Farmers Teach Cities how to Save Water

According to the California Department of Water Resources, California agriculture irrigates 9.6 million acres using roughly 34 million acre-feet of water (1.1 trillion gallons) diverted from surface waters or pumped from groundwater. This water produces amazing results.

California produces over 250 different crops and leads the nation in production of 75 commodities. California is the sole producer of 12 different commodities including almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, raisins, kiwifruit, olives, persimmons, pistachios, prunes and walnuts. Most of this production would not be possible without irrigation.

But agriculture often gets blamed for the West’s water woes. The notion that Central Valley farmers are receiving, and wasting, cheap subsidized water at the expense of urban users and the environment is commonly held. But many in the agricultural community are demonstrating water leadership and moving California toward more equitable and efficient water management and use.

The Oakland, California based Pacific Institute recently released a new report and video entitled California Farm Water Success Stories, which analyzes successful examples of sustainable water policies and practices.  The report highlights the best practices of several different agricultural commodities across the state.

Review the California Farm Water Success Stories video.
Watch extended video interviews with each grower.
Download the full report (pdf).

Thanks go to The Pacific Institute for their important work, and the agricultural leaders who are helping to demonstrate that we can make progress on water use in California.

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Companies and VCs Pledge $3.5 Billion for Hiring

Fresh off the federal government’s first-year progress report on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and its creation of roughly 1.2 million jobs (recipient reported) through December 31, 2009, chip maker Intel announced a $3.5 billion initiative to support investment in U.S.-based growth-oriented industries.

Led by Intel and supported by several venture capital firms and corporations, the Invest in America Alliance aims to invest in technology innovation and job creation.

Intel Capital and 24 venture capital firms plan to invest $3.5 billion in U.S.-based technology companies over the next 2 years. The $200 million Intel Capital Invest in America Technology Fund will target innovation and growth segments such as clean technology, information technology and biotechnology.

Further investment in clean tech appears to be needed. According to analysis by Ernst & Young, using data from Dow Jones VentureSource, 2009 investment in the clean-tech sector hit $2.6 billion with 193 deals, a 50% plunge in dollar amount and a 16% slide in the number of deals compared to 2008.

The LA Times reports that the San Francisco Bay Area led the charge, with $1.2 billion in investments pouring in throughout the year; $295.6 million coming in during the fourth quarter. Southern California came in next, raising $329.5 million in 2009, with $30.5 million invested in the last quarter. New England brought in $283.7 million for the entire year, $38 million of it during the fourth quarter.

The Invest in America Alliance also includes commitments from 17 technology and other corporate leaders to increase their hiring of college graduates, some by as much as two times. Companies joining Intel included Accenture, Adobe Systems Incorporated, Autodesk, Broadcom Corporation, CDW LLC., Cisco, Dell, eBay, Inc., EMC Corporation, GE, Google, Inc., HP, Liberty Mutual Group, Marvell Semiconductor Inc., Microsoft Corporation, and Yahoo!.

The road to job recovery appears to be getting re-paved with dollars.

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Electric Power Industry Facing Water-Use Disclosure Risk

The U.S. electric power industry withdraws an estimated 136 billion gallons of freshwater per day for generating and then cooling the steam that drives electric turbines. That’s roughly 41 percent of the country’s total withdrawals according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Recent guidance from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission indicating that “changes in the availability or quality of water…can have material effects on companies,” and therefore must be disclosed, points to a future where the electric power industry will be forced to more fully disclose their water risks, which appear significant.

A new report from Ceres, a national coalition of investors, environmental groups, and other public interest organizations, provides a comprehensive assessment and ranking of water disclosure practices of 100 publicly-traded companies. The report examines eight key sectors exposed to water related risks:  beverage, chemicals, electric power, food, homebuilding, mining, oil and gas, and semiconductors.

Murky Waters: Corporate Reporting on Water Risk was issued in February 2010 and is available for download from the Ceres website. For the electric power industry, study authors highlight significant physical, regulatory, and litigation risks related to water.

  • Physical Risks: water scarcity, unpredictability of supply, amount/timing of flows for hydropower, and increased demand for carbon capture and storage.
  • Regulatory Risks: cooling water discharge temperature controls, denial of construction permits based on water availability, and wastewater discharge standards.
  • Litigation Risks: lawsuits over water withdrawals or inter-state water rights.

Ceres, with data support from Bloomberg and analytical support from UBS Limited, considered five key categories of disclosure: water accounting, risk assessment, direct operations, supply chain, and stakeholder engagement. Thirteen U.S.-based electric power companies were chosen on the basis of the size and water intensity of their generation assets. Companies included:

  • AES Corporation
  • American Electric Power
  • Constellation Energy
  • Dominion Resources
  • Duke Energy
  • Entergy
  • Exelon
  • Florida Power & Light Group
  • NRG Energy
  • PG&E
  • Pinnacle West/APS
  • Southern Company
  • Xcel Energy

Findings

The electric power sector showed weak water risk disclosure overall, with an average score of 19 out of 100. Pinnacle West/APS, an Arizona-based utility, achieved the highest level of disclosure in the sector with 38 points; Florida Power & Light  provided the most limited disclosure, receiving eight points.

1. Disclosure of Water Accounting Fewer than half (six out of 13) of the electric power companies reviewed provide data on water withdrawals.

2. Disclosure of Risk Assessment With the exception of NRG Energy, all the electric power companies surveyed disclose some level of physical risk related to water scarcity. All the companies report their exposure to water-related regulatory risks.

3. Disclosure of Direct Operations The electric power companies provide limited disclosure on water-related management systems and policies. Seven of the 13 companies report actions taken to reduce water withdrawals, with PG&E and Southern Company providing the most detailed disclosure. None of the companies disclose quantified targets to reduce contaminants in wastewater discharged from power plants.

4. Disclosure of Supply Chain Only one company – Entergy – provides information on collaboration with its non-fuel suppliers on water management. None of the companies disclose efforts to engage or assess fuel suppliers on water impacts or risks.

5. Disclosure of Stakeholder Engagement Eight out of the 13 electric power companies reviewed report engaging with stakeholders on water management.

The report concludes with several recommendations to the electric power sector:

  • Better inclusion of water risks in financial filings
  • More detailed risk assessments
  • Water accounting data that puts performance in context
  • Disclosure of management strategies and systems
  • Setting and disclosing reduction targets
  • Addressing water risks in the supply chain
  • Engaging critical stakeholders
  • Seizing opportunities to develop water-related product strategies

While carbon emissions have dominated the environmental disclosures in the recent past, water use, availability, and associated risks are likely to quickly gain center stage.

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Obama Folds Up TARP; Redirects Money to Energy Jobs

In a speech delivered yesterday at The Brookings Institute, President Obama announced a series of proposals to boost job growth. Acknowledging that the federal government must be fiscally prudent, he indicated that additional funding would come from “savings” from the Troubled Asset Relief Program or TARP.

According to the Associated Press, the Administration now estimates that the TARP will cost about $200 billion less than the $341 billion the White House estimated in August. The lower estimate reflects faster repayments by big banks and less spending on some of the rescue programs as the financial sector recovered from its free fall more quickly than anticipated.

In the world of make-believe money, that means $200 billion available to spend on other programs. The President announced three focus areas: assistance to small businesses through tax cuts and other financial incentives to hire workers; additional infrastructure (e.g., highway, transit, rail, aviation, and water) investments; and energy efficiency and clean energy investments.

For the third focus area, here’s a White House summary:

New incentives for consumers who invest in energy efficient retrofits in their homes. Smart, targeted investments in energy efficiency can help create jobs while improving our energy security and saving consumers money. The President today called on Congress to consider a new program to provide rebates for consumers who make energy efficiency retrofits. Such a program will harness the power of the private sector to help drive consumers to make cost-saving investments in their homes.

Expansion of successful oversubscribed Recovery Act programs to leverage private investment in energy efficiency and create clean energy manufacturing jobs. The Recovery Act included historic investments that have helped to build the foundation for a clean energy economy. The Administration supports expanding programs for which additional federal dollars will leverage private investment and create jobs quickly, such as industrial energy efficiency investments and tax incentives for investing in renewable manufacturing facilities in the U.S.

Consumer incentives for energy efficiency improvements are similar to the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program. To date, the DOE has awarded more than 1,700 grants, totaling over $1.9 billion. A running list of U.S. states, territories, local governments, and Indian tribes that have received monies is available on the program website. The redirected TARP money would be expected to fund additional programs.

Some DOE stimulus programs have been oversubscribed resulting in the cancellation of anticipated funding rounds,  such as with Phases II and III of the Smart Grid Investment Grants. Additional TARP monies will be used to fund certain programs, with the President calling out industrial energy efficiency and renewable manufacturing facilities.

The industrial funding appears to be in addition to the $155 million directed to industrial energy efficiency projects at 41 locations across the country announced in November. The renewable manufacturing component seems to be in addition to ARRA’s previous $2 billion worth of energy related manufacturing investment tax credits. Those credits are aimed at projects creating or retooling manufacturing facilities to make components used to generate renewable energy, storage systems for use in electric or hybrid-electric cars, power grid components supporting addition of renewable sources, and equipment for carbon capture and storage.

Faster repayment by big banks of TARP monies is welcome. Strategically allocating repaid TARP monies to fund energy infrastructure programs with long-term benefits is worthwhile.

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Another $620 Million for Smart Grid

The second of the two main smart grid funding announcements (DE-FOA-38) from DOE was issued today by Secretary Chu while visiting Columbus, Ohio. According to the Department’s press release, the award includes $620 million for projects around the country to demonstrate advanced smart grid technologies and integrated systems that will help build a smarter, more efficient, more resilient electrical grid. The 32 demonstration projects include:

  • large-scale energy storage
  • smart meters
  • distribution and transmission system monitoring devices
  • range of other smart technologies

A complete project list (pdf) is available on the DOE website.

Big winners appear to be Battelle Memorial Institute ($88 million), AEP Ohio ($75 million), LADWP ($60 million), and ConEd ($45 million), among others. The goal of the funding is to demonstrate technologies in regions across the U.S. that “embody essential and salient characteristics of each region and present a suite of use cases for national implementation and replication.”

Last month, the Department announced $3.4 billion in funding as part of its smart grid investment program.

Secretary Chu also released a video to YouTube discussing the benefits of Smart Grid.

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A Laundry List of Water Conservation Ideas

For the last seven years, Building Design and Construction magazine has provided annual updates on the green building movement. They’ve discussed the green building movement (2003), sustainability (2004), life cycle assessment (2005), green building bottom line (2006), industry perspectives (2007), climate change (2008), and now water performance (2009).

In early November, prior to the 28,000-person-attended GreenBuild conference in Phoenix, BD&C issued their 2009 white paper, which focuses on the role of water in sustainable design and construction. The editors provide a set of 21 detailed recommendations for consideration by building teams, home builders, developers, and other green building stakeholders.

The paper found that:

1. Virtually every region of the U.S. and parts of most states likely will experience water shortages in the next 10 years. Some are already feeling the effects of water scarcity.

2. More water is consumed outside buildings and homes—for landscape irrigation and cooling towers—than is used inside for toilets, faucets, showers, and the like.

3. Somewhere between 15% and 20% of the nation’s water never makes it from the filtration plant to the property line, thanks to our decaying infrastructure.

4. Manufacturers have significantly improved the efficiency of plumbing, irrigation, and water reuse technologies in recent years, but long-term conservation also depends heavily on how people use these products.

5. There may be limits to water efficiency. In some cases, saving water can lead to “unintended consequences,” such as pipeline drainage problems, health and safety concerns, and negative impacts on the environment.

6. Improvements in water performance can have a bonus: reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

7. The reuse of water may be “the next big thing” in water conservation, efficiency, and performance.

Concerning recommendations, here’s what the editors suggest…

What Building Teams Can Do

1. Design buildings to reduce cooling load.

2. Take advantage of cooling tower management technology.

3. Consider alternatives to cooling towers.

4. Design water and drain lines for optimal performance.

5. Get the landscape architect involved early in the job.

6. Become the expert on water rebates and incentives.

What Building Owners Can Do

7. Engage in water management planning.

8. Conduct water audits.

What Governments Can Do

9. Harmonize plumbing codes for water

10. Consider water-use labeling on sale or transfer.

11. Use the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) green plumbing supplement as a guide.

12. Address the infrastructure problem.

What Water Utilities Can Do

13. Be more creative in pricing water.

14. Provide incentives for water audits.

15. Implement metering innovations.

What Manufacturers Can Do

16. Support research on water performance issues.

17. Support the growth of green plumbing jobs.

What Community Colleges Can Do

18. Create a “pre-apprentice water auditor” certification program.

What the Public Can Do

19. Use less turfgrass, more native landscaping.

20. Irrigate sensibly.

21. Understand the energy cost of water.

On this last recommendation, the general public needs to understand the hidden costs of water. Water requires energy to deliver it to the end user. Water processing and distribution, coupled with sewage treatment, consumes about 4 percent of electricity in the US. In California, water transport and treatment accounts for 19% of electricity used in the state.

What are your strategies for saving water?

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Finding a Home for California’s Renewables

Back on November 17, 2008, just two weeks after Obama’s election, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued Executive Order S-14-08, which required that all retail sellers of electricity in California serve 33 percent of their load with renewable energy by 2020. This increase in the State’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) made California the leader in renewable energy standards.

As part of the order, the California Energy Commission and the California Department of Fish and Game agreed to expedite the development of RPS-eligible renewable energy resources in the state. The two agencies formed the Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT), which created a “one-stop” process for permitting renewable energy generation power plants. The federal Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the two state agencies to support the REAT.

In March 2009, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed Order 3285 establishing the development of renewable energy as a priority for the Department of the Interior. The Act encourages the production, development, and delivery of renewable energy as one of the Department’s highest priorities.

Then in October 2009, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a memorandum of understanding with Secretary Salazar to expedite the siting of renewable energy projects in California on federal land. California was the first state to sign an MOU with the Department of the Interior to cooperatively develop long-term renewable energy plans and to sheppard eligible projects through state and federal permitting processes. These eligible projects can receive 30 percent federal tax credits under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

Schwarzenegger’s Executive Orders also initiated the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) process. The DRECP aims to protect and conserve the natural resources within the Mojave and Colorado Desert regions. It also allows solar and other qualified RPS energy development in a manner that avoids or minimizes environmental impacts.

Under the DRECP, California Department of Fish and Game and US Fish and Wildlife Service will help identify the “best” areas to site renewable energy, while avoiding conflicts with endangered species and sensitive areas. That report is due out by December 2010.

To achieve the common goal of siting more renewable energy facilities, various state and federal agencies must work together to balance energy and environmental needs.

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Establishing the Electric Vehicle Capital of the U.S.

Roughly one year ago, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, along with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, announced a nine-step policy plan for transforming the Bay Area into the “Electric Vehicle Capital of the U.S.”  Where do we stand with the officially named Bay Area EV Corridor program? Here’s a summary of activities to date.

In early January 2009, San Jose was the first of the three cities to actively support electric vehicles. Electric vehicle charging station startup Coulomb Technologies installed three charging stations in the downtown San Jose area.

Not to be outdone, San Francisco followed in February by installing three charging stations (also from Coulomb) in front of City Hall in an area dubbed the Green Vehicle Showcase. The stations are now used by plug-in electric vehicles already in San Francisco’s municipal fleet, along with plug-in electric hybrids owned by car-sharing organizations City CarShare and Zipcar.

Colulomb has gone on to install charging stations across the region (searchable map) including Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, Elk Grove, West Sacramento, Walnut Creek, and Cambell (Colulomb’s headquarters). The charging stations are either stand-alone installations or attached to light posts. EV owners subscribe to Colubomb’s charging service and access the station via a smart card.

The other charging station company with plans for the region is called Better Place. At the mayoral media event last November, the company announced a $1 billion charging and battery-swapping network in the Bay Area. The company has since announced partnerships with Renault and Nissan. Given Better Place’s infrastructure-heavy approach, it may be some time before we see a station up and running here in the Bay Area.

At the state level, the California Energy Commission is focused on develop policy, clearing regulatory hurdles, and providing seed funding. The State’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program is helping a broad range of alternative transportation technologies. In April 2009, the state adopted its first investment plan with recommendations for expending $176 million over two years. The Commission is currently updating the plan for the 2010-1011 fiscal year with anticipated funding of $100 million per year.

While the Bay Area EV Corridor program is being helped by the state alternative vehicle program, it received significant planning support from efforts tied to a Regional Clean Cities ARRA grant, which proposed 109 charging stations across the region. Although the grant was not received, it laid the ground work for better coordination across the region. Now more than 100 cities, 9 counties, and 3 regional agencies are all working together to develop the EV program. A workshop summarizing activities to date was held in October.

Finally, the region’s elected representatives are also helping out in Washington. As part of the recently passed 2010 Energy and Water Appropriations bill, $1 million is allocated to the San Francisco Electric Vehicle Initiative, which will be used towards planning and building the required EV infrastructure.

Looking back over the last 12 months, I’d say much has been accomplished. What do you think?

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Water Accounting in California

Last week, the California Legislature reached an agreement to overhaul California’s water system. The plan is comprised of four policy bills and an $11.14 billion bond. After the all-night negotiating session, Governor Schwarzenegger held a press conference announcing the legislation. He later signed several of the bills.

On Monday, he signed SBX7-2 at a ceremony at Friant Dam in Fresno County. The $11.14 billion water bond measure must still be approved by voters on the November 2010 ballot.

Where exactly does all that money go? Here’s a breakdown via the Fresno Bee newspaper:

Drought Relief – $455 million

  • $190 million to reduce drought impacts and impacts of reduced Delta diversions ($100 million to San Diego County).
  • $90 million to disadvantaged and economically stressed areas.
  • $75 million to small community wastewater treatment projects.
  • $80 million for deposit to Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund ($8 million for city of Maywood water supply infrastructure upgrades).
  • $20 million for water quality/public health projects on the New River.

Regional Water Supply – $1.4 billion

  • $350 million local/regional water conveyance projects.
  • $1.05 billion for integrated regional water management projects, distributed as follows:
  • North Coast: $45 million
  • San Francisco Bay: $132 million
  • Central Coast: $58 million
  • Los Angeles/Ventura counties subregion: $198 million
  • Santa Ana subregion (Santa Ana River watershed and southern Orange County): $128 million
  • San Diego County subregion: $87 million
  • Sacramento River: $76 million
  • San Joaquin River: $64 million
  • Tulare/Kern: $70 million
  • North/South Lahontan: $51 million
  • Colorado River Basin: $47 million
  • Mountain Counties Overlay: $44 million
  • Interregional: $50 million ($10 million for UC Sierra Nevada Research Institute to analyze water supply impacts on snowpack/runoff)

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Sustainability – $2.25 billion

  • $1.5 billion for Bay Delta Conservation Plan ecosystem restoration projects; acquisition of water rights and removal of invasive species; reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Delta soils; reduce mercury contamination.
  • $750 million for Delta counties/cities for flood protection; water quality projects, agriculture preservation, and to mitigate the effects of water conveyance and ecosystem restoration (including $50 million to improve wastewater treatment facilities upstream of the Delta; $250 million to assist local government and the farm economy upon loss of farmlands for ecosystem restoration).

Water Supply – $3 billion

  • Only for public benefits associated with water storage projects, including: ecosystem and water quality improvements, flood control, emergency response, recreation. Surface or groundwater storage projects selected competitively by the California Water Commission based on the magnitude of public benefits provided. Eligible projects include Sites Reservoir in Colusa County, Temperance Flat Reservoir in Fresno County, and enlarging Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County.

Groundwater Protection/Water Quality – $1 billion

Water Recycling/Conservation – $1.25 billion

  • $1 billion for water recycling and advanced treatment projects, including desalination.
  • $250 million for urban and agricultural water conservation and efficiency projects.

Conservation/Watershed Protection – $1.785 billion

  • $40 million for projects in San Diego County ($20 million for San Diego River Conservancy).
  • $40 million for Santa Ana River Parkway; $20 million for Bolsa Chica Wetlands.
  • $100 million to Wildlife Conservation Board for water rights to benefit migratory birds.
  • $215 million to Wildlife Conservation Board to protect watershed lands, rivers, streams that support endangered species, including:
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Trees Succumbing to Climate Change

Last month, the media reported extensively on the die-off of aspen trees in the West linked to climate change. Called sudden aspen decline or SAD, the phenomenon is characterized by the death of mature over story with an absence of subsequent regeneration. Open stands at lower elevations, with south to west aspects, are more vulnerable.

The disease is responsible for the die-off of 553,000 acres (17%) of aspen in Colorado alone. Aspen stands in southwestern Colorado, northern Arizona, southern Utah and Wyoming, and southeastern Idaho are primarily affected.

Aspen is the most widely distributed tree species in North America and a vital component of almost every forest ecosystem in western North America. Drought is the principal suspect influencing the die-offs. The lack of water only weakens the trees. Secondary pathogens or insects such as such as canker fungi, wood borers, bark beetles, and clear wing moths actually kill the trees.

The Forest Service is hoping that timber harvesting and prescribed burns will lead to greater regeneration of the aspens. The following photos help document the problem.

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