Saturday, October 30, 2010

Water utility decoupling for water conservation?

This subject is an idea to be explored rather than a firm commitment, but it's an idea for promoting water conservation in the same way that California has promoted energy conservation: decoupling the profits that regulated companies make from selling energy, or water, from the amount that's used.

See here for more information. The electricity system in much of the country lets private utilities make a profit that depends on the amount of electricity used, so naturally, those companies are not at all enthusiastic or cooperative in energy conservation efforts. In California, the utilities can make money by investing in conservation efforts that reduce the amount of energy that customers use, and the utility then is allowed to charge a little more. The result is that total bill Californians pay is typical for Americans, but the total used is much less, down to almost half of the typical usage.

We can explore the same solution for water (and there has been some work in this area). This could do a lot to increase water conservation, and help align the private and public interest together in doing more to protect our most essential natural resource.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Aquacue blog: Brian Schmidt has right water conservation priorities for the Water District

A nice blog post by a new water-efficiency business, Aquacue:

....In Santa Clara county the average residential monthly water bill is less than $50 per month. A morning cup of plain coffee at a coffee shop costs more than the 300 gallons or so per day that most households use.

Instead of focusing on reducing the water bill, the new board ought to focus on ensuring the long term supply of clean and abundant water, adding infrastructure to support delivery of recycled water for irrigation, and improving water conservation. Cost cutting to support these objectives is a good plan, but not cost cutting to reduce the water bill. Couple of the candidates:Brian Schmidt and Linda LeZotte appear to have these as their top priorities for the board.

I agree that for many residents, the water bill is exactly what they say, smaller than the daily cost of coffee. Of course some people do have high bills though and that is where water conservation efforts can help. And getting people to be water conscious through adding meters to the currently-unmetered use in many apartments and mobile homes could also do a lot to promote conservation.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More on getting work done: comments submitted to the Water District on protecting streamside areas

(As was the case last week, I attended a Water District meeting today and submitted comments yesterday. Again as was the case last week, I was the only candidate who either attended or submitted comments. The submitted comments are below (I made them on behalf of Committee for Green Foothills), and I also spoke on these issues and asked for further clarification of the seismic stability problem at Anderson Dam, a serious issue that's likely going to cost a significant amount of money to fix. I intend to watch that issue closely. -Brian)

October 25, 2010

Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors

Re: Agenda Item 12, BMR-10-0064 regarding exceptions to riparian ordinances

Dear Chair Santos and District Board Members;

The Committee for Green Foothills agrees with the Staff recommendation that the two options that Staff identified for performance evaluations of riparian protections would likely be unproductive for the cost involved. However, it may be productive to broaden the BMR to consider more generally whether land use agencies have provided the adequate riparian protection that was the necessary counterpart to revoking Water District Ordinance 83-2 as well as the decision to desis from expanding the District's permit authority to a 150-foot buffer. The BMR might also consider whether the District could do more to assist in the application of adequate riparian protection policies.

I would encourage consideration of specific examples to see whether the protection the District sought through expanding Ordinance 83-2 has been achieved under present conditions. Several examples that immediately spring to mind include:

· Los Altos Hills, with a 25-foot riparian buffer policy.

· Los Gatos and the development recently proposed along Ross Creek.

· San Jose and the relatively recent development projects on Duckett Way and Guadalupe Mines Road.

In each case the District might analyze whether it could help with riparian protection under current policies. For example, in the case of the Guadalupe Mines Road project, the District submitted a useful comment letter prior to the initiation of CEQA review for the project, but the District did not comment on the CEQA document itself and did not provide comments when the project approval was appealed by environmental groups and another governmental agency, the Guadalupe Coyote Resource Conservation District.

We believe that more can be done to improve riparian protection. Because we are aware of interest in different cities for improving policies (for example, San Jose's proposed Draft General Plan revision to reduce exceptions to its 100-foot buffer policy), we think this could be advanced in a way that shows the District's concern but is still productive and cooperative.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Voter: "I'm a Republican, and I'm supporting you."

I had a very encouraging conversation yesterday meeting a voter while handing out flyers at the Mountain View Farmers Market. While the race for the Water District is a non-partisan race, I personally am a Democrat and have been endorsed by the Santa Clara County Democratic Party. My opponent is a Republican who's endorsed by the County Republican Party (he hasn't chosen to list it on his website but can be seen here). Still, we both are free to encourage people to vote for us regardless of their party affiliation, or non-affiliation.

So it was great to talk to this Republican voter - he said that although he's Republican, he's voting for me because he's seen me out at the farmers markets talking to people and really making an effort. I think it shows something to people - having been to art festivals, farmer markets, and Caltrain stations, not to mention all the precinct walking that volunteers and I have done - that the effort trying to reach people in this campaign reflects the effort I will put into the job if elected. I am also more than happy to compare campaign websites for content and specificity, not to mention this blog with over 30 different posts, and our more recent Facebook page.

The majority of the work that the Water District Board will do isn't work that splits people along ideological lines, it's just a matter of getting the work done and putting in the effort. We very much appreciate the voter recognition of that effort.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Water recycling is a great idea; water desalination has serious problems

I've been asked a number of times about my opinion on water recycling. I think it's a great opportunity to do more with our existing water supply, rather than constantly searching for new water sources. Water recycling treats used water so it can be reused, currently for landscaping and agriculture (the "purple pipe" we see increasingly in various parts of the County is the separate piping system for recycled water).

It certainly makes much more sense to use recycled water instead of drinking water on landscaping and farmland. The next stage, something already done in southern California, is to purify recycled water and pump it back into the groundwater table, where we can fully reuse it.

So I support the existing programs for recycled water, and the role it has in the Water District budget will allow recycled water to expand. I'd also be interested in even more expansion, but I don't see the Water District's budget expanding anytime soon, so we'd have to figure out where the money would come from to accelerate the process.

Desalination (the process of converting saltwater to freshwater), by contrast, has some significant problems. A huge amount of energy is consumed in the desalination process, making it both expensive and environmentally problematic. The remainder of desalination is a soupy salt brine that creates a big disposal problem, especially for us bordering the shallow San Francisco Bay. Any approach to desalination would have to be done very carefully.

Finally, while I distinguish between water recycling and desalination, the distinction is really a matter of degree. Recycling also consumes energy and also has leftover materials. But being able to think in shades of gray is an important part of policy, which is why water recycling should be more encouraged than desalination. Most important of all though is water conservation, reducing the initial demand, and we can still do a lot more on this issue.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Comments submitted to the Water District Board on changing its environmental policies

(Yesterday I attended the Water District Board workshop on changing its overall guidance policies. In addition to attending, I spoke at the meeting and submitted the letter below. The District invited the Board candidates, but I was the only one who attended (in my case, on behalf of Committee for Green Foothills). It might help to read the Board materials for October 20, 2010 and Agenda Item 4 to understand the letter I submitted. We did get some action on one item, but the others will have to wait another day. -Brian)

October 20, 2010

Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors

Re: Agenda Item 4, Ends Policy Workshop and Recommendations of the Environmental Advisory Committee

Dear Chair Santos and Board Members;

I submit the following comments on behalf of the Committee for Green Foothills regarding the Ends Policies recommendations of the Environmental Advisory Committee. We thank District Staff for their work with the EAC and other committees, and for Staff's support of the large majority of Ends Policy changes that the EAC has recommended in recent years. In some cases discussed below we disagree with staff on certain recommendations, and in others we believe that staff misunderstood the purpose of the recommendations.

My comments refer to Attachment 2, Advisory Committee Recommendations:

Policy 1 E-2, language regarding change in winter storms from a mix of rain and snow to mostly rain. The staff response misunderstands this recommendation to deal with water supply, possibly considering it a reference to Sierra snowpack changes. It actually concerned our local hydrology, where winter storms that currently deliver snow at high elevations will increasingly switch to rain throughout, with a possible increase to flood risk. While Executive Limitation EL7.7 on understanding climate change impacts might apply here, the EAC hasn't been informed that flooding forecasts have actually been analyzed to consider this issue.

Policy 2 E-2, language on policies for geographic areas outside of the District. Staff misunderstands this recommendation to refer to adequate supplies of imported water. It actually referred to the environmental impacts the District doubtless has on geographic areas through our imported water use and other potential effects (examples may include downstream flooding on the Pajaro and operation of the San Luis Reservoir). The idea is that the District's interest in minimizing its environmental impact extends beyond District boundaries.

Policy 7 E-4, language regarding habitat conservation plans. We may need more specifics on this recommendation from the EAC's July 2010 meeting.

Policy 10 E-4.1.3, recommending a new Objective to "Protect, enhance, and restore the natural physical stability/dynamic equilibrium of streams." Staff disagree with this recommendation for two reasons. First they say (correctly) that the concepts are considered at Staff level. While true, the question is whether Objectives set by the Board provide sufficient direction for Staff to execute the Board Policies. The existing Objective most closely related to this issue is E-4.1.2, "Improve watersheds, streams, and natural resources." (See Attachment 6, page 1.) The opinion that EAC members and subcommittee members have expressed is that Objective 4.1.2 does not provide adequate direction. While details done at Staff level are helpful, they do not make up for inadequate direction given at the Board level in the Objectives.

The second objection raised by staff is that many factors need to be balanced for District projects. The EAC concurs and raises no objection to existing Objective 4.1.1, "Balance water supply, flood protection, and environmental stewardship functions." The proposed Objective no more conflicts with this balancing provision than does existing Objective 4.1.2 to improve watersheds, streams, and natural resources.

Policy 11 E-4.1.4, a new Objective to "Protect, enhance and restore thriving populations of key species indicative watershed health." The same issue arises here as above, that Staff interpretation does not remove the need for adequate Board direction, and Objective 4.1.2 is too general to provide adequate direction.

Staff also state that restoring habitat is better wording than restoring species. If the Board agrees with Staff, then the solution here would be to reword this Objective rather than reject it outright.

Policy 12 E-4.1.5, a new Objective to "Protect, enhance, and restore riparian and in-stream and tidal habitat conditions conducive to watershed health, including diked historical bay land wetlands and former salt ponds." Same issues as with the previous two Objectives, that existing Objective 4.1.2, "Improve watersheds, streams, and natural resources," does not provide real direction to Staff.

We appreciate Staff's support for Policies 14 and 15, as well as Staff support for many EAC policy recommendations that have already been incorporated into Board policies.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mercury News gives Brian its endorsement and news coverage

Pretty exciting news from the what is by far the biggest daily newspaper in Santa Clara County.

Gage, Lezotte and Schmidt will help reform Santa Clara Valley Water District

According to the Mercury News:

The Santa Clara Valley Water District is ripe for reform in the Nov. 2 election, thanks to the pileup of board outrages over the past three years and the addition of new electoral seats. Finally, there's a real chance to shake up the leadership that too often has provided poor oversight of an agency with an annual budget of $315 million in taxpayers' money. Trustees sometimes stay for upward of 20 years on this board, perhaps addicted to the pay and benefits that are excessive for the part-time job.

Fortunately, in three contested seats for the seven-member board, there are good candidates. We recommend outgoing Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage in District 1, former San Jose Councilwoman Linda LeZotte in District 4 and environmental attorney Brian Schmidt in District 7....

District 7 offers the toughest choice. Both Schmidt and Los Altos City Councilman Lou Becker seem solid on reform and are qualified for the job. We lean toward Schmidt because of his longtime advocacy and deep understanding of environmental issues. His relative youth -- at 43 he would be easily the youngest board member -- could also inject new energy into the board. In addition, his North County orientation would balance Gage, who is backed by the farm bureau and cattlemen.

In recent years, the Santa Clara Valley Water District has sparked major controversy, with accusations of gerrymandering and grand juries questioning its spending.

This year, Santa Clara County's largest water provider is facing a rare occurrence: multiple, high-profile candidates running for its board.

Seven candidates are running in next month's election for three open seats on the board, which oversees an annual budget of $315 million and supplies drinking water and flood protection to 1.8 million county residents....

In the final open seat, for District 7, which runs from Palo Alto to Almaden Valley, environmental attorney Brian Schmidt, 43, faces Lou Becker, 76, a retired civil engineer and member of the Los Altos City Council.

Schmidt, a registered Democrat, is a staff attorney with the non-profit Committee for Green Foothills. He supports a limit of two terms for board members, a reduction in their salaries -- from $260 per meeting to half that -- and a more pro-active environmental stance for the district. Chairman of the county Fish and Game Commission, he supports tougher state laws for mercury pollution, is leaning against an Alviso Port and wants more water conservation and recycling programs.

He is endorsed by the Sierra Club and by Kniss, Shirakawa and Yeager.....

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Director compensation going the wrong way

(We submitted the letter below the Water District Board and argued in favor of it front of the Board - I was the only candidate there. Unfortunately, the Board voted to go in the wrong direction, with a 10% compensation increase. I hope to get that reversed if elected. -Brian)

October 12, 2010

Santa Clara Valley Water District, Board of Directors

Re: Agenda Item 5 - Board member responsibilities and compensation should be made roughly comparable to those of City Council Members

Dear Chair Santos and Members of the Board:

I am impressed with the importance of the Board's work and the time I have seen given to that work. Chair Santos in particular has been involved with some of the same projects that also concern my environmental work in San Jose, and he's always present and participating. While I believe the Water District Board needs to recast its responsibilities and reduce its compensation, my belief in no way denigrates the work and commitment of current or past Board Directors.

The main problem as I see it is that this Board is straddling an uncomfortable middle ground between the full-time, fully-compensated work of bodies like our County Board of Supervisors, and the more limited work and modest compensation of most City Councils in our County. I think it would make more sense to choose one of these two roles and to operate like a City Council, with comparable hours and comparable compensation.

Switching to evening meetings, like most City Councils, would make it much more feasible for people who have day jobs to serve on the District Board, as well as make it possible for more people to attend meetings. Switching to a rate of compensation that is similar to that of City Council Members would therefore be appropriate.

The rate of $260 per meeting and up to $2,600 per month is not similar to what Council Members receive. I suggest cutting the rate by more than 50%, to about $100-$125 per meeting and up to $1000-$1,250 per month. Such a rate would still be at the high end of what council members receive, but at least would be in the general range of comparable payment rates. Making this proposed cut would demonstrate that the District Board is serious about cost control and about reconnecting to the community by adopting a more broadly accepted compensation rate.

Two additional steps should also be taken. First, there is a potential conflict between Water Code section 20201 that allows the District Board to raise the compensation rate, and the District Act that sets a fixed limit significantly below the proposed compensation rate. While I appreciate the helpful explanatory paragraph in today's agenda item, I suggest the Board direct District Counsel to prepare a publicly-available memo explaining in more detail how these two laws interact and the reason why the District does not believe the fixed limit in the District Act is applicable. In particular, the memo should explain whether section 33 of the District Act was passed later in time than the Water Code section, or if the Water Code section has been subsequently restated or reauthorized. The memo should also state why the Directors compensation had not been reset to the rate fixed by section 33 at the time that the District Act was last reauthorized by the legislature (note that section 20201 uses the word "increases," not "changes," when saying increases should be governed by the Water Code and not by legislation).

Second, the District Board should set rules regarding when a Director can be compensated for participating in community meetings if that Director has determined that he or she has a conflict of interest over the primary subject matter of the meeting. My recommendation is that if the Director has determined that he or she has a conflict that prevents participation in a decision at the Board, then that Director should only participate in community meetings on the subject as a private person and should not be compensated for that participation. If the meeting also concerns other Water District subjects, then compensation may be appropriate, but only if the treatment of other subjects is more than de minimus. It is not clear to me whether any such rules currently exist, but I have not seen mention of them.

I thank the District Board for this opportunity to comment, and please feel free to contact me with any questions.


Brian Schmidt

Brian Schmidt for Santa Clara Valley Water District 2010

A limit to term limits?

Today I heard that there may be some obscure limitation in the ability of the State legislature to impose term limits on special districts created by the state. It seems strange to me and I've talked to plenty of lawyers about the idea of just putting limits in the enabling legislation without hearing this issue, but I just wanted to flag the potential problem until I have time to research it.

Obviously if this is the case, then the idea I've had of saving the money involved in putting term limits on the ballot by putting it in legislation instead, isn't going to work. Still, there are plenty of other opportunities to save money, starting with cutting compensation for Directors to a level comparable to that of City Council Members.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Let your friends know - ballots are going out

Here's an email we're sending out - if you can help, please just scroll over everything below, and copy and paste into an email to send to anyone in the District 7 (from north to south that's Palo Alto, Stanford, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Monte Sereno, Los Gatos, South Almaden, and County lands from Skyline Drive down to the city boundaries).


Email not displaying correctly? View it in your browser.
Brian Schmidt for Santa Clara Valley Water District Board
Water: The Most Important Issue on Your November Ballot

Brian Schmidt is an environmental lawyer running for the Santa Clara Valley Water District to help with the mission of flood control, water supply, and stream and watershed health. Brian is running for election to Water District 7, representing Palo Alto, Stanford, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Monte Sereno, Los Gatos, and the San Jose neighborhood of South Almaden Valley.

If elected, Brian will:
* Clean mercury from our watershed
* Give YOU a voice in managing your water
* Bring the environment to the forefront

Brian has years of experience with water issues and with the Water District, and has been endorsed by conservation organizations and by the majority of the Council Members in Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Los Altos Hills. They believe he can help the Water District coordinate work with local governments.

Brian will bring reform by supporting evening meetings, meaningful term limits, and broader roles for citizen oversight committees. Brian supports expanding existing programs for cleaning up the significant mercury contamination problem we have with our fish and streams. Bringing the environment to the forefront of the District's work in flood protection and water supply will help improve our quality of life and our local economy.

For more information, please visit:

and look for BRIAN SCHMIDT
on your District 7 ballot

“Brian Schmidt represents the new wave of environmental leaders, one who is knowledgeable about the importance of water in our lives. He is an authentic public servant who will make a significant contribution to the Water District.”

- Mary Davey, President, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District

Partial list of endorsements:


  • Santa Clara County Democratic Party
  • The Sierra Club
  • Dean Democratic Club of Silicon Valley
  • Santa Clara County League of Conservation Voters
  • Peninsula Democratic Coalition
  • Local unions

Elected and former elected officials including:

  • California State Assembly Member Jim Beall
  • Liz Kniss and the majority of Santa Clara County Supervisors
  • San Mateo County Supervisor Rich Gordon and Candidate for State Assembly
  • The majority of City Council members in Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View
Our mailing address is:
Brian Schmidt for Santa Clara Valley Water District 2010
PO Box 391176
Mountain View, California 94043

Copyright (C) 2010 Brian Schmidt for Santa Clara Valley Water District 2010 All rights reserved.
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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

In the news: my campaign video statement

The Midpeninsula Community Media Center is covering the Water District election and published my campaign statement. Here it is!


UPDATE: There may be a limit to using state legislation to create term limits for the Water District, so consider my proposal to cut Director compensation in half to be a better idea of a specific way to save money.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mary Davey

I'm saddened to report the death of local icon, Mary Davey, after a brief illness. We'll have more to say later, but Mary had been a mentor to me and to many others, and provided me all kinds of help and advice, including up into this last week on my campaign. Over two weeks ago she gave us a wonderful quote to use in our campaign mail piece, and I was able to read it to her at the hospital late last week and tell her that people are listening to her by the thousands.

We'll sorely miss her, but as she was such an optimistic and cheerful person, we'll be greatly celebrating her life and her presence in our lives.