Monday, December 5, 2011
Today's Water District meeting featured an energy usage work study session. We use a lot of energy moving water across much of the state and then treating it, about 5% of all our costs. While we also have a policy saying we that want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, our policy isn't very clear. I pressed staff on this issue and another director, Linda Lezotte, also followed up:
(Arrgh, something won't let me post more than one video excerpt. It's here at the 01:28:00 mark, for about 4 minutes. Two of us seven directors say we need to do more than merely "cost-effective" efforts to reduce GHG emissions, the other five don't say anything.)
We're pretty good overall in our energy usage. Maybe we can partner with Sonoma County to be better.
We're part of a joint powers authority for buying our power at a rate that's both cheaper and with lower carbon emissions than our local utility provides. Our CO2 emissions are 435lbs/MWh, one-third the national average (see the first link, Attachment 4, p 17). Not the one-tenth that we need, but pretty good.
While California cap-and-trade doesn't apply directly to us, it does apply to the joint powers authority called PWRPA that we helped establish to get our power, and we may have a chance to sell carbon allowances from environmental improvements that we make:
In addition to what you can see on the video is the 3 hours that we spent in closed (confidential) session to discuss internally the negotiations with labor unions for new contracts. Obviously I can't talk about what happened then, but the financial issues highlight how important the economics of all this is. If doing the right thing environmentally can help us out financially, we're going to do more of the right thing, especially right now when finances are so tight.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Santa Clara Valley Water District OKs adding fluoride to its drinking waterSilicon Valley's largest drinking water provider took the first steps Tuesday toward adding fluoride to the drinking water in most of Santa Clara County, including San Jose, the largest city in the nation without the cavity-battling additive.After a lively 90-minute debate at a packed meeting, the board of the Santa Clara Valley Water District voted 7-0 to put the district on record supporting fluoridation.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
To fluoridate or not to fluoridate, that is the question. Next Tuesday at my Water District Board meeting
I'll reproduce below most of an old post about fluoridation. I had previously expected to see an identical situation with climate change in terms of the debate, but it's not. I think factors overall favor fluoridating, but not quite as overwhelmingly as I expected. On Tuesday, my fellow Directors and I get to figure out next steps.
I originally labelled this blog Backseat Driving back in 2004 because I anticipated it to be a blog where I would second-guess decisions made by politicians and other people. That worked out fine more or less until November 2010, when for some reason I was elected to the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board. Turns out that San Jose is the largest city in the US without fluoridated water supplies (in much of the city, anyway), and the seven of us directors have to decide whether we'll help or hinder the fluoridation process. So I'm pushed into the front seat for this one.
We've got some legal and economic issues to handle (it's not quite as cheap as everyone says, I want to know where the money's going to come from), but the relevant issue here is science. I read the guest post at climate blogger Coby Beck's place, The Case Against Fluoride, fairly closely a while back, especially the raucous debate in the comments. As a spectator with some, limited reading of the available information, I'd say the fluoridators seemed more persuasive than skeptics, but it wasn't the absolute demolishing that I expected.The fluoride skeptics really hurt their cause when say fluoride doesn't prevent cavities - it's so obviously effective that people making this claim are damaging their own credibility. I'd consider it comparable to denying that the planet has warmed in the last 50 years.
The closer issue is adverse effects, and whether a substantial number of people are very slightly harmed by fluoridation, or if a small number of people are substantially harmed. The 2006 National of Sciences report doesn't condemn fluoridation, but it doesn't absolve it, either:
....Overall, there was consensus among the committee that there is scientific evidence that under certain conditions fluoride can weaken bone and increase the risk of fractures. The majority of the committee concluded that lifetime exposure to fluoride at drinking-water concentrations of 4 mg/L or higher is likely to increase fracture rates in the population, compared with exposure to 1 mg/L, particularly in some demographic subgroups that are prone to accumulate fluoride into their bones (e.g., people with renal disease)....There were few studies to assess fracture risk in populations exposed to fluoride at 2 mg/L in drinking water. The best available study, from Finland, suggested an increased rate of hip fracture in populations exposed to fluoride at concentrations above 1.5 mg/L. However, this study alone is not sufficient to judge fracture risk for people exposed to fluoride at 2 mg/L. Thus, no conclusions could be drawn about fracture risk or safety at 2 mg/L....(In California, 2 mg/L was the limit, and 0.7 is the new proposed goal. -Ed)
Neurotoxicity and Neurobehavioral Effects
Animal and human studies of fluoride have been published reporting adverse cognitive and behavioral effects. A few epidemiologic studies of Chinese populations have reported IQ deficits in children exposed to fluoride at 2.5 to 4 mg/L in drinking water. Although the studies lacked sufficient detail for the committee to fully assess their quality and relevance to U.S. populations, the consistency of the results appears significant enough to warrant additional research on the effects of fluoride on intelligence....
Endocrine EffectsThe chief endocrine effects of fluoride exposures in experimental animals and in humans include decreased thyroid function, increased calcitonin activity, increased parathyroid hormone activity, secondary hyperparathyroidism, impaired glucose tolerance, and possible effects on timing of sexual maturity. Some of these effects are associated with fluoride intake that is achievable at fluoride concentrations in drinking water of 4 mg/L or less, especially for young children or for individuals with high water intake. Many of the effects could be considered subclinical effects, meaning that they are not adverse health effects. However, recent work on borderline hormonal imbalances and endocrine-disrupting chemicals indicated that adverse health effects, or increased risks for developing adverse effects, might be associated with seemingly mild imbalances or perturbations in hormone concentrations. Further research is needed to explore these possibilities....(Removed discussion of bone cancer as not very troubling given its rarity. Ed.)
These were the most troubling findings, mostly about what hasn't been proven, and mostly dealing with levels that are five times what's planned for drinking water. The report expressly ignored the benefits of fluoridation. It's important to balance out potential concerns over rare, severe complications related to fluoride with the certainty that rare, severe complications can result from cavities.The bottom line as a policy maker in my little arena is that I shouldn't try and figure out the science myself, but I should try to figure out what the scientific consensus is, figure out where the consensus doesn't yet exist, and then plug that information into everything else we have to balance.The science seems to favor fluoridation, but it's not a slam dunk. And we still have potential policy barriers, and the overall cost issues. Figuring this all out will be interesting.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
I attended our annual Santa Clara County Creeks Conference last Saturday, with an even better than usual program that included a panel on tidal wetlands restoration in South San Francisco Bay, where we're bringing back 16,000 acres of tidal wetlands from former saltponds (will post a video link when it's online).
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Saturday, October 15, 2011
- I can confirm the obvious statement that the budget process is broken. I respect the antipathy to earmarks and am open to replacing them with another process, but what we have instead is virtually no process to provide local input into federal decision-making about local projects. We had multiple meetings with Congressional offices where they often said they could do little to help, and just one with the Office of Management and Budget, which now has all the power.
- There is real interest in the Obama in the environment. We talked about environmental benefits to one relatively high-level official in the Department of Agriculture who'd been hired from an environmental organization. She raised Obama's Great Outdoors initiative that tries to reconnect Americans to our natural environment, including urban areas. So I pointed to a map that we brought. Here in south San Jose, wild elk will sometimes roam within city limits. In north San Jose where San Francisco Bay ends, leopard sharks swim. Connecting them is Coyote Creek, a major intact riparian system running through central San Jose with migrating, endangered steelhead, a bike/pedestrian pathway, great views of hawk nests. Our flood control project is a major tributary where we want to rip out concrete, replace it with vegetated-earth banks, and add riparian habitat next to an elementary school. She liked it.
- We can at least take some actions to adapt to climate change. We're trying to restore 15,000 acres of abandoned salt-making ponds to tidal wetlands, but the pond levees form part of the antiquated levee system protecting urban land in the South Bay. We want to rebuild and strengthen the landward side of the multi-ring levee system, and only then can we breach the bayside of the salt pond levees and restore them to tidal flow and vegetation. This was our one meeting with OMB, and there I emphasized that we're sizing the levees to accommodate 50 years of sea level rise (based on Cal. Academy of Sciences 2006 report, using the high end of three scenarios), and sized so they can be built up higher if needed. The OMB people seemed interested, so we'll see.
Monday, September 5, 2011
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Sunday, June 5, 2011
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
In March, members of the water district board were discussing at a public meeting whether to shift money for environmental restoration of streams to flood control work. Schmidt openly asked if he might have a conflict.
He asked water district counsel Stan Yamamoto for a ruling. He met afterward with Yamamoto's staff. The lawyers issued a memo spelling out when Schmidt should recuse himself from voting.
"Before I even started the campaign last year, I said I wanted to avoid any conflicts between my job as an environmental advocate and the work the water district does," Schmidt said Monday.
Yamamoto declined to be interviewed.
Asked to make the memo public, Schmidt said he could not, because he isn't the client in the attorney-client relationship, the water district is. Instead, he said, he has asked the state Fair Political Practices Commission for a ruling. He declined to comment on whether he supports making the memo public.
That's the core information in the article, although I think there was some sensationalizing of it. My main complaint is that I gave the reporter a reason why I shouldn't publicly declare whether the memo should be public, which wasn't included in the article: because the memo's about me, I shouldn't be involved in the process of deciding whether it should be released, and that includes publicly lobbying the Water District to release it (or not).
Second complaint is that no one ever releases attorney-client communication (for the reason that it would impair frank communication), and the article declined to mention that. I told the reporter that I considered that an essential part of the information that the public doesn't know, but he didn't. I should note that the Water District hasn't (so far anyway) decided to release the memo, but it's up to them. I did make clear to the reporter that as a general matter I oppose releasing attorney-client communication, but there could be specific exceptions, and I wouldn't weigh in on whether this memo was one of them.
It's somewhat ironic that we were in disagreement over what the newspaper is withholding from the public.
One additional thing the article brings that I do think is fair is that to the extent I have a conflict that keeps me from voting, I can't weigh in on issues on behalf of my constituents. On the other hand, it's the same experience at my day job that gives me relevant knowledge for the job. Overall, I think I'll need to recuse myself between one and three times this year, and fewer times in subsequent years. I noted this during the campaign as well and felt that it wasn't so broad a problem as to keep me from doing the work, and nothing's changed my mind since then.