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

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.