Warming Calls for Auburn Dam, Fast.

This article from the Sacramento Bee reports why it is imperative to build Auburn Dam quickly.

An excerpt.

It was the greatest flood in recorded California history, 43 days of rain and snow that swamped the state, killed thousands of people and forced the newly elected governor to take a boat to his inauguration at the Capitol.

Now a group of climatologists says global warming will increase California’s risk to repeat performances of the devastating flood of 1862.

In a study published Monday in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, the scientists say climate change will increasingly expose California to a phenomenon they call “precipitation whiplash,” in which drought or drought-like conditions will alternate with intensely rainy winters. Rain and snow will become concentrated in narrow windows of time at the peak of winter, instead of being spread between October and April.

Californians already got a taste of whiplash in the winter of 2017, when the wettest winter ever recorded in Northern California snapped the historic five-year drought, the article said.

“The already distinct contrast between California’s long, dry summers and relatively brief, wet winters will probably become even more pronounced,” the scientists wrote.

When scientists discuss climate change’s impact on California, they usually talk about worsening droughts: Warmer winters will diminish the Sierra Nevada snowpack, the argument goes, making it harder to store precipitation for the summer months that follow. Hotter summers will put additional strains on water supplies.

The Nature Climate Change article shines an uncomfortable spotlight on California’s flood risk from climate change. “In some circles the increasing risk of flood could have been overlooked to date,” said UCLA climatologist Daniel Swain, a co-author of the article.

The article’s conclusions could be particularly troubling for Sacramento, which is generally considered the second-most flood-prone major city in America after New Orleans.

The region has spent $2 billion in the past 20 years to strengthen levees along the Sacramento and American rivers, and reduce other vulnerabilities, but the risk remains significant. Portions of the region still lack 100-year flood protection, including 25 percent of the city of Sacramento. That means those areas couldn’t withstand a storm with a 1-in-100 chance of occurring in a given year, and property owners in those areas generally are required to buy flood insurance.

The Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, or SAFCA, says it is committed to achieving a minimum of 200-year flood protection, the threshold established by the Legislature in 2007. A total of $2.4 billion worth of projects is in the pipeline, including work on levees around Natomas and Arcade Creek that’s scheduled to begin later this year. SAFCA also is working with federal officials on a plan to raise Folsom Dam, which could push the region’s flood protection to as high as 300 years.

Yet much of the work on SAFCA’s to-do list is years from completion. And even 300-year flood protection might not be enough. Experts say a mega-flood similar to 1862 could overwhelm even the most advanced levees and other defenses. The U.S. Geological Survey, in a 2011 study, said the 1862 disaster was probably a 500- or 1,000-year storm.

The 1862 storm was pure catastrophe. “Drowning deaths occurred every day on the Feather, Yuba and American rivers,” the magazine Scientific American recalled in a 2013 article. “In one tragic account, an entire settlement of Chinese miners was drowned by floods on the Yuba River.” The water was 30 feet deep in some places, and Gov. Leland Stanford took a rowboat from the governor’s mansion to his inauguration.

Although flood control obviously has improved since the 19th century, there are now millions of people and billions of dollars of property in close proximity to levees and reservoirs. The Geological Survey’s study said a storm akin to 1862 could cause $400 billion in property damage statewide and another $325 billion in business-interruption expense.

“We’re absolutely not ready for a storm that size,” said Jeffrey Mount, a water expert at the Public Policy Institute of California. Mount didn’t contribute to the Nature Climate Change article but is familiar with its findings.

Retrieved April 23, 2018 from http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/article209325929.html

Posted in Shasta Auburn Dam

Infinite Suburbia

This is an astounding book for anyone interested in an in-depth look, and I wrote about it in a post in January, read at https://riverparkwayblog.wordpress.com/2018/01/09/learning-about-suburbia/

Here is an excerpt from one of the articles I was just reading.

“A number of economic studies, however, find considerable support for the existence of urbanization economics and a nonrivalrous relationship between central cities and their suburbs. The economists Edward Glaeser, Hedi Kallal, Jose Scheinkman, and Andei Shleifer find that industrial diversity fosters city growth, indicating that urbanization economies dominate and cities grow best when knowledge spreads from one industry to another. Applied to the central city-suburb relationship, these findings suggest that the exchange of ideas between industries ties together the economic fortunes of all parts of an urban area.” (p.330)

Infinite Suburbia (2017). Edited by Alan M. Berger, Joel Kotkin, with Celina Balderas Guzman. Princeton Architectural Press: New York.

For an interesting thought experiment, substitute government for industries and quality of life for economic fortunes, if this kind of city/county partnership could arise around homelessness right here in Sacramento.

Here’s the Amazon link to the book, https://www.amazon.com/Infinite-Suburbia-Alan-Berger/dp/1616895500/ref=sr_

Posted in demographics

Some Dam Progress

Looks good, hope it actually happens; if so, a good beginning to rectify decades of inaction.

Excerpt from Sacramento Bee.

California took a big step Friday toward launching a new multibillion-dollar wave of reservoir construction.

After being accused of being overly tightfisted with taxpayer dollars, the California Water Commission released updated plans for allocating nearly $2.6 billion in bond funds approved by voters during the depths of the drought. The money will help fund eight reservoirs and other water-storage projects, including the sprawling Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley and a small groundwater “bank” in south Sacramento County.

In its new blueprint, which remains tentative, the Water Commission nearly triples the amount of money it will spend compared to a preliminary allocation it put out in February.

With climate change expected to diminish the Sierra Nevada snowpack, the new reservoirs are seen as a way of bolstering California’s ability to store water. Sites, a $5.2 billion project straddling the Glenn-Colusa county line, and the $2.7 billion Temperance Flat reservoir east of Fresno, would become the two largest reservoirs built in California since Jerry Brown’s first stint as governor in the 1970s.

“The entire commission is eager to get all of this money out the door and fund these projects as fast as possible,” said Armando Quintero, the commisson’s chairman. The agency will hold hearings in early May and make its final determination in July.

The money comes courtesy of Proposition 1, a water bond approved by voters in 2014. Local water agencies promoting 11 different projects applied for a share of the money, but in early February the Water Commission declared that most of them weren’t eligible for nearly as much funding as they requested. The applicants were deemed eligible for a total of just $942 million, about one-fifth of what they wanted and considerably less than what’s available.

The result was instant controversy. Lawmakers and others said the commission was thwarting the will of the voters; one legislator appeared at a commission meeting dragging a child’s red wagon full of petitions demanding the money be spent in full. The protests peaked amid concern that another drought was coming, although late-spring storms have eased some of those fears.

On Friday, the commission said eight projects now are considered eligible for almost $2.6 billion in total. That roughly matches the amount of available dollars. (Voters authorized $2.7 billion in spending, but the pot shrinks to just under $2.6 billion because of bond-finance costs and other expenses.)

Retrieved April 20, 2018 from http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/article209439884.html

Posted in Shasta Auburn Dam

Homeless in California

An informative article about that from Associated Press.

An excerpt.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California is doing a poor job of sheltering the nation’s largest homeless population and needs to provide statewide leadership to address the problem, the state auditor said Thursday in a report that also singled out problems with homeless services in Los Angeles County.

California has about 134,000 homeless people, roughly 24 percent of the nation’s total homeless population, and Los Angeles County has the most within the state — at least 55,000 people, an audit summary said.

“California’s relative position regarding its homeless population points to the need for a single entity to oversee an effective and efficient system to address homelessness,” it said.

The audit cited an array of troubling facts about California’s homeless problem.

With 68 percent of its homeless people living in vehicles, abandoned buildings, parks or on streets, California has the highest rate of unsheltered homeless of any state.

Cities such as New York and Boston, by comparison, shelter more than 95 percent of the homeless population, the report said.

Additionally, 82 percent of California’s homeless youth are unsheltered, compared to 38 percent in the rest of the nation.

The unsheltered population also has an increased risk of exposure to communicable diseases, the audit said, noting that four California counties had the largest person-to-person hepatitis A outbreak in the U.S. since a vaccine to prevent the illness became available in 1966

The audit said a 2016 state law that created the Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council was a good start in providing oversight, but it has no permanent staff or funding.

The auditor recommended the Legislature provide the council funds to hire staff, including an executive director, and then require the council to develop and implement a statewide strategic plan by next April.

State Sen. Scott Wilk, an Antelope Valley Republican who requested the audit, said Thursday he’s planning to amend a current bill to include funding the council and requiring it to come up with a plan of action.

“I’ll start talking to my colleagues,” Wilk said. Homelessness “is literally everywhere … We have to step up because it’s just a massive challenge. We’ve got to do whatever we can.”

Retrieved April 20, 2018 from https://apnews.com/8c1af6dfc21548f896cda827432befe0/State-auditor:-California-doing-a-poor-job-on-homelessness

Posted in Homelessness

Street Smart Birds

A fascinating article from Aeon Magazine.

An excerpt.

A crumbling concrete wall, a ramp and a vast expanse of asphalt on which identical silvery-grey sedans are slowly circling and zigzagging between traffic cones. It does not seem like much but, to urban biologists, the Kadan driving school in the Japanese city of Sendai is hallowed ground. The four of us (the biology students Minoru Chiba and Yawara Takeda, the biologist Iva Njunjić, and I) have been sitting on that crumbling wall for several hours now, hoping to observe what this place is famous for.

It was here that, in 1975, the local carrion crows (Corvus corone) discovered how to use cars as nutcrackers. The crows have a predilection for the Japanese walnut (Juglans ailantifolia) that grows abundantly in the city. The pretty nuts (a bit smaller than commercial walnuts, and with a handsome heart-shaped interior) are too tough for the crows to crack with their beaks, so for time immemorial they have been dropping them from the air onto rocks to open them. Everywhere in the city, you find parking lots strewn with the empty nutshells: the crows either drop them in flight or carry them to the tops of adjoining buildings and then throw them over the edge onto the asphalt below.

But all this flying up and down is tiring, and sometimes the nuts need to be dropped repeatedly before they split. So, at some point, these crows came up with a better idea. They would drop nuts among the wheels of slow-driving cars, and pick up the flesh after the car had passed. The behaviour started at the Kadan driving school, where there are plenty of slow-moving cars, was copied by other crows, and so spread to other places in the city where slow-moving giant nutcrackers were common, such as near sharp bends in the road, and at intersections. At such places, rather than dropping the nuts from above, the crows would station themselves by the roadside and place them more accurately on the road. Since then, the fad has also turned up in other cities in Japan.

In 1995, the zoologist Yoshiaki Nihei then at Tohoku University in Sendai made a detailed study of the behaviour. He observed how the crows would wait near a traffic light, wait for it to turn red, then step in front of the cars, place their nuts, and hop back to the curb to wait for the light to change. When the traffic had passed, they would return to the road to retrieve their quarry. His work revealed the crows’ finesse in handling their ‘tool’. For example, the birds would sometimes move a walnut a few centimetres if it took too long for it to be hit by a wheel. In one case, he even saw how a crow would walk into the path of an oncoming car, forcing it to brake, and then quickly toss a nut in front of its wheels.

These fascinating observations languished in relatively obscure Japanese scientific papers until 1997. That year, the BBC came to Sendai to film the crows for David Attenborough’s series The Life of Birds. His voice-over made them an instant hit: ‘They station themselves at pedestrian crossings … Wait for the lights to stop the traffic. Then, collect your cracked nut in safety!’

So, finding ourselves in this city with its famous urban crows, our merry band devote the day to viewing them for ourselves. Minoru and Yawara tell us that the crows’ trick is well-known in town. In fact, it is a favourite pastime to throw the crows nuts and watch them perform. So, with a bag of walnuts brought all the way from the Netherlands, we try our luck. But the crows are not cooperating. We have already spent the whole morning at traffic lights at intersections, stupidly waiting on canvas folding chairs at the mercy of the surprised stares of endless motorists but, so far, in vain. And we have now ended up at the reputed epicentre, the Kadan driving school. It is getting hot, and we’re hungry and tired. With glazed-over eyes, we stare at the heaps of nuts we have laid out at various positions on the school’s test range. The school’s students carefully avoid them, and the crows fly over without even looking down. This is what urban fieldwork is like.

Perhaps, Minoru and Yawara finally admit, it is too early in the year. The nuts are not ripe yet, the young birds have just fledged, and groups of crows are marauding the city to feast on other things, such as the ripe mulberries that are in abundance everywhere. I sigh and stare a bit more. Then, I hear a cracking noise behind me. I turn around to see that Iva has begun eating our stock of walnuts. She looks at me defiantly: ‘What? They’re not going to come anyway!’

Carrion crows do not occur only in Japan. They also exist in western Europe, where you can similarly find plenty of cars, pedestrian crossings and walnuts. And yet carrion crows in Europe somehow never learnt to exploit human automobile traffic in the Rube-Goldbergian way that they do in Japan.

Retrieved April 18, 2018 from https://aeon.co/essays/how-city-birds-evolved-to-be-smarter-than-rural-birds


Posted in Environmentalism

Suburbs, Where Everyone Goes?

It is beginning to seem like it, as this article from the Orange County Register reports.

An excerpt.

Over the past decade, the old urban model, long favored by most media and academia, became the harbinger of the new city. We were going back to the 19th century, with rising dense urban cores, greater densities and thriving transit systems.

That paradigm now lives on in myth and media, but not so much in reality. As the census data this year, and indeed since at least 2012, suggests, Americans continue to do what they have done for at least a half century – spread out, innovate and, in the process, re-create the urban form.

Growth shifts to smaller places

Over the past several decades, the welcome recovery of select urban “legacy” cores – San Francisco; Chicago; Seattle; Washington, D.C.; and, most importantly, New York – has dominated the discussion of the urban future. Now these areas are experiencing a decline in growth rates, largely due to accelerating out-migration.

In contrast, the fastest growth is taking place in sprawling areas like Riverside-San Bernardino and Sunbelt metros such as Dallas; Orlando, Fla.; Phoenix and Las Vegas. These areas now lead in gains of both people and, increasingly, jobs. Midwestern redoubts like Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, Ind.; Omaha, Neb.; and Des Moines, Iowa; are growing far faster than core-dominated regions like New York, Chicago or San Francisco.

Overwhelmingly, suburbs are where most growth is happening. Since 2010 suburbs and exurbs have produced roughly 80 percent of all new jobs. Even tech growth is shifting, with more of the action taking place in like Orlando, Charlotte, N.C. (each at 7 percent); Grand Rapids, Mich. (6 percent ); Salt Lake City; Tampa, Fla.; Seattle; Raleigh, N.C.; Miami and Las Vegas.

The new office culture

The towering office edifices, inhabited by large companies with thousands of employees, long have been the signature of great cities. Increasingly, even in these reasonably good times, office growth has fallen to less than half that experienced in previous decades. Even hot markets such as Dallas, San Francisco and New York are showing signs of slowing; over-hyped downtown Los Angeles, despite some well-publicized recent wins, is now approaching vacancy rates over 18 percent.

San Francisco and Seattle, the two regions that dominate the digital economy, are exceptions in enjoying large-scale, big-company absorption of new office space. This is increasingly rare; the near hysteria surrounding the potential location of Amazon’s second headquarters – with promises of some 50,000 jobs – reflects the paucity of large-scale corporate expansion in any geography.

The new trend seems to be not permanent, long-term tenancy but a shift to more flexible, often smaller, space, often in “co-working” arrangements; Los Angeles County alone has 61 such spaces. Even in attractive Irvine, one O.C. executive explained, “Our average office tenant probably has 30 employees, and the clear majority are within 10-100 employees.”

The reshaping of suburbia

Such changes are also impacting suburbia, long a draw for large corporate offices. Suburban office parks in Westchester County, N.Y., Orange County or west Houston are being retrofitted, as one Houston developer puts it, to promote a “workstyle” that offers more amenities and accommodates more creative, less hierarchical workplaces.

This reflects the need to find acceptable working environments to accommodate suburbia’s mounting in-migration of millennials, minorities and immigrants. In Southern California, with its plethora of creative talent, attempts to house innovative companies rely heavily on a cocktail of amenities, including those related to entertainment, cultural activity and design.

One promising model can be seen in Costa Mesa, where the new development called The Press will feature three acres of outdoor space, a fireplace, basketball court and other amenities. It is designed, in contrast to traditional corporate office space, to meet the needs of such creative industries such as fashion, entertainment and even biomedical startups.

Retrieved April 16, 2018 from https://www.ocregister.com/2018/04/14/suburbs-could-end-up-on-the-cutting-edge-of-urban-change/

Posted in demographics, History

Raising Shasta Dam

It looks like this might—finally—actually happen, wonderful news for the entire state’s water situation, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

An excerpt.

WASHINGTON — Congress and the Trump administration are pushing ahead with a plan to raise a towering symbol of dam-building’s 20th century heyday to meet the water demands of 21st century California — a project backed by San Joaquin Valley growers but opposed by state officials, defenders of a protected river and an American Indian tribe whose sacred sites would be swamped.

The fight is over Shasta Dam, at 602 feet the fourth-tallest dam in California and the cornerstone of the federal Central Valley Project, which provides water to cities and farms throughout the state. One of its biggest customers is the Westlands Water District in the arid western San Joaquin Valley, which distributes water to numerous large farms.

With enthusiastic support from Westlands, the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress want to raise the dam 18½ feet to store more water and guard against losing farmland to future droughts. Some farmers in the valley received no water at all from the Central Valley Project for two straight years during the five-year drought that ended with the winter of 2016-17.

Proponents also argue that raising Shasta would aid salmon runs decimated by its original construction in the 1940s, by storing more cold water to help the remaining downstream fish survive.

Last month, Congress gave the $1.3 billion project a $20 million cash infusion for design and other preliminary work, and the Interior Department declared that construction would start next year.

The project has been on the boards for years, but President Barack Obama’s administration shelved it because it would flood part of the McCloud River. California law protects the river as wild and scenic because it sustains “one of the finest wild trout fisheries in the state.” Congress would have to declare in separate legislation that federal interest in raising the dam supersedes the state’s authority.

The Trump administration is “pretty clearly setting up an attempt to override state law to build this project,” said Doug Obegi, a water lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. “It hits the holy trinity of destroying Native American sacred sites, violating state law and harming fish and wildlife.”

The resurrection of the Shasta project was made possible by a 2016 law sponsored by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. It instructed the interior secretary to take the lead on recommending water storage projects and moving ahead on dam building throughout the West.

Retrieved April 15, 2018 from https://www.sfchronicle.com/science/article/White-House-Congress-side-with-California-12834955.php

Posted in Shasta Auburn Dam, Water