Tuesday, April 28, 2009

water resources explained

Explaining the critical nature of water resource management is always a challenge. This 5 minute video is worth watching.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sustainable Ojai

Communities around the country are beginning to think in terms of sustainability.

Note that this is not about "sustainable growth," the oxymoron used by many to promote development.

Rather, this is about defining a future in which a community can provide for itself, in terms of the basic necessities, (i.e. food, water, energy, transportation, etc) and generate a secure social and natural environment along with a thriving local economy.

Last year the City of Ventura released a 'Post Peak Oil Vision Plan.' The basic recommendation:

  • LOCALIZE. Localization is the overarching critical factor in reaching the goal of reducing energy and resource consumption while enhancing quality of life. By building a greater connection between people and place, an increased respect and understanding of the land and its systems is cultivated.

Similarly, the City of Ojai took some time to think it through. The results are this 'Roadmap to a Sustainable Ojai.'

Because this flowchart is by nature all-encompassing, therefore somewhat overwhelming, a more recent iteration is this (draft) action plan which focuses only on residential issues. (And is perhaps just as overwhelming?)

Embedded in this are things that we can do right now, and strive towards in the future. The Ojai Valley Green Coalition is organizing around these principles. It seems there is no shortage of things to do.

The trick now is making these types of actions the foundation of a local economy...

See also: Sustainable Santa Barbara

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sanjon Project in CIP

The City of Ventura recently released a Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that outlines all the projects planned for 2009-2015. This plan includes many projects with stormwater components, including street and landscape improvements. The Sanjon urban watershed project that we have been developing for many years is on this CIP list, which gives City staff the go-ahead to seek grant funding to move this project forward.

According to the City Manager's report:

This Capital Improvement Project Plan (CIP) is the blueprint for investing in the vital infrastructure needed to protect and achieve that future vision. The City's infrastructure includes all city-owned assets and facilities, including streets, parks, beaches, open spaces, storm drains, water and wastewater installations.

Dream for the Future

Our dream for the future continues to be the protection of our natural resources while building a sustainable and environmentally sound infrastructure. The City will continue to establish itself as a national model for environmental sustainability. Our goals are to reduce green house emissions and reliance on fossil fuels, expand our green and open spaces, restore our natural environment and watersheds, and protect our rivers, ocean and waterways. Ventura will continue to be an urban leader in Smart Growth and Low Impact Development practices. Environmentally focused projects, which do not yet have funding, include a Green Infrastructure Demonstration project, Energy-Efficiency and Photovoltaic projects, and the Coastal Sanjon Watershed project. To build our dream, we will strive to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Council Approves New Beach Hotel

It was late Monday evening when the Embassy Suites Hotel came before Ventura City Council. Following a presentation by city staff,
Councilmen Brennan and Monahan both had relevant comments. Brennan
said he wanted to bring up the issue of compatible uses for the City Park in front of the hotel - would the hotel use the public park for weddings, etc? and how would dogs and frisbees potentially affect the dining facilities that front the park? Monahan asked if there were any remaining pipelines from the oil tanks, which remained unanswered. (Those of us who use the beach know that there is at least one pipe in the vicinity, although this could be the remnants of the sewage treatment plant that once discharged there)

Although Deputy Mayor Fulton had emphasized the impacts of sea level rise in his "Earth Day" speech at this location on Saturday, there was no discussion in response to Surfrider's comments on the issue, including funding current and future seawall maintenance. I told the Council that this was a missed opportunity to fund much-needed beach maintenance. The City Manager prompted the City Attorney to respond to Surfrider allegations that the environmental document was deficient, to which staff responded that the hotel will be 11.5 feet above sea level and there is no nexus under CEQA.

It was clear that the City Council is pleased with the design and
plans for this hotel. Construction is scheduled to begin within a year.

more here: http://venturaecosystem.blogspot.com/2009/03/coastal-development-at-c-st.html

Local Press: Ventura council approves hotel, market

Monday, April 20, 2009

California at the Tipping Point

This from KQED public television:

The world's climate is changing and California is now being affected in both dramatic and subtle ways. Get an in-depth look at the science behind climate change as we explore the environmental changes taking place throughout the state.

QUEST on KQED Public Media.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Coastal Commission Sea Level Rise

SEA LEVEL RISE WORKSHOP - Thurs April 9, 2009

The California Coastal Commission met in Oxnard this week. Thursday morning saw a presentation and discussion of recently issued draft reports that address the impacts of climate change and sea level rise on coastal flooding, erosion, and beach recreation. The workshop included California Coastal Erosion Response to Sea Level Rise—Analysis and Mapping by Philip Williams & Associates, LTD., The Impacts of Sea Level Rise on the California Coast by the Pacific Institute.

It was clear that this issue's profile is increasing, but some of the Commissioner's comments suggested a desire to maintain business-as-usual until even more studies are done.

I was among a handful of public comments urging the Commission to consider sea level rise in current and future policy. With a 2 minute time limit, I skipped my planned policy suggestions and said something like this:

The Surfrider Foundation is dedicated to protecting and preserving the world's oceans waves and beaches. The California coast has a legacy of decades of coastal development, all planned based on the assumption of a fairly static sea level. As the presentations today have illustrated, there is a rapidly increasing risk of sea level rise. But remember that this work was done with the most conservative estimates, using a 1.4m rise. Recent science suggests this may happen much faster and much higher than previously predicted. The economic impacts of catastrophic sea level rise are hard to imagine - consider the 'toxic assets' of coastal real estate, when suddenly ocean front property becomes a liability!

People everywhere, even kids, are trying to organize and figure out how to respond to this crisis. There is a 14 year old from Ventura, Alec Loorz, who started a group called 'Kids vs Global Warming.' He did a project called SLAPP, Sea Level Awareness Project, in which kids installed a series of poles along the water front. Each pole shows the water level around 17 feet above today, which is about where we'll be if Greenland melts. The poles also have symbols of things that will be impacted; the power plant, sewage treatment plant, highway, and more...

The studies presented today suggest that billions of dollars will be needed to protect or relocate infrastructure, maintain or construct seawalls, and other measures to deal with coastal erosion. The big question is who is going to pay for it?

Our city can't even afford to do the maintenance and restoration that our beaches need today. And it should not be the taxpayer's burden to protect private property in the future inundation zones.

The l
ate author, Kurt Vonnegut, often spoke of when "the excrement hits the air-conditioner."

I am afraid that time is quickly approaching...

It is critical that the Coastal Commission consider sea level rise with every decision that is made.

Tour of Ojai Meadows Preserve

The April meeting of the Ventura County Task Force of the Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project was a site tour of the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy’s restoration work at the Ojai Meadows Preserve.

The Ojai Meadows Preserve is a 58-acre site of valley and live oak, grasslands and wetlands. Over the past several years the OVLC has been working to restore the preserve as closely as possible to its native state by expanding the wetland, planting additional oaks, and reintroducing native grasses. The long-term objectives of the project include providing better habitat for wetland birds, raptors and other wildlife species and reducing flooding on the highway and adjacent property.

Derek Poultney, the OVLC’s project manager at the Preserve, led us on a tour of the Meadows and discussed the various components of the project, including restoration of the hydrology on the site, the work of consultants and volunteers, trail improvements, creation of swales and vernal pools, and restoration of native riparian, oak savannah and coastal sage scrub habitats.

Derek pointed out that this property was once slated to become a shopping mall, in which case all stormwater would have been directed into an underground storm drain system.

Listen as he describes the hydrologic and water quality benefits of this wetland restoration project:

(...hear those happy redwing blackbirds!)

Note: this is the Happy Valley Drain downstream of the preserve, that Derek describes as 'very artificial and undersized for the watershed'

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ocean Friendly Gardens catch on

Local news:

Sustainable landscapes let soil absorb runoff

Ripping out the water-guzzling grass was an easy decision for Ventura homeowners Sherri and Thurop Van Orman, who wanted a back yard both eco-friendly and still inviting to their young children.

“We wanted a place of exploration and natural wonder,” Sherri said.

Instead of the patchy lawn there now sits a meandering arroyo and a sustainable landscape of flowering, drought-tolerant native or Mediterranean plants, all fed by a drip irrigation system. Pipes with tiny holes capture runoff from the house’s roof and hardscape, funneling it to areas where it can be absorbed into the ground.

As localities grapple with tough new rules governing runoff, these kinds of low-water, self-containing gardens and landscapes are being encouraged for homes and commercial properties to minimize the volume of runoff reaching the ocean and protected waterways.

“Every resident can take simple precautions to ensure water remains clean,” said Arne Anselm, water quality monitoring manager for the Ventura County Watershed Protection District.

A self-contained landscape or rain garden is an anti-Army Corps of Engineers, old-style approach. When creeks got channelized and concrete dikes raised along riverbeds, the idea was to move water away as fast as possible. The problem locally is that it finds its way into the Ventura and Santa Clara rivers, Malibu and Calleguas creeks and bays and estuaries, and eventually empties into the ocean.

Sustainable landscapes make moving water slow down, absorb, nurture.


Monday, April 6, 2009

E.P. Foster

A small celebration was held this weekend to mark E,P. Foster's 161'st birthday. A group of people organized by Sarah Kalvin is forming a foundation to restore some of the history, starting with the Foster House on Ventura Avenue.

Ventura's founding father left a legacy that is often overlooked. He donated numerous parcels of land to the public including the namesake 'Foster Park' on the Ventura River, and 'Seaside Park,' now the Ventura County Fairgrounds.

An exhibit is on display at the downtown library through April.

FEMA levee certification

According to the Ojai Valley News:

FEMA has been in the process of certifying flood protection levees nationwide. A recent study ordered by FEMA has determined that the Live Oak Acres Levee along the Ventura River, originally constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, cannot be certified as meeting FEMA’s new standards. This means that FEMA will likely include more than 100 properties behind the levee in the mapped floodplain. Besides 106 properties expected to be redesignated into a floodplain, 127 others may be affected by the remapping.

Numerous levees nationwide cannot be certified and many local governments are attempting to lobby the federal government for money to upgrade those levees. The about $140 million Matilija Dam removal project already in progress may assist the efforts to rebuild the Live Oaks Acres Levee. “The Matilija Dam removal is already an approved project,” said Bennett. “The project is in better shape because of the Matilija Dam removal.”

Nine levees in Ventura County have been identified by FEMA as trouble spots; two in Districts 1 and 4, one in Districts 2 and 5, and three in District 3.

What does this mean?

If the levees are not 'certified' to provide 100-year protection, FEMA will remap the levee-impacted areas landward of these levee systems as high-risk areas, referred to as Special Flood Hazard Areas (hazard areas). Flood insurance will be required in hazard areas for any mortgage that is Federally backed, regulated, or insured. It is important to note that neither certification nor accreditation guarantees flood protection.

COMMENTARY: The estimated cost for Ventura County to upgrade all 9 levee systems is $26.9M. And all of the flood control structures in the county require expensive ongoing maintenance in perpetuity. This is just part of the taxpayer burden for floodplain development, not to mention the ecological cost of degraded habitat and water quality. And providing this protection, at public expense, alleviates the property owner from providing their own insurance against flood damage.

Although one might expect government to learn from the mistake of permitting floodplain development, no legal or regulatory mechanism currently exists to deter further urbanization of flood-prone areas.

For more information and to view the Ventura County Watershed Protection District FEMA Levee Certification Project map, go to vcwatershed.org/levee.

Local News: http://www.venturacountystar.com/news/2009/apr/06/3-levees-in-ventura-county-fail-to-meet-federal/

Friday, April 3, 2009

Wastewater Reuse

According to the National Environmental Services Center, wastewater reuse conserves highly treated, expensive drinking water, and reduces the release of nutrient-rich wastewater into environmentally stressed streams and rivers.

Wastewater reuse can be grouped into the following categories:

Urban reuse—the irrigation of public parks, school yards, highway medians, and residential landscapes, as well as for fire protection and toilet flushing in commercial and industrial buildings.

Agricultural reuse—irrigation of nonfood crops, such as fodder and fiber, commercial nurseries, and pasturelands. High-quality reclaimed water is used to irrigate food crops.

Recreational impoundments— such as ponds and lakes.

Environmental reuse— creating artificial wetlands, enhancing natural wetlands, and sustaining stream flows.

Industrial reuse—process or makeup water and cooling tower water.

The City of Ventura currently reuses wastewater from its treatment plant near the Santa Clara rivermouth for golf course irrigation. Initial studies commissioned by the city suggest that there is a limited market and lack of infrastructure to reclaim more of this effluent. We have commented that a truly integrated water management plan would reveal greater opportunity for wastewater reuse in Ventura. With some creative thinking, there may even be opportunities in Ojai, where two golf courses are currently irrigated with groundwater and treated drinking water.

Desalinization vs. sustainability

As communities throughout the arid West look for even more water to fuel even more growth, desalinization always seems to pop up.

During the last big drought in the late 1980's, the City of Ventura designated 'desal' as the preferred backup, although there are no plans yet. But throughout California, several proposals for desal plant construction are making their way through the permitting process.

Although for cities on the edge of the Pacific Ocean it seems like a natural 'go-to' source, there are many issues with separating the salt from seawater to produce potable drinking water. Apart from the fact that it uses a tremendous amount of energy, ocean intakes and outfalls have impacts to coastal ecosystems. A summary of the issue may be found here:

Surfrider Foundation Coastal A-Z

Some say that environmentalists must learn to compromise, and desal may be the 'ultimate solution' for cities dependent on dwindling supplies of imported water.

But within the Ventura River watershed, we have the opportunity for sustainability through the wise use of existing resources. With a little imagination, we can modernize our water systems as part of an ecosystem-based management strategy, so that we don't have to fall back on expensive energy-consuming desalinization.