Saturday, October 15, 2011

Working for the Water District in Washington DC

I spent this week as one of two elected directors visiting Washington DC (the other was Vice-Chair Lezotte) to talk about our local flood control and water supply projects, and to try and scare up some money for more. Some notes:

  • 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.

I sure wish I knew politically-viable ways to make GHG emissions pay for our climate adaptation projects, either on a local, state, or national level, but it's not jumping out at me (don't forget that "politically-viable" requirement). Our riverine flood protection projects also have to be sized for sea level rise because they empty into the Bay, so the costs add up.

My one other observation is that a lot of people we met with sure are young. Our nation is in the hands of twenty-somethings, presumably because we can get away with paying them nothing and working them constantly. Let's hope it works out.

1 comment:

  1. Brian,
    Thanks for taking the time to fly to DC to try to get funding for us. Sounds like you were quite educated in the process.

    It's good that you share you views through your blog. I used to do much of the same before my blog was sidetracked in order to lecture at SJSU.

    Today I post power points on course websites, discussing the same subjects in lecture template. Feel free to attend online, anytime:
    Or come by the classroom, if you want to visit the campus.