Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dry Pipes

An article from the New York Times yesterday has highlighted the problem of water supply that exists along the lower Colorado water system that ultimately supplies water to California via the Colorado River Aqueduct. The entire watershed system that supplies the water is undergoing severe drought stress, and the population around Las Vegas has grown exponentially since the 1950's. This is building into a long-range scenario due to climate change, and strategies for conserving water are inadequate in the face of this plumbing design that was created for a different climate, and assumed that certain high-consumption lifestyles were to remain the norm. Las Vegas is quite close to the dry pipe scenario right now, which will escalate tensions about water supplies and rights in this region. An article in The Smithsonian describes how that urban region is trying to deal with the shortage created by development and climate change.

An excellent National Geographic article published in April of this year examined the statewide scope of the water supply problem in California. It traces the history of water supply evolution from the Bay Delta provision for the farming areas of the San Joaquin valley to the State Water Projects that sent imported water over miles of pipeline to rapidly-growing urban areas. This water system, now nearly obsolete, has fostered the illusion of plentiful water in basically a desert environment. Since this system has clearly hit its limits, other strategies must come into play. As the article states:

Therein lies a crucial part of the solution, water experts say, one much simpler and closer to home than a massive plumbing patch: learning to live within the water resources of an arid landscape. Fully 70 percent of residential water in southern California is used outside the home for lawns, pools, and other niceties. Reducing that demand by using drought-resistant plants and recycling wastewater offers the fastest and cheapest potential water savings in the state.

I would add to that the design of "net zero" structures (energy and water) and landscaping that not only conserves water but produces it without consuming huge amounts of energy is key to the solution. This involves employing the natural cycles in place, and the use of site-based design to create self-sustaining environments with the buildings and facilities acting as "partners" in the process, rather than economic behemoths that try to overwhelm nature and stifle its processes in order to create "investments". Restoration of natural systems and terrain in an intelligent approach to this problem would provide sustainable urban and suburban habitation as well as mitigate the impact of human system on local ecologies.

The method of accounting for these costs and balances, as I've detailed before, is a methodology known as Natural Capitalism.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Cosmology?

The video clip above from Shift of the Ages, "Tata and Titicaca", features the guide Rose Marie, who led our small group in 2004 on an excursion through the lake, to the Island of the Sun, and to Tiahuanaco which was possibly constructed in 15,000 BC. I wrote earlier about the monumental ruins and excavations, and it turns out that Tiahuanaco is an old port city miles from the lake, and there are more ruins below the surface of the lake itself.

Some of the old ruins and temples are on the Island of the Sun, and Rose Marie took us to many sacred places and taught us the blessings, the use of the flowers and the scattering of pure alcohol into the ground - a version of holy water. Remember that the ancient practitioners had to distill the alcohol using simpler and more primitive methods, so it was comparatively difficult to obtain and relatively expensive.

The Bolivians have ancient Andean legends about the lake, about how it was the birthplace of civilization. Viracocha, the creator deity, lightened a dark world by having the sun, moon, and stars rise from the lake to occupy their places in the sky. Life in the Incan empire was measured by a thousand year cosmic cycle called an Inti, which means 'Sun'. There is also talk of the legend and carved formation known as "Gate of the Gods".

Myriad archaeological, astronomical and NASA satellite earth studies have unearthed some highly unusual theories about how these legends and remnants of ancient history may be linked together in a cosmological fashion to larger structures in the solar system and its consequential impact on planetary systems. It's an expanson of the view of the earth as not in isolation as a planetary system, but as an integral part of a much larger system that is playing out in an unusual fashion at this particular point in time. Hence, the "Shift of the Ages".

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Best Laid Plans

The ongoing evolution of water planning in this state is beginning to make itself known in the shifting political structures that are responsible for resolving water distribution and planning issues. A new agency is taking shape that will take up the reins from the old order of the CALFED group, and put greater emphasis on the environmental concerns of water and fisheries in the Bay Delta region. This is the plan (CASP) that needs to go forward as a consensus, and is being dealt with as a separate problem solution from the immediate need to coordinate conservation of water in farming practices, as I blogged about previously.

The new Delta Independent Science Board (ISB) comprised of 10 nationally and internationally prominent scientists will hold its first meeting Sept. 30-Oct. 1. During the initial public meeting, the Delta ISB charge will be given and the Delta ISB Chair and Vice-Chair will be elected. Additionally, there will be a Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) Panel discussion and an update from the National Research Council Committee on Sustainable Water and Environmental Management in the California Bay-Delta.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Reform Act of 2009 (Delta Reform Act) established the Delta ISB, whose members were to be appointed by the Delta Stewardship Council, which was also created by the Delta Reform Act as an independent agency of the State of California. The Delta ISB replaced the previous CALFED Independent Science Board.

The Delta Stewardship Council clarifies its role, arising from its establishment as an independent state agency by this Act. Its duty is to develop and adopt a Bay Delta Conservation Plan (CASP) by January 1. 2012. It is meeting on Sept. 23 and 24 to outline the directives being given to the ISB regarding the Bay Delta water quality and fisheries elements of the Bay Delta, which now includes a charge to identify the impact of recent information from NOAA on the policies for this region.

The complex political and environmental issues are being addressed in this manner so as to account for all the impacts of water planning decisions in a statewide, synergistic way. Some policies currently in place directly contradict effective water management solutions, such as are pointed out by Wayne Lusvardi in his review of the book, Running Out of Water:

SB375 requires regional planning agencies to put into place sustainable growth plans. It will require that new housing development be shifted from the urban fringe, where groundwater resources are more abundant, such as San Bernardino County, to highly dense urban areas near public transit and light rail lines, such as Los Angeles and Pasadena, where local water sources are patchy and often polluted. The environmental intent of SB375 is to reduce auto commuter trips, air pollution and gasoline consumption.

However, the legislation will unintentionally result in more reliance on imported water supplies from the Sacramento Delta, Mono Lake and the Colorado River for thirsty cities along California's coastline instead of diverting development to inland areas that have more sustainable groundwater resources

The fundamental issue here is that the cost, and the power required to move all this water to populated areas, is the major cause of unsustainable development. The existing water projects are already at their limit, and are being impacted by climate change that reduces the snowpack and rainfall. Groundwater resources are important, but these sources are also at their limit with some of the aquifers under populated areas already being overdrawn, such as the Raymond Basin. Therefore these solutions will have to be crafted in a way that don't rely on moving massive amounts of water across the state. This basically speaks for recycling wastewater into landscape irrigation (the biggest usage - up to 80% - in residential areas), since this wastewater is already produced by heavily populated areas. Toilet to tap, as they say, but all water has to be processed because of the pollutants and organic waste (fish poop!) that occurs naturally in lakes and streams. Which is why you can't safely drink water from a river without a filter mechanism.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Epic Fail

The long-discussed and debated drought conditions are now upon us, and the unfortunate state of affairs at the moment continues to be status quo. By that I mean water usage has not received effective oversight, but rather political expediency for profit, such as high water use crops planted by the big farms in the San Joaquin valley using cheap water, massive investment-driven development with vast consumption footprints granted permits by counties and cities with "paper water", and so forth. As Lake Mead dries up due to climate change and unmanaged growth, we also face the specter of power shortages by 2013, such as California went through in 1976 due to drought.

While California has historically been a volatile place with respect to decade-long drought conditions, this time we are also facing the consequences of the huge population increase that's been permitted to occur. This factor is key to water shortages worldwide, and in Southern California the overdevelopment that's taken place will create an even more severe crisis than would have occurred otherwise.

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) is responsible for managing water supply in this state, and they're online with the usual palliative conservation measures that unfortunately don't address fundamental problems such as the water rights management in the face of dwindling water supplies that are affected by climate change.

Their page discussing some of the water industry issues is here, and a review of proposed policies is here, along with the most recent policy paper, "Planning for a Dry 2010".

The DWR does have a planning document up for review, but the lack of action on any comprehensive plan ranks an epic fail. Fortunately the pork-laden water bond proposed for this November was shelved for two years, because the elements of it don't work with the proposed planning document, and it's a Trojan Horse for the peripheral canal (unbuilt "Part 2" of the original water system). This demonstrates an ongoing lack of commitment to real watershed and resource management and control of development, as well as a lack of integration of power and water, which go hand-in-hand. This whole thing is beginning to sound like the excuses dished out by Wall Street for why they shouldn't be held accountable for the financial implosion of the banking and real estate industries that they engendered, taking huge profits and fees even as the system collapses.

I suspect that eventually the cities are just going to have to work out their own methods of local water supply and storage, and start putting limits on the amount of development and sprawl that they'll allow. This will happen because the cost of infrastructure maintenance and replacement will be extremely high, having been deferred for decades, and the cities won't be able to afford more development. Whether that will do any good up against the County's lack of restraint in development and water giveaways, as well as the lack of power to run the water system regardless of supply, remains to be seen.

Today's interesting update: The California State Board of Food and Agriculture is meeting in Sacramento this Wednesday, Sept. 22, to gather input toward a white paper that the board will submit to the secretary of agriculture, the governor and the new administration specifically on the topic of agricultural water conservation and efficiency in the short and medium terms, before the implementation of Delta solutions. The agenda is here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Global Collaboration

A notice from CSR Wire came across my desktop today, announcing the 14th year of the globally synchronized dance and prayer event for peace, taking place at 4 pm PST on 9/18/10 in over 50 nations. Prayer for Peace is a growing movement by Earthdance International, which joins other global events such ranging from Earth Day to Burning Man to's 10-10-10. It asserts the notion of global family and the responsibilities of each person to stand for peace and constructive cooperation. Many orgs, churches, groups and people are involved. Including Arcosanti, where I workshopped as part of the '78 East Crescent.

It advertises as follows: Now the largest global synchronized music and peace event in the world, Earthdance International coordinates with regional event producers, private party hosts, individual participants and peace organizations to join in the celebration. Each paid Earthdance event agrees to donate at least 50% of its profit to a local charity in the areas of peace, sustainability, and social justice.

In using cutting-edge technology to foster participation in global social networking and outreach media, this organization is creating a mechanism for cooperative peace process that engages people in all communities across the globe. It's an ultimate grassroots movement that extends past national government boundaries and official policies and answers to the needs of people to find solidarity in the face of global corporate misappropriation of local resources and environmental damage that affect them directly, yet leave them with no voice.

This growing response against the corporate takeover of governments and policies is a direct repudiation of the character of corporate power which sees extraction of resources and human capital as its only goal, and results in the depletion of resources and natural systems for all people.

A description of this corporate nature and character is here in Orion, very similar to descriptions of corporate sociopaths that have been explored in several books and articles. These globally synchronized events are using the power of human connection (via technology!) to push back against a rapacious form of capitalism that is making governments and societies all over the world blind to the destruction being created by these processes.

Monday, September 13, 2010

EcoRepairs: Urban Forestry

A method of re-establishing the critical carbon sinks around the world in order to balance the destructiveness of human development is that of planting urban forests and managing their growth and care. This vision of nature coexisting with human development instead of being subservient to it is beginning to take hold. What easier thing than to flow with the energy cycles of nature that provide water, oxygen, shade and food to the local climate regions? The principle that life adapts to the available resources is not only universal, but critical to the balance of nature.

There are examples of this urban forestry taking hold through community cooperation with government policies. The city of Johannesburg in South Africa has been documenting, managing and growing its massive urban forest since 2000. It is one of the largest urban forestry projects existent, to the point that it has regenerated lands that were previously barren:

On satellite pictures, the city looks like a rain forest, albeit man-made, but because the city does not get the required amount of rainfall to qualify as one, it passes as an urban forest. In the 1860s, when trekkers first settled on the Witwatersrand, there was not a tree in sight, and the area of rocky grassland was dotted with the odd shrub and several streams.

This was achieved with partnerships by many entities, public and private, and includes, by necessity in all urban reforestation efforts, a public re-education about the actual value that trees in managed ecosystems can provide.

Another one of the oldest and largest urban forests is in Rio de Janiero and its environs. Interestingly, the deforestation caused by human development generated an outcry in 1658 because of the degradation that impacted the water supply; without the trees that had created the natural forest, the wetlands dried up, as did the water supply. So in 1860 it was mandated that the barren hills be reforested with native plants and trees. It's an impressive story, but the warning is that 400 years later the forest has still not recovered its natural biodiversity, so the wild and natural forests are not yet able to maintain natural systems. This means that the natural regenerative mechanisms are still not back in place, and it's incumbent on us to take this to the next level - which is to pull back from the edges and allow natural regeneration to happen. More recent, urgent issues are created by political events in Brazil -
In 20 years, Curitiba, Brazil has increased the green space per inhabitant from 0.5 to 52. The intention was to plant one and a half million trees in 20 years for, since the 1988 murder of Chico Mendes (the campaigner to save the rainforest), Brazil had been on the defensive in ecological circles.

Many communities worldwide foster their urban forest in an informal way with guidelines and arguments for citizens to cooperate in keeping the urban tree canopies healthy and promote undergrowth such as shrubs and mulch. It's a much more natural feel than you'd find in typical suburban roof farms that are acres of asphalt and a few scraggly trees captured in concrete sidewalks. This form of cancer can and should be reversed for the sake of sustainable habitation.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cathedral to Nature

Sometimes the sheer audacity of something, which leaps over the boundaries of the standard-issue responses to habitation issues, can become an agent of needed shift, or change. Here's an example of this in Bergamo, in northern Italy. This project is a structure made out of living trees, a cathedral form that will grow into form and shape.

It's a collaborative effort between government, artists, community, and businesses. The result will be a living cathedral, recently consecrated by the Church and standing as a message about the relationship between humanity and nature. It has a similar site response as other small "spiritual" cathedrals have had in natural settings, such as the Swedenborgian Wayfarers Chapel by Lloyd Wright in Palos Verdes, and Thorncrown Chapel by E. Fay Jones in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

To quote Gadling:

The man behind the work is the recently deceased Giuliano Mauri, an Italian artist who was commissioned as part of a project for the UN's International Year of Biodiversity. The frame of the building will initially be made up of more than 1,800 fir tree poles, 600 chestnut branches, and 6000 meters of hazel branch, planted in-between with growths of live Beech trees. As the Beeches grow, the wood frame will decompose, allowing the living trees to take over the structure.

According to the italian site CATTEDRALE VEGETALE DI OLTRE IL COLLE

Originally the idea of President Park Orobie Franco Grassi, to erect one of the first green cathedrals in Italy, could not find an outlet in its practical implementation because of the unavailability of a place to realize it here in Over the Hill - with the mayor Manenti Rosanna and her team - immediately found enthusiasm and what was missing.

No funds or funding for the work, of course, but a location with environmental certification, well fit for purpose, and most importantly the ongoing revaluation and the full cooperation of the Municipality and local associations and with which there excellent value.
In a few months, we could see materialize in our area starting this realization "of art and nature" (better defined the term land art or earth art), which will include more than ten years to complete, and then the maintenance will require the involvement and participation not only institutions but also the volunteers, fans and experts, not always in reality, having the knowledge of the art of constructing Roccoli.

I am convinced that one day we will all be even more proud to include amongst the beauties which attract the attention of visitors in our concerts, this "Cathedral plant" that nature and human intervention make over the years a true work monumental art.

Claudio Massimo Leoni

Tourist President Pro Loco Over the Hill

July 2008

Inaugurated Sept 4, 2010 Video (Italian) interview with Grassi, with documentation of the design and drawings.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Empathic Civilization

From RSA: For over 250 years the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has been a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress. Our approach is multi-disciplinary, politically independent and combines cutting edge research and policy development with practical action.

In this clip, bestselling author, political adviser and social and ethical prophet Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development and our society. This view turns the idea of capitalism on its head, and points the way to a new ethic. It's one promoted by Riane Eisler and Frances Moore Lappe as the basis for a new global economic structure that is regenerative rather than destructive. It follows a path of empowerment rather than destructive and aggressive industrial mechanisms, which have just about destroyed the ecology of our planet.

This makes development for profit an exercise in irrelevance, and gives the lie to massive profits that go to very few at the expense of the rest of the 90% of humanity and the entire ecosystem. Natural Capitalism then becomes the basis of accounting for the entire systemic impact of human habitation and the relationships between people, planet and wildlife.

There's an interesting little example here at The Baseline Scenario of how economics training actually goes against the grain of people's intuitive sense of fairness, which should actually be the guide to effective policy in human relations and economic structures.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Regeneration: Wetlands Park

Here's an example of remediation and turning around open space that is currently not being used in a sustainable way. This strategy by Save LA River Open Space conceives reworking a Studio City golf course into wetlands parkland adjacent to the LA River. This is a long slog, as community orgs such as North East Trees has discovered in its attempts to capture water and retain it near the river, such as is done at the Oros Street project adjacent to the Glendale Narrows portion of the LA River.

The community participation is a crucial factor in getting these kinds of projects to come together, as well as the financing from many sources that require significant cooperation and teamwork. It requires not only design and engineering, but also an ability to implement the construction of these kinds of wetlands and water swales so that they work with the local ecology and the Los Angeles River itself, not to mention the myriad City and County regulations that must be satisfied in these situations. In a watershed, many important public policy and water regulation structures must be dealt with. This can be a very long process that is difficult to fund.