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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Water Weekly 3: Pesky, Pesky, Pesky Water News

What were the three biggest California water stories of the past seven days?  Well, the news-heads and policy wonks here at Laer Pearce & Associates have compiled them for you here.  You’ll find the Big Three here every week, or you can follow LPAWater on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news and analysis. You can also sign up to receive the Weekly 3 via email here.  This week:

Pesky Smelt Insist on Procreating

The smelt-counters in the Delta are finding about twice as many of the little fishies this year, compared to last. Some attribute it to “smelt protections” – even though the State Water Project is pumping five times more water than in early 2010. More likely it’s high water levels and the turbidity that comes with more, faster-flowing water. That’s great news because if the feds accept the smelt’s love of muddy water, using the location of turbid water as an indicator should allow higher pumping volumes.

Here’s the story from the Sacramento Press (more…)

Brown Takes on Greens over (Some) Anti-Growth Litigation

Governor Brown almost sounded like a frustrated land developer earlier today when he talked about the impact litigation by environmental activists has on projects that are essential to meeting California’s demographic growth and protecting its frail economy.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t talking about the ecos’ endless legal challenges to new housing developments.

From the Sacramento Bee:

“In Oakland, I learned that some kind of opposition you have to crush,” Brown, the city’s former mayor, said at a renewable energy conference in Los Angeles.  “Talk a little bit, but at the end of the day you have to move forward, and California needs to move forward with our renewable energy.”

Brown said his office will “act to overcome the opposition,” helping projects overcome permitting and environmental challenges. The Democratic governor announced Friday that he had filed a legal brief urging a federal judge to deny litigation seeking to block a solar energy project in the Mojave Desert.

Yes, the governor is willing to “crush” the very environmentalists who were his strong supporters in the 2010 election – but only as long as it’s over government-subsidized alternative energy schemes. Providing housing for Californians? Rebooting the failed economy? Putting thousands back to work? That’s apparently not worth fighting for.

We’re not sure what we feel about government “crushing” environmental litigators. Having seen them slow so many very well-planned new home communities, driving up costs for consumers and driving down profits for businesses in the process, we confess we’re a bit tickled by the idea.

But two things bother us:  First, we can’t deny we’re sticklers for due process and are more than a little concerned when government gets heavy-handed and agenda-driven.  And second, we’d like to see an acknowledgment that useless litigation is just as bad when it’s used as a tool against home builders and, ultimately, home buyers.

A Picture Can Defeat A Thousand Arguments

Take a moment to consider this photo of fish swimming about happily in the seawater intake of an ocean desalination plant in Perth, Australia.

The photo notwithstanding, opponents of desalination plants often attack them because of the supposedly horrible things the plants’ seawater intake and brine dispersal systems do to marine life.  Since most (all?) regulators haven’t put on scuba gear to judge the reality for themselves, the opponents’ arguments often are persuasive.

They need not be.  Proponents of desalination can respond to this line of attack with  scientific studies countering the claims, and should – but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words – even a thousand words in a scientific study.  And a video is worth much more.

Please view the video linked below.  Once you’ve viewed it, you’ll wonder how the opponents of desalination get away with their claims.

Desalination Close-up

As you saw, there is no indication marine life is being harmed by either the intake or brine dispersal systems of ocean desalination plants.  In fact, just the opposite appears to be true – the critters are thriving.  How are they going to counter that?

Here at LP&A, we spend a lot of time writing messages, but we know that sometimes it’s best to put away the keyboard and just show the message.

Water Weekly 3: Eco-hawks, Oldtimers and Stinkers

What were the three biggest California water stories of the past seven days?  Well, the news-heads and policy wonks here at Laer Pearce & Associates have compiled them for you here.  You’ll find the Big Three here every week, or you can follow LPAWater on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news and analysis. You can also sign up to receive the Weekly 3 via email here.  This week:

“Virtual River” Runs Dry

The eco-hawks often talk of a “virtual river” that could supply Californians all the water they need, if only they’d conserve more.  It seems the virtual river flows through real farm land, given all the talk about how farmers waste water. Well, in San Diego County, the virtual river theory is getting pretty parched as farmers who are doing all the right things – installing drip irrigation, planting high-value crops – are facing economic ruin because even with the best practices, water’s still going up to $1,400 per acre foot next year.

Let the California Farm Bureau Federation tell you more.

(more…)

Water Weekly 3: “Shanghaiing the Yangtze” and more!

What were the three biggest California water stories of the past seven days?  Well, the news-heads and policy wonks here at Laer Pearce & Associates have compiled them for you here.  You’ll find the Big Three here every Thursday, or you can follow LPAWater on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news and analysis. You can also sign up to receive the Weekly 3 via email here.  This week:

Shanghaiing the Yangtze

Harken with us back to the days of yesteryear, before “unsustainability” became an unpardonable sin, back when “exploitation” defined our approach to natural resources. Sigh. Sort of. There’s a lot to be said for keeping species alive, even if it can be a costly pain in the … water bill.  But in China, they’re still into subjugating nature, as described in this fascinating article about plans to divert six trillion gallons of water a year from the Yangtze River. We balk at $11 billion for the SacDelta fix, but this project’s price tag is $62 billion!

Check out the New York Times article here

And here’s a map showing the different diversion routes

Speaking of moving water long distances, how about from the moon?

(more…)

Stinky Messaging Out of Chicago

Over a century ago, the good people of Chicago undertook an understandable bit of subjugating nature: They reversed the flow of local sewage-choked waterways, including the Chicago River, so they no longer flowed into Lake Michigan, the source of their drinking water.  And that was pretty much it for sewage treatment in Chicago.

It took a while, but EPA finally told Chicago to clean up its act and make the city’s polluted rivers and canals clean enough to swim in.  That’s definitely not the case now, as bacteria counts of water dumped into the Chicago River at the Reclamation District’s North Side Treatment Plant are, on average, 521 times higher than those in nearby waterways. According to EPA, some stretches of the Chicago River are made up of 70% treatment plant effluent.

EPA  says the cost per household of building suitable treatment plants will be about the same as a latte a month – just $40 a year in new taxes for an owner of a median-priced home ($267,000).  Given the Feds’ poor track record at cost-estimating, let’s triple that to $120 a year.

So, confronted with a rate increase of $10 a month for his average customer, here’s how Terrence O’Brien, president of Chicago’s Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, responded:

In these difficult economic times when public agencies are facing budgetary shortfalls, people are losing their jobs and homes … it is important … that public funds are spent wisely.

We generally like messages that tie into the economic hardship that’s all around us, but really?  What was the Reclamation District doing with its money during previous fat times?  Why didn’t O’Brien and his board belly up to their responsibilities then?

And couldn’t some of the money lost to racketeering and other scandals over the years (like this) been used instead to pay the cost of behaving responsibly? Or, since times are so tight, couldn’t the Reclamation District have considered not increasing salaries by more than 30 percent over the last five years?

And why is it that every other major city in America (according to the Chicago Tribune) manages to disinfect its sewage, but Chicago is still behaving like it’s the 1800s?

Finally, after reviewing O’Brien’s campaign ad we have to ask where his campaign promises are now.  What about when he said, “It’s my job to clean up our water,” or when he said, “I’ve spent my life cleaning up messes?” Surely statements like that, documented on YouTube for all to see, need to be taken into account when developing the Reclamation District’s response to EPA – or are you just saying it’s politics, promises are just for getting elected?

To put it bluntly, O’Brien’s message stinks.  Chicago residents familiar with the ongoing negative news coverage the Reclamation District gets very likely won’t accept that O’Brien is really standing up for them. And since the city’s spent $100 million improving public access to these very waterways, citizens are probably pretty fed up with the Reclamation District’s stubbornness on water quality.

Even if the agency is going to fight EPA tooth-and-nail, a better message would have been one of the need for further study and taking the time to do things right.  And as any competent public affairs messaging guru will tell you, it’s not nice to exploit people who have been hurt by the recession.

Water Weekly 3: The color of trouble

What were the three biggest California water stories of the past seven days?  Well, the news-heads and policy wonks here at Laer Pearce & Associates have compiled them for you here.  You’ll find the Big Three here every Thursday, or you can follow LPAWater on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news and analysis. You can also sign up to receive the Weekly 3 via email here.  This week:

Brown Out

During the campaign, Jerry Brown shed about as much light on his water policy as a … moonbeam.  We thought he’d be OK, but would he be great OK or so-so OK? It’s the latter. Resources Secretary Jerry Meral said yesterday MWD’s hoped-for big tunnel will no longer be the primary focus of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. EPA praised the move. MWD’s been quiet. Enviros have dug in with, “Tunnels, chunnels or any movement of water from or around the Delta are [sic] wrong! They will destroy the Delta …” Where’s the wiggle room in that?

Here’s the SacBee on Meral’s comments.

And from the far left, a response (more…)

Water Weekly 3: Wars and Rumors of Wars

What were the three biggest California water stories of the past seven days?  Well, the news-heads and policy wonks here at Laer Pearce & Associates have compiled them for you here.  You’ll find the Big Three here every Thursday, or you can follow LPAWater on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news and analysis. You can also sign up to receive the Weekly 3 via email here.  This week:

Border Wars

After fighting proposed ocean desalination in Carlsbad and Huntington Beach for a couple centuries (well, it feels like that even if it’s only been a decade or so), environmentalists were shocked that the San Diego County Water Authority might buy water from a desal plant proposed at a Rosarito Beach power plant just across the border from thirsty San Diego. Calling the proposed plant a “trans-boundary scam,” one opponent whined, “It’s absolutely unethical!”   And abusing the courts with one losing claim after another to stop Poseidon’s plants is ethical?

Read the environmentalists’ lament here

Here’s a longer, more objective piece from Voice of San Diego

(more…)

Excuse Me, Is Your Mission Creeping?

Federal wetland regulators suffered a bad decade in the 2000s with the Rapanos and SWANCC decisions temporarily halting EPA and Corps of Engineers mission creep into the regulation of land no one but a regulator could consider to be “Waters of the US” or wetlands.

But like those nasty spirits in Poltergeist, they’re baaa-aack.

EPA released today a draft guidance it hopes will clarify which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act in light of these decisions and which are not.  To our reading, it seems the agency is a bit forgetful of the power the Judicial Branch has over the Executive Branch. For example, borrowing from a summary provided by the Association of California Water Agencies, the guidance would deem the following as protected waters:

  • Traditional navigable waters [check]
  • Interstate waters [check]
  • Wetlands adjacent to either traditional navigable waters or interstate waters [watch out!]
  • Non-navigable tributaries to traditional navigable waters that are relatively permanent, meaning they contain water at least seasonally [watch out!]
  • Wetlands that directly abut relatively permanent waters [watch out!]

How long is a season? When do waters become relatively impermanent? How adjacent is adjacent? For an administration that doesn’t like loopholes when they apply to corporations, these seem like loopholes of a drive-a-truck-through-it scale.

There’s another bunch of possibilities too, like if a “significant nexus” [how significant?] is found, then “wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional tributaries to traditional navigable waters” would be under federal jurisdiction, as well as that good ol’ regulatory Pandora’s box, “other waters.”

We were glad to see swimming pools specifically excluded.  More significantly, “erosional features (rills and gullies) … that are not tributaries or wetlands” are excluded. This is significant in the arid West, where these features, no matter how ephemeral, have been subject to regulation as if they were little Mississippi Rivers and Okefenokee Swamps.

On the plus side, the Obama administration has just ensured unemployment insurance claims from attorneys with Clean Water Act expertise will dry up like a Utah rill in August.

The guidance is now undergoing a 60-day comment period.

Fact-Checking Democrats’ Water Statement

Last week’s Congressional water hearing in Fresno, if nothing else, produced thousands of acre-feet of hyperbole – if politically expedient but morally challenged statements can be measured that way.  The Natural Resource Defense Council’s particularly reprehensible propaganda is discussed in the post below; this post focuses on an article covering the position of Congressional Democrats regarding the hearing, “California Lawmakers Seek Statewide Approach to Water Supply.”

The article quotes Grace Napolitano as the lead spokesperson for the Dems.  We like Napolitano on water issues.  Her district runs from East Los Angeles to Pomona, so she understands that her constituents are largely dependent on water delivered to Southern California from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the Colorado River.  As the former chair and current ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Water and Power, she has done a lot to support a Delta solution and to bring federal dollars to groundwater clean-up, recycling and desalination efforts.

Fortunately for our positive view of Napolitano (just on water issues, mind you), the statement that we’re fact-checking here was not attributed to the Congresswoman, so we must credit it to the editors and writers at Environmental Protection, where the article appeared.  Here it is:

Last year, the state reported that the closure of salmon fishing cost the economy at least $250 million. Recent studies have estimated that nearly 2,000 salmon fishermen have been unable to work over the last three years, job loss figures comparable to the number of farm workers who could not work due to pumping restrictions during the drought. (emphasis added)

On its face, this statement is true.  Job losses among salmon fishers are comparable to job losses among farm workers who couldn’t find work because drought and environmental restrictions shut of the spigot to many Central Valley farms.  The comparison is this:  Salmon industry job losses are probably one percent or so of agricultural job losses.

In the town of Mendota alone, which I visited when its unemployment rate hit 38 percent at the peak of the weather-and-regulatory drought, if we assume half of the town’s population of 10,000 is made up of workers, then 1,900 people were unemployed in that town alone. There are towns like Mendota every few miles throughout the  Central Valley, so the editors of Environmental Protection are guilty of minimizing human suffering for political gain, a not uncommon but always unwise tactic.

Besides, there is no consensus whatsoever that the decline in California salmon populations can be tied to pumping water south from the Delta.  In fact, the consensus seems to be shifting to blaming any number of other causes, including ammonia from sewage treatment plants, predation by non-native striped bass, oceanic conditions’ impact on salmon food supply, overpopulation of protected predatory sea mammals, and others.

Everything I’ve learned in a career in public affairs and strategic communications tells me the complex debate over California water supply and the challenging (and likely impossible) effort to find a course of action that pleases all constituents is not furthered by this sort of destructive and divisive language.

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