Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Brian's mid-term report

Dear friends,

This month marks the half-way point in my term as the District 7 Director, so I wanted to report out to you all on what has and hasn't happened, both on a general level and in terms of fulfillment of my campaign promises.

General News

Measure B.  The most important news on the general level comes from the wonderful success of Measure B, the Safe Clean Water Measure, winning a stunning 74% of the vote on last November's ballot.  This approval level becomes either the highest or one of the highest ever for a Santa Clara County property tax.  Measure B will help accelerate our efforts to prepare our reservoirs for earthquakes, to provide resiliency against flooding, and to kickstart significant increases in the District's environmental restoration programs.  I became heavily involved in increasing environmental funding and accountability in the measure as well as supporting it to the public, and several of my colleagues thanked me for all my work.

The vast majority of environmentalists who took positions on Measure B ended up supporting it, while a few opposed it.  Opposition came from disappointment in how funding was handled in prior years.  I believe those problems are fixed in the new Safe Clean Water program as well as getting more funding, and I look forward to working with the environmental community in getting funding happening right away.

Turnover in the Board of Directors.  For a board that had the same directors during such a long time, the past few years resulted in tremendous turnover.  Of the seven directors who served prior to the November 2010 election, five will soon be replaced.  While experience is valuable, so is turnover.  I think we as new members of the Board will bring a great deal of benefit to the District, as well as a "reset" opportunity where needed for some parts of community relations.  I welcome incoming Board Directors Nai Hsueh and Barbara Keegan, and salute all of the directors who left or will soon be leaving for their years of service.

In related news, Director Gage was just elected mayor of Gilroy and will be leaving us.  I expect we will accept applications for a replacement in early January and appoint someone by the end of the month.  Obviously this will be an important decision, and I believe there are wide opportunities for anyone with strong connections to District 1 and with water-related experience.

My campaign 

My campaign promised to work on three major changes:  more public involvement, greater emphasis on the environment, and increased action on mercury contamination of our watershed.

More public involvement.  We made significant progress in public involvement and public trust, as can be seen by competitive elections and widespread support for Measure B.  More specifically, I chaired a special committee of Board directors to revamp the rules for citizen advisory committees, giving them greater flexibility to operate and to set their own agendas.  We held more evening meetings in 2011, and I hope to do even more in upcoming years.

More environmental emphasis.  We see this in the passage of Measure B, where I successfully lobbied my colleagues to increase funding for Shoreline protection from sea level rise and more money for fish habitat improvements.  The District also adopted a policy of becoming carbon-neutral by 2020, an ambitious target that I plan to do all I can to make happen.  I've been involved in many other environmental efforts at the District as well - you can see some of them in the 70-plus blog posts and Facebook updates that I've done, also part of getting more public involvement and transparency.

Increased action on mercury.  A lot has happened in this area, with the District continuing mercury remediation efforts in reservoirs and wrapping up removal of mercury contaminated mine tailings in the Jacques Gulch area.  The District has also started planning on how to separate Alamitos Creek from Almaden Lake, a crucial issue in dealing with mercury, and Measure B includes more funding to address this issue.

I still want to see legislative action on getting mercury producers to pay for cleanups or participate in taking mercury out of the environment, but meanwhile I think we've made some significant progress.

Looking ahead

I expect we'll have a lot to do with implementing Measure B, renovating the biggest of our three water treatment plants, dealing with old dams, managing water imports from the Sacramento Delta, and revising the state-level enabling legislation for the District.  I remain interested in reducing the total number of directors from seven to five, in making the Board more like a typical city council in terms of pay and time commitment, and in improving the election process.

I also plan to keep my commitment of no more than two terms on the Board.  Sometime about a year from now, I will start to think about whether I should run for re-election, and if I do, then I can guarantee you'll be hearing from me!

In the meantime, I wish everyone a Happy Holiday season as we look forward to 2013.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Water District action next year

In response to questions, I wanted to give some updates on three expected Water District actions next year.

First, the Water District plans to go back to the state legislature for several revisions to the District Act that authorizes the District's existence.  The last effort several years ago bogged down in conflict, so the proposed approach now is to split it up and only try for relatively non-controversial parts first.

Video of the staff summary below (if it doesn't work, click here and then on October 23 2012, and finally advance to 1:32:00 through 1:35:00 in Item 6.1)

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I had some comments that first went to the issue of CEQA "reform" being proposed in the legislature, and then on the District Act legislation (same link as above, from 1:39:00 to 1:44:00):
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The specific short term goals are here:

Summary of Near-Term Legislative Needs 

Following are near-term legislative needs that are least likely to raise controversy or generate stakeholder opposition

• Remove obsolete language associated with the transition from a Board consisting of five elected and two appointed at-large members, to a Board consisting of seven elected members.

• Update the Act to reflect that Board Members are compensated and reimbursed pursuant to Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 20200) of Division 10 of the Water Code and Sections 53232.2 and 53232.3 of the Government Code.

• Revise the Act to provide the Board greater flexibility with respect to the appointment of advisory committees by deleting references to specific committees and committee membership.

• Delete the requirement to prepare and hold hearings on Engineers Reports, as that process has been superseded by the CEQA process and the Capital Improvement Plan process undertaken as part of the annual budget development and review process.

For my part, I'm considering the following long-term possibilities for reform of the District Act (just possibilities I'm considering at this point):

From seven to five directors to match County Supervisor Districts, legislative authorization to rely on County redistricting results for subsequent changes to district boundaries
  Alternative A: Districts 6 and 7 terminate in 2014
  Alternative B: Districts 6 and 7 terminate in 2016 (final term is for two years, 2014-2016, instead of four)
  Alternative C: Districts 6 and 7 terminate in 2018
Note that the change to the District Act would choose one of the above alternatives

Cap on individual donations to campaigns – choose best practice found in elections to local office like county supervisor elections

Loans by candidate to campaign committee must be forgiven if not repaid within one month after the election

Voluntary cap on overall campaign budget

Match funds for small individual donors to a campaign up to a TBD level for each campaign committee and a TBD level for a campaign cycle, whichever is reached first

Authorization of District to establish instant runoff/ranked choice voting if such authorization is needed
  Alternatively, authorization of District to establish instant runoff/ranked choice voting if the County Board of Supervisors switches to that type of voting system.

Watershed restoration – District is authorized to undertake activities to protect, enhance, and restore Santa Clara County watersheds
  Clarification that this measure not meant to affect District’s authorization to issue permits

Okay, so all that is just the first update.  I'll be more concise on the other two.

The District has begun preliminary work on community involvement over separating Alamitos Creek from Almaden Lake, an important issue both for reducing the problem of mercury contamination and protecting our native fish from unnaturally warm temperatures and predatory invasive fish.  Solutions could create new riparian zones, new wetlands (as mitigation for wetland losses elsewhere) and/or new parkland, at the expense of a diminished or eliminated Lake Almaden.  Anyone who wants to contribute to the discussion should start to get involved, with the next public effort in February.  Info on potential alternatives is here.

Finally, we have the very welcome problem of figuring out how to implement Safe Clean Water funding!  I hope that we can reinitiate grant funding for wildlife habitat and trail proposals as soon as possible, maybe beginning the process this winter and awarding grants in August.

A very busy year in the making, and I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Great news on Safe Clean Water for Santa Clara County

Below is my statement regarding the Water District election results:

All I can say is thank you. 
Okay, I can say more. 
The biggest (and gratifying!) surprise for me was the margin: 72.65% in favor, almost 6% higher than needed. This is far better than any prior poll of the measure that I've seen or heard about. The original year 2000 measure just barely received the 66.7% needed to pass, although that was a new tax and this is a continuation of an existing one. 
Also surprising is that at the same time, voters elected a challenger over an incumbent Water District director running for re-election. This suggests to me the voters' willingness to distinguish between their choice of the elected directors and their evaluation of the work of the organization as a whole, a subtle distinction by the voters for a down-ballot issue. I have already sent my congratulations to newly-elected Nai Hsueh and Barbara Keegan and look forward to working with them 
As for Director Kwok who is being replaced by Ms Hsueh, I thank him for his years of service, especially at the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority.  At the JPA he helped moved forward the flood control projects that had otherwise faced significant delays.  Thanks likewise to Director Judge, who is retiring, for all his work.
Director Don Gage was successful in his bid for mayor of Gilroy and so will be leaving us. We'll miss him and will have to work hard to find a worthy successor to appoint and fill out the rest of Don's term, which will happen near the beginning of 2013. 
Safe Clean Water Measure B is a continuation of crucial changes at the District. Clean Safe Creeks 2000 was the start of that change with the first outcome measures dedicated for environmental restoration. Safe Clean Water 2012 took that estimated funding level and easily tripled it or more, along with greater transparency and better guarantees that the money will be spent for what the voters intended. 
This series of changes can't end - the future of water agencies throughout the state and the nation is to be environmental agencies. Safe Clean Water sends us in that direction, but it's nowhere near enough. We still need some reforms at how we do things on the District Board level and on better efficiency at staff level. These changes must happen, and I look forward to working with everyone to continue them. 
Thank you!
Brian Schmidt, Director, District 7
Santa Clara Valley Water District

Monday, November 5, 2012

Last call for support for Measure B

(I sent this out today.)


I think the connection between disaster preparation and environmentalism isn't as strongly made by the public as it should be.  Both are about planning for the future, not just the present.  

The tragic events with Superstorm Sandy show how important it is to be prepared.  Measure B is about being prepared for disasters, for flooding, for earthquakes, and for other disasters to the environment and to the water supply.  Rebuilding the levees along the Bay to prepare for tidal flooding and sea level rise can help avert on a smaller scale what we've seen back east, as well as making Bay restoration possible when we replace unsafe, old mud walls with a modern levee system.

I won't go over all the details of Measure B, but below is a letter I've been circulating about it.  Since joining the Water District Board two years ago, I've felt the urgency of the work as well the need in cases to change things.  Measure B helps us change things.  Waiting two years or four years is about increasing the risk - environmental improvements and flood control take years to do, so a delay now means a delay in finished projects from five to fifteen years in the future.

Please support and tell your friends to support Measure B.  I'm happy to answer any questions - and please forward this!

Brian A Schmidt, Director, District 7
Santa Clara Valley Water District

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

One climate adaptation in process for local water demand

So I'm going to get at least one of the climate change goals I've had for my Water District - recalibrate anticipated future water demand based on anticipated future temperatures.

I know that anticipating our future local water supply (about 35% is local, 55% from the Sierras, and 10% is from conservation) is really difficult.  Most likely it will be worse - longer droughts and larger percent of precip coming in large storms where the water mostly flushes to the ocean instead of percolating to groundwater or caught in reservoirs.  Also less snow - and we do get snow in the Bay Area hills, even if it doesn't last.  But none of this translates into numbers that we can plug into our 25-year projections.

Demand, or at least aspects of it, can be modeled in a climate-changed world.  Thanks to weather, we've got past unseasonably-warm years that will be just typically-warm years of the future, and the increased demands from crops and landscapes due to warmth should be easy to see.

While this analysis didn't go into a water supply master plan that we approved last week, it will go into the next iteration.  I brought up the issue below, and got support from our board chair and (after discussion of other issues by staff) from the conservative Republican director on our board:

If the video above goes away, click here, click on the October 9 2012 video, and go to Minute 43.

Wish it was this easy all the time.  Adaptation to climate change still seems like the easiest way to bring about acceptance of climate reality, despite North Carolina's legislature.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Santa Clara County environmentalists - Please support Safe Clean Water measure!

Letter to Santa Clara County Environmentalists about the Safe Clean Water Measure
Brian Schmidt
October 4, 2012

As a long time environmentalist with what I hope is some “street cred” on valuing the environment and knowing the Water District, I urge you, I beg you, to support the Safe Clean Water measure - Measure B - on the November ballot and to tell your friends to do the same.  This fall might be our only chance for a decade or longer to get expanded environmental funding, and it definitely is our best chance based on what we currently know about future circumstances.

It’s far better than the funding we have now, and that funding is on its way out

In 2000 voters passed, just barely, the Clean Safe Creeks funding measure with the support of most environmental groups, and the measure expires in June 2016.  About $15 to $20 million for environmental funding could be available under this measure, but it’s not required to be spent on the environment and could end up shifted elsewhere if Safe Clean Water doesn’t pass.

The new Safe Clean Water measure by contrast has over $20 million in grants for streamside and wetland habitats, $24 million that makes restoring South Bay tidal wetlands possible, $21 million for removing contaminants like mercury from our watersheds, $20 million for improving fish habitat and removing barriers to steelhead, $8 million for implementing the new County Habitat Conservation Plan, $7 million in pollution prevention grants, and $2 million in new water conservation programs and projects that encourage use of drinking water instead of bottled water.

Some of these things would happen anyway without Safe Clean Water, but some would not or not as extensively, or other worthy projects would lose funding instead.  There are other good environmental aspects of Safe Clean Water as well, like natural flood control along San Francisquito Creek, that I haven’t even counted.  What is clear is that the original, year 2000 Measure B is going away and will be gone before the next presidential election, so now is the time to move forward.

This is our best chance

A special tax like Safe Clean Water requires a two-thirds majority vote, even just for the purpose of renewing it at the same rate.  The Water District did polling in the runup to the Clean Safe Creeks measure 12 years ago and again for the current Safe Clean Water measure.  In June of this year, Safe Clean Water polled 69% support, two percent higher than Clean Safe Creeks did in June 2000. 

If Safe Clean Water ends up failing, then one likely conclusion the Water District may make fopr the future is that if preliminary polling doesn’t show even higher than 69% support, then don’t go through the planning process again, which cost over a million dollars this last time.  Statistics in non-presidential elections are not encouraging – 71% of city and special district parcel taxes like this one failed last June, according to the Calwatchdog website.  Younger, more environmentally-oriented voters and voters of color favor this measure and are far more likely to come out for the presidential election than the one in November 2014.

After this year there may be other open space funding measurers, a state water bond measure, and a Palo Alto flooding benefit district; all of them potentially competing with or reducing support for renewing the special tax.  After June 2016, the existing tax expires, and trying to get people to renew an expired tax is far more difficult.  We simply don’t know if we have another chance, or if we do whether that other chance will win.

Environmentalists think long-term

If Safe Clean Water passes, it is likely that in a decade or so we will be looking at revising and renewing it, just as we are now for Clean Safe Creeks.  As is the case now, renewing an existing tax in a decade will be easier than starting a new tax.  Passing Safe Clean Water now isn’t just a matter of this decade, but of making funding possible for the next measure.  Just as Safe Clean Water is better than Clean Safe Creeks, I expect the next measure will be better still.  For that, we need your help.

If Safe Clean Water fails, the realistic option is to prepare for reduced environmental funding until there’s another major river flood, tidal flood, or drought, which could be many years in the future.  Before then we might be able to do something to help environmental funding, but we can’t count on it, let alone that it would be nearly as much help.

We live in an imperfect world.  I’m not suggesting that Safe Clean Water is perfect and couldn’t have been made better (although there will be chances to improve it during implementation if it passes).  What I’m asking of the environmental community is that we reach out our hand and grasp this opportunity in front of us.

Please forward this letter on to any local environmentalists you know.  This letter is only a summary, and there’s a lot more to discuss for those interested in discussing it.  I am happy to talk to you or your friends to go into those details or to refute misinformation you may have heard (and acknowledge the occasional correct criticism).  You can also get more information at http://yesonsafecleanwater.com/.

Looking forward to the election – please vote YES on Measure B for Safe Clean Water!

Brian Schmidt
Director, District 7, Santa Clara Valley Water District
Former Santa Clara County Advocate, Committee for Green Foothills
Former Board Member, Santa Clara County League of Conservation Voters
Former staff attorney, Earthjustice
Former co-president, Stanford Environmental Law Society

P.S.  If you can do a little more than just spread the word, please do!  Contact me for ideas, or if you can make a contribution at the website above, that would be incredibly helpful.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I'm a carbon neutral delayist - until 2020

At Monday's Water District meeting, we revised our greenhouse gas/climate change policies.  The prior policy was to reduce emissions "when feasible".  Staff's new proposal was to "strive for carbon neutrality".  The Board Chair (and the other enviro on our board) wanted more.  She said she wanted to achieve carbon neutrality and to give a date, even though it was one she didn't expect to meet.  The date she gave was 2015.

I didn't know she was going to do any of that, so it was a pleasant surprise.  I thought having a date, or figuring out a date soon, was good but we need it to be defensible.  We're already pretty good on emissions, getting most of our power from carbon neutral hydro, but we still use a lot of other power, have a lot of vehicles, and a lot of construction.  I argued for either 2020 or for setting up the process now for establishing a date.  By 2020 I said we should be well along in San Francisco Bay wetlands restoration, which should absorb a huge amount of carbon emissions and make carbon neutrality possible.  The Board settled on that date.

Video below, or go here, click on August 20, and start watching at about 3 hours in.

The reference to "purpa" is actually the Power and Water Resources Pooling Authority, a joint government agency that buys power directly from providers instead of going through utility companies, giving us a lot more control over our carbon emissions.  This is why we have a chance of achieving neutrality.

The truth is I'd be thrilled if we achieved carbon neutrality by 2020, but let's see how close we can get.  I need to start working on the planning for it.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Accepting responsibility

I thought I'd add a little clip from a meeting in June when the District Board discussed multiple delays in a program to protect endangered fish and habitats in Stevens, Coyote, and Guadalupe Creeks, called the FAHCE/Three Creeks Habitat Conservation Plan.

Some directors had expressed frustration with delays at regulatory agencies, which I think is a legitimate thing to be concerned about.  I made the point that we also need to accept some responsibility for the delay due to expanding and then contracting the scope of the project, and because the program kept getting switched between managers:

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If the video doesn't work, click here, scroll to June 26 2012m and start the video at the 2:00:00 mark.

Nobody disagreed with my point.  I think we're working hard to fix things, and that both the Board and staff are willing to take responsibility for fixing things.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

My six million dollar memo

I wish I always generated $3 million per page of writing.

So far I'm vastly oversimplifying and hogging the credit, but at the last Water District board meeting on Tuesday, I won the District's support to add $6 million of funding for environmental programs in a proposed special tax renewal, on a ballot measure that we may be sending to the voters this fall.  My original proposal was to shift some money around among environmental programs and pull some money out of the undesignated contingency reserves, where I guess little of the reserves might end up for environmental programs as opposed to other District programs.  The end result didn't shift money around, but did pull $6 million out of the $44 million in reserves to fund environmental programs.  I'm pretty happy with the outcome.

You can watch the discussion here (click on July 10, 2012 and then click on Item 2.2 for video and for written attachments).  While we don't necessarily want to reduce the contingency reserve, there's still plenty of money left in it.  And of course, we haven't yet even decided to send this to the voters, and if we do, we need two-thirds of them to support it.  A lot still remains before that $6 million shows up.

Memo is below:


Board of Directors
Brian Schmidt

Item 2.2 modifying an aspect of Safe Clean Water Priority D to demonstrate improvements over Clean Safe Creeks program
July 9, 2012


This Board has seen within the environmental community and at the Independent Monitoring Committee a concern over unspent reserves from Clean Safe Creeks Activity 3.2 for the creation of additional wetlands, riparian habitat and favorable stream conditions for fisheries and wildlife.  We have also seen a concern that the unspent reserves would “disappear” if Safe Clean Water passes.  The concern is heartfelt, even though I personally believe the Safe Clean Water measure has many environmental advantages over Clean Safe Creeks.

A solution to address this concern that I would like the Board to consider, would be to show even more clearly than is currently the case that Safe Clean Water does everything that Clean Safe Creeks measure does to enhance the environment, and more.  The way to do this is to expand the environmental provision D4 in Safe Clean Water, which already overlaps significantly with Activity 3.2 so it covers everything that Activity 3.2 covers, together with funding that exceeds Activity 3.2 reserves.  By showing D4 does everything Activity 3.2 does with more funding, together with the other environmental aspects of Safe Clean Water, I believe we can make an even more compelling case to the community for support of the measure.

Attachment 4, page 11 of Item 2.2 (moved from Item 6.5) describes Project D4 as “Fish Habitat and Passage Improvement”.  This overlaps significantly with the 2000 Clean Safe Creeks Activity 3.2 described above.  The current unspent reserves for Activity 3.2 are approximately $15 million.  The estimated funding for Project D4 is also $15 million.  Expanding D4’s focus so it covers the same range would not be difficult, although I think it would require some additional funding to achieve both the D4’s proposed Key Performance Indicators (Attachment 2, page 10) and any new KPIs to reflect the new scope.

Using the language the ballot language from Clean Safe Creeks that created Activity 3.2, we could consider altering Project D4 on Attachment 4 page 11 and the description on Table 1 of Attachment 2 to read something like:

Project D4:

Goal:  Implement the outcomes and activities in the second bullet point referenced in Table 1, Outcome 3 of the Clean Safe Creeks and Natural Flood Protection Plan, for creation of additional wetlands, riparian habitat and favorable stream conditions for fisheries and wildlife.

Description: Implement measure to create additional wetlands, riparian habitat and favorable stream conditions for fisheries and wildlife, which could include improvements to Alamitos Creek at Lake Almaden and Ogier Ponds and conduct studies of steelhead streams in Santa Clara County with consideration for improvement of fish habitat, including the use of large woody debris.

To achieve the existing KPIs and reflect the expanded scope, I believe a modest increase in the budget for this one item would be appropriate, approximately $8 million.  I am open to suggestions as to how to fund this increase.  One possibility is to moderately reduce the funding in Project D2 for removal of invasive species, now budgeted at $14 million, and another is to reduce the amount of undesignated contingency funding now budgeted at $44 million.  I would want to understand any adverse impacts of reducing Project D2 before supporting a reduction.  A budget could reduce Project D2 from $14 to $10 million and contingency from $44 to $40 million, or another budget could just reduce contingency from $44 million to $36 million.

Some addition to the existing KPI for D4 (Attachment 2, page 10) would also be appropriate.  I do not think we should use the KPI from Activity 3.2, creation of 100 acres of wetlands, because that has already been established.  Again I am open to suggestions but we could consider the following additional KPI:

In partnership with other agencies or other adequate funding sources, remove the highest priority barriers that prevent or impede the migration of fish from the bay to their upper watershed rearing and spawning habitats.

Highest priority would be defined by the Water District during implementation, with review by the Independent Monitoring Committee.

I should emphasize that I am very encouraged overall by the Safe Clean Water measure, and while I think this idea may be an improvement, I am open to suggestions.  I recognize this is late in the development, but it’s not too late, and it could potentially help passage just as a very modest change in the overall measure.

UPDATE:  in case anyone wants to watch just the final discussion instead off the full 90 minutes, it's here (and if the video doesn't work, just use the links above):

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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Presenting at Sustainable Silicon Valley on water and climate change

On May 24th, I had the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Santa Clara Valley Water District at the Sustainable Silicon Valley's annual WEST:  Water, Energy, Smart Technology Summit.  More info about my panel regarding regional resilience to climate change is here, and my presentation is below:

Supposedly, we followed a variant on the Pecha Kucha, 20 slides/7minutes presentation.  Some speakers completely ignored the rules; I didn't think quite that far out of the box.

My Powerpoint had a glitch - it was advancing automatically while I was talking.  Fortunately, they removed that from the video.  Unfortunately, fixing that appears to have lost two slides in the process.  At about 5:10 I start referring to a compromise between letting the bay advance due to sea level rise and protecting critical areas at a red line, and that missing slide is here:

My thanks to Water District staff for the crucial assistance in preparing the slides.  Responsibility for any opinions I expressed rests with me.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Memo to Tuesday's Board meeting on Water Agency Conference

I attended the Spring 2012 Association of California Water Agencies conference last week.  I think it's a pretty good use of time, both to attend panels and to meet people facing similar challenges but with different perspectives.  Below is the memo I distributed at Tuesday's meeting about the conference.  I hope to follow up on a number of the items.

Board of Directors and Staff
Brian Schmidt

Report out on Spring 2012 ACWA
May 11, 2012
I attended the Spring 2012 ACWA conference in Monterey on May 10 and 11.  In addition to the usual benefits of attending the conference and meeting people, I want to draw attention to the following: 
 1.    Solar power on canals and reservoirs
I talked to two solar power exhibitors, SunPower and SolarCity.  I asked both of them if anyone had used canals or reservoirs as areas to place solar panels.  Both brought up the potential advantage of reducing evaporation and the “free” space you wouldn’t have to rent or buy.  Both also mentioned an experiment by a winery that set up panels over a small reservoir/pond using a series of pontoons.  Neither company was the contractor in that case and the experiment has not been repeated.  They believe maintenance would be expensive.  SolarCity said something like it has been discussed for the State Water Project.
 I mentioned to both of them that there might be advantages in many districts in reducing algae growth in reservoirs, and that our District in particular might benefit from reduced mercury methylation.  They hadn’t considered those potential benefits.  I told them this was just speculation on my part, and both said that if the District is interested, they’d be happy to talk to us.  My impression is that both thought this would be difficult. 
 2.    Region 5 discussion – renewables funding, LNG vehicle fleet conversion, Prop 26
At our regional membership meeting, Energy Committee representative Dick Quigley (Alameda County) reported out that the California Energy Commission had potentially hundreds of millions of dollars of grant funding available for renewable energy projects that water districts should consider.
 He also said that natural gas costs are now so low that he is asking his agency to study whether it should convert much of its vehicle fleet to LNG solely for economic reasons.  My understanding is that there may be no greenhouse gas benefits from LNG due to methane leakage, but that other air pollutants are reduced significantly.  I think it would be worth following up with his agency to examine their results.
 The legal affairs committee representative said a new handbook on Prop. 26 will be distributed soon. 
 3.    AB32 and tidal wetland restoration
One panel focused on cap-and-trade.  Afterwards I talked to panelist Joel Levin of the California Climate Action Reserve, a state-created nonprofit that certifies third party carbon offsets that can be sold to entities that have to comply with greenhouse gas reductions.  I asked him if they have done any work with tidal wetland restoration as a carbon offset.  He said they had and believe the technique could be used as a carbon offset and therefore a financial benefit to those who are certified as creating the offset.  However, they presently do not have an accurate estimate of how much carbon is sequestered in order to certify an offset.  It is an ongoing area of scientific analysis.
 There are two other barriers to Water District benefits from tidal wetland restoration as a carbon offset.  First, we don’t own the baylands that are being restored – the federal government does.  However, we are helping restore them, so we might be able to reach an agreement to share in any offsets created.  Second, the Reserve does not now accept offsets created on federal land, but it is working on eliminating that restriction. 
 4.    Water recycling legislation
WateReuse California, ACWA, and Sierra Club are trying to come to agreement on supporting legislation that would change primary oversight of recycling wastewater for indirect and direct potable reuse from the Water Quality Control Boards to the Department of Public Health, which is seen as helping facilitate the use of recycled water.  I talked to two of the panelists afterwards.  The Sierra Club advocate emphasized how they prioritized conservation over recycling.  I mentioned that I thought recycling had one benefit in that it made desalination less likely, a statement that I think dismayed the ACWA advocate. 
 5.    Other
Representatives from Semitropic Water Storage District were there.  They invited any of the District directors to come out and visit their facilities.  I believe we are either their largest or one of the largest partners.  They said they are expanding storage capacity and withdrawal capability.
 The Special Districts Foundation offers leadership training and certification for directors and staff.
 I particularly enjoyed a panel loosely based on the TV show Jeopardy format, featuring our own Joan Maher as one of the contestants.  I also heard very complimentary things said about the quality of our staffers from other people present.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Some updates for the Water District

I haven't posted in a while, but thought I'd put in a few updates:

I was elected Chair of the new Capital Improvement Program (CIP) Ad Hoc Committee, a committee of the District Board that's reviewing the CIP.  Our district necessarily deals with large and expensive capital projects, so it's critical that we do them right.  As a new committee, it's not entirely clear what our role will be, except that we hope to take a closer look at the CIP than the Board as a whole will have time to do.

The proposal for a Safe Clean Water measure moves forward, although a final decision whether to refer it to voters in November won't happen until July.  The measure extends an existing tax that expires in June 2016.  One logical argument would be to wait until November 2016 to renew it, but that would cause budgetary chaos as well as confusion and negative perceptions of renewing an "expired" tax.  We could also consider 2014, but the chance to get the most people to vote on it is in a presidential election year, so this one looks like a good one.  Finally, we know about other measures that might be coming up from other government agencies, so it might be best to get ours done now in 2012 instead of conflicting with others in 2014 or 2016.  But we'll see.

The District is considering its annual budget right now.  One thing I think I may want to change next year is to get a better comparison of the costs of various kinds of water supply.  For example, I suspect water conservation may be our cheapest way to achieve water goals, but that number isn't broken out.

One wild thought I had for the more distant future involves rainwater retention systems that people and businesses are doing on an increasing basis for water conservation purposes.  It seems to me that the owners, either on their own or by volunteering for some type of smart house system, could partially empty their cisterns and underground tanks in the hours leading up to a forecasted major flood.  That would mean that none of the precipitation in the system's collection area would contribute to a flood - a rooftop that would other contribute 100% of it's storm precipitation to a 100 year flood would contribute nothing. Might also work for stormwater detention swales built in parking lots.  Something to think about....

Thursday, March 29, 2012

So much happening that I have to remember to blog

There's been all kinds of Water District stuff happening lately.  This was last week:

Sunday:  fly to Washington DC to represent the District in meetings with government officials
Monday through Wednesday:  meet government officials, including Senator Feinsten
Thursday:  attend Silicon Valley Water Conservation awards, where the Water District one an awayrd, and attend the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority Board meeting as one of the JPA directors.
Friday:  tour Water District projects on Calabazas Creek (flood control using offsite detention basin, like we'll be doing in Permanente Creek) and Jacques Gulch (removal of mercury contaminated soil and revegetation).
Saturday:  represent the District in a tour of Adobe Creek Watershed done by the Committee for Green Foothills.

Every day, something different, and it's a great learning process.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Pacific Institute's WeTap for ditching bottled water and finding the nearest water fountain

I had the opportunity to meet with Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute last week.  They're doing some really interesting things with water and climate change, and they vigorously oppose the wastefulness of bottled water.

And they've done something about it, creating the WeTap smartphone application for Android phones, letting people know where the nearest water fountain is located, and ultimately letting them input new fountains, as well as providing feedback if a fountain needs repair.

These video links don't always work, but I talked about it yesterday:
Get Microsoft Silverlight

(If you can't view the video, click here, then click on the January 31, 2012 meeting video, and in the pop-up window advance to 04:47:00 time frame.)

I believe the crowd-sourced, added content feature isn't yet available, but that's part of future plans.  Santa Clara Valley Water District itself encourages drinking our water and discourages the wasteful practice of bottled water, which we've banned from our cafeteria and our events.  WeTap is an excellent tool to help people make use of their water.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Update on potential Safe Clean Water ballot measure

First of all, a somewhat-belated Happy New Year to everyone, and hopes for a healthy, safe, prosperous, well-watered, unflooded, and environmentally-restored 2012.

The Water District continues to research a special tax ballot measure that could happen in November this year, replacing an existing special tax that will expire in a few years.  The Safe Clean Water website has general information on the process and ideas.

I wrote two memos on this subject that I'll link to below, focusing on a few areas where I think the measure might want to go in a somewhat different direction than what's been proposed.  Yesterday, the Board discussed my ideas and others.  I think the feedback is fairly clear for interest in significantly expanding the Southbay Shoreline protection funding, which will both protect against tidal flooding and help restore thousands of acres of wetlands.  Spending on boat vessel inspections will also likely be dropped from the measure - it's not that it shouldn't be done, but the question is whether the public or boat owners should pay the bill, and that needs a lot more discussion.

I also pushed on transferring money within the "environmental" category from mitigation of flood control projects to projects with an actual environmental benefit.  The reaction of the other directors was less clear on this issue.  I think it will be up to the public and those other directors to continue to provide feedback on this and any other issue as staff reworks the proposal.  Sometime in March they hope to have a proposal that is close to a final version, leaving several months to determine whether the proposal is likely to work.  The District Board will have to decide in July whether to put the measure on the ballot for November.

The agenda item is here, just click on the January 31, 2012 link at the left, and then scroll to Item 6.1. My two memos are linked on the left.