Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Water Buffaloes


California has miles upon miles of aqueduct carrying open water across scorched deserts, particularly the Colorado River Aqueduct. The evapotranspiration of this water is fairly significant in this situation, despite denials from the Metropolitan Water District. Their claim that Federal permission is required to do something like this only applies to portions of the aqueduct system. What better way to reduce the loss of water in the vast aqueduct system, as well as produce additional power for the extremely high cost of pumping water uphill in places to get it into the Weymouth Plant in La Verne?

Provide solar panel covers along the stretches of aqueduct in the desert adjacent to the pumping stations, just as they have been built in India. These panels over a half a mile stretch of the Narmada Canal in the Indian state of Gujarat, now generate 1 MW of power distributed through nearby villages. If a third world country can do it, why can't California's Water Agency do it? Considering the critical water issues this state is dealing with, you'd think water conservation and power supply would be a top priority. The history of water in this state is complex and comprised of some of the biggest water engineering feats in history. The State is headed for even more complex engineering and supply issues with the plan proposed by Governor Jerry Brown, which contains provisions for a new Peripheral Canal that has been objected to by many residents, farmers, fisheries and environmentalists. It's a legacy from his father, former Governor Pat Brown. But the objections raised in earlier decades to this idea are being reinforced even more for this current plan, given the fact of local climate change as permanent drought.

The position of Restore the Delta is this: "The delta is in a biological meltdown. Taking more water won't restore an ecosystem that's already hemorrhaging from lack of flows," Jennings said. "This plan is not a path to restoration; it's a death sentence for one of the world's greatest estuaries." The price tag for this plan is also a huge concern for taxpayers. Estimates run as high as $50 billion for the total costs of the plan and the greatest share of all these additional costs will be borne by all California taxpayers, who will be saddled with increased borrowing and 30 to 40 years of interest repayments.

Typical of water politics in this state, the simple and ecologically balanced solutions get shoved out in favor of massive plumbing projects. Keeps the big boys employed and the rates on the rise.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How to Play Boondoggle


The California State Legislature has settled it: the overpriced political solution to actual high speed rail has been approved for funding, at the moment. It's the kind of design that only a deranged political process can produce. No engineer in their right mind would develop this kind of a project. To begin with, the local regional transit at each end - Bay Area and LA area - must be developed in order to feed the big high speed rail system with the ridership it needs to work. This was sketched out in my earlier 2009 post.

Secondly, the high speed rail route has to go along the Interstate 5 route and zip through without any stops at all in the central valley. That route is the same distance as Paris to Lyon, in two hours. High speed rail also requires straight tracks; anything else is a farce, especially when you consider the impact of high temperatures in the valley which would expand the steel rails into curves and derail the trains. Again, this is an issue I've covered before in 2010.

This project hurtles along relentlessly in spite of extreme budgetary overruns before it's even started, and has lost support among many in the global transportation industry. The Los Angeles Times has even gotten a direct quote from a transportation civil engineer:

"It's like California is trying to design and build a Boeing 747 instead of going out and buying one," said Dan McNamara, a civil engineer who worked for SNCF's U.S. affiliate. "There are lots of questions about the Parsons Brinckerhoff plan. The capital costs are way too high, and the route has been politically gerrymandered."

The biggest mind-blowing fact of the adopted design is SHARED TRACKS with Caltrain, which completely destroys any possibility of true high-speed rail. The requirements for high-speed are NOT compatible with any other kind of rail system, and can't be "shared". This is a complete misrepresentation of what the project will deliver. It's also unsafe. The HSR rails in Europe require nightly robotic inspections on the rails themselves because of the critical nature of maintaining clean, straight sets of rail that are not used by any other system.

While the legislature fiddles in the flames of the boondoggle, residents and businesses in California will be ripped off in taxes to pay for the bonds for decades for this project, particularly since the envisioned private sector participation is not materializing. For very good reason. The only hope now is that other issues facing this thing will bring about its demise. And, it turns out there's a good reason for "crazy".

Update 1/16/17:  California's bullet train is hurtling toward a multibillion-dollar overrun, a confidential federal report warns

Update 9/23/17: Optimism isn't warranted, and it adds significant pollution instead of reducing it.

Update 9/26/17: Progress. Way over budget, far behind schedule, mired in lawsuits

Update 9/30/17: Way over budget on just one segment



Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Midas' Remorse


The story of King Midas has a parallel in our current world situation; we're at the brink of losing all that matters throughout the globe in our lands, seas and living systems for the love of money. A pile of gold locked away in a private retreat. Remember this story?

Once upon a time there lived a very rich King, whose name was Midas. He had one little daughter whom he loved very much, and whose name was Marigold.

King Midas loved gold more than anything else in the world, except his little daughter.

One day Midas was enjoying the sight of gold in his treasure room, when a stranger appeared before him.

“You are a rich man, King Midas,” he said. “You have a lot of gold in this room. Nobody else in the world has as much.”

“Yes, I have,” answered Midas, “but not as much as I wish to have. I wish everything that I touch to be changed to gold.”

“The Golden Touch?” said the stranger. “But are you quite sure that this will make you happy?”

“Of course, I am,” said Midas.

“And will you never be sorry to have the Golden Touch?”

”Never!” cried Midas. “I’ll be very happy”. “Be it as you wish then,” replied the stranger.

“Tomorrow at sunrise you will get the Golden Touch.” In the morning, when the sun rose, the King woke up and saw that his bed had been changed to gold.

Midas was very glad, indeed.

He jumped out of bed and ran about the room touching everything. He took up a book, and turned over the leaves; at once the leaves changed to gold, and the words of the book could not be read.

He put on his clothes and found himself dressed in gold which was very heavy. He took out his handkerchief, and it also became gold.

In the garden he found a great number of beautiful roses. He went from bush to bush touching each one as he passed until every flower was changed to gold. Then, very happy, he went back to the palace to have breakfast.

King Midas sat at table waiting for little Marigold. Soon she came into the room, crying.

“Now, now, my little lady!” cried Midas. “What is the matter with you, this bright morning?”

Marigold held a rose in one of her hands. It was one of the roses Midas had turned into gold.

“Beautiful!” cried her father.

“Ah, dear Father, it is not beautiful. I ran into the garden to get some roses for you. But, oh, dear, dear, there are no more beautiful roses there. They no longer smell sweet, and they are quite yellow.”

“Oh, my dear little girl, don’t cry about it,” said Midas. “Sit down and eat your breakfast.”

Then he took a cup of coffee and wanted to drink it. He was astonished to find that he could not. When his lips touched the coffee, it became gold. Then he put a nice little fish on his plate and carefully touched its tail with his finger. It at once changed to gold.

“I don’t quite see,” he thought to himself, “how I’ll have my breakfast.”

Now he tried one of the hot cakes, and then an egg. Both changed into yellow gold. Hoping that by being very quick he might get something to eat, King Midas then took a hot potato and put it into his mouth. But the Golden Touch was too quick for him. He found his mouth full of hot metal. He jumped up from the table and began to dance about the room, shouting with pain.

“Father, dear Father!” cried little Marigold. “What is the matter? What has happened to you?”

“Oh, my dear child,” answered Midas sadly, “it’s terrible, it’s terrible.”

Pretty Marigold jumped up from her chair, and, running to Midas, threw her arms around him. He kissed her.

“My dear Marigold!” he cried.

But Marigold made no answer. Her sweet, rosy face became yellow. Little Marigold was a child no longer, but a golden statue.

Poor King Midas! He stood still for a moment not being able to say a word. Then he began to cry: “My child, my dear child! Oh, what have I done?”

Suddenly he saw the stranger standing near the door.

“Well, friend Midas,” said he, “how are you getting on with your Golden Touch?”

“I am the poorest man in the world,” said Midas, I have lost all that my heart really cared for.”

“Ah, so life has taught you a good lesson?” said the stranger. “Let us see, then, which of these two things is dearer — the Golden Touch, or one cup of cold water?”

“Oh, dear, cold water!” cried Midas.

“The Golden Touch,” went on the stranger, “or a piece of bread?”

“A piece of bread,” answered Midas, “is better than all the gold on earth!”

“The Golden Touch”, asked the stranger, “or your own little Marigold – warm, rosy and loving as she was an hour ago?”

“Oh, my child, my dear child!” cried poor Midas.

“You are wiser than you were, King Midas,” said the stranger looking at him. “Your heart, I see, is no longer filled with the love of gold alone. Tell me now, do you really wish to give up your Golden Touch?”

“Of course, of course!” cried Midas.

“Go then,” said the stranger, “and put your hands in the river that runs in your garden. Also take some water from the river and sprinkle it over anything that you wish to change back again from gold to what it had been before.”

King Midas wanted to thank the stranger. But the stranger had disappeared.

Midas lost no time. He went to the river at once and jumped into the water without even taking off his shoes.

King Midas went back to his palace. The first thing he did was to sprinkle the water over the golden statue of little Marigold.

The rosy colour came back to her face. She was astonished to see that she was wet, and that her father was sprinkling water over her!

“What are you doing, dear Father!” she cried, “I put on this nice dress only this morning.” Marigold didn’t know that she had been a little golden statue.

Her father didn’t tell her how foolish he had been; but he led her into the garden, and sprinkled the rest of the water over the golden roses, and changed them back into sweet flowers.