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Tuesday, July 15

Carving California into 6 states: this is one of the stupidest plans I've ever seen

This is quite literally a whine and cheese plan by someone who may be smoking dope.  To solve California's problems, carve the state into marijuana (North California), wine (Napa Valley), cheese (Central Valley dairy) regions, and some other stuff. 

Democrats hate the idea, of course, but I'm with them on this one.  The plan's mastermind is one Tim Draper, a "venture capitalist."  His six state initiative has collected enough signatures, 800,000+, to get on the Nov. 2016 ballot.  What I find disturbing is that a snap survey turned up only 59 percent of Californians who are against the plan. This, according to the USA TODAY report on the plan, which includes a map of the proposed states.  

Looking at his map I get the feeling that Tim Draper doesn't want six states, he wants one country: Silicon Valley. But he knows that would never get on the ballot.

A state is not a company; its problems aren't troublesome divisions that corporate can peel off.  Move to Singapore, Mr Draper, if you like the idea of a small nation-state. Get out of my country.


Amazing GRACE and California's groundwater: Water Crisis Gordian Knot, Part 7

A stunning technological achievement but with very bad news to report.  Yet GRACE could give humanity the edge it needs, on the theory that there would have been no chance without governments here and around the world, from the federal to municipal levels, knowing exactly where they stand in terms of their groundwater supplies. 

See the National Geographic website for the many links in the article below, including link to the NASA GRACE Mission website. 

A note regarding the author's mention in passing of Nevada's vast Lake Mead: On July 10 the Associated Press reported that the water level in the lake had dropped to an all-time low; the lake is now at 39 percent of its capacity.  (Its 'sister' reservoir farther up the Colorado River, Lake Powell, is at 52 percent capacity.)  Officials had projected the decline at Lake Mead and don't expect there will be cuts to water deliveries to Nevada and Arizona this year or next, but they give a 50-50 chance there will be cuts in 2016 (depending on drought conditions).  Las Vegas, a city of 2 million residents, is almost completely dependent on Lake Mead for its drinking water.
Epic California Drought and Groundwater: Where Do We Go From Here?

Posted by Jay Famiglietti of University of California, Irvine
in Water Currents via National Geographic Society
February 4, 2014

Yesterday our team at the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling released a report on the California drought.  The report describes the bird's eye view of statewide water resources that we see from the NASA GRACE satellite mission.

The NASA GRACE satellite mission

We’ve been working since the mid-1990’s, well before the mission was launched in 2002, to develop and test methods to help monitor groundwater depletion from space.  We’ve applied them around the world — in California, across the U.S., in the Middle East, East Africa, in the Amazon River Basin and in India.Our endgame is simple.  We want to use GRACE and other satellites, combined with invaluable measurements on the ground, to help quantify how regional and global freshwater availability is changing.

The good news is that the methods work great. The GRACE mission functions like a giant ‘scale in the sky,’ weighing how various regions around the world are gaining and losing water each month.  We can see the ups and downs of ‘total’ water storage – all of the snow, surface water, soil moisture, and groundwater – like never before.

The bad news is that we are running out of groundwater.

In particular, this is happening in the places that we need it most — the dry parts of the planet where we love to live, precisely because it does not rain.  Out of necessity, our reliance on groundwater in these parts of the world is much greater than elsewhere.

Our team and several others around the globe are showing that most of the major aquifers in the world’s arid and semi-arid regions are being depleted at a rapid pace, and one that is most likely unsustainable in the long term. Groundwater is a finite resource after all.
What has GRACE shown us about California?

Our earlier study showed that between October 2003 and March 2010, the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Basins lost about 30 cubic kilometers of freshwater, nearly the equivalent of the full volume of Lake Mead. Of this, we determined that about two-thirds was due to groundwater depletion in the Central Valley.
During the drought of 2006-2010, state and federal surface water allocations were drastically reduced, forcing farmers to tap groundwater reserves far more heavily than in ‘normal,’ wetter years.  The resulting volume of depleted groundwater was so great that it was registered by a satellite ‘scale’ that orbits about 400 km above Earth’s surface.

Our new report is an update to this previous work, and it points to one critical question for California.

One of the key numbers to emerge from the report is that the combined Sacramento and San Joaquin River Basins have already lost 10 cubic kilometers of freshwater each year in 2012 and 2013.
To put that number in perspective, it is roughly the amount of water used by the entire population of California, for household, municipal, and industrial use (that is, for nearly everything else besides agriculture and environment). 

It is also the steepest decline in total water availability that our team has witnessed in the 12 years that we have been monitoring California water resources with the GRACE mission.

A second contribution of the report is that it further exposes the unsustainable pattern of groundwater use in the Central Valley.  While there is some replenishment of groundwater during wet years, groundwater levels decline precipitously during drought, when farmers have no choice but to rely far more heavily on groundwater to meet their irrigation water needs.
All right. There's much more to the report, and again, numerous links to papers, satellite data, the GRACE mission, etc., but I think the above is enough to convey the picture.  More than 80 percent of California's water use goes to agriculture, and much of that is in the two valleys that make up the Central Valley -- San Joaquin and Sacramento.  Triage efforts will have to focus there first, but this running smack dab into the state's hydropolitics, which is almost cosmic in complexity.  .

Saturday, July 5

Can beer save the world again? Water Crisis Gordian Knot, Part 6

It's one thing to run out of water for incidentals like bathing and growing vegetables; it's another for beer.  So talk about desperation being the mother of invention:
One example comes from southern Idaho, where grower Timm Adams has worked with [Anheuser-Busch beer company] to shift his barley production to the winter season. Because the crop can use the natural moisture from the rain and snow that falls during that time frame -- it requires 20 percent less water while producing a greater yield than other strains -- his operation can decrease its purchases from the local irrigation district, Adams said. Overall, the load on the local estuary is also decreased.
Wow. It's almost unimaginable how much water could be saved if all grain farmers took up the same method wherever possible.

The quote is from a report GreenBiz did last year on beer and water scarcity.  Yesterday I featured GreenBiz's most recent report on the same theme, which discusses MillerCoors beer maker's innovations to save water.  Here are more quotes more from the earlier report:
Anheuser-Busch InBev: Less Water, More Beer

By Heather Clancy
June 5, 2013

The world's biggest beer brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev has adopted an aggressive series of five-year environmental goals, calling for further reductions in water and energy consumption and setting its first formal targets for packaging reductions and eco-friendly coolers.

The seven new commitments come just four months after AB InBev revealed it had surpassed previous three-year commitments for water, energy and waste.

The Belgian-based brewer already has saved enough water to produce about 25 billion cans of AB InBev beverages. Currently, it uses an average of 3.5 hectoliters of water for every hectoliter of production.
Now it is trying to squeeze more from the process: The new five-year goal aims to reach a global average of 3.2 hectoliters of water per hectoliter of production. For those who like to visualize this sort of thing, that works out to the amount of water it would take to fill approximately 5,400 Olympic swimming pools.
The Carterville brewery in Georgia already has outstripped that goal: It uses just 2.8 hectoliters of water per hectoliter of production.

To move toward that measure in other production facilities, the company is introducing water management measures in each of its key barley growing regions through partnerships with local stakeholders and growers.

In addition, it is introducing watershed protection measures at all of its facilities in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Mexico, Peru and the United States.

Heightened attention deeper into the supply chain

The new commitments are notable for their global scope and because they also focus far more attention on encouraging sustainable operations throughout AB InBev's entire supply chain, according to AB InBev executives.

"Our approach recognizes that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution to improve sustainability," said AB InBev CEO Carlos Brito. "The key will be to leverage the experience and expertise of our colleagues globally, foster a collective approach through partnerships with local stakeholders and continue to scale best practices across our company."
Yuppers, beer has saved the world before, and just might do it again.


Looking for Alexander's Sword: Water Crisis Gordian Knot, Part 5

"The theme here is that stewardship starts with measurement."

I'm featuring more passages from the GreenBiz report I quoted from yesterday because they really deserve their own post:
As many exciting solutions as the speakers identified, they kept coming back to the reality that businesses need to get much more serious about assessing their own water performance and risks. The scarcity of data -- both on the risk side and top-line -- remains a huge obstacle; many stakeholders are reluctant to publicly release data and there is a lack of standardized data collection.

Ultimately, the reality of water scarcity and climbing demand will leave no choice for stakeholders who are reluctant to part with data sets. Advances in technology such water-smart meters may provide a promising path to better and easier data collection, lowering the cost and hassle factor for water users, including farmers.

The theme here is that stewardship starts with measurement: if they haven't already, businesses need to start assessing their water performance, set a baseline and work towards reducing use.
For commercial and institutional water users, tools such as the Water Efficiency Toolkit that EDF developed with AT&T can offer a first step toward assessing water performance and mapping out actions they can take to improve it.
See the report for links to information on the toolkit and advances in technology. The Associated Press and Reuters reports I quoted in an earlier post make clear that California's government has the same problem as the private sector when it comes to getting accurate data on water usage.  The situation exists across the board; few if any governments at the local and national levels in the USA and around the world know with any accuracy the amount of water used in their jurisdictions and how it's used.

The upshot: Many big surprises about how quickly and where water supplies are running out.

So while it's good to talk about shared responsibility, stewardship, and great new technologies, intelligent prioritizing about where to place resources for dealing with water scarcity depends on accurate, comprehensive data collection.  If there's one thing that can cut through the Gordian Knot of water crises in the United States and worldwide, it's that.


Friday, July 4

California can learn from Ford Motor Company's smart water scarcity strategy: Water Crisis Gordian Knot, Part 4

The strategy is twice smart because the water crisis is rushing toward us faster than most supposed 15 years ago.(1)  Coca-Cola, despite the fact that it bottles its beverages in countries with big water issues, didn't even have a water scarcity strategy, and it's already paying for that. (See the GreenBiz report below.)  As early as 2000 far-sighted folks at Ford did realize the importance of developing such a strategy for their globalized plant operations, and the strategy is now right on time, as region after region around the world falls prey to severe water scarcity.

The inspiring part is that when Ford executives saw the crisis on the horizon, they embraced the challenges of dealing with it with gusto. Bravo, Ford!

Yet Ford's strategy can be applied to water crises here in the USA.  I was struck by this remark from a Ford executive:  "The first part of anything is getting the usage measurement and then relating it to something."

This is exactly what California's government hasn't been doing as it attempts to field solutions to drought conditions. The state doesn't know how much water it uses, and guesstimates have been shown to be wildly off. (See the AP report I quoted in the previous post at item #2 on the list.)   Now to passages from the report:
How Ford is motoring ahead with a water scarcity strategy

By Matthias B. Krause
June 23, 2014

For many companies, the cost of water — compared to the overall cost of production — hardly makes a blip on the radar screen. Yet clean water, or lack thereof, can cause a whole factory to suddenly have to shut down or, even worse, lead to a company losing its social license.  In mid-June, Coca-Cola had to learn that the hard way when one of its bottling plants in India got shut down by the authorities because it was extracting too much groundwater.

“The price of the water is not significant at the moment, but it is getting a little more noticeable as an operating expense,” said Will Sarni, director and practice leader for enterprise water strategy at Deloitte Consulting in a recent GreenBiz Group webcast titled "Manufacturing in an Age of Water Scarcity." [see report for link]

“But what happens if you don't have water?” Sarni asked. “What does it mean if you don't have water for a week and you cannot make automobiles?” Sudden regulatory changes can be equally as challenging for companies.

As a result, some are starting to recognize water supply as a fundamental business risk that has to be part of a growth strategy. “How does water – no pun intended – fuel that growth strategy? That is really the right way to think about it,” said Sarni, who urged managers to get in front of the issue as opposed to being defensive about it.  Ford Motor Company is one example of an entity that has recognized the risk early on and took on the challenge.

“Water scarcity and water quality degradation rank among the biggest threats facing our planet,” said Ford's John Fleming, executive vice president of global manufacturing & labor affairs. “Some of our facilities are located in regions where water supplies are already scarce.”

As early as 2000, Ford began to set year-over-year reduction targets and developed a corporate water strategy, building on the success of a manufacturing water strategy. “We've moved beyond merely reducing the water footprint of our facilities,” Fleming said. “We are addressing water concerns in our supply chain and in our broader communities.”

According to Fleming, Ford reduced its global water use by 61 percent, which equals more than 10 billion gallons. Its most recent sustainability report also reveals that Ford reached its target for water use per produced vehicle two years early. Instead of reducing it by 30 percent until 2015 (2009 being the baseline), the target was achieved last year. The new target set this year is going to be minus 2 percent per vehicle produced compared to 2013.

To illustrate how it can be done, Fleming used the example of the Ford factory in Cuautitlán, Mexico. It was built in 1964 in a region where water was already scarce. Since then, many other international corporations established factories there too. Today the underground water table is dropping by 3 to 4 meters per year, according to Fleming, and water has to be pumped in from other regions. Since the 1990s there have been limits on water withdrawal.

Ford adapted to the situation by reducing the water use per vehicle by 58 percent from 2000 to 2013. “The plant developed many creative ways to save water,” Fleming said, citing as examples:
The ecological concrete is a good example for implementing a win-win technology. By letting rain water pass, it recharges 9.700 square meters, allowing 7.5 million liters to penetrate the ground.

At the same time, the concrete is less expensive and easier to maintain, which saves Ford $40,000 in maintenance per year. But Fleming stresses that the problem is too big to be tackled just by one company.
As a result, Ford collaborates with other organizations, both public and private.

"What we're doing really illustrates how water is now becoming more and more a business issue within other industry sectors,” said Sarni, and cited oil and gas, power and utilities, heavy manufacturing and semiconductor manufacturing.

In his view, thinking about water should not just be a management issue, but should result in thinking about stewardship.

One of the big challenges is how to implement the right strategy given that at the moment the price for water does not reflects its real value.

“We are addressing water not from a pure price standpoint but as a scarce resource,” said John Viera, Ford's global director of sustainability & vehicle environmental matters in the webcast.

“A resource that we absolutely need, and if we don't embed the proper and efficient use of water now, it will cause a big problem in the future.”

Fleming stressed that many improvements can be made with relatively small investments: “The first part of anything is getting the usage measurement and then relating it to something. What we are able to measure today is easier than it ever was before.”
  And things are progressing fast.
Matthias B. Krause is a Berkeley, Calif.-based journalist covering energy, technology, business and the environment. Previously he served as executive editor for the solar power magazine PHOTON USA. His work also has appeared in a wide variety of publications in the U.S. and in Germany such as Green Tech Media, Vanity Fair Germany and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
A big thanks to Matthias Krause and GreenBiz for their informative reporting on the company's strategy.
1)  A handful of recent reports grabbed from Google News:
  Is climate change destabilizing Iraq?
Slate Magazine
Drought is becoming a fixture in the parched landscape, due to a drying trend of the Mediterranean and Middle East region fueled by global ...
  Is Water Scarcity Dampening Growth Prospects in the Middle East ...
Brookings Institution
Today, countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are the most water scarce globally, with per capita freshwater supplies well ...
  Iran's water crisis the product of decades of bad planning
Washington Post
TEHRAN — Iran is headed for a water shortage of epic proportions, and ... Changes in the global climate, a century of rampant development ...
  More people, less water mean rising food imports for Egypt
But farms soak up 85 percent of the country's water [it's about 80 percent for California's water usage: Pundita note], above global ... warn that global food security is threatened by water scarcity, with Egypt ...


Oh God! Water scarcity means beer scarcity! Water Crisis Gordian Knot, Part 3

Forget superbugs, an elevated terror threat and civil wars in MENA.  This is serious.  The good news is that MillerCoors beer company has sprung into executive action, as has Campbell Soup Company. No no Campbell doesn't make beer but it's dawned on them that a world without enough water to make beer also means a world without Campbell soups. So those two for-profit concerns and other companies have pitched in to teach (or is it flog?) California farmers to adopt best practices when it comes to water conservation. This, while the state's politicians are still stumbling around in the face of apocalypse.

The water conservation exertions in the private sector were discussed last month at Pacific Institute in Los Angeles, where "leading corporate, nonprofit and technical water experts homed in on water stewardship and shared innovative solutions to the business and environmental challenges" relating to water scarcity, as Californian Emily Reyna reported to GreenBiz readers:
The Pacific Institute's water director, Heather Cooley, emphasized the limits of old thinking, and the importance of rethinking demand, supply and management of water.

Many participants agreed, stressing that we can't just do more of the same, such as building bigger centralized infrastructure or pumping more ground water when it's not being recharged at the same rate. [emphasis mine]

Instead, we need to reduce waste and increase efficiency, rethink economic priorities and choices in both urban and agriculture uses, treat and reuse wastewater, capture storm water, and improve data collection and monitoring.

Collaboration is key

Another theme that surfaced throughout the day is the importance of partnerships to achieve lasting results. Operating a brewery in the Irwindale section of Los Angeles, MillerCoors is constantly reminded how its capability to operate is tied to the city's water resources, said Kim Marotta, director of sustainability. Water risk is a material issue for the company; no water means no beer. To create change, companies like MillerCoors have to share the responsibility alongside communities.

If Marotta's talk was any indication, they are taking action. Partnerships with farmers have dramatically cut water use, runoff and energy use through innovations such as planting tall native vegetation, retrofitting irrigation systems and implementing best practices for water management.

Through these and other measures, MillerCoors was able to reduce water use by 1.1 billion gallons as a company, equivalent to the annual needs of 11 million people.

Follow the energy-water nexus

Campbell Soup Co. has been tracking the intersection of energy and water use since 2012, analyzing water efficiency at each point from well to discharge, according to Dan Sonke, manager of sustainable agriculture programs. [See the GreenBiz article for a link to a report on the tracking]

As a result, the food company has identified numerous opportunities to improve performance, through testing different irrigation scheduling practices and sharing data and best practices with Campbell's growers. 
The next Pundita post, which features another report from GreenBiz, has more good news.  A great many people are suddenly awake about the serious threat from water scarity and putting on their thinking caps. I mean -- beer! It doesn't get more serious.


Wednesday, July 2

The Data Race is On: Water Crisis Gordian Knot, Part 2

Even two years ago scientists working on drought related issues couldn't pay people to read their research; now rarely a week goes by without a study being published and snapped up by government agencies, journalists, columnists, and bloggers.  Drought is a hot topic. 

Problem:  several environmental activists focused on "man-made" global warming have seized on the growing mountain of drought data to promote their agendas, which can distort reporting on the research.  And their opponents in political, government, and business spheres have added to the confusion with their own interpretations of the data. 

Then there is the United Nations Dialing for Donations crowd, and the international nonprofit agencies that follow UN projects in the way seagulls follow an ocean liner.  These creative thinkers can actually translate data on anything, even the mating habits of the spotted nematode, into a plea for money.

All this makes it very hard to sort through an already complicated issue, one that has many parts.  Below are reports I've found helpful as I try to fit together a jigsaw puzzle that isn't accompanied by a picture on the box top.   

1.   (This is the report that mentions the New Mexico AG's remark that Texans are water rustlers.)  Times Record News; February 5, 2013; Texas Wrangles With 2 States Over Water:  "Other states are keeping wary eyes on the upcoming Supreme Court decision because the Red River Wars of the 21st century could have a huge impact on the many other water compacts across the nation." 

The Supreme Court ruled on June 13 and sided with Oklahoma.  Numerous reports and opinion on the Net about the far-reaching decision; here's one from State Impact NPR that really drills down.  One of the many points made in the report relates to the population increases in Texas, so it's not only more farming that's taking a big toll on the state's water supplies.

2. Nineteenth Century "Senior Rights Holders" Water Laws:  The Associated Press digs up shocking data on California's water crisis: 4,000 California Entities Are Allowed Unlimited WaterFrom a May 2014 article by Bianca Barragan at Curbed LA that's based on the report:     

[...]The AP has found that around 4,000 California entities—many of them companies, farms, or water districts—have not been affected by [water restrictions] at all as they continue to have access to an"unmonitored amount of free water", thanks to water laws dating back to the Nineteenth Century that are still in place. 
As a result of these laws, the so-called "senior rights holders" aren't required to have meters or devices that monitor water flow like all the rest of us. Instead, they're supposed to self-report their own usage -- a system that's led to incredible errors, like the one that showed a small-time cattle farmer on 15 acres of land using 10,000 times more water in a year than the whole LA Department of Water and Power. [...]In all, the nearly 4,000 senior rights holders use trillions of gallons of water a year and are not required to comply with drought-time restrictions and conservation measures, even though together they make up the majority of the state's water users.[...]
See also Curbed LA report Semi-Arid SoCal is More "Drought-Proof" Than Soggy NorCal  

3. June 9; Reuters reports political infighting in California about approaches to dealing with drought there.
4.  The above report is a perfect companion piece to the April 25 Reuters one, In California drought, big money, many actors, little oversight, which I featured in the previous post. 

5.  The Guardian has a fascinating special report on El Niño's projected impact in 2014.  It's chock full of facts that aren't generally known about the mysterious ways of the weather system, which affects everything from the price of gold to human conflicts.  The authors follow El Niño (EN) around the world to examine how it can affect each world region this year if it occurs. (The weather system's impact is almost global except for Europe and its impact varies widely.)  

One caveat:  The predictions quoted in the June 11 report about whether EN would occur this year have already been superseded. When last I checked it's now about 60 percent certain EN will occur but it could be a weak system, although that projection can change on a dime.

Bad News  

The report quotes an expert as saying that even a "godzilla" El Niño this year can't, on its own, rescue California from its drought -- although a godzilla would help.  If it's only a small or moderate EN, then no help at all.  We'll find out in a couple months what fates the weather pattern visits on the USA. 

Jaw-dropper from the report  

But despite better El Niño warnings nowadays, Martinez said many nations were worse prepared than in 1997: “In many cases the vulnerability has increased: more exposed population, more land degradation, river sedimentation, collapse of underground water sources, degradation of natural protection in riversides, badly designed infrastructure and lack of coordination and planning to cope with El Niño.”
6.  Subsidence 

USGS study:  Delta-Mendota Canal: Evaluation of Groundwater Conditions and Land Subsidence

In areas adjacent to the Delta-Mendota Canal (DMC), extensive groundwater withdrawal has caused areas of the ground to sink as much as 10 feet, a process known as land subsidence. In an effort to understand and manage land subsidence in the area, the USGS has put in place a land subsidence monitoring network. 
Lots more on the internet about this issue.  They're now doing so much pumping of groundwater that one water driller told NPR the other day that the valley was on track to run out of groundwater.  I guess that would solve the problem of the land sinking more. 

7.  Can California
 Conserve Its Way Through Drought?

I'm afraid the following National Geographic report and the study its based on don't take into account the simple fact brought out in the Reuters (4/25) and AP reports quoted above:  it's really hard to talk about a target water conservation number and put a number on the water deficit when no one has an accurate figure on water usage in California!

That observation aside, the report, after summarizing the current water situation in California, details some good water conservation strategies.  Excerpts:   
Can California Conserve Its Way Through Drought?by Brian Clark HowardNational GeographicJune 13, 2014
With worsening shortages, the Golden State turns to water conservation. Will it work? [...]This year, the state is expected to have a water deficit in excess of six million acre-feet, enough water for 1.5 million typical households, according to a report released this week by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pacific Institute on the need for more conservation.
To fill that shortage, water agencies are turning to sources, such as groundwater, that are not easily replenished and may decrease the available supply in the future.
Kate Poole, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco, told National Geographic that water conservation efforts to date have "been a mixed bag across the state."[...]The report first turns its attention to agriculture, which is responsible for 80 percent of California's water use. If farmers adopt the latest efficient technologies, such as drip irrigation and precise irrigation scheduling, they could slash water use by 17 to 22 percent. That's equivalent to all the surface water the Central Valley is expected to use this year. (See "Arizona Irrigators Share Water With Desert River.")
Such improvements have an upfront cost, roughly $2,000 an acre for drip systems, but Poole says farmers who have already switched are seeing short paybacks of a few years. Not only do they use less water, which saves them money on their substantial (and rising) utility bills, but many find their yields improve with more efficient watering, she says.
"I also think there is probably a lot of ability for state and regional governments to help with some of that initial investment by providing creative financing or cost shares that would speed up implementation of some of those measures," says Poole. (See "Can California Farmers Save Water and the Dying Salton Sea?")
If cities boosted their efficiency and reuse of water, they could readily save 5.2 to 7.1 million acre-feet of water per year, the report says, or more than enough water to supply all of urban southern California.
Earlier this year the state allocated nearly $700 million toward those kinds of investments, and some projects are already under way around the state. "Cash for grass" programs, in which residents are paid to replace their lawns with water-free plantings, have been particularly popular, says Poole. On June 3, the State Water Resources Control Board issued revised rules that make it easier to use recycled water for landscaping.
Poole says there is much work to be done, including ramping up investments in traditional water infrastructure and improving water-use data collection. But, she says, "with more concerted effort and policy support, we can easily get to that 20 percent savings and beyond."
Whether that will be enough to help the state get through the drought isn't known, but Quinn says it would go a long way. He'd also like to see more development of the state's emerging water market, in which different users sell water to others. But, he said, some districts may still have to implement even stricter restrictions on usage starting later this summer.[...]

8. A ray of hope.  Despite the grim title of the Guardian report, a study just published in June holds out hope that it's now possible to pinpoint the role that human activity plays in climate change.  If the approach pans out this will settle many costly and time-wasting arguments, and make better use of charitable and taxpayer funded resources for dealing with climate-related crises.   

Caveat: I haven't checked whether the online journal that published the study is peer reviewed. And even if it is reviewed, the research paradigm and conclusions drawn from it will have to run the gauntlet before it's time to celebrate.  Quotes from the report: 
Global warming makes drought come on earlier, faster, harderBy John Abraham Monday 30 June 2014 The Guardian
We all know that some climate change is natural, in fact, even without humans, the Earth’s climate changes. But, as we have added heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere, we have seen human influence “emerge” from natural variability.
Droughts, one of the most intensely studied climate events, are a perfect example of an effect with both human and natural influences. Separating the relative strengths of the influences is a challenge for scientists. But, when we deal with drought, with its large social and economic costs, it is a challenge we must undertake. 
very recent study tries to do just this. Published in the Journal of Climate, authors Richard Seager and Martin Hoerling cleverly used climate models forced by sea surface temperatures to separate how much of the past century’s North American droughts have been caused by ocean temperatures, natural variability, and humans.
What they found was expected (all three of these influence drought), but it's the details that are exciting. Furthermore, the methodology can be applied to other climate phenomena at other locations around the globe.[...]

Tuesday, July 1

Water Crisis Gordian Knot, Part 1: "Nobody pays any attention to these districts. So nobody knows what is going on"

It turned out I'd collected more reports on the water crisis than I'd remembered during my conversation with Mike (see the previous post), so I decided to give the links to the water issue their own post instead of lumping them with reports on land grabs and villagization.  Then I recalled that the following Reuters report goes a long way toward answering the question that has risen to the top for those outside the state when they look at California's water crisis: Why can't those people get it together?
It's not the only answer -- the crisis is made up of many situations tangled together -- but unless the situation detailed in the report is dealt with, it's going to be hard to make meaningful progress at resolving the crisis.  So, below is the entire report.  At the bottom of the story is not so much corruption and negligence but a way of life that lurched along for decades because it could. 

In Part 2 of this post I'll try to stuff in all the links to the other reports I collected, to which I've added some quotes from the reports and a few comments of my own.  While some of the reports have probably been seen earlier by those readers already following the crisis, the links provide a picture of the pattern I'm looking at when I study the situation.

In California drought, big money, many actors, little oversight

By Tim Reid
Fri Apr 25, 2014 - 7:19am EDT

(Reuters) - In the middle of one of the worst droughts in California's history, no one knows exactly how many agencies supply the state with water.

While state regulators supervise three companies that provide gas and electricity for most of California, drinking water is delivered through a vast network of agencies which collectively do billions of dollars of business, setting rates and handing out contracts with scant oversight.

There are so many agencies, in fact, that the California Department of Water Resource, which is responsible for managing and protecting the state's water, concedes that it does not even know the exact number.

"We think the total number is about 3,000 but there is no definitive resting place for those numbers," a department spokesman said.

Some state officials and water experts are calling for change, arguing that the process of providing water should be as clear as the product, especially in the middle of a drought. As one of the nation's agricultural leaders and a trendsetter in environmental regulation, California's actions could be felt beyond its borders.
Wes Strickland, an attorney who specializes in water law, says most of these water agencies do a good job. Cities and towns like controlling their own resources, and most of the agencies are elected, assuring a level of accountability.

But, Strickland says, good and bad, most operate "under the radar", with little public scrutiny. "These agencies are at the forefront of the drought response," he added.

John Chiang, the California state controller, is pushing for legislation that will increase fines for public water entities that fail to file annual reports with his office, although no agency is responsible for reading the reports once filed.

"The lack of transparency provides a breeding ground for unchecked spending, corruption, and fiscal mismanagement," said Chiang, who in October warned nine cities and 117 special districts, some of which were public entities solely responsible for managing and supplying water, that they were delinquent in filing financial records.

Just 138 utilities - those owned by investors - are regulated by an outside body, the California Public Utilities Commission, Strickland says. The rest are governed by small boards of locally-elected officials.
The former general manager and other unidentified current and former officials at one major water system, southern California's Central Basin Municipal Water District, are accused in a recent whistleblower lawsuit of using a secret $2.7 million fund for groundwater storage as a "slush fund" that funneled cash to political allies, board members and relatives.

The lawsuit was filed last month by district board member Leticia Vasquez. Under the whistleblower statute she would stand to gain financially if the lawsuit succeeds. The agency's own lawyers, in a report issued at the end of March after a nine-month investigation, said the water district violated California's open-meeting laws when it created the fund out of the public eye.

The former general manager has not yet filed a legal response to the allegations. Efforts to contact him were unsuccessful. The water district said if the case proceeds, it intends to fully cooperate.

Records relating to the fund were among those subpoenaed by federal officials last year as part of a wider and ongoing FBI investigation into the financial activities of the water district, which sells imported water to water districts in Los Angeles county.

Three subpoenas, seen by Reuters, requested financial records, documents and personnel records from the water district.

The FBI and the water district declined to comment or confirm an investigation.

California's drought, which is on track to be the third worst since records began in the early 20th century, according to state officials, threatens to have devastating effects in the state and beyond.

Farmers are considering idling a half million acres of cropland, a loss of production that could cause billions of dollars in economic damage, and several small communities are at risk of running out of drinking water.
The state also recorded its driest winter to date by March. The state's snowpack, which provides water in the spring melt, is at a record low.

From the water wars in the movie "Chinatown" to the quote attributed to Mark Twain, "Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting," water in the West has a long history of strife.

As California was settled, small communities would establish their own water wells. Economic and political power often stemmed from water rights and no single entity has ever been put in charge of the system, Strickland says.

Some of these agencies are scrambling to get new sources of water, which could require wells, water imports and plants to treat tainted water.


Water is expensive. For instance, 885 "special districts", which provide drinking water for 11 million
Californians had operating expenses of $7.3 billion for fiscal year ending 2012. Their long-term bond debt amounted to $20 billion, according to the controller's office.

The state is planning an $8 billion water bond and Democratic assemblyman Anthony Rendon, a sponsor, wants to put provisions for stricter oversight of how bond money is spent.

"Past water bonds have gone to so many different places for so many things it is hard to keep track of the money. We don't really have a place where we can find out that information," Rendon said. "There is very little oversight over the management of one of our most sacred and vital resources."

State data shows that salaries to water district employees vary widely and that some small agencies are paying big-city wages.

The state controller's website, where the latest available records date to 2011, shows the average salary to employees in 45 top-paying water special districts listed by wage totals is over $70,000, and over $100,000 in two districts.

The chief executive of the Dublin San Ramon Service District in northern California, which serves 157,000 people, will receive wage and benefits of nearly $338,000 for 2014, according to a water district official.
That compares with $345,000 paid to the general manager of the Department of Water and Power (DWP) in Los Angeles - America's second largest city with a population of 3.8 million.

Sue Stephenson, a spokeswoman for the Dublin San Ramon district, defended the high salaries, stating that the San Francisco Bay area had a high cost of living. She also said managing a water district is an extremely responsible job, as clean water has to be on tap for users every minute of every day.

Most of the agencies are run by elected boards that have to file basic revenue and spending documents, and wage and benefit totals, to California's state controller. But they do not file full budgets and their contracts are not subject to review or singled out in filings.

"Nobody pays any attention to these districts. So nobody knows what is going on," said Robert Stern, an open government advocate and an author of California's Political Reform Act, a post-Watergate era law designed to make government more financially transparent.

In the Seeley County Water District, which serves just under 400 homes in the desert near the border with Mexico, General Manager David Dale resigned in March 2008.

The following month his company Dynamic Consulting Engineers received no-bid contracts from the water district's board worth over $200,000, followed by another contract worth over $200,000 in 2010, to undertake engineering work, according to copies of the signed contracts provided by the water district.
Dale said he was giving the board what it wanted by undertaking engineering work, but current Board Director Patrick Harris, who came into office calling for more reform, said the contracts show the lack of accountability.

"I can't say it's illegal. But my impression is it's unethical. There was absolutely no oversight," Harris said.
Dale said: "Districts are not required to go to competitive bidding for professional services. The board selected me. And before they selected me, I stepped down as general manager."

(Editing by Peter Henderson)

Monday, June 30

What's ahead for Pundita blog

Because I haven't put up a post since even before the following conversation, which was days ago, I'm publishing the conversation by way of updating readers.  For the next post I'll scare up links to reports on some topics that were discussed.    
MICHAEL WRIGHT:  What's happening?

PUNDITA:  Let me see.  Well, everybody's trying to turn everybody else into each other's plantation.  What did I just say? Is that English? 

MW:  I don't know.  I was asking about what's happening with your writing.  You haven't put up anything at your blog for some time. 

P:  I'm finishing up the essay on swarming.

MW:  Is that a running joke?

P:  No. Long story why it's taking me so long to get it out the door, but soon.

MW:  I can see you've been moving away from defense issues and foreign policy. It's just that I can't see where you're headed.

P:  I'm looking at land grabs right now.   
MW:  Old story.

P:  This isn't like the old days.  It's now so bad PepsiCo has made it policy that they won't buy produce raised on land that's been grabbed.
MW:  That is interesting. 

P:  They did it under pressure from shareholders, but Pepsi is a huge player in global agribusiness.  Someone has to do something because entire countries have been put up for sale.

That might have been a big factor in the recent coup in Thailand and the previous one.  The military and the king are trying to prevent the country from being sold under from under Thais.  They don't want to see Thailand go the way of Cambodia.  It's now a huge problem in Burma as well.

See this is what happens when you open up your country.  First come the rent-seeking crowd, wrapping itself in the flag of democracy. Then the scavengers yapping about capitalism and foreign direct investment.  Then come the human locusts, who don't even bother wearing a mask. 

Now a lot people are wising up to what's behind the masks.  Turns out the yippity-yap is "land grab" spelled backward. 

MW:  So much for the "Pentagon's New Map."

P:  [laughing]  Good call!  What is it?  The Core countries, the Seam countries, and the Non-integrating Gap countries.  It's all turning into the non-integrating gap.

MW:  You know there's a lot of land grabbing going on here in the United States.  The feds are doing big land grabs.

P:  Land grabs are going on all the over world. No country is safe.  But while I don't like to give Obama credit for anything, my question is whether he's designating huge chunks of the U.S. as federal lands in an attempt to prevent land grabs by foreign business concerns.

That might possibly have been in play with the national park he just carved out of a New Mexico border area.  My question is whether they're running out of land in northern Mexico border factory towns. If so there are big problems with setting up more factories deeper in Mexico. So, go north, across the U.S. border, to set up the factories. 

MW:  Wouldn't it be an advantage to the U.S. to industrialize New Mexico?

P:  Depends on who owns those industries and where they think they can get the water from to run the factories.  There's a serious water problem in that state.  Last year the New Mexican AG called the Texans water rustlers -- 

MW:  [laughing]  Water rustlers?  What is this?  Range wars?
P:  Oh, things are getting pretty intense, everywhere the drought is.  Texas sued both Oklahoma and New Mexico over river water rights -- Red River in Oklahoma and Rio Grande in New Mexico.  One of those cases went to the Supreme Court; I can't remember which.  I don't know what's happened since; I still have to follow up.

A lot of the mess is over old water agreements that don't apply to current conditions. Same with California.

MW:  They kicked the can down the road.

P:   A lot of cans were kicked, in several states, we're finding out now.  Before it was a purely local issue.  Bottom line is that the last century was wet, so local governments could get away with putting things off.  Now everybody's scared that drought is the new normal, so now they're scrambling.

MW:  If it's the new normal we're screwed. 

P:  I'm not so sure. Desperation is the mother of invention, and all that.

MW:  There wouldn't be enough time. Not before big changes are forced on the American way of life.

P:  My point was that many of these foreigners scooping up land aren't capitalists; they're not even really investors.  They're locusts on two legs. But they've learned the lingo; understand?  They can yap about FDI and sustainable development until you're cross-eyed. Behind the masks they have no interest in investing.  Just squeeze it for a quick profit until it's dry, then move on to other pickings.

Plus, if you think illegal immigrants are a problem now, wait until that entire southwest border region is turned into one big factory plantation owned by Mexico.

MW:  Globalization. Ain't it grand. 

P:  This isn't globalization --

MW:  It's one of the downsides.

P:  I meant that there's nothing inherently wrong with globalized trade, but what's been termed globalization has devolved into a mask for land grabs. 

It's all masks now.  Everything good, every idea that resonates with a great many people, has been co-opted.  Phony democracy revolutions.  Phony ngos -- gongos.  Phony capitalism.  Phony sustainable development. Phony human rights movements.

They've even co-opted nonviolent protests.  The Tea Party movement was co-opted.  Even that silly Occupy movement was quickly co-opted.  And if co-option don't work, there's coercion, and if that don't work, out come the brass knuckles. 

MW:  Halloween all year round. Trick or treat.  The worst part of this would be that the genuine people get lumped in with the phonies.

P:  Sure, sure!  They're killing capitalism, they're killing the genuine ngos.  But what can you do?  At some point you just write them all off.  That's dangerous, it's counterproductive.
MW:  I notice you're interested in the weather again.  You were on a weather kick a few years ago, then you seemed to lose interest. 

P:  It was more a convergence kick.  All over the world, for a period of about a year, countries were getting walloped by unusual or unprecedented natural events -- unprecedented since record-keeping had started, at any rate.  It was all different kinds of events. They were happening in perceived sequential fashion, but the events weren't necessarily linked. So I called them convergences when I wrote about them on the blog.

Yet there was a link.  Many of the events created disasters for human populations because of long-standing problems that local and national governments had put off dealing with. It was if the universe was sending a message during that year to all governments:  Wake up, fools. 
Right now I'm interested in how people are responding to the weather and the water crises.  Simple solutions were ignored for decades, so now there are gigantic problems.
MW:  California's water crisis is a dress rehearsal for what's on the way, if climate change predictions aren't a false alarm.  It always comes down to the basics. Land. Water. Weather.

P:  That too, but I think [Thailand's King] Bhumibol identified the key basic. It comes down to sufficiency. His doctrine has been called "self sufficiency" and that's a part of it. Yet from what I've read here and there about the doctrine, I think the meaning he imputed to the term in the Thai language is much more basic.  It's doing just what's sufficient. Consolidating your gains before you rush ahead into bigger projects.

MW:  It's been called Buddhist economics.

P: That's a misnomer, isn't it?  It goes far beyond economics and it's not an exclusively Buddhist view. It's really a way of thinking grounded in common sense, in making sure you don't get so off balance in your rush to get more that you can't right yourself. 

It's not such a big problem during the salad days to be off balance.  But when events, the weather or anything else, start throwing curve balls, then the margin for error goes to zero if you're way off balance.  It looks as if that's where we are now.  Zero margin for error.  Anyhow, many people around the world are looking at it that way, not only about the USA but also about their own governments.

MW:  Don't bite off more than you can chew.

P:  Right. There's old sayings in every language to convey the same basic wisdom.  But I think it's big news when a king tries to make common sense into a national policy. And now he's right on time.  There's a lot of fear driving land grabs since the financial crash.  People don't trust currencies, they're looking for tangibles, things they hope will appreciate in value. So, buy land dirt cheap in some foreign country, put up tourist resorts on it, then wait for the geologists to show up and find gas or rare earths on your land
Since the gold smash last year, many of them don't even trust gold, unless it's gold coins, which weren't affected by the crash in price.

Do you know what villagization is?

MW: Something to do with the Malayan Emergency, right?

P: [laughing]  Now there's a flash from the past!  Come to think of it, it is rooted in POPCOIN [population-centric counterinsurgency tactics]. What did they call it in Vietnam?  Strategic hamlets?
Anyway, in its current incarnation the term means the opposite of what it sounds like.  It's not about securing villages, it's about moving people out of their villages to make way for foreign agribusiness.

When last I checked the Saudis are the worst culprits but Indian agribusiness is also a player. And probably more players are piling on from whatever nation has big food security issues.  Everywhere they can set up a plantation in a foreign country they'll looking to bribe government officials to displace the natives so they farm the land.  

African countries are the biggest target right now because several of the governments there are easily bought, and the villagers are completely powerless.

MW:  This isn't actually a land grab, is it, if villagizers are just using the land?

P:  I haven't looked into it that deeply. I'd say probably the governments are keeping hold of the land in most cases.  Anyhow, the agribusiness crowd that's part of this is rationalizing villagization. They claim that they can farm the land better than the villagers. That's true in many cases, but often the villagers are relocated to land that can't be farmed.

MW:  I can understand the Saudis. They wanted Western-style societies in the desert.  Why are the Indians doing this?  There's plenty of good farmland in India, isn't there?  Plenty of rivers? 

P:  Only a third of Indian farmland is irrigated.  The rest depends on the monsoon.  Weak monsoon, big trouble. 

MW:  Why don't they irrigate more?

P:  You'd have to ask an Indian. While you're at it, ask a Californian why they've been pumping so much groundwater to irrigate crops in the Central Valley the land has been sinking. It's been sinking by a foot a year, it turns out.  New study published recently.  I mean, they knew the valley was sinking but not at the rate. 

MW:  When will they hit ocean floor?

P:  I don't know, but this groundwater pumping didn't start with the current drought. Looks like the Central Valley has never been able to sustain that much agriculture without the pumping. Recently I wrote about the subsidence issue for big cities, but they're pumping the groundwater for drinking water.  The Central Valley has been doing it for farming.

I read that one side of a key canal in the valley has been collapsing because of the subsidence; the engineers are limited in making repairs because the land keeps sinking so fast.
MW:  They'll have to move a lot of agriculture out of California.

P: That's been happening. Some of it has been moved to Texas and other U.S. states, but look at what happened.  Now Texas has a big water problem. So, increasingly the food growing for Americans is being offshored. That is running the USA smack dab into the kind of situations it encounters with dependence on imported energy.  Right away, you're involved with the natives and their problems.  Pretty soon you're up to your neck in war.

MW:  Food isn't oil.  Imported produce has to be inspected for safety. There aren't enough inspectors as it is now.   
P:  I didn't think of that, but that too.  And speaking of cities in the desert, have you seen what's been happening in Las Vegas?  Those people don't know what they'll do if the drought continues.

MW:  What's the meta-message?

P:   Meta-message?  Globalized trade has always had benefits, and it's had big benefits in this era.  It's not a panacea, however, and it generates it's own problems.  Instead of facing the problems, policymakers chant that the solution is more globalized trade, more global rules and regulations.

Against this are King Bhumibol's simple observations about sufficiency. When he first talked about it, this was decades ago, a lot of people scratched their heads.  A U.S. Ambassador in Thailand wrote back to State about it at that time; said it was vague, that it didn't make much sense, or words to that effect. Today I think many people who know about the doctrine are seeing the sense.

Meanwhile, many people are asking how to save the globe.  Not to put words in Bhumibol's mouth, but he'd probably say to stop thinking globally and instead think and act locally.  Although he might also say not to go overboard in that direction, either.  Some of these anti-globalists want every country to go back to prehistory. That's not the way.  Balanced approach is what you want to shoot for. 
Yet it's just common sense that if everyone focuses more on doing just what's sufficient to save their own neighborhood, their own region, their own country, this will add up to better solutions for everyone, the world over. 

MW:  That would be a big reversal of the argument that to save the world you have to think and act globally.

P:  What do you do when you realize you're arguing with the wall?  A crumbling wall, for that matter?

MW:  You think the new era is here?

P:  Yes, it's just not on television yet.

MW:  Between now and the time it gets on the nightly news there's going to be a lot mess.  Governments are very resistant to change. 

P:  The land grabs, the endless small wars, the insistence on a draconian global regulatory regime -- all that mess and more is on the way. It's always a big mess at the end of the era.  But I've left off squabbling with a wall.

I see the challenge as learning about action paths being developed in the new era. These paths are being worked out all over the world as well as here. Yet while many people can see the old era is ending, but not all of them can see how to build paths in the new era. Yet it's like anything else. Once we learn an action path, a path we can reasonably implement, we stop wasting our breath with arguments that go nowhere and start doing this differently.

MW:  Are you going to be talking about these new paths on your blog?

P:  Uh, there must be many websites doing that; it's just that I haven't made the time to go looking for them. I plan to do that later in the year. 

But the Wealth Account I proposed is one idea for an action path, although no one has implemented it yet, to my knowledge.  You need to get the thinking behind it to appreciate the idea.  Also my reference in the "Devil and Departmentalization" series to Paul Glover's recommendations. A number of those paths have been implemented.  And years ago on the blog I talked about localism, which is itself a path for the new era.
I have some old essays to finish up, and right now I want to talk more about the water crisis.  After that, I think I'll transit to writing about the way things are shaking out in the new era.
MW:  Then if I asked what you thought about [Obama] sending advisors to Iraq?
P:  Did you read my essay about the new kind of silvopasturing?  Stack the forage instead of spreading it out, and pack the stacks with a weed-like plant that's protein rich.  The farmers using this approach get double the milk output from the cows on half the land, against the old way. Brilliant. Can you imagine how much water that approach could save California dairy farms?

The high protein forage also makes less cow poop because the cows don't have to eat so much to be well fed.  So that's less methane or whatever gas going into the air, for those worried about cow poop contributing to global warming.  And the cows love the stacking idea. They get it right away:  eat down, not across. Now what were you asking me about? 
MW:  The new era must really be here, if I can't get a rise out of you about Iraq.

P:  Michael, a vast nation, a military hyperpower, that can't even feed itself from within its own borders is in serious trouble. So in my view stacked silvopasturing is a defense issue.

I'm not asking anymore for Washington to change. I've taken the view that the Congress and White House are working from a playbook they can't change.  I think it's the same with the political parties.  I'm now looking at a different playbook.  We're all Americans, so we'll all meet on the road again someday. But for me there's no going back, not since I've glimpsed the new era.  You asked where I'm headed. I guess it's there. 
MW:  More sufficiency and less bull shit.

P:  [laughing]  Yeah, something like that.


Thursday, June 12

On the perils of getting obsessive about a particular solution, plus a brief return to Appalachian mountaintop removal

In my June 3 post on strip mining for coal in Appalachia by removing mountaintops, I neglected to add a link to a news report that underscored one of the factors I cited as stymieing attempts to stop mountaintop removal. I've now decided to republish the entire news report (below) because I've noted that its implications are much broader than the mountaintop issue. 

In one situation after another over the decades, environmental protection organizations have tended to get boxed into a specific approach to fighting an environmental issue.  That's understandable when it comes to deciding where to put donation money to fight on a specific issue, and of course every approach is limited by the scientific studies of a particular era.

But as soon as a political agenda (and tax money) gets mixed up with a particular proposed solution, and this happens a lot, people get wedded to specific data sets, to the extent that they ignore other ones.  Nowhere is this problem more evident than in government-backed attempts to deal with global warming. State governments and the federal government got fixated on transportation and energy issues.  So we got ethanol, solar panels, carbon taxes and draconian legislation to limit car emissions.

Meanwhile, desertification fell through the cracks.  Also, flood management, subsidence management, drought management, water conservation -- through the cracks.  So now we're staring down the barrel of disaster in this country because of all those greatly neglected issues.  On the water conservation issue alone, on May 23, 24/7 Wall Street reported that seven (7) U.S. states were running out of water, and that at the current rate of water usage California was on track to run out of water within two (2) years.

I think I'm going to expand in later posts on the theme of obsessive behavior as it applies to government-backed solutions that depend on scientific data, but to return to the mountaintop removal issue here's the place in the June 3 post where I neglected to add a link. I wrote:
The Sierra Club in particular along with other big political actors on environmental issues had long ago taken up the cause against mountaintop removal. But they'd focused on one issue, which is the toxic effect on water sources from mountaintop removal.  This allowed opponents in the coal industry to round up their own scientific experts to contest the environmentalist-funded studies on the water contamination issue.

And so the two sides have gone round and round for decades, as the humanitarian crisis in Appalachia has gotten worse and worse, and the many other negative impacts of mountaintop removal have received little scientific study.
 Here is the news report I meant to link to in that passage, and which discusses the Sierra Club's latest setback in the fight to stop mountaintop removal:

Court lets DEP use lower standard on pollution reviews 
By Ken Ward Jr., Staff writer
West Virginia Gazette
May 30, 2014

The state Supreme Court on Friday upheld a decision that allowed the Department of Environmental Protection to avoid tougher permit reviews and tighter water pollution limits for mountaintop removal mining operations.

Justices concluded that Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky was right to throw out a previous decision by the state Environmental Quality Board in a case brought by the Sierra Club over an Arch Coal permit for a mountaintop removal operation in Monongalia County.

In an 11-page decision, the justices said they were “not persuaded” that there is “adequate agreement in the scientific community” to trigger the DEP to conduct a more detailed analysis of potential water quality problems involving sulfate, conductivity or total dissolved solid pollution related to the proposed mining.

Justices also criticized what they called the “arbitrary nature” of the board’s order, saying board members “offered no discussion” about the relationship between that kind of analysis and potential compliance with the state’s water quality standards.

The court ruled through an unsigned decision that was agreed to by Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis and Justices Menis E. Ketchum and Allen H. Loughry II. Justices Brent Benjamin and Margaret Workman dissented.

At issue in the case was the DEP’s approval of a water pollution permit for Arch Coal subsidiary Patriot Mining Co.’s new Hill West Mine along Scotts Run near Cassville.

Sierra Club lawyers argued the DEP wrongly did not perform a “reasonable potential analysis” of the mine’s possible sulfate, total dissolved solids (or TDS), and conductivity pollution. They argued that such studies would have forced the DEP to include additional water pollution limits in the permit.

The environmental board had ruled in 2012 that a growing body of science demonstrated that discharges from surface coal mines in Appalachian are strongly correlated with and cause increased levels of conductivity, sulfate and TDS in water bodies downstream from mines.

“The science also demonstrates that these discharges cause harm to aquatic life and significant adverse impacts to aquatic ecosystems in these streams,” the board said.

Board members said that DEP “overlooked or discounted information that, had it been considered, would have compelled” the agency to include additional pollution limits to prevent violations of the state’s water quality standards. Board members ruled that evidence of water quality damage from existing mining in the state’s coalfields was “un-refuted” by witnesses from the DEP or the mining company.

But in his decision last year, Stucky ruled that the board was wrong not to defer to the DEP’s conclusions about the science, the mine’s potential impacts, and whether the permit should be issued. “After a thorough review of the record, it is evident that the EQB accorded no deference to WVDEP’s interpretation of water-quality standards,” the judge wrote.

The Supreme Court steered clear of that issue, saying that justices disagreed that the case “involves a question of deference to the WVDEP’s authority.” The court said there was “no evidence” that at the time the permit was approved the DEP had developed relevant formal policies to which the EQB could have deferred.

“Rather, this issue appears to be a question of whether the EQB had a sufficient basis for remanding the permit to the WVDEP with the requirement that the WVDEP conduct reasonable potential analyses and set effluent limitations for sulfate, conductivity, and TDS to meet state narrative water quality standards,” the court said.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


Breakthrough: "For First Time, Appeals Court Rules Warrant Is Required For Cell Phone Location Tracking"

The Snowden Effect continues to unfold.  So, to that editorialist at Christian Science Monitor who despaired that after a year of revelations about suspicionless surveillance very little had changed -- take heart.  Remember that it's a slow and painstaking process for civil rights attorneys and judges to sort through the huge number of legal implications revealed by the NSA files.
Much of the mess was created by legislators and courts failing to grapple with the modern era of communications -- and also civil rights attorneys who were still back in the 1970s in their thinking.  Attorneys for NSA knew this, so they were able to 'get over,' as we say in the USA.  Now a great many legal minds are catching up.

From an American Civil Liberties Union press release dated June 11, 2014:
MIAMI – For the first time, a federal appeals court has ruled that law enforcement must obtain a warrant to get people’s phone location histories from their cell service companies.

“The court’s opinion is a resounding defense of the Fourth Amendment’s continuing vitality in the digital age,” said American Civil Liberties Union Staff Attorney Nathan Freed Wessler, who argued the case before the 11th Circuit Appeals Court as a friend-of-the-court in April.

“This opinion puts police on notice that when they want to enlist people’s cell phones as tracking devices, they must get a warrant from a judge based on probable cause. The court soundly repudiates the government’s argument that by merely using a cell phone, people somehow surrender their privacy rights.”

In the case, the government obtained four people's cell phone location records from their wireless carrier over a 67-day period for a robbery investigation. To get the information, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami got what is known as a “D-order” from a federal magistrate judge, named for the applicable section of the federal Stored Communications Act.

However, the standard for getting a D-order is that it be “relevant and material” to an investigation, which is lower than the probable cause standard required by the Fourth Amendment. Although getting D-orders for location information has been a common law enforcement practice, the appeals court rejected it.

“There is a reasonable privacy interest in being near the home of a lover, or a dispensary of medication, or a place of worship, or a house of ill repute,” the three-judge panel wrote in a unanimous opinion.

“In short, we hold that cell site location information is within the subscriber’s reasonable expectation of privacy. The obtaining of that data without a warrant is a Fourth Amendment violation.”
The ACLU, the ACLU of Florida, Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed an amicus brief in the case, U.S. v. Davis. A similar case, U.S. v. Graham, is currently awaiting decision in the Fourth Circuit, and the groups have filed an amicus brief in that case as well.
See the rest of the report for details on U.S. v. Davis and the ramifications of the court's decision.


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