Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Why fund new dams before agencies push conservation?

On Saturday, The (Stockton) Record published a story that tried to encapsulate the complex issues surrounding Mokelumne River watershed and river protection, water conservation, global warming and plans for more water supply. It's a subject worthy of a full series and far too complex to capture in one story, but reporter Dana Nichols did a pretty good job, considering.

It appears to me that except for a couple of notable exceptions, the water and government entities who use (or want) water from the Mokelumne have been slow to urge their own ratepayers and residents to use current supplies efficiently.

This morning I did a quick search of the various agencies' websites, looking for water conservation information. As I mentioned in an earlier post, putting information on a website is probably the cheapest way to get that information out to the public and in this electronic age, one of the most effective.

Two Mokelumne-related agencies have good water conservation information on their websites:
The rest of the Mokelumne-using (or wanna-be user) agencies -- San Joaquin County, Stockton East Water District, the cities of Stockton and Lodi, North San Joaquin Water Conservation District, Amador Water Agency, and Woodbridge Irrigation District -- have precious little information on their websites, have buried it so deep that I couldn't find it in a quick search, or don't have websites at all.

It certainly begs this question: Why should taxpayers put millions into developing more water supply on the Mokelumne -- anywhere from $35 million to $500 million, according to The Record story -- before more Mokelumne water districts demonstrate a true commitment to conservation and efficiency?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

It's a start

Using water more efficiently is the most effective and lowest-cost way to increase water supply and decrease wastewater treatment demand and cost. And it's certainly better for the environment than building or expanding dams on our remaining rivers -- think Prius vs. Hummer. Smart water agencies across California have recognized this reality and implemented water conservation and efficiency programs.

For example, today's Record includes an article regarding a Stockton water agency that is giving away -- yes, giving away -- 500 superlow-flow toilets. The article says that use of a toilet like this over a person's "140,000-flush lifetime" could "save enough water to fill a dozen swimming pools."

Local conservation and river advocates have been urging local and regional water agencies to take similar steps. So it's good to see Amador Water Agency taking a step, however small, in that direction.

At its last board meeting, the Agency discussed a pilot conservation program for the Camanche area. Here's what the Amador Ledger Dispatch had to say about it:

Abercrombie submitted several options to reduce consumption and decrease water waste that could possibly include discounts and rebates to customers who use efficient appliances or a water smart irrigation controller.

"The agency would provide a free self-survey kit to guide customers through a step by step home water assessment," he told the board. "Customers who complete the survey would be eligible to receive a free water-wise activity kit, which would include a low flow shower head, kitchen and/or bath sink aerator, a watering gauge and other tips."

And TSPN added:

Finally the Agency as also toyed with the thought of a financial reward for a reduction in water use. However, there are also other factors that the Agency has to keep in mind, such as the increased work load on existing staff to implement such a pilot program as well as a possible reduction in revenue from decreased water usage. The board agreed that smart water use is a primary focus of the Agency and decided to pursue the test program and develop a budget for such a purpose. If the pilot test proves successful the agency plans on expanding into other service areas. For more information about how you can conserve water contact the Amador Water Agency at 223-3018.

It's a start. However, the cheapest way for an agency to educate ratepayers is to post information on its website. Once the web posting is done, there's virtually no cost. The next cheapest way to reach people is through the mail. Having people answer phones is an expensive way to provide tips.

But if you look at the AWA site, there's precious little about conservation. Contrast that with Foothill Conservancy's website, which has had water-saving tips on its home page for months.

If the agency is truly serious about conservation, perhaps it should change its home page to include useful information on conservation and efficiency instead of showcasing a link to a water industry PR site about the state's "water crisis."

You can read more about California dam hype and water reality on Friends of the River's website.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Why bother?

I am not often discouraged. You cannot work on conservation issues in Amador County and be a pessimist -- it would just be too overwhelming. But sometimes I have to wonder why those of us who care about our county spend so much time participating in processes that seem rigged from the get-go.

Take the Kirkwood Mountain Resort expansion proposed for the Eldorado National Forest off Highway 88 -- the public land you and I own. In spite of many comments pointing out the myriad flaws in the expansion proposal -- destruction of scenic vistas and wildlife, increased traffic for intersections already at gridlock on busy ski days, and more -- the Forest Service has just approved the proposal pretty much as Kirkwood asked.

I know that big, powerful interests usually get their way in our world (Kirkwood's primary owner is a wealthy friend of the Bush family). I know that the Forest Service usually gives downhill ski resorts pretty much what they want, regardless of the damage they do to the environment (Kirkwood got an F in the last Ski Area Citizens' Scorecard). I figured that the fact Kirkwood was recently touting the plan to the media as if it were approved -- before the decision was made public -- was a bad sign.

But somehow I held out some small hope that maybe this time, it might be different. Foothill Conservancy and others -- including the U.S. EPA -- had pointed out the project's many deficiencies in detail, forcing the Forest Service to do a great deal more analysis. I had also heard that new Eldorado National Forest Supervisor Ramiro Villalvazo is "as green as they come."

But when I learned tonight that Supervisor Villalvazo had essentially given Kirkwood everything they asked for, my hopes were destroyed like the boulders Kirkwood plans to blast away on its cross-country ski trails. If Supervisor Villalvazo is as green as they come, someone's going to have to redefine green for me. Of course, he is only one player in a largely dysfunctional agency controlled by politicians who see nature as nothing but a profit center.

And tonight I cannot help but think of the resource agency people I know who struggle to do their jobs with integrity in spite of the politics of the day. How sad they must be to see a once-fine agency drop to this low level. How hard it must be for them to do what's right in the face of the political pressure that has so corrupted our national institutions.

Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot -- the fathers of our national forests -- are rolling in their graves.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

River offers something for everyone

Yesterday I helped out with Foothill Conservancy's umpteenth Mokelumne River Cleanup on the river's Electra run. Spending the day down by the river reminded me how much the Mokelumne offers something for everyone.

The land-locked Kokanee salmon were spawning, so the beach was full of people fishing. There were tiny kids with tiny fishing rods, just extracted from their plastic and cardboard packaging; teens with rods bent and fish on; whole families together, fishing and playing on the beach. They were joined by more seasoned anglers, too -- men with waders and better gear and nets --who were reeling in fish after fish.

The river was low, so the Kokanee were easy to spot in the water. It looked like you could walk in and simply net them. I heard one young guy say, "I have fish lounging against my legs."

Raptors could see the Kokanee, too. A mature bald eagle and an osprey were diving for lunch, oblivious to the volunteers picking up trash, anglers on the banks, and kayakers navigating the rapids.

Farther downstream, a fly fisherman was working just below the rapid know as The Slot. Below the Highway 49 bridge, a couple was panning for gold.

The fall color on the river is especially wonderful this year. The California grapes, oaks, cottonwood and other riparian plants are trending from pale yellow to deepest red. Contrast that with the river's range of blues and greens, and it's hard to imagine anything more lovely.

Since Electra is heavily used, some river lovers avoid it. There's plenty of evidence of damage to the river banks (why is it that people insist on driving right down to a river that's only 50 feet from the road -- even going so far as to pull out big boulders put there to keep cars off the bank?), and sometimes a fair amount of trash. One couple working the cleanup said they hadn't been there for years because it's so popular. But after a few hours at Electra, they were once again taken in by the river's beauty.

People who aren't river-oriented tend to forget that we have this wonderful resource for recreation, relaxation, and recharge a short drive south of Jackson. But plenty of people know it's there. And as our county becomes more urbanized, places like Electra, where we can get out with friends and family and bask in the glory of nature, will be even more precious than they are today.

You can help keep the Mokelumne a river future generations can enjoy on a fine fall day by signing on to support including the Mokelumne in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.