Saturday, September 30, 2006

Klamath Salmon

The fate of the salmon, and the dams, on the Klamath gets closer to resolution.

An excerpt.

Dam ruling supports fish on Klamath
By Matt Weiser - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PDT Friday, September 29, 2006

A federal judge ruled Wednesday there is ample evidence that salmon will benefit from improved access to the Klamath River, a decision that some believe may ultimately lead to removal of dams on the river.

The ruling came in an administrative hearing process over the relicensing of four Klamath River Dams owned by PacifiCorp, based in Portland.

At the hearings, held in Sacramento in August, PacifiCorp contested a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service order that fish ladders be installed on the dams. The company argued there isn't sufficient habitat to benefit the fish. It proposed instead a trap-and-haul operation, in which migrating fish would be trucked around the dams.

But the ruling by Administrative Law Judge Parlen McKenna, based in Alameda, supported the Fish and Wildlife Service on many key points.

The ruling does not specifically endorse fish ladders. But the judge concluded that ladders would open 58 miles of suitable habitat, benefiting salmon and other fish, and that fish are available to repopulate those areas. McKenna also concluded that current dam operations harm fish by restricting their movements and killing them in unscreened turbines.

The ruling means the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is likely to impose fish ladders as a condition of dam relicensing, said Craig Tucker, spokesman for the Karuk Tribe, which owns land along the river.

But because building ladders is probably more expensive than simply demolishing the dams, he argues, the end result of the Mc-Kenna's ruling could be dam removal.

"The scientific argument for fish passage now is overwhelming," said Tucker. "This is a big boost for dam-removal efforts."

The Fish and Wildlife Service also cheered the ruling. Its demands for other improvements to benefit trout and lamprey in the river were also upheld by the judge.

"We look forward to starting the restoration of this amazing river so that future generations may enjoy this important and vital natural resource," Steve Thompson, Fish and Wildlife Service regional manager, said in a statement.

PacifiCorp spokesman Dave Kvamme, however, said the ruling will not necessarily lead to a fish ladder requirement, because the relicensing process must consider the cost to the company and its ratepayers.

The company plans to continue pushing for its trap-and-haul option, he said, along with a proposal to test salmon reintroduction in suitable areas above the dams.

"That said, we're disappointed with many findings of the judge, and we don't agree with them," Kvamme said. "The judge didn't have to address costs in his ruling, and he doesn't, but the next steps are designed to do that."

The Klamath River was once home to the third-biggest salmon runs on the West Coast. But dams, water diversions and pollution have reduced those runs to the brink of collapse.

Water Letters

Good group of letters today on water issues.

A sampling.

Letters: Water, PG&E, spinach, etc.

Army Corps hasn't made its case
- Published 12:00 am PDT Saturday, September 30, 2006

Re "A lamentable loss," Sept. 23: This editorial indicated The Bee supports a "traditional levee" as the safest option for the Mayhew levee project. This conclusion is premature at best.
In 2002, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed to the Butterfield-Riviera East community the use of a floodwall to spare two of the heritage oaks that would need to be removed for a conventional levee. In 2003, staff of the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA) proposed the use of a floodwall partially screened with dirt to spare all three of the heritage oaks. SAFCA staff said that the corps had accepted that design.

Now, in 2006, the corps has reversed course and announced that it would only certify a conventional levee for FEMA 100-year flood protection. Clearly, this decision must rest on fairly subtle details. The corps has not released the final environmental document for the project, or any technical justification for the FEMA certification decision. There have been serious technical errors in some previous corps documents on the project. It is premature and prejudicial to agree that the corps decision is correct until the supporting documents are released and scrutinized by the public.

- James Morgan, Sacramento

What worked in New Orleans

Re "A lamentable loss," Sept. 23: The editorial laments the loss of three large oak trees in the American River Parkway adjacent to the Mayhew levee that will be removed when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers installs a new, wider, higher earthen levee instead of using a partially screened T-wall floodwall in the area of these trees. (To put it simply, the T-wall looks like the letter T upside down, with the bottom buried in the subsurface.) The editorial notes the failure of floodwalls in New Orleans and states that a traditional levee would be safer.

Actually, it was traditional levees, broader than those proposed for Mayhew, and I-wall type floodwalls (they look like the letter I) that failed. The T-wall type of floodwall did not fail in the New Orleans area. In fact, the corps is installing T-walls in that area to increase flood protection in a number of places. It has always been the hope that if the corps installed a section of properly engineered T-wall as part of the new Mayhew levee system, it would not only save three large oaks, plus other trees and plants, and preserve more of the parkway, but it would also, and most importantly, offer equal or better flood protection.

- Joseph O'Connor, Sacramento

Run river

Re "San Joaquin revival," Sept. 27: I appreciated this editorial on the San Joaquin River agreement that asks whether the restoration will work. As one of the team of scientists who designed the proposed flow regime, I naturally think the answer is yes, although for a smaller version of the original river. One constraint on the design was that, realistically, we could only have as much water as has been used for environmental flows in other diverted rivers.

It is important to recognize that the restoration of the San Joaquin is about much more than salmon. The return to a living river will result in return of native fishes, the creation of habitats for songbirds, native plants and other animals, the enhancement of fisheries and all the amenities that a flowing river provides for the human residents of California. The price tag for bringing back the river seems high, but this is the cost of fixing a long-neglected channel using relatively small amounts of water. With higher flows, this price tag would likely be lower because of the self-healing properties of a natural flow regime. Once the river is flowing again, the costs of restoration will seem trivial compared to the benefits.

- Peter B. Moyle, Davis

California Wilderness Bill

Some beautiful areas, especially the Lost Coast, included in this bill.

An excerpt.

Senate passes North Coast wilderness bill
Push to protect 273,000 acres gets wide support, sent to Bush.
By David Whitney - Bee Washington BureauPublished 12:00 am PDT Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Senate unanimously approved Friday a 273,000-acre North Coast wilderness bill, ending a five-year campaign that began in controversy and ended Friday on a unanimous voice vote.
The legislation now goes to President Bush for his expected signature.

Called the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Act, the measure would designate Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands in Napa, Lake, Humboldt, Mendocino and Del Norte counties as federal wilderness.

Among the major additions is more than 42,000 acres of BLM land in the King Range National Conservation Area, a stretch of coastal lands along Northern California's famed Lost Coast that the BLM said would be the crown jewel of its wilderness holdings.

Article on Blogs

For our blog readers, an interesting article on blogs.

An excerpt.

Going to the blogs
By Mehul Srivastava - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PDT Saturday, September 30, 2006

Three years ago, Jonathon Lockwood, a real estate agent in Cameron Park, decided there had to be a better way to drive potential clients to his Web site. Falling back on his past training as a software engineer, he launched his own blog.

It was 2003, and most folks hadn't heard of a blog. But every day or so, he put up a new post, talking about the intricacies of real estate.

Before long, he had cornered the market on some pretty spectacular real estate -- of the virtual kind. Now, when anyone Googles "Sacramento Real Estate" on the Web, it's Lockwood's Web site that typically pops up first.

"My take on it is that a blog is not a money-making tool in itself, but is a way to push content to the Web site and attract search engines," he said. Lockwood said he now gets most of his prospective clients through the Internet, and sometimes has so many that he's able to pass on -- or sell -- the referrals to colleagues.

But what Lockwood has done is pretty rare, especially in Sacramento, where local businesses seem to be taking only tentative steps into the blogosphere.

"There are several people who are blogging -- but I would not call any successful," said Gopan Madathil, who heads the local tech networking group TechCoire. "In my view, Sacramento is yet to have a true (business) blog that people really read and go to."

Nationally, though, blogs are increasingly being tapped by businesses seeking to build their brands with customers and clients by going beyond mere Web sites.

They're still only a blip on the blogging scene, however. Of the estimated 25 million to 35 million blogs in the United States, only 5 percent are business-related, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Parkway Upgrades

A long over-due project is finally getting done with this addition. Good job by the Nature Center!

An excerpt.

Parkway pointers
New signs explain history, geology, flora and fauna along the American River
By Edgar Sanchez - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PDT Thursday, September 28, 2006

Users of the American River Parkway are learning new details about their beautiful surroundings.

Thirteen signs with information about the history, geology, flora and fauna have been installed in recent months along a 23-mile stretch of the trail, from near Discovery Park to Hazel Avenue.

One of the latest signs went up about two weeks ago, in front of a newly created habitat for a protected beetle species, on the east side of Discovery Park, near South Natomas.

"The idea is to educate people as they use the bike trail -- to make it fun to stop in certain locations and learn along the way," Steve Flannery, park ranger supervisor for the Sacramento County Department of Regional Parks, said last week.

Sign design and text were developed by staff members of the Effie Yeaw Nature Center, in Ancil Hoffman Park. The signs -- described as "interpretative" by Effie Yeaw officials -- contain photos donated by nature center staff members and area residents.

"An interpretative sign points out things that people might see, hear or smell at a site and, hopefully, bring that alive," Marilee Flannery, director of the Effie Yeaw center, told The Bee in March before the first signs were posted.

Flannery, the wife of park ranger supervisor Steve Flannery, said interpretive signs can be thought- provoking.

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

People who take the time to read the new signs are finding it rewarding.

Oil Drilling, Boiling Mud, & Pompeii

From Java, this report.

An excerpt.

28 September, 2006

Java: eruption of boiling mud, a “new Pompei”
by Mathias Hariyadi

For four months, millions of cubic metres of boiling mud have been flowing around the whereabouts of Porong; entire villages have already been submerged and 10,000 people displaced. Geologists have warned of a possible eruption similar to that of Pompei.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The Indonesian government will have to transfer around 3,000 families from Porong (eastern Java), whose homes have been flooded by a boiling mudflow gushing out of the drill of a gas exploration field. The authorities must also channel the mud to the sea to prevent further destruction, the Minister for Public Works, Djoko Kirmanto, said yesterday.

The President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, declared the area of 400 stricken hectares as a “disaster zone”. Meanwhile, experts have warned about the possible risk of volcanic eruption similar to that in Pompei.

Since 29 May, boiling mud has been gushing out of a fault created in the drilling well of the firm Lapindo Brantas in Porong, Sidoarjo regency, province of eastern Java. The mud comes from a depth of around 6km at a rate of around 50,000 cubic metres per day. It has already flooded four villages, engulfing at least 1,810 homes, 18 schools, 20 factories, and 12 mosques, and forcing the evacuation of 10,000 people. To date, 250 hectares of residential land and rice fields have been covered by 10 million cubic metres of mud, that reach a depth of five metres.

Infrastructure Still Not Good

This is not encouraging, but expected, that even with the success of the bonds on the ballot, the state will still be in bad shape and what is required is the public leadership, acting with consistency, to provide infrastructure funds for the long term.

That leadership has, so far, not emerged.

An excerpt.

Article Last Updated: 9/27/2006 10:16 PM
State infrastructure gets C-minus as engineers issue report card
BY HARRISON SHEPPARD, Sacramento Bureau LA Daily News

SACRAMENTO - California's infrastructure is in such bad shape that the $42 billion bond package on the November ballot would make only a dent in the problem, according to a new report issued Wednesday by an engineers group.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state's overall infrastructure a grade of C-minus and said it would take an additional $37 billion annually for at least a decade to get it up to an acceptable B grade.

"These bond measures are not a panacea," said Yazdan Emrani, who co-chairs the committee that produced the report. "This is a start of a road that, hopefully, all of us will be willing to take together in investing funds in our infrastructure on a continuous annual basis, not a one-time deal."

The C-minus grade came in the American Society of Civil Engineers' first California Infrastructure Report Card, based on similar reports by the society at the national level. The last national report card gave the U.S. infrastructure a D grade.

The state report came out on the same day as results of a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, which found that voters favor most of the Nov. 7 bond proposals.

The poll found that the bond measures dealing with the infrastructure were leading by margins of 10 points or more among likely voters who had made up their minds, with the highest lead - 57 percent in favor, 30 percent opposed - going to the housing bond proposal.

The report card broke the state's infrastructure into nine individual subjects, with levees and other flood-control projects getting the worst grade: F.

There was a D-plus in the parks/open space category. The same grade came in each of two other categories: transportation and controls on urban runoff.

The highest grade, a B, was in solid waste, judged acceptable because of gains in recycling and advanced planning to extend landfill capacity.

In transportation, the engineers recommended support for county sales tax measures for local projects; efforts to streamline government approval of projects; and efforts to secure more money from the federal government.

The engineers estimated that $17.9 billion a year for 10 years would be needed to bring the state's transportation system up to a B grade.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers have made infrastructure a priority this year, agreeing on a bond package of four measures on the November ballot to raise $37 billion.
An independent group added a fifth bond measure for water projects, bringing the combined total to $42 billion.

Paul Hefner, a spokesman for the campaign committee promoting the bond package from legislators and the governor, said officials have always recognized that the bonds alone won't solve the problem, but he noted that the funds would be leveraged to produce a greater overall investment.

For every dollar the state provides through bonds, a local agency - such as a city or county government or a school district - and the federal government might provide twice as much in matching funds for a project, Hefner said.

"Our plan for $37 billion will (spend) some multiple more than that - two or three or five times that - to give us good schools, good roads and other things we need for a sound economy," Hefner said.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Homes First

Though it has been customary to predicate housing for the homeless on their first agreeing to utilize the remedial services deemed necessary to solve the individual’s problems causing their homelessness, it hasn’t worked. What has worked is just providing a home first, the bare necessities of shelter and security, and then bring services into play.

We called for this approach to be used in Sacramento to deal with the illegal camping on the Parkway, in our report of September 2005 and agree with this editorial; good job all around.

An excerpt.

Editorial: Shelter first
Sacramento grapples with homelessness
- Published 12:00 am PDT Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sacramento leaders deserve credit for moving forward with a bold, broad and smart plan to tackle homelessness.

The 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness approved unanimously by the City Council and county Board of Supervisors takes a shelter-first approach.

That means that before government agencies try to address the underlying cause of homelessness for people living on the streets -- be it mental illness, alcoholism or drug addiction -- they must first deal with the essence of homelessness, which is having no place to live. So the first priority is to provide stable shelter.

To make that possible, the plan calls for the creation of 500 new units to house homeless people over the next five years. Those units will supplement housing that social service agencies already provide.

Experts on homelessness estimate the new shelter-first plan will cost $27,000 to provide housing and services per person served per year. That sounds like a lot of money. But it costs even more to do nothing: an estimated $42,000 a year in police, emergency room visits and other government services.

San Joaquin River Restoration

Still talking, but at issue now is if there will be enough time to pass the legislation freeing the funds to make this deal happen this year, and the river flow again with salmon running though it.

An excerpt.

Late talks on river revival bear fruit
San Joaquin accord still must be turned into law.
By Michael Doyle - Bee Washington BureauPublished 12:00 am PDT Thursday, September 28, 2006

Exhausted Capitol Hill negotiators agreed Wednesday on legislation to revive the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam.

Haggling until midnight Tuesday, and returning to the fray Wednesday morning, negotiators finally settled their differences on what could now become one of the nation's most ambitious environmental restoration efforts.

"I am hopeful that today's agreement will help transform the San Joaquin into a living river, and ensure that the hard-working men and women in the Friant service area will continue to have a stable water supply," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., declared in a statement.

Establishing a new "experimental population" of salmon, while still protecting operations on local dams and water projects, were the keys to the compromise. The next big problem is time, which Congress is short of.

With an estimated cost ranging between $250 million and $800 million, the San Joaquin River restoration plan will combine state, local and federal efforts over the next 20 years. The overall concept was agreed upon two weeks ago, settling a long-running lawsuit.

The concept, though, must be converted into legislation. The package resolved Wednesday after about 100 hours of further negotiations covers the myriad details needed to make the settlement work. In particular, it reassures water users outside the San Joaquin Valley's east side.

Where are the Salmon?

With the Salmon Festival due to open in a couple of weeks their absence is troubling, but like many of nature’s creatures, their behavior and much of the natural conditions upon which their behavior largely depends, are still a mystery; in spite of our long-term attempts to understand conditions and predict behavior.

An excerpt.

Trying to catch a disappearing act
Why are so few salmon returning to region's rivers?
By M.S. Enkoji - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PDT Thursday, September 28, 2006

Where's the salmon?

So far, the silvery guest of honor at an upcoming festival at Nimbus Dam on the American River seems to be largely missing in Central Valley rivers, disappointing throngs of recreational fishermen.

And puzzling veteran anglers.

"The biggest word is there's hardly any fish out there and there's nothing on the horizon," said Sep Hendrickson, the host of a Sacramento radio talk show on fishing and hunting. "No one knows what's going on. It's an accumulation of everything."

Restrictions on commercial salmon fishing in the Pacific Ocean this year and good fish estimates had fired up predictions of a bumper crop of salmon surging home from the ocean into rivers like the Sacramento, American, Feather and San Joaquin for fall spawning.

"It should have been boom times for Central Valley anglers," said Mike Aughney, a former Bay Area fishing boat operator. "There's no salmon on the coast, doesn't look like any coming in. It really has us all baffled. We've all been proclaiming for months what a great season it's going to be in the Central Valley's rivers."

Actually, the salmon population returning to Central Valley rivers has been burgeoning for several years, according to Fish and Game biologist Scott Barrow. Last year, 451,000 adult salmon returned to the Feather, American, Sacramento, San Joaquin and other rivers in the region, Barrow said. This year, 632,000 salmon are estimated to return, he said.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

San Joaquin River Plan

Its restoration is still moving along, but with serious obstacles ahead.

An excerpt.

Editorial: San Joaquin revival
River lawsuit ends; will restoration work?
- Published 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, September 27, 2006

For a good part of every year, the San Joaquin River, the state's second-longest waterway, isn't a river at all. For more than 60 miles upstream of its confluence with the Merced River, it is a lifeless dry channel.

Pumps and canals long ago sucked the life out of this river. The challenge has been to find a way to breathe life back into it -- with water, a restored channel and riparian habitat such as trees to keep the water cool. The goal has been to restore the river's salmon run without killing the livelihoods of thousands of San Joaquin Valley farmers who depend on those pumps and canals to irrigate their fields.

It took a lawsuit by environmental groups and a sympathetic federal judge in Sacramento named Lawrence Karlton to force a compromise. The farmers and environmentalists have agreed to a legal settlement. For the lawsuit, this is a historic moment. The question now is how will the salmon regard the settlement? They are the true judges here. And it will be a few more years before they begin to render their verdict by deciding whether to return to 150 miles of largely lifeless river.

The trick in settling this lawsuit was to provide enough water for the environmentalists to theoretically restore this river and to provide assurances to the farmers that they wouldn't be asked later to surrender more water. The settlement means that about 170,000 acre-feet of water that would have gone to the farmers each year will stay in the river. In return, the farmers are to get a price break on some water and the ability to withdraw some water downstream on the river if the pumping wouldn't harm the fish. And Congress is supposed to authorize projects to alter the channel to make it more inviting for the fish. Cost estimates range from $250 million to $800 million.

Is this 170,000 acre-feet of new water for the river enough? It represents about 10 percent of the entire natural flow of the river. More flows for the restoration will come through managing the releases of upstream dams on this river, but a lot is riding on the belief that the humans settling this lawsuit really know what the salmon need.

Flood Control Legs Missing

What else is missing, beside what is mentioned here, is any work towards actually providing serious flood control infrastructure to reach the gold standard protection level of 500 years, and that would be the lack of any funds to develop dams, particularly the Auburn Dam.

An excerpt.

Peter Schrag: Prop. 1E: California's one-legged flood control stool
By Peter Schrag - Bee ColumnistPublished 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, September 27, 2006

As our political culture goes these days, Proposition 1E, the proposed $4.1 billion flood prevention bond on California's November ballot, is just another piece of ordinary business.

It promises enough in levee repairs and other flood control structures to make it look as if the governor and the Legislature are really doing something. It will be repaid from the general fund and doesn't seem to call on anyone to pay higher taxes.

And it doesn't ask anything in the way of additional responsibility or costs from developers or property owners in the sinking floodplains of the Central Valley.

What a deal.

A package of bills in the Legislature in the summer would have imposed some additional checks on the rampant development in flood-prone areas. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, bowing to the building industry, quietly mugged them. The next day the builders kicked in a half-million dollars to a Perata-controlled campaign committee

Global Warming Triangulation

Now I understand this strange bill, its triangulation!

An excerpt.

Dan Walters: Greenhouse gas bill helps Schwarzenegger to triangulate voters
By Dan Walters - Bee ColumnistPublished 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Even by Arnold Schwarzenegger's standards for highly orchestrated public appearances, today's ceremonies for signing California's landmark anti-global warming legislation will be elaborate and carefully choreographed for maximum media exposure.

The governor's production designers chose Treasure Island, in the middle of San Francisco Bay, for one bill-signing ceremony in the morning, and Pepperdine University, overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Malibu, for another in the afternoon, thereby providing scenic marine backdrops for television news crews in the state's two largest media markets.

On Tuesday, in an obvious effort to make it a multiday media story, Schwarzenegger signed three lesser global warming bills, declaring, "The science is clear. The global warming debate is over. We have a responsibility to act now."

Those words notwithstanding, the greenhouse gas "rollout," as political pros call it, has little or nothing to do with global warming -- it's mostly a symbolic declaration to do something many years hence -- and everything to do with Schwarzenegger's triangulating strategy that already has generated a double-digit, and widening, lead over Democratic challenger Phil Angelides.

Plan Can Work

The only issue we have had with this plan, as it is being adopted by Sacramento, is that of the two types of homeless housing that can be used, centralized or scattered, they seem to have settled on centralized.

We would prefer the scattered as it doesn’t create the large homeless community congregation of the centralized approach that often leads to serious problems, especially with the surrounding neighborhood.

The scattered approach sprinkles the housing throughout the community by renting units from landlords, and bringing the services to the homeless rather than providing them on-site as the centralized approach does.

Given that caveat, this plan can work here as it has worked elsewhere.

An excerpt.

City, county officials approve 10-year plan to aid homeless
By Jocelyn Wiener - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Sacramento city and county leaders on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan they hope will end chronic homelessness within the next decade.

Unanimity over the plan extended to an array of business leaders and advocates for the poor who spoke Tuesday at meetings of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors and the City Council.

An estimated 1,600 chronically homeless individuals -- all suffering from some sort of mental illness, physical disability or substance abuse problem -- live on Sacramento County's streets and riverbanks and in its cars and shelters. They make up about 10 percent of the overall homeless population, but use about 50 percent of money spent on that population, said Bruce Wagstaff, director of the county's Department of Human Assistance.

Traditionally, the chronic homeless have been the hardest group to reach. Officials said Tuesday their efforts to fix the problem have so far fallen short.

"This will be a day we will mark as a turning point in Sacramento's efforts to address this issue," Dickinson said.

The centerpiece of the "10-Year-Plan to End Chronic Homelessness" is a "housing first" approach -- placing the priority on housing, and then providing mental health or substance abuse services.

Today, in order to get housing, the homeless are often expected to kick illegal drugs or alcohol, or consistently take their psychiatric medication. Those requirements can seem nearly impossible to people living on the streets, said Sister Libby Fernandez, executive director of Loaves & Fishes.

"Whether someone is paranoid schizophrenic or whether someone is using drugs, that's their environment and it's very difficult to get out of that environment," she told City Council members Tuesday. With the "housing first" model, she said, "you welcome and invite those people to get a new environment, a safe environment where opportunity for change can occur."

To that end, the 10-year-plan promises about 500 units to house the chronic homeless over the next five years. The plan also calls for social services to supplement the housing. In the past 3 1/2 years, 224 cities and counties across the nation have moved toward similar plans, in part because of a federal initiative that encourages them to do so, said Philip Mangano, point man in the Bush administration on homelessness. Four years ago, only Indianapolis had a 10-year-plan.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Senator Supports Reservoirs

In the two key policy areas of flood control and water supply, California’s senior Senator appreciates the role reservoirs and dams play; while we continue hoping for congressional support for the only flood control and water supply option for the valley providing optimal results in both areas, the Auburn Dam.

An excerpt.

Editorial: New role for Feinstein
Changing state will need a savvy deal maker
- Published 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is at her best when she is sitting in her Senate office, surrounded by warring interest groups fighting over some pressing California issue.

The insiders describe the sessions the same way. Feinstein pores over a thick notebook that details the issue. She looks the squabbling leaders in the eye, sketches an idea for progress and demands that progress be made before they come back to see her.

She thus makes it clear that gridlock is not acceptable and that there will be hell to pay if it continues. There is no messing with the senior stateswoman of California politics.

Feinstein's place at the very top of California's political pecking order is without question. And so is the outcome of her re-election bid against Republican Richard Mountjoy. She is coasting, again, to victory.

The real question is about the future. How will Feinstein use her skills? And will she be able adapt to the needs of a changing state?

Feinstein is among the dwindling number of Senate centrists who have struggled to retain their dignity and that of the institution. The fights and partisan bickering have grown more intense, and nearly ripped the Senate apart when Republicans threatened to abolish filibusters of Supreme Court appointments.

Her role in that drama, particularly her scattered public questioning of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, doesn't rank among Feinstein's highlights. But these staged public settings have never been her strength. That is not where progress gets made. And making progress is where Feinstein is at her best.

For the Central Valley, two issues loom large for a changing role for Feinstein in the years ahead. One is flood control. She needs to use her formidable skills to keep squabbles from preventing progress.

And then there is the issue of water supply and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Feinstein is among the most capable legislators on water issues, but she also has a fixation about reservoirs. She has thumped the table to build new water reservoirs and come up dry, partly because no water district to our knowledge wants to pay for this very expensive water. And, reverting back to her mindset as San Francisco's mayor, she has fought efforts to explore the restoration of Yosemite National Park's Hetch Hetchy Valley.

San Joaquin Negotiations Continue

It appears they are nearing agreement, which is good for all concerned, particularly the salmon returning to the river.

An excerpt.

Experimental label may clear way for salmon
Negotiators are weighing concerns of property owners and regulators.
By Michael Doyle - Bee Washington BureauPublished 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Putting salmon back into a revived San Joaquin River will be an experiment in more ways than one.

The negotiators returning to Capitol Hill today hope to finish crafting the legislation needed for the river's restoration.

The end result of the haggling in Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein's third-floor office eventually could be an estimated 500 or more spring-run chinook salmon back in the now-depleted river.

But this wouldn't be just any old fish population.

Instead, the San Joaquin River salmon would swim in the shadow of the California condor, the Yellowstone-area gray wolf and Florida's whooping crane. Like them, the San Joaquin River salmon would be dubbed an experimental population -- a move that can ease regulatory burdens and soften political resistance.

"I believe I can compromise," Los Banos farmer Lynn Skinner told a House panel last week.

Skinner's family grows canning tomatoes, cotton and alfalfa along a dried-out reach of the San Joaquin River. Her concerns, and those of water users such as the Merced and Modesto irrigation districts, galvanize this week's ongoing negotiations. The secret talks are both sensitive and incomplete.

A Homeless Approach That Works

Our organization called for this type of approach to dealing with the chronic homeless—those who illegally camp along the Parkway—as the only one with proven effectiveness; in our 2005 report on the Lower Reach.

It is good to see local leadership responding to the homeless issue in this way as it will help the homeless and the adjacent Parkway communities who have been fearful of using the Parkway due to the widespread illegal camping and the related crime.

An excerpt.

Time for an inside approach
New strategy to aid the area's homeless: Provide shelter now, look for recovery later
By Christina Jewett - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sacramento city housing leaders toured airy and clean complexes Monday where once-homeless people live, hoping to form a "before" image of services in Sacramento.

The groundwork for "after" is expected to be laid today, when the Sacramento City Council and County Board of Supervisors are expected to approve a 10-year plan to address homelessness, pledging to add 500 units of housing to the existing stock within five years.

The plan also lays out a new way of dealing with homelessness. While in the past officials expected homeless people to address mental health and substance-abuse problems before getting a permanent home, the new plan calls for housing first -- and life changes later.

"(The plan) is not just to park people, not just to hide them away, not just to give them a 72-hour hold in a detox facility -- but really to give them a home," Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo said Monday at a news conference announcing the plan.

Officials estimate that there are 11,000 homeless people in the county over the course of a year and 3,000 shelter beds and short-term and long-term housing units.

The 10-year plan is targeted at the group of about 1,600 Sacramentans who are considered "chronically" homeless and for years filter from doorways to emergency rooms to jail.

Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson said the plan brings a new dimension to the "continuum of care" idea that the county has been using, which phases people through shelters to transitional to permanent housing with counseling and social-service support.

He said the county has operated that way for about 15 years.

Still, he said, about 10 percent of homeless people reject county and nonprofit services and line sidewalks downtown and camp along the American River.

Monday, September 25, 2006

California Global Warming Bill

The strange bill might be illegal already.

An excerpt.

Sunday, September 24, 2006
California global warming bill clouded by multiple lawsuits
By SAMANTHA YOUNG Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO, CaliforniaGov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday is expected to sign into law the United States' first state cap on greenhouse gas emissions, after striking a deal with legislative Democrats that brought California and the governor global notoriety.

But even before the bill is signed, the law's future is in doubt.

Federal lawsuits related to greenhouse gas issues, involving California, Vermont and Massachusetts, could cloud California's latest attempt to be a leader in the fight against global climate change.

At the heart of California's attempt to curb the gases believed responsible for global warming are state auto regulations that are being challenged by U.S. and foreign automakers. The rules, adopted in 2004 by the state Air Resources Board, would force auto companies to cut emissions from their cars and light trucks.

Rulings favorable to industry would greatly complicate efforts to cut overall emissions in California, knocking out nearly a quarter of the state's reduction strategy. The goal is to reduce emissions to 1990 levels over the next 14 years.

"Reducing greenhouse gases is a hugely difficult challenge," said Daniel Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. "It's going to be very difficult with the auto regulations. Without them, it's going to be impossible."

Automakers have sued California and Vermont for setting greenhouse gas emission standards on vehicles, saying the rules are tantamount to imposing a fuel-economy standard. Only the federal government can set gas-mileage rules.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts and 11 other states, including California, are challenging the Bush administration's decision not to regulate heat-trapping carbon dioxide as a pollutant. The case is before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Creating Wilderness Requires Trade-Offs

As does politics in general; the continuing story on a group of wilderness bills.

An excerpt.

Wilderness Designation Trade-Offs Faulted
Environmentalists Say Bills to Protect a Million Acres Come With Too High a Price
Juliet Eilperin Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, September 24, 2006

Congress is on the verge of approving half a dozen bills that would protect as much as 1 million acres of wilderness areas across the West, but the move has infuriated environmentalists who charge that lawmakers are giving away too much pristine public land to real estate developers and local communities in the process.

If lawmakers finish work on the legislation before adjourning -- several bills have passed the House already and a Senate hearing is scheduled for Wednesday -- it would amount to the largest designation of new wilderness areas in a decade. But advocates and critics are in a bitter fight over the trade-offs, with opponents saying the public is paying too high a price.

One pending bill would protect a 273,000-acre stretch of California's northern coast to preserve steelhead and salmon habitat -- but it would also guarantee that off-road vehicles could use an area nearby. Another measure would create a 300,000-acre wilderness area in Idaho while handing over 4,000 acres to state and local authorities to develop or manage on their own.

"For a public interest movement to succeed, it has to be supported by the public and it has to move [forward]," said Rick Johnson, Idaho Conservation League executive director, who teamed up with Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) to craft the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act. "This is not the time to let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

But several environmental activists, including singer-songwriter and Idaho resident Carole King and Janine Blaeloch, director of the Seattle-based Western Lands Project, said the bills would set a dangerous precedent.

"With some environmental groups supporting these bills, we are entrenching this trend and we're making it more difficult for wilderness advocates in the future to gain uncompromised wilderness designations," Blaeloch said. "When you're in a hostile political environment that requires these kinds of trade-offs, you need to stop."

The new legislative approach reflects a simple political reality: Republican congressional leaders will accept new wilderness areas only if they come with these kinds of trade-offs. Wilderness designations have often been difficult to push through Congress because they are more restrictive than national forest or park designations, and bar man-made structures or roads within their confines.

Public Benefits Could Break the Bank, Part One

Once public employees became unionized, unions did what unions do and benefits increased. No one really kept track of the future cost, until now, and it’s a whopper, super-sized.

It is quantifying what the case we have been making that the best way to take care of the Parkway, not only the maintenance needs, but actually improving it, is to have a nonprofit organization contract with government (running short of money now and increasing in the future) as is being done with the Sacramento Zoo locally and great parks like Central park in New York.

An excerpt.

AP Enterprise: States could be overwhelmed by health care burden
By BOB PORTERFIELD, - Associated Press WriterPublished 12:04 am PDT Monday, September 25, 2006

The bill is coming due for years of generous benefits bestowed upon the nation's public employees, and it's a stunner: hundreds of billions of dollars over the next three decades.

California will almost certainly owe more than any other state, threatening to bankrupt local governments and all but guaranteeing cuts in services like education and public safety.

These staggering numbers are coming to light because of new accounting rules issued by the Government Accounting Standards Board. They require public agencies to disclose the future cost of health care and other benefits - such as dental, vision and life insurance - promised to retirees alongside traditional pensions.

"There will be horrific financial implications," said Steven Frates, president of the Center for Government Analysis in Newport Beach. "More money will be needed for providing health care benefits that could otherwise be used for fighting fires or keeping libraries open."

According to preliminary estimates, keeping California's approximately 2.3 million active and retired employees healthy through their sunset years could cost taxpayers more than $200 billion over the next 30 years.

"When you start putting these costs on the books and understand what they involve and the size of the obligation - it's big," said Marian Mulkey of the California Healthcare Foundation's Health Insurance Program. "Either way they have to pay for it or somebody has to go back on their promises."

Retiree health care costs have been quietly mounting for decades while public agencies have passed out generous retirement benefits during labor negotiations - often in lieu of salary increases. But government negotiators rarely considered the long-term financial consequences of awarding such perks, according to Brian Whitworth, a retirement benefits specialist with JP Morgan Chase and Co.

Public Benefits Could Break the Bank, Part Two

A California specific focus on the issue.

An excerpt.

A look at how new accounting rules will affect California
By BOB PORTERFIELD, - Associated Press Writer Published 12:04 am PDT Monday, September 25, 2006

It has all the makings of California's next multibillion-dollar taxpayer headache.

New accounting rules require public agencies to disclose the future cost of health care and other benefits - such as dental, vision and life insurance - promised to retirees alongside traditional pensions.

In California, half the state's employees have reached retirement age or will become eligible to retire within a decade. And the death of a retiree doesn't always reduce expenses because many agencies continue providing benefits to survivors.

According to the California Department of Personnel Administration, a fully vested state employee who lives for 20 years after retirement could receive nearly $500,000 in benefits outside their pension.

All government agencies that provide health care and other non-pension benefits to retired employees are affected by the new rules, from the largest municipality to the smallest cemetery district. Here's a look at how it will impact different levels of government:


The biggest share of retiree health benefits is borne by the state.

California pays $394 to $933 per month in health care costs for each retired state employee, depending on the type of coverage and level of vesting.

The California State Public Employees Retirement System, or CalPERS, is the nation's largest pension fund. It administers health benefits for more than 180,000 retirees, but no estimate of future liabilities has been made because the state has yet to calculate its share.

Another plan, the Long Term Care Fund, which allows retired public employees and their families to pay for their own long-term care at below market rates, provided benefits to nearly 3,000 retirees and their family members in 2005. It projected its future liabilities at $2.24 billion. This could be particularly painful since the participants pay for the program out of their own pockets.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Real Flood Control

The letter from ARPPS president Michael Rushford, published in the Sacramento Bee today, focuses on the big picture, and one we all need to look at as the flood control and water supply system is a connected system.

How to avoid the next flood

The Dan Walters column, "Auburn Dam, peripheral canal back on the table for discussion," Sept. 18, recognizes that the threat of catastrophic flooding and the likelihood of serious water shortages are real problems that can no longer be ignored. The leaders who developed our State Water Project 50 years ago designed Shasta Dam to be 200 feet higher than it is today, tripling its water storage. That improvement, the construction of a full-service dam at Auburn and the peripheral canal would eliminate flooding along the Sacramento River, provide the flows necessary to protect salmon and other species along the American River and the Delta, and guarantee water for agriculture and people for many decades into the future.

- Michael Rushford, Carmichael
President, American River Parkway Preservation Society

Auburn Dam Taboo

Legislator Neillo is one public leader who understands the importance of discussing all the options when examining solutions to public problems, and one hopes his clear-headedness extends deeper into the public leadership ranks.

California really needs leadership on this as we know all too well the price that may have to be paid without it.

An excerpt.

Roger Niello: Debate needed on real flood control solutions
By Roger Niello - Special to The BeePublished 12:00 am PDT Sunday, September 24, 2006

Roger Niello is the Republican Assemblyman from Fair Oaks.

In the last year, The Bee has editorialized on several occasions about many of the supposed "flood control" measures that were proposed in the recently concluded legislative session and lamented the Legislature's inaction on them.

There's just one problem: Not one of the measures being discussed in the Legislature would do anything to reduce the flood risk that our citizens face from a catastrophic flood.

While these bills certainly deserved to be debated in the Legislature, these measures deal with land use and liability responsibility. AB 1899, AB 3050 and AB 1898 would have simply placed new mandates on local governments and homeowners, and would have required these local governments to share in the liability for flooding. What they did not do was address the potential for flooding in existing developed areas.

Extensive improvements have been made to our American River levees, and emergency funding has been made available by the state to repair some critical spots on local levees, yet Sacramento still doesn't have a comprehensive plan for flood control.

This fall, voters will have the ability to approve a statewide bond measure that will provide the much-needed funds for additional critical levee strengthening. Further, plans are being pursued to improve the operation and raise the height of Folsom dam. If and when all of these projects are completed, Sacramento's flood protection will be doubled -- and we will still have the lowest level of flood protection of any major metropolitan area in the United States, including New Orleans.

While the region has long debated the Auburn dam, the fact remains that it is the only solution that will give us the level of flood protection that is needed to prevent billions of dollars of disaster and save an untold number of lives.

Albeit an expensive project, an Auburn dam could provide much more than just flood control. Given the benefits of a much-needed additional water supply, clean electricity generation and a drastically reduced flood risk, it seems baffling to me that we have simply taken Auburn dam off the table.

It’s the Water Supply

So many things in California, including the recent e-coli outbreak, seem to come back to the need for a larger and cleaner water supply.

An excerpt.

E. coli culprit vexes industry
Decade of outbreaks casts suspicion on Salinas Valley water.
By Jim Downing and Matt Weiser - Bee Staff WritersPublished 12:00 am PDT Sunday, September 24, 2006

For more than a week, the million-dollar-a-day Salinas Valley spinach harvest idled as government investigators hunted for the source of an E. coli contamination that has sickened 171 people across the country.

Now, as scientists comb over 10 suspect farms in the valley, most other growers, within days, are likely to get the all-clear and send their spinach back to markets.

Yet a sense of crisis lingers over the industry because one scary thing is now clear: This wasn't a fluke.

For nearly a decade, the Food and Drug Administration has zeroed in on the Salinas Valley -- the "Salad Bowl of the Nation" -- as a hot spot for foodborne illness. The latest E. coli outbreak is the ninth incident in the last decade to be traced back to the region, which produces two-thirds of the nation's spinach and much of its other fresh greens.

"The region grows great spinach. It has to grow great, safe spinach," said Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer at the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "(The outbreak) does raise the question of what are the practices of that valley and what will it take to ensure the produce coming out of there is safe. We have got to get a handle on this."

State legislators also are promising to get tough. Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and incoming Assembly Agriculture Chairwoman Nicole Parra, D-Hanford, plan a joint hearing on the E. coli outbreak.

The biggest barrier to combating the Salinas Valley's recurring contamination problems has been the unsolved mystery of its specific cause: All previous outbreak investigations have failed to confirm the source of the harmful bacteria.

Water, contaminated by human or animal waste, has consistently been a leading suspect. Those bacteria can move to lettuce or spinach in myriad ways -- from a creek flooding a field in winter to dirty water in a roadside ditch soaking a field worker's boot.

In the Salinas Valley, water troubles run deep.

Local Climate Change Forum

Hopefully this group, along with discussing new flood plain mapping, will not continue the taboo of keeping the Auburn Dam off the table as the only option that can provide optimal flood control when global warming causes more rain than snow and increases the flood risks as well as the need for water supply.

An excerpt.

Forum seeks climate change input
Public can comment on methods to deal with global warming
By Edie Lau - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PDT Sunday, September 24, 2006

The bumper-sticker motto "Think globally, act locally" will play out Monday evening in Sacramento at a public forum tackling climate change.

What can individuals do to help blunt the effects of global climate change? How can communities cope with the climate shifts already under way? How will California businesses survive coming state limits on carbon dioxide pollution?

These and similar questions will be the focus of a panel discussion, "What can we do about the global climate change and energy challenges? What does it mean for you, the U.S. and the world?" organized by the League of Women Voters of Sacramento County and supported by the United Nations Foundation.

"We just want to pull the community together to speak on it," said league President Barbara Hopkins. "It's going to be a long-term issue."

Climate change has been a top-of-the-agenda item in California, with the Legislature last month passing the nation's first mandatory cap on carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is scheduled to sign the landmark bill, AB 32, in a ceremony in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Monday's panel will not debate whether global warming is a reality -- even the business representative on the seven-person group says that's not in dispute. The questions will center on how best to adapt and thrive in a warming world and forestall disastrous effects.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Environmental Work Overview

Article addresses the grassroots political development of the current environmentalist movement.

An excerpt.

Green Grows Grassroots
[from the July 31, 2006 issue]

The most interesting environmental leader in the United States right now is a former petrochemical worker from Louisiana's "Cancer Alley" named Jerome Ringo. As chairman of the board of the National Wildlife Federation, Ringo heads what is by far the nation's largest environmental organization, with 4 million members, not to mention one of its richest, with an $80 million budget. It's unusual enough that a former union and community organizer would rise to the top of the NWF; traditionally, the group has belonged to the polite, apolitical wing of the movement--more inclined to publish nature magazines for kids than to challenge corporate power à la Greenpeace or Rainforest Action Network. But what really sets Ringo apart, both at NWF and throughout the mainstream movement's leadership, is that he is black.

"I am the first African-American in history to head a major conservation group," he says. Environmentalism in the United States has been dominated by well-to-do white men since the late nineteenth century, when John Muir, Gifford Pinchot and Teddy Roosevelt first put the notion of preserving natural resources on the national agenda with their campaigns to establish publicly owned parks and wilderness areas. Alluding to this history, Ringo says the whiteness of today's movement isn't because of racism. It's simply that most environmental groups "were founded by people who fished to put fish on the wall, not by people who fished to put fish on the table. And for poor people, issues like ozone depletion have not been a priority, compared with next month's rent. But I tell people in Cancer Alley, What good is next month's rent if you're dying from cancer?"

Now Ringo wants to bring these varying constituencies together across class and racial lines to build a broader and more powerful green movement. His chosen vehicle, besides the NWF, is the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor unions, environmental groups, business leaders and elected officials that advocates a massive green jobs and development program for the United States. Apollo proposes investing $300 billion of public funds in green energy technologies over the next ten years. This investment would create 3 million new jobs and countless business opportunities, Apollo claims, while also fighting climate change and cutting US dependence on foreign oil. The benefits to poor and working-class Americans of such an economic stimulus program are clear, but the idea is also business-friendly enough to have attracted support from prominent Democratic moderates and other centrists, including the group Republicans for Environmental Protection. "I had a phone call with the chief of staff of [New Mexico] Governor Bill Richardson just this morning," says Ringo, who assumed Apollo's presidency last September. "Several months ago I joined Hillary Clinton and [Pennsylvania] Governor Ed Rendell when the Democrats released their Energy Independence 2020 Plan, and one of the first items was an Apollo project. Apollo began five years ago as a vision. My goal is to turn it into action."

It's still too early to say, but if Jerome Ringo and the Apollo Alliance are representative of larger trends, green politics may at last be finding its voice again in the United States. In the past, most environmentalists did not bother to articulate much of an economic message. Perhaps because they tended to be economically comfortable themselves, they overlooked the fact that many Americans live paycheck to paycheck and thus need to hear that green policies can mean not only cleaner air but also more and better jobs. Indeed, environmentalists often failed to reach out to other constituencies at all; they stayed inside their own issue silo and assumed that having facts on their side was enough.

Levees can’t Protect the Integrity of the Parkway

This loss will be magnified in the future without the construction of the Auburn Dam, which is the only flood protection option preserving the integrity of the Parkway from future degradation and loss of more ancient oak trees along its shore.

An excerpt.

Editorial: A lamentable loss
Sadly, trees must make way for a levee
- Published 12:00 am PDT Saturday, September 23, 2006

Any loss of an ancient oak tree in this fast-growing region is hard to accept.

The potential loss of three is a tragedy. It's enough to make a willow weep.

But, sad as it seems, a trio of heritage oaks will need to come down along the south side of the American River near the Butterfield-Riviera East neighborhood. Why? The levee there -- known as the Mayhew levee -- is one of the lowest along the river. It could easily be overtopped during a major storm, flooding not only the nearby neighborhood, but also part of Sacramento.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has recommended a wider and higher levee. Building it will require the removal of the three oaks and other mature trees.

Lake Davis Story Continues

Notice of more public comment, which one hopes finds a way to solve this long festering problem.

An excerpt.

Fish and Game sets Lake Davis hearings
- Published 12:00 am PDT Saturday, September 23, 2006

PORTOLA -- The California Department of Fish and Game will conduct public hearings to accept comments about its proposal to use chemicals to eradicate northern pike in Lake Davis.
Two sessions are set for Tuesday in Portola and two more are scheduled for 1 and 6 p.m. Oct. 5 in Room 120-122 of National University, 9320 Tech Center Driver, Sacramento.

To get rid of the non-native pike threatening the state's native fisheries, the Fish and Game Department studied seven options in a comprehensive environmental review. Its choice would draw down the Plumas County reservoir to 15,000 acre-feet and apply liquid rotenone to the reservoir as well as all tributaries, ponds and springs within the watershed.

The deadline for public comment on the environmental impact review is 5 p.m. Oct. 16.

Friday, September 22, 2006

San Joaquin Plan Need Reworking

Looks like key stakeholders were left out of the process, never a good sign, and one hopes this hold-up will result in everyone being at the table when decisions are being made about their land, or livelihood.

This was a huge problem with the current Parkway Plan Update process; the key stakeholders in the Lower Reach, those individuals and organizations that had been advocating strongly for help to deal with the illegal camping, crime, and trashing of the Parkway in their neighborhoods were excluded from the process.

An excerpt.

San Joaquin River plan stalls in House Lawmakers balk -- some water users weren't part of talks
Kimberly Geiger, Chronicle Washington Bureau
Friday, September 22, 2006

Conservationists and federal water authorities have reached a compromise to end an 18-year dispute over the damming of the San Joaquin River, but House lawmakers who reviewed the agreement Thursday said they will pursue changes to the plan before passing legislation required to complete the deal.

The river, once home to the Chinook salmon species and a supplier of fresh water to San Francisco Bay, began drying up in the 1940s, when the federal government built the Friant Dam just north of Fresno and started diverting water for irrigation. In 1988, conservation groups led by the National Resources Defense Council sued the government, saying it had destroyed the salmon habitat.

Major Central Valley agricultural water users and environmental groups reached a settlement last week on an estimated $800 million restoration plan for the river and presented what Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, called "an historic opportunity to put an end to this long episode of California water wars."

The deal laid out a scheduled release of water from the dam to restore the river over the next 20 years -- and required lawmakers by year's end to pass a bill authorizing federal funding and oversight of the project.

Without a settlement, a federal judge could have required the release of water into the river without defining how much water supply farmers would lose, or the scheduled river rehabilitation program that the settlement provides.

But lawmakers at a House hearing Thursday said the settlement overlooks the effects on farmers and other water agencies that were not included in the negotiations.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Alpaugh (Tulare County), called the settlement "borderline unconstitutional," saying the parties to the settlement were "playing government" by proposing legislation, then demanding approval from lawmakers.

Lynn Skinner, a farmer whose land runs alongside the river, said the proposed release of water into the empty basin could flood her crops and cause serious damage to her land. Witnesses for Central Valley irrigation districts said the introduction of Chinook salmon into the river could burden them with additional regulatory oversight under the Endangered Species Act.

Tides Powering Homes

What a cool, and even hot, idea!

An excerpt.

San Francisco; Tides around Golden Gate are potential energy source
Cecilia M. Vega, Chronicle Staff WriterThe San Francisco Chronicle (California)September 19, 2006

Giant turbines submerged in the choppy waters below the Golden Gate Bridge might one day generate enough alternative energy to provide power to nearly 40,000 San Francisco homes, city officials said Monday.

The idea may sound like science fiction, but it is a real proposal backed by city leaders who hope it will decrease the city's dependence on oil and make San Francisco a hub for tidal power experimentation.

Standing at Crissy Field with the iconic bridge as a backdrop, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission General Manager Susan Leal announced Monday that her department will spend $150,000 to study the plan to harness energy from tidal waves. Mayor Gavin Newsom also said a task force made up of environmental leaders, clean energy advocates and other experts will be formed to advise the city on the topic.

"We have an imperative to do this," Newsom said. "This is not insignificant. The imperative is global warming, the high cost of energy, the scarcity of resources."

Ultimately, city officials hope that turbines below the bridge will capture tidal energy from the powerful flow that circulates in and out of the mouth of the bay and generate as much as 38 megawatts of power, or enough to power 38,000 homes.

The tides at the Golden Gate offer one of the best locations on the western coast of North America to generate that power, according to a study released this summer by the Electric Power Research Institute and backed by the city's public utilities agency.

Further studies need to be done, however, to answer questions about where the turbines would actually be located, how big they would be, and the potential environmental impacts they would have on the bay and marine life.

Still, city officials say studies of tidal power in other areas show there's little chance of harm to fish and other sea life.

"We don't need seals going through turbines and coming out the other end," Newsom said.
Officials hope to have a pilot program in place by 2009, which they said could cost between $5 million and $7 million.

Obsolete Dams Down, Salmon Happy

A great new spawning creek for steelhead appears to be opening up.

An excerpt.

2 dams come down so steelhead can go up
Chuck Squatriglia, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, September 22, 2006

The campaign to restore Alameda Creek and its steelhead trout is benefiting from the razing of two dams, a project the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission on Thursday called the biggest dam removal in Bay Area history.

As the last pieces of Sunol and Niles dams were coming down Thursday, the PUC promised cash for the restoration effort and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. announced it would modify a pipeline impeding the creek.

Environmentalists said they are well on the way toward seeing Alameda Creek run largely unimpeded by 2011.

"This is a historic day," Jeff Miller, director of Alameda Creek Alliance, said as a backhoe scooped chunks of the dam. "Having worked on this for nine years, it is staggering to see the creek without Sunol Dam."

There is still much to be done before steelhead spawn in the far reaches of Alameda Creek, including finding some way for the fish to pass a weir in Fremont. But Miller said the dams' removal will give the restoration campaign added momentum.

The PUC and 16 other organizations -- including the Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- agreed Thursday to work together toward the creek's restoration and finance an analysis of what must be done.

"We are putting it in writing," Susan Leal, PUC executive director, said before signing the pledge. "We will spend $240,000 to do the studies to see what it will take to bring that habitat back."

Alameda Creek and its tributaries cover 670 square miles, making it the region's third-largest watershed. Environmentalists have long argued that it is big enough and wet enough to support steelhead while ensuring adequate water supply and flood protection for a growing urban area.

The PUC, which manages the Hetch Hetchy water system that serves 2.4 million customers, plays a key role in the effort because Alameda Creek is fed by the agency's Calaveras Reservoir.

It's been at least 40 years since any significant number of steelhead made their annual migration from the ocean through San Francisco Bay and up Alameda Creek to spawn. As the region grew, one barrier after another appeared on the creek.

Niles Dam was built in the 1880s. Sunol Dam went up about 20 years later. Both later became part of the PUC.

The two dams, each about 110 feet wide and 8 to 10 feet tall, became obsolete when the Hetch Hetchy system was completed in the 1930s. They remained standing simply because no one ever thought to knock them down.

Dead Trees Still Needed

Another perspective on what the trees burned in a fire do for the forest rather than logging many of them out for building.

An excerpt.

Commentary: Post-fire trees hold value as multitaskers in forests
By Monica L. Bond and Derek E. Lee - Special to The Bee
Published 12:00 am PDT Friday, September 22, 2006

Walk through any forest after a fire and you hear a cacophony of bird song. Chipmunks and ground squirrels scurry into the regenerating shrubs. Colorful wildflowers nod in the breeze.

Many plants and animals thrive in and even need burned forests for their survival. Black-backed woodpeckers are rarely found anywhere but in the most severely burned patches, and many plants and trees require the heat of fire to open their seeds for germination.

This is hardly surprising, since forests and the animals and plants that live there have existed with fire for millenniums.

That's why a bill in Congress to boost logging in burned forests is a bad idea. The logging bill, HR 4200, which passed the House and has been referred to the Senate Agriculture Committee, would implement a system of preapproved logging practices after natural events such as a fire, and would exempt these practices from the National Environmental Policy Act. NEPA is the law that requires federal agencies to carefully examine and disclose the potential impacts of a logging project to the public.

Without NEPA, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management would not have to determine how much the project would hurt wildlife or warn the public about potential harm to soils, vegetation and water quality. Logging removes trees that would otherwise replenish the forest floor and provide habitat. Driving heavy machinery also erodes soil. These activities impede natural regeneration, clog streams with sediment and introduce weeds. Logging also has been shown to increase severe fires by removing trees that would shade the ground and slow down winds, and littering the forest with small limbs and branches that easily spread fire.

Old beliefs that fire "destroys" forests and wildlife have been overturned. We now know it creates new kinds of habitats, recycles nutrients and rejuvenates forest growth. Scientists have recognized for years that dead, blackened trees are every bit as important for wildlife as live, green trees, and many animals and plants are more numerous in burned areas. Unfortunately, some members of Congress and the agencies charged with managing our public forests are still clinging to outdated, unsupported beliefs that natural disturbances such as fire and insects are harmful to forests.

Friendly Parkway

For most folks, especially upriver, it is wonderful out there.

An excerpt.

Just smile: Janet Walden has a new perspective on an old theme -- hostility between hard-core cyclists and the rest of us along the American River bike trail. "I have been walking the trails along the American River almost daily for 15 years," Janet said. "I say hello to perfect strangers, and most say hello back to me. I carry a sack and pick up trash. Many strangers thank me for doing it. It's just small thing, but I appreciate my fellow human beings out there enjoying the parkway." Couldn't have said it better ...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Listening to the Dutch, Finally!

They do know their flood protection and 1,000 year levees...getoutahere!

An excerpt.

Dam strait
Written by Phil Hayworth/Tracy Press

Flood control officials consider a plan that would build huge gates between San Pablo and Suisun bays to prevent saltwater from invading the Delta.

STOCKTON — It’s like something out of a “Godzilla” movie: Disaster strikes Northern California and, within minutes, huge gates between San Pablo Bay and Suisun Bay slam shut, keeping salty water from pouring into the Delta and saving California’s water supply.

A giant gate at the Carquinez Strait might sound like fiction, but it’s a possibility to leaders of one county irrigation board.

“A pair of gates such as the gates constructed in Holland on the Nieuwe Waterweg,” wrote Banta-Carbona Irrigation District General Manager David Weisenberger, “should be built on the western edge of the Delta.”

Weisenberger, along with district board President Jim McLeod, floated the idea of water gates before a group of San Joaquin County flood control representatives at a meeting of the 19-member San Joaquin County Flood Control and Water Conservation District Advisory Water Commission in Stockton on Wednesday.

McLeod argued the gates would be similar to 1,000-foot water barriers already working in Holland that open and close to protect low-lying land from flooding. Applied in California, the gates would defend the San Joaquin Delta from saltwater intrusion. Such an intrusion could seriously disrupt water movement through the Delta to Tracy’s federal and state pumps in the case of a major levee break, McLeod said.

“It would destroy California,” he said. “Consider the impact of salt on agriculture; and the Delta now supplies water to 22 million Californians.”

The commission decided to send a letter to the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors to consider such gates and draft a resolution in support of a formal study.

“And who do you suggest does the study” asked Dante Nomellini, a reclamation board chief and Stockton-based attorney.

“Well, let’s not reinvent the wheel,” replied McLeod. “Let’s give it to the Dutch.”

Citing a recent national magazine article about how the Dutch build 1,000-year levees — in contrast to California’s 100-year levees — McLeod suggested spending lots of money now to save lots of money and lives later should disaster strike area levees.

“It’s cheaper to go Dutch,” McLeod said.

Disaster Unpreparedness Not Surprising

Government tends to procrastinate, though a continually better informed public drives them to action and at some point, what the public needs from government gets provided more efficiently and equitably, but it is always a balanced struggle.

An excerpt.

Daniel Weintraub: Audit says state unprepared for major emergency
By Daniel Weintraub - Bee Columnist Published 12:00 am PDT Thursday, September 21, 2006

No matter where they are on the political spectrum, just about everybody agrees that the first and most important role of government is to protect public safety. But a recent audit has concluded that the state government is falling short in one of its most fundamental tasks: planning and preparing for a natural disaster or a terrorist strike.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should take note. Executives are often judged by how they and the people they direct respond in a crisis. If this review by the nonpartisan and respected Bureau of State Audits is correct, Schwarzenegger's administration risks being caught flat-footed when, inevitably, the next major emergency hits California.

A big part of the problem is with a slow-moving bureaucracy, the audit said. The state is dragging its feet in distributing federal money to local agencies and is behind schedule in reviewing emergency response plans for 35 of the 58 counties and 17 of 19 state agencies that would be asked to respond in a disaster.

In what sounds like an ominous echo from the Hurricane Katrina debacle in Louisiana last year, the state's organizational structure for disaster response, the audit said, is "neither streamlined nor well defined." The Office of Emergency Services and the separate Office of State Homeland Security have an "ambiguous relationship" and are not doing a very good job coordinating their missions within a "labyrinthine structure."

Car Companies Build Dam?

One of the realities of global warming is that the snow pack will shrink as rain falls instead of snow, creating greater flood risk and generating an additional reason to build the Auburn Dam to capture the American River Watershed rain and snow run-off.

Maybe as part of the settlement from these suits, if they ever proceed that far, is that some of the money helps build the dam.

Partly kidding here :).

State sues automakers over warming
By Dale Kasler - Bee Staff Writer Published 12:00 am PDT Thursday, September 21, 2006

California's ongoing courtroom battle with the auto industry over environmental issues kicked into higher gear Wednesday when state Attorney General Bill Lockyer sued the leading automakers, accusing them of contributing to global warming through tailpipe emissions.

Lockyer's suit said General Motors, Toyota and four other major carmakers share blame for such maladies as the decline of the California snowpack, the increased threat of wildfires and worsened urban air pollution.

The suit represented the latest in a series of global-warming lawsuits pitting California and other states against automakers, power generators and other titans of industry.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland, the suit said the automakers are "among the world's largest contributors" to global warming and demanded they pay unspecified monetary damages to the state.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers called Lockyer's claim a "nuisance suit" and noted that the courts rejected a similar case he and other attorneys general filed against the electric utility industry.

"Automakers are already building cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles," the group said in a statement.

With Lockyer running for state treasurer in November, the nonprofit Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., dismissed the suit as an attempt to gain votes. "I don't think it means anymore than it says. It's California politics," said center economist Sean McAlinden.

Homeless Teen's Stories

The sadness and vulnerability being homeless this teen’s letter expresses, is sadly matched by the inability of the adjacent community to use the Parkway because the teen’s family are illegally camped there, creating very unsafe conditions for all.

Our proposal is to balance public safety with compassion and enforce the laws against illegal camping, making the Parkway safe for use; and implement the Housing First approach for the homeless, creating subsidized housing scattered throughout the community, buttressed by services, as the solution. More information about this can be found on our website at on our news page, see Lower Reach Report.

Excerpt from published homeless teen’s letters.

From "Outdoor living can be rough terrain," by Paul Bishop

I live by the American River. My camp is pretty big. My mother and father live there with me, and we have two tents. My dog and I stay in one, and my parents stay in the other one. Usually life is peaceful ... but this particular day was different. ...

...Two park rangers and one city officer walked up and asked everyone to step out of their tents. Then the officer said, "You guys are all getting tickets (for illegal camping), but we have to wait for another officer."

So we waited. ... The whole time I was thinking, "I hope they don't take me to C.P.S. (Child Protective Services)."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Move the Big Muddy?

Controlling this river’s water is certainly within the bounds of technology, and is a plan that appears to be workable.

An excerpt.

September 19, 2006
Time to Move the Mississippi, Experts Say

Scientists have long said the only way to restore Louisiana’s vanishing wetlands is to undo the elaborate levee system that controls the Mississippi River, not with the small projects that have been tried here and there, but with a massive diversion that would send the muddy river flooding wholesale into the state’s sediment-starved marshes.

And most of them have long dismissed the idea as impractical, unaffordable and lethal to the region’s economy. Now, they are reconsidering. In fact, when a group of researchers convened last April to consider the fate of the Louisiana coast, their recommendation was unanimous: divert the river.

Far from rejecting the idea, state officials have embraced it, motivated not just by the lessons of Hurricane Katrina but also by growing fears that global climate change will bring rising seas, accelerating land loss and worse weather.

“A major diversion in the lower part of the river is something that needs to be done,” said James R. Hanchey, deputy secretary of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. He said the state was convening a planning meeting on the idea this fall. The diversion would be well downstream of New Orleans, in the bird-foot delta at the river’s mouth. Even so, there would be tremendous engineering challenges, particularly in finding a new way for freighters to make their way into the Mississippi’s shipping channel, said Mr. Hanchey, who took his job after retiring as director of engineering and technical services for the Mississippi Valley division of the Army Corps of Engineers. But he added, “I think it’s within the realm of possibility.”

Ellis J. Clairain Jr., interim director of the Louisiana Coastal Area science and technology program for the Army Corps, called the idea “a possible alternative.”

And Virginia R. Burkett, coordinator of global-change science for the United States Geological Survey and another participant at the April meeting, called it “the only practical solution.”

The diversion proposal was recommended by a panel of dozens of scientists and engineers from all over the world invited to Louisiana to view the state’s marshy coast and to envision its future, said Denise J. Reed, a coastal geologist at the University of New Orleans who organized the meeting.

Sea Otters

Nice local touch with this great tax return check-off funded bill.

Sea otter bill signed
By Jim Sanders - Bee Capitol Bureau Published 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A plea by the 5-year-old son of a Sacramento assemblyman during a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium last year prompted legislation that was signed into law this week.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger approved the sea otter protection measure, Assembly Bill 2485, which will take effect Jan. 1.

The legislation, written by Assembly Democrats Dave Jones of Sacramento and John Laird of Santa Cruz, was prompted by Jones' son, Will, who cried upon learning that the threatened California sea otter population is not thriving.

AB 2485 would add a box to California tax returns for people to check if they want to contribute toward protecting sea otters, improving their habitat and boosting their population.

The measure also increases penalties for illegally capturing sea otters, and requires that containers of cat litter discourage consumers from disposing of the product in toilets, gutters or storm drains through which it could make its way to the ocean and potentially harm sea otters.

Strike Almost Over

But the issue of county financial stability and its ability to continue to take care of the Parkway, which it has been doing for several years in a pretty poor manner, will lessen as higher salaries are paid and more cities incorporate.

Our suggestion is to follow the example of the Sacramento Zoo and have a nonprofit organization contract with local government to provide daily management and fund raising for the parkway, moving it into a much stronger position for the future while county funds continue to shrink.

An excerpt.

County has turned corner in negotiations
With the county's largest unions agreeing to new pacts -- including 4,000 office and welfare workers -- officials hope to quickly settle with a dozen smaller unions
By Ed Fletcher and Deb Kollars - Published 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Sacramento County has "turned a corner" in protracted contract negotiations with its employee unions, putting two weeks of labor strife in the rearview mirror, officials said.

Tuesday marked the first day since Labor Day that no employee unions asked members to skip work.

The county reached a tentative agreement at 5 a.m. Tuesday with United Public Employees Local 1, representing 4,000 county office and welfare workers. Hours earlier, agreement was reached with the union representing a mix of health workers, the last of the unions striking against the county.

The tentative agreements mean that 62 percent of union-represented county employees either have accepted new five-year contracts or will soon vote on tentative agreements.

Forty-eight morning-shift workers -- apparently missing the message that the strike was over -- were reported as AWOL Tuesday. The county promised leniency.

After a string of late-night bargaining sessions, Steve Lakich, the county's director of labor relations, sounded an optimistic tone Tuesday.

"With the UPE agreement in, I think we have turned a corner," Lakich said.

Twelve of the 18 unions representing county employees have yet to reach an agreement with the county, but Lakich predicted that many of the smaller unions -- now that they've seen what the larger unions are getting -- would settle soon.

Dirty Spinach

This entire episode further reminds us of one of the consequences of an efficient agricultural system that creates and ships produce around the world; that sometimes it’s not cleaned or packaged properly.

We can, and always must strive, to do better; and it’s good to hear that local folks are still eating their vegetables.

An excerpt.

Region's restaurants yank a green standby off menus
By Mike Dunne - Bee Food EditorPublished 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, September 20, 2006

When Matt Woolston prepared branzino last Friday for 20 or so customers at his Sacramento restaurant the Supper Club, the crispy slice of the Italian fish was balanced on a dome of spinach just a little smaller than a hockey puck.

When he prepares the branzino this Friday, it will perch on baby arugula instead.

"Since last Friday, a lot has changed," Woolston said.

"Nobody is eating spinach, so until this thing is over we'll substitute."

He has plenty of company in the local restaurant community as chefs and diners alike adapt to concerns over a virulent strain of E. coli bacteria, traced to the spinach fields of the Salinas Valley, that has sickened more than 100 people.

Spinach has disappeared from salad bars, and dishes that previously called for spinach now are being made with chard, romaine or arugula.

"For every 100 cases of spinach we were selling last week, we're now selling one," said Jim Mills, a Produce Express representative who deals with several restaurants in the Sacramento area.
"Spinach is down, but chard is up."

Restaurants that have developed followings at least in part for their extensive salad selections report that customers are taking the absence of spinach in stride.

Tahoe Clarity

For those of us who grew up in the area and spent summer weekends at Tahoe, the memory of the stunning clarity of the water remains, and the good news is that it still is very clear.

It can be kept that way with proper harvesting of the surrounding forests to prevent the disaster of a fire aftermath which would dirty it for years.

An excerpt.

Manage Tahoe forests to keep the lake clear
By Charles Goldman - Special To The BeePublished 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, September 20, 2006

You may not be able to see more than 100 feet below Lake Tahoe's surface as you could 120 years ago, but for now it remains one of the clearest large lakes in the world. There is a growing understanding that everyone loses if its water quality deteriorates. But one major wildfire in the Tahoe Basin would reduce the lake's clarity enormously.

Since I began my studies of Lake Tahoe in 1959, it has lost a third of its remarkable transparency. Nitrogen and phosphorous levels have increased, and development along its shores has accelerated the amount of nutrients and sediments in the lake.

A high intensity fire would lead to significant erosion in the Tahoe Basin. Post-fire rains and snowmelt would wash mud, ash and debris into the lake. The basin would trap a great amount of toxic pollutants and particulate matter from the fire's smoke, which would ultimately settle into the lake itself.

For centuries, forests in the basin helped keep the lake clear. Root systems held soils on the slopes and healthy forests helped clean the air. Then, in 1857, gold and silver were discovered in the Comstock Lode at Virginia City, Nev. Forests were cleared and the wood was used to shore up mines and build railroads.

Erosion increased dramatically during the Comstock era and heavy sediment loads degraded Lake Tahoe's clarity. Fortunately, the immediate impact of the Comstock mining subsided and sediment loads eventually dropped to about 20 percent of their peak levels. But the effects of the era may still haunt the lake.

When Comstock mining ended, white fir and brush grew back densely in the basin. Human fire suppression efforts over the past century extinguished the lightning-ignited blazes that otherwise would have naturally thinned the forests. Now the forests are so overcrowded and riddled by bark beetles that they pose a major fire hazard. Catastrophic fire, in turn, poses the most significant, immediate threat to Lake Tahoe's clarity. One wildfire could send the lake back to Comstock conditions. It could stay that way for quite a while, too: Because of the lake's tremendous depth, small particles of dust and sediments remain suspended in the water for years. Those particles reflect light and decrease its penetration, both of which diminish the lake's transparency.

Imagine what would happen should rain wash 50 million cubic yards of post-fire topsoil and debris into Lake Tahoe, as happened to Lake Isabella following the McNally fire in and around the Giant Sequoia National Monument in 2002. Or if 700 million cubic yards of debris clogged Tahoe's watershed, as it did the Santa Ana River watershed after the Old, Grand Prix and Padua fires in Southern California in 2003.