Thursday, September 29, 2011

2011-09-29 "A century later, island wetlands to be restored" by Tony Barboza from "Los Angeles Times"Los Angeles --
A major restoration project could bring back a long-degraded wetland to one of the remote islands off the Southern California coast.
Workers have broken ground on a $1 million project that will cut down 1,800 nonnative eucalyptus trees and scoop out tons of dirt and gravel to restore a coastal wetland on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park officials announced.
In the coming months, crews will work to return some 60 acres of habitat on the rugged island to its native state, before it was degraded by ranching and farming activity more than a century ago.
Crews have started using heavy equipment to reshape the mouth of the island's largest stream so it will flow freely onto four acres of restored wetland at Prisoners Harbor. The anchorage on the north side of the island was once home to the largest coastal wetland in Channel Islands National Park, an archipelago of five ecologically distinct islands that are sometimes referred to as North America's Galapagos.
"We're trying to undo some of the more detrimental actions that have impacted the landscape of this island for the last 150 years" and allow its natural ecosystem to recover on its own, said Dr. Lotus Vermeer, Santa Cruz Island Project Director for the Nature Conservancy, which owns the western 76 percent of the island.
Reviving coastal wetlands like the ones at Prisoners Harbor, officials said, is key to the survival of species found only on the Channel Islands, such as the Island fox and Island scrub-jay. The project is also a rare opportunity to add to Southern California's coastal wetlands, the vast majority of which have been plowed under by development.
About half the wetland at Prisoners Harbor - named for prisoners who were sent there from Santa Barbara during Mexican rule - disappeared when the anchorage became the island's main port and the hub of its ranching and agricultural operations in the 19th century. By the early 1900s, ranchers had filled in the wetland near the pier to turn it into corrals and planted nonnative eucalyptus trees that spread quickly up the valley, supplanting oaks, willows and other native plants.
The project, expected to take several months to complete, is being carried out by contractors working for the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy and will restore about a mile of stream habitat. Youths with the L.A. Conservation Corps and other nonprofits will pitch in to cut down the trees and plant native vegetation.
It is the latest in a line of efforts to reverse the legacy of decades of cattle and sheep ranching and wine production, which altered the island's rugged landscape.
Still, one of the most common observations of visitors is that getting off the boat on Santa Cruz Island is like stepping back in time to what California might have looked like centuries ago.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

2011-09-27 "Being water-wise with California native plants" letter by Henni Cohen, president, Napa Valley chapter, California Native Plant Society to the editor of "Napa Valley Register" newspaper
Thank you for your article on water-wise landscaping (“Save cash, avoid grass — Napa touts alternative landscaping,” Sept. 25). It was both informative and timely. The California Native Plant Society (CNPS), both at the state and local level, has long promoted the use of California native plants in designing water-wise alternatives to lawns. In addition, using native plants supports our native wildlife, including bees, butterflies, beneficial insects, birds and small mammals, all of which are crucial to maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
As you pointed out in the article, native plants are beautiful, coming in a wide variety of foliage types, sizes and shades and a wide range of flower colors, adaptable to our particular climate and soils.
To further inform and assist local gardeners and homeowners in making a transition to using native plants, the Napa Valley chapter of CNPS is presenting a workshop titled “Practical Tips for Growing Natives in Your Garden.” Kathleen Chasey, landscape designer and former curator of the Martha Walker Native Plant Habitat Garden, will share her experience on how to successfully grow California native plants in your garden. The free workshop is Tuesday, Sept. 27, 7 p.m., at the Skyline Park Social Hall, 2201 Imola Ave., Napa.
In addition, the CNPS annual Fall Plant Sale, featuring over 1,000 hard-to-find native plants ready to be planted, will be held this weekend, Oct. 1 and 2, starting at 10 a.m., at the CNPS Nursery in Skyline Park. All proceeds from the sale benefit the maintenance and educational programs of the Martha Walker Garden.
Thank you for your interest in supporting water-wise and native landscaping.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

2011-09-25 "No hearings on Napa Pipe until at least 2012" by JAMES NOONAN  from "Napa Valley Register"
The controversial Napa Pipe project won’t begin its final string of approval hearings until at least 2012, according to county planning staff, which is still chipping away at a voluminous environmental study.
Consultants for Napa County are working to respond to the vast number of comments received during the project’s public comment period, said Sean Trippi, a county planner. The environmental study must be complete before hearings on the project’s fate can begin.
News that the project, which must ultimately be approved by the county’s Planning Commission, Airport Land Use Commission and Board of Supervisors, will not see major action until at least 2012 comes after years of planning studies and unusually long periods of environmental review.
“The environmental review process for Napa Pipe has been one of the most thorough and lengthy in state of California history, with every credible question asked and answered by the end, so that all stakeholders can be certain there’s been sufficient study,” Keith Rogal, one of the project applicants, said in an email.
Considered the largest development proposal in the history of Napa County, the project has generated controversy since its inception. Calling for 2,580 homes to be constructed as part of a mixed-used development just south of Napa city limits has sparked concerns that the development would create gridlock on major highways, overburden the county’s water resources and place exhaustive demands on nearby city services.
Applicants contend that these concerns, and others, were thoroughly studied in the project’s EIR, which consisted of thousands of pages of analysis and generated comments from almost all major players in the valley.
Required under the California Environmental Quality Act, an EIR requires project applicants to thoroughly vet the potential effects of their project and propose mitigation.
For the Napa Pipe project, the vetting process has been riddled with extensions and delays.
In October 2009, Napa Pipe’s original draft EIR was released to the public and was scheduled to undergo 60 days of public comment, longer than the 45 days required by law. During the process, the county — at the request of other entities — extended the window twice, with the comment period lasting a total of 105 days.
Months later, the county’s planning department issued a supplemental EIR, studying a handful of changes to the applicant’s original proposal. The supplemental study was slated to receive 45 days of public comment.
As the comment period neared its end, both the city of Napa and the Napa Valley Unified School District requested that the window be extended by 60 days. After a pair of public hearings, the Napa County Planning Commission opted to extend the window by 30 days, stretching the total period of public comment to roughly 180 days.
Throughout the process, the document was scrutinized by everyone from the city of Napa to local groundwater advocates. Several valley residents, as well as the Bay Area’s Greenbelt Alliance, also chimed in, announcing their support for the project.
After six years of study — and a roughly $75 million investment in the project — Rogal and his partners are awaiting the opportunity to move forward on developing the Napa Pipe site for new uses.
“It will soon be time for final decisions as to how best to put the property back into productive and beneficial use, and we look forward to doing so,” Rogal wrote.
In a string of emails and phone calls Friday, Rogal was asked whether he and his partners were considering a major revamp of their plan, perhaps focusing on an industrial project. Rogal did not issue a response.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

2011-09-24 "Solano seeks opinions for environmental study on future fairgrounds development" from "Vallejo

Before drafting a study of how future Solano County Fairgrounds development might impact the environment, officials are seeking the public's participation.
A public scoping meeting Thursday night at Vallejo City Hall only drew one member of the public to comment on the plan.
A Vallejo resident shared concerns that the environmental study include a watershed management plan focused on environmental impacts to Lake Chabot, immediately adjacent to the fairgrounds property.
A digital slideshow from the presentation is available for download online at
Officials are still accepting written input, as well, on what to include when preparing the state-required environmental study, known as an Environmental Impact Report.
Comments must be received by email or U.S. mail no later than 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 10. Write to solano360@ or send letters to Ronald A. Grassi, MPA, Solano County Administrator's Office, 675 Texas St., Suite 6500, Fairfield, CA 94533.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

2011-09-20 "Delta advocates say Salazar is 'badly mistaken' about canal plan" by Dan Bacher
On September 19, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar claimed that Delta advocates' fears of a "water grab" by corporate interests were "unfounded" during his remarks before the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.
 Salazar used the opportunity to campaign for support for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to divert more Delta water to corporate agribusiness and southern California. "The Bay Delta Conservation Plan is the most important – and most complex – long-term water and habitat management plan ever undertaken," Salazar said.
 Calling the Delta the "granddaddy" of California water puzzles, Salazar also claimed the BDCP would not harm the Delta region and its imperiled fish populations, but would in fact "help" the ecosystem.
 "The BDCP provides a comprehensive approach that includes new habitat for endangered fish species, coordinated measures to attack toxics that are fouling delta waters, and improvements to the state‟s water infrastructure," stated Salazar. "Rather than simply pumping water from north to south through the Delta – which places immense strain on the system and is unreliable – a new conveyance system would reduce direct conflicts between water supply and fisheries, as the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force and many independent scientists have recommended."
 Delta advocates and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe were quick to criticize Salazar's remarks promoting the construction of the peripheral canal. The Obama administration is the first federal administration in U.S. history to endorse the canal.
 "Interior Secretary Ken Salazar used remarks delivered at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on September 19th to link building ill-conceived conveyance in the Delta to the American Jobs Act the administration has put before Congress," according to a news release from Restore the Delta.
 "It doesn't make sense to put people to work building infrastructure that will destroy jobs," said Jane Wagner-Tyack, policy analyst for Restore the Delta. "Close to 23,000 jobs in the Delta region are linked to Delta agriculture that is threatened by plans to move Sacramento River water under the Delta."
 Salazar praised as "open, collaborative, and transparent" the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) process driven by water contractors who are fighting to ensure continued high levels of exports from the Delta. In fact, Delta residents, family farmers, California Indian Tribes, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, environmental justice communities and grassroots environmentalists have been completely excluded from the BDCP Management Committee that oversees the "open, collaborative, and transparent" process.
 "Exports from the Delta are the primary cause of the destruction of habitat in this estuary," said Bill Jennings of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and a Restore the Delta board member. "The process the exporters are using to plan for the Delta's future has been anything but collaborative."
 Restore the Delta Executive Director Barrigan-Parrilla noted that the state and federal water contractors have held required meetings soliciting public input, but have continued for three years to move forward with the plan they have always intended to build, ignoring input from Delta locals.
 Barrigan-Parrilla said Salazar "threw the weight of the federal government firmly behind moving quickly on the BDCP," which aims for a draft environmental analysis by June 2012 and a final plan by early 2013.
 "They're pushing this habitat conservation plan through in one-third of the time that similar plans have required for much less complex natural systems elsewhere," said Barrigan-Parrilla. "If Interior is serious about respecting Delta science, they should be putting the brakes on the process instead of urging haste."
 Caleen Sisk-Franco, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu (McCloud River) Tribe, also took Salazar to task for his remarks promoting the peripheral canal's construction.
 "So Salazar thinks this is the 'Granddaddy' of California water puzzle?" said Sisk-Franco. "This is just another example of big corporations' little thinkers influencing the top, who influence the law makers to do the wrong thing for most of the people and environment. We can't afford those kind of hair brained idiot mistakes now!"
 As Salazar spoke, one of the biggest fish kills in California history continued. The state and federal government agencies "salvaged" a total of 11,158,021 fish in the Delta water pumping facilities between January 1 and September 7, 2011, the result of record water exports. A horrific 8,985,009 Sacramento splittail, the largest number ever recorded, were salvaged during this period, according to Department of Fish and Game data (
 For the complete transcript of Salazar's remarks, go to: [].
 In other Delta news, the Sacramento region’s most popular alternative-rock band, the legendary Cake, recently announced its official endorsement of Restore the Delta’s campaign to protect the estuary from state and federal plans to divert more water [].
 For more information about Restore the Delta, go to: For more information about the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, go to: [].

Monday, September 19, 2011

2011-09-19 "Report on S.F. Bay details progress, problems; Freshwater diversion puts species at risk, report says" by Carolyn Jones from "San Francisco Chronicle"[]
San Francisco Bay is cleaner than it has been in generations, but increased pumping of freshwater to Central Valley farms threatens to turn parts of the bay into salty, fishless backwaters, according to a comprehensive report to be released today.
"The State of San Francisco Bay," which draws on two years of research, offers a primarily positive snapshot of the bay, from pelicans to plankton. The waterways that sustain and define the region feature more wetlands and less toxins and raw sewage, and are mostly safe to swim in, according to the report.
"As we move more levers, the bay does respond," said Andrew Gunther, lead author of the report, which was published by the San Francisco Estuary Partnership and heavily funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "We can never go back to how the bay was in the early 1800s, but it's pretty clear we're making it a lot better than it was."
Things were not so rosy in the 1940s and 1950s. Developers wanted to fill in much of the bay for houses, and the water smelled so bad from discharges of wastewater and untreated sewage that it was dubbed "Lake Limburger." In Alviso, silver coins would turn brown just from toxic gases, according to the report.

Wetlands successes -
Among the biggest improvements since then, the report said, is the transformation of 16,000 acres of salt flats into tidal wetlands, mostly in the South Bay. Wetlands provide homes for nesting and migrating birds, nurseries for fish, and a degree of flood control for the shoreline.
Last week, work crews breached a levee along the Hayward shoreline, allowing bay waters to flow through a 630-acre expanse of salt for the first time in 150 years.
Another highlight of the report is the reduction of metals that were once prevalent in the bay. The amount of copper and nickel, for example, dropped by nearly 50 percent from 1995 to 2010 thanks to tightened restrictions on water treatment and industrial discharge.
Residents who live near the bay have also made a difference in its health, the report concluded. Urban water use dropped 20 percent over the past 25 years, even though the Bay Area's population has grown by 20 percent. Meanwhile, record numbers of volunteers help pick up trash and remove nonnative plants.
But the report also contains warnings about the bay's future.
Populations of many fish and crustaceans - such as striped bass, bay shrimp, split-tail minnows and long-fin smelt - have plummeted with increased pumping of freshwater from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to the Central Valley, said report co-author Tina Swanson of the National Resources Defense Council.
"The further upstream you go, the less healthy the bay gets," she said. "We're essentially subjecting the bay to chronic drought conditions, even in wet years."
Dozens of species in San Pablo and Suisun bays rely on a mix of salt water and freshwater, particularly a flush of snowmelt in the spring that signals them to breed or migrate.

Lowest level on record -
The amount of freshwater that flowed into the bay from September 2009 to September 2010 was the lowest level on record, continuing a 50-year downward trend, said co-author Peter Vorster of the Bay Institute. More than 40 percent of the freshwater headed into the delta was piped elsewhere before it reached the bay, he said.
"The delta is oversubscribed," he said.
Vorster noted that Central Valley farmers aren't the only ones to blame, as Bay Area residents and industries also rely on diversions of freshwater. Still, farmers need to cut back water use - just as Bay Area residents have - for the sake of the bay, he said.
Some Central Valley agriculture districts "are just swimming in water, even in dry years," he said.

Farm group responds -
Fights over agricultural water use have roiled state politics for decades. Told of the report on the health of the bay, a spokeswoman for the Westlands Water District in Fresno, the largest agriculture district in the United States, said cutting such water supplies would lead to other problems.
The less water for farms, the fewer jobs and less revenue for the state's economy, said the spokeswoman, Gayle Holman. Farms in the Westlands district contributed $1 billion to the economy last year, she said.
Westlands farmers are already using less water, she said. Last year the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation allowed them 80 percent of what they had been entitled to according to their water rights, she said.
"Every drop of water our farmers use goes directly into producing food and fiber for our nation," she said. "For us, reports like this are very frustrating because we already are cutting back."

Protecting the brand -
But the health of the bay has many other economic impacts, according to the report. Fisheries, tourism, property values and overall quality of life are linked to the vitality of the waterways, said Gunther, who directs the Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration.
Without freshwater, the bay would cease to be an estuary, he said. It would just be an inlet of the Pacific.
"We are, after all, the 'Bay' Area," he said. "It's part of our identity. It's our global brand."

Sunday, September 18, 2011

2011-09-18 "Business SmartsMarin County to regulate commercial waste" by Juliane Poirier from "Northbay Bohemien" newspaper
 Sipping caffeine at Dr. Insomnia's in Novato, I wonder how many (otherwise garden-useful) coffee grounds it takes to fill a curbside debris box. This is no idle calculation on my part. Garbage from all commercial enterprise is being subjected to serious scrutiny in Marin County, where any business generating roughly a dumpster's worth of waste each week will be subject to a mandatory recycling ordinance, scheduled to become law in July 2012.
 Glancing at the storefronts up and down Grant Avenue, I'm unable to guess which, if any, might not recycle at all, don't recycle enough, or haven't yet identified the bottom-line benefits of shrinking a carbon footprint.
 Marin residents were recycling, reducing and reusing for years, some even for decades, before Californians received a regulatory push in 1989; during that year, the state looked at fast-filling landfills and said, "Uh-oh, we'd better divert some of that waste stream." The formal expression of that utterance was the California Integrated Waste Management Act. But business didn't get the push; they escaped being subjected to waste diversion requirements established for California, even though the volume of waste produced by business amounts to almost 70 percent of all that goes into the landfills.
 Twenty-two years after passage of the Integrated Waste Management Act, Marin is pushing the world of commerce toward a late arrival at their civic and planetary duty. Other jurisdictions around California will do the same in a statewide effort to divert up to three million tons of commercially generated waste materials from our landfills. Under AB32, the state's Global Warming Solutions Act, cities have been obliged to mandate commercial recycling programs. The consequent reduction in production of methane is expected to annually offset "5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalents," according to the California Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery. California now produces about 1.5 percent of the planet's greenhouse gases, and over six percent of the nation's total.
 Marin's latecomers to commercial recycling are being offered free consultation and education about the business advantages of a strategic waste reduction program, with hands-on help including waste audits and assessments, and consulting for Green Business and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Businesses can get assistance by calling Todd Start and Rich Garbarino at 415.456.2601 or Kim Scheibly at 415.458.5514.
For more, see
2011-09-18 "Buses provided for local students’ eco-friendly field trips" by ISABELLE DILLS from "Napa Valley Register" newspaper
A new grant program is giving Napa County public and private school teachers a chance to take their students on environmental field trips by paying for the buses.  
The program was started by the Environmental Education Coalition of Napa County, with the goal of promoting environmental protection and stewardship among kindergartners through 12th-graders. The Environmental Education Coalition is the host group of a number of local organizations that promote sustainable living and connect residents with the environment.
“Most teachers want to do interesting things to connect students with Napa County’s amazing natural resources, but field trips are so expensive,” said Frances Knapczyk, who chairs the Environmental Education Coalition.
Depending on the distance traveled, a bus can cost up to $700 for a field trip, Knapczyk said.
“We didn’t want that to be a limiting factor,” she said.
Christie Jouaneh, a teacher at New Technology High School, was recently awarded a $381 bus grant to take the entire freshman class — about 100 students — to the Napa River Ecological Reserve in Yountville next week. The grant will provide money for two buses.
Jouaneh teaches a biology, physical education and health class with Tom Wolf. Wolf was also awarded a grant for $630 to take the freshmen to Lake Berryessa in October.
The field trips are part of an ongoing study of oak tree reproduction, Jouaneh said. During the trips, students will hike, identify native plants and trees and collect acorns for planting in the spring, she said.
“We’re hoping they’ll have a deeper understanding of how humans interact with and rely on the environment,” Jouaneh said.
Jouaneh said the high school has no funding for field trips, and she and Wolf “depend heavily on outside grants.”
“It’s essential to get the kids outdoors to have a variety of experiences,” she said.
Since the beginning of the school year, the Environmental Education Coalition has given out $1,600 in grant money for five field trips, said Darcy Aston, a coalition member. About $3,400 in available grant money remains, she said.
The coalition raised funds for the bus grant program through its annual Earth Day event in April. Aston said they hope to raise even more money next year.

Friday, September 16, 2011

2011-09-16 "Environmental toxins in San Francisco Bay could increase with Delta water plan" by MIKE TAUGHER from "Contra Costa Times"
WALNUT CREEK, Calif --  WALNUT CREEK, Calif. - A natural poison responsible for one of the nation's worst wildlife disasters a quarter-century ago is a looming problem in San Francisco Bay - one that could worsen if aqueducts are built around the Delta, new research suggests.
 The aqueducts could channel more selenium at higher concentrations into the bay, a possibility that has been largely overlooked in lengthy debates about Delta water, a top scientist said.
 "It's clearly a serious problem and it could get worse," said Sam Luoma, a former lead scientist for the state's bay-Delta water and environment programs who sits on a national panel reviewing Delta water plans. "I don't know why it hasn't gotten traction."
 Highly concentrated selenium from farm runoff killed or injured thousands of birds in the 1980s at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge near Interstate 5 west of Merced.
 After photographs of dead and deformed birds appeared in newspapers and on television screens across the country, the wildlife refuge was declared a toxic dump and closed in 1987.
 Today, selenium from the Bay Area's oil refineries and the San Joaquin Valley's farms is diluted enough in the bay and Delta that it might not be a severe problem, except that it is concentrating in the flesh of invasive clams that infest the waterways' northern reaches, especially parts of San Pablo Bay, the Carquinez Strait and Suisun Bay.
 That's a problem for anything that eats the overbite clams, including ducks and sturgeon, one of the region's most popular sport fish.
 Sturgeon already have selenium levels near those associated with reproductive problems, and sturgeon populations have not flourished as one might expect given the number of clams available to eat, Luoma said. Still, it is difficult to decipher if the problem already is affecting fish, because weak or deformed fish usually are eaten before they can be documented.
 "If it gets worse, it will affect sturgeon," Luoma said.
 It is unclear whether ducks or other birds have been affected. The sprawling wetlands on the shores of the San Pablo and Suisun bays are important bird habitats, with the Suisun Marsh containing 10 percent of California's remaining wetlands in the West Coast's largest brackish water marsh.
 Recent studies by Luoma and others are building the case that despite dramatic reductions in selenium pollution from farms and refineries, the northern bay remains especially sensitive to it, due largely to the unwelcome overbite clam.
 "What it does show you is that we shouldn't be adding any more selenium into the system," said Eugenia McNaughton, manager of the quality assurance section at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's San Francisco office who has worked on selenium issues for years. "We need to get those numbers lower than they are right now."
 The developing information is another thorny challenge for plans to reconfigure Delta water deliveries. Big water agencies from the Bay Area to Southern California want to improve the reliability of their Delta water supplies by building tunnels or canals around the Delta.
 That could worsen San Francisco Bay's selenium problem because much of the selenium-tainted water that currently comes down the San Joaquin River - the Delta's single largest source of selenium - is taken up by pumps that re-circulate San Joaquin water back to farms and cities.
 If new intakes on the Sacramento River replace, or partially replace, the Delta pumps, more selenium from the San Joaquin River could flow into the bay, and less Sacramento River water would be available to dilute pollution and push selenium through the estuary.
 "We're trading clean Sacramento River water and in return we're getting low-quality San Joaquin River water," Luoma said.
 No one knows how much more selenium would flow into the bay if Sacramento River water is diverted upstream of the Delta.
 State water officials are considering the issue in an ongoing study, said Karla Nemeth, a spokeswoman for Bay Delta Conservation Plan.
 "It is a subject of analysis in the environmental review documents," Nemeth wrote in an email this week.
 The full study she was referring to has not been publicly released, but government scientists who reviewed it last year were highly critical. Their objections led to numerous revisions that are continuing nearly a year after the study was supposed to be completed.
 A summary of an earlier draft acknowledges the water diversion could increase selenium toxicity for Sacramento splittail, a large minnow that eats clams.
 Selenium is a naturally occurring element found in crude oil and the ancient marine sediments of California's Coast Range.
 Selenium is one byproduct of crude oil that refineries discharge in wastewater. Irrigation leaches selenium out of the soil and brings it to the surface, where it gets into farm drainage water.
 A small amount of selenium is essential for people but too much is dangerous. The Delta selenium level is low enough that experts say drinking the water is safe for people. The only human threat would be to those who eat a lot of contaminated sturgeon or ducks.
 But for wildlife, selenium can be a bigger problem and it can quickly take a huge ecological toll.
 In 1983, highly concentrated selenium at Kesterson in the food web caused nearly two-thirds of the embryos and hatchlings of ducks and other water birds to die or hatch with deformities that year.
 In the bay, the threat remains even though refinery and selenium discharges from some parts of the San Joaquin Valley have been slashed.
 Refineries spent tens of millions of dollars to cut selenium releases, said Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association. They appear to have dropped by about two-thirds since the late 1990s, state regulators say.
 "I think there's an acknowledgment that the refineries have done what's feasible to do," Hull said, adding they are not necessarily done.
 "This is an ongoing effort," he said.
 As the refineries reduced their discharges, the concentration of selenium in the estuary's clams declined until 2009, when it began rising again, said Robin Stewart, a researcher at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park.
 It is unclear exactly why that happened, though it is possible the recent drought caused less water to flow through the bay, which in turn could have given clams more time to ingest selenium.
 Farmers in the northern San Joaquin Valley, meanwhile, say they have reduced selenium discharges by 87 percent since the 1990s, though progress toward a goal to eventually eliminate the discharges has been slower than planned.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

2011-09-14 "Oldest Bay Area salt flat turned into wetland" by Carolyn Jones from "San Francisco Chronicle"
 With the crunch of a bulldozer Tuesday afternoon, the oldest salt flat in the Bay Area became the region's newest wetland.
Amid cheers from dozens of biologists and state Fish and Game workers, a construction crew ripped through an old levee just south of the San Mateo Bridge, allowing water from Old Alameda Creek to flow into the bone-dry moonscape of a salt flat for the first time since the 1850s. Eventually a levee to the west of that flat will be breached to reconnect the 630 acres to San Francisco Bay.
"These salt ponds took away the lungs of the Bay. Today we're giving them back," said Carl Wilcox, manager of the Bay-Delta region for the California Department of Fish and Game.
Water and mud slopped into the barren whiteness that stretches over more than 1 square mile in the shoreline area known as Eden Landing. Biologists expect fish and birds to start investigating the new habitat immediately and full restoration to be complete in a decade.
Tuesday's levee breach was the first salt-flat restoration in the East Bay. It is part of the 15,000-acre South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, the largest wetland restoration program on the Pacific Coast, which has so far been concentrated on the salt ponds around Alviso.

Nature does the work -
With the Hayward addition, more than 3,000 acres around the bay have been restored. The remaining 12,000 are still in the planning process, which includes digging ditches where channels once flowed and building new levees to protect shoreline development from flooding.
But otherwise, the tides do all the work.
"We just set the table and let Mother Nature do the rest," said John Bourgeois, director of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. "Once you let the tides in, the sediment comes in, bringing the seeds, and the whole process will be set in motion."
Salt flats have been a fixture of the shoreline at least since the Gold Rush. Ohlone Indians harvested salt along the waterfront, but then commercial outfits such as Leslie and later Cargill took over. In the late 1990s Cargill sold most of its Bay Area salt ponds to the state and federal governments for wetland restoration.
What biologists discovered, though, was that over the decades some species had grown to like the salt ponds. Threatened snowy plovers, for example, nest on the salt flats because they're similar to their usual nesting spots, beaches, but with fewer dogs and people. So the project calls for the preservation of some salt ponds, although with reduced salinity, said John Krause, Fish and Game biologist.

Economic impacts -
Restoring wetlands isn't just beneficial for the environment, it has an economic impact as well, Wilcox said.
Wetlands improve water quality and provide sediment control and protection from sea-level rise, Wilcox said.
In addition, they're likely to draw more people to the shoreline to enjoy the scenery.
Wetland restoration is not inexpensive, however. Acquiring the 15,000 acres cost $100 million, and the planning and levee breaches cost millions more. The parcel opened Tuesday cost more than $4 million to restore.
"I grew up in Oakland, and to see this restored is incredible," said Austin Payne, an engineer for Ducks Unlimited, which worked with the state on the Hayward restoration. "For my kids, all these areas will be open to them."
2011-09-14 "SF's Mission Creek on list of most-polluted" by Carolyn Jones,Vivian Ho from "San Francisco Chronicle"
San Francisco may have one of the toughest plastic-bag bans in the United States, but that could be news to the wildlife of Mission Creek.
Save the Bay named Mission Creek as one of the most polluted, plastic-bag-choked waterways in the Bay Area today in its annual "trash hot spots" survey.
The creek, which drains into San Francisco Bay near AT&T Park, at times looks clean enough to swim in. But it's often a receptacle for trash from homeless camps, storm drains and ball games - clogging up with plastic bags and other debris that is most visible at low tide.
"I'm really surprised Mission Creek made the list," said Linda Hunter, director of the Watershed Project, a Bay Area nonprofit that promotes urban creek protection. "This tells us that banning plastic bags isn't enough. We need to use less stuff, have less packaging."
The other creeks on Save the Bay's list are also in cities that have already enacted, or are planning to enact, bans on plastic bags or Styrofoam.
They are Damon Slough in Oakland, Guadalupe River in San Jose, Baxter Creek in Richmond and Pulgas Creek in San Carlos.

Compiling the list -
Save the Bay compiles its list based on data provided by Bay Area cities and counties to the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board as part of its storm runoff permit requirements. In addition, Save the Bay conducts its own research on the dirtiest creeks. In all, 225 creeks and waterways made the list.
San Francisco's plastic-bag ban only covers large retailers, like Safeway, but the city's creeks would benefit if the ban went further, said David Lewis, director of Save the Bay.
"This is something all cities should do," he said. "Cleanups are great, but they only have a short-term impact. Strengthening plastic-bag bans is really the way to go."
Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi has proposed legislation to broaden San Francisco's ban, which was the first in the nation when it was enacted in 2007. San Francisco also bans Styrofoam food takeout containers.
San Jose's ban - set to go into effect in January - should be a model for all cities, Lewis said. It prohibits plastic bags from nearly all retailers, "virtually eliminating plastic bags from the environment," he said.
 If all the pending bans go into effect, next year's list of messy creeks should look a little different, Lewis said. Mission Creek will, it is hoped, be among the cleanest, or at least have fewer bags tangled in the pickleweed.

Get dirty -
The public will have a chance to clean up Mission Creek and the other hot spots Saturday during the annual California Coastal Cleanup Day, which is Saturday.
Last year, volunteers collected more than 172 tons of trash from the Bay Area shoreline, including more than 48,000 plastic bags.
Much of that trash was collected from Damon Slough, historically one of the messiest waterways in the Bay Area and a perennial on Save the Bay's trash list.
But despite the annual cleanup and attention from nonprofits, Damon Slough remains as polluted as ever. Fast-food wrappers, Styrofoam cups, plastic bags and other debris from the nearby Coliseum, flea market and Interstate 880 accumulate in the slough, harming wildlife and creating an eyesore to those walking along the Bay Trail.
"I've been looking at the same grocery basket for the past three or four years," said Rebecca Miller, 36, who works at nearby Zhone Technologies and regularly walks the Bay Trail along Damon Slough. "When the tide is out ... you'll see tires, grocery baskets. ... All the junk sticks out."
The perpetual glut of litter in Damon Slough and other waterways is especially frustrating because litter is the most preventable type of pollution, said Geoff Brosseau, director of the Bay Area Storm Water Management Agencies Association, a nonprofit that works with Bay Area cities and counties on storm water issues.
"It's personal pollution. Unlike pollution that comes from big industries, it's something we all have personal control over," he said. "It's virtually 100 percent preventable."

Coastal Cleanup -
You can join an estimated 80,000 volunteers between 9 a.m. and noon Saturday to pick up trash and debris at a beach or bay shore for California Coastal Cleanup Day. For more information, go to [].

Monday, September 12, 2011

Loleta, Calif. – The Wiyot Tribe and Friends of the Eel River (FOER) were joined by Native American Indian tribes from throughout Northern California in a prayer ceremony Saturday focused on returning the Eel River and the fisheries it supports to a healthy, sustainable state. This event follows several similar ceremonies held since 2009 that have taken place in different parts of the nearly 3,600-square mile Eel River watershed.
“Rivers need water to survive,” said Nadananda, Executive Director of the Friends of the Eel River. “The cost of diverting so much water out of the Eel River is simply too high. Salmon and steelhead are on the brink of extinction here. While increases in water flows over the past five years have made it possible for Chinook salmon populations to begin to make a comeback, significantly more water will need to be returned to the river if we are going to save these fish.”
“The tribes native to this area once thrived on the abundant salmon runs on the Eel River,” said former Round Valley Tribal Council member and current Friends of the Eel River board member Ernie Merrifield. “We must rely on all of our resources – spiritual, scientific, and legal – to restore this river and these fisheries to health. If we work together, we may have a chance to reverse the damage caused by a century of water deprivation.”
The Eel River is California’s third largest watershed, third largest salmon producing river, and second largest steelhead producing river. The Eel’s headwaters are dammed and more than half of its natural flows are diverted to the Russian River through an inefficient tunnel and dam system in Potter Valley. Its dams are now a century old, block spawning and rearing habitat, and hold back gravels needed for a fully operative river system.
In 2004, dam owner PG&E increased flows on the Eel River from 5 cubic feet/second to 20-25 cubic feet/second under the orders of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The 2010 fall run of Chinook Salmon on the Eel River was the largest recorded in 77 years, with more than 2,300 mature fish migrating upriver to spawn. Last year’s salmon run also benefitted from an unusually heavy rain season.
This event marked the first time that so many different tribes came together in call for healing on the river. Salmon are a sacred fish and traditional source of food for the Round Valley Tribes and other Native American Indians who were once the only human inhabitants of this remote watershed. The prayer ceremony was attended by members of the Bear River, Cahto, Grindstone, Sherwood Rancheria, Round Valley, Pomo, Hoopa, Yurok, and Karuk Tribes, several of which performed tribal prayer dances at the mouth of the river on the Wiyot’s Table Bluff Reservation.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

2011-09-10 "Fibershed Project - artist urges local clothing" by Esha Chhabra from "San Francisco Chronicle"
When textile artist Rebecca Burgess embarked on a challenge to wear only clothes that were 100 percent locally sourced for one year, she found herself dressing in one outfit for three weeks.
Her Fibershed Project, as it was named, began gaining momentum in spring 2010 with the support of a grassroots fundraising campaign that drummed up $10,000. Pieces began trickling in that summer, allowing Burgess to officially start the nonprofit effort last September. By then, more than three dozen farmers and designers had agreed to design pieces for her yearlong wardrobe of bioregional clothing.
Burgess was determined to pay farmers, mills, pattern-makers and others fairly for providing garments made, start-to-finish, within 150 miles of her home in Marin County. The goal: to illustrate that regional, organic clothing is still possible in today's globalized climate.
"For three months, I would tell designers, 'Please give me sleeves. I wish I had sleeves,' because it was beginning to get cold," Burgess said with a laugh, as she tended to indigo plants on her small farm in Lagunitas recently. "There was a time when I just had one outfit, and at that point, I had to ask myself, 'Is this going to work?' "
It did.
Burgess began with a team of about 40 people, including farmers, designers, seamstresses and volunteers. By the end of the year, she had three times as many folks working with her.
Now they're building an online Fibershed Marketplace - set to go live this month - where shoppers will be able to purchase fibers, cotton and dyes from within that 150-mile radius.

Researched dyes -
Prior to Fibershed, Burgess spent more than two years researching bioregional dyes throughout the country. Her work appeared in an internationally circulated book, "Print and Production Finishes for Sustainable Design," and most recently in her own book, "Harvesting Color." She also works with Santa Rosa's Post Carbon Institute, developing curriculum. She has coupled her artistry with an environmental philosophy that calls for not only a resurgence of local craftsmanship but also a reduction of the carbon footprint in the textile industry.
In her blog, Burgess often marks the carbon footprint for the pieces produced for her. For instance, a pair of organic cotton fleece pants, sourced by a local cotton farm and crafted by Thara Srinivasan, a UC Berkeley scientist with an interest in sewing, has a carbon footprint of approximately 5 miles of driving.
But Burgess believes the project has the capacity to have a broader impact than just being environmentally savvy: It can help revive local economies.
Her neighborhood of West Marin, for example, has a 13 percent unemployment rate. By bringing production back to the community, the local economy is likely to benefit, she said.
For instance, she recently hired an out-of-work neighbor to help tend her small indigo farm, which she started a year ago to produce organic natural dyes for her clothing. Demand for the indigo dye has increased in the past year, and if this trend continues, she will need more hands to help.
Then there's Sally Fox, who resides on an organic cotton farm in Guinda (Yolo County).
"If she hires just even a few more people to help on the mill, say four or five," Burgess said, that's a significant boost. "Those are rural jobs. But even in urban areas, the designers have been so inspired by the materials that we're seeing little small businesses starting, specializing in this."

Yolo connection -
Fox, who has been growing organic, naturally colored cotton for more than 25 years, accepted Burgess' request to contribute to the Fibershed project a year ago and is now working with her to develop a line of denims. Fox, though, embodies what has happened to American textiles as a result of foreign imports and cheap labor.
"My dream is to have a mill on the farm. But right now most of the mills left in the country are research mills because of their size. They're not production mills. But maybe one day," Fox said.
Burgess' denim project, an effort to create everyday wearable jeans from Fox's organic cotton, is under development and will help determine whether there is enough interest in bioregional clothing.
There is already significant commercial interest in the Fibershed project, but Burgess is focusing on smaller quantities of high-quality artisan products from local designers.

Sustainability is key -
After all, sustainability and community are at the center of the Fibershed model: adjusting profit margins to account for the artisan work of the farm and the designer, eliminating waste and excess transportation costs, reconnecting farmers with local designers and experimenting with natural fabrics to avoid polluting waters with chemical dyes.
"This is what we talk about when we say community-building. It's more than just a few local meals together. It's about shifting the whole material culture. There's a sweet intimacy between me and my community," Burgess said. "They're responsible for my well-being and I'm responsible for theirs."

Read more about Fibershed at [].
Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle
Rebecca Burgess picking Coreopsis tinctoria to use for her dye in Lagunitas. The artist started a project of using only garments made within 150 miles.
2011-09-10 "Lawmakers OK bill to soften environmental reviews" by Marisa Lagos and Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle"
Sacramento --
California lawmakers on Friday approved a bill that would soften parts of a landmark, 4-decade-old environmental law and could pave the way for the quick approval of large developments across the state.
In the final hours of the year's legislative session, Democrats pushed through a measure that would give the governor the power to speed up the environmental review process on some large construction projects, including sports stadiums and green manufacturing plants. It was sent to the governor late Friday.
Some environmental groups immediately denounced the bill, which was introduced late Thursday in the Assembly. But it could be of political help to Democrats, who have been under pressure in California and across the country to counter charges they are antibusiness and contribute to higher unemployment rates.
"There are too many people in California who are hurting and too many people who are unemployed, and people are expecting us to do everything we can to remedy that," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who championed the bill. "We are not doing anything to weaken key environmental laws, but if we can resolve disputes faster than not, good projects will be done sooner."
Other politics appeared to be at play as well: The bill came on the heels of a similar measure by Assembly Speaker John PĂ©rez, D-Los Angeles, authorizing expedited review of an NFL stadium and convention center in downtown Los Angeles, where local officials are hoping to woo the San Diego Chargers. The statewide measure could help Sacramento keep the Kings basketball team from fleeing town - a priority of Steinberg's.
It was not immediately clear how the law might impact the proposed 49ers stadium in Santa Clara.

Streamlined review -
If signed by the governor, AB900 would allow projects costing $100 million or more to request streamlined judicial review under the California Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA. That law, passed in 1970, requires public agencies to identify the environmental impacts of construction and other projects and mitigate them.
While CEQA is credited by supporters as helping to keep communities healthy and California's natural resources intact, it has long been a target of Republicans and developers, who say it kills jobs by allowing litigation to tie up important projects.
Environmental groups, however, said they were shocked and angered by the bill - both its substance and how quickly it was rushed through. They said it could ultimately backfire. While AB900 was written only to apply to projects that are economically and environmentally beneficial, it would also allow CEQA challenges to bypass local courts and go directly to the state Court of Appeal, which would have to make a decision within 175 days.
The bill would sunset in 2015 - when Brown's term is over.
 "I don't think the authors are fully aware of what the bill is going to do," said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California. "They've taken a level of appeal out of this. ... It would reduce the opportunity to make sure there is a full review of what the project proponent has done."

Argument a fallacy -
Phillips said the argument that environmental litigation hurts the economy by delaying development is a fallacy.
"You've got to understand that it's a very small number of projects that actually get to court," she said. "Environmental review doesn't stop jobs. What's stopping jobs is that developers are having difficulty getting financing. Attacking California's environmental laws is not the way to create jobs. That will just make California's environmental quality worse."
But a San Francisco lawyer who represents developers, including those working on the city's Treasure Island and Parkmerced projects, said she welcomes any change to the environmental act.
Gibson Dunn partner Mary Murphy said CEQA lawsuits are often used as a delay tactic by people who object to the project itself, not the details of the environmental review. Those suits can result in another year of litigation, on top of the four to five years it can take just to do a full environmental impact report.
Environmental reviews, she said, "cost amazing amounts of money, well north of a million dollars for large projects. And it is a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of analysis and you end up getting appealed and sued anyways, and it has nothing to do with whether or not the analysis is sufficient."

Vetting questioned -
Some environmental groups were more concerned with the process than the substance of the bill, noting that it was rushed through in the final hours of the Legislature's session and did not get the vetting most measures do.
Jeremy Madsen, the executive director of Greenbelt Alliance, said he was torn because, on the surface, the legislation encourages exactly the kind of transit-oriented infill development that his group would like to see in California.
The problem, Phillips said, is that "infill means different things to different people, and that's why it is important to have review. We need to determine what kind of impact it is going to have on the community, traffic, air pollution and noise."
Steinberg, however, said that AB900 relied on the "template" established by the Los Angeles project. That measure also was introduced in the final weeks of the legislative session, but was the result of work by a group of Assembly lawmakers.
"I respect their concerns, but the choice would have been to wait," he said. "Sometimes you have to seize the moment, even if it's messy."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

2011-09-08 "Kondylis, Vallejo's county supervisor, calling it quits when term ends; Solano supervisor, a longtime Vallejo politician, won't seek re-election in 2012" by Sarah Rohrs from "Vallejo Times-Herald"
After nearly 30 years in public office, Solano County Supervisor Barbara Kondylis said Wednesday it's time for her to retire, travel and spend more time with her family.
Kondylis, 68, now in her fifth term as a county supervisor, announced she will not seek re-election in next year's June primary.
A supervisor since 1993, Kondylis also served on the Vallejo City Council from 1979-88.
"It's been a privilege to do what I've been doing for the last 30 years and it's been fun and rewarding and I hope nobody gets mad at me for being selfish," Kondylis said.
With Kondylis retiring, the field is wide open for newcomers in the 2012 election.
Kondylis easily won re-election in 2008 against one challenger, ran unopposed in 2004, and in 2000 narrowly defeated former mayor Terry Curtola.
Vallejo City Councilwoman Stephanie Gomes said she is "seriously considering" running for Kondylis seat, but has not yet finalized her decision. Kondylis and Gomes have been political allies for years.
Fellow County Supervisor Linda Seifert said she was surprised to hear of Kondylis' announcement, and wished her well.
"She's a strong advocate for children and the downtrodden," Seifert said. "She's been very committed to environmental issues and not ever hesitated to take on the majority when her position differed. Her kind of courage is something that I personally will miss," she added.
Longtime supporter Richard Martinez, a Solano County Fair Association board member, said Kondylis' biggest accomplishments have always revolved around children, families and low-income residents.
"She's always worked hard for the underdog," Martinez said.
Her 2008 campaign manager, Pam Keith, said Kondylis deserves a break but said it's bittersweet she's stepping down.
"You would be hard put to find anybody who will be as strong and as a committed advocate for the children of Solano County as Barbara Kondylis," Keith said.
Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, emailed a comment saying he has appreciated Kondylis' service.
"She has been a great advocate for children, families and for the environment. She never shied from controversy and she will leave big shoes to fill," Miller said.
Often the lone member of the board minority, Kondylis is known for speaking her mind and taking stands. She voted against the 2010 budget, publicly claimed her colleagues had committed open-meeting law violations and said that sexism has prevented her from being selected board chair over the years.
Kondylis also opposes the Solano360 fairgrounds development project as a waste of money, and angrily denounced her removal from a fair committee.
While on the City Council, Kondylis sued her own city over traffic impacts related to Cullinan Ranch development along Highway 37.
Of her City Council years, Kondylis said she is most proud of helping to make property available for a battered women's shelter now run by SafeQuest Solano.
Children also are at the center of Kondylis' list of her major county achievements, including the Office of Family Violence and Prevention and of the Court Appointed Special Advocates. The latter helps abused children through the court system.
Despite strides, Kondylis said continuous state and federal budget cuts have made the county's social service role nearly impossible to carry out.
A relatively new Vallejo resident in the mid-1970s, she said she never intended to get into local politics. She said, however, that she got mad at the city for its plans to build a 180-unit apartment building along the waterfront. She got hooked on Planning Commission and City Council meetings.
She ran for City Council in 1977, lost and then ran again and won in 1979. After two terms she ran for mayor and lost to Tony Intintoli, Jr. A year later, she ran for supervisor, but lost in a race against current Mayor Osby Davis. She ran again and was elected in 1992.
Kondylis said if she was younger and had more energy, she would eagerly run for a sixth term. She added she's been thinking about stepping down for about a year.
"The basic fact is that I'm 68 years old," Kondylis said. "So when I retire I will be 70 and that will be
30 years. I want to have fun. I don't want to feel guilty because I take a weekend off."
2011-09-08 "Chevron CEO says Obama should keep oil tax breaks" by Jim Snyder from "Bloomberg News"
Chevron Corp. Chief Executive Officer John Watson urged President Obama to cut regulations and expand offshore oil drilling rather than use subsidies to create jobs.
The administration should abandon efforts to repeal about $4 billion a year in oil and gas tax breaks and reconsider an Environmental Protection Agency rule on greenhouse-gas emissions to control climate change, Watson said Wednesday at a conference in Washington. The EPA regulation will raise energy costs and hinder growth, he said at the meeting sponsored by the Hill newspaper and the American Petroleum Institute industry group.
"I would be delighted to invest more in the oil and gas industry," Watson said. The industry responds to the "fiscal and regulatory environment we are given," he said.
Obama is set to outline his proposals to help reduce unemployment from 9.1 percent in an address to Congress tonight. Payroll growth stalled last month, the Labor Department reported Friday.

John Watson, enemy of life
This Fascist would destroy the ecology just to acquire more money for himself and the investors

Monday, September 5, 2011

2011-09-05 "No More Plastic Bags In Santa Monica" by Judy M.
It’s official. No more single-use plastic bags in Santa Monica, California.
The ban on plastic bags that was passed by the City Council in January took effect last Thursday, September 1 [].

26 Million Plastic Bags Each Year In Santa Monica -
According to city officials [], 26 million plastic bags get used each year in Santa Monica alone, contributing not only to the city’s carbon footprint, but to the bags that foul up local beaches and devastate marine life. It wouldn’t be a problem if more people recycled them, but according to the Los Angeles Times [], less than 5 percent of L.A. County shoppers actually recycle their bags.
All the rest get thrown out.
The ban will significantly reduce that wastage by cutting single-use plastic bags out of grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores, pharmacies and mini-mart, and restricting them in other places, including the various Farmers’ Markets.

“Did You Bring Your Own Bags Today?” -
Checkers will no longer be asking “Paper or plastic?” but rather “Did you bring your own bags today?” Shoppers who don’t bring their own reusable bag will be able to buy paper bags for 10 cents each.
As KABC News reports [], earlier this year, a study by scientists at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UC San Diego found plastic in nearly one in 10 small fish collected in the Pacific Ocean and estimated that fish are ingesting as much as 24,000 tons of plastic annually.
The study raised concerns that plastic pollution may be climbing the food chain into seafood consumed by humans.

Same Ban In Effect In Unincorporated Los Angeles County -
Unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County passed the same ban last November, and it went into effect on July 1, 2011. The California Grocers Association said they favored a statewide ban to make the rule easier to implement, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Other cities that have banned plastic bags [] include San Francisco, Mexico City, Dhaka in Bangladesh  and Oyster Bay in Australia.
Makes sense to me.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

2011-09-04 "Popularity of crop swaps is growing; Bay Area among U.S. leaders in crop swaps, as farmers barter over backyard bounties" by Stacy Finz from "San Francisco Chronicle"
An American subculture is trying to fend off the apocalypse, one heirloom tomato at a time.
Crop swaps - meets where people trade their backyard bounty - are sprouting up all over the nation, but especially in the Bay Area.
The seeds were planted decades ago: I'll trade you a few of my Meyer lemons for a couple of your golden zucchini. Then, with the advent of the grocery store, consumers were more likely to buy just what they needed. But in these times of economic crisis, bartering for food is making a comeback.
The weekly - or monthly - food exchanges may seem like a neighborly way to show off gardening prowess or to parlay an abundance of tomatoes into a week's worth of variety. But for some, it's a survival tactic: building resilient communities to not only withstand a recession, but to endure severe energy shortages and global warming.
"People want to connect," said Carole Bennett-Simmons, co-organizer of Transition Berkeley's two crop swaps. "We want our neighborhoods to be strong in hard times, and that means building a strong economy and strong urban agriculture."
 The Transition movement started gaining traction in England five years ago and was spearheaded by permaculturist Rob Hopkins. Its doctrine preaches that greenness and sustainability are not enough. For communities to prevail against exorbitant oil prices, climate change and a collapsing global economy, they have to become self-sufficient. There are 400 Transition "towns" in 34 countries, 96 of them in the United States, including in Richmond, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.
While not all crop swaps are sponsored by Transition United States, the concept is basically the same: to encourage bartering - money is never allowed - to support urban agriculture and bring together neighborhoods.
 In the early days, Robin Mariona, Albany's recreation program coordinator, would show up at that city's crop swap to find she was the sole participant. Now, nearly three years later, 25 to 30 people typically attend, bringing everything from peas and beans to squash and apples.
"It depends on the season," Mariona said. "Right now it's great. We've got rhubarb, artichokes, beans, two different summer squashes, strawberries, lettuce, herbs and flowers.
"Someone brought small heirloom tomatoes," she said. "Those sell in the store for $4.50 a pound."
Julie Brand holds a zucchini as her neighbors exchange vegetables at the San Anselmo Garden Exchange, which also has eggs.
Credit: Photos by Lance Iversen / The Chronicle

Thursday, September 1, 2011

2011-09-01 "GOP Assaults on Clean Water Act Continue" by Jason Flanders
Jason Flanders is the Staff Attorney for San Francisco Baykeeper, representing Baykeeper before municipalities, regulatory agencies, and in federal court, on all water quality issues.
As the U.S. House and Senate return from their August recesses, debates over legislation to gut essential Clean Water Act protections will test the environmental leadership of key California legislators, and the President, as never before. Two major bills, H.R. 872 and H.R. 2018, have already passed the House and await a vote in the Senate, while dozens more stealthy "appropriations riders" may hold the budget process hostage.
The first anti-Clean Water Act bill to pass the House this summer was H.R. 872, a bill promoted by the agri-business and chemical manufacturer lobbies to overturn a major judicial victory by San Francisco Baykeeper to require that pesticides applied directly to water bodies be regulated under the Clean Water Act. Baykeeper filed suit in response to a 2007 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that pesticides sprayed into waters were not required to comply with Clean Water Act standards, so long as the pesticides were appropriately labeled, and the label instructions were followed.
The federal court invalidated EPA’s rule, holding that pesticides could not simply be exempt from the Clean Water Act, and requiring that aquatic pesticide applicators obtain a Clean Water Act permit with water quality controls. On the eve of EPA’s new permitting program, agri-business lobbyists managed a legislative end-run. This summer, the U.S. House has passed H.R. 872 to strip aquatic pesticides from the Clean Water Act. But California Senator Barbara Boxer continues to block a companion bill in the Senate, S. 718. The Bay Area’s urban creeks are already listed by the Regional Water Board as "impaired" by pesticide toxicity, and desperately need the protection of the Clean Water Act for recovery.
Next came H.R. 2018, also known as the euphemistically entitled "Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011," which would gut EPA’s authority over the Act. The bill passed the House by a vote of 239-184. Primarily written to facilitate mountaintop-removal coal mining in West Virginia, H.R. 2018 would have other far-reaching effects: eliminating minimum standards for waterways that cross state lines; weakening water quality standards for dredging activities; and giving states free reign to loosen water quality standards across the board. In short, H.R. 2018 would revise the Clean Water Act’s fundamental framework of individual state implementation guided by U.S. EPA oversight, a framework that has resulted in cleaner waterways for nearly 40 years. Although the Obama Administration has suggested that the President may veto this bill if passed, it will still be assigned to a Senate committee in September, where senators on both sides will be placed under mounting pressure for environmental rollbacks.
Most recently, a spate of stealthy "appropriations riders" were attached to major funding bills in the U.S. House, in an assault on Clean Water Act protections of all kinds. The unseemly strategy of attaching these riders to major appropriations bills, including appropriations for the Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of the Interior, thwarts the democratic process by holding agency funding hostage in order to chip away at regulatory safeguards completely unrelated to the appropriations. For instance, EPA has recently undertaken an effort to clarify which water bodies are and are not "waters of the United States," subject to Clean Water Act protection, in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s muddled and widely criticized decision in Rapanos v. United States. Recently, Baykeeper has been forced to devote considerable resources in litigation to prove that certain Bay Area creeks are protected by the Clean Water Act. But the Interior appropriations bill would preclude EPA’s new guidance, and keep this significant legal issue in limbo. This Interior appropriations bill will soon make its way to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment, where California Senator Dianne Feinstein will have a major role in its fate.
In short, as the Clean Water Act approaches its 40th Anniversary in 2012, the U.S. House of Representatives has put the Act in its crosshairs, launching a comprehensive attack on water quality. Their efforts would roll back virtually every facet of the Clean Water Act framework in place over the last four decades. And as with the debt ceiling clash this summer, elimination of these long-standing clean water protections is likely to be demanded as a ransom for holding major appropriations hostage. As a result, the environmental integrity of California’s senators and the President will be severely tested.
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