Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Horn tooting

In today's San Jose Mercury News (moderately climate-related):

Opinion: Follow the will of voters and protect San Jose’s Coyote Valley
The 7,400-acre valley stretching from San Jose to Morgan Hill feeds our foothills and provides crucial drinking water

As the rains come and go through San Jose’s winter sky, the rainwater flows as both a blessing and a curse.

What we overlook is the natural function of the rain. One-third of our drinking water comes from local rains — not the distant Sierra — and offers  a blessing for the working farmland that is an easy bike ride from San Jose’s southern edge. The water feeds the city’s green foothills and the animals in our habitat. It makes the streams navigated by our local fish and countless birds. The curse comes from human mismanagement that exacerbates floods, contaminates drinking water and changes the climate globally so we have either too much rain or too little.

Still, we control the curse, or at least the extent of it, and Tuesday San Jose’s leaders have the chance to act locally to protect land in Coyote Valley as a blessing for our community and the entire region.

This 7,400 acre valley, exactly south of South San Jose, is a gem of farmland and natural habitat that has so far stopped the Bay Area’s sprawl. In it lies the critical area where much of the rainwater as it is shed down from the hills – literally, the watershed – collects into Coyote Creek before being funneled into urban San Jose. In the confined stretches around urban streams, the San Jose floods of February 2017 had nowhere to go but into people’s homes. This tragedy could be compounded by mismanagement in the future, because Coyote Valley has long been slated for conversion from farmland and wetland to pavement, funneling still more flooding into San Jose.

The San Jose City Council on Tuesday afternoon will study Coyote Valley. San Jose’s voters set aside up to $50 million in the recently approved Measure T to buy and improve land for purposes of “water supply, flood control, open space and environmental protection of lands such as Coyote Valley.” Whether the council follows the will of 71 percent of the voters is at question, but clearly this valley is a natural sponge that shouldn’t be paved over.

Nor should councilmembers overlook the other reasons to protect Coyote Valley. The one-third of our drinking water from local rains ends up in our underground aquifer, including the valley. No other large area of that aquifer is so close and unprotected as Coyote Valley. The water ponded at the valley’s surface just this last weekend shows how the shallow depths to bedrock keep water near to the surface or even at the surface. We would never build a factory or an industrial warehouse in the middle of a drinking water reservoir, so why would we do that where the groundwater we drink touches the sky?

Still, this valley is under threat, from misguided ideas to replace undeveloped open land between San Jose and Morgan Hill with sprawl. The latest version of that threat would build vast warehouses, replacing Coyote Valley’s life with storage, all for a child’s handful of jobs and not the economic nirvana we were previously promised. This is not what San Jose needs or how the people voted.

The farmland and natural habitat come together here: bobcats, badgers, even mountain lions cross at the valley where mountain ranges come so close they almost kiss. San Jose’s ambitious climate plans mean developing up, not sprawling out.

The blessing that the rains bring, and the curse of our mishandling them, come together at Coyote Valley. San Jose can avoid that curse and create something beautiful by protecting Coyote Valley.

Brian Schmidt is the program director for the Greenbelt Alliance.


Old_salt said...

It has long been known that we should step back from creeks and rivers, especially where precipitation is highly variable. Good luck on protecting Coyote Valley.

David B. Benson said...

Well written, Bryan.

Canman said...

I sense a collision coming on. California has mandated 100% renewables by 2045 and wants to close the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. All those new solar panels are going to have to go somewhere. Encroaching sprawl includes housing for workers doing all those new jobs, like sweeping and dusting those solar panels. That aquifer is going to need additional protection from chemicals leaching from scrapped solar panels and the new industrial sized batteries that will also have to go somewhere.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

C: That aquifer is going to need additional protection from chemicals leaching from scrapped solar panels

BPL: As I understand it, solar panels are almost entirely silicon and aluminum, with very small amounts of doping materials. And since they have very long lifetimes, there aren't likely to be a large amount of them scrapped any time soon. Plus, they can be recycled.

Canman said...

There are HUGE amounts of these solar panels with "small amounts of doping materials". I hear different figures for lifetimes (20 to 40 years), but they do degrade. "Can be recycled", is not that clear to me and "can" is not the same thing as "should".

Ozzie Zehner's videos are getting old, but it still looks like most of his major points apply.

Canman said...

Opps, forgot Ozzie's video:

David B. Benson said...

Solar panels nominally degrade at 1% per annum so 20 years is a typical useful life. The panels can be recycled and surely will be to recover the most expensive elements.

Canman said...

DBB, I can't help but notice that a 20 year solar panel life is about 5 years shorter than the time till California is mandating 100% renewables.