Friday, February 20, 2009

Climate changing from rain to snow with some measurable flooding impacts

We had flood warnings over the weekend that didn't amount to much, fortunately. Yesterday the weather cleared enough to show the Mount Hamilton Range covered in snow, which helps a great deal. The higher-altitude precipitation comes down as snow instead of rain during storm events and melts slowly over a period of days, instead of surging down in a few hours with all the other rain.

That's how it's happened in the past and today, but will be less true in the future due to climate change. While more intense storms and flooding are a possible consequence of warming due to changed weather patterns, that effect is hard to quantify. Changing from snow to rain, however, isn't so hard to make some rough calculations.

The saturated adiabatic lapse rate is just under 5 degrees Celsius per 1000 meters. The standard prediction from the latest International Panel on Climate Change for warming in the next few decades is .2 degrees Celsius per decade. Putting the two figures together means that after ten years, the snow line in a typical storm would be 40 meters higher than today, or 80 meters higher after 20 years (about 130 and 260 feet, respectively). While that may not sound like a lot, it could potentially turn a great deal of snowfall into rain, and it's only going to get worse.

While this is far from the most serious climate change impact, it's fairly quantifiable. The question is whether land use agencies will take this under consideration in their new responsibilities to prepare for flooding.


UPDATE: See page 2 to see a graph of California temperatures. It's in Fahrenheit, but looks like roughly .5 degrees/decade, or about the same as the IPCC global prediction in Celsius.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Meeting notes on AB162 - new requirements for General Plans to address flooding

(Another in my occasional series of notes from meetings, this one a briefing by the Water District to other agencies regarding new requirements under California law AB162 to address flooding issues in General Plan revisions. Hopefully it translates beyond just being notes to myself. -Brian)

AB162 Meeting Notes Feb 18 at Water District

Mandatory for housing revision after 1/1/09

Also requires flood analysis in land use, housing, conservation, and safety

Requires local govts to collaborate plan for and reduce flood risks

Requires update frequency, content analyses for flood and data required

Q for audience when planning GP updates?

Mtn View expects complete by end 2010

Water Board proposing new beneficial use - flood storage

County just working on housing

San jose – almost done with housing, comp update end by 2011

Palo Alto – amending GP just cleanup, draft hsg by june 30

Cupertino – updating housing, haven't begun GP update

Santa Clara city – GP update in 2010

Campbell Sunnyvale, LA Hills – working on hsg

General hierarchy of 162

Rv FEMA maps, DWR maps, any relevant COE maps/data

162 says updates of hsg triggers updates of two other elements (my note – if this is true, major probs ahead)

Water Dist draft Comp Plan URL:

Land use element

162 req annual rv of areas subject to mapping from FEMA and DWR – NEW

Must i.d. flood risk areas – overlay

Specified data from FEMA or DWR

Releasing gis online in may

Other data also useful – such as historic flooding data from Wat Dist – flood damages reports dating back to 1967 with maps

Online at – flood protection – flooding in valley – historic flood reports

My notes – this is good – cannot ignore historic flooding data

Opportunity to consider how imperv surface lead to increased flooding among other impacts

Conservation element – upon next revision of hsg element, the conservation element – i.d. streams, flood corridors, rip habitats, and land that may accommomodate flloddwater for purposes of groundwater recharge and stormwater mgmt.

My note – recharge, not just stormwater

Where do you get data

Gis based stream maps

Recharge maps

Project specific info – quicklinks – gis – looks like needs arcview software

Useful piece of info –

Safety element – reviewed every time housing element reviewed

Min risks of llod to new development; evaluate whether ne dev should be located flood zones; maintain pub services during flooding; locate essential facilities outside flood hazard; establish coop among pub agencies resp for flood protection

A flood ordinance can replace or be the relevant part of safety element if meets same requirements

Opportunities – policies that reduce runoff and increase absorption

Housing - consider level of protection provided by flood mgmt infrastructure

City of Richmond incorporating a climate change element into their GP

Feb 26th joint venture climate change and transprortclimate action plan for san jose

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Of mice and men (men's and women's trash, that is)

Two news items of note:

A significant piece of disinformation from the DrudgeReport, Washington Times, and various anti-environment website claim that $30 million from the stimulus package will be spent on the salt marsh harvest mouse in Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco Congressional District. It's not true, as laid out by Paul Rogers in the Mercury News. A portion of the $30 million that the California Coastal Commission has in "shovel-ready" projects involve wetland restoration, and some of that includes the South Bay Salt Ponds restoration. That land has already been purchased by the government and just needs funding to begin the restoration process for the benefits of hunters, fishermen, wildlife viewers, game species, and endangered species including, yes, the harvest mouse. It's unfortunate that anti-environmental groups would misuse false statements.

Second, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Board has listed many streams in the South Bay as "impaired" due to trash (news article here, more information at the Water Board website here). This means we need to do a lot more to get trash out of streams, and supports the carry-out bag fee now being considered by Morgan Hill and other local cities.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Two environmental victories

Important not to overlook these victories. At the end of 2008, Santa Clara County instituted new "Green Building" rules for residential development that required minimizing the impacts from new residences and major remodels (info here).

While the County staff planned to require more from larger homes, they also planned to stop requiring more at a certain point. We successfully convinced the County that monster mansion impacts continue as they increase in size, so the required "Build It Green" points needed will also have to increase with size.

The new standards will reduce the climate change impacts from the homes, they encourage such things as native plant use and reduced visibility, and the reduce the economic incentive for sprawling monster mansions, all of which supports CGF's core mission.

The second ongoing victory is at Moffett Field, where the US Navy took another major step towards restoring polluted lands as tidal wetlands. CGF had been involved in this effort several years ago (a major effort by Save the Bay), and when the Navy indicated it would go in this direction, we've limited ourselves to monitoring it. Great to see it moving closer to realization.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Fire Threat Maps

Just a note for myself and others - the California Fire Threat Map is here. Much of our hillsides are "Very High" fire hazard rated, still more reason not to develop them.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

NOP Comments for El Rancho San Benito Master Community Specific Plan

(CGF submitted the following comments for a massive project proposed in San Benito County that could affect Santa Clara County. -Brian)

February 2, 2009

Re: NOP Comments for El Rancho San Benito Master Community Specific Plan

Dear Mr. Henriques;

Please consider the following in preparation of the EIR for the El Rancho San Benito project:

· Effect on 500 year floods – it is foreseeable that flooding impacts will be considered by FEMA within the 500 year time frames. One can reasonably assume the constructed project will last at least 50 years, giving a 10% chance of a 500-year flood, and non-negligible chances of multiple 500-year floods. These impacts are not remote and speculative and therefore must be addressed.

· Hydromodification basin in flood plain – the EIR must address how it will function during flooding, when the current information about the project suggests the basin will itself be flooded during peak periods.

· Cumulative impacts of increased impervious surfaces not addressed by NPDES permits must themselves be addressed. Simple compliance with NPDES permits is insufficient to eliminate all cumulative impacts because NPDES permits contain exemptions for the size of storm event to be mitigated, cost of mitigation etc. See attached White Paper for more information.

· Cut and fill – should not assume that the need for cut and fill will occur simultaneously, addressing only the difference between the two. The EIR should assume the fill need will occur first, and track impact of needing the entire fill, and should assume the cut need will occur later and describe impact of disposing of the cut material

· The Amah-Mutsun Native American community should be consulted regarding areas of cultural significance.

· The EIR should address wetlands impacts as defined by either soils, standing water, or hydrophitic vegetation instead of requiring all three to be present. It is immaterial whether a Clean Water Act permit is necessary. All wetland impacts must be addressed regardless of whether the wetland is defined as part of the waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act.

· The EIR should address impacts from potential climate change, including potential reduced water availability.

· The EIR should consider alternatives where the equivalent development is dispersed within city limits in San Benito County; within city limits in San Benito and Santa Clara Counties; and within San Benito, Santa Clara, and Monterey Counties. There is no reason to limit alternative discussions to single areas that can accommodate equivalent amounts of growth; instead the growth can be dispersed.

· The EIR should discuss impacts from developing residential and non-residential uses at different periods, and mitigations that keep residential development from outpacing non-residential development until all the non-residential development is complete.

Please contact us if you have any questions.


Brian A. Schmidt

Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sita, Ramayana, nature, and the Committee for Green Foothills

In the parks and along the trails of the Peninsula and South Valley, Indian families can be a common sight, with older women sometimes wearing saris and sandals picking their way along the dirt paths.

All cultures demonstrate a desire to be in nature and to seek wisdom. The strength of that interest in Indian and South Asian cultures transplanted to the Bay Area will have many sources, but one of those sources dates back to one of the most important epic stories from India, the Ramayana.

The myth, over two thousand years old, primarily concerns Prince Rama and a war he fought to recover his wife Sita from abduction by the demon king Ravana, followed by Rama's ascension as a king himself. The story goes far beyond a simple plot to outline relationships and duties in a community and how to achieve the wisdom needed to perform one's duties. Much of that wisdom comes from the extensive time spent in nature.

Prince Rama himself and one of his brothers spend fourteen years in "vanvas" (hermitage/exile) in a forest, where they lose their royal softness and learn from the spiritual hermits they encounter. In turn, Rama's sons Lava and Kusha are born and grow up in vanvas under the tutelage of the sage Valmiki, and only returning to civilization when they become adult heirs of Rama.

The one person connecting these two episodes is Sita, who spent both periods in exile, first with her husband and then with her sons. Her willingness to be in nature, even during hardship, exceeds that of any other figure.

There almost seems to be a connection between this strong foundational figure of Indian literature living in nature with the many strong women that founded the nature conservation groups here in the Bay Area. Other connections between Ramayana and Bay Area nature include a positive attitude to animals - a monkey king and his army fight alongside Rama to retrieve the kidnapped Sita from demons. Even vultures, commonly sighted here but not looked on that fondly in European culture, are represented in Ramayana by the vulture demi-god Jatayu, who fights the demon Ravana to prevent Sita's kidnapping from their forest home. Failing to stop the abduction and mortally wounded, Jatayu survives long enough to tell the frantic Rama the direction to search for his wife. Someone from this cultural background might not be disappointed to learn the big bird they see flying is a vulture instead of a hawk.

Sita even ties into the environmental concern with agriculture as much as nature. According to the myth, she was found as a baby in a plowed field, a daughter of the Mother Earth Goddess Bhuma Devi.

The Bay Area's ethnic diversity will help strengthen its environmental commitment. The obvious enjoyment among Indian families for our local natural open spaces helps verify this, as does the wisdom of myths and legends from a diversity of cultural backgrounds.