water | food | environment — The Blog of David Guy

Conserving, protecting and loving our natural and human resources.

July 22, 2014
by David Guy
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Attend the Parsons Lodge Series in Tuolumne Meadows


Every year my family looks forward to visiting Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park—where you not only experience the beautiful alpine meadow, but you can also take in one of the wonderful presentations at the Parsons Memorial Lodge. This year, as always, the breadth of speakers provides amazing insights into Yosemite and California that we would not normally notice or think about.

Parsons Lodge

On nearly every Saturday and Sunday in July and August, the series features speakers ranging from artists and philosophers to research scientists, naturalists and historians. The full schedule of presentations is available at: Parsons Memorial Lodge Summer Series.

The Parsons Lodge is a wonderful setting that was previously a central meeting spot and reading room for the Sierra Club. It is also one of the earliest rustic stone buildings in a National Park, and it has become a trademark of National Park Service architecture. The picture shows the Parsons Lodge with the founder of the Summer Series, Margaret Eissler. She has done an amazing job assembling this series, which began in 1992. Her history with Parsons Lodge goes back to her youth, when she lived in the nearby McCauley Cabin during several summers when her parents were caretakers. See an interview with her at: Yosemite Conservancy – Q&A with a Yosemite Insider.

See you in Yosemite this summer!

June 26, 2014
by David Guy
1 Comment

Lessons Learned from the California Drought


It is not surprising that most drought discussions in the policy arena and the media inevitably focus on areas where water is not available. What is surprising, however, is that we do not pay more attention to the areas that do have reliable water supplies and better understand why these areas have reliable water supplies in the third year of the California drought.

A quick flyover of California’s economic and political centers provides a good illustration:

  • In Southern California, Metropolitan Water District and its member agencies have developed an amazing portfolio of water resources. This includes Diamond Valley reservoir (70% full); Lake Skinner (84% full) and Lake Mathews (45% full), as well as access to surface supplies in Lake Mead on the Colorado River and State Water Project facilities south of the Delta.
  • Contra Costa Water District has access to water in Los Vaqueros (82% full).
  • San Francisco has up-country and local storage totaling more than 900,000 acre-feet.
  • East Bay Municipal Water District (EBMUD) has access to storage in Lake Pardee (88% full) and it is now using its dry year water for the first time from the Sacramento River.
  • Santa Clara Valley Water District has an aggressive groundwater banking program that captures its water supplies from both the Central Valley and State Water Projects.
Diamond Valley 2

Diamond Valley Reservoir

Looking at these areas reveals several important themes that should help our policy-makers better plan and prepare for the next drought.

First, these urban water purveyors should all be commended for their leadership in developing water portfolios that serve them and their customers well during these dry periods. This did not happen by accident—these agencies have all made significant strategic investments in their portfolios and particularly their storage reservoirs that they are all calling upon this year. These agencies are all challenged in their own ways to manage and prepare their supplies for this dry period, but it is clear that the investments made by their ratepayers are paying off this year.

Second, the urban water agencies all have aggressive conservation programs that have helped them stretch their available supplies as populations increase; yet when looking at dry periods like this year, it is their access to real, tangible surface water supplies–integrated with their groundwater resources–that is the key to their drought programs and the ability to serve customers this year. The value of water storage, both surface and groundwater, to these urban areas cannot be overlooked this year and is instructive to other areas that do not have water supplies.

Finally, as policy makers consider actions to help California prepare for drought, an analysis of areas that have reliable water supplies is important. To be sure, rural areas in California do not have the same financial and political capital as urban California; yet if we care about our state’s diverse geography and are serious about a dynamic rural California that includes vibrant farms, wildlife refuges, fisheries, recreation, open space and rural communities—all of which urban people rely upon every day for their sustenance and pleasure–we must come together as a state to encourage private and public partnerships to help provide for and assure water for all these beneficial purposes during the next drought. The lessons learned in urban areas this year are instructive and a good starting point for helping the people in California understand how we can best prepare for the next drought.

Diamond Valley Reservoir

Diamond Valley Reservoir

May 22, 2014
by David Guy
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Sacrament: a California Treasure


In a brilliant new display on the intersection between the natural and human landscape, Butte County photographer Geoff Fricker explores the essence of the Sacramento Valley and reveals why the region is a California treasure that is unparalleled anywhere in the world.

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In Sacrament: Homage to a River, Geoff pursues visual artistry to capture the vital interface between the natural and human landscape in the Sacramento Valley—a real place where we live and spend our daily lives. Through the imagery, Geoff moves gracefully from the past to proffer a vibrant future for the Sacramento Valley that works in concert with its rivers and streams. This includes images of diversion dams that have since been removed, as well as fish screens and ladders that have been recently added—all to provide better habitat for migrating salmon while supporting the local farms and wildlife refuges. “A thriving agricultural community and environment are dependent on the health of rivers and streams.”

In his preface to the photographs, Geoff reveals that his “connection to rivers, creeks, and water, as well as photography, runs deep and long.” Growing up along the American River near Sacramento provided the motivation and inspiration for this collection of black and white photographs: He recalls his youth fishing, swimming and catching crawdads along the river. “Naturally I developed a fascination with the history of the human presence on the banks of the river as well.” To provide visual context for the photographs, Geoff uses a specially designed 8×10 camera poised at an elevated position on a hydraulic lift on his truck.

For a slideshow of Geoff’s work, visit his website at: geoffricker.com. Sacrament: Homage to a River is available from Berkeley publisher Heyday Books at: Heyday Books. His work will also be on display at the California Museum beginning on June 10. For more information see: California Museum.

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March 16, 2014
by David Guy
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Sagacity: A different, innovative and possibly better way to think about water management during these challenging times


History is replete with ideas that were ahead of their time. Sagacity in the context of agricultural water management is one such idea. As California wrestles with this dry period, the relationships between surface water use and both groundwater and surrounding environmental values becomes more acute. I propose that California would be well served by revisiting the concept of sagacity as a tool that better reflects these important relationships.

Sagacity emerged in 1997 when professors from California Polytechnical State University in San Luis Obispo wrote a paper: “Irrigation Sagacity: A Performance Parameter for Reasonable and Beneficial Use.” Although the paper received considerable attention at the time, the concepts in the paper seemed to disappear over the ensuing years.

For the past several decades, there has been a zeal for pure mathematical and engineering efficiency in water resources management that disregarded the context in which water is used; the larger dynamic surrounding water management for various beneficial purposes; and the relevant tradeoffs that water resources managers face every day. During this time, our societal values in water have evolved and policy leaders are increasingly recognizing the tradeoffs water resources managers face. Inherently, the zeal for precision in efficiency has led to unintended consequences in many areas, where, for example, the environment

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and groundwater resources have suffered as a result of pure mathematical efficiency.

To help avoid these unintended consequences, I propose that policy makers interested in good water management revisit irrigation sagacity and how it can help in today’s water policy debate. In its broadest context, sagacity is from the root sage, meaning wise, prudent or shrewd. The concept in the paper is that under the California Constitution, Article X, section 2, water must be used in a reasonable and beneficial manner. Sagacity is a performance parameter that embodies this two-part standard and helps provide a technical context to these terms. If adopted as a meaningful metric, sagacity would provide guidance and presumably encouragement to water resources managers to manage water in a more holistic way that reflects values that are not captured in pure efficiency equations. Conversely, non-sagacious uses are those uses that have no economic, practical or other justification; and, thus should not be the basis for water use, particularly during critical years.

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Sagacity is a concept that deserves further attention, particularly during these challenging times. I encourage you to read the paper in more detail at: Irrigation sagacity: a measure of prudent water use.

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January 22, 2014
by David Guy
1 Comment

More Challenging than 1977?


With all the discussions surrounding the dry year, there are many comparisons to 1976-77, one of the sharpest dry periods in recent history. Yet, as we look at and plan for 2014, it is becoming increasingly obvious that managing our precious water resources in 2014 will be much more challenging than

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it was in the 1970s. First, the inflow numbers in 2014 are less than 1977, as shown in the CDEC graphs below.

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For up to date info see: Department of Water Resources – California Data Exchange Center

Second, the context in which water resources managers throughout the state are operating today is dramatically different and more constrained than 38 years ago. Policy makers should all understand the major differences, which include:

To be sure, water resources managers in all parts of the state have done an amazing job evolving and stretching water supplies to meet all these various beneficial purposes during these four decades. Yet there is more work ahead…..

For the State of California, the first order of business is to get through the immediate dry period. At the same time, it is imperative that we seriously look at longer-term solutions, learn from this current dry period, water needs when we have a drought four decades from now.

September 27, 2013
by David Guy
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A Call to Urban Leaders


There is an increasing call on urban leaders in California to develop the next generation of economic and environmental policies that will improve our natural and working landscapes for the benefit of both urban and rural areas.

In a new and provocative book, Colombia Professor Vishaan Chakrabarti challenges us to think differently about the role of cities and he posits that cities are the key to

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solving the environmental, cultural, economic, and social problems that confront the future of 21st-century America. In A Country of Cities: A Manifesto for an Urban America he argues that “intelligent planning and design can turn our cities into drivers of progressiveness and stewardship.”

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“Imagine a new countryside dotted with large cities and small towns, dominated by trains, towers, and trees, with little but agriculture and nature in between. Imagine this transformation occurring in a matter of decades, just as it took only a few quick decades in the twentieth century to transform the beauty of America into anonymous sprawl. Imagine this new landscape, this Country of Cities, resulting not from new regulations or burdensome mandates but from the agency of ordinary Americans exercising market-based choices, free from the suburbanizing manipulations of the federal government.”

“Imagine a nation that embraced the indisputable facts about the economic, ecological, and health benefits of cities and, as a consequence, directed its intellectual energies toward the development of hyperdensity at the local level, defying NIMBYism and an outdated national-planning apparatus that attempts but fails to work for the public good.”

He specifically urges Americans to invest in an “Infrastructure of Opportunity” that includes transportation, water, sewage and electricity. He advances hyperdensity to make new infrastructure more affordable because it lowers the per-capita cost of construction and yields extra tax revenues.

At the heart of his manifesto, he challenges urban leaders to look inward and develop solutions within urban areas that will lead to both economic prosperity and environmental stewardship. These strategies, if properly implemented, will not only make cities more vibrant; it will also help preserve rural areas and their farming, recreational and wilderness values. These rural values—both as working and natural landscapes—will gain even more importance as more dense populations will rely upon and seek more high quality food, recreational opportunities and the spiritual virtues in bucolic and sublime settings outside the urban areas.

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In California, this suggests that urban leaders, in addition to advancing hyperdensity as a land use policy, should also evolve their mindset in securing resources, such as water and energy supplies, by pursuing collaborative and innovative solutions that preserve the sustainability of rural areas rather than colonialism that has been the model for a large part of the past century.

tappedout.pdfcover

There are other thought leaders who are also seeking urban-based solutions. In an article in Water Policy, “Tapped Out: How Can Cities Secure their Water Future,” the authors advocate for urban-rural partnerships and contend that cities must begin playing a much larger and broader role in resolving water scarcity issues for two primary reasons: 1) cities are experiencing regular shortages and 2) cities are directly dependent upon agriculture for their sustenance (i.e., food).

Congratulations to Professor Chakrabarti. He has presented a thoughtful and compelling view that deserves attention.

To see an abridged video of one of his lectures, see: Video: A Country of Cities.

August 30, 2013
by David Guy
0 comments

Conscious Capitalism


Whole Foods appeals to our food conscious culture and it is firmly imbedded in the relationship between our society and what they eat and drink. Within this fabric of Whole Foods is a story about conscious capitalism that provides valuable insights into concepts of sustainability, as well as the important role of innovation and entrepreneurism in food and our environment.

ConsciousCapitalism

Jon Mackey, a co-Chief Executive Officer for Whole Foods, has written an excellent book on Conscious Capitalism with professor Raj Sisodia. The book was recommended to me by Homer Lundberg, one of the venerable generation of brothers who have provided rice products since the start of Whole Foods. (Homer’s nephew Bryce is now the Chairman of Northern California Water Association). I also recommend the book for those interested in business, as well as those seeking to improve our social, cultural and environmental fabric.

The tension between profits and social responsibility cannot be ignored; yet, many of the most innovative leaders in our country are seeking new and creative ways to weave together these concepts. Interestingly, Mackey started Whole Foods as a skeptic on capitalism; but as he built the company he came to believe that capitalism provides more value to society than any other alternative economic system we have seen. He describes this transformation in detail in his book.

“Far from being a necessary evil (as it is often portrayed), free-enterprise capitalism is an extraordinarily powerful system for eliciting, harnessing, and multiplying human ingenuity and industry to create value for others. It must be defended not just on the basis of its profits it generates, but also on the basis of its fundamental morality. Free-enterprise capitalism must be grounded in an ethical system based on value creation for all stakeholders.”

“Conscious Capitalism is an evolving paradigm for business that simultaneously creates multiple kinds of value and well-being for all stakeholders: financial, intellectual, physical, ecological, social, cultural, emotional ethical and even spiritual. This new operating system for business is in far greater harmony with the ethos of our time and the essence of our evolving beings.”

In October 2011, I blogged on shared value—some fresh thinking at the time out of Harvard University, where organizations generate economic value to serve their business interests in a way that simultaneously produces value for society by addressing social and environmental challenges. Conscious Capitalism carries forward the creative thinking in this arena.

Today, as I look across California’s

Sacramento Valley, the leaders I have worked with for the past several decades understand this ethos, it is ingrained in their psyche, and they pursue this type of business model in an effective manner. In fact, they are worldwide leaders in the pursuit of Mackey’s conscious capitalism. In the final analysis, it is the integrated nature of these shared values that defines the Sacramento Valley and makes it a truly special and unique region.

August 19, 2013
by David Guy
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Conscientious Food Production in the Sacramento Valley


Our food system is complicated. Credit Mark Bittman, the lead food columnist for the New York Times Magazine, for making the time in a busy journalistic world to take a deeper look at food production in California’s Sacramento Valley. His commentary is very straightforward and provides a very honest assessment of producing food in the Sacramento Valley, with all the challenges involving markets, land, labor, water and energy.

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He toured Bruce Rominger’s farm near Winters, where he focused on 82 acres of tomato plants for canning and declared that “they were better than any tomatoes – even so-called heirlooms—sold in any supermarket.” “Rominger is managing his fields conscientiously and, by today’s standards, progressively.” Bruce Rominger is a leader in agricultural, water and land use policy, where he joins other progressive leaders throughout the Sacramento Valley who are engaged in conscientious land use and water practices.

Mr. Bittman’s general conclusion is that our society needs to pay “enough for food so that everything involved in producing it—land, water, energy and labor—is treated well. And since sustainability is a journey, progress is essential…..”

The commentary with pictures can be seen at – Opinionator: Not All Industrial Food is Evil.

 

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July 18, 2013
by David Guy
0 comments

A New Environmentalism for California


University of California Professor Jay Lund this past week penned a viewpoint

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in the Sacramento Bee asserting that “California needs a new environmentalism to set a more effective and sustainable green bar for the nation and even the world.”

In this blog over the past several years we have explored concepts surrounding a new environmentalism, particularly involving the intersection of water, food and the environment in a California that has 38 million people and is projected to reach 50 million in the next decades. To borrow from Professor Lund, we are in a state of continually searching for ways

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to “shape a more environmentally friendly future.”

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In a compelling part of his viewpoint, he provides that “a new environmentalism is needed that can redirect and reconcile human activities to better support and even expand habitat for native species. Rather than insist on blocking human use to protect nature—a largely quixotic quest now—environmental reconciliation works in and with unavoidably human habitats.”

He cites a good example in the Sacramento Valley, a region where there has been strong leadership and numerous examples over the past several decades of “diverse interests working together to create more promising environmental solutions.” Collectively, these various efforts have led to improved migratory corridors and habitat in the Sacramento Valley—both for birds along the Pacific Flyway and for salmon in the region’s rivers.

The viewpoint can be seen at: Viewpoints: Environmental shifts is needed towards solutions. The more detailed report from the Public Policy Institute of California is available at: Managing California’s Water: From Conflict to Reconciliation.

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July 18, 2013
by David Guy
0 comments

Visit Yosemite and Tuolumne Meadows this Summer


The Parsons Memorial Lodge hosts an excellent summer series in the beautiful Tuolumne Meadows that began in 1992. Plan a weekend in Yosemite and take in one of the presentations. My family has been attending the series for many years–the breadth of speakers provides amazing insights into Yosemite that we would not normally notice or think about.

Parsons Lodge

On nearly every Saturday and Sunday in July and August, the series features speakers ranging from artists and philosophers to research scientists, naturalists and historians. The full schedule of presentations is available at Parsons Lodge Memorial Summer Series.

The Parsons Lodge is a wonderful setting that was previously a central meeting spot and reading room for the Sierra Club. It is also one of the earliest rustic stone buildings in a National Park, and it has become a trademark of National Park Service architecture. The picture shows the Parsons Lodge with the founder of the Summer Series, Margaret Eissler. She has done an amazing job assembling this series. Her history with Parsons Lodge goes back to her youth, when she lived in the nearby McCauley Cabin during several

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Yosemite Insider

See you in Yosemite this summer!

Parsons Memorial Lodge Summer Series