Saturday, November 09, 2013

Your friendly water district lobbyist, reporting out

Our water district goes to Washington DC twice annually to either look for help or avoid regulatory problems with our environmental restoration, flood control, and water supply projects, and my turn was this last week. The team had 21 meetings in 2.5 business days, occasionally splitting up.

FWIW, the shutdown is still affecting government function - permits we hoped to have received are now behind schedule.  The Corps of Engineers contracts out a lot of its work, so it first issued stop work orders and then issued start work, both of which take time.

One of our messages to government regulators was that we're doing the right thing because we want to, not just because we're told to, in the hope that it earns us some trust. I played on my background with environmental groups  like EarthJustice and Natural Resources Defense Council. We have a recent example of taking water we import from the Bay Delta area for water supply and using it to keep a crucial steelhead-bearing stream wet - no regulation forced us to do this (to be fair, we get a lot of that water back when it percolates underground).

The meeting with EPA was pretty interesting - staff there said that the new Administrator, Gina McCarthy, is definitely prioritizing climate change and water. I talked about how we're committed to carbon neutrality by 2020, but I chose not to bring up our climate divestment policy -I thought that might be controversial. Not always easy to figure out what to emphasize in these 30-60 minute meetings.

Hopefully these trips are worth the costs - we contract with consultants to represent and lobby for us there, but they say they're convinced its important for the regulators to be able to attach hometown faces to the projects they read about on their computers.

UPDATE:  should add this as well - our water district was featured on National Public Radio for our all-new Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center that will treat recycled wastewater to drinking water standards (although it won't be drunk, yet). Recycled water is good and bad from a purely climate perspective. Good in that it's an adaptive response to the loss of snow in the Sierras. Bad in that it takes a lot of energy to run reverse osmosis systems, but good in that it takes much less energy to recycle wastewater than it does to desalinate ocean water. Overall it seems like a good idea to me from a climate perspective, although conservation is better still.


Hank Roberts said...

I doubt you can say much publicly, but just 'oogling, you sure have a lot of wells tapping groundwater. Is compaction of aquifers a problem when they're overdrafted? (I know some aquifers when pumped dry will collapse and can't be refilled once that happens.)

California's still pretty much in the race-to-destroy-the-resource era of water law, isn't it? Where water rights are lost if you stop using them?

Brian said...

Hi Hank, we used to have a serious overdraft and ground subsidence problem, from the 1940s through the 1960s. Importing water from the Bay Delta and storing it as groundwater instead of reservoirs (2/3 of our stored water is underground) stopped the problem from getting worse by 1969, but subsidence is irreversible. Parts of San Jose are 13 feet below sea level, including areas closest to the Bay. You can imagine that this creates flooding risks.

Our water voluntary and mandatory conservation standards are based on making sure the groundwater levels stay above potential subsidence. Also, all new wells have to get permits from us.

Yes, California and most other western states rely on appropriative rights system. You can stop using for a certain time without losing rights though. I don't hear much about abandonment. California also uses the eastern riparian rights system, and then massive federal and state contractual systems that actually regulate most of the water. It's hard to imagine it being more complicated.

Much of Central Valley has an ongoing subsidence problem. It's ridiculous.

Russell Seitz said...

" Although conservation is better still."

If you deem reverse osmosis of wastewater " a good idea to me"

what are your thoughts on water conservation by limiting evaporation ?

Brian said...

Russel, I've been very interested in what some people call "floato-voltaics," floating solar panels on reservoirs. This provides a place to put panels and by shading water it could reduce evaporation. We also have a specific problem with warmer water being more likely to methylize mercury and to promote oxygen growth.

Unfortunately, they haven't priced out well in tests elsewhere, but it's an idea that can keep getting tested.

The other relevant thing we do in our district is store most water underground instead of in reservoirs, and that definitely limits evaporation.

Hank Roberts said...

Got anything to compare to this?

Brian said...

Yes, unfortunately, lots of Silicon Valley Superfund sites.

The lucky part though is that 12,000 years of erosion interspersed horizontal sheets of clay in the lowest elevations of Silicon Valley, which is also where the contamination occurred. The clay trapped the contamination in upper aquifers, while we draw water from lower aquifers.

We've cleaned up a lot of the sites, although there's still more to do in some places.

Hank Roberts said...

In somewhat related news, my favorite restoration tool is going out of production. Crap, this is a wakeup call:

We have an elderly friend who grew up in Berlin in the 1930s, and he has said exactly the same thing about current events in the US.

Anonymous said...

Brian says: "We also have a specific problem with warmer water being more likely to methylize mercury and to promote oxygen growth."

When I took basic freshman chem, warmer water actually held LESS oxygen than cold water.

But that was admittedly a while ago...and back before they started teaching the "new chemistry".

EliRabett said...

Well, several things here. First it is a pretty good rule that reactions rates double for every rise of 10C. The exceptions tend to be gas phase for dynamical reasons.

Second, O2 by itself is not a really good reactant with stable molecules or atoms and certainly not with mercury. Atmospheric oxidation of mercury seems to be controlled by bromine and that in the oceans. . .well, not so simple

Anonymous said...

first, the reason methylation of mercury generally tends to increase with increased temp is that the process is mediated by microbes (bacteria) and microbial growth rate generally tends to increase with increasing temperature (though it might actually decrease depending on specifics: microbes and temperature change involved)

and second: warmer water holds LESS oxygen than colder (all other things being equal) so the second part of Brian's statement ("problem with warmer water being more likely promote oxygen growth") is simply mistaken (and rather clumsily worded)

Anonymous said...

Time for the Rabetts to circle the wagons around Brian and for Brian to disappear from the thread.