Government & Business

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Can a Bullet Train Shrink California’s Carbon Footprint?

A Berkeley study says it just might — but not right away

By Roger Rudick

Near Antwerp, Belgium, there’s a two-mile section of high-speed rail (HSR) line with solar panels over the tracks to help power the system. That kind of technology is essential to maximizing environmental benefits from California’s proposed bullet train, according to a new study co-authored by Berkeley’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. California is poised to begin construction of an HSR line from San Francisco to Los Angeles early next year.

CA High Speed Rail Authority

How "green" California's bullet train is depends in part on how electricity for it is being produced.

But before the electrically powered trains start cleaning up California’s air, they have to make it dirtier. That’s because the construction generates pollution. “We calculated after ground breaking, so the net benefits come at best 10 years after the system starts running,” said Mikhail Chester, a professor at Arizona State and a study author.

And some of that depends on how quickly people switch from driving and flying to using the train, he added. According to the study, entitled “High-speed rail with emerging automobiles and aircraft can reduce environmental impacts in California’s future,” 67% of the construction pollution for HSR comes from making cement.  “But construction is a one-time cost…the benefits continue for the life of the system,” he said. Continue reading

Turning the Tide at Ocean Beach

Pencil-ready: Funding comes through for Ocean Beach adaptation studies

Molly Samuel/KQED

At San Francisco's Ocean Beach, erosion and sea level rise threaten infrastructure.

As an Army Corps of Engineers dredge dumped sand offshore, a crowd of politicians, representatives from local and federal agencies, business owners and volunteers gathered in a crumbling parking lot on Thursday to voice their support for the Ocean Beach Master Plan, a sweeping project to prepare for sea level rise and stem erosion on San Francisco’s western shore.

Project manager Benjamin Grant said that with more than a million dollars in grants now secured, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) is ready to get down to the nitty-gritty details of how to implement the plan, which was officially released in June.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into taking something from a big visionary idea to a project that’s actually in the pipeline at a public agency,” Grant said. Continue reading

Combatants in New CA Water War Dig In

 Opponents call Governor’s Delta plan “plumbing before policy” and “a wink and a promise”

Craig Miller

Opponents to Governor Brown's Delta plan were gathered on the Capitol steps within an hour of the announcement.

You can hear a one-hour discussion of the proposed Delta plan on KQED’s Forum.

“You’ve launched a war. We’ll fight the battle,” was the rallying cry from congressman John Garamendi, within hours of the announcement of Governor Jerry Brown’s revised plan for California’s already embattled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Brown was flanked by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and officials of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration in rolling out a plan which Brown’s Natural Resources Agency says, “will undergo a rigorous public environmental review.” The plan’s centerpiece is a long-debated tunnel to shuttle water from the Sacramento River, north of the Delta, to the vast plumbing system that carries water to farms in the San Joaquin Valley and cities in Southern California. The conveyance is touted as a way to protect fish from the voracious pumps that fill the canals heading south. Continue reading

Water Wars May Reignite Over Massive Delta Plan

Battle lines are forming as Governor Brown prepares to roll out his proposal for the Delta

Josh Cassidy/KQED

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta plays a crucial role in the state’s water supply.

On Wednesday, Governor Jerry Brown and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar are expected to announce a multi-billion dollar plan designed to fix California’s longstanding water war in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Their proposal for a 35-mile water tunnel is set to reignite the fight over how water is exported from the Delta. The announcement comes just months after federal and state wildlife agencies warned that the proposed version of the project could have dramatic impacts on Delta fish.

Political wrangling over the governor’s announcement has already begun. Continue reading

California Dreaming? Selling Congress on Low-Carbon Fuel

Researchers hope to sway Congress on expanding the California-based standard, though it remains untested at home

Proponents of California’s low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) hope problems with the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) could spell an opportunity to promote the state’s groundbreaking alternative approach at the national level.

UC Davis

Dan Sperling is leading California's LCFS research group.

Scientists from six research institutions—including UC Davis—are attending a bipartisan briefing on Capitol Hill this week to present the results of a new study touting the potential benefits of a national low-carbon standard.

LCFS — part of California’s AB 32 climate change legislation — calls for a 10% reduction in the “carbon intensity” (CI) of transportation fuels in California by 2020. The federal Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), by contrast, calls for a gradual increase of 35 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022. It also establishes threshold production levels for various biofuel feedstocks, which is where it has run into trouble. Continue reading

Satellites Helping Save Water on California Farms

Researchers at CSU have teamed up with NASA to test water-saving technology on California crops

Craig Miller

Watering fields in the Sacramento Valley: traditional irrigation methods have required a lot of guess-work.

By Vinnee Tong

Near the Central Valley town of Los Banos, Anthony Pereira opens a tap to send water into the fields at his family’s farm. Pereira grows cotton, alfalfa and tomatoes. And he is constantly deciding how much water is the right amount to use.

“Water savings is always an issue,” he says. “That’s why we’re going drip here on this ranch. We gotta try to save what we can now for the years to come.”

Thanks to some new technology, that might get a little easier. To help farmers like Pereira, engineers at NASA and CSU Monterey Bay are developing an online tool that can estimate how much water a field might need. Here’s how it works: satellites orbiting the earth take high-resolution pictures — so detailed that you can zoom in to a quarter of an acre.

“The satellite data is allowing us to get a measurement of how the crop is developing,” says CSUMB scientist Forrest Melton, the lead researcher on the project. “We’re actually measuring the fraction of the field that’s covered by green, growing vegetation.” Continue reading

Vote on $11 Billion Water Bond Delayed Another Two Years

The massive bond, which would have been on this year’s ballot, will now go to voters in 2014

California Department of Water Resources

The water bond would help fund restoration projects in the Delta.

The California legislature voted in favor of postponing the state’s water bond on Thursday. The bond, which would provide funds for water supply, environmental restoration and groundwater protection projects, was originally scheduled to be on the November, 2010 ballot. Then, the legislature voted to delay until this year, when they pushed it back, again.

“The ballot was too crowded and people had a lot of other things on their mind,” Senator Jean Fuller told me before the vote. “People are much more concerned about financial issues.”

Governor Jerry Brown’s tax measure is on this November’s ballot. He had previously asked for the water bond to be delayed, because he also didn’t want the competition.

An analysis by the Pacific Institute found that the bond is the largest since the one that funded the State Water Project in the 1960′s. Continue reading

CalFire: Watching Colorado, Preparing for the Worst

There have already been more than 2,500 wildfires in California this year

Craig Miller/KQED

A wildfire truck owned by California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

While CalFire experts, embedded with the California National Guard are helping fight the massive wildfires in Colorado, CalFire is also beefing up at home, preparing for the peak of California’s fire season. As of this week, the agency is fully staffed, with 7,000 personnel, hundreds of engines and dozens of air tankers and helicopters.

CalFire has already responded to 2,308 fires this year — that’s more than 1,000 more than at this time last year, and higher than the five-year average, too. Combined with the fires in local jurisdictions, there have been more than 2,500 fires this year, and that doesn’t include wildfires on federal land. Continue reading

Is Hydroelectric Power a ‘Renewable’ Energy Source?

Most California hydro doesn’t count toward utilities’ renewable energy mandates. Should it?

Craig Miller

Tricky waters: a kayaker navigates the surge at the outlet of the Oxbow Powerhouse on the upper American River.

It’s a fair question and one that a reader posed during our recent series on “Water and Power” in California. Hydro has its virtues. It’s clean, once it’s built; producing hydropower creates no significant greenhouse gas or other emissions. And it’s certainly “renewable” as long as the water flows. But it’s not without its environmental impacts, especially where large “terminal” dams are involved (the kind that fish can’t get past).

In fact, state regulators divide the resource into “large” and “small” hydro, the latter being defined as anything producing 30 megawatts of power or less. Utilities can count small hydro toward their mandated Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) but not the bigger operations. But why? Continue reading

Can Cutting Carbon Fuel Growth?

The perennial debate returns, this time at a symposium on the Low Carbon Fuel Standard

UC Davis Institute for Transportation Studies

Daniel Sperling, director of UC Davis' Institute for Transportation Studies, speaking at the Asilomar Conference in 2011.

Do environmental regulations boost innovation and job creation, or do they just make the state a more expensive place in which to live and do business?

The Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), the section of California’s landmark 2006 global warming act that deals with the decarbonization of transport fuels, has become the latest focus of that debate.

The enforcement element of LCFS begins January 1, 2013. But the standard—complex and 5 years in the making—remains largely unknown to the public. Continue reading