Tag Archives: SoCal

Ding, Dong, the [Canal] is Dead!

Well, at least for another year. The Sac Bee reports that the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, chaired by Yolo County’s own Lois Wolk (D- Davis), just killed SB 27 until next year. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) would have established a committee to build a peripheral canal diverting water around the Sacramento Delta for export south, although it called it a “conveyance” in a modest feat of bureaucratic obscurantism.

Wolk, whose 8th Assembly District represents the northern half of the Delta, and who is running for the 5th State Senate district, which encompasses most of the eastern half of the Delta, recently spoke about Delta issues in a three part interview (1, 2, 3) in the Davis Vanguard:

We’ve asked the Delta to do many things and many of them are incompatible with each other. We want it to supply an unending or increasing supply of water to Southern California and to the Bay Area. We want it to be an extraordinary estuary to breed and facilitate fisheries. We want it to be the repository of agricultural and urban runoff. We want it to, I don’t, but it has become an area of increasing urbanization. We’ve asked it to do far too many things and it is dying, it is absolutely dying. Of course it is surrounded by levies that are basically 19th century piles of dirt, and they are failing. And it is seismically at risk. You can’t imagine an area that is of more significance and at risk.

What can we do? We can do a number of things. The people of the state of California voted for a bond in 2006 to repair the levies and to begin the process of improving the water quality in the Delta, and the fisheries, the habitat, and the agriculture. What we can do is to try to raise the profile of the delta. Most people know where the coast is and know why it’s important to protect it. Most people know about the Sierra Nevada, and they will protect it. They know about Yosemite and they will protect it. They know about their local parks and they want to protect those. But the Delta has very few people in it and very little political clout. So we need to be able to raise the profile of the Delta so that it takes its place as the key water and environmental issue for California.

Then we need to put in place structures that will protect it. It needs are steward. There is no steward-no body, no agency-whose sole purpose is to protect the delta. And if I’m elected to the Senate, that’s what I’ll spend many years trying to accomplish. It won’t be easy, but there has to be a body like the Coastal Commission that focuses exclusively on the Delta and has responsibility for all water decisions and all environmental decisions that affect it. That won’t be easy to do, but I am convinced that has to occur.

Of course, the Delta has to be preserved long enough to get such a commission to – ironically – preserve it, so it’s great news to see this bill killed in committee. Gov. Schwarzeneggar and San Joaquin vallley agribusiness were pushing to get this on the November ballot along with a $4 billion bond, as part of that whole extra special emergency session intended to ram through a bunch of dams funded with public bond money. Having this off the ballot may make the High Speed Rail Ballot measure, which also stands to be a boon for the Central Valley (even if the Altamont Pass route that was rejected would have been even better for the Delta commuter cities), more likely to pass, so this is good all around.

The Delta is dying, for a host of reasons, ranging from So Cal and the San Joaquin Valley stealing too much of its water, to a network of static 19th century levees that work at direct cross-purposes with the innately dynamic hydrological structure of a river delta, to cities and farms dumping all manner of pollutants into the water, to sprawl in the floodplain, (and that’s just the beginning), but the way to save the Delta isn’t draining it. The Delta is a stark example of the way that modern society ignores the hidden values of things just because they don’t overtly cost money to use. Until the state learns to see that incredibly complex ecosystem and hydrological system as something more than just a channel where a valuable commodity flows to the sea, and thus wasted, the Delta will continue to be in danger from hare-brained ideas like peripheral canals.

But for this year, it’s safe. And that’s worth remembering in November, when Wolk runs against San Joaquin Republican  Greg Aghazarian to represent the Delta.

(h/t to Aquafornia for the link to the Bee story)

originally at surf putah

Time for CA to Invest in Renewable Energy Infrastructure

As the LA Times reports today, we may be looking at blackouts in So Cal this summer as energy demand outstrips the power capacity of the grid. And as anyone who was around for the great west coast blackout in the summer of ’96, what starts cascading in So Cal doesn’t necessarily stay there, especially on those hot July/August scorchers that cook us all the way up the Valley. The state’s grid manager put it in terms of lacking adequate production:

The state will have 489 megawatts of new generation in time for peak demand in July or August, some of that replacing a 122-megawatt plant that’s being retired. Southern California will need to rely on imports from Arizona, Nevada and Mexico, as well as conservation, to avoid blackouts.

Demand probably will increase by 1,000 megawatts this year over last year, Cal-ISO Chief Executive Yakout Mansour said during a conference call. Power demand peaked at 48,615 megawatts in 2007.

And yet this only looks at one side of energy load problems, that of supply. While it’s not reasonable to ask people to turn off their AC in a real heat wave – although the degree to which one cools is definitely somewhere that people can make up some slack – energy efficiency elsewhere in the state can squeeze enough energy to keep things from tipping over into blackout. In fact, when we were at a similar point of crisis last year, because some of the So Cal wildfires were burning up transmission lines, voluntary energy reduction was what kept things running. Ditto for the Enron-masterminded 2001 energy shortages. Conservation is a big part of any solution.

But over the long term, how do we get the Golden State out of this trap of summer grid overload without going to more fossil fuel-powered peak load generators that pump more carbon into the atmosphere (making our summer heat waves that much worse in the years to come)?

Wind, solar, passive solar building design, urban trees and especially thermal solar.

As North American natural gas starts to hit its peak production, wind and solar have gotten progressively more economically viable for private investors. But the predictable annual crisis of the CA heat wave really cries out for public funding. Every brownout or blackout brings economic activity to a grinding halt, and the spot prices hit a lot of businesses pretty hard as the tipping point is reached. It would make a good deal of sense not to just wait for PG&E to build the power plants of the future, but rather to get the state involved in funding a bunch of capacity right now. European wind design has far outstripped the wind technolology that California pioneered in the 70s, all we need to do is start putting wind farms up, along the Delta and offshore.

Likewise, given the correlation between summer heat waves and an overstressed grid, building thermal solar down the valley and in inland So Cal, the very places where the peak usage occurs, would seem to be a complete no-brainer. As the mercury rises, so would the production of electricity. Combine this with a statewide and urban subsidy for solar panels on roofs (and perhaps grants for the construction of solar panels covering parking lots, would help to decentralize the production of electricity and reduce net demand, and in so doing take some of the stress off the transmission lines.

If the free market was going to provide this critical infrastructure in time to avoid crisis, we wouldn’t have this problem. But they haven’t, so we do. It is time for the state and local governments to step up and nudge things in the right direction. In the long run, we ought to think about trying to reduce our total consumption by pushing for planting more urban tree cover, and more efficient housing and appliance design (and yes, personal changes in wasteful behavior), but if we want to avoid blackouts in the short run, it’s going to take more seed money from the state.

Of course, in the really long run, shifting our energy production away from carbon-producing fossil fuels will be the only way that we can avoid devastating heat waves and resulting blackouts. That the short term solution also works for the long run should be a reminder that both virtuous and vicious cycles tend to feed upon themselves. And it should be noted that just as with building the High Speed Rail line, sponsoring the construction of a bunch of thermal solar power plants down the valley, and wind in the Delta and along the coast would provide sorely needed jobs to communities already mired in endemic underemployment that are reeling from the collapse of the housing bubble.

And how to pay for it all? Well, a royalty tax on oil pumped in California, as is done everywhere else in the country, would seem a rather elegant solution.

originally at surf putah

Remember Those SoCal Fires? The Aircraft Could Have Flown After All

The AP has the goods, it seems:

Ca. Fire Documents Conflict With Reports
By AARON C. DAVIS – 1 day ago

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Several aircraft were able to fly in strong winds on the first full day of last month’s Southern California firestorms, contradicting officials’ earlier claims that the weather had grounded virtually all aircraft, according to documents released Saturday.

Twenty-eight of 52 aircraft the state was tracking for firefighting efforts remained grounded that day, and high winds were not listed in the documents as the reason.

The documents obtained by the AP and other news providers under the California Public Records Act answer some questions while raising others. They also reveal a more detailed and at times different version of events than previously provided by the state’s top fire and emergency officials.

For example, state fire officials last month said high winds had grounded virtually all aircraft in the first two days after the flames broke out. Therefore, they reasoned, it would not have mattered whether additional state fire spotters had been available to ride in the military choppers.

The documents show that although pilots were hampered by strong winds, a dozen air tankers and five helicopters flew more than 70 hours Oct. 21, the first full day of the firestorm. Those aircraft would have been flown by pilots who – unlike military pilots – are trained specifically for fighting wildland blazes and would not necessarily have required state fire spotters.

The papers also reveal that the number involved in the aerial attack was a fraction of the tankers and helicopters available in the state during the fires’ opening days.

Twenty-eight of 52 aircraft the state tracked for firefighting efforts remained grounded. The total would include a combination of aircraft operated by the state, U.S. Forest Service, the military and private contractors.

They remained on the runway not because of high winds, but because state officials had not requested them or they were being kept in other parts of the state in case fires broke out there, according to the documents.

Again and again and again, we’re reassured after a given disaster that the government “did all it could,” that while “mistakes were made,” this disaster “could not have been forseen,” and that they will start thinking about how to prepare for “next time.” And yet when the news trickles out, long after the spin cycle has passed, it reveals that for all the subcontracting and bloviating and excuses, the government simply is not taking its job seriously.

So let me ask this now, to the ether:

What are the capital region’s local governments and the California state government planning to do if the Sacramento or San Joaquin river levees bust out this winter?

What are the Bay Area governments and the California state government planning to do if the Hayward fault slips and wrecks the Bay Area?

What are the SoCal local governments and the California state government planning to do if this year’s fire season stretches into yet another year of tinder-dry drought?

Because if they aren’t thinking about it now, and actually plannning out how to respond in real time to a bad situation instead of just issuing a report and calling it a day, we’re all going to take it on the chin collectively when they look into the cameras like deer in headlights when things go wrong.

It is only a matter of time with these sorts of things. We cannot prevent disasters from happening, but we do have some say about our response to them.

And if you botch something as simple as not allowing fire fighting planes to fly when SoCal burns, or you sit on your hands for hours while tens of thousands of gallons of carcinogenic bunker fuel glugs into a delicate coastal environment, at least have the decency to break out your wakizashi and announce your resignation on camera, instead of offering up lame excuses in hopes that noone will find out what you botched.

originally at surf putah