein, a Democrat.  Well, Pombo is gone but not Feinstein and so the history of what she has done in the past is open to criticism and that will be given.  The summary of her achievements is simple.  Nothing has ever worked but she gave great speeches and keeps getting re-elected. I have written about the Delta for years and that means writing about Sen. Feinstein, as I did back in 2006 when we were stuck with an unworkable CalFed compromise that she sponsored and which the current plans was supposed to fix. 

I think that it makes sense to divide this into specific sections focused on the upcoming issues that require political action.  First and foremost is the question of the State of California's plan to build twa o massive tunnels under a portion of the Delta, carrying the water from the Sacramento  and American Rivers under the Delta to discharge at Clifton Court Forebay northwest of Tracy, where it can be pumped into canals carrying it South to West San Joaquin Valley ag interests and then over the mountains to the Metropolitan Water District.  The scope and cost (upwards of $40 Billion) make essential that we get it right and that everyone understand what is happening, not just what the bureaucrats want you to know.   Clifton Forebay is only about 1 M above mean sea level and no one is talking about the cost to deal with that.  That will come as Part II, and shortly as we only have a couple of weeks to make any impact on the process.

In Part III, I will deal with issues related to the drought we are experiencing now and the deluge we might be getting from a very strong El Niño.  Very few media outlets get this right.  Most oversimplify the issues involved. There are only a few journalists that I trust with this story.  I will list those below.


Journalists:  These are the major CA journalists who have the knowledge and the capability to deal with water issues in CA.  Most of them have years of experience on the "environmental beat" and that show when they don't feed you pablum.
  • Paul Rogers:   Writes for the San Jose Mercury News.  I follow him on twitter(@PaulRogersSJMN) to make sure I don't miss anything.  Twenty years on the beat and tells the story straight.  Also often on KQED.
  • Matt Weiser:  Writes for the Sacramento Bee:  
  • Alex Breitler:  Writes for the Stockton Record and covers San Joaquin Valley issues.
  • Chris Austin:  Chris is a sel described "water news junkie" and maintains the Maven's Notebook.  She catches everything that the others don't cover and a lot more. If you only have time to follow one source, this should be it.
  • Emily Green.  Her blog is Chance of Rain and it is well worth the read including this summer's post, Fixing a Broken Delta.
  • John Fleck.  His inkstain blog is often cited by those who really know western water.   Lives in New Mexico but understands almost everything about Western US Water.
  • Lloyd G. Carter. Lloyd was a journalist until he became a lawyer.  He calls his blog The Chronicles of the Hydraulic Brotherhood. I will mention Lloyd more, as he was key to reporting the selenium pollution of the Kesterson Reservoir by ag interests from the Westlands Water District.
  •  Dr. Peter Gleick  Founder and Director of the Pacific Institujte.  Worldwide reputation on water issues.  Follow him on twitter to see what he is up to now.  @PeterGleick
  • Michael E. Campana  Professor Emeritus at Oregon State University.  Blogs as the AquaDoc  I follow on twitter @WaterWired as much of what he produces is irrelevant unless you have a degree and are interested in a job.  
  • Donald Zeitland.  He has a blog called Aquanomics.. the political economics of water.   But I list him here.  PhD in economics from UC Berkeley and currently Assistant Prof. of Economics at Leiden University in the Netherlands. If you think that water and economics belong in the same sentence, you need to read Zeitland.
Activist Organizations: Both of these have had some supportand or endorsement from GPCA.
Then, there is Dan Bacher: Journalist, blogger, activist and always outspoken.  Dan is managing editor of Fish-Sniffer, a magazine for sport fishing.  Blogs all over the place including at Daily Kos though he is no Democrat (not at Green either).