Saturday, October 15, 2011

My weeklong life as a Washington water lobbyist

I'm not sure how interested the bunnies are in my spectacularly exotic work at a local water district, but I guess I'll find out. I spent this week as one of two elected directors visiting Washington DC to talk about our local flood control and water supply projects, and to try and scare up some money for more. Some notes:

  • I can confirm the obvious statement that the budget process is broken. I respect the antipathy to earmarks and am open to replacing them with another process, but what we have instead is virtually no process to provide local input into federal decision-making about local projects. We had multiple meetings with Congressional offices where they often said they could do little to help, and just one with the Office of Management and Budget, which now has all the power.
  • There is real interest in the Obama Administration in the environment. We talked about environmental benefits to one relatively high-level official in the Department of Agriculture who'd been hired from an environmental organization. She raised Obama's Great Outdoors initiative that tries to reconnect Americans to our natural environment, including urban areas. So I pointed to a map that we brought. Here in south San Jose, wild elk will sometimes roam within city limits. In north San Jose where San Francisco Bay ends, leopard sharks swim. Connecting them is Coyote Creek, a major intact riparian system running through central San Jose with migrating, endangered steelhead, a bike/pedestrian pathway, great views of hawk nests. Our flood control project is a major tributary where we want to rip out concrete, replace it with vegetated-earth banks, and add riparian habitat next to an elementary school. She liked it.
  • We can at least take some actions to adapt to climate change. We're trying to restore 15,000 acres of abandoned salt-making ponds to tidal wetlands, but the pond levees form part of the antiquated levee system protecting urban land in the South Bay. We want to rebuild and strengthen the landward side of the multi-ring levee system, and only then can we breach the bayside of the salt pond levees and restore them to tidal flow and vegetation. This was our one meeting with OMB, and there I emphasized that we're sizing the levees to accommodate 50 years of sea level rise (based on Cal. Academy of Sciences 2006 report, using the high end of three scenarios), and sized so they can be built up higher if needed. The OMB people seemed interested, so we'll see.

I sure wish I knew politically-viable ways to make GHG emissions pay for our climate adaptation projects, either on a local, state, or national level, but it's not jumping out at me (don't forget that "politically-viable" requirement). Our riverine flood protection projects also have to be sized for sea level rise because they empty into the Bay, so the costs add up.

My one other observation is that a lot of people we met with sure are young. Our nation is in the hands of twenty-somethings, presumably because we can get away with paying them nothing and working them constantly. Let's hope it works out.


Steve Bloom said...

"I emphasized that we're sizing the levees to accommodate 50 years of sea level rise (based on Cal. Academy of Sciences 2006 report, using the high end of three scenarios), and sized so they can be built up higher if needed."

Er, space for upland retreat after all those expensively restored wetlands go under?

But I am glad there's at least discussion about what happens after fifty years (assuming that the high-end scenario isn't much too low -- Jim Hansen thinks it might be; put another way, we're spending how much money based on an assumption that there's no relevant ice sheet tipping point?). Elsewhere around the Bay, even that doesn't seem to be on the table, which is funny considering that much of the stuff being built isn't going to just crumble to dust at the end of fifty years.

David B. Benson said...

Brian --- I'm certainly wishing you the best. However, in the longer run you'll need to look to more local sources of financing, I opine.

Around here there is an organization which is slowly restoring the environment. There are a few paid professionals whose tasks include obtain federal funding but also organizing volunteers to labor on the funded projects.

John Mashey said...

See Preparing for Sea-Level Rise in the Bay Area, a very good meeting.

Government planners are at least thinking 50-100 years out.

I do wonder about the equivalent in Perry's Galveston Bay
... at least the SF Bay is hilly.

EliRabett said...

They are lobbyists in training.

David B. Benson said...

Brian --- What hotel? Now recommend it?

Brian said...

Sizing levees to last 50 years is reasonable - that's starting to get to be old enough to think about rebuilding them anyway. Regardless, they're also sized with a wide-enough base so that they could be built up higher if needed.

Steve - the expectation is that sedimentation of the restored wetlands will keep pace with sea level rise. Might need some artificial augmentation though.

David - Capital Hilton, 16th and K. Expensive even with a government discount, but great location and you can get on the multiple Metro lines to go wherever you need. Rooms are fine, but you have to pay to use the gym. Personally I'd look for somewhere cheaper.

Russell said...

Coming as it does with endorsement from California Energy Comish Art Rosenfeld, this new bit of water physics may intrigue Brian.

It even has an astrophysical connection in that the same phenomenon might alter the albedo of exoplanets with fizzy seas.

David B. Benson said...

Brian --- Next time consider the Henley Park Hotel. I think I once stayed in the Washington Plaza Hotel, which was ok.

Hank Roberts said...

Where is Art Rosenfeld's endorsement found?

Discussing the biology of the only recently described ocean surface microlayer ought to be informative. What kind of comments did the journal get? Seems to me that when discussing how to turn regions of the natural world into a froth of tiny bubbles, physicists would these days ask the ecologists and biologists what if anything is known about what's living there, and what might happen upon changing those habitats into frothy foam.

The surface of the ocean isn't water, we know that much.
I'd expect someone must have commented to the journal about this.
Did anyone mention current work, e.g. this review

Microbiology of aquatic surface microlayers
Article first published online: 21 JUL 2010
DOI: 10.1111/j.1574-6976.2010.00246.x
© 2010 Federation of European Microbiological Societies.

Cunliffe, M., Upstill-Goddard, R. C. and Murrell, J. C. (2011), FEMS Microbiology Reviews, 35: 233–246. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6976.2010.00246.x

"Aquatic surface microlayers are unique microbial ecosystems found at the air–water interface of all open water bodies and are often referred to as the neuston. ....

... A key feature of surface microlayers is their role in regulating air–water gas exchange, which affords them a central role in global biogeochemistry that is only now being fully appreciated.

The microbial populations in surface microlayers can impact air–water gas exchange through specific biogeochemical processes mediated by particular microbial groups such as methanotrophs or through more general metabolic activity such as the balance of primary production vs. heterotrophy.

There have been relatively few studies of surface microlayers that have utilized molecular ecology techniques. The emerging consensus view is that aquatic surface microlayers are aggregate-enriched biofilm environments containing complex microbial communities that are ecologically distinct from those present in the subsurface water immediately below...."

(Extra paragraph breaks in the above added for online readability.)

Here's another with pictures:
Biology: Uncertain future for ocean algae

Published online 29 March 2011

"... Ocean productivity is patchy, both in space and time, but when integrated over its entire area, the annual net photosynthetic production of the ocean is similar to that on land (around 50 Pg C yr−1)2. However, the biomass of phytoplankton responsible for this production is far smaller than its terrestrial plant counterpart. This difference implies a much faster turnover of the phytoplankton. Indeed, the entire global population of phytoplankton is replaced on average every two to six days. Most of the nutrients and carbon locked up in dying phytoplankton are not lost from the surface layer though. Instead, they are recycled and used to support the growth and photosynthesis of new phytoplankton. This efficient recycling system involves a wide diversity of planktonic organisms including bacteria, viruses and zooplankton and is referred to as the 'microbial loop' (Fig. 1).
Figure 1: Potential changes in surface-ocean photosynthesis and microbial-loop activity with future ocean warming. "

Russell said...

Hank, the CC paper references Wurl & Holmes's original 'pneumoneustron' paper , 'The gelatinous nature of the sea-surface microlayer ' Marine Chemistry ,110, 89-97, 2008

Rosenfeld wrote the appropriate labs and research agencies following the CC paper's acceptance.