Dump the bucket, raise a glass

Stockton’s Eric “Letter K” Luis found a way to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge without getting wet.


In reality the ALS challenge is having virtually no impact on the state’s water supply. Still, Luis’s concern is understandable.  

He writes: “As a grocery clerk, I’ve begun seeing people come in to buy entire carts of ice. They are heading off to film their ice bucket challenge, but few even know what the challenge is for. ‘I got nominated,’ they’ll say.

“There must be another way.”

Luis found one. And I like his alternative. Instead of dumping a bucket, how about raising a glass?

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Hummingbird hero

My father-in-law, Fred, is a man of many talents. He is a big-rig driver, an expert pancake flipper, a dog whisperer and, of course, he is still “Daddy” to his little girl.

Now we can add “hummingbird hero” to the list.

During a visit over the holiday weekend, we went out into Fred’s garage and found a hummingbird blindly buzzing about. The bird was stunned to find the sky had been replaced by a ceiling, as he repeatedly bonked his head in a pathetic effort to escape. The garage door was open, but the poor bird was so intent on going up that he couldn’t go out.

He searched in vain for a place to stop and rest his tired little wings. And so he hung precariously for a moment on the frame of the garage door.

Finally he plopped down like an overworked dog, beak ajar as if panting.

As the tallest guy in the room, I climbed a footstool and carefully cupped the bird in my hands. I expected resistance, but the spent hummingbird had nothing left. I took him out into the yard and opened my hands, but even then, he refused to fly away.

I panicked. Had I damaged his wings? Was he injured?

The ever-calm Fred took over. He took the bird and recognized that it was covered in spiderwebs from swooping all over the garage. Fred began to carefully pick off the cobwebs.

Fred cupped his hands and thrust upward, hoping the bird would take the hint. Nothing happened. I began to fear our little friend would never fly again.

But finally, without enough warning for this wannabe photog to capture the moment, the bird burst out of Fred’s hands and tore off for the nearest tree, a cobweb trailing behind him.

There was no apparent injury. Fred guessed the bird had initially been too tired and too tangled up in the spiderwebs to escape.

“It’s like if you were tied up with rope,” Fred said.

Once some of the webs had been removed, and enough time had passed for the hummingbird to recapture some energy, he was gone.

Asked if the bird would have made it without our intervention, Fred said, “I don’t think so. But he’ll be OK now.”

Like I said, a man of many talents. Now how about some pancakes?

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Spy ships

Fresh off the success of its popular “owl cams,” the Port of Stockton has launched a new “ship cam” for folks interested in watching the goings-on down at the docks.

A still shot:

You’ll be able to watch ships coming down the channel and maybe crews working the docks. It may not be as cute as the owls, but the new webcam also allows you to check the weather or, for that matter, monitor traffic on Interstate 5 just north of downtown Stockton.

Here’s the link. Enjoy.

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Well, hello there

In honor of the traditional end-of-summer Labor Day weekend, I post this video Jim Marsh shot of a pine marten he spotted in the Sierra last year.

I’ve been backpacking in the Sierras for years and I’ve never seen a marten.

“This one was more surprised than I at our close encounter,” Marsh wrote. “I’d spied it coming up the opposite stream bank before it saw me. I just stayed put, aimed and opened the shutter as it came closer. Right place, right time.”

Marsh told me he actually saw three martens in a period of 30 days while he participated in the Artist in the Woods program on the Stanislaus National Forest.

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EPA criticizes twin tunnels plan

The Environmental Protection Agency says Gov. Jerry Brown’s twin tunnels “would not protect beneficial uses for aquatic life, thereby violating the Clean Water Act.” Read the agency’s formal comments here.

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Elliott: ‘Really skeptical’ on water bond

Outgoing San Joaquin County supervisors Larry Ruhstaller and Ken Vogel may be willing to cautiously endorse the new $7.5 billion water bond, but at least one other supervisor isn’t so sure.

Bob Elliott — whose tenure on the board will continue at least through 2016 — told me today that he’s “really skeptical” and has not yet taken a formal position.

He likes the $2.7 billion for water storage, among other things.

But Elliott said he’s concerned that a provision in the bond allowing for public funding of water purchases could support the governor’s twin tunnels plan.

“I think there’s just plenty of broadly worded language in there that is certainly subject to interpretation,” Elliott said.

The bond allows taxpayer money to be used to increase river flows to help fish.

But what happens, Elliott asks, once the water has fulfilled its purpose and reached the Delta? Could it be exported through the tunnels?

“Then we have the taxpayers picking up some of the slack for the water contractors,” Elliott said, adding that sounds like a “backdoor approach” to funding the $25 billion project.

Explicit language prohibiting the flows from being exported would have resolved his concerns, Elliott said.

Bond supporters have said the existing language is strong enough. The bond says any taxpayer-funded environmental flows would be above and beyond the amount of water that is required to remain in the rivers even after the tunnels are built.

Could some of that water be exported once it has fulfilled its purpose? Yes. But other diverters will have just as much claim. So the tunnels folks have no particular advantage, bond supporters say. Should the bond forbid spending money on water conservation, since conservation will leave more water in rivers that could then be shipped south?

We’ll be hearing a lot about this the next couple of months.

For the record, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors has taken no formal position on the bond. Ruhstaller and Vogel, who have announced their support with certain caveats, represent the board on the Delta Counties Coalition. That entity has agreed to support the bond.

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Full report by Fritz Grupe and others

We ran a story today about Fritz Grupe, Sunne Wright McPeak and Pete Weber convening a group to tackle California water issues.

It’s called the California Water Fix Coalition and here’s a link to the group’s website. Look under “Documents” for the full report.

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Chill out: It’s not that much water

A familiar sight these days. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/User slgckgc

Some of my friends are grousing about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, given California’s extreme drought.

Look, I’m the biggest water cop on my block. I stalk the streets at night, taking photos of errant sprinklers and gushing gutters, posting them on Twitter. (Kind of creepy, I realize.)

But the Ice Bucket Challenge, in the grand scheme of things, is a drop in the proverbial bucket. Actually, about two drops, by my math.

No one knows exactly how much water has been used in the challenge. Based on an estimated 1.2 million videos posted to Facebook as of last week, various news agencies have come up with anywhere from 5 million gallons to 6 million gallons, depending on the size of the bucket used.

Let’s be conservative and assume 6 million gallons.

First of all, not all of those bucket challenges are taking place in drought-stricken California. Assuming an even distribution across the country — and ignoring any international participation, for the moment — we come up with a total use of 726,114 gallons in the Golden State.

That might sound like a lot, but it’s only 2.2 acre feet of water.

That’s enough to supply two average families with water for about a year, or enough to flood 2 acres of agricultural land with a foot of water.

For comparison, in a decent year California gets about 70 million acre-feet of runoff.

The state would normally have about 15 million acre-feet of water in storage right now. This year we’ve only got 7,659,526 acre-feet, which is atrociously bad.

Still, using the 2.2 acre-foot estimate, the bucket challenge accounts for only 0.000029 percent of our total current storage. That’s equivalent to removing 2 drops of water from our 5-gallon bucket.

Granted, many more ALS challenges might have occurred in the past few days, and many more will doubtless occur in the coming days and weeks. Even if the total number of challenges doubles or triples or quadruples, however, the total amount of water used will remain infinitesimally small compared to the state’s supply.

That having been said, it’s certainly understandable that folks might feel a little guilty about participating. It does seem contrary to the mantra of save, save, save.

So here are some ideas:

• Stand in a kiddie pool when you dunk yourself. You can then use the collected water on houseplants or to give your trees a much-needed midsummer drink.

• Stand on your lawn. That’s certainly better than pavement.

• Make up for the extra water use by skipping your daily shower, if your family and coworkers will stand for that. Or turn off your sprinklers one additional day (hopefully you’ve already scaled back watering consierably).

• Use a small cup of ice instead of water, sans San Joaquin County Supervisor Ken Vogel.

Use dirt instead.

• Forget the gimmicky bucket thing and just donate to ALS or any other cause that you find worthy. After all, it’s not really about the water… right?

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Planet of the Snakes?

Courtesy Dana Baker

Allow me, on behalf of the community at large and ophidiophobics everywhere, to thank San Joaquin Delta College police officer and  PIO Jim Bock for dealing with this little problem at Delta’s new math and science building last week.

It seems this 6-foot-long Colombian red-tail boa constrictor managed to pop the screen cover off of its glass terrarium and escape.

School wasn’t yet in session, and students weren’t around, so the snake went unnoticed until a custodian spotted it, according to Delta police Sgt. Mario Vasquez.

The custodian called police. Fortunately, Bock, in addition to being a heckuva nice guy, also appears to be a skilled snake wrangler.

The boa was recaptured. Vasquez said he believed the snake was then taken home by its owner, a laboratory instructor, though he wasn’t absolutely certain of that.

In the end, all is well. Delta’s sparkling new $40 million building has not been infiltrated by serpents, and humans remain the sentient species on Earth.

For now…

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Why Wolk says bond is ‘tunnel-neutral’

Here’s a quick two-pager from Sen. Lois Wolk’s office explaining, in her eyes, why the new $7.5 billion water bond on the November ballot is neutral on the tunnels.

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    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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