Could desal solve our problems after all?

Every month or so someone sends me his or her “solution” to California’s water problems.

Those quotation marks aren’t meant to sound snide. These folks are all a heck of a lot smarter than I am. Or at least, more determined. You’d have to be, to spend your spare time trying to figure this mess out.

The latest proposal comes from Tualatin, Ore.-based Bella Machines, which wants to build a massive subterranean desalination plant near Los Angeles that would run on hydraulic power.

If I understand the plan correctly, water would flow from mountain reservoirs into a conduit connecting to the underground desal plant. Meanwhile, a separate conduit will deliver ocean water (sea critters would be filtered out somehow).

The fresh water coming down the first conduit would power a high-pressure pump that would force the ocean water through a membrane to remove the salt.

In other words, unlike an “ordinary” desal plant that requires tremendous amounts of electricity, this one would run on the tremendous force of  falling water.

The authors contend this would be better than the current system by reducing the amount of power needed to convey Northern California water to Southern California. “Every gallon of water that is generated in LA is one less gallon that must be pumped out of the Central Valley,” they write.

It would also reduce demands on the Delta. by generating up to 1.12 million acre feet per year of “new” water according to the authors. The proponents estimate the system would cost $31 billion.

They argue the plan is a viable alternative to the twin tunnels because it would involve less land disruption and require less mitigation. Eighty percent of construction would take place in the Mojave Deserve, and the rest would be underground, as compared with the Delta and it’s vast farms, utilities and highways.

No big, ugly desal plants spoiling the scenic Southern California coastline.

“The LA Desalination Project needs to be on the table and warrants the serious consideration of the California voters and decisionmakers,” the group writes.

Read the whole proposal here.

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Incoming invasive

East end of Buckley Cove

Took a quick tour of hyacinth hot spots on the west side of town on Monday — here’s how it’s looking out there.

In downtown Stockton, the marina is still mostly open, though some slips were choked with hyacinth on Monday:

Slips at Stockton Marina

The Morelli boat launch just to the west is in somewhat worse shape:

Looking west. Note narrow band of hyacinth across entire channel.

The Morelli launch. Suffice it to say, no one was launching there.

Moving down the channel, conditions continued to deteriorate:

Louis Park launch into the bay between Dad's Point and the mainland

And a closer look

Hyacinth colonizing the banks of the Deep Water Ship Channel at Louis Park

And finally, Buckley Cove at the west end of March Lane. Check 0ut Ladd’s Marina:

Socked in

… and the mouth of Buckley Cove at the San Joaquin River:

Take it slow

These photos were taken on Oct. 13 — pretty early for hyacinth season. Just about everyone I spoke with yesterday said they figured it’ll be another nasty year out there.

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Why are we preserving stripers?

Longtime Lodi resident and recent Stockton transplant Joshua Hutchison cast a few lines my way about yesterday’s game warden story (see previous post).

Hutchison asks whether striped bass populations really should be preserved by these wardens, given the fact that stripers eat endangered fish.

This is a topic we’ve covered a number of times; I didn’t crack open that can o’ worms for this story.

But for the record, here’s what Hutchison has to say:

“I enjoyed your article on California game wardens. I considered applying to be game warden myself, and loved hearing Perry Schultz’s motivation is the preservation of the ecosystem for his offspring and all the future.
“The quote from Schultz about having no pity for people taking undersized striped bass disturbed me because studies have proven that striped bass, which are a non-native invasive species, are predating (eating) salmon, steelhead, and other threatened species. The policy of the Department of Fish and Game to protect striped bass from being taken before they reach reproductive age is only in the interest of preserving sport fishing at the cost of the ecosystem. It seems like the department is more worried about reducing the revenues from licenses and fines than it is concerned about protecting the populations of threatened species.
“I understand that there are concerns about the economic impacts of allowing sport fishing of striped bass to no longer have the protection from the regulations of the government agency that protects the habitat in which these fish live. However, this in not a corporation, and companies that sell bass boats, lures, and equipment are not shareholders. The policies need to address the long term effect of a government sponsoring and protecting an invasive species that consumes the young of the threatened species in the same habitat. These policies were debated recently, and changes were considered that would not have protected the striped bass.
“I hope you would consider publishing an article about this issue in the future that highlights this perspective on the issue.”

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‘The thin green line’

Enjoyed a ride-along last week with state Fish and Wildlife warden Perry Schultz, one of five wardens charged with protecting San Joaquin County’s natural resources.

Here’s the story, and here’s a bit of video we shot out in the field.

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Stagg student tackles twin tunnels

Stagg High journalist Devin Wickstrom has finished a multimedia project on the twin tunnels.

It’s tough to relate this issue to the general public — not to mention Stagg’s student body — but Wickstrom found some diverse voices for his piece, including a couple that you might not have heard before.

Check it out.


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‘Cash-for-grass’ pilot program in Stockton?

Tonight’s General Plan workshop didn’t produce a ton of news, though an official with the city’s Municipal Utilities Department did say the city is investigating a “cash for grass” program in which homeowners are compensated for removing water-guzzling turf from their yards.

Tony Tovar didn’t sound too optimistic about the idea, which has proven effective in Southern California during the drought.

He said it “might not be cost effective.”

“We’re going to start small,” he said.

Still, it sounds like something might be in the works.

As for the rest of the workshop, about 60 people attended this latest session, which focused on the city’s environmental needs. Local advocacy groups explained their positions at various tables and booths, followed by a panel discussion.

The majority of those who sat on the panel represented environmentalist, slow-growth or alternative transportation stakeholder groups. No developers participated; John Beckman, with the Building Industry Association of the Greater Valley, attended the meeting but told me that he wasn’t asked to speak.

The gist of what folks had to say:

• Tovar shared Stockton’s water conservation efforts this summer, including what he described as 15 percent, 14 percent and 8 percent savings in June, July and August, respectively, compared to the same months last year. He did not offer any theories as to why the city’s success tapered off substantially toward the end of the summer. “We have a strict and very aggressive water conservation program,” he said. Most of Tovar’s comments pertained not so much to the development of the city’s new general plan, but rather how Stockton will weather the drought.

• Kari McNickle, representing the San Joaquin Bike Coalition, talked about how even small lifestyle changes could help improve the city in years to come. She talked about the cost of driving a car, and the cost of the Valley’s enormous air-pollution problem ($12 a year on your DMV registration, and that’s just the beginning). She said the city can add amenities that will make it easier for people to make the decision to choose alternative transportation, and invited the public to “rediscover” their bicycles. “Come play ‘bikes’ with us,” she said. “Rediscover that childhood sense of wonder.”

• Eric Parfrey, with the Sierra Club, might not have had any developers to do battle with during Thursday’s discussion, but he managed some fiery rhetoric. He talked about “sustainability” as a buzzword. But the truth, according to Parfrey, is that Stockton grew “promiscuously” in the past. “We’ve simply sprawled out into prime farmland. We pollute the air, we pollute the water. We haven’t really done anything ‘sustainable,’” he said. The city cannot continue to sprawl and eat up farmland, and must do a better job planning for parks, trails and other open spaces, he said. Parfrey called for development of existing properties within the city’s footprint. “We have some wonderful neighborhoods in this town and we have to start revitalizing them,” he said, adding the city should ditch its “obsession” with large houses being built miles from downtown.

• San Joaquin County’s rivers were the focus of environmentalist Jeremy Terhune’s remarks. Two of the county’s four rivers, the San Joaquin and the Calaveras, run right through the middle of Stockton. “Frankly it’s appalling how we’ve treated these rivers,” Terhune said, from the proximity with which houses were built, to the levees “shaved” of all vegetation, to the frequent fish kills that happen almost every fall. The Calaveras should be a gem but instead looks “God-awful,” he said. “We just need to change our attitude,” Terhune said. “We’re the only waterfront in the Valley. Good God, let’s do something with that, please.”

• Hayden Logan III, with Stockton-based energy retrofit company Greener Solutions, talked about the importance of energy conservation (i.e., turning the lights off when you’re not using them) as opposed to energy generation (putting in solar panels, etc.), and said it was important to educate the public. Indeed, conservation seemed to be the common thread in all of the panelists remarks, he said. “Whatever we’ve done in the past, good bad or ugly, we have to look for changes because it didn’t work,” Logan said.

More general plan meetings will likely be held after the holidays, city officials said.

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Heat be damned; turn down those sprinklers

With another 90-plus degree day in Stockton today (perhaps our last?) it’s easy to imagine that many people are probably still running their sprinklers at July levels.

Not necessary, says Karrie Reid, an environmental horticulture advisor with the U.C. Cooperative Extension in Stockton.

“They should have already dialed back a little bit in September anyway,” Reid told me last week. “If they haven’t changed their settings since the middle of the summer, they need about half as much water as they do in July.”

Despite warm temperatures, days are getting shorter and the Sun is lower in the sky, making our lawns less thirsty.

Of course, it’s not quite time to turn off those sprinklers entirely, she said. We’ll need some rain first. But if you were watering four days a week at the peak of summer, you should be down to two days or perhaps one day.

“It’s a good message to get out to people,” she said.

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October Sky

U.S. Navy image of a lunar eclipse in March 2007

Doug Christensen, with the Stockton Astronomical Society, reminds me that Stockton will see two eclipses this month.

What is this, Tatooine?

Anyway, a total lunar eclipse will take place early Wednesday at the worst of all possible times — from about 3:25 a.m. until just after 4:20 a.m., Christensen said. That’s when the moon will be completely in the shadow of the Earth. The moon should glow red as light from the Sun pushes through the Earth’s atmosphere, reflecting every sunrise and sunset in the world off the lunar surface.

(Some folks call this a “Blood Moon,” but Christensen doesn’t like that term. “That is NOT astronomical terminology or a scientific one,” he writes. “It is a biblical prophesy term pertaining to the apocalypse.”)

The best part of the eclipse will take place when the moon begins to come out of the shadow of the Earth, at 4:24 a.m., he said. “Sunlight will again bounce off our celestial dance partner and we will see that bright flash… on the eastern limb of the moon,” Christensen writes. “Very dramatic.”

No public viewing events are planned. For one thing, it’s the dead of night; for another thing, no special equipment is needed. You don’t need astonomers like Christensen to enjoy this particular eclipse.

That’s not the case for the partial solar eclipse that will follow two weeks later, starting at 1:53 p.m. Oct. 23. This time it’ll be a portion of the Earth in the moon’s shadow.

Astronomical society volunteers will set up their telescopes with solar filters at Oak Grove Regional Park so that the public can safely enjoy the solar eclipse. As always, don’t stare directly at the Sun.

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Light the halo; fight the drought

I knew I had good taste in baseball.

With the playoffs beginning this week, I’m happy to report that my Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of the United States are one four teams partnering with the Association of California Water Agencies and the state Department of Water Resources, urging fans to conserve water.

The Angels join the Giants, the A’s and the Padres in the effort.

Let’s see… who does that leave out?

Like I said, I knew I had good taste.

The campaign began in late July with promotional messages on each team’s English and Spanish radio network, as well as signs and messages within the stadiums themselves. At the “Big A,” the giant LED sign facing Highway 57 has been plastering passersby with reminders about the drought.

Pitcher Hector Santiago and outfielder Efron Navarro voiced the radio spots for the Angels.

Hey Stockton, this is good, right? These folks are drinking from the Delta. Let’s remind them to save water.

I just hope that after losing to Kansas City last night, the Angels can also save their season.

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What Tom can teach us


Candlelight vigil for Tom Kettleman, the turkey

Lodi’s outpouring of grief for Tom Kettleman, the wild turkey struck and killed by a car over the weekend, uplifts and upsets me at the same time.

On one hand, I’ve never seen such an intimate bond between the people of San Joaquin County and a wild creature that lives among us. We are surrounded by rich urban wildlife, most of which we take for granted. Tom’s gift to us, during his brief life, is that he compelled us to open our eyes and recognize we are part of something larger.

Then again, some seem to want to turn Tom into something he was not — a human being. How else can you explain the candlelight vigil held in his honor on Monday? Tom was a turkey. I must wonder if a vigil was held for 33-year-old Leticia Vizueth-Marquez, the woman stabbed to death in Lodi last week.

This will sound pompous. But wherever we live, let’s take the community love and support that manifested itself so clearly in Tom’s case, and also apply it to the many human victims of violence — victims who might otherwise be just as invisible to us as critters like Tom often are.

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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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