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Hi Chris,

I had a wonderful time and learned a lot at your workshop. Thanks for the knowledge.

Jellether rastamom49@gmail.com

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Coachella Valley has a ways to go. They lag behind even Las Vegas in water conservation efforts.

The pitfalls of talking to the press. In an article in the Desert Sun on how Las Vegas does a better job conserving water than the Coachella Valley in California (home to wealthy tourist enclaves like Palm Springs, and Desert Mirage, for those who aren’t sure why the comparison is being made), I was quoted about Las Vegas’ current efforts:

“They’ve designed their programs to go after maximum water savings, while having enough water to support the landscape that’s appropriate for a desert environment,” said Chris Brown, a water conservation consultant and former executive director of the California Urban Water Conservation Council. “That’s what I’d support for the Coachella Valley. It doesn’t make sense to import an English lawn.”  http://tinyurl.com/nel79pe

The problem that I have with the article is they give Pat Mulroy, a self-promoter if ever there was one, credit for “spearheading” Las Vegas water conservation efforts. The truth is that she was an ardent critic of water conservation in the late 80s and early 90s when Rob Rosenthal, Jeff Van Ee, Jim Deacon, Phil Regli, and I began pushing for the landscape conversion programs which Las Vegas has now been running for more than a decade.

A combination of grassroots pressure, academics with integrity, and even her own staff recognizing that the Las Vegas Water Grab was not going to save development in Las Vegas, saw water conservation go from window dressing  to the top priority in Las Vegas water plans. The evidence is there in documents, but reporters don’t have the time to go back and do their homework anymore, so they just write down what she tells them, that she was the head of the pack, when it is more like she finally understood which way the crowd was headed, grabbed the flag of conservation, and ran to the front of the line.

One can only hope that in the face of global warming, the current water managers in Las Vegas get it, and turn the window dressing into real conservation. Tucson, AZ uses less than 1/2 the amount of water per person as Las Vegas!

The vast amounts of money that Pat and the Southern Nevada Water authority wasted on the Water Grab over the past two decades may yet come back to puncture her self proclaimed hero status with the pain of reality. Over the past two years since she resigned, the news has not been good for her legacy in the temple to mammon. Lawsuits filed by former workers allege not only good money thrown after bad, but a coverup to keep the public in the dark.

And the water managers in Coachella sound pretty smug in the article that their water rights on the Colorado are more senior than Las Vegas’. They need to remember that water rights are only as good as the water in the river, and that once the water in Lake Mead falls below the outfall on the dam, it won’t be arriving at their pumps.

Chris

Headlines get it Wrong: Court Ruling Does NOT Stop Tiered Pricing

Headline writers across California are misinterpreting the April 20, 2015 Appeals Court decision to invalidate San Juan Capistrano’s water budget water rates. It is easy to confuse the tiers of a traditional tiered rate, where the user pays more per unit after their consumption exceeds a defined threshold with budget-based rates.

The Court clearly said they were not ruling out tiered rates. They pointed out that San Juan Capistrano’s budget-based rates did not tie the water rate increase between tiers to cost of service. Budget-based allocations look like tiered rates, because unit prices go up, but the underlying assumption in where the tiers are set and how much the price increases is all the difference, and this is what the court ruling addresses.

Budget-based rates allocate an amount of water to each customer that they’ll pay a lower rate for. Some of this water is estimated to be for indoor use, and the rest for outdoor water use. The hallmark of a budget-based rate is that if you have a large lot, and irrigate turfgrass, you get more of this inexpensive water than someone who has a small lot, or who irrigates a low-water use garden.

A traditional tiered rate, which the court explicitly said it was not ruling against, charges everyone in a customer class the same amount for each tier —  the point being that the rates are tied to the extra costs of delivering more water, regardless of what you use it for: turfgrass, large lot, koi pond, swimming pool, and so on. The customer’s lot size and landscape choices don’t matter.

The results of a traditional tiered water rate are that customers with larger lots or wasteful water practices pay more, because it costs the utility  more for bigger pipes and pumps, higher energy and maintenance costs to deliver more water, than it would if all the customers were conserving, and the utility could use smaller pipes, smaller pumps, and run everything at lower pressure, with lower energy and maintenance costs.

So high water users should pay more – they cost the utility more to serve. But the court said to San Juan Capistrano – you have to show how the rate structure ties to your costs.

So please, mainstream media, calm down, and quit telling everyone that the courts have delivered a blow against conservation. What they really delivered a blow against was allocation-based rates, where the customer is given more cheap water for watering a large lot, when their neighbors with smaller lots, get less of that cheap water.

Speech on Drought at People’s Climate March in Sacramento

Text of Speech I gave this afternoon in Sacramento.

Water is life. We know this but we usually have more pressing concerns to contemplate, and besides, our civilization has, in this country, and for about ½ the world’s population, built systems to deliver it to our home, where we can turn it on at a moment. Let’s take a moment now to look at your neighbors, and the trees and plants around us.
The water in your body has likely, during the millions of years of existence of life on this planet, shared space with the water in your neighbor’s body, these plants, and the animals around us. It shared those spaces in a river, a cloud, or the ocean. Because water is on the move, it flows.
It is the medium by which our blood carries nutrients from our food; by which plants turn sunlight into fruit and vegetables; by which, through evaporation and condensation, water is moved from ocean to mountain top recreating the rivers which flow to the sea. It is the means by which energy is stored in the atmosphere, and as we disrupt the climate with our release of carbon from fossil fuels, we can see the chaos we are beginning to inflict on the weather.
If you read mainstream media about the drought, you will often see the phrase, “which may be related to climate change,” but this is not consistent with the facts we know. In 2011, the CA Department of Water Resources released a study showing that the rate of snowmelt from the Sierras has declined over the past hundred years, which coincides with a slight increase in atmospheric temperatures and with the enormous growth in industrial civilization which came here in pursuit of gold and has stayed.
Historic and archeological evidence shows us that California’s hydrological cycle used to be dominated by snows in the mountains in winter and snowmelt in the spring and summer, filling the central valley with water in lakes and wetlands which would last for months, long into the summer. Since 2000, records show us that the snow melt has been starting and finishing earlier and earlier, and in the past three years the peak has come and gone before the end of April
In April this year, scientists from universities around California gathered in this building behind me to share their studies that showed that this is the worst drought recorded in California, precisely because of its relation to climate change. Increases in temperature of even a few degrees increase the evaporation rates, increase transpiration by plants, dry out the soils and thus make droughts worse moving forward into a dryer future.
And we are likely to have a dryer future. This year’s changes in weather were related to the jet steam, and the same fluctuations which created a polar vortex in the eastern US, created the ridiculously resilient ridge of high pressure which blocked winter storms from reaching the Sierras. As the arctic ice continues to melt more and more each year, we can expect further disruption to the jet stream.
For the first time recorded, more than 80% of California is in extreme or exceptional drought.
Seventeen towns in California were notified by the State Water Resources Control Board that their water supplies were so low that they would have to reduce all use to meeting only basic human needs. Porterville California has begun trucking in water.
Billions of dollars in agriculture are projected to be lost, hundreds of thousands of acres are fallowed, and thousands of people have lost the jobs which their families depend upon.
And because our civilization continues to release megatons of carbon into the atmosphere, we need to get used to this as the future – more droughts, more weather challenges, a dryer, hotter and more stormy California.
What can we do about this?
First, the legislature needs to fix our broken water rights system. We still manage water by prior appropriation, the doctrine of the playground: I got here first, it is mine. A study from UC Davis recently pointed out that under past decisions, the State has issued more rights for water than there is water in the rivers in most years. It may be difficult, it will certainly be cause for lawsuits, but we cannot move forward into a more chaotic future with this system.
The legislature recently took baby steps to manage our groundwater resources. We are the last state in the union to do so. But the new rules allow local districts 5 years to get pumping under control. Many of them will do a good job, but for other aquifers the wild west attitude of “there it is, take it,” will go on for the next 5 years leading to more overpumping, ground subsidence and permanent loss of resources.
We need a new system of water management which recognizes our connectedness, which adapts to our needs for food and human survival, and protects the environment upon which we depend and are a part of. With less water in future years, this will mean prioritizing food crops over luxuries, pricing water to discourage waste, and changing our urban landscape to reflect the biome we live in, not the English lawn.
This will not happen overnight, and we ourselves need to develop new habits. More than ½ of Sac Metro area is paved or under roofs. For every inch of rain, more than 3 billion gallons rush down our gutters into the streets, picking up pollutants and carrying them to the delta. That water used to percolate into the land, helping to produce one of the healthiest ecosystems on the planet.
We need to replenish and restore our soils. This is something each of us can do, by tearing out our lawns, reshaping our landscape to capture rain, and using the graywater from our laundry to grow a little of the food we need to survive.
For every lb of food we grow ourselves, that is a lb that does not need groundwater, does not get put on a truck, and reduces the carbon from fossil fuels burned, and leaves that carbon in the ground.
Drought is a challenge, and as we have seen from the King fire, it is dangerous too. But it is also an opportunity, as Ben Franklin said, “You never know the value of water until the well runs dry.”
Drought has our attention, and it has the governor’s attention. Let’s use this opportunity to change our laws and our habits and reduce our carbon footprint.

People's climate march sacramento

Speech on Drought at People’s Climate March in Sacramento

Here’s the text of the speech i gave at the Sacramento People’s Climate March this afternoon:

Water is life. We know this but we usually have more pressing concerns to contemplate, and besides, our civilization has, in this country, and for about ½ the world’s population, built systems to deliver it to our home, where we can turn it on at a moment. Let’s take a moment now to look at your neighbors, and the trees and plants around us.

The water in your body has likely, during the millions of years of existence of life on this planet, shared space with the water in your neighbor’s body, these plants, and the animals around us. It shared those spaces in a river, a cloud, or the ocean. Because water is on the move, it flows.

It is the medium by which our blood carries nutrients from our food; by which plants turn sunlight into fruit and vegetables; by which, through evaporation and condensation, water is moved from ocean to mountain top recreating the rivers which flow to the sea. It is the means by which energy is stored in the atmosphere, and as we disrupt the climate with our release of carbon from fossil fuels, we can see the chaos we are beginning to inflict on the weather.

If you read mainstream media about the drought, you will often see the phrase, “which may be related to climate change,” but this is not consistent with the facts we know. In 2011, the CA Department of Water Resources released a study showing that the rate of snowmelt from the Sierras has declined over the past hundred years, which coincides with a slight increase in atmospheric temperatures and with the enormous growth in industrial civilization which came here in pursuit of gold and has stayed.

Historic and archeological evidence shows us that California’s hydrological cycle used to be dominated by snows in the mountains in winter and snowmelt in the spring and summer, filling the central valley with water in lakes and wetlands which would last for months, long into the summer. Since 2000, records show us that the snow melt has been starting and finishing earlier and earlier, and in the past three years the peak has come and gone before the end of April

In April this year, scientists from universities around California gathered in this building behind me to share their studies that showed that this is the worst drought recorded in California, precisely because of its relation to climate change. Increases in temperature of even a few degrees increase the evaporation rates, increase transpiration by plants, dry out the soils and thus make droughts worse moving forward into a dryer future.

And we are likely to have a dryer future. This year’s changes in weather were related to the jet steam, and the same fluctuations which created a polar vortex in the eastern US, created the ridiculously resilient ridge of high pressure which blocked winter storms from reaching the Sierras. As the arctic ice continues to melt more and more each year, we can expect further disruption to the jet stream.

For the first time recorded, more than 80% of California is in extreme or exceptional drought.

Seventeen towns in California were notified by the State Water Resources Control Board that their water supplies were so low that they would have to reduce all use to meeting only basic human needs. Porterville, California has begun trucking in water.

Billions of dollars in agriculture are projected to be lost, hundreds of thousands of acres are fallowed, and thousands of people have lost the jobs which their families depend upon.

And because our civilization continues to release megatons of carbon into the atmosphere, we need to get used to this as the future – more droughts, more weather challenges, a dryer, hotter and more stormy California.

What can we do about this?

First, the legislature needs to fix our broken water rights system. We still manage water by prior appropriation, the doctrine of the playground: I got here first, it is mine. A study from UC Davis recently pointed out that under past decisions, the State has issued more rights for water than there is water in the rivers in most years. It may be difficult, it will certainly be cause for lawsuits, but we cannot move forward into a more chaotic future with this system.

The legislature recently took baby steps to manage our groundwater resources. We are the last state in the union to do so. But the new rules allow local districts 5 years to get pumping under control. Many of them will do a good job, but for other aquifers the wild west attitude of “there it is, take it,” will go on for the next 5 years leading to more overpumping, ground subsidence and permanent loss of resources.

We need a new system of water management which recognizes our connectedness, which adapts to our needs for food and human survival, and protects the environment upon which we depend and are a part of. With less water in future years, this will mean prioritizing food crops over luxuries, pricing water to discourage waste, and changing our urban landscape to reflect the biome we live in, not the English lawn.

This will not happen overnight, and we ourselves need to develop new habits. More than ½ of Sac Metro area is paved or under roofs. For every inch of rain, more than 3 billion gallons rush down our gutters into the streets, picking up pollutants and carrying them to the delta. That water used to percolate into the land, helping to produce one of the healthiest ecosystems on the planet.

We need to replenish and restore our soils. This is something each of us can do, by tearing out our lawns, reshaping our landscape to capture rain, and using the graywater from our laundry to grow a little of the food we need to survive.

For every lb of food we grow ourselves, that is a lb that does not need groundwater, does not get put on a truck, and reduces the carbon from fossil fuels burned, and leaves that carbon in the ground.

Drought is a challenge, and as we have seen from the King fire, it is dangerous too. But it is also an opportunity, as Ben Franklin said, “You never know the value of water until the well runs dry.”

Drought has our attention, and it has the governor’s attention. Let’s use this opportunity to change our laws and our habits and reduce our carbon footprint.

People's climate march sacramento

Taking the Message to the Home and Garden Crowd

This year, since leaving the Council I have been approached repeatedly by people for the Sacramento area who want to take action to reduce their water footprint in response to the drought. As a result I decided to adjust my message to address the grassroots. Here is some news coverage from KCRA Channel 3 in Sacramento :

The Home and Garden “show also features lectures by water-use consultant Chris Brown.

He said well intentioned homeowners often make the mistake of purchasing expensive, new irrigation systems but do not design them properly.

‘The irrigation design is not adequate for the spacing and you end up watering the sidewalk or the curb, which is not going to grow no matter how much you water it,’ said Brown.

He also advised people to purchase faucets, toilets and shower heads that feature the federal government’s Water Sense logo.

‘(It) guarantees you 20 percent savings over the average use of whatever is on the market today. And those products have been tested,’ said Brown.”

Water Fight Will Illustrate How Little We Know

The newly launched struggle over water use in the Delta is to be expected as the California drought reaches historic proportions. On one side are farmers and fisherman who make a living off water flows in the Delta, while on the other are the federal and state agencies which use the Delta as a conveyance system to move water stored behind dams to its intended customers, or who release water to maintain the health of the system. (Sacbee article) This fight is for water over-tapped by almost 40 million humans, commercial and industrial pursuits, fisheries, and agriculture which provides staples and luxury crops to the entire world.

The water which we use to support all our human pursuits is the same water used by the plants and animals, which make up a healthy environment upon which all life depends. This new water rights fight reemphasizes the serious lack of information that Californians have about our groundwater. Absent a statewide groundwater law or regulation, the current dispute may end up unresolved and unresolvable. Except for aquifers filled with fossil water, almost every aquifer exchanges water with other bodies, whether surface bodies or other aquifers. Water flows from one area to the next, and its direction will change as water status changes. If a new well is dug, or a quiet one turned on, the movement of water towards the well can often be measured many miles from the well, even if it takes years for a specific drop of water to reach the well.

In a drought it is common for streams and rivers in which water normally flows from the soils along the banks into the stream to reverse course, with the surface water flowing into the soils, accelerating the rate at which the watercourse goes dry. This can of course be fatal to the wildlife which lives in the river or depends upon it for drinking water and habitat. Water is the currency which supports and sustains life, moving necessary nutrients and maintaining healthy humans, animals, and the plants which exchange oxygen for CO2. It is the liquid asset which sustains the web of life, the media that communicates the substance of life and nourishes our spirits by the sounds of the trickling creek, the rushing roar of a waterfall, the crash of the surf, the drumming of a thunderstorm, the vista and scents of the sea, the crisp aroma of plants newly watered by a spring rain. A drought threatens all of these and should be cause for us to come together recognizing our mutual dependency and need, and inspire great efforts to preserve and protect the shared creation of which we are a part.

Instead we will watch as the protagonists in this drama struggle over the relative value of access to a necessary resource which is parceled up by economic concepts based upon principles like “I got here first,” and “water flows uphill towards money, and I got the money.” For the vast majority of Californians and the environment which sustains us, there is little in the law to reassure us that the water upon which we depend will be dealt with in a way which looks out for the interests of all. The script is well-worn. We will be treated to tales of woe in which this villain or that is accused of stealing from the other. All the while, the water which flows into the Delta is likely being wasted through over-irrigation or transmission losses, and some (a lot?) is simply disappearing from the river and flowing into the soils courtesy of gravity and drought rather than anyone’s pumps. But lacking groundwater data, and the authority to get it, the State Water Resource Control Board will find it has little ability to control what we cannot measure because we refuse to monitor.

5 Great Fish options for your Backyard Aquaponics System

Aquaponics show great promise for a climate like Sacramento, where lack of summer rains makes urban gardening without an irrigation source a real challenge – most California farming is done with irrigation, so the closed loop, recirculating system like aquaponics means you save the water that you get in the winter for use year round. I haven’t tried this yet, but i am seriously considering the water balance inherent in such a system.

Little Noticed Bill is a Step Backward for Water Conservation

As the 2013–2014 water year turns into the worst drought ever recorded in California water history, the state legislature has begun urgent discussions about the last unregulated water supply in the state: groundwater. Recent proclamations by the State Water Resource Control Board have limited access to surface water supplies of junior water rights holders, and have signaled that we may see restrictions on senior water rights holders as the summer goes along. While these responsible, although controversial, steps have been proceeding, a little-noticed Assembly Bill 2067, introduced by Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and supported by the San Diego County Water Authority, has been wending its way through the legislative process.

Scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Natural Resources Committee on June 10, this bill would reduce the information reported by urban water agencies about what the exact number and costs of conservation measures they perform. Why is this important? You the customer pay more for any new source of water added to your community’s water supply, so conservation will save you money in the long run.

The detailed information required by current statute includes the type and quantity of conservation practices implemented, including, when applicable, costs of the conservation programs and explanations for why demand management measures listed in the California Water Code are not being implemented. The Bill has gotten this far without a negative vote because there is a long list of outdated practices in the Code, and a number of them should be discarded. But hold on, there’s a baby in this bathwater. Four lines at the end of the list of measures require detailed information about what an agency is doing and not doing to save water.
The Water Authority is promoting removing the detailed financial information and justification for both what water agencies are doing and when they are not implementing programs that are recognized to save water. Perhaps they are concerned about future comparisons of the costs of their conservation programs versus the expensive new desalination plant they are building. But even if a desal plant is not on the horizon for all communities in California, there are two very good reasons to reject this approach.

First, with the growing impacts of global warming, dry hot years are more likely, and even in wetter years we can expect the snowpack that supplies most of the state’s water to melt quickly, leaving a longer summer dry period. This is the time of year we have historically irrigated our landscapes and farms. Second, the last time the state experienced drought, in 2009, we set a goal of 20% reduction in per capita water consumption for urban users and, as of the most recent Urban Water Management Plans (submitted in 2011), according to the Department of Water Resources report to the legislature, the cumulative target of reporting agencies fell short of that goal.
So, here we are in another drought fewer than five years later, expecting hotter dryer years ahead and yet failing to meet the goals set after the last drought. We need more information, not less, about what is working and what is not. We need to know where and how much money is being spent on water conservation by those who manage our water supplies. Allowing a public resource which is necessary for human health and safety to be reported narratively rather than detailed quantitatively as the current Code requires, will leave us begging for the “rest of the story” in future droughts.

Admittedly, changes are needed to the Code to eliminate the measures that are no longer relevant. But this bill needs amending. And while the legislature is at it they should also consider establishing goals for even further reductions in water use beyond 2020. Global warming is not going away and, unless a lot of people now living in California decide to leave, we will all need to waste less water. After a 14-year drought, Australians cut per capita water use to 75 gallons per day. Contrast that to the 192 gallons per day urban Californians are using, as last reported to DWR. We have a long way to go to reach maximum efficiency, and the public has a right to know how well we are doing, and who’s a leader and who’s a laggard.