Monday, July 31, 2006

Hetch Hetchy as the Indians Remember

A very nice look at the valley from an Indian woman whose family had a history with the valley for over 150 years.

An excerpt.

Sierra Heritage Magazine
Auburn, California 2006

Hetch Hetchy: God's work or engineering masterpiece?
By Bob Holton

In Tuolumne County, where scenic wonders and man-made lakes abound, one of the most awesome examples of nature’s art is (or was) the completely inaccessible Hetch Hetchy Valley.

Approximately 12 miles northwest of Yosemite Village as the crow flies, 50 miles by car, this lonely spot is seldom visited by tourists. If you plan a trip there, forget seeing its Yosemite-like valley. Hetch Hetchy has been submerged in nearly 200’ of Bay Area drinking water and fraught with controversy for almost a century.

A brief look at Hetch Hetchy’s past must begin with Julia Parker, a 77-year-old Me-Wuk Indian. The Parker family dates back in Yosemite and the immediate vicinity over a century and a half. She and her husband, Ralph, remember stories of old Hatchatchie passed down by several generations of ancestors. Hatchatchie, later changed to Hetch Hetchy, is Native American for an edible seed-bearing plant that flourished in the valley prior to the coming of the great reservoir and dam.

I caught up with Julia at the Indian Cultural Museum in Yosemite National Park. She was seated on the floor, weaving a basket. As skilled at multi-tasking as she is at basket making, she never stopped weaving, stringing beads and whittling throughout our entire conversation.

“Yes,” she began, “all these valleys were beautiful before non-Indian men arrived.”

Speaking softly in perfect English, she explained how she prefers to use the term “non-Indian” rather than “white man.” Julia is amazingly sharp-witted, has a healthy mop of flaxen hair, a broad grin and dresses spotlessly in bright-colored clothes of her Native American heritage.

“Hetch Hetchy was a very special place to live,” she continued. “People resided there and in the other valleys for 6,000 years. There were many oak trees in Hetch Hetchy and lots of willows for making baskets. There was also plenty of food, animals, acorns, and, of course, the fish.”

“People used the valley. For example, it had lots of soap bulb plants important for making baskets and brushes — brushes for your hair, brushes for your acorns, brushes for sweeping rocks.” She motioned with a gesture of her foot toward a soap bulb basket that lay next to where she sat. “My husband remembers his grandmother telling about the family going to Hetch Hetchy many times before anyone talked about a dam being built. They went down there to camp, but never lived there.”

“They probably were on trading routes and meeting other Indian people. It was a trading route for the Paiutes coming from the east side. Probably the Tuolumne Indians, Me-Wuks, came in from the Sonora way too.”

Picking up a small pocketknife, she began whittling on a piece of reed. There was a long silence before she continued. Finally she said, “Hetch Hetchy has a lot of pounding rocks and writings on the wall. Remember that real dry year we had? The water level dropped and you could see the pounding rocks.”

Then I asked her about the reservoir. Her smile faded as she gazed up from the half-finished basket in her lap and answered, “Well, I’m just like everyone else. I would have liked to see it stay the old way. Why did they have to choose that valley for their water? Weren’t there other drainage areas? Why did they pick a historic Indian site?”

The Beauty Dams Can Create

If there is any doubt that damming a beautiful place can create beauty in its stead, rivaling what the dam covered over, go to this site (click on title) and look at these photos of Hetch Hetchy as it is now.

Absolutely Gorgeous!

Manhattan Project for Energy?

An excellent overview of this concept that has been floating out there since the 1970's, and why it still doesn’t (as yet anyway) make as much sense as the market.

An excerpt.

New Manhattan Project? Waste of energy
By Max Schulz

The Manhattan Institute Jul. 30, 2006 12:00 AM

An idea gaining currency these days is that the United States needs a new Manhattan Project to solve our nation's energy problems. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is just the latest to propose a massive federal government effort to develop alternatives to petroleum and cut U.S. dependence on fossil fuels. He suggested it pursue these goals with the urgency of the World War II era project that rushed to develop the atomic bomb.

A number of other prominent voices claim the Manhattan Project provides a good template for dealing with our energy problems. The New York Times' Thomas Friedman routinely cites the need for a Manhattan Project on energy. So have Bill Clinton's political strategist, Dick Morris, and Frank Gaffney of the Set America Free coalition. Various editorial pages around the country have made similar calls for a concerted federal effort to deliver energy independence.

They might as well be calling for a new federal Department of Alchemy to turn lead into gold. The idea of a Manhattan Project for energy is a bad one and provides the wrong way of looking at our energy supply challenges and their attendant geopolitical concerns.

This modern Manhattan Project mind-set says that if only we were to get serious and devote enough resources, we could invent an alternative to oil and solve the 21st-century energy problems our country faces. By "we," proponents actually mean the federal government. And by "resources," they mean your tax dollars.

It won't work. The chief reason is that the type of challenges we face today are so wholly different from the type faced during World War II. The original Manhattan Project brought together the Free World's most brilliant minds to invent the atomic bomb. They were in a race against time; the Nazis were working toward the same goal. Money was no object. With the fate of civilization at stake, the cost to develop the Bomb was of minimal concern. Simply, the Manhattan Project's challenge was technological, not economic.

Our present energy challenges have it the other way around. This problem is not technological. We already have all sorts of alternatives to crude oil, gasoline and the internal-combustion engine. These include (but are not limited to) synthetic fuels, hydrogen and ethanol. The problem with these alternative technologies and fuels is that they aren't economical.

Gobi Desert Air Over the Parkway?

Global pollution has taken a momentous leap forward as China is becoming the biggest air polluter, soon racing ahead of the United States, and one hopes, also soon catching up in pollution control, where the US also plays a leading role.

Air from the Gobi Desert wafting overhead, while walking in the Parkway is a sobering thought.

An excerpt.

China's growing pollution reaches U.S.
By TERENCE CHEA, Associated Press Writer Published 9:40 am PDT Friday, July 28, 2006

MOUNT TAMALPAIS STATE PARK, Calif. (AP) - On a mountaintop overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Steven Cliff collects evidence of an industrial revolution taking place thousands of miles away.

The tiny, airborne particles Cliff gathers at an air monitoring station just north of San Francisco drifted over the ocean from coal-fired power plants, smelters, dust storms and diesel trucks in China and other Asian countries.

Researchers say the environmental impact of China's breakneck economic growth is being felt well beyond its borders. They worry that as China consumes more fossil fuels to feed its energy-hungry economy, the U.S. could see a sharp increase in trans-Pacific pollution that could affect human health, worsen air quality and alter climate patterns.

"We're going to see increased particulate pollution from the expansion of China for the foreseeable future," said Cliff, a research engineer at the University of California, Davis.

He has monitoring stations on Mount Tamalpais, Donner Summit near Lake Tahoe, and Mount Lassen in far Northern California. Those sites see little pollution from local sources, and the composition of the dust particles matches that of the Gobi Desert and other Asian sites, Cliff said.

About a third of the Asian pollution is dust, which is increasing due to drought and deforestation, Cliff said. The rest is composed of sulfur, soot and trace metals from the burning of coal, diesel and other fossil fuels.

Smoking in Parkway

Laws regulating smoking are finally reaching outdoors but haven’t yet reached the Parkway.

An excerpt.

Monday morning: Surf's up, smoking isn't in San Diego
By M.S. Enkoji -- Bee Staff Writer Published 12:01 am PDT Monday, July 31, 2006

It's hard out there for a smoker.

And it just got a little harder in the seaside city of San Diego, where the City Council recently voted to ban smoking at public parks and beaches.

In a state where 14 percent of adults light up -- eight points lower than the national average -- the appeal of smoking bans is rapidly expanding from enclosed spaces to the great outdoors, said Debra Kelley, vice president of government relations for the San Diego office of the American Lung Association of California.

Science and public will are behind the trend, Kelley said.

Already, a large chunk of the California coastline favored by beachcombers is off-limits for smokers, from tony Newport Beach to the family-friendly Santa Cruz shoreline.

A 2004 attempt at a ban on state beaches and parks didn't catch fire with the Legislature, but that didn't stop cities and counties from individually telling smokers to butt out while strolling through Golden Gate Park in San Francisco or tossing in the surf at Malibu....

Sacramento city parks are not restricted for smokers beyond state law, which prevents smoking within 25 feet of playgrounds and within 20 feet from buildings.

The same applies to Sacramento County parks, including the American River Parkway.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

County Deficit: Don't Know or Won't Tell?

County economic facts helped drive formation of our organization as we discovered that the county would not be in much better shape to take care of the Parkway in the future as it was taking care of it in 2003 when we incorporated.

We also learned what this editorial closes with, while here applying to a new arena, also applies to the Parkway:

“Sacramento County has a financial mess on its hands. Arena or no arena, that mess is not about to go away. And anyone who tells you that a small boost in the sales tax will build an arena and free up money for new county services and amenities is either uninformed or misleading you.”

Whether it’s uninformed or misleading, neither is very appropriate for public leadership.

An excerpt.

Editorial: Arena or not, county faces a King-size deficit
With the future written in red ink, where will supervisors find money to play with?
Published 12:01 am PDT Sunday, July 30, 2006

Scenes from two recent meetings of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors:

At one, hundreds of county employees, wearing the colorful T-shirts of their unions, demanded higher raises in a new contract. At the other, an overflow crowd urged supervisors to support or oppose a quarter-cent sales tax increase to build a new arena and to provide new funds to the county.

These two debates may seem to exist in parallel universes. But in Sacramento County, those universes are on a collision course.

The county has chronic budget problems that are expected to get much worse in the years ahead. Before supervisors can discuss increasing the "quality of life" with this higher sales tax, they first must stop the fiscal bleeding. In fact, if the county's own numbers are right, the bleeding is likely to continue even if voters approve this sales tax.

The county is facing a massive mismatch between rising costs and shaky revenues. Much of the mismatch occurs in The Uncity, those unincorporated urban areas such as Antelope, Carmichael and Fair Oaks.

The aging retail strips in these communities aren't providing growing sales tax revenues for the county. But the costs of serving these communities are going up. As a result, the county predicts cumulative deficits of more than $300 million in the next five years. The trend is red.

Enter the arena debate: Supervisors have backed an election for a quarter-cent sales tax increase that would last 15 years. A companion measure would suggest spending no more than half the money on an arena. That would create political pressure, but no legal requirement, to spend the money on an arena.

For the first seven years, all the sales tax funds would pay for the arena. After that, advocates of the deal promise to divide the funds among the county and local cities to spend however they wish -- perhaps $260 million for the county alone.

But remember, the same county also estimates $303 million in cumulative budget deficits over the next five years. The numbers add up to red ink and cuts in basic services, not a future surplus and money to share with cities or to spend on extras.

And don't forget those county employees in the union T-shirts demanding bigger raises than the county is offering. If the supervisors say yes to the unions, look for bigger deficits and even deeper cuts in services.

Think it Through

It is important to remember the news years ago promising an imminent ice age unless we acted quickly to drastically change our lifestyles, in the burst of news around the same prescriptions for global warming.

Some facts are clear, others aren’t and acting on those that are clear is often prudent, but acting on those that aren’t is often foolish.

An excerpt.

Dan Walters: Global warming, whether theory or fact, spawns political heat
By Dan Walters -- Bee ColumnistPublished 12:01 am PDT Sunday, July 30, 2006

Thirty-one years ago, Newsweek magazine published an extensive account of what it described as a growing scientific consensus of global climate change.

"There are ominous signs that the Earth's weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production," Newsweek said, adding, "The evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it" and "to scientists these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance signs of fundamental changes in the world's weather."

Global warming? Not quite. The Newsweek article about the emerging scientific consensus was about global cooling and the potential onset of a mini-ice age, akin to the one that chilled the Northern Hemisphere between 1600 and 1900.

Now we are told, of course, that there's a growing scientific consensus about global warming, with hydrocarbon emissions from humankind's economic activities the chief culprit, although there's a significant body of contrary opinion.

Whether global warming is a scientific fact or, alternatively, a theory being propagandized for ideological reasons is still an open question. But it clearly is a political fact and in politics, perceptions are always more powerful than reality, whatever it may be.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

What’s in the Water!

The yuk factor is high here and explains why almost everyone who can afford it drinks bottled water.

An excerpt.

Editorial: Toilet water politics
Recycling can't conquer 'yuck' factor

Published 12:01 am PDT Saturday, July 29, 2006

"Your golden retriever may drink water out of the toilet with no ill effects. But that doesn't mean humans should do the same."

So says the San Diego Union-Tribune, which recently joined the chorus of opponents, including San Diego's mayor, of a project that would blend supertreated sewage water in a local drinking water reservoir. The idea is known as toilet-to-tap. The idea appears to offend the sensibilities, at least in San Diego. It's an understandable first-flush reaction.

Alas, it seems time to let San Diegans and any other squirming citizens in on a little secret about water supplies: Toilet-to-tap is as old as civilization in California. And if San Diego shuns blended toilet water, it's about to become very thirsty.

With little groundwater underneath it, San Diego has two primary supplies. One is the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The other is the Colorado River. The proposed project, to reuse water rather than drain it into the ocean, is one viable way to create a reliable local supply for San Diego. But it does involve the blending of treated water with untreated water in a reservoir.

Technically, this means drinking treated toilet water. Is this really new for San Diego or most cities? Of course not.

Consider the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, whose waters San Diego draws from the Delta.

More than 300 farmers and cities are permitted to discharge their treated and untreated runoff into these rivers. Counties empty treated sewage water into rivers every day. Almost 10 percent of the average flow of these rivers is discharge, according to San Diego's water department.

Flood Control Districts

An environmental writer and consultant looks at the reclamation districts.

An excerpt.

Peter Asmus: State should look at flood control districts
By Peter Asmus

Published 12:01 am PDT Saturday, July 29, 2006

If any good came from what happened in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina, it was the stark reminder of California's degraded levee system. Could such a disaster happen here, where levees were threatened during record rainfalls last spring?

The federal government's response to expediting repair is to relax environmental reviews of critical levee repairs. But state lawmakers need to require more than simply repairing outmoded physical structures. They also need to reform the governing and financing of the current levee management system, which is threatening the environment, public safety and the economy.

The city of Sacramento has a particularly large stake in this debate: It is the most vulnerable of all major cities in the United States in likelihood of a devastating flood.

Today, California's levee repairs largely are managed by byzantine special local agencies called "reclamation districts." San Joaquin County's Reclamation District 348 is emerging as ground zero for a possible remaking of how California deals with its crumbling levee infrastructure.

One of hundreds scattered throughout the state, RD 348 was organized nearly 100 years ago in the San Joaquin Valley on approximately 9,000 acres of what was once first-rate farmland. The responsibility of RD 348 is to improve the levee system that protects the small San Joaquin Valley community of Thornton from flooding by the adjacent Mokelume River. Thornton flooded when a levee broke in 1986.

Riding the Rapids

A look at the part of the river that will be flooded once the Auburn Dam is built.

An excerpt.

Editorial Notebook: A rapids swim, a lesson learned
Published 12:01 am PDT Saturday, July 29, 2006

From trail or road in the Auburn State Recreation Area, the American River below looks sleepy and slow, the rapids like mere riffles. Rocks sparkle. Sunlight filters through leaves. The canyon landscape looks more peaceful than wild.

I'd never been on the river, though my husband and I hike a lot in the park and have seen glimpses of its wild side -- a bobcat, pipevine swallowtail butterflies, wild turkeys. This season the waters beckoned.

We signed on for a rafting trip with the Friends of the River for the Class II seven-mile run from Drivers Flat Road to Mammoth Bar on the Middle Fork.

We put on our life preservers and listened as our guides gave a safety talk to our 18-member group. Then off we went in four rafts, two kayaks and one cataraft.

The first rapid was gentle, no challenges, but fast enough to be fun, good for learning to follow the guide's commands and to paddle in unison.

But even Class II rapids have risks that must be respected. At a rapid about a third of the way into the trip, our raft hit a rock. I was in the boat one moment and out the next. I hit the water and immediately slammed into a submerged boulder.

The terror began. My first thought was, "Did I just break my back?" And then, as I bounced a pinball route, "I could break a lot of bones."

But I didn't have time to dwell on this. I was swept into the backwash of a big rock ledge with water rushing over my head and couldn't break through to get air. Only after what seemed an eternity did I manage to push through and head downstream.

The safety instructions to get feet and butt up came to mind -- I was not going to go downstream head-first. Eventually I floated into calm waters, feeling like a playful sea otter, feet up, hands across chest, glad to be in one piece, though coughing from the water I'd inhaled somewhere along the way.

I learned a hard lesson: In a rapid, you are on your own. No one can do anything to help you until you extricate yourself and get to calmer waters.

Continuing our journey, I got down low as we approached new rapids. We picked blackberries along the shore, saw trout and waterfowl, had water fights with other rafts. Our guides prepared a grand feast at our Mammoth Bar exit, just above Murderer's Gorge.

On the surface, this park seems an unlikely place for a wilderness experience. The area was the site of hydraulic mining during the Gold Rush era; whole hillsides were hosed into the river. The river is full of dams and hydroelectric power plants; river flows are managed.

Some uses remain from the "anything goes" attitude when everyone assumed the park would be buried underwater by the on-again, off-again Auburn dam, proposed 40 years ago but never built. For example, we came across miners using an extremely loud, powerful, high-pressure, gas-powered suction dredge in the river. Park rules say you can pick up gold nuggets and pan for placer gold (flakes) using gold pans but no other tools, such as picks or shovels.

Local Global Warming

After our recent heat wave, its obvious why this discussion has become local.

An excerpt.

Some not warming to theory
Published 12:01 am PDT Saturday, July 29, 2006

For California, sporadic blasts of withering heat are as typical as earthquakes. Not new. Not unexpected. But able to dominate our days, our nights and our conversations with an oppressive drumbeat of discomfort.

So those who study weather and climate weren't surprised to be asked repeatedly if the recent stretch of killing heat was yet another effect of global warming.

Their short answer is, if so, global climate change would be just one factor stirred into a confounding brew of other effects, including the routine variability of weather.

"There certainly is global warming, but … it's not like every summer is going to be like this one," said Jan Null, a Bay Area meteorologist. The changes are likelier to come in fractions of a degree each decade.

"Back in '97 and '98, everything was El NiƱo," said Null, who teaches meteorology at San Francisco State University and runs his own consulting firm. "The media likes easy labels to put on events. They don't like to hear, 'Well, this is just a normal cycle.' "

Null leans toward blaming the normal cycle for Sacramento's record-breaking string of 100-degrees-or more days, noting that as recently as spring, the capital region was much cooler than usual instead of warmer.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Air Pollution Reduced

Besides being ironical it’s too bad ideology drives the discussion around what to do about the natural environment, but it seems to drive discussion about almost everything else nowadays, so nothing is really unusual here; but still it creates a bit of unease.

An editorial

July 25, 2006, 6:39 a.m.
Polluted Thinking
By The Editors

It’s a rather striking irony that, as our air grows cleaner, environmentalists’ complaints grow louder. Since 2001, they’ve been screaming that President Bush is “rolling back the Clean Air Act,” and that the resulting increase in air pollution will kill people by the thousands. Instead, every category of air pollution has fallen during the Bush years, with 2003, 2004, and 2005 showing the lowest levels of harmful ozone and particulates in the air since the monitoring of air pollution began in the 1960s. What exactly is going on?

A little background in is order. In the late 1990s, the Clinton administration sued dozens of electric utilities under a new and aggressive interpretation of the Clean Air Act’s arcane New Source Review (NSR) regulations. NSR was the epitome of the complicated, costly, and counterproductive regulatory regime. It required existing sources of pollution, such as power plants, to meet stringent new regulations if they made any substantial operating changes. This had the consequence of freezing old technology in place: Many plants avoided small upgrades that would have lowered their emissions and increased their electricity output, for fear that doing so would drag them into the NSR morass. Even the Progressive Policy Institute saw that NSR was a mess, calling in 2000 for it to be scrapped entirely and replaced with a market-oriented “cap and trade” system, in which firms able to reduce their emissions to lower-than-required levels could sell their “leftover” emissions allotments to other companies. Cap-and-trade systems have the virtue of concentrating emissions reductions among the firms able to undertake them most efficiently. And because firms can sell any emissions "credits" they don't use, they have a strong market incentive to pollute less. A similar emissions-trading program has worked successfully to reduce acid rain in the northeast since 1990.

When the incoming Bush administration proposed to simplify NSR and adopt cap-and-trade, the environmental lobby went nuts, successfully blocking the administration’s “Clear Skies” legislation in Congress. So the White House decided to implement its new approach administratively through the EPA’s “Clean Air Interstate Rule,” which applied a cap-and-trade program to the midwestern and northeastern states where most of the nation’s coal-fired pollution originates.

That program has been in effect long enough for us to see the results, and they should fill any environmentalist with joy. A new report from the National Academy of Science concludes that the Bush system will likely prove just as effective in lowering air pollution as the regulation- and lawsuit-happy Clinton approach — and it will do so at a much lower cost. That should of course put an end to claims that the Bush administration is filling our air with deadly pollutants.

But don’t hold your breath. The environmental movement has proved time and again that it can’t take yes for an answer. Reducing air pollution has been the single greatest environmental-policy success of our time. Emissions are falling fast, and are going to keep falling. Despite more cars on the road and more drivers per capita, automobile emissions are falling 8 percent a year, and EPA models predict a further 80-percent reduction in car and truck emissions over the next 20 years. Power-plant emissions are going to follow a similar trajectory — and they’ll fall even faster if greens relax their reflexive opposition to nuclear power.

Yet the environmental lobby continues to act as though catastrophe were about to befall us, and has been especially shrill in condemning Bush’s record. Their intellectual bankruptcy is perhaps most strikingly illustrated by the fact that their current favorite idea for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions is nothing other than . . . cap and trade. But when Bush applies the same policy to air pollutants, he is a despoiler of Mother Earth. It’s hard not to conclude that their real problem with the president is that he is a Republican.

Congress & Environmentalists Argue

News from a congressional hearing yesterday regarding a logging bill in California.

An excerpt.

Lawmakers, environmentalists tussling over logging bill
By Erica Werner
5:50 p.m. July 27, 2006

WASHINGTON – Angry lawmakers lambasted environmentalists at a congressional hearing Thursday over their opposition to a new bill to speed logging in the Sierra Nevada.

“If we have a forest fire it's your fault, and I hope your group will take the responsibility when we're not thinning out the forests properly,” Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, scolded Craig Thomas, director of the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign.

Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, interrupted Thomas to accuse him of trying to destroy the last saw mill in the area.

“If you stop these sales, sir, with your lawsuits, this logging company is going to go out of business,” Radanovich said.

Thomas said he hoped the company, Sierra Forest Products, could stay in business. But he told lawmakers that Nunes' bill, which would boost two logging projects, would result in extreme tree-cutting without adequate environmental reviews.

The projects also could deal a fatal blow to the Pacific fisher, a small carnivore whose habitat has been reduced by logging and other activities and which is a candidate for government protections, Thomas said.

“The fisher will not withstand that project. As it is currently designed, it is flawed,” Thomas testified at a hearing of the House Resources Committee's forests subcommittee. The bill would “aggravate the disputes and undo the opportunities for improving scientific understanding of how to manage important resources,” he said.

Nunes' bill, the Giant Sequoia National Monument Transition Act of 2006, has two components:

1) It would allow completion of logging projects on 2,413 acres in the 327,769-acre Giant Sequoia National Monument. These projects were under contract with Sierra Forest Products when the monument was designated in 2000, but the company set them aside for several years. When it returned to them last year environmental groups sued, arguing that federal law required reassessment of environmental reviews because so much time had passed and conditions had changed and the Pacific fisher was at risk.

2) The bill also would speed a forest-thinning and restoration project called the Kings River Research Project covering more than 130,000 acres in the southern Sierra Nevada. Environmentalists say tree-cutting in the project as it is now envisioned is extreme. They complain Nunes' bill doesn't give enough protection because it says actions on the project shall be “deemed to be in compliance” with federal law.

Levee Work Continues, Some Not At 20 Year Protection Level

A follow-up on the state's levee work and some are so bad they can't even handle a 20 year level of river flow, which is not too reassuring

An excerpt.

July 28, 2006
Report: Levees getting worseBy Mike Taugher


January storms damaged levees in the Sacramento Valley and northern Delta so badly that they are highly vulnerable to failure in 81 places as early as the next rainy season, according to a report by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Thirty-five of the eroded levees protect houses, businesses or infrastructure and urgently need to be fixed, the corps said in a report released Wednesday.

The report is the latest sign that levees in the Central Valley and the Delta are badly deteriorated and getting worse.

"It's a vivid reminder of what we've been saying for a long time," said state Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow. "If we don't invest (in repairs), at some point we won't be able to catch up."

The cost to fix the 24 most critical levees is estimated at $50.5 million. Fixing all 81 severely damaged levees would cost $160 million.

Snow said state taxpayers likely would pay a significant portion of the cost, even though he said the federal government normally pays to repair storm damage to the class of levees that was inspected. But the federal government, he said, was unlikely to come up with funding quickly.

"We're not going to not protect California citizens," Snow said.

Some of the damaged levees are protecting northern Delta communities such as Isleton, Walnut Grove and Clarksburg, state officials said.

The January storms were not particularly severe and were of a magnitude to be expected once every 15 or 20 years, said Jason Fanselau, a spokesman for the corps' Sacramento office.

"This levee system is in a pretty weakened state right now, and it's not able to handle 20-year level of flows," he said.

Air Pollution

A new report on air pollution assessment.

An excerpt.

The National Academies News
July 21, 2006

Report Recommends Broader Approach to Assessing
Changes to New Source Review Rules for Air Pollution

WASHINGTON -- A new report from the National Academies' National Research Council illustrates a broader, more comprehensive approach the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should use to evaluate changes to New Source Review, a part of the Clean Air Act that governs large, stationary sources of air pollution such as factories and power plants. Although the report's analysis focuses on the likely effects of EPA's 2002 and 2003 revisions to the rules – changes that have since, in large part, been struck down by federal courts – it can serve as a case study for how future revisions could be assessed, said the committee that wrote the report.

Under New Source Review, before a new facility can be built or an existing one modified, an applicant must obtain a permit by showing that the new plant or equipment will not disrupt progress toward attaining air quality standards in an area, or significantly worsen air pollution in a locale that already meets them. The applicant also must show that advanced emission-control devices will be added to the plant. In 2002 and 2003 EPA made changes to New Source Review that, among other things, expanded the range of modifications a facility can make without getting a permit. The agency and other supporters predicted that the revisions would not result in significant changes in emissions and would give industry more flexibility to modernize plants and improve energy efficiency. Opponents maintained that the revisions would slow progress in cleaning the nation's air and thus damage human health. Because of the controversy, Congress asked the Research Council to estimate the revisions' effects.

It is impossible to quantify with certainty the changes' impact on emission levels, human health, or energy efficiency, because existing models have limitations and data so far are scarce, the Research Council's report says. A portion of the 2002 revisions was struck down by a court last year, and the remainder has gone into effect in only a few states. The 2003 revision, known as the Equipment Replacement Provision (ERP), has not been implemented because it was stayed by a court in 2004 and struck down earlier this year….

The report was sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

Copies of New Source Review Programs for Stationary Sources of Air Pollution will be available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at

Dam Removal

Over the years a lot of mostly small (under 25 feet tall) dams were built across the country to provide water, power or both to small towns or for private pursuits, and it is important to remove those old dams when they are no longer needed or have become unsafe or an impediment to the health of the river or creek that was dammed.

American Rivers, a nonprofit organization is a major advocate of dam removal and maintains a list of dams that have been removed and those still needing to be.

An excerpt.

Dams Slated For Removal In 2006 & Dams Removed From 1999-2005

Horse Creek Dam, Horse Creek, CA: This 12-foot dam is located in the Sisquoc Wild and Scenic River corridor of the Los Padres National Forest. The dam is a complete barrier to the endangered southern steelhead and is being removed to restore access to approximately 13 miles of habitat. Removal is expected to occur sometime in fall 2006. This project was funded in part through the partnership between NOAA Community-based Restoration Program and American Rivers. Contact Steve Rothert, American Rivers, (530) 478-5672,

Zemko Dam, East Branch of Eightmile River, CT: The Zemko Dam, formerly a privately owned structure recently purchased by The Nature Conservancy, is a five-foot high stone and earthen fill structure slated for removal in fall/winter 2006. The removal is expected to restore migratory fish access to historic spawning and nursery habitat for Atlantic salmon, sea lamprey and American eel. The project was funded in part through a partnership between NOAA Community-based Restoration Program and American Rivers. Contact Laura Wildman, American Rivers, (860) 652-9911,

Ballou Dam, Yokum Brook, MA: This 10-foot tall by 50-foot long concrete dam was originally part of a now closed mill complex. At this point essentially abandoned and useless, the dam blocks a cold water trout stream and is a potential salmon restoration site. Ballou Dam is being removed by the town and the project is likely to be partially funded by the Massachusetts Riverways program. It should be completed in late 2006. Contact Jim MacBroom, Milone & MacBroom, (203) 271-1773,

Upper Cook’s Canyon Dam, Galloway Brook, MA: This is a low-hazard 9.5-foot high and 84-foot long earthen berm dam with a concrete and wood control structure. It serves no current purpose and is being removed because of the owner’s liability concerns and also to promote coldwater fish passage. The dam was removed in June 2006. Contact Brian Graber, Massachusetts Riverways, (617) 626-1526,

Robbins Dike Dam, Red Brook, MA: This is an earthen berm dam with a wood control structure. It is estimated to be 5.5 feet high and 100 feet long. Built in the early 1900s, the dam was meant to promote trout spawning in a fishery created by the impoundment. As understanding of fish behavior and spawning habits has improved since those times, the dam is now being removed, likey in fall 2006, because it is a barrier to migratory fish and salt/brook trout. Contact Brian Graber, Massachusetts Riverways, (617) 626-1526,

PPG Rubble Dam, Potomac River, MD: (Cumberland County) The PPG Dam, once owned by the Pittsburg Plate Glass company and now by Allegany County, was originally built to impound water for a pumping station that pumped river water for industrial uses. Today it serves no function and is scheduled for removal in summer or fall 2006. The 10-foot high dam, constructed of boulders, impounds half a mile of the Potomac River and is being removed both to reduce a navigational hazard, thus increasing boating opportunities, and to promote easier passage of American eel. Along with the already-completed Octoraro Dam removal, this removal represents one of the first in Maryland. The project was funded in part through a partnership between NOAA Community-based Restoration Program and American Rivers. Contact Jim Thompson, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, (410) 260-8279,

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Canal Connection Planning, Public Input Needed

The continuation of an important process to help the water supply of California is noted, with calls for public input.

Stockton Record
Article published Jul 27, 2006

Hearings for water plan next week

STOCKTON - The federal government plans to consider the environmental effects of connecting California's two primary water canals and wants public input.

Hearings in Sacramento and Stockton next week will be on subjects addressed in an environmental report for an intertie, or pipeline, that would connect the Delta-Mendota Canal with the California Aqueduct.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's project includes building a pumping plant in a rural area of Alameda County west of Tracy.

The intertie would help meet the state's water needs while providing "operational flexibility" for the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project, according to the agency.

Meetings will be from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesday in cafeteria conference rooms C-1001 and C-1002 at 2800 Cottage Way, Sacramento; and from 6 to 8 p.m. next Thursday in the Stewart-Hazelton Room of the Cesar Chavez Central Library, 605 N. El Dorado St., Stockton.

LA Times on Hetch Hetchy

Good perspective on the ongoing argument about restoring the Hetch Hetchy Valley.

An excerpt.

Undo Hetch Hetchy's Dam Shame
Bay Area folks claim L.A. stole the Owens Valley, but San Francisco has to do some atoning of its own.
By Bill Stall
BILL STALL is a contributing editor to Opinion.
July 27, 2006

SAN FRANCISCANS have long castigated Los Angeles for sneaking into the Owens Valley a century ago and "stealing" its water. But Bay Area folks become apoplectic when anyone suggests tampering with their water supply, the source of which is a far greater infamy than the Owens Valley dust-up.

Early in the 20th century, Los Angeles officials quietly bought up virtually all the private property, and the water rights, in the Owens Valley. As some say, they stole the water fair and square. In hindsight (and now that Mono Lake, upstream from the valley, has been protected), there has even been an unintended environmental benefit: A 60-mile-long recreation mecca, rimmed by 14,000-foot-plus peaks barely touched by development.

There was nothing surreptitious about San Francisco's water grab. Pure power politics forced the Raker Act through Congress in 1913, giving San Francisco the right to dam the Tuolumne River and flood one of the most magnificent valleys anywhere — the seven-mile-long Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite National Park. Since the 1920s, the Hetch Hetchy Valley floor has been covered by more than 300 feet of water behind O'Shaughnessy Dam. By tunnel and pipeline, the water travels 160 miles across the Central Valley and the Pacific Coast Range to the Bay Area. Hydropower generated by the Hetch Hetchy project parallels the aqueducts.

Some have agitated for years to take out the dam and restore Hetch Hetchy Valley. The idea gathered momentum in 1981 when Donald Hodel, who was Ronald Reagan's secretary of the Interior, added his voice. Studies in recent years have indicated that the idea might be feasible. And last week, a survey by the state Department of Water Resources confirmed that it could be done, at a cost of $3 billion to $10 billion.

The report, commissioned by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, does not make a specific recommendation, but it does note what would be gained. "While beauty is a subjective concept, perhaps the most aesthetically striking characteristics of a restored Hetch Hetchy Valley would be the monolithic size of the sheer granite cliffs, the expansiveness of the open space from one side of the valley to the other and the valley's waterfalls that cascade down from impressive heights."

The report states the obvious: Far more study is needed. That would cost $20 million, take several years and involve the federal government. It's a small price to pay for uncovering a state and national treasure. And although you can't put a precise dollar value on a restored Hetch Hetchy, a legislative study quoted in the state report calculated "total annual use benefits" ranging from $15 million a year to $26 million.

Army Corps Reverses Natomas Levee Endorsement

Though this has been known for some time, actually having it become official is a further sad commentary on the performance of public leadership to address one of Sacramento’s major public safety issues.

And while the local flood control agency is feeling some pride about planning for a 200 year level of protection, we would recommend that the 500 year level of protection is sought in the future through support for the building of the Auburn Dam.

An excerpt.

Army engineers criticize levees

Posted on Wed, Jul. 26, 2006

SACRAMENTO (AP) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has withdrawn its endorsement of levees protecting parts of Sacramento, reversing a 1998 evaluation that has facilitated a construction boom in the Natomas area.

In a letter released Tuesday to The Associated Press, the corps' chief engineer in Sacramento attributed the decision to local and federal studies that have unearthed levee vulnerabilities.

''Based on this information, we can no longer support our original position regarding certification of the levee system surrounding the Natomas area,'' wrote Thomas E. Trainer, chief of the engineering division.

The letter was forwarded to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which certified the Natomas levees in light of the corps' 1998 finding the levees provided 100-year flood protection.

The certification led to skyrocketing development of the Natomas area -- a section of the state capital north of downtown that flood experts say could be submerged by at least 13 feet of water if the levees failed.

An area with 100-year protection has a one chance in 100 of flooding in any given year.

If Natomas were to lose its 100-year designation, flood insurance would become mandatory for people with federally insured mortgages, insurance rates would increase, and building restrictions could be implemented.

But local officials described the Corps letter as an expected formality, which they have been told should not change FEMA's current assessment of Natomas.

That's because the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, which commissioned a March study that first identified the gapping weaknesses in the levees, has already begun a $370 million project to upgrade the system to 200-year flood protection. That is twice the protection required by FEMA.

Bike Trail Needs Better Management

A large part of our work focuses on the need for a single nonprofit organization, through contracting with the public agencies (state and county) owning the Parkway, to provide the daily management that has the potential to eliminate this type of degraded care along the entire Parkway bike trail.

It is the type of arrangement that works well with New York’s Central Park and the Sacramento Zoo, and is desperately needed for the Parkway, as this article and the threatened closure of the county part of the Parkway a couple of years ago revealed.

An excerpt.

Trail upkeep has cyclists downcast
By Blair Anthony Robertson -- Bee Staff Writer Published 12:01 am PDT Thursday, July 27, 2006

The eight-mile stretch of the American River bike trail controlled by the state is taking the much-admired wild and scenic experience one step further.

It has become a jungle out there.

And the formula is a simple one: neglect.

Cyclists, runners and walkers who frequent that hilly, curvy, wooded section of the trail these days say they are hard-pressed to find any sign of maintenance or upkeep.

The weeds are overgrown and getting worse, pushing users into a narrow swath in the center of the pavement in some stretches, sometimes along blind curves.

Several overhanging branches force cyclists to duck or be swatted in the face.

And perhaps most alarming of all, the hundreds upon hundreds of cracks in the asphalt have prompted some to begin calling it an eyesore and an embarrassment -- and perhaps a danger zone.

The problems are a distinct contrast to the largely well-run 23-mile lower section of the trail controlled by Sacramento County, where crews are regularly seen with string trimmers and blowers and where weeds are cut back several feet from the wide, decomposed granite shoulders.

The upper section -- from Hazel Avenue to Beals Point and a separate section on the south side of Lake Natoma -- is under the jurisdiction of the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area.

Regular users of those trails have become increasingly frustrated, especially given the entire trail's acclaim as perhaps the region's most-loved recreational facility and one of the finest bike trails in the nation.

"They really need to get out there and be concerned about it. I don't know what's going on," said cyclist Kevin Regan. "There are a couple of spots where the vegetation isn't being cut. It's a hazard and it's getting worse. … There is a risk of a collision."

Smart Meters

A wonderful example of technology and good policy which will benefit everyone except the meter readers, and one hope that other meter based power suppliers are not far behind.

An excerpt.

Daniel Weintraub: New electric meters will give consumers the power
By Daniel Weintraub -- Bee Staff Writer Published 12:01 am PDT Thursday, July 27, 2006

Even as California struggles to keep the lights on and the air conditioners working during a record-breaking heat wave, the state has taken a big step toward ensuring that there is enough juice to go around in the future to serve a growing population.

Regulators at the Public Utilities Commission last week voted to allow Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to install modern electricity meters for all of its customers.

The meters will have many advantages over the old technology. The company will read them remotely, saving millions of dollars in labor costs. The equipment will also help the utility monitor its electricity load and more accurately forecast how much power it needs. And the meters will make it easier to pinpoint the location of outages and to fix them quickly.

The best thing about the new meters, however, is not what they will do for the company but what they will do for customers.

The meters are the first step in letting small businesses and residential customers take control of their electricity usage and save money by using less power during peak hours and more when demand for energy is lower.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Global Warming Lawsuits

This possibility may seem farfetched at this point but so did the tobacco lawsuits in the beginning.

An excerpt.

As world warms, legal battles loom
Wed Jul 26, 2006 8:01am ET Reuters News Service

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO (Reuters) - Heatwaves, droughts and rising seas are likely to spur a spate of hard-to-prove lawsuits in the 21st century as victims seek to blame governments and companies for global warming, experts say.

Pacific islanders might sue to try to prevent their low-lying atolls from vanishing under the waves, African farmers could seek redress for crop failures or owners of ski resorts in the Alps might seek compensation for a lack of snow.

"If the evidence (that humans are warming the globe) hardens up, as it may well do, then it has all the ingredients of the tobacco case," said Myles Allen, of the physics department of the University of Oxford in Britain.

But convincing a judge that a country or a company is liable for a fraction of a global problem caused by greenhouse gases -- the effects of which are widely disputed -- may be difficult.

"The legal profession is only now penetrating these issues," said Roda Verhaugen, co-director of the Climate Justice group which mainly advises plaintiffs. "There have been no large awards of damages but there are an increasing numbers of cases."

About 40 people in France have died in a heatwave in Europe in the past week with sweltering July temperatures also in the United States and Canada. In 2003, about 15,000 people died in France and 20,000 in Italy in a heatwave.

This July's heat may be part of normal, unpredictable weather but many scientists say it fits a pattern of warming linked to a build-up of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels in power plants, factories and cars.

Management Plan for Cosumnes Preserve

It is surprising to learn there has never been one over the 19 years of its existence, but good to hear one is finally being prepared and that the public, who owns the preserve, will be involved.

An excerpt.

Forums to help guide Cosumnes preserve
Long-term plan for river sanctuary looks for public's views.
By Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff Writer Published 12:01 am PDT Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The public is invited to help guide the future of Cosumnes River Preserve near Galt, one of the largest examples of natural floodplain habitat remaining in the Central Valley.

Managers of the 40,000-acre preserve are developing a long-term management plan for the first time in its 19-year history. The plan will guide restoration and recreation activities over the next 10 years.

"The preserve is really important as a regional habitat," said Jaymee Marty, regional ecologist for the Nature Conservancy, which manages the preserve. "It's a place that is protected from development but also allows people to come out and interact and enjoy the natural habitat."

The public process began Monday night with a meeting in Galt. Another meeting happens Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in Elk Grove at the Chapel in the Grove, 8990 Grove St. A third meeting is at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the preserve visitors center, 13501 Franklin Blvd. in Galt.

Guiding Principles & Arena Deals

Looking at the proposed arena deal from the principle, established by law, that it takes a 2/3 majority to approve a tax for a specific purpose, really clarifies the issue. Even though the companion bill attempts to find a way around that requirement, the 2/3 threshold is a sound principle helping to ensure the public isn’t persuaded into approving something not really in their interest, even though pressure from public leadership and private business interests seeks their acquiescence.

An excerpt.

Dan Walters: Even if approved, Kings deal may run afoul of state tax vote law
By Dan Walters -- Bee Columnist Published 12:01 am PDT Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Looking beyond the hype, the deal between Sacramento-area politicians and the Kings basketball team on building a new downtown arena is looking more and more like a giveaway to the team's very wealthy owners, the Maloof family.

Bee columnist Dan Weintraub donned his green eyeshade, examined the deal -- centering on a countywide sales tax -- on how it stacks up in purely economic terms, and figured out that the Maloofs' real contribution to the project is only a fraction of its purported level.

As announced, the team owners would put up more than a quarter of the arena's cost but Weintraub, applying principles that any informed and sophisticated investor in a development project would use, found that counting the team's rent payments as a share of the cost overstates its share by 100 percent. In all likelihood, the Maloofs' share would be closer to 10 percent as they leased the stadium for $4 million a year, less than what they're paying just one front-line player. And for that relatively paltry sum, the Kings would be entitled to retain all revenues the arena might generate.

The deal's legal underpinning may be just as shaky as its financial basis because it would rely on a tricky, two-pronged vote of local voters that may violate the state constitution. Even if successful at the polls -- and that's dubious, according to recent polls in the Sacramento area -- the Kings deal would be challenged in court as violating a 1996 constitutional amendment aimed at making it more difficult to pass single-purpose tax increases.

Proposition 13, enacted in 1978, required that while local taxes for general government purposes could be approved by simple-majority margins of voters, any "special taxes" would require two-thirds votes. Local government officials tested ways of getting around the higher threshold for single-purpose levies and hit upon a two-measure strategy, asking voters to approve a general tax in one and in a companion measure to declare how the tax proceeds would be used.

A two-part tax proposal passed in 1996 by Santa Clara County voters, aimed at increasing spending on local transportation projects, became the test case of the strategy. In 1998, a state appellate court declared that the measures were legal under Proposition 13 -- a decision that was left untouched by the state Supreme Court.

Backers of the Kings deal are citing the 1998 decision as validating their plan to place two measures on the November ballot, one a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax in Sacramento County and the other a measure to direct that about half of the tax be used to underwrite the Kings arena.

The problem with that contention, however, is that in the same 1996 election in which the Santa Clara package was approved, California voters endorsed a statewide measure, Proposition 218, that, among other things, tightened up the requirement for two-thirds votes on special taxes, and that law could thwart the Kings deal.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Public Funding: An Arena or Other Pressing Needs?

One of the questions in the recently released arena deal was if the arena backers presented accurate information to the public in their initial news release announcing the deal; and subsequent reporting indicated they didn’t.

So far the county’s response to that discrepancy is "It's one way it [financial information] can be presented; it's not the only way,".

The public is going to need accurate and clearly-stated financial information to make an informed decision involving a huge chunk of local public funding, (particularly when so many other needs, including flood protection and public safety, are obvious) and deserves such from public leadership.

An excerpt.

Board votes today on arena
Big public turnout seen for pivotal county test
By Terri Hardy and Mary Lynne Vellinga -- Bee Staff Writers Published 12:01 am PDT Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Sacramento County supervisors will likely face a large crowd today when they decide whether to let the Kings arena proposal move forward.

Technically, the vote to put the measure on the November ballot isn't scheduled until Aug. 2. But the five-member board must first muster at least four votes today to introduce the ordinance.

The second vote is considered a formality, since the outcome will likely be identical.
Discussion of the arena proposal is scheduled to begin at 11:15 a.m. in the supervisors chambers at 700 H St.

"If you don't have enough votes to introduce the ordinance," Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson said Monday, "obviously you don't go any further."

Dickinson, who helped craft the financing proposal, which relies on a new, quarter-cent sales tax, said he is "optimistic" that at least three of his four colleagues will join him in voting to put the measure before voters.

He predicted a big public turnout today.

"People are obviously tuned into this, they're energized, and they're quite passionate," he said.

On the pro-arena side, Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof on Friday sent out a mass e-mail to fans urging them to contact their supervisors and inviting them to attend today's hearing.

Opponents also geared up. State Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, who built his political career in part by opposing public funding for an arena, cut short his vacation to hold a news conference Monday.

"I'm opposed to over a half-billion dollar handout to billionaire sports team owners," Jones said, flanked by about 30 activists. "Pro basketball is big business and they should invest in their business like everyone else. They shouldn't look for handouts."

The news conference was held at the corner of L and Sixth streets, near the site where 19-year-old Eric Anthony Young Jr. was shot and killed June 11. Jones said the site was chosen to illustrate existing community problems that could use more taxpayer funds: police protection, flood control, affordable housing, and better parks and schools.

One participant in Jones' conference was Rhonda Erwin, a Sacramento activist pushing for youth violence prevention.

"Forty young people have been murdered this year," Erwin said, holding a sign with their names and ages. "Where are our priorities?"

Jones said the arena proposal, as outlined by the negotiating team, was misleading, inflating the Maloofs' contribution as either 26 percent or 30 percent, depending on the building's cost.

The negotiating team didn't discount the value of lease payments the Maloofs will make 20 or 30 years in the future -- a standard accounting practice.

"Their participation is really about 10 percent," Jones said. "The team owners are not participating in any truly meaningful way."

Others who have analyzed the proposal say the Maloofs will contribute from 12 percent to 15 percent of the arena's cost -- once the money that they plan to pay in the future is evaluated at its worth today. That amount stacks up favorably to owner contributions in arena deals in similar markets such as Memphis, Indianapolis and Charlotte, N.C., said Paul Hahn, the county's economic development director.

This is the case regardless of whether the Maloof contribution is counted in "present" or future terms, he said.

"It's one way it can be presented; it's not the only way," Hahn said.

Crown Jewel Wilderness

It looks like another California crown jewel is being created in this new wilderness bill for the North Coast, surely one of the most beautiful areas in the world.

An excerpt.

House approves North Coast wilderness bill
By David Whitney -- Bee Washington Bureau Published 12:01 am PDT Tuesday, July 25, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The House agreed to a compromise North Coast wilderness bill Monday, clearing the way on a voice vote for Senate acceptance of the deal whose centerpiece is a long coastal stretch of the King Range National Conservation Area south of Eureka.

That 42,585-acre expanse will become the "crown jewel" of the Bureau of Land Management's wilderness holdings, the agency said in supporting the legislation sponsored by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena.

Thompson's office said the deal sliced about 25,000 acres from his original legislation, bringing the total amount of federal lands under tougher wilderness protection to about 273,000 acres.

In addition to the King Range, most of the new additions are in the Mendocino and Six Rivers national forests. The bill also creates 51,000 acres for off-road vehicles and mountain biking on BLM land in the Cow Creek area of Mendocino.

Thompson said on the House floor that the legislation took five years of "exhaustive work" with Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, the state's two Democratic senators. The Senate had twice passed the larger version of the bill and now must agree to the compromise before it can go to President Bush for his signature.

"This is a collaborative effort," said Thompson, noting that commissioners in Lake, Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties were involved in the process, along with user groups, environmentalists and landowners throughout the areas.

Hydro Power the Difference

One of the major reasons we didn’t have rolling blackouts yesterday was an ample supply of hydro electricity due to a wet winter, but in winters that aren’t so wet, having the Auburn Dam would still have helped.

The point is that all of these things (locally and statewide); flood protection, protecting the integrity of the Parkway, and adequate power for a growing population, are all part of our infrastructure, and we fail to keep it able to deal with problems we know arise regularly at our own peril.

Thinking optimally in those areas of the most easily determined, and most highly prioritized areas of the public good; disaster planning, flood protection, adequate power, protection of our natural resources, and protection from crime will allow us to feel secure and focus our energy on what else needs doing.

Public leadership operating from a Maslow hierarchy of needs for the public sector would be a boon to basic infrastructure care.

An excerpt.

Deja vu: State tries to stretch energy supply
By Dale Kasler -- Bee Staff Writer Published 12:01 am PDT Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Five years after the energy crisis petered out, California was back in dangerous territory Monday: trying to stretch a thin supply of electricity across an overheated state.

The state avoided planned "rolling" blackouts, but there were scattered outages because of equipment malfunctions. And officials did cut power to some "interruptible" customers -- industrial users who get lower rates in return.

All in all, the continuing heat wave and desperate calls for conservation demonstrated that California's power supply remains precarious.

One industry official, Gary Ackerman of the Western Power Trading Forum, said the situation would be far worse if not for the wet winter, which created a generous supply of hydroelectricity.

Otherwise, "we'd be lights out," he said. "The only reason we're staying alive is, we're having a very good hydro year."

The problem is simple supply and demand. Although the state has increased its generating capacity by about 10 percent since 2001, a strong economy and growing population have ratcheted up energy consumption. Peak usage is about 20 percent higher than it was in 2001, when Californians were first introduced to rolling blackouts, said Sean Gallagher, director of the energy division at the state Public Utilities Commission.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Beyond Environmentalism

Writing from within the environmental movement, these authors (who also wrote the essay “The Death of Environmentalism”, at continue to create controversy with their ideas, which will be fleshed out in a new book this fall.

An excerpt.

Death Warmed Over
Beyond Environmentalism: imagining possibilities as large as the crisis that confronts us.

By Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus

James Howard Kuntstler begins The Long Emergency, his new book warning that the world is running out of oil, by quoting psychologist Carl Jung as saying, “People cannot stand too much reality.”

The quote is wrongly attributed. It was T. S. Eliot who said, “Humankind cannot stand too much reality.” But the quote and the Jungian slip speak volumes about Kuntsler and kindred, well-intentioned progressive authors. Like Jared Diamond’s Collapse, which purports to explain why once-powerful societies are driven into extinction, and Tom Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas, which faulted Kansans for failing to grasp their own economic self-interest, Kuntsler’s book contends that the ignorant masses are suffering from what the left used to call false-consciousness—in this case, about energy consumption. For the people to be saved, they presumably must let go of their irrational consumer, religious, or ideological fantasies and start recognizing their true self-interest.

When this kind of condescension fails to induce the desired behavior change, environmentalists and liberals become angry or bewildered and see the public as irrational, in denial, or just plain foolish. Which reminds us of something Jung actually did say: “If one does not understand a person, one tends to regard him as a fool.”


The latest news from the evolution lobby.

An excerpt.

And the Evolutionary Beat Goes On . . .
By Shankar VedantamWashington Post Staff Writer

Monday, July 24, 2006; A07

Stephen Jay Gould would have been pleased.

No, not about his mug shot at the endpoint of evolution in the illustration above, but about the growing evidence that evolution is not just real but is actually happening to human beings right now.

"From 1970 to 2000, there was a widespread view that although natural selection is very important, it is relatively rare," said Jonathan Pritchard, a geneticist at the University of Chicago. "That view was driven largely because we did not have data to identify the signals of natural selection. . . . In the last five years or so, there has been a tremendous growth in our understanding of how much selection there is."

That insight has only deepened as scientists have gained the ability to read the entire human genome, the chain of "letters" that spell out humanity's genetic identity.

"Signals of natural selection are incredibly widespread across the human genome," Pritchard said. "Everywhere we look, there appears to be very widespread signals of natural selection in many genes and many processes."

Pritchard helped write a recent paper that identified some of those changes. The paper was published in the public access journal PLoS Biology.

Wetlands Ruling

It does appear, after decades of a somewhat foolish focus on whether a pond in a farmer’s field is part of the navigable waters of the nation, thus subject to Federal control, the court is restoring some sensible balance to one of the environmental laws responsible for helping clean up the environment that has also, when used inappropriately, played such havoc with business and home life.

An excerpt.

Another view: Wetlands ruling won't harm Clean Water Act
By Reed Hopper -- Special to The Bee Published 12:01 am PDT Monday, July 24, 2006

Reed Hopper is responding to the editorial "High and dry court / Wetlands ruling threatens Clean Water Act," which appeared July 1. Hopper is an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented John Rapanos in his case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Reach Hopper at Web site:

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declared federal authority does not reach every pond, puddle and ditch in the nation. Now some -- such as The Bee -- argue this ruling undercuts the Clean Water Act and threatens wetlands conservation. But that argument goes too far. While the court in its Rapanos ruling decided remote water bodies are off-limits to federal regulators, it did not prohibit federal regulation of all wetlands. Nor is the Clean Water Act the only, or even the primary, means of wetlands protection.

According to the federal Council on Environmental Quality, the Clean Water Act avoids impacts to 9,000 wetland acres a year. In contrast, the council reports wetlands have actually increased nationally by more than 580,000 acres in two years through other federal and state programs in cooperation with landowners, and another 1 million acres have been improved or preserved. That certainly puts things in perspective.

Likewise, assertions that the court is one justice away from overturning three decades of environmental law are misleading.

In 30 years of enforcement, the government never adopted a consistent interpretation of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. Whereas the act authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate discharges into the "navigable waters," these agencies claimed authority over dry storm drains, remote man-made ditches, small ponds, mudflats and even ripples in desert sands where water rarely flows.

Flood Insurance

Requiring all homeowners, as car owners are now, to have general disaster liability insurance on their homes, might be a public policy discussion that should begin at some point, rather than just requiring it for those who live in flood or earthquake zones.

However, extra premium could be factored in for those who do live in such zones, just as car insurance now is for teens and others most apt to have accidents.

An excerpt.

Editorial: Prepped for a deluge?
Mixed news on local flood insurance

Published 12:01 am PDT Monday, July 24, 2006

When most of Sacramento was dropped from FEMA's official 100-year flood plain last year, authorities feared that thousands of property owners would cancel their flood insurance policies, which had been mandatory up to that point.

A mass exodus from the flood insurance program would have left Sacramento, as well as individual homeowners, extremely vulnerable during a flood. Without any insurance, homeowners would face a total loss of their possessions and be unable to rebuild.

To keep people insured, the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency launched a public information campaign last year, helped by a $162,000 federal grant. SAFCA notified nearly 50,000 affected property owners that, because of the change in floodplain maps, they could obtain "preferred risk policies" at a cheaper cost than their previous flood coverage.

The campaign, combined with powerful images of New Orleans flooding, has worked -- at least up to a point. SAFCA reports that, as of March, about 74 percent of affected parcel owners in Sacramento had retained flood insurance. The bad news is that only 14,781 of the 34,466 parcel owners retaining insurance had purchased the cheaper preferred risk policies.

The rest have retained their standard policies, meaning they are paying much more than they need to.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Principle of Open Public Debate

The principle of open public debate grounds our country’s freedom and it needs expression around all of those issues, like this one, that require large public expenditures and a major shift in public policy.

Another debate sharing this principle, perhaps even at a greater level of importance, is the one around flood protection and central to that discussion is the question of the Auburn Dam, the only proposal yet presented that provides 500 year flood protection to Sacramento.

An excerpt.

Editorial: An arena proposal opens the way for a debate
Put it on the ballot, questions and all, then get all details to voters ASAP
Published 12:01 am PDT Sunday, July 23, 2006

After years of falling short, local political leaders and the Sacramento Kings finally have come up with a proposal to pay for a new arena. In the coming weeks, county supervisors should vote to put it on the November ballot. Then it will be time for the heavy lifting: explaining and selling this deal to a wary public.

The proposal calls for presenting voters with two ballot measures. One would increase the county's sales tax by a quarter-cent for the next 15 years. The second would suggest -- but not require -- spending about half this money (more if there are cost overruns) on a downtown arena. The rest would be distributed for community projects throughout the county.

The deal is structured loosely because an unrestricted increase in the sales tax requires only majority support of the voters. A sales tax increase specifically dedicated to an arena would require two-thirds support to pass.

The Kings and the county did not write the rules of this election game. Thanks to voter-approved initiatives and court decisions, it is easier for voters to cut blank checks to governments than make them obey a spending plan. A local taxpayer group is already howling about this proposal because of its blank-check nature. Too bad such groups also have opposed tax reforms to make the system more sensible.

For now, political backers of this deal, such as county Supervisor Roger Dickinson and Sacramento Vice Mayor Rob Fong, are the lone masters of the complicated details. But the deal ultimately must speak for itself. The public will want to understand how much of the tab it and the Maloofs respectively will pay, and if the deal is fair. So far, that's unclear.

Gold Rush Park Champion

We couldn’t agree more. This park project is one of the most exciting plans to be presented to Sacramento’s public leadership in many years and surely there will be someone among them who will shortly leap to a leadership role for it.

An excerpt.

Editorial: Awaiting a champion
City Council members take note: Bold river park vision needs insider champions

Published 12:01 am PDT Sunday, July 23, 2006

Stop and think about this for a moment. What makes Sacramento so special? What are its signatures?

Any short list will have its parks. Land Park. Curtis Park. McKinley Park. The American River Parkway.

Now a historic chance has come to add a landmark park to this system, a park that could define the city more than any other. The idea is to create Sacramento's version of a Central Park, a breathtaking greenbelt that ties downtown to the Sacramento and American rivers. Backers call it Gold Rush Park. We're not so crazy about the name. But by any name, this is one of the boldest ideas we've come across in a while.

Some influential citizens are advancing this idea. They have commissioned polls, renderings and maps. It is time for those inside City Hall to take this seriously. The new park awaits a new champion.

We note that the Sacramento City Council has nine members. Any member would suffice. All would be better.

Questionable Figures?

The biggest question here is. “Did the public officials promoting this deal merely overlook the obvious discrepancy clarified by this column, or did they misrepresent it?”

We will probably find out soon enough, but again, it is important that others are examining these public policy issues so that when we finally vote on it, we will be doing so with access to the proper amount of information to make an informed decision.

An excerpt.

Daniel Weintraub: Arena deal exaggerates payments by Kings
By Daniel Weintraub -- Bee Columnist Published 12:01 am PDT Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sacramento's civic leaders were giddy last week with news they had brokered a deal with the NBA's Sacramento Kings to build a downtown arena that would keep the team in the state capital for another 30 years.

The centerpiece of the deal was described as the Kings' commitment to pay 26 percent to 30 percent of the arena's cost, with the rest of the money coming from a quarter-cent sales tax that the voters will be asked to approve in November.

But for people who are skeptical of using public money for private gain, including sports venues, the folks promoting this deal got off to a bad start, because their description of the Kings' contribution is wildly inflated. The project's promoters either don't understand basic economics, or they are trying to fool the public. Either way, their misrepresentation of the terms should raise questions about the entire arrangement.

The Kings will not be paying anywhere close to 30 percent of the cost of building the arena. They won't be paying even half that much.

Here's the problem: The deal's sponsors are comparing two very different kinds of numbers. One is the upfront cost of building the arena, which will fall entirely on the taxpayers. The other is the Kings' contribution to the project, which will be spread over 30 years.

Anyone who has ever bought a house and didn't pay cash knows that you cannot simply add up a stream of monthly payments over 30 years to equal the cost of the home you are going to buy.

You have to figure in the interest.

Water Study Questions

One of the really great things about living in the United States is the level of questions that arise over public issues, and this story illustrates that well.

Here we have a supposedly impartial public policy research institution that has put out a very questionable report that appears to be built more on ideological issues than facts; the type of study which too often drives public policy debate, and that hurts us all.

The bottom line is that we all have to do more of our own homework about those issues that are important to us and which we are called upon to make decisions about, and in the age of the internet that type of personal research is that much easier.

An excerpt.

Dan Walters: Convoluted study finds residential water crisis where none exists
By Dan Walters -- Bee ColumnistPublished 12:01 am PDT Sunday, July 23, 2006

California has no shortage of critical political and public issues -- public education, traffic congestion, housing costs and medical care, to name but a few. Too much green grass isn't one of them, despite the assertions of a new think-tank study.

Ellen Hanak, an economist at the Public Policy Institute of California, would have us believe that as population grows, lawns and other residential greenery will consume inordinately high amounts of water.

"Do the math," Hanak said in a statement accompanying release of her study. "We're facing the prospect of many more people, with more lawns and gardens, in the state's hottest, driest regions; that adds up to a lot of water."

Hanak's math, framed in complex equations based on assumptions about population growth, housing patterns and water use, works like this: Urban water use in 2000 was about 9 million acre-feet, a fifth of the water devoted to human use in the state, with 6 million acre-feet of that consumed in residential households and perhaps half of the household use outdoors. Bottom line: somewhere between 2.5 million and 3 million acre-feet used to maintain residential greenery each year.

Hanak then expostulates that population growth -- 11 million more Californians over the next quarter- century -- higher-than-average growth in hot and dry inland areas, and the tendency for inland growth to be single-family homes rather than apartments or condominiums will increase demand for outdoor water, but never calculates how much that demand will be in the aggregate other than "a lot of water."

Despite the dearth of quantification, Hanak launches into a series of policy suggestions to curb the demand, clearly intimating that inlanders are water hogs whose thirst needs to be curbed. She disparages the large lots found in inland residential tracts, approvingly cites denser multifamily housing in the coastal areas, and even suggests that California follow Las Vegas' water conservation model.

"A lot of water" is a less than satisfactory basis for policy decisions (at another point Hanak refers to her calculations as "only a guesstimate"), so let's round out the water numbers.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Chamber Backs Dam

The suffering from flooding would affect the region and it is appropriate that the region be involved in flood protection, and it is most appropriate that the business community, through the Sacramento Metro Chamber provides needed leadership around this issue.

Any work to provide flood protection needs to center around optimal flood protection, and that can only be provided by the Auburn Dam, a realization slowly dawning on everyone involved as all of the information becomes available and analyzed.

An excerpt.

Levees need regional effort, chamber told
Flood effects on counties would differ, but coordination is a must, water official says.
By Deb Kollars -- Bee Staff Writer Published 12:01 am PDT Saturday, July 22, 2006

Some river levees are getting fixed this summer, but Sacramento remains the nation's most flood-vulnerable large city and needs the support of the entire six-county region to deal with it, a top state water official told members of the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce on Friday.

As he spoke, Lester Snow, director of California's Department of Water Resources, showed the audience a large projected image of homes under water with a helicopter hovering in the foreground.

"This is a scene from Katrina," Snow said, referring to the hurricane that caused widespread flooding along the Gulf Coast late last summer. "We can have this in our community if we don't take action. … We've got a higher risk than New Orleans."

Snow addressed more than 320 business and government leaders attending the chamber's annual "State of the Counties" forum at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento on L Street. The chamber has made flood protection its top public policy priority this year, and devoted Friday's lunch and forum to the topic.

Snow told the group that a 200-year flood -- a dangerous event with a 1-in-200 chance of happening in any given year -- could create an estimated $28 billion calamity for the region. Many communities in Sacramento and the Central Valley do not have protection from even a 100-year event, he said.

It is critical, Snow said, that a proposed $4.15 billion bond measure for levee repairs be passed by California voters in November.

Frank Washington, chair of the chamber's board of directors, said that even though 29 severe erosion sites on Central Valley levees are being repaired this summer and fall, much more work needs to be done to protect the region, including making improvements at Folsom Dam and creating more storage upstream on the American River via a new dam near Auburn. He also emphasized the need for land use decisions that take flood risks into account.

"Our greatest challenges still lie ahead," Washington said. "We cannot hide our heads in a levee."

Illegal Camping Tickets

It is sad to read of the troubles afflicting homeless people, but it is encouraging to see the laws against illegal camping enforced as it is a terrible blight upon the quality of life of a community, and has wrecked havoc on the Lower Reach of the Parkway for years.

Hopefully this new focus on enforcement will remain, and we also hope that the Housing First policy we suggested in our report on the Lower Reach at , which has been approved by Sacramento City Council as their preferred approach also, soon becomes reality, as it will provide housing for the homeless and reduce illegal camping significantly.

An excerpt.

Homeless vow to fight tickets
Citations for illegal camping inspire bid to challenge fairness of city ordinance.
By Jocelyn Wiener -- Bee Staff Writer Published 12:01 am PDT Saturday, July 22, 2006

Sitting outside the courtroom of the Carol Miller Justice Center on Friday afternoon, Connie Hopson -- 53 years old, disabled and homeless -- prepared for a fight.

"I'm going as far as they let me go," she said. "I'm not giving up until the fat lady sings." She chuckled a little. "And I'm not singing."

Around her, 20 homeless people clutched their crumpled tickets and waited for their turns in court. Most were preparing to make the same statement Hopson had made. In response to citations they received last month for camping illegally, each had two carefully chosen words: not guilty.

"We've got to speak up for ourselves," Hopson explained. "Nobody's going to do it for us."

One at at time -- in between people in Department 81 for traffic violations -- they stood in front of Judge Ann Bravo. Most, like Hopson, were prepared to go to trial to challenge the underlying premise of an ordinance they consider deeply unfair.

Around 5:30 a.m. on June 29, several police officers pulled up in the industrial neighborhood around the Loaves & Fishes homeless services center and ticketed about 50 homeless people for camping illegally, advocates say.

Many were still stretched out, asleep in their sleeping bags and bedrolls. Some were smoking a morning cigarette waiting for the center to open.

The controversy over penalizing homeless people for camping illegally is not new to Sacramento. But, with a trial date now set for Aug. 29, the debate over the ordinance appears to be picking up steam. At that time, the homeless campers will be allowed to testify, call witnesses and hear the testimony of the officers who ticketed them, said Diane Howard, a supervising attorney with the county public defender's office.

Law enforcement and city and county officials have said the trash and excrement homeless people sometimes leave behind when they camp is intolerable to residents and businesses. They worry about health issues and say people visiting neighborhoods where the homeless camp often feel unsafe.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Gardening Book Review

This is a great review of a wonderful book, with much to say about nature, humans and the relation; here is a quote: “If human beings are themselves part of the natural world, then our efforts to modify that world are not interference, but a higher expression of its energy and order. The garden is the point where nature and human nature intersect and interact, producing something that is natural and artificial, intelligent and inanimate, all at once.”

An excerpt.

Gardening As Spirituality
BY ADAM KIRSCHJuly 19, 2006


Hobbyists beware: "The Passionate Gardener" (McPherson and Company,340 pages,$30) is a guide to raising flowers in the same way that "Moby Dick" is an instruction manual for hunting whales.

Yes, there is plenty of botanical knowledge packed into this teeming, rhapsodic, deeply humane book. Rudolf Borchardt, a German novelist, dramatist, and translator who died in 1945, was clearly an expert gardener, and his pages are strewn with practical advice: what type of soil a rhododendron needs ("free from chalk, and decidedly acidic"); what kinds of leaves should never be used as compost ("All remains from conifers, which are saturated with tannin, and poplar and plane-tree leaves ... are excluded"); how to separate weeds from seedlings ("two of the fingers of the left hand gently hold the plant itself to the ground").

But Borchardt is more than a gardener: He has that love for the mere names of flowers that betrays the obsessive and the poet. He lists breeds in Homeric catalogs, as though naming were a form of possession: "Aster gracilis, with the light of the face of a child, Salvia carduacca, the phantom sage, sand phlox and lily bushes build flickering groups and lead the way to white and yellow prickly poppies, to the yellow horned poppy, to the horned poppy in dark ochre, the sand thistle which ripens blue, the ragwort that ripens white ..." One does not need to be able to recognize all these flowers to share Borchardt's verbal intoxication. Blossoms transmuted into language have a seductive power of their own, as poets have known since Shakespeare wrote Perdita's speech in "The Winter's Tale":

daffodils,That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty; violets dim,
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes
Or Cytherea's breath; pale primroses
That die unmarried, ere they can behold
Bright Phoebus in his strength — a malady
Most incident to maids; bold oxlips and
The crown imperial; lilies of all kinds,
The flower-de-luce being one!

It is in the same scene that Shakespeare proposes the paradox that "The Passionate Gardener" sets out to explore.

For the flowers we tend to see as the jewels of nature are in fact the product of human cunning: They are the result of hundreds or thousands of years of deliberate, selective interference with nature.

Breeding flowers, as Shakespeare says, "is an art / Which does mend nature, change it rather."

Yet as he goes to insist, "the art itself is nature."

If human beings are themselves part of the natural world, then our efforts to modify that world are not interference, but a higher expression of its energy and order. The garden is the point where nature and human nature intersect and interact, producing something that is natural and artificial, intelligent and inanimate, all at once.