Category Archives: Earth Matters

100 Percent Renewable Energy

Did you know 100 percent of your electricity could come from renewable sources with the click of your cursor? Or a phone call. Did you know you already are getting more clean energy than customers of PG&E?

Let’s first answer the question, who cares? You are saving money if you are getting your energy from MCE Clean Energy – just like 88 percent of the other residents of Walnut Creek do. PG&E charges more for their dirtier energy. Hard to believe, I know. Clean energy is from renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass. Unless you took a special step to “opt out” of MCE, you are likely getting 50 percent clean energy at a rate 2-5 percent lower than PG&E’s 33 percent clean energy.

It might be confusing because you’re still getting a bill from PG&E. But, look at the one tiny line item that reads “electricity generation” and you’ll see MCE’s generation charge has replaced PG&E’s generation charge. This started in September 2016, but you probably didn’t notice. Ever since then, you’ve been saving money and getting cleaner energy coming to your home.

All about MCE

But the story gets better. MCE Clean Energy is a not-for-profit public agency without shareholders. Its governing board is made up of one elected council member from each participating city and one elected supervisor from each county in its jurisdiction (Contra Costa, Solano, Napa and Marin). All its meetings are open to the public and video-recordings are archived online. Revenue has been invested in a training center for green jobs, building local solar farms, energy efficiency programs, solar rebates for low-income residents and an extra benefit to customers with their own rooftop solar. In sum, MCE is both adding more clean energy to the grid and contributing to the local economy.

Maybe the most important reason to care about the cleaner energy option is because it helps us to reduce greenhouse gases. The basic MCE plan that everyone gets is the Light Green plan, but for an extra 1 cent per kilowatt-hour, anyone can “opt up” to MCE’s Deep Green plan, which provides electricity from 100 percent renewable sources. This costs the average homeowner $4.50/month but will vary depending on how much electricity you use.

Importantly, a person can “opt down” to Light Green (50 percent renewable) anytime one wants – maybe if one’s finances become tight. A Deep Green home reduces by over 1 metric ton the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere each year; that’s equivalent to driving 2,437 fewer miles using gasoline. The impact is even more impressive for those if us in Rossmoor who have all-electric manors.

But that’s just one home. A city council can vote to opt up its municipal accounts from 50 percent to 100 percent clean energy. It sets an important example for residents; in fact, when other cities have opted up their municipal accounts, the number of residents who do the same doubles within a few months, on average. It’s called the multiplier effect. Every city in the MCE service area opted up their municipal accounts last year, except Walnut Creek. Tsk. Tsk. And the statistics correlate.

Walnut Creek

Jenna Famular, MCE’s community development manager, showed a chart during Earth Awareness Week that revealed Larkspur had the most number of residents who had opted up, over 8 percent higher than any other city. Sadly, Walnut Creek is one of the lowest in the region at 1.3 percent. Our neighbor, Lafayette, with whom Walnut Creek City Council sometimes tries to compete in “greenness,” has 3.6 percent residents who are Deep Green customers. But behold! We in Rossmoor have 2.3 percent of our residents who have opted up to 100 percent clean energy. We are setting an example to others in our city. This is where you can help.

Request the Walnut Creek City Council to opt up its municipal accounts. This month, our city council will vote on a budget that could include opting up its municipal accounts. There’s a surplus on the city’s coffers that will more than cover this. It’s a small item for a city with a total budget of over $110,000,000. Write a letter to the city clerk at: lechuga@walnut-crerek.org and ask it to be distributed to all the council members.

UPDATE:  On May 15, 2018, the Walnut Creek City Council voted unanimously to opt up all the municipal accounts to 100% renewable energy!

The right thing to do

In addition to the multiplier effect, the city has made a promise to us. In its 2012 climate action plan (CAP), one of several environmental goals the council set was to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Opting up is the most cost-effective method to city can use to reach their goal for 2020. Furthermore, every year the city delays, increases the pollution. All these are the reasons every other city in MCE’s territory has opted up. We just celebrated Earth Day – it’s the right thing to do.

In addition, you don’t have to be a Sustainable Rossmoor member to join a delegation to appear at the council meeting in person. Contact me below to join a carpool.

What else can you do? Opt up to the Deep Green plan if you can afford it, even for a few months and join the Sustainable Rossmoor Living Lightly team: http://mcecleanenergy.org/livinglightly. Again, you don’t need to be a Sustainable Rossmoor member. Take a look at the website and see how we lead the region. This website allows you to click on “Enroll in Deep Green.” Scroll down to join the Sustainable Rossmoor Living Lightly team even if you opted up sometime ago – you too can join the team. Or call: 1-888-632-3674. This gives us more than bragging rights – it makes our air cleaner. It’s one simple way to reduce pollution, and reduce our health risks and those of our children and grandchildren.

This article first appeared in the May 9, 2018 edition of the Rossmoor News. Author Carol Weed can be emailed at: carol4ofa@gmail.co

How You Can Save the Planet

Since this column will be appearing in the middle of Rossmoor’s Earth Awareness Week, Managing Editor Maureen O’Rourke suggested that I devote the space to letting the readers know how they can contribute to the goal of living lightly on planet Earth. Although our actions are for the most part small in the big picture….as you well know….little things add up. There are many ways the average person can make his or her daily routines more eco-friendly. I will suggest a few, and then toss in some suggestions from Pope Francis.

Action One: Cut back on car use. Look for alternatives such as biking, walking or public transportation. Carpool. Combine several errands into one trip. When you are driving, brake and accelerate less; drive at a moderate speed.

Action Two: Make good food choices. In the United States, we throw out about 40 percent of our food each year. When possible, buy local food. The farmers’ markets will be open soon. Learn to love leftovers. Don’t be shy about asking for a “doggie bag.” Most restaurant meals are more food than we need and the take-home box can save you having to cook tomorrow.

Action Three: Reduce your waste. Reduce, reuse and recycle. Our local thrift stores do a great job and have lots of bargains. Their profits support good causes. Avoid disposable plastic water bottles, plates, cups and silverware. Reuse plastic sacks.

Action Four: Conserve water. Take short showers. Use low-flow shower heads. Turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth. Wash your car with a bucket of water and not the hose.

Action Five: Save energy. Instead of turning on the heater, put on a sweater. This summer, open all of the windows each morning to cool down your home, then close up tight as the outside air heats up. Maybe you won’t need that air conditioner today. Obviously, make a habit of turning off the lights when you leave a room (that goes for Rossmoor meeting rooms, also). Unplug appliances when they aren’t needed. Give some consideration to buying solar panels or a fuel-efficient car. Have someone from Walnut Creek Saves visit your place and do an energy audit, which is a free service. Buying a new appliance? Look for the Energy Star rating.

Action Six: Give financial support to nonprofit groups working for the environment. Some to consider: the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, 350.org, Union of Concerned Scientists and Earth Justice.

Even Pope Francis is calling on his followers to help save the environment. A few of his practical tips include: 1. Transition to renewable energy resources. 2. Protect biodiversity. 3. Be aware that synthetic pesticides and herbicides will hurt birds and helpful insects. 4. Get back to nature. 5. Stop needless consumption. 6. Protect vulnerable species.

I part company with him when he says “Stop blaming problems on population growth.” But not even the pope can be expected to get everything right. Have a great Earth Awareness Week. Do your part to save our beautiful planet.

This article first appeared in the April 18, 2018 edition of the Rossmoor News. Author Bob Hanson can be emailed at doctoroutdoors@ comcast.net.

The Making of a Pessimist

One of my main tasks as publicity chairman for Sustainable Rossmoor is to see to it that an Earth Matters column gets submitted twice a month. Several other club members have been helpful by submitting columns from time to time. But when no one sends me a column, I have to come up with something. I can assure you that writing about environmental issues isn’t a happy job. Most of the material I am able to find by research is bad news.

Almost every day, I read of another anti-science crony being appointed to an important position in the Environmental Protection Agency or some other federal government bureau. It is painful to read about the United States pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement and the concessions being given to the coal, gas and petroleum industries.

Most scientists are in agreement that the earth is unraveling due to human caused global warming. The current extinction rate of species is 1,000 times the historical level. Global wildlife populations have decreased nearly 60 percent since 1970. Coral reefs are dying and the oceans could be completely free of fish by 2048 due to climate disruption, overfishing, pollution and habitat loss. The great Pacific garbage patch is now several times as large as the state of California. Many fish mistake small bits of plastic for food with awful consequences.

In spite of what we are being told by the anti-scientists in Washington, D.C., climate change is proceeding dramatically and abruptly. Hurricane Harvey led to the single largest rain event in U.S. history, which was followed by Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever recorded. In Canada, rapidly melting permafrost is already releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This in turn causes warming, which increases the thaw further. Meanwhile, our forests are being cut down and/or burned. Anyone who has driven to Lake Tahoe has noticed the massive numbers of dead or dying trees. Some of this is caused by draught and much more by the bark beetles, which are pretty much out of control. Dying and burning trees, of course, release tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the cycle feeds on itself.

Now I read that the melting Arctic Sea ice is impacting the Atlantic Ocean water circulation system. Predicted sea level rise will cause devastation for the 145 million folks living on lands less than three feet above sea level. One author suggests that there will likely be 200 million climate refugees from sea level rise by 2050. Authorities are talking about possible sea level rise of 55 feet.

The Trump administration continues to work feverishly to scrub any mention of climate change from government websites. I tend to be a pretty optimistic person, but with regard to the future of the planet, I don’t see much to look forward to. We Depression babies and baby boomers have enjoyed a very good life. It is looking more and more like we have lived in the “best of times.” It may be all downhill from here on out.

Some experts are hinting that if humans continue adding carbon to the air and oceans, a global mass extinction event could be triggered by 2100. I hope they are wrong for the sake of our grandchildren and great grandchildren, but I sure wouldn’t bet any money on it.

This article first appeared in the April 4, 2018 edition of the Rossmoor News. Author Bob Hanson can be emailed at doctoroutdoors@comcast.net.

What’s the Big Deal About Plastic Straws?

Plastic drinking straws seem like such a small thing. Why do I find myself reading about them so often these days? Why are some cities banning the use of plastic straws? What’s going on here?

According to a CNN news story, nearly eight million tons of plastic waste makes its way into oceans and waterways each year. It is estimated that by the year 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. Plastic straws are a single-use item.

Every day, Americans throw away 500 million plastic straws, enough to circle the earth twice. These straws are made of a petroleum by-product, polypropylene. It does not biodegrade naturally. When in the ocean, it floats until it’s consumed by some form of ocean life or else it makes its way to one of the floating ocean garbage dumps.

The Plastics Pollution Coalition states “Every bit of plastic that has ever been created still exists, including the small amount that has been incinerated and has become toxic particulate matter.” While the straws do not degrade, they do break into smaller pieces. These pieces act like sponges absorbing chemical compounds like PCB and DDT that are in the water.

The small pieces are eaten by sea animals and then become part of their bodies. They make their way up the food chain, eventually to be consumed by humans. Straws that don’t end up in the ocean cause other kinds of problems. Since they don’t biodegrade, those that are in landfill site are there forever.

Another negative consequence is that they go down storm drains adding to the build-up of debris that causes property damage when streets flood. These single use plastic straws are among the top five items removed from the sand when beach cleanups are held. The Ocean Conservancy has shared the following: Millions of plastic straws pollute our ocean where endangered animals like sea turtles can choke on them.

The average American eats out four times a week and almost everyone gets a straw (or two). If we get 25,000 people to skip the straw at restaurants every time, we can keep 5 million plastic straws out of our ocean and landfills in just one year. Take the Last Straw Challenge: When eating out, ask your waiter or waitress to skip the straw.

People have good reasons for using straws. What I am talking about is single-use plastic straws that restaurants routinely place in drink orders. There are alternatives to these. Paper straws are biodegradable. If you need to use straws at home, consider these or reusable straws made of glass, stainless steel, bamboo or other that can be washed and reused. While I don’t believe a ban on plastic straws will end the plastic pollution problem, it is a place to start.

For information, go to thelastplasticstraw.org.

This article first appeared in the Rossmoor News, March 21, 2018. Author Linda Walonen is a member of Sustainable Rossmoor’s Trash Talkers Team. She can be emailed at lsw923@comcast.net.

Day Zero: Lessons From Cape Town’s Crisis

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists of Feb. 16 featured an interview by journalist Dan Drollette Jr. of Peter Gleick, recipient of a MacArthur “genius” fellowship and founder of the Pacific Institute, on the water crisis in Cape Town, South Africa. Gleick explained that for the first time a major city is on the verge of literally turning off its municipal water supply system because of a lack of water. Whether or not it actually happens will depend on whether they’re able to implement programs that reduce enough demand and whether it starts to rain.

Although there are still enormous disparities, South Africa has been a world leader since apartheid ended in addressing previously unmet needs for water and sanitation. The problem is a combination of population growth and absolute limits on new supply. They’re running into peak water constraints and the new reality of climate change.

Previously, water planners and managers had assumed that the climate was variable but stable, that there would be wet years and dry years but that it wouldn’t be changing over time in the long run. That’s no longer true.

We know that humans are causing climate change and we know that some of the worst impacts will be manifested in changes in the hydrologic cycle and changes in water availability and demand. Cape Town is at the limits of getting any new supply. Cape Town is over-tapping its rivers and over-pumping groundwater. The population continues to grow and demands for water continue to grow. Higher temperatures worsen the severity of the drought by increasing the demand for water and the loss of water from soils and reservoirs.

Even though water is a renewable resource, there are limits to how much we can take and use. When the entire flow of rivers, such as the Colorado or Yangtze or Yellow, has been taken a peak constraint occurs. In addition, as much as a third of all the groundwater that’s pumped worldwide now comes from non-renewable groundwater resources. That’s a peak limit as well. More and more regions of the world are reaching peak water. Pumping from ever deeper and deeper levels becomes economically infeasible.

The Ogallala Aquifer is a good example of a peak limit. It is a fossil aquifer that underlies Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas and several other states. It was laid down over tens of thousands of years, but it is being pumped out in decades. Other examples of peak limits are happening in the Middle East, Northern China, parts of Indian and in parts of the Central Valley of California.

Fortunately, the United States has the economic and technical ability to shift water from one user to another, to implement conservation programs that reduce demand–to do the things that Cape Town is doing now–but to do them more effectively. Places like Jakarta or Tehran, or places in the developing world where they don’t have alternatives, where they don’t have the economic ability to use treated wastewater or to desalinate water, and where they don’t have the management ability to implement smart and effective conservation programs are more threatened.

In the 1980s, engineers in Boston plugged a lot of leaks and upgraded all the pipes in the city’s water supply system and reduced water consumption by 40 percent. The cheapest source of new water is not actually new water – it’s spending money on conservation and efficiency programs that let us save water we’re already using.

The smartest thing we can do is make our water use more efficient, to grow more food with less water, to flush our toilets and wash our clothes with less water, to keep the benefits of our water use while reducing the volume of water required to satisfy those benefits.

In the fourth of five years of the California drought, the state imposed a mandatory reduction in urban water use of 25 percent. This was accomplished through a mix of programs. People were offered money to remove lawns and replace them with “xeriscaped” or drought-resistant gardens. Utilities offered rebates on efficient toilets and washing machines. There were restrictions on the timing and the amount of outdoor landscaping. There were changes in rate structures that encouraged people to save money by saving water. Penalties were imposed on high water users.

In the long run, we’re moving toward a sustainable future for water or the soft path for water. It involves alternative sources of supply, like using treated wastewater and capturing more storm water; improving the way we use water and becoming more efficient; smart economic policies and better management. It involves accepting the reality of climate change and integrating the risks of climate change into the way we plan and manage our water systems.

This article first appeared in the March 14, 2018 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Judith Schumacher-Jennings can be emailed at sjmadrone@sonic.net.

Global Warming, Rising Sea Levels and What Can be Done

Well folks, I hate to be a “messenger of doom,” but the long-term health of our mother Earth doesn’t look very good, even if we do manage to avoid a nuclear war. I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading on the subject of global warming – more precisely sea level rise – and things don’t look promising. Scientists agree that 2017 was the warmest year in recorded history, eclipsing the temperatures of the previous high in 2016. When the air heats up, the ocean temperatures heat up, which they predictably have been doing. As I’m sure you remember from high school physics class…warm water expands.

A second cause of rising seas is melting glaciers and polar ice caps. You have probably heard that Glacier National Park probably won’t have any glaciers by the end of this century, but even more alarming is the loss of ice from Greenland and Antarctica. The Arctic Ocean is now almost ice free each summer and every so often a hunk of ice the size of Rhode Island slips loose from Antarctica into the sea to melt. Sea level rise has only been 4 to 8 inches in the last 100 years, but the rate at which it is rising has doubled this past decade.

A recent study by the University of Melbourne found that unless coal burning is halted entirely by 2050, melting of Antarctica’s ice alone will cause the oceans to rise 1.3 meters. Another recent study showed that the Totten Ice Field in Eastern Antarctica is melting at an accelerated rate. This glacier alone has enough ice to raise sea levels 11-13 feet, submerging many of our coastal cities. Many of the citizens of South Pacific Island nations are already starting to migrate as their homelands gradually disappear. Millions of people will likely have to emigrate from Bangladesh, a good part of which is only a few feet above sea level.

Sea level rise, of course, isn’t the only problem with global warming. We have seen quite a few growing problems lately: wildfires, hurricanes, major droughts, etc. Now, I realize that the burning of fossil fuels isn’t the only factor in global warming. Volcanic eruptions and wildfires put plenty of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, there is little we can do to prevent forest fires and nothing at all to stop volcanoes. So, we must do the common sense things that we can do…drive our cars less, drive cars that get good mileage, turn off lights when not needed, invest in solar panels, turn down the thermostat, etc.

Most of us probably won’t live to see the worst effects of rising world temperatures. But I just became a grandparent for the 5th time a couple of weeks ago, and I am concerned about the world that little girl will be living in 50 years from now. When she grows up, I don’t want her to be asking why I didn’t do something about climate change.

In the meantime, here are a few tips: Don’t even think about buying a waterfront home in Stinson Beach. Invest in corporations making concrete… it’s going to take lots of it to build the sea walls and dikes we will need to protect our coastal cities. Invest in land in Northern Saskatchewan…they may be growing rice and oranges up there soon. Be the first one in your entry to drive an all-electric car. The best solution to the problem would be a global carbon tax. This tax would cause everyone to reduce fossil fuel consumption. The proceeds could be used to end the world’s poverty.

But until we get a federal world government, that isn’t going to happen. So, let’s do what we can as individuals and be glad we live in an environmentally aware state like California. If we are lucky, the climate change deniers in Washington, D.C., will be out of office soon and we can re-join the rest of the civilized world in working for a solution.

This article first appeared in the February 21, 2018 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Bob Hanson can be emailed at doctoroutdoors@ comcast.net

What if the Grid Can’t Handle All Those Electric Vehicles?

As of last November, there were over three million plug-in vehicles on the roads around the world, according to The Guardian newspaper – and fully a third of them were sold in 2017. And then last week, in his State of the State address, Governor Jerry Brown called for putting five million zero-emission vehicles on California’s roads by 2030. That’s good news for all of us who care about reducing air pollution and limiting the burning of fossil fuels.

The world is in the early stages of a fundamental and profound shift in the way we generate, distribute, and consume power. It’s what economist and author Jeremy Rifkin has called “The Third Industrial Revolution.” His analysis suggests that the First Industrial Revolution, which took place in the middle of the 19th century, was the result of simultaneous shifts in three critical economic sectors, communication, power generation, and transportation.

Over a 40- to 50-year time period the primary source of power for homes and factories evolved from water power and wood stoves to electricity generated by steam; at the same time, we were building out telegraph and telephone networks, and using the printing press to create a literate society, developments that led to rapid, relatively inexpensive communication; and thirdly we built coal-powered, steam-driven locomotives that could move both people and goods long distances at much higher rates of speed than horse-drawn wagons were capable of.

Then, in the early 1900s, we transformed all three of those basic economic activities again. We moved from a dependence on steam and coal to an oil-based and electrified economy; we developed the internal combustion engine and added trucks and automobiles to our transportation system. We witnessed the growth of radio and television broadcasts that transformed once again how we communicated with each other and learned about events in distant locations.

In 2018, Rifkin believes we are in the early stages of a Third Industrial Revolution. The shift in communication capabilities is obvious: The Internet enables us to communicate directly with almost anyone anywhere in the world, at almost no cost. And we are also transitioning from oil and other fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy like wind and solar power.

Both of those developments include moving from highly centralized sources of power and knowledge to widely distributed mechanisms. In addition, the rising cost of gasoline, in combination with growing concerns about climate change, has fostered explosive growth in the sales and use of hybrid cars and electric vehicles.

However, that rapid growth raises a question most of us do not often think about: Are we in danger of overloading the grid? Can we continue to generate enough electricity to power all those vehicles being plugged in every night at people’s homes rather than being refueled at gas stations? Well, the good news is that, at least so far, there appears to be little risk of running out of electricity.

A report published by the Natural Resources Defense Council in November 2017 concluded that even though most EV owners do charge their vehicles at nighttime, during off-peak hours, there is a great deal of variation in the timing of when they plug into the grid. Thus, in the near term we aren’t going to experience night-time peaks or brownouts and the overall demand for electricity remains lower at night.

Since 2012, California’s state regulators have required the state’s largest investor-owned utilities to publish an annual “load report” that puts the growth in EV demand in perspective. And the news is encouraging. First, even though the number of EV’s in California has grown by a factor of 12 in the last five years, that growth has not driven any significant need to upgrade the transmission lines or electrical generation capacity. In fact, the cost of system upgrades attributable to increased EV charging is less than 100th of one percent of the utilities’ total capital expenditures on the grid in 2017. Second, and more importantly, time-of-use rates for electricity have been very effective at encouraging off-peak charging by EV owners. Off-peak rates are so inexpensive, especially compared to gasoline, that virtually all EV charging is occurring at night. Furthermore, most EV charging systems make it possible for owners to schedule the charging at any time during the night, so many of them choose to have the charging cycle begin at midnight or even later, towards the end of the off-peak window, rather than at the beginning.

The NRDC concludes that: In short, California brings welcome news for all states experiencing and accelerating EV growth. Rather than crashing the grid, grid impacts from EVs to date in the country’s largest market have been marginal. … Therefore, states, utilities, and grid planners need not fear transportation electrification; they should embrace it.

This article first appeared in the February 7, 2018 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Jim Ware can be emailed at jim@jimware.com.

From Toilet to Tap

Remember the 1995 movie “Waterworld”? It was set in a future when the raised sea levels covered all continents on Earth after the melting of polar ice caps. At the beginning of the film, Kevin Costner’s character urinated into a plastic cup, ran it through a homemade purifying system consisting of a series of tubes and a pump, and drank the effluent that came out of it. I was so grossed out by that scene that I never watched the rest of the movie. I wasn’t alone. This “yuck” factor has been one of the biggest hurdles for communities that have considered direct potable reuse (DPR) of municipal wastewater (sewage), despite the fact that the technology has long been available to treat wastewater to the level that is safe for drinking. If you feel the same way about DPR as I did before, now is time to do some rethinking.

There was not a drop of rain in Walnut Creek last month. We had some rain in January, but how much more rain and snow we will get this winter in Northern California is anybody’s guess. The water rationing we lived through in the recent past is likely to happen again. Yet we continue to use drinking water for almost everything, including flushing toilets and watering lawns and plants.

In 2016, Central Sanitary District cleaned an average of 32 million gallons of wastewater each day. Only 10 percent of it was recycled. For years in California, the lingering drought and population growth have sent public officials scrambling for more drinking water supply, and tremendous efforts were made at state and local levels in an attempt to make potable reuse of recycled water a reality.

Those efforts culminated in Governor Jerry Brown’s signing of a new law last October that requires the State Water Resources Control Board to adopt, by the end of 2023, uniform water recycling criteria for DPR through “raw water augmentation” – adding treated wastewater into a system of pipelines or aqueducts that deliver raw water to a drinking water treatment plant that provides water to a public water system.

Up till now, the planned use of recycled water to supplement drinking water supplies has been limited to indirect potable reuse (IPR). The difference between direct and indirect potable reuse is that the IPR process includes an environmental buffer and DPR doesn’t. In IPR, highly treated municipal wastewater is injected into groundwater basins or discharged into surface water reservoirs that are used as sources of drinking water. The recycled water remains within these natural bodies for some period of time until pumped out by a drinking water treatment plant. Using recycled water to replenish groundwater basins has been practiced in California for over 50 years, primarily in Southern California.

To date, according to a report published by the State Water Board, there are eight approved projects in the state that use recycled water to replenish groundwater for potable reuse, and more than a dozen projects are being planned by local groundwater management agencies and water utilities. However, using recycled water to augment surface water reservoirs has not been implemented in California because of the public perception factor.

Currently there are only two DPR projects operating worldwide as a permanent source of drinking water. One was in Windhoek, Namibia, which started operation in 1968 during a prolonged drought, and continued as a source of supply after the drought emergency passed. The other project is in Big Spring, Texas. The regional water agency there began to consider using treated wastewater as a new water source during an extended drought cycle that started in the 1990s. Its DPR facility began operating in May 2013, serving several cities including Big Spring, Odessa and Midland. However, no DPR regulations exist today in the United States at the federal or the state level. The projects that were, or are being, approved by the state of Texas have been evaluated on a caseby-case basis.

California’s effort to develop statewide standards for DPR began in 2010 when the Legislature enacted legislation that directed the Department of Public Health to investigate the feasibility of developing uniform water recycling criteria for direct potable use, and to report back to the Legislature by the end of 2016. The responsibility was later transferred to the State Water Board.

The new law signed by the governor last October was the result of that five-year feasibility study. So, 22 years after the film “Waterworld” grossed me out, California has moved one step closer to ensuring that treated municipal wastewater is safe for drinking. And we’re reaching the point that the concept of “toilet to tap” should no longer repel us.

This article first appeared in the January 24, 2018 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Jennifer Mu can be reached at barnhartmu8833@ gmail.com.

Be Idle-Free

Be Idle-free. Drive-through service windows can be hazardous to your health. Air pollution is the culprit; if the car in front of you is idling, you are inhaling a concoction of toxins. The air intake in your car is near the tailpipe of the car idling in front of you, which quite normally produces carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, and to a lesser extent soot, sulfur dioxide, benzene, formaldehyde and polycyclic hydrocarbons. All of these pollutants are heavier than air. In idling traffic, these toxins have been proven to be 10 times higher inside your car than outside. Exhaust from diesel-powered vehicles is worse, including bio-diesel.

The toxins in vehicle exhaust, especially nitrogen dioxide, very significantly increase asthma and other lung diseases, heart disease and diabetes. Recent studies also show they decrease alertness and accumulatively lead to an increased rate of dementia. They cause an increased rate of lung and breast cancer in adults and leukemia, ovarian, testicular and retinal cancers in children – this includes exposure in the womb. Car exhaust also produces ground-level ozone, which is very harmful to eyes and lungs, unlike atmosphere ozone, which protects us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.

Exhaust from an idling vehicle is not just bad for humans; it’s bad for the Earth. Researchers estimate that unnecessary idling by personal vehicles in the United States produces 30,000,000 tons of CO2 every year. That’s the equivalent of 5 million extra cars on the road.

Modern cars don’t need to idle. Idling more than 10 seconds uses more fuel and produces more emissions that contribute to smog and climate change than stopping and restarting your engine. Idling 2 minutes uses enough gas to go one mile. It adds to engine wear and can damage some engine components. Exhaust coming from a tailpipe is considerably cleaner than it otherwise would be due to a catalytic converter, but the converter reduces emissions much more effectively when a car is moving than when it is idling. The useful life of a catalytic converter averages 100,000 miles. Your car’s air filter removes some dust and pollen, but is not protection from gaseous toxins. Hybrid cars automatically stop idling when not moving.

Because the concentration of these pollutants is maximal close to the ground, it makes them especially hazardous to children standing at the curb waiting for a school bus or parent at the pickup line after school or a sporting event. Children’s lungs are more than twice as vulnerable to air pollution as adults – with the exception of adults who have lung conditions. Asthma is the leading cause of hospitalization among children under the age of 15, is the most common chronic illness among children, and is the leading cause of most school absences. That’s why idle-free zones have been instituted at many schools. Schools encourage parents and others to sign an Idle-Free Pledge.

Both the Pittsburg and Martinez Unified Schools Districts have had idle-free zones for over three years. These were facilitated by parents, Boy Scout troops and other student organizations. The Mt. Diablo and Walnut Creek Unified Schools Districts are beginning such plans. Head Start Centers and Sustainable Contra Costa have been publicizing the idle-free campaign, as have public libraries. The Contra Costa Board of Supervisors very publicly signed the IdleFree Pledge in April, with many employees signing, too. Walnut Creek is considering putting an idle-free campaign on the agenda for future discussion by the council. So far, no local planning departments have incorporated signage in their permitting processes. Terry Tallen, owner of the Rossmoor Shopping Center where several drive-through service windows are planned, was not aware of this issue, but has the project manager Dwight Belden looking into it.

Some states and cities have laws against unnecessary idling. You can be subject to a fine in New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont, Hawaii and some cities in California, Colorado, Ohio and Utah. A few U.S. cities have even outlawed drive-through service windows.

Individually, we can save money, improve fuel efficiency and reduce engine wear while at the same time reducing air pollution by avoiding idling more than 10 seconds. We can avoid drive-through service windows in case the car in front hasn’t gotten the message.

Collectively we can take additional steps. Ask a merchant with a drive-through service window to post a sign and have employees remind customers. Encourage your grandchild’s school to establish idle-free zones at pickup areas if they don’t exist. Spread the word: Talk to your family, friends and neighbors about the benefits of reduced idling. We’ll all breathe easier when more vehicles are fossil-fuel free. For information, go to: sparetheair.org. Save your health. Save the planet. Save money. Idle less.

This article first appeared in the January 10, 2018 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Carol Weed can be emailed at carol4ofa@gmail.com.

A Landmark California Plan To Recharge Groundwater

An article by Matt Weiser in the Oct. 10 edition of News Deeply explains how a century of levee building has confined the state’s major rivers to narrow channels. A new policy aims to free them up again. The Yolo Bypass near Sacramento is a massive floodplain that only fills with water when the Sacramento River is running high. It helps divert floodwaters away from urban levees while also creating valuable fishery habitat. The state hopes to encourage more such projects. On Aug. 25, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board adopted the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan. It clears the way for the state to embrace projects that allow rivers to inundate historic floodplains for the first time in a century, thereby recharging groundwater.

The plan identifies $20 billion worth of flood-protection projects and priority locations for their construction. Many are focused on existing levees that are in poor condition or in locations vulnerable to increased flood flows likely to be caused by climate change. The plan does not require anything to be built and it does not include any construction money. The plan itself is an investment strategy according to Mike Mierzwa, chief of the office of flood planning at the California Department of Water Resources. “It outlines what it is we hope to achieve in both the Sacramento and San Joaquin basins (the largest in the state) within the next 30 years.”

In California, most of the levee maintenance and improvement is done by more than 50 small levee districts. Each oversees a local levee network that is part of the larger whole in the flood-prone Central Valley. Small property tax surcharges collected from local landowners are usually just enough to keep up with regular levee maintenance. These local agencies rely on state and federal dollars to build larger projects, such as reconstructing a levee or building new levees. The Central Valley Flood Protection Board oversees many of these decisions and is in a position to facilitate the implementation of new projects.

The timing coincides with two other major state programs. The first awards bond money from Proposition 1 for new water storage projects. The law allows for the California Water Commission to allocate the money only on the basis of the “public benefits” of new water storage projects, which can include things like flood protection and wildlife habitat. The second is the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which requires every aquifer in the state to be managed such that it does not suffer chronic depletion. The requirement means many groundwater management agencies will be looking for new ways to recharge their aquifers, which could include allowing floodwaters to inundate farm fields or dedicated floodplains.

California’s efforts have been partly inspired by the Netherlands, which launched its Room for the River Program years ago. The program recognizes that confining rivers to narrow, levied channels is risky because levees will always be vulnerable to decay, climate change and other threats. By moving the levees farther apart, water elevation between the levees is reduced, and a wider, more natural river channel is created.

The San Joaquin River region is a primary target of the state’s efforts because it suffers from severe groundwater depletion. This has caused major land subsidence that is damaging infrastructure, including levees and flood channels, which reduces their water-carrying capacity and increases flood risk. The San Luis Canal Company, a farm irrigation district based in Dos Palos, Calif., delivers surface water to a group of farms on the west side of the San Joaquin River. They are affected by land subsidence caused by another group of farmers outside their service area.

So the canal company, led by general manager Chase Hurley, approached the east side farmers about trying a groundwater recharge project. One farmer decided to sign on, agreeing not to plant almond and pistachio trees on a portion of his land, so it can be used instead to store floodwaters for aquifer recharge. The farmer plowed up berms around the recharge field to hold floodwaters diverted from the Fresno River and the Eastside Bypass, a flood control channel. It took two years before there was enough runoff to test the project.

But finally last winter, the rivers rose and the field could be flooded. Just in this one basin the ground took in over 30,000 acre-feet, recharging shallow aquifers and halting land subsidence caused by pumping from deep aquifers. As a result his neighbors started an organized effort to build similar structures. The new Central Valley Flood Protection Plan will make more of these projects possible. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act is motivating property owners. The result will be recharged aquifers, stabilized ground levels, increased habitat, less stressed urban levees and less urban flooding.

This article first appeared in the December 27, 2017 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Judith Schumacher-Jennings can be emailed at sjmadrone@sonic.net.