Friday, March 31, 2006

Klamath RIver Salmon

In this article from yesterday’s Bee, we see good news for the salmon in the Klamath River, but the idea to remove dams there, that produce electricity for 70,000 homes, may not be the best option.

Caring for the salmon is a guiding principle for our organization, but caring for humans is a primal one.

Here is an excerpt.

A good week for Klamath salmon
Fish ladders, bigger water release ordered.
By Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Thursday, March 30, 2006

Federal fisheries managers on Wednesday announced that fish ladders must be installed on four Klamath River dams, a move that could eventually restore more than 300 miles of salmon spawning habitat.

The news is a big win for fishermen, who this year may face a total closure of the coastal salmon fishing season because of a plunge in fish numbers on the Klamath.

"There is hundreds of miles of spawning habitat that will now become accessible to these fish," said Mike Hudson, president of the Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishermen's Association, based in Berkeley. "It's good news for fishermen, it's good news for tribes, it's good news for consumers. It's just plain good news."

The announcement follows a federal court ruling Monday that will benefit the salmon. It ordered the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to release more water into the river from its upstream agricultural water diversions.

The call for fish ladders comes from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the fisheries branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Their recommendation is part of a relicensing process for the Klamath dams now under way within the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

That process gives the recommendation of the federal agencies the weight of a mandate, meaning FERC must now make fish ladders a requirement for relicensing.

"The federal government is proposing fish passage for the first time in 80 years," said Alex Pitts, Department of Interior spokesman. "That's a big deal."

The Klamath River was once the third-largest salmon producer on the Pacific Coast, after the Columbia and Sacramento rivers. But this year, Chinook salmon spawning on the Klamath are expected to fall below a population of 35,000 for the third year in a row.

As a result, the National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed closing the coastal salmon fishing season this year, which could jeopardize a $150 million industry. The Pacific Fisheries Management Council, an advisory group, plans to make a recommendation on the closure next week in Sacramento.

Salmon and other fish lost access to hundreds of miles of spawning habitat on the Klamath with construction of the first of the four dams in 1918. Today, only one of the four has any sort of fish ladder, and it is the uppermost of the four, meaning that salmon have three insurmountable dams between them and that ladder.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


This article, from Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, is an excellent look at how unplanned things often happen when something well-planned is done.

These are called externalities in the public policy area, and can be troublesome.

In our Parkway, one externality is the results of the damage, to levees and the integrity of the Parkway (unplanned), from using the river as a flood conveyance vehicle (planned) for years.

Here is an excerpt.

For People and Planet
When will companies start accounting for environmental costs?
BY AL GORE AND DAVID BLOOD Tuesday, March 28, 2006 12:01 a.m.

Capitalism and sustainability are deeply and increasingly interrelated. After all, our economic activity is based on the use of natural and human resources. Not until we more broadly "price in" the external costs of investment decisions across all sectors will we have a sustainable economy and society.

The industrial revolution brought enormous prosperity, but it also introduced unsustainable business practices. Our current system for accounting was principally established in the 1930s by Lord Keynes and the creation of "national accounts" (the backbone of today's gross domestic product). While this system was precise in its ability to account for capital goods, it was imprecise in its ability to account for natural and human resources because it assumed them to be limitless. This, in part, explains why our current model of economic development is hard-wired to externalize as many costs as possible.

Externalities are costs created by industry but paid for by society. For example, pollution is an externality which is sometimes taxed by government in order to make the entity responsible "internalize" the full costs of production. Over the past century, companies have been rewarded financially for maximizing externalities in order to minimize costs.

Today, the global context for business is clearly changing. "Capitalism is at a crossroads," says Stuart Hart, professor of management at Cornell University. We agree, and we think the financial markets have a significant opportunity to chart the way forward. In fact, we believe that sustainable development will be the primary driver of industrial and economic change over the next 50 years.

The interests of shareholders, over time, will be best served by companies that maximize their financial performance by strategically managing their economic, social, environmental and ethical performance. This is increasingly true as we confront the limits of our ecological system to hold up under current patterns of use. "License to operate" can no longer be taken for granted by business as challenges such as climate change, HIV/AIDS, water scarcity and poverty have reached a point where civil society is demanding a response from business and government. The "polluter pays" principle is just one example of how companies can be held accountable for the full costs of doing business. Now, more than ever, factors beyond the scope of Keynes's national accounts are directly affecting a company's ability to generate revenues, manage risks, and sustain competitive advantage. There are many examples of the growing acceptance of this view.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Beavers and Atoms

This article, from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, is another reminder of how quickly trends scientists are “sure about”, turn out to be wrong.

The global natural sciences are still in their infancy, and though we are able to do wondrous things, we still have difficulty predicting the weather accurately, which by itself, should remind us of that infancy and restore some humility to our lofty trend pronouncements calling for global action.

Straightforward technology however, such as dams and nucelar power, are what we are good at, produce clear results, come from the natural world--beavers and atoms--and need broader acceptance, in our country, as the vital tools they are.

Here is an excerpt.

Kyoto? No Go.
How to combat "global warming" without destroying the economy.
BY PETE DU PONT Tuesday, March 28, 2006 12:01 a.m.

Did the 1970s mark the beginning of an ice age? Scientists and the press thought so. In 1971 Global Ecology forecast the "continued rapid cooling of the earth." The New York Times reported in 1975 that "many signs" suggest that the "earth may be headed for another ice age," and Science magazine that this cooling could be the beginning of "a full-blown 10,000-year ice age." It seemed sensible because, as NASA data show, there was indeed a 30-year, 0.2-degree Celsius cooling trend from 1940 to 1970.

So are we now at the beginning of a global warming catastrophe? Again, scientists and the press think so: the same NASA data indicates a 0.7-degree warming trend from 1970 to 2000. The Washington Post's David Ignatius reflects the media view in saying that "human activity is accelerating dangerous changes in the world's climate."

But it is not clear that human activity is wholly responsible. The Washington Policy Center reports that Mount Rainier in Washington state grew cooler each year from 1960 to 2003, warming only in 2004. And Mars is warming significantly. NASA reported last September that the red planet's south polar ice cap has been shrinking for six years. As far as we know few Martians drive SUVs or heat their homes with coal, so its ice caps are being melted by the sun--just as our Earth's are. Duke University scientists have concluded that "at least 10 to 30 percent of global warming measured during the past two decades may be due to increased solar output."

So what is causing these cooling and warming increases? Normal temperature trends? Solar radiation changes? Or human-caused global warming? There is little we can do about historical temperature or solar heat cycles, but if human actions are in fact causing global warming, what could be done to reduce it?

One remedy is improved technology, and here America is making significant progress. Philip Deutch's article in the December edition of Foreign Policy lays it out: "Today's cars use only 60 percent of the gasoline they did in 1972; new refrigerators about one third the electricity; and it now takes 55 percent less oil and gas than in 1973 to generate the same amount of gross domestic product." The cost of wind power production is down 80% over 20 years, and "the cost of solar power has fallen from almost $1 per kilowatt to less than 18 cents."

On the other hand, there are some remedies that are not being pursued. "More than 50 percent of U.S. consumers," Deutch notes, "have the option of buying electricity generated from renewable energy sources. . . . Only 1 or 2 percent actually do." And while two dozen low-pollution nuclear power plants are under construction in nine nations (and another 40 are planned), in America government regulation has virtually stopped nuclear plant construction. Our last nuclear plant was ordered in 1973 and completed in 1996, and no others are under construction.

Environmental Science, Ethanol

This article, from the Manhattan Institute's Peter Huber, during the public discussion around ethanol, is a good look at the often undisclosed truths behind the latest push for creating or expanding a new technology promising to help our environment.

Using flesh-eating bacteria as an analogy to the products biochemists and genetic engineers would need to produce to enable this latest, is a wake-up.

Here is an excerpt.

The Forest Killers
Peter Huber 04.10.06

Now the green-energy crowd is touting cellulosic ethanol. This is a blunder, one they will regret more than any of their previous blunders. It will level forests, destroy wetlands and disrupt ecosystems all around the globe.

Or at least it will if the enabling technology ever becomes economical. And it might. Even a Republican President, in a State of the Union address, resolved to develop the technology "for producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switchgrass."

The green logic is simple: Use carbohydrates to replace hydrocarbons. Farmers and the lumber industry generate copious amounts of cellulose-rich waste. America has lots of spare prairie, which grows grass. Gather the waste, harvest the grass and renewable biomass can replace dwindling supplies of crude. The global warming problem is solved, too, because plant growth pulls carbon out of the air.

In fact what lies ahead is an environmental debacle. Corn contains sugar, and sugars are easy to turn into ethanol. Just ask Anheuser-Busch or E. & J. Gallo. But to get a high-grade fuel out of wood, stalks or grass you have to take apart cellulose, a much tougher molecule. Some microbes and fungi can do it. So can cows, but only by filling their massive guts with those same microbes. And they do it inefficiently, and make quite a mess.

But the grass-to-fuel boosters don't plan to use cows. They plan to build chemical refineries that do the cow-gut thing much better. The key technical challenge is cheap production of huge quantities of robust, cellulose-splitting enzymes. Biochemists and genetic engineers could well find ways to deliver.

Plants won't celebrate if they do. (Consider, by way of analogy, how we humans might feel about a scheme to perfect flesh-eating bacteria, those mercifully rare strep bugs that digest muscles, fat and skin tissue with horrifying speed.) Plants pack their seeds with readily digestible sugar because they want animals to eat them. Most of the seeds get digested, but those that slip through get deposited, prefertilized, in some distant spot, where they grow another plant.

Cellulose, by contrast, is the adult plant's armor and scaffold. Voracious animals don't strip every last plant off the face of the earth only because most animals must work so hard to digest what plants are mostly made of.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Public Discussion About Dams, Parkway, Letters to Editor

The public discussion about the dam and the Parkway continues in these letters from yesterday's Bee.

Letters to the Bee Editor: Auburn Dam, Parkway, etc.
Published Monday, March 27, 2006

Engineering a beneficial dam

As a civil engineer who designs earthen dams in the area, I would like to add a few points concerning Auburn Dam: A wet Auburn dam not only provides 1-in-500 year protection against floods compared with 200 years for fortified levees, it also provides protection for the existing levee system by controlling the flow in the river.

Inspection and maintenance of an Auburn dam that is about a half-mile long would be much less than that required for hundreds of miles of levees, and the risk of failure would be less.
Storage in Folsom Lake was reduced due to concern about the stability of Mormon Island Dam. Now they propose raising the water level 7 feet.

An Auburn dam would allow double use of water to generate electricity. There would also be 2 million acre-feet of additional water storage, as well as additional recreation facilities that would offset the loss of some river rafting.

It is hard to see why a large majority would not jump on the "construction of Auburn dam" bandwagon.

- Reinard W. Brandley, Loomis

Sacramento County vs. parkway

Re "City's tactic on parkway riles board," March 22:
Supervisor Roger Dickenson expressing "displeasure" at Rancho Cordova's move to initiate legislation guaranteeing the city a say in parkway decisions is ironic, if not galling.

We on the Rancho Cordova side of the parkway have to look at the results of his mismanagement on a daily basis - the intrusive "McMansions" built on the river bluffs that he votes to approve in violation of parkway guidelines.

Dickenson's fit over Rancho Cordova's move is more related to protecting his clout (campaign fundraising) among the rich landowners on his side of the river than with anything that Rancho Cordova might want to do on its side.

Illa Collins, on the other hand, has consistently voted to protect the parkway. Her comments, however, about how the "architects of the parkway wanted to preserve a natural resource to share" should be directed at her fellow board members, not at Rancho Cordova.

- Ken Green, Rancho Cordova

Highwater, the Results

This story from the Bee Sunday, relates to the often hidden, except to the users denied optimal use, after-effects of high water which can ruin the integrity of parks.

This is also occurring on the Parkway, and once the high-water of the past several months recede, we will see the results.

Here is an excerpt.

Folsom Lake awash in debris from storms
By M.S. Enkoji -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, March 26, 2006

Yes, spring has arrived, but if you bought a new motorboat expecting to rev up on Folsom Lake, you may want to keep it in the driveway for now.

The recent wave of storms across the region has caused driftwood and other manner of refuse to wash into the man-made reservoir, creating a sea of debris.

"There's just tons and tons of wood, refrigerators, tires, propane tanks - you name it," said Michael Gross, superintendent of Folsom Lake State Recreation Area.

Because of the floating refuse, boating speeds, normally unrestricted, have been limited to 5 mph, Gross said. Some of the driftwood is so heavy it disappears below the surface, creating a hazard for boaters, he said.

In the Granite Bay area, the debris was so thick last week that no boats could launch, Gross said. He managed to have some of the refuse removed and the wind helped push some to shore.

In recent weeks, boaters have begun venturing onto the lake during sunny breaks in the weather, cruising at the typical speed of 35 mph, Gross said. Some have been hauling water-skiers - a pastime that's been put on hold.

"Water-skiing you can't do at 5 miles an hour," he said.

Folsom Lake usually attracts at least one bass-fishing tournament a weekend. Because the object of the tournament is to move quickly from spot to spot in an effort to catch the biggest bass, the lowered speed limit chased off this weekend's tournament, Gross said. A fishing event scheduled for next weekend is not looking good, either.

The lake litter hasn't been this bad since the 1980s, Gross said. It starts with wood and other debris building up along the banks of the American River. Storms dislodge the buildup, flushing it into the lake.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Editorial, Parkway Governance

Today’s editorial from the Bee about Parkway governance failure is aptly described as the “perfect trifecta of trip-ups for Sacramento County.”

For those who have been following the slowly slipping failure of Parkway governance for the years it has been sadly unwinding, the new leadership direction apparently being provided by three of the Supervisors is welcome indeed.

A Joint Powers Authority is obviously the initial step to sound governance, followed by eventual management of the Parkway by a nonprofit, successfully modeled by the Sacramento Zoo and other large urban parks such as Central Park.

Rancho Cordova’s tapping of state assistance is entirely appropriate as it is the larger legislative mandate behind the Parkway Plan, correctly and timely updated, which is designed to give it gravitas.

We would someday like to see even larger recognition of the importance of the Parkway through designation as a National Heritage Area, which the natural heart of our community certainly is.

Here is an excerpt from the editorial.

Editorial: Parkway protocol
County, Rancho need to talk, make peace
Published 2:15 am PST Monday, March 27, 2006

It's a perfect trifecta of trip-ups for Sacramento County. Disgruntled over its diminishing importance as three new cities sprouted in recent years, the county has found itself fighting with the three municipalities at one time or another. The first beef was with Citrus Heights, which involved fights over city payments to the county. The second was with cantankerous Elk Grove (battlefronts galore). And now the honeymoon is officially over with Rancho Cordova.

A nasty fight has erupted over control of the American River Parkway. Peace might break out. That chance is worth exploring before pious chest-pounding reaches thunderous levels.

The American River Parkway is a 4,000-acre jewel long maintained by the county. The county and the city of Sacramento, along with the state, govern the parkway through a master plan adjusted every two decades or so. The system worked fine until a new city, Rancho Cordova, sprouted alongside the river. The new city has a rightful stake in the parkway's future but no legal say.

Tempers flared recently when Rancho Cordova City Councilwoman Linda Budge encouraged state Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, to find a legislative solution. SB 1776 would give Rancho Cordova authority to change the parkway plan. Both in substance and in style, SB 1776 has prompted a county backlash.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Flood Control Editorial & Public Leadership

This editorial from today’s Bee highlights the confusion residents of the Sacramento region feel about flood danger, and how ill-served they have been by their public servants.

A recent story in a public administration journal profiles the former head of the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), Dr. Elmer Staats, and in the story a note was made of the comments said about him by another senior GAO manager as “a pragmatic agent of good government” who viewed GAP audit reports as “a way to achieve results rather than simply hitting someone over the head”.

Also in the profile, the current comptroller general, David M. Walker, said. “In addition to his record of remarkable achievements over a lifetime, Elmer is widely considered one of the finest public servants of our time—a man who is admired as much for his intellect and ability as for his decency and devotion to the public good.” (PAR, 66/2 p. 159)

With the consequences that can arise from inadequate attention to our flood danger, let’s hope that the same can someday be said about our public leadership in addressing the most important public issue of the day.

That is the reality I would pick.

Here is an excerpt from the editorial.

Editorial: Pick your reality
Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, March 26, 2006

The tens of thousands of Sacramento residents who live in the fast-growing Natomas neighborhoods have got to be confused. They learn in The Bee news pages that the Sacramento River levees protecting their homes don't meet the standards of a levee able to withstand a 100-year flood. Yet the government isn't saying they must start buying federal flood insurance because, given this unsettling new levee information, they now live within the 100-year floodplain.

True: Natomas isn't in the 100-year floodplain.

Also true: Natomas is in the 100-year floodplain.

The explanation is rather simple. The official 100-year floodplain map is what the federal government says it is. And sometimes the feds are a little slow at redrawing a floodplain map based on new information. So the old, official map is in effect.

And in the back of everyone's mind who is following this, the floodplain map for Natomas would be very different if the feds redrew it based on today's reality.

In the 1990s, after some levee improvements that everyone at the time thought were sufficient, the Federal Emergency Management Agency inked a new floodplain map for this deep basin.

Before the levee fixes, the basin was within the 100-year floodplain (an area that has a 1-in-100 chance of flooding any given winter). After the fixes, the floodplain shrank. Natomas, according to the map, was high and dry. No mandatory flood insurance. No word to many new residents of any flood dangers.

Then, in 1997, it rained. Federal officials were stunned at how certain Northern California river levees failed. So they toughened the building codes for what constituted a strong levee. They took into account that deep seepage can undermine levees.

Flood Danger a Security Issue

This Bee story from Saturday the 18th highlights how important the flood danger is in Sacramento, as a security issue, since the devastating tragedy in New Orleans, to the point that the national homeland security chief came here to tour the levees.

The continuing tragedy in New Orleans is movingly described in a story in today’s Bee, Forum section, by Stuart Leavenworth, who traveled there to help in the clean-up recently.

Here is an excerpt from the Chertoff visit.

Chertoff tours levees, vows to seek aid
By Deb Kollars -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Saturday, March 18, 2006

Following an aerial tour over Sacramento on Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff pledged to seek more federal dollars for levee repairs but said he would have a hard time securing a federal disaster declaration for the region.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has asked the Bush administration to declare a federal emergency on the levee system of the Central Valley to help speed repairs, and he invited Chertoff to see the weak levee system firsthand.

The two took a 40-minute aerial tour over two vulnerable areas, Sacramento's Natomas and Pocket communities. During a news briefing later, Chertoff was asked what caught his attention from the air.

"There's a lot of water," he said.

Chertoff said federal emergency declarations usually come only after an actual event has happened, or is imminent within a day or so.

He said legal issues may stand in the way of getting such a declaration for California when a flood had not occurred, but added that he would look for other ways to bring more federal assistance, possibly through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"We're going to stand shoulder to shoulder with you, and I am going to take this message back to Washington," he said.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Dam Discussion Taboo Continues

This story from today’s Bee is welcome news that the business chamber is focusing on flood control, but what is not welcome is the apparent failure of public leadership to acknowledge that the optimal solution to flooding, a major, new dam on the American River, is worth even discussing.

I attended a presentation the other day sponsored by a public administration professional association to discuss flood issues. There were presentations on flood danger, flood preparedness, flood related media, and flood protection. It was a fair-sized group, maybe 35 people, most working in the public field on flood-related issues.

What struck me as I left, after almost two hours, was that other than a couple brief references no one asked nor presented the obvious piece of information.

What is the best solution to our flooding?

The only other professional forums I have attended to compare this with are those in the criminal justice field, and always, at some point in the discussion, someone will reference, or ask, “What is the best solution to the crime in our neighborhood, (or state, or country?)”

The couple mentions were from an engineer who said that since “no one has a spare $3 billion laying around we can’t build the Auburn Dam”, and another similar comment during his presentation.

Though it might be difficult to provide the best solution to our flood danger, we won’t get there by not talking about it.

I will focus much more on this in our upcoming member's newsletter, and you can find a membership application by going to our website at

Here is an excerpt from the article.

Metro Chamber focuses on need for flood control
By Niesha Lofing -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Saturday, March 25, 2006

Flood protection was the main course served up by local leaders at the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce's "State of the City" luncheon Friday.

Mayor Heather Fargo urged business owners to protect themselves against flood risk, for both their own economic viability and that of the city.

"It is Sacramento's biggest risk and something that we need to work on together," Fargo said.

Fargo also cautioned the group not to let re-emerging debate about a proposed Auburn dam shift the focus off efforts to secure federal funding to help strengthen levees in the Sacramento region.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has refueled talks in Washington recently of a flood control dam at Auburn.

"An Auburn dam debate right now would be an unfortunate distraction," she said. "It would make our funding in Washington dry up faster than the drought in the 1970s."

Dan Silva, a Sutter County supervisor and chairman of a Sacramento Area Council of Governments subcommittee on flood protection, said there is no better time than now to work on flood protection - at every level of government.

"There's no finer time to tell the Legislature that four factors need to be achieved - flood control, flood control, flood control, flood control," Silva said.

State Parks in Trouble

As this article from Tuesday’s Bee tells us, many of the state’s parks are having difficulty, which might lead to higher user fees, counter to the public parks essential mission of providing access to the park system for everyone, regardless of income.

This failure of government to provide adequate stewardship of our natural resources, as we see with our own Parkway, is troubling and we will need to begin addressing it more directly as our need for natural sanctuaries increases along with population.

As cultures mature and urban areas settle into patterns of sustainability, the value of natural resources, urban parks, waterways, and bike trails become less of an optional benefit of urban life, and more of a necessity.

ARPPS first guiding principle is “Preserving the Parkway is not an option, it’s a necessity.”

We need to begin considering this principle apply to all of our parks.

Here is an excerpt.

State parks access in peril?
Foundation says strained budget is likely to force higher user fees
By M.S. Enkoji -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The $4 you pay to park your car for an all-day visit to a California state park barely buys you popcorn at a movie theater these days.

State parks were always meant to be an affordable opportunity, an outdoor venture for just about everyone, but budget cutbacks could turn public places around Folsom Lake or camping among giant redwoods along the North Coast into costly, elitist experiences.

A $900 million maintenance backlog and a shrinking budget critically threaten the 278-unit state park system, according to an annual report released Monday by a nonprofit park foundation.

With less help each year from state coffers, park managers will be forced to increase fees, said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation.

"It could make it prohibitive for some folks to access state parks," she said.

The foundation presented its annual State of our State Parks report at the state Capitol before legions of the organization's volunteers embarked on a day of lobbying state legislators.

Besides the parks' dwindling budget, advocates also are concerned about development near some of the state's parks, such as a proposed toll road through San Onofre State Beach in Southern California, and about a 90 percent shortfall in the money needed to care for the state's cultural resources, such as the Angel Island Immigration Station.

Angel Island, an immigration station from 1910 to 1940, is undergoing renovation, but an estimated $65 million is needed to complete the job.

A large portion of the state's artifacts and cultural resources are in warehouses because there isn't enough money to put them in museums, say park advocates.

For the past few years, fees paid to park or camp at state parks or visit state sites such as the Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento have contributed a larger portion of state parks' budget than money from the state's general fund.

Users at state parks are expected to pay $121 million in the fiscal year ending in 2007, but the proposed amount from state coffers for parks will be only $112 million.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Endangered Species Act, the Jumping Mouse

This article from the Wall Street Journal yesterday is about environmentalism, the fervency of its strongest supporters, many who are religious in their fervor, with passion driving action beyond the wide-spread support most people feel for policies that provide clean air, clean water, and beautiful views; providing a revealing clue to its oddball, and often devastating effect on communities through the use of the Endangered Species Act as a legal weapon.

Here is an excerpt.

Of Mice and Men
A tiny rodent is the hottest political issue in Colorado.
BY STEPHEN MOORE Thursday, March 23, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST

DENVER--Here in Colorado, the hottest political issue of the day may not be the war in Iraq or the out-of-control federal budget, but rather the plight of a tiny mouse. Back in 1998, a frisky eight-inch rodent known as the Preble's meadow jumping mouse gained protective status under the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA). What has Coloradans hot under the collar is that some 31,000 acres of local government and privately owned land in the state and stretching into Wyoming--an area larger than the District of Columbia--was essentially quarantined from all development so as not to disrupt the mouse's natural habitat. Even the Fish and Wildlife Service concedes that the cost to these land owners could reach $183 million.

What we have here is arguably the most contentious dispute over the economic impact of the ESA since the famous early-'90s clash between the timber industry and the environmentalist lobby over the "endangered" listing of the spotted owl in the Northwest. That dispute eventually forced the closure of nearly 200 mills and the loss of thousands of jobs. Last week the war over the fate of the Preble's mouse escalated when a coalition of enraged homeowners, developers and farmers petitioned the Department of the Interior to have the mouse immediately delisted as "endangered" because of reliance on faulty data.

The property-rights coalition would seem to have a fairly persuasive case based on the latest research on the mouse. It turns out that not only is the mouse not endangered, but it isn't even a unique species.

The man who is almost singlehandedly responsible for exposing the truth about the Preble's mouse is Rob Roy Ramey, a biologist and lifelong conservationist, who used to serve as a curator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Mr. Ramey's research--published last year in the peer-reviewed journal Animal Conservation--concluded that the Preble's mouse "is not a valid subspecies based on physical features and genetics." The scientist who conducted the original research classifying Preble's as unique now agrees with Mr. Ramey's assessment. Even scientists who defend extending the mouse's "endangered" status admit that it is 99.5% genetically similar to other strains of mice.

Nor is the mouse on the road to extinction. "The more people look for these mice, the more they find. Every time scientists do a new count, we find more of the Preble's mouse," Mr. Ramey says. It's now been found inhabiting twice as many distinct areas as once thought. These are mice, after all, and the one thing rodents are proficient at is breeding. The full species of the meadow jumping mouse, far from being rare, can be found over half the land area of North America.

National Park Status for Delta & Parkway?

This story from Sunday’s Bee stimulates a revealing comparison between the Delta and the Parkway.

The article, about preserving the Delta by making it a National Park, describes the Delta as an urban park surrounded by rapidly growing cities, calling it akin to a “Central Park”, and we couldn’t agree more.

That designation is as properly applied to the Delta as to the American River Parkway, which we would like to see become a National Heritage Area (a program of National Parks); both urban parks of national importance surrounded by rapidly growing urban areas calling for preservation, protection and strengthening.

When you think about the future that can be captured through the preservation of the Delta, the Parkway, and the connections that can be made between all of our regional urban parks to allow people to perhaps trail from the Bay/Delta to the gold rush site at Coloma, it just takes your breath away!

Here is an excerpt.

Fresh ideas in the Delta
UC Berkeley architecture students propose a national park to protect the region.
By Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff WriterPublished 2:15 am PST Sunday, March 19, 2006

If there were such a thing as beautiful conflict, you would find it in the Delta.

At the convergence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, nature created a rich habitat for both wildlife and water wars.

Where grizzly bears once plucked a meal from rivers of salmon and elk roamed in herds, today economic titans battle over development and water rights. Levees are crumbling, and fish species teeter on extinction.

Amid such conflict, could the Delta also be a national park?

UC Berkeley's school of landscape architecture posed that question in a student design competition that concluded last week. The answers, like so much about the Delta, are not simple. But they hint at a different future, one that some environmentalists and Delta protectors say is increasingly important as the fragile region is transformed by urbanization and water exports.

"Nobody in California understands how important the Delta is for California or the United States," said Elke Grommes, a graduate student in landscape architecture. She and her teammates, Mei Minohara and Zachary Rutz, shared first place in the contest with another team.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, spreading over 700,000 acres, is the largest estuary on the Pacific coast. A natural funnel of marshes and wetlands, it once provided rich habitat for clouds of birds and vast migrations of fish.

Starting with the Gold Rush, the marsh was carved into levees to protect farmland, highways and homes.

It also became a conduit for drinking water. Huge state and federal pumps transport water from the Delta to Southern California to service 23 million people and irrigate 5 million acres of farmland.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Rancho Cordova Parkway Planning

This story in today’s Bee, following-up yesterday's post on governance, looks at the ideas Rancho Cordova is bringing to the discussion around Parkway Planning.

The ideas they are putting forth, including another pedestrian/bike bridge across the river, represent the forward thinking desperately needed for one of the most important urban parks in the country.

Here is an excerpt.

Bridge would forge connection
Planners praise idea of linking Carmichael, Rancho Cordova
By Bill Lindelof and Molly Dugan -- Bee Staff Writers Published 2:15 am PST Thursday, March 23, 2006

It's only a concept at this point, but an idea is being floated like a big yellow raft to join Carmichael and Rancho Cordova via a new bicycle bridge over the American River.

With a pedestrian and bicycle bridge, people on the south side of the American River could more easily reach the Effie Yeaw Nature Center and Ancil Hoffman Golf Course, said Linda Budge, Rancho Cordova councilwoman.

Those on the north side could visit the American River Parkway bike trail and Hagan Park.

"Everybody decided a pedestrian and bicycle bridge would open up all sorts of recreational opportunities to both sides of the river," Budge said. "It would have wonderful commute applications, too. It would give people on the north side access to light rail."

Ron Suter, county parks director, pointed out that Rancho Cordova's bridge proposal is "very conceptual at this time."

Dick Barbar, chairman of the Carmichael-Foothill Farms Community Planning Council, said it sounds like a good idea.

"I only heard about it a couple nights ago," he said. "From my perspective in Carmichael, the concept works for both sides."

A bridge, said Rancho Cordova planner Kathleen Franklin, would allow residents north of the American River to reach jobs and light rail on bicycle.

Public Discussion About Dams, Letters to Editor

The public discussion about dams continues in today’s Letters to the Bee, and I’ve inserted content corrections highlighted and in brackets.

Here are exceprts.

Letters to Editor
Thursday, March 23, 2006

Letter #1) What killed funding for new dams in the Legislature's infrastructure bond debate was the hard fact that new dams produce less water and cost far more than water conservation or other water management choices (visit for the numbers).

Nearly 6 million acre-feet of new surface and groundwater storage has been developed in the last 15 years. In addition, total water use in California is actually declining and could decline faster, even as the population and economy grows, if we invest in common-sense water management programs.

Instead of destructive, costly and unproductive dams, the state needs to invest in conservation, reclamation and groundwater storage - all programs that truly meet our water needs and conserve and restore the environment. [Except provide flood protection]

Letter #2) debates over new dams in California often take on a religious fervor, but The Bee mischaracterized the "soft path" to water, an approach defined and described in detailed work from the Pacific Institute.

The soft path does not preclude new dams or infrastructure. Indeed, in California, new infrastructure may someday be needed. But not today. All of the benefits [Except for flood protection] that new dams could offer can be provided faster, cheaper and cleaner by reducing the wasteful use of water, expanding supplies by smarter use of reclaimed water and groundwater, and reducing inappropriate subsidies that encourage water waste.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Parkway Governance is Broken, Fix it, Part Two

This story from today’s Bee brings the politics of the American River Parkway planning process into clearer focus, with Rancho Cordova wanting to become inolved in the governance of the Parkway, a third of which lies within their city boundaries, and the bottom line is best expressed by Rancho Cordova City Councilwoman Linda Budge, who says:

"We believe we are good stewards," Budge said. "If anything, this is just another part of the evolution of the governance structure changing."

That is a correct assessment and the objections are primarily from the same folks whose stewardship has not been so good.

The current stewardship has led to the Parkway being threatened with closure a couple of years ago, and has allowed the Lower Reach of the Parkway to become overrun with crime, trash, and illegal camping, detailed on our website,, and in many stories in the media since 2003.

Based on the work Rancho Cordova has done on its plan for their part of the Parkway, and the forward thinking embedded in the governance of itself as a new city, this will not continue to be the case once they become directly involved, as they should be, with Parkway governance.

It is important to remember, as was specified in the 1985 American River Parkway Plan currently being updated: “The American River Parkway is a regional park which crosses jurisdictional boundaries.” (p. 1-1)

Then, that only involved the city and county of Sacramento.

Times have changed, and the updated plan should reflect that change.

Here is an excerpt.

City's tactic on parkway riles board
County supervisors to talk with Rancho Cordova about control along river, but say the issue shouldn't have been forced.
By Judy Lin -- Bee Staff WriterPublished 2:15 am PST Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Rancho Cordova's push for joint authority over the American River Parkway nearly backfired Tuesday when two county supervisors voiced displeasure with the way the city has conducted its campaign.

In a 3-2 vote, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors agreed to meet with representatives of Rancho Cordova to discuss power sharing as stewards try to update the parkway's management plan for the first time in more than two decades. Rancho Cordova Mayor Robert McGarvey said his office will schedule that meeting soon.

The city of Sacramento and the county are now working on a parkway management plan, which requires state legislative approval. The two jurisdictions exercise control over the parkway.

Rancho Cordova's leaders want to expand that joint authority to include their city, as well as any future cities that may have a direct interest in the parkway. Rancho Cordova incorporated as a city in 2003.

The plan will guide the preservation, development and administration of the regional parkway that extends 29 miles from the Folsom Dam to the American River's confluence with the Sacramento River.

But rather than rally local support for a governance change, Rancho Cordova got a state senator to introduce legislation to bypass local jurisdictions.

The move elicited angry response from at least one county official.

"This is not the way this should happen," said Supervisor Roger Dickinson. "There's a protocol here and I have to tell you that I'm offended that that protocol has just been tossed out the window."

Dickinson said he would have preferred building local consensus - as the region did with public transportation and regional sanitation - before getting the state involved.

Last month at the city's urging, Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, introduced a bill that would require Rancho Cordova to approve the pending plan in addition to the city and county of Sacramento.

Rancho Cordova officials say they believed legislation was the only way to start a serious discussion about governance change.

The city, which has about five miles of the parkway within its boundaries, wants voting power when it comes to managing the park. Officials say they don't want to slow down the planning process, but would like to have a say in the current plan.

Preservationists said they encourage Rancho Cordova's participation, but opposed any immediate governance change out of concern that it would delay the parkway plan.

Alan Wade, president of Save the American River Association, said it would be unfair to the people who have been working for months on the parkway management plan, a large portion of which focuses on the lower sections of the parkway that do not involve Rancho Cordova.

"I am unfortunately led to the conclusion - or at least the suspicion - that there's some political mischief going on here," he said.

"I can't imagine the purpose of changing the rules of the ballgame when we're already in overtime. It would be unfair to all the players."

Rancho Cordova City Councilwoman Linda Budge assured supervisors there is no hidden agenda, saying that the bill was submitted late February only to meet a legislative deadline.

"We would like to sit down with you and the city of Sacramento and that's what Senator Cox has offered to do," Budge said.

Parkway planners say representatives from Rancho Cordova have been involved in the process all along. McGarvey noted, however, that the city has little authority when it comes to management and priorities.

Budge and McGarvey said it's wrong for the city to put its resources - such as police officers and park workers - into the river parkway without having a say over its future.

One idea that the city's planners floated would be to build a bicycle and pedestrian bridge linking Hagen Community Park in Rancho Cordova and Ancil Hoffman Park in Carmichael.

"We believe we are good stewards," Budge said. "If anything, this is just another part of the evolution of the governance structure changing."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Parkway Governance is Broken, Fix it

Today’s editorial from the Bee, concerning governance of two public resources, the libraries and the Parkway, highlights the failure, once again, of the county to provide the leadership and protection of public assets, the public deserves.

This ongoing situation lies at the root of our call for turning governance of the Parkway over to a nonprofit, as was done with the Sacramento Zoo in 1997, to ensure proper management of a priceless public resource.

With new leadership on the board of supervisors, and the public discussion being generated by the Bee, we anticipate some action.

Let’s hope our anticipation is warranted, and we couldn’t agree more with this editorial’s closing statement: “Times have changed for the libraries and the parkway. What used to work no longer does. The old governance systems are broken. Fix them.”

Here is an excerpt.

Editorial: Trouble with sharing
Valued assets need broader governance
Published 2:15 am PST Tuesday, March 21, 2006

"Two treasured assets of Sacramento County - its library system and American River Parkway - suffer financially for the same underlying reason: The old way of governing them, a system dominated by the county and city of Sacramento, no longer works. New cities such as Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova exist and appear willing to invest more money. Understandably, they want a seat at the table, but they don't have one yet.

"Political gridlock has its price.

"First, the libraries. The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors recently decided against asking county voters in November to consider approving a special library tax. Cities such as Elk Grove might object to the tax because they have no say about how libraries are run in their community. Why?

"A joint powers authority runs the system. Its members are five county supervisors and four Sacramento City Council representatives. Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova and Citrus Heights have no representation...

"Second, the American River Parkway is fast approaching a political crisis. The county for two years has been plowing ahead with a much-needed effort to revise the overall plan for the parkway without acknowledging that a new city along the parkway, Rancho Cordova, now exists. Some Rancho Cordova leaders - City Councilwoman Linda Budge, for one - are quite interested in the parkway's future and seem eager to spend city money if they receive a meaningful role in parkway deliberations. But that would mean a sticky conversation about political power-sharing among the county, Rancho Cordova and Sacramento. Thanks to the lack of conversation, there's state legislation to mandate a voice for Rancho Cordova. Just as with the libraries, it is far better for local leaders to find common ground than to balkanize into warring camps. "

Fervent Water Discussion

This editorial from the Bee on Saturday is partly right about the religious fervor of the water discussion, though the fervor is pretty much on one side.

This fervent way of thinking—an environmental theology really— has been well described by Alston Chase in his 1986 book, Playing God in Yellowstone: The destruction of America’s first National Park: “Through their intense theorizing the California Cosmologists [California environmentalist leaders from the 1970’s & 1980’s] saw their New Philosophy of Nature assimilated into our national culture. Spread by seminars, foundation workshops, and the grassroots network of public-interest organizations, and propelled by opposition to President Reagan and his Interior Secretary James Watt—their ideas became part of mainline thinking. Man, all were agreed, was the source of environmental evil, nature was sacred, traditional science suspect; the idea of interconnectedness, though left unexplored, earned a ritual bow and was enshrined in the quasi-mystical idea of the ecosystem.” (p. 359)

Those who realize it is a matter of human beings controlling the more destructive aspects of nature like flooding believe, based on past experience, that humans can soften natures often destructive forces through technology like dams, which beavers taught humans about.

Based on past experience, that is a reasonable assumption.

Those who see controlling the more destructive aspects of nature like flooding, through the use of “water conservation, more costal preservation and more Birkenstocks”, while arguably valuable adjuncts or outgrowths of technology, are more often part of the fervent discussion generated by New Age thinking.

Concrete generally works much better at stopping water from flooding than Birkenstocks.

Here is an excerpt.

Editorial: Water's two religions
Beware a clash of Birkenstocks, concrete
Published 2:15 am PST Saturday, March 18, 2006

In the recent failed bond talks, legislators debated the merits of new reservoirs for California with a religious-type fervor that bordered on the bizarre. It is appropriate to take an agnostic view on the matter.

A new reservoir is neither inherently good nor evil. It all depends on the reservoir's details - where it is, how it is to be managed, who is to pay for it. Lawmakers couldn't put together a package of education, water, parks, flood control and transportation bonds for the June ballot.
They failed on The Surface Storage Debate as well, but it was by far the more ideological.

With about 2,000 dams and reservoirs in the state, new dams and reservoirs really aren't for capturing vast quantities of "new" supply that are now being "lost" to the ocean. The potential value of a new reservoir is more subtle. It has to do with giving the existing system more flexibility in how to move and capture water.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Natomas Flood Protection, Less Than Thought? Part Four

This story from Friday’s Bee reminds us of the danger of not dealing with problems until they threaten to swamp you (or flood you might be the appropriate term here).

Sacramento’s public leadership has known for years that Sacramento did not have adequate protection from major flooding, yet have done nothing significant about it.

It does appear from the article that at least one public leader wants to know why, and isn’t taking shrugs for an answer.

However, it still looks as if the folks in Natomas might have to keep on waiting.

Here is an excerpt.

Long wait to bolster Natomas flood defenses
By Carrie Peyton Dahlberg -- Bee Staff WriterPublished 2:15 am PST Friday, March 17, 2006

People who live in Sacramento's Natomas area will have to wait at least until the end of 2009 and perhaps years longer to get the minimum level of flood safety they were told they had in 1998.

Restoring 100-year protection from storms with a 1 percent chance of striking any year will cost somewhere between $140 million and $200 million, the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency board was told Thursday afternoon.

Only the first $38 million of that money is expected to be in hand when work starts next year, said John Bassett, SAFCA's director of engineering. There are many hopes - but no firm plans - for where the rest of the money might come from.

It was the starkest outline yet of just how far away the fast-growing Natomas region is from truly having the level of flood safety that it still retains on paper.

Today, Federal Emergency Management Agency maps show the Natomas basin would stay dry in a 100-year flood, protected by levees that hold back the waters of the Sacramento and American rivers and two canals.

In reality, mile after mile of those levees are too low and too vulnerable to seepage, both under and through them, to actually meet that standard, according to Bassett's analysis and a draft study that SAFCA released Thursday.

If Natomas loses that federal designation, flood insurance rates would shoot up and insurance would become mandatory for people with federally insured mortgages. In addition, new homes could be required to be raised above the potential floodwaters - 15 feet or higher in some places.

With such massive work needed, it's imperative for FEMA to be told that Natomas levees won't withstand a 100-year flood, said Rodney Mayer, acting division chief of flood management at the state Department of Water Resources.

"There's no choice," he said.

With FEMA not likely to move immediately, the question becomes whether local officials will continue to allow people to move into a clearly imperiled area and how strongly residents will be warned of the dangers.

Before the report came out, most Sacramento City Council members said they were not inclined to halt new construction in Natomas or didn't have enough information to make the decision.
With Sacramento facing the greatest flood risk of any major city in the United States, Natomas' plight underscores just how hard it can be to protect deep floodplains from high water.

SAFCA had hoped by now to have virtually all 100-year issues behind it as it marched toward a longer-term goal to protect the community from a 200-year flood, the kind spawned by major storms with a half-percent chance of striking any year.

The new study had been aimed largely at defining the needs, costs and time frame for reaching that goal. But it also included a look at whether the area really did have 100-year protection, in light of evolving understanding of the dangers posed by seepage.

The conclusion released Thursday: It will take $302 million to get to 200-year protection for Natomas, tentatively by 2012.

Up to two-thirds of that money and most of the time, stretching into 2011, likely will be taken up with the remedial work to meet 100-year levee standards, Bassett said after the SAFCA hearing. He had told directors that an all-out crash program could hit the 100-year target by the end of 2009.

The frustration was palpable.

"This is not the only river in the United States that protects itself with levees," said Sacramento County Supervisor Susan Peters, who sits on the SAFCA board. She pressed Executive Director Stein Buer on past repairs, saying, "I'm not with you yet on why it wasn't fixed correctly the first time."

Letters on the Dam, Levees and Flooding

Here are excerpts from several letters from Thursday’s Bee about the dam, levees, and flooding, to give a flavor of the various opinions the public is reflecting in their letter writing.

1) "The March 11 article "Doolittle, Auburn dam win key ally" about Rep. John Doolittle getting support for Auburn dam is quite heartening for those of us who wish to see a multipurpose dam built. The best news was that money may be appropriated for a feasibility study and environmental report. Once these are written and all of the possibilities examined (dry vs. multipurpose) a multipurpose dam will win."

2) "Republicans have controlled everything in Washington for the past five years, but Doolittle couldn't get funding for his dam. Why can he now? This sounds very much like a ploy to get him through this election."

3) "In 1975, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamations started to work on a 700-foot-high concrete arch dam a mile southeast of Auburn, just downstream the confluence of the North and Middle forks of the American River. While work on the foundations of the dam was well underway, a 5.7 magnitude earthquake hit the Oroville area and proved that the numerous faults in the Sierra foothills, Auburn included, should be considered as active. "

4) "Thousands of structures have been built in areas that were underwater during the 1986 floods, yet little work has been done to strengthen the levees that are the only logical defense against future flooding.

"We all know that the Auburn dam site sits over a known seismic fault and that there are no buyers for the water or the hydroelectric power, yet Rep. John Doolittle and his puppets such as Placer County Supervisor Bruce Kranz insist on building it. An Auburn dam would do nothing to stem the flows of the Sacramento or Feather rivers or the South Fork of the American River."

5) "Has it not sunk in yet that earthen levees are water soluble! All the money poured into them for eons does not make them permanent! Adding dirt on top of dirt will not save anything - people, bugs, or crops - from a major flooding as happened in New Orleans. But a big new concrete Auburn dam would, as well as provide a huge water storage area to help prevent power and water shortages!"

6) "Strengthening Sacramento levees doesn't stop the storm water from coming down the Sierra Nevada and the foothills and overwhelming the flood control systems, nor would the Auburn dam.

"Please read the State Floodplain Task Force Report or Federal Sacramento-San Joaquin Study. The state has a compromised flood control system, complicated by upstream development, agricultural levees and volatile weather patterns. We must take the "peak off the storm"; that is, the amount of water that will overwhelm the system must be captured before it gets to the valley. The answer: hundreds, if not thousands, of low-impact, high-value reservoirs and wetlands on public and private land to draw excess flows from significant tributaries, determined by stream gauge measurements, throughout the watershed."

7) "The federal budget of 2006 is a classic case of missed opportunities.

"We need to ask a few simple questions of our representatives: Did you vote to give earmarks to Alaska to the tune of over $1 billion ($985 per capita). Why did California's earmarks amount to only $6.62 per capita? Of the funds received by California, why were $2.3 million wasted on landscaping the Ronald Reagan Freeway?

"Why are we currently funding a $1 million feasibility study for Auburn dam (our bridge to no where) when lives are at stake? We need to set priorities. Our California delegation is dysfunctional."

Friday, March 17, 2006

Auburn Dam: A Solid & Sensible Idea

This opinion piece from today’s Bee is a thoughtful overview of the reasons we need a major new dam on the American River. It presents the issues of concern that have been raised, addressing them clearly and correctly.

The only remaining question we have concerns the storage capacity of the present design of the Auburn Dam. Will the capacity be large enough to capture major storm run-off without having 130,000 cubic feet per second rushing down the Lower American River harming the integrity of the Parkway?

We anticipate that the current congressional review will address this.

Here is an excerpt.

Other view: Why an Auburn dam is a solid, sensible idea
By Bruce Kranz -- Special To The BeePublished 2:15 am PST Friday, March 17, 2006

Sacramento has the worst flood protection for a metropolitan area in the nation, a one-in-100 or greater risk of flooding every year. New Orleans had a one-in-250 risk. Katrina devastated it. Raising Folsom Dam and fortifying levees would provide one-in-200 protection. An Auburn dam would provide something more like a one-in-500 risk, according to the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Its design is intended to withstand any overtopping that could cause damage to the dam and downstream.

No one seriously disputes that an Auburn dam is the best solution for the risk of a 250-to 500-year flood, just like the one that hit New Orleans. In 1990, Measure T received 59 percent in Sacramento County voting. The measure directed the Board of Supervisors to finance a multipurpose dam. In another measure on that ballot, 82 percent supported taxing themselves for improved flood protection. The voters got neither.

The American River Authority, a joint powers agency comprising San Joaquin, El Dorado and Placer county agencies, polled Sacramento voters in December 2005. Learning that the dam would provide 500-year flood protection plus additional water for drinking and for fish and wildlife, electricity and recreation, 62 percent supported an Auburn dam. Only 25 percent were opposed. The dam is a good idea that most people like.

So why the holdup? Opponents are concerned about the environment, earthquakes, the cost and water supplies.

The top issue in the ARA poll was "protecting our water supply from pollution and other contamination" (65 percent in favor). Katrina waters reeked with toxic chemicals, raw sewage and carcasses. The hurricane washed away riparian and wildlife habitat.

That was preventable. New Orleans rejected a $757 million (1982) Lake Pontchartrain hurricane barrier that offered greater flood protection. If the barrier had been built, New Orleans would not have flooded, according to Joseph Towers, retired attorney with the Army Corps of Engineers' New Orleans District. An Auburn dam would prevent such pollution and the project would replace all lost oak, chaparral, pine forest and riverine habitat. The American River Parkway Preservation Society wants the dam's controlled flows and temperature for the salmon.

Earthquakes? Michael Shaeffer, retired engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation, recently spoke about quakes at Auburn. He said that a computer model - a fantasy game - could show a horrible, disappearing dam. But Shaeffer said the model wasn't realistic. He said the bureau's volumes of studies showed the chances of an earthquake at the site are infinitely small - perhaps as little as one-in-100-million years compared to odds of a devastating flood in Sacramento of one-in-100 or greater risk. What about dam-induced earthquakes? The Oroville Dam area had a 5.7 quake in 1975, but had quakes before the dam existed. Shaeffer said the Auburn dam proposal was designed for a "maximum probable event" - a 6.5 quake, 80 times the Oroville quake. False fears are the opponents of the Auburn dam project.

An Auburn dam costing $3 billion will surely not get any cheaper, nor will the price of water and electricity. The sale of water and electricity will pay for it many times over. Oroville and Folsom dams were once said to be too costly; they are now long paid off. Water and electricity sales will keep on giving. The alternatives cost between $6 billion to $12 billion to raise Folsom seven feet and also to fix the forever-leaking many hundreds of miles of levees in the Central Valley and beyond.

In Sacramento, a one-in-200-year flood - Katrina lite - would submerge 104,000 homes, 3,820 commercial buildings, 573 industrial sites and 212,000 acres of land, costing $14 billion; $47 billion in property is at risk in the Central Valley flood system. Folsom and Oroville dams averted major floods in 1956, 1964, 1986, 1995 and 1997, according to the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency.

Auburn would hold 2.3 million acre-feet of water storage and allow Folsom to hold close to its 1 million acre-feet capacity most of the year. These annual yields would be less than capacity, but their yields would be larger than that of other proposed new surface storage facilities.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Infrastructure Report Card

The 2005 Report Card on America’s crumbling infrastructure, by the American Society of Civil Engineers, shines a spotlight on the problems politicians are beginning to look at with renewed focus, primarily because of the devastating tragedy of the infrastructure failure in New Orleans which caused major economic damage, and the almost 50% reduction in its population as residents, flooded out by Katrina, fled to other states, many never to return.

Here is an excerpt.

“Congested highways, overflowing sewers and corroding bridges are constant reminders of the looming crisis that jeopardizes our nation's prosperity and our quality of life. With new grades for the first time since 2001, our nation's infrastructure has shown little to no improvement since receiving a collective D+ in 2001, with some areas sliding toward failing grades. The American Society of Civil Engineers' 2005 Report Card for America's Infrastructure assessed the same 12 infrastructure categories as in 2001, and added three new categories. Access the complete Report Card with details on each infrastructure category and state infrastructure information.”

And here is an excerpt from the Public Parks and Recreation Report Section of the Report Card concerning California:

“California's Department of Boating and Waterways recently determined that statewide, boating contributed approximately $16.5 billion to the Gross State Product annually. In addition, boating contributed $1.6 billion in state and local taxes annually. There were 8,500 boating related businesses in the state that provided more than 284,000 jobs to the economy.” Public Parks & Recreation Report

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Parkway, Joint Powers Authority

An editorial today in the Bee addresses the prickly issues around Parkway planning and governance in an era of tightening budgets and new cities along the Parkway.

A joint powers authority to govern the Parkway is a good interim step, with the desired long-range goal for it to contract with a nonprofit organization to provide daily management, as the Sacramento Zoological Society has been providing successfully for the Sacramento Zoo since agreeing to a 1997 contract with the city of Sacramento.

Senator Dave Cox’s bill, SB 1776, is a needed policy clarification to bring new city Rancho Cordova, who has 7.5 miles of the Parkway in its city limits, to the governing table.

Hopefully Senator Cox’s leadership will also spur resolution for a joint powers authority approach leading ultimately to nonprofit governance.

Here is an excerpt.

Editorial: Planning the parkway?
Rancho Cordova raises a prickly question
Published 2:15 am PST Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The American River Parkway is arguably the greatest creation by the city and county of Sacramento, but the way this pristine landscape first enjoyed protection may not serve the changing community so well into the future.

Back in the 1960s when leaders envisioned the 23-mile-long, 4,000-acre parkway (and in the 1980s when the parkway plan was revised), the city and the county were the only local governments with a direct stake in the outcome. That's no longer the case. Rancho Cordova, once an unincorporated appendage of the county, is a city now with 7.5 miles along the river and its own ideas of how they should be managed. A bill before the Legislature proposes that when it comes to the parkway, Rancho Cordova should get a seat at the table, just like Sacramento. The issue cannot be ignored.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Auburn Dam Editorial

The best news from today’s Bee editorial is that “This page has long supported various substantive, conceivably achievable Auburn dam proposals.”

It appears the public discussion is growing much more substantive, and achievability grows in the light of what the nation saw from New Orleans.

New Orleans had 250 year flood protection when it flooded. Sacramento’s current plan calls for 200 year protection through levee strengthening and a questionable raising of Folsom Dam’s height.

Thank goodness there are public leaders who see 200 year flood protection as grossly inadequate, and will continue to push for the 500 year flood protection an Auburn Dam, redesigned to accommodate larger water storage, will bring.

Here is an excerpt.

Editorial: Auburn Dam weirdness
Debate shouldn't slow flood progress
Published 2:15 am PST Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Auburn Dam isn't dead after all. At least three different strategies have recently surfaced to revive some version of the proposal.

To refresh your memory: Congress authorized a multipurpose dam in 1965. Mother Nature halted the project with a Sierra earthquake that led to unresolved seismic concerns. And so for three decades, this has been a debate, not a real dam project.

But back to those three strategies.

Auburn Strategy No. 1: Study it. A $1 million review is due to Congress this summer.

Strategy No 2: Build a "dry" flood control dam. Such a dam (rejected by Congress in 1992 and 1996) would have a large hole at channel level. But the dam would hold back flood flows long enough to give Sacramento time to survive the peak surge. Rep. David Hobson of Ohio, chairman of a House water subcommittee, likes this approach.

Strategy No 3: Build a big "wet" Auburn dam. This seems to be the preference of Rep. John Doolittle, R-Rocklin, a longtime dam booster.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Doolittle, Auburn Dam Already Authorized

This story from Saturday’s Bee is wonderful news. According to Congressman John Doolittle, the house resource leadership, and local Bureau of Reclamation leadership, feels the 1965 authorization for Auburn Dam is still in effect and he plans to begin directing funding towards building it.

However, we still feel the current design’s storage capacity, at 2.3 million acre feet, needs to be expanded to ensure that Auburn Lake can hold the water from the pineapple-express storms that cause the Lower American River to be used as a flood conveyance vehicle (water being released from Nimbus Dam at several thousand cubic feet per second (cfs), up to 130,000 cfs during the 1986 storms) to open space in Folsom, causing severe damage and reducing the recreational and environmental conditions in the Parkway.

We need to take this opportunity to not only protect the citizens of Sacramento from disastrous flooding, but also to preserve the integrity of the Parkway.

Here is an excerpt.

"Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's energy and water subcommittee that funds such projects, said he now is convinced that a flood control dam at Auburn is vital.

"Hobson recently toured Sacramento-area levees from a helicopter, along with Reps. John Doolittle, R-Roseville, and Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, chairman of the full House Appropriations Committee.

"At a March 2 hearing where he described the helicopter tour's impact, Hobson said that before the trip, "I wasn't on John's side on building Auburn dam as I am now."

"It's scary," Hobson said of Sacramento's plight. "They are going to need it."

"Work planned and under way to improve Folsom Dam and the levees that confine the American River eventually will give Sacramento 200-year flood protection - less than New Orleans had before Katrina struck.

"A dam at Auburn would at least double the city's protection, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But such a dam would be costly, perhaps $3 billion or more for a multipurpose dam, and has been highly controversial because it would inundate a recreational area that is popular with river rafters.

"But what may emerge, at least initially, is something less than the full-scale dam that retains water year-round. Hobson said he favors a "dry dam" popular in Southern California that impounds water only during heavy flooding, and then slowly releases it as the river recedes.

"We know how to build dams - and I know Representative Doolittle won't like this - in a way that doesn't have to be wet," Hobson said.

"Doolittle recently has said he won't accept that. But in an interview Wednesday he said that in 1996 he supported a dry dam that was designed to be convertible to a full-featured structure, and he would be willing to go along with that again as an interim step.

"If I have to take a half a loaf, an expandable dam is better than nothing," he said.

"Hobson's endorsement comes as Doolittle, the leading advocate of an Auburn dam in the Congress, said he will seek money to build his dream dam without first asking for congressional approval of a revived project.

Rather than following the twice-trodden path of trying to get Congress to authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a flood-control dam, Doolittle said he intends to pursue a multipurpose dam under a law authorizing the Bureau of Reclamation to build it in 1965.

"More than $400 million was spent on construction and land acquisition before work on the dam was stopped in 1975 because of earthquake concerns. Later studies concluded that the dam could be built safely a bit farther downstream, but by then costs had escalated and Congress never resumed construction.

"When the Sacramento-area congressional delegation tried to authorize a flood control dam at Auburn in 1992 and 1996, it lost - in 1992 on the House floor in a 273-140 vote, and in 1996 in a 35-28 vote of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

"Doolittle said he now believes that the original 1965 authorization is still active and that it can be used to restart the project.

"It wouldn't have to be reauthorized," Doolittle said. "We already have an authorization. That's what I believe, and that's what I believe the two chairmen believe."

"The two chairmen are Hobson and Lewis, a longtime supporter of an Auburn dam. Neither could be reached for comment.

"If Doolittle is right, it would be possible for congressional appropriators to start pouring money into an Auburn dam right away.

"Doolittle said that's what he intends to do, starting with $4 million to $5 million in the upcoming 2007 budget for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to update the project's feasibility studies.

"I am more hopeful now than in a long time," said Doolittle, a member of the House Appropriations Committee and its energy and water panel. "I think we are in for some major developments for our region."

"So far, however, New Orleans' experience has not made converts in the Senate. California's two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, are longtime opponents of an Auburn dam.

"Both have urged enhanced federal spending on levee repairs around Sacramento, citing the experiences of Katrina and the city's vulnerability. Howard Gantman, Feinstein's communications director, said nothing so far has caused the senator to rethink her position on the dam.

"No proposal has been brought forward that would convince her to change her mind," Gantman said.

"Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, is more amenable, if only slightly.

"I am open to additional ideas as to how to make Sacramentans safer, as long as they are achievable and do not slow down or come at the expense of projects that are in the pipeline," she said in a statement.

"As far as Auburn dam is concerned, Sacramentans are mindful of the fact that the debate over Auburn held up flood protection for a decade," she said. "It is essential that any proposal for additional protection never again threaten progress on the vital projects that are already under way."

"Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, a leading environmental leader in the House, said Doolittle is in for a fight if he tries to move forward with an Auburn dam.

"This would be just like New Orleans," Miller said. "They needed levees, but they went off and spent the money on something else. And now Doolittle is trying to use Katrina to get something done that he couldn't do over the last 20 years. I think this is going to have rough sledding."

"But according to Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Jeff McCracken in Sacramento, an Auburn dam "is still an authorized project."

"It has not been decommissioned," he said. "That means the agency has congressional authority to construct it and that the next step would be funding."

"McCracken said the bureau could do the work even if funded in stages, first as a dry dam that would fill only when there's a flood, and later as a multipurpose dam retaining a large reservoir and producing power. "

Friday, March 10, 2006

Parkway Signs for History

This story from the Bee Thursday reports on a wonderful idea to enhance the availability of historical information along the Parkway, so central to one of California’s great stories.

The history of the American Indian villages that thrived along the American River for so many generations is one that needs re-telling, and we applaud the work of the Effie Yeaw Nature Center in doing so.

Here is an excerpt.

New parkway signs raise wonderment in visitors
They help explain history, geology, flora and fauna along the American River.
By Bill Lindelof -- Bee Staff WriterPublished 2:15 am PST Thursday, March 9, 2006

Coming soon to the American River Parkway: the information age.

Over the next year, about two dozen signs will be erected to explain points of history, geology, flora and fauna along the heavily used bike path.

"An interpretative sign points out things that people might see, hear or smell at a site and hopefully brings that alive," said Marilee Flannery, director of the Effie Yeaw Nature Center.
Interpretive signs can be thought-provoking, Flannery said.

"It will ask questions that will make you think in a way that encourages you to want to know more or to analyze," she said.

Different types of signs will appear on the parkway, including some at kiosks at parkway entrances, signs at habitat rehabilitation sites - and about 17 signs on podiums along the bike path.

Sign designs and text were developed by staff members at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center, which is in Ancil Hoffman Park. The signs will use photos donated by nature center staff members and area residents.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

What if the Levees Can't be Repaired?

Here is an article from California Policy Review that looks at the history of the Delta levees and, reminds us of the slowly disappearing quality of the peat upon which they are built.

Here is an excerpt.

What if the levees can’t be repaired?
The New Orleans flood focused attention on California’s dangerously neglected levees. But daunting obstacles will make any ‘fix’ difficult.
by Geoffrey Vanden Heuvel

Posted: March 8, 2006

Nearly two-thirds of Californians and millions of acres of California farmland depend to one degree or another on a water supply that must pass through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Historically, the Delta was a tidal marsh located where the Sacramento River from the North and the San Joaquin River from the South converged on their way out to San Francisco Bay. In the late 19th century, farmers began to create islands on this marshland by constructing berms and draining the brackish water off the land into the channels created by the berms. They then began to farm the rich peat soil, irrigating the land using the fresh water from the rivers flowing through the channels they had created.

Peat soil, when it is exposed to the air, oxidizes and disappears. So islands that started out a hundred years ago at sea level, are now holes in excess of 25 feet below sea level. What began last century as modest earthen berms are now large earthen levees that must hold back enormous amounts of water, which is flowing some 30 feet or more above the surface of the land. The Delta levees exceed 1,100 miles in length, with almost all of them resting on unstable peat soil.

Two great water projects

The Delta is the hub of the two great water projects that supply Central and Southern California. The Central Valley Project, with water originating at Lake Shasta, and the State Water Project, with water originating at Lake Orville, both use the Sacramento River to convey water south. When it enters the Delta, the Sacramento River is on its way to the ocean through San Francisco Bay. Some of this water is diverted from the river and sent to thread its way through the Delta to pumping plants located near the town of Tracy. These plants move the water into the California Aqueduct for delivery to Central and Southern California.

The engineers who designed these water projects decades ago knew the vulnerability of the Delta levees. So the original design plans included the construction of a 40-mile canal around the Delta in stable soil to insure that, in the event of a major failure in the Delta, water could still be delivered. But, as we all know, that “peripheral canal” was never built. It was not built right away, decades ago, because the cost to construct the Shasta and Orville Dams and the 400-mile- long California Aqueduct, together with all the water works associated with this huge effort, consumed most of the project’s available funds. The plan was to use the delta channels on a temporary, interim basis to convey the water until additional funding allowed the permanent canal to be built.

In 1982, the Legislature finally authorized the building of the peripheral canal. But then a variety of disparate interest groups banded together to referenda and kill the peripheral canal bill. They succeeded. The canal’s opponents held different reasons for their position. One group disliked a ban on diverting the Eel River into the State Water Project that the Legislature added in authorizing the peripheral canal. (The Eel River was later put on the federal Wild and Scenic River list, which prohibits its being dammed).

Major Solutions for Major Problems

This story is from the Bee, on the same day they report on Sacramento City Council action to take two liquor stores through eminent domain because they are claimed to attract and encourage criminal behavior. See that story here:

Alcohol and criminal behavior, yes, that computes…but taking a family business that appears to be based on hard work and legal activity to, arguably, stop it, is probably not the best way to go.

Nor does this action considered by the state to seize private property to build levees to protect from flooding. It would seem a much better route to look for protecting from floods at the headwaters, where the three forks of the American River meet, and build a dam there to reduce the amount of water flowing into the Sacramento River helping cause the flood threat.

Even more directly, consider raising Shasta Dam the extra 200 feet it was engineered for, tripling the storage space, and provide long-term flood protection.

Obviously we are talking a lot more money, probably $10 billion for both projects, (and much more complicated politics) but that is a small percentage of the $222 billion the Governor is proposing for state infrastructure needs, and stopping the flood danger to the capital city certainly would seem to qualify as central in that planning.

Major problems require major solutions, and though the politics of levee repair are much easier accomplished than dam building, it is dam building that provides the major solution to flooding on the Sacramento and American Rivers.

Here is an excerpt.

Private land for levees?
Crisis could lead to seizure by state
By Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Wednesday, March 8, 2006

The state of California could move to seize private land to repair eroding levees under the authority of a recent emergency declaration, a revelation that worries some observers.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared the levee emergency on Feb. 24, vowing to spend $100 million to repair 24 serious erosion sites on Sacramento Valley levees by Nov. 1, the start of the next flood season.

But the state may go beyond merely rebuilding some eroded areas, said Rod Mayer, acting chief of the division of flood management at the state Department of Water Resources.

In some cases, the state may opt to widen the riverbed by building setback levees, in which the existing levee is abandoned and a new one is built behind it. In other cases, the state may need land for roads and construction.

To get construction started fast, Mayer said, the state is prepared to claim the land now and negotiate a price later.

"It's possible that we could, under the emergency, go through an expedited process for eminent domain where we could take control of the property much more quickly," he said.

Property rights advocates and property owners had mixed reactions to the news Tuesday.
Two of the critical erosion sites are in the Sacramento River West Side Levee District, which stretches 50 miles between Colusa and Knights Landing.

District President Tom Ellis said he is grateful for the governor's attention to flooding problems but wary of any proposal for setback levees, which often take farmland out of production.

"If there's absolutely no other way to address the situation, that's a different story," he said. "But as a wholesale solution, it gets my dander up real quick. We hate to have the government come in and take land from us."

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Bond Issues

In this editorial from the Bee Monday, the legislature is urged to focus any bond creating legislation towards solving the flooding issue and we couldn’t agree more.

The attention being paid to flooding issues, locally and nationally, has created a window of opportunity flood threatened cities like Sacramento need legislative leaders to act on.

While we can never underestimate the ability of the state legislature to become bogged down in its own self-interest, even when public interest is so glaringly obvious, we remain hopeful leadership will arise to compel action.

Here is an excerpt.

Editorial: Bonds or bust?
Legislature: Focus on flood control, schools
Published 2:15 am PST Monday, March 6, 2006

The Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have until March 10 to agree on any bond proposals for voters to consider on the June ballot.

There is no shortage of bond proposals, from prison construction to coastal preservation. There is a shortage of time, however. And there is a shortage of political ability - among both the Democrats who lead the Legislature and the Republican governor - when it comes to quickly finding common ground.

The only chance of success lies in narrowing the playing field. In the time remaining, the governor and lawmakers must focus on the one or two issues that seem doable. One is flood control. The other is education.

Chances are very high that the state could easily and wisely spend $2 billion or even more on flood control, based on established needs. The state needs matching funds for federal projects that are already authorized, particularly throughout the Sacramento region. And the backlog of levee maintenance problems is growing with every new discovery, such as a worrisome seepage problem along the Sacramento River near the fast-growing Natomas community.

Democrats in the Legislature are second-guessing why Schwarzenegger in recent days has switched his financial strategy on flood control, abandoned expectations of huge federal support and proposed that the state front $6 billion in flood control funds. The ground is shifting here because the facts on the ground are shifting; the Bush administration has indicated no interest in meaningful help for California. This is enough reason to redouble efforts here in California for a state flood control bond; it is no reason to waste time pointing fingers.

Violating the Integrity of the Parkway?

This story from Sunday’s Bee gives us a clear example of the perceptive dissonance between the public using the Parkway, and the public agencies responsible for it.

A central aspect of the Parkway are the trees, and about 300 of them, including many heritage oaks, are threatened with removal to maintain the flood control conveyance aspect of the river, (its ability to funnel water released from Folsom Dam to create more space in Folsom Lake for American River Watershed run-off) by building a larger levee.

This is directly related to our contention, that to protect the “integrity of the Parkway” we must consider building a major new dam on the American River to allow for a much higher level of surface water storage to allow for reliance on dams for flood control rather than levees.

It is also important to keep in mind that the present reason we are able to consider building a dam to protect the integrity of the Parkway, one of the most important urban parks in the country, is because the Parkway is also in the center of the most flood-prone city in the nation, and the larger benefit to the surrounding city makes our proposal part of the ongoing community discussion about flood control.

In the future, as we discuss removing a dam (which we support) to restore the important natural area, Hetch Hetchy Valley; the thought of building one to preserve another will not seem remote.

Here is an excerpt.

Tempting Fate: Trees vs. levee
Century-old oaks stymie flood wall
By Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, March 5, 2006

Sacramento's Mayhew levee could be a poster child for the challenges that often surround simple urban flood-control projects.

The Mayhew levee is located on the American River's south bank, in unincorporated Rosemont, across the river from Rio Americano High School. It is the lowest levee on the American River, and, therefore, would seem a high priority for Sacramento flood protection.

But a project to raise the levee by 3 feet has crawled through the approval process since it was authorized by Congress in 1999.

The new levee would stretch 4,300 feet long and, if federal design standards are applied, up to 90 feet wide. Such a levee would take out nearly 300 mature trees along the American River Parkway - a federally designated Wild and Scenic River corridor and beloved public park.

The threatened trees include three heritage oaks that are more than 100 years old.

"We're pushing them on the design to do something that's innovative," said Jim Morgan, secretary of the neighborhood group, the Butterfield-Riviera East Community Association. "We're trying to improve the flood protection, and at the same time we're trying to minimize damage to the parkway."

In a worst-case storm scenario, when federal officials would be forced to open all the spillway gates at Folsom Dam to save it from washing out during torrential upstream runoff, the Mayhew levee is the only American River levee that is too short to contain the flows.

If dam operators had to push the American River to an emergency flow of 160,000 cubic feet per second, water could overflow the Mayhew levee and flood about 300 homes. The rushing water would run across Folsom Boulevard, eventually inundating the city of Sacramento.

The flood could cut off key evacuation routes for many Sacramento residents trying to flee the unthinkable.