Monthly Archives: February 2010

Sunday Morning Walk: Hats

4395640224_3a8c27013d_b.jpg

The Sunday morning walk consists of a stroll from our place, across a corner Ohlone Park, over to University Avenue, and down to a restaurant called Fellini. The place does pretty good, pretty cheap dinners. In the morning, it’s winning because it has a walk-up cafe window and the coffee there is pretty good, too. As a plus, they give The Dog a treat. He knows that and begins getting enthused about the impending visit when we’re two or three blocks away. This morning’s walk featured these two hats, and people, who were in line ahead of us. I tend to think most of the hipster headgear in our current Hat Renaissance is a sign of a New Meathead Age. These two chapeaux–is that the plural?–did nothing to change my mind, though I will allow it’s an interesting pairing.  

After we got our coffee, we headed down to the old Santa Fe Railroad right-of-way. On our way back home from there, we encountered a mockingbird in full virtuoso voice. Wish I’d brought a sound recorder.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Berkeley

Terremoto

Chileseismogram  

UC-Berkeley seismogram image of the 8.8-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Chile. 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Current Affairs

California Water: ‘The Way of Seizure and Exploitation’

A snippet from “American Places,” a 1981 book of essays by Wallace Stegner, novelist and chronicler of the West, and his like-styled son, Page. This is from a chapter Page Stegner wrote called “Here It Is: Take It.” It describes how Los Angeles siphoned off a rich, remote supply of water from the Owens Valley and details the valley’s ongoing disputes with the city. (The chapter title is taken from the words spoken in 1913 by William Mulholland, the principal architect of the Los Angeles water system, when he opened the valve that brought the first Owens Valley water to the L.A.) I can’t help but think of the current court and legislative disputes over California water when I read this. s

“…The American Way of seizure and exploitation has a long history but a dubious future. It has produced ghost towns before this when the resource ran out and the frenzy cooled and the fortune-hunters drifted away. Without suggesting that Los Angeles will become a ghost town, one knows that in the arid West there are many communities whose growth is strictly limited by the available water. To promote the growth of any community beyond its legitimate and predictable water resources is to risk one of two things: eventual slowdown or collapse and retrenchment to more realistic levels, or a continuing and often piratical engrossment of the water of other communities, at the expense of their prosperity and perhaps life.

Man, the great creator and destroyer of environments, is also part of what he creates or destroys, and rises and falls with it. In the West, water is life. From the very beginning, when people killed each other with shovels over the flow of a primitive ditch, down to the present, when cities kill each other for precisely the same reasons and with the same self-justification, water is the basis for western growth, western industry, western communities, Eventually, some larger authority, state or federal will have to play Solomon in these disputes. …”

We’ve got a Solomon of sorts–at least one of them–working on the problem now: U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger of Fresno. But more on that later.

Leave a Comment

Filed under History, Literature

California Water: The Judge’s Questions

The judge’s questions: Last Friday, federal Judge Oliver W. Wanger issued questions to a panel of experts he appointed to consider the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion on endangered smelt in the Delta. To really make sense of the list, which focuses on a narrow range of issues concerning the service’s scientific conclusions about smelt migrations and the effect of Delta pumping on the fish, you’ll need to go and wade through the evidence presented in the trial so far (when you get done with all the motions, declarations, statements, and supporting research, you might be looking at tens of thousands of pages). But the list is interesting even without that file trek, because it sheds some light on what subjects Wanger sees as central to the case. (Here’s the order, in PDF form: Judge Wanger’s Questions).

Who are the “706 Experts” he refers to therein? They’re a group of scientists Wanger chose last November after nominations from the water contractor plaintiffs who are challenging the smelt biological opinion and from the federal agencies who are defending it. “706” is a reference to Federal Rule of Evidence 706, which provides for court appointment of expert witnesses. The panel is: Paul Fujitani, an employee of the Bureau of Reclamation, as an expert on Central Valley Project operations (the bureau is a defendant in the case); Thomas P. Quinn, a professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington; Andre Punt, another UW professor, an expert in fish population dynamics and statistics; and, “if necessary,” John Lehigh, an employee of the state Department of Water Resources, as an expert on State Water Project operations.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Current Affairs

The Long Plunge to Greatness

Oakland Mayor
Ron Dellums gave his State of the City talk last night. He says he's confident that his term–regarded by many spectators as an era of continuing police department scandals, continuing economic problems, continuing high crime rates, and continuing malfeasance among some high-paid public officials–will be remembered "as the period when
Oakland laid the 
foundation for success." He further opined, "We're on the
precipice of the greatest period in
Oakland's history." Mr. Mayor: might want to look up "precipice" again.

Help (Thanks to my KQED compatriot Nina for the image idea.)

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

California Water: ‘The Master Condition’

“The master condition not only of any future developments in the West but of the maintenance and safeguarding of what exists there now, is the development and conservation of water production. Water, which is rigidly limited by the geography and climate, is incomparably more important than all other natural resources in the West put together.”

–Bernard de Voto, quoted in “American Places,” by Wallace Stegner

As elegant a statement as you can find to explain what all the ruckus is about.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Current Affairs, History, Literature

California Water News Flash: The Pumps Are On

Allowing that one person’s misconception is another’s gospel truth, I still have the impulse to correct others when I hear them say something that I know or believe to be, well, wrong. So here’s something from the current battle over California water that always makes me want to say, “Hey, wait a minute.”

San Joaquin Valley water interests and their allies, including members of Congress, want more water than they’ve gotten the last few years. Their biggest problem is that nature has not cooperated. The previous three winters were drier than normal, and the amount of rain and snow that fell on the state’s watersheds were far below normal. That circumstance happened to coincide with Endangered Species Act litigation that has led, for the time being at least, to limits on the amount of water the state and federal water projects are allowed to pump from the Delta to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. Those limits, set by federal wildlife agencies and designed to protect the Delta smelt and runs of chinook salmon, have led the aforementioned water interests to scream that the Delta pumps have been shut down, that farmers are being wiped out and valley communities sacrificed for a few lousy fish.

Now, whatever you happen to think of the last part of that formulation–that those who are trying to figure out how to save the fish want to see the San Joaquin Valley “dry up and blow away” (as Rep. Jim Costa, a valley Democrat, put it)–you shouldn’t have to think much about the first part, that the pumps have been shut down. That’s because it’s not true. The pumps are running, day in and day out. The major destination for a lot of that water is the San Luis Reservoir, a key storehouse for valley water, and it’s filling up.

But despite all the readily available data on Delta water shipments, the untruth that the pumps have been switched off is too good a propaganda point for some people to pass up. Rep. Devin Nunes, who represents much of Fresno and Tulare counties in Congress, says about water resources policy: “Its [sic] Simple: Turn on the Pumps.” Since last session, he’s been pushing a bill called the “Turn on the Pumps Act.” (The bill is, in fact, very simple: “In connection with the operations of the Central Valley Project, neither the Bureau of Reclamation nor any agency of the State of California operating a water project in coordination of the Central Valley Project shall restrict operation of their projects pursuant to any biological opinion issued under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, if such restrictions would result in levels of export less than the historical maximum levels of export” (italics mine).

Got that? No limits on pumping to protect endangered species, period, unless the limit results in as much or more water being pumped out of the Delta than the projects have ever pumped.

Rep. Tom McClintock, a Southern California Republican who relocated to and won the northeastern California congressional seat in 2008, is also a source of unrelenting “turn on the pumps” rhetoric. Earlier this month, he issued a broadside against Democrats in the House Water and Power Subcommittee for blocking consideration of Rep. Nunes’s excellent bill. “For the sake of humanity, Madam Chairwoman and my Democratic colleagues, turn on these pumps.” You have to admire the way these folks keep their rhetoric on a short leash.

If I were in Congress myself, I’d rise to tell my good friends and respected colleagues, “I have good news. The pumps are on! Even as I speak, rain is sweeping over your districts and on your thirsty constituents, helping fill the reservoirs not just with water, but with hope. And in that spirit of optimism, here’s a nonpartisan, nonsectarian suggestion: Pray for more rain. I am. That way, the reservoirs will keep rising, agriculture will get its water, and maybe there will be some left over for smelt and salmon and the thousands of people who depend on them. And maybe we won’t have to hear you shriek ‘Turn on the pumps!’ again.”

4 Comments

Filed under Current Affairs

Journal of Self-Promotion: Water and Fish, on the Rocks

My recent forays into the world of California water and fish, along with a couple recent stories I did, resulted in an invitation to be a panel member on KQED’s Forum program (a daily news discussion show we do). I was on an hour-long segment entitled Salmon vs. Jobs (if I had been editing that, I’d have added a question mark) that centered on Senator Feinstein’s announcement that she wants to amend a federal jobs bill to guarantee minimum water levels to a section of the San Joaquin Valley. That water must be delivered, she says, notwithstanding a drought and the threat to endangered fish and despite the fact a scientific review of actions taken to protect the fish–a review she instigated last fall–is still in progress. After being asked on the show Thursday evening, I stayed up late doing some homework on the issue, then followed that up with a nervous (i.e., lousy) night’s sleep. But the show went OK once I remembered that I had to breathe to talk. The audio is here:

And once I got through with that … I ran back to the newsroom and finished the prep work for a feature story I did on a short-track speedskating club in Oakland (I had done the reporting a couple weeks ago, didn’t managed to get the piece written in time for air before the Olympics, and finally got it done this week, and it was broadcast yesterday). The audio for that one is here:

What is the connection between those two stories. My good pal Coach Bobby Knight says the common thread is water, liquid, then frozen.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Current Affairs

California Water: A Word (or Two) About Smelt

I spent Wednesday in Sacramento, listening to federal and state fish biologists and water managers talk about the Delta smelt–an endangered fish sometimes described as a “minnow”–what they’re learning about species, and how to keep it from being pulled into the pumping facilities that send water to the great farms and cities to the south. I am a sucker for terminology and argot, and the session was full of it. A few key terms and some that just sort of tickled me:

Entrainment. That’s the process whereby currents created by the state and federal pumps capture smelt (and juvenile salmon and other species) and slowly draw the fish toward them.

Turbidity. Simply put, cloudiness of water. It’s a hot topic in smelt circles. A consultant for one of the big San Joaquin Valley water contractors repeatedly expressed the thought that since smelt are believed to prefer turbid (cloudy) water, reduced turbidity in the area near the pumps–meaning clearer water–is probably responsible for the decline or absence of the fish there.

YOY. Year of young; fish born during the current year.

WOMT. (Pronounced “whomped.”) Water Operators Management Team.

CHTR losses.Fish mortality caused by “capture, handling, transport, and release.” CHTR happens when fish are entrained, drawn toward the pumps, and “salvaged” at a “fish facility” adjacent to one of the pumping plants. Depending on the species, they’re then trucked someplace in the western reaches of the Delta to be released.

PEI. Potential Entrainment Index. A statistic method for forecasting times and circumstances when smelt may be sucked toward the pumps.

X2. From a paper on the delta smelt habitat: “the distance in kilometers from the Golden Gate to the position of the 2 percent salinity isohaline.” (From elsewhere: “Isohalines are lines (or contours) that join points of equal salinity in an aquatic system.”)

And I could go on. But as a non-scientist, non-engineer, layperson, here’s what struck me in the discussions: How much uncertainty exists about the smelt–where it is, how it gets from one place to another, its spawning behavior. Of course, this mattered less when the Delta was full of smelt, and it was probably studied much less intensively than it is now. Now that the fish may be going extinct, it’s harder to study and get answers that may help preserve it.

I checked my impression about the uncertainty with a biologist at the meeting. They said, “That’s the elephant in the room–the uncertainty. When scientists meet with each other, they’re more open about it. In a public setting, they tend not to want to get into that.”

2 Comments

Filed under Current Affairs

UC-Berkeley: Our Trashy Campus

sproulgarbage021510.jpgยต

Presidents Day newsflash from just outside the hallowed halls of academe: UC-Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza is (or was when we visited, anyway) a friggin’ mess. We’ve lived here a while–our passports mention a date in the ’70s–and we have never seen the plaza, the gateway to the pride of our state’s system of higher education, trashed to this degree. The main symptom: numerous overflowing garbage cans and lots of refuse strewn every which way (yes, you heard me right). Our guess (fact-finding has not been initiated) is that maintenance cutbacks at the university meant that no one was available to haul away the rubbish during the long weekend. Hell of an impression for visitors and townspeople alike, but a holiday feast for the pigeons.  

Leave a Comment

Filed under Berkeley, Current Affairs