A Few May Lose Big as Delta Changes: How to Contain the Cost

A new report warns that some islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta may not be worth saving.

Increased flood risk in the Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta has people worried about the economic impact on the farmers and residents located there.

Here’s the bad news for Delta farmers: A new report concludes that the worst climate impacts on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta could affect a relatively small number of people — the farmers whose land is below sea level and protected by a vast system of levees. Maintaining and repairing those levees falls on local reclamation districts, which can’t necessarily count on state or federal bailouts in the event of catastrophic flooding in the future. It can be expensive if a levee breaks. The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) studied the economic impacts of changes to the fragile Delta ecosystem and has produced some recommendations that are not likely to warm the hearts of some Delta landowners. Continue reading

Rising Seas and Your Wallet

As sea levels rise, so does the economic toll on coastal communities

What happens to the beach economy when the beach is vanishing?

That’s what a new study seeks to answer in some of the most specific terms yet attempted.

The projections are from a team at San Francisco State University led by economist Philip King, who says in the study release that “Sea level rise will send reverberations throughout local and state economies.” He expects those reverberations to come from the effects of temporary flooding, beach and upland (cliffs and dunes) erosion, which King has estimated for five California locations, using sea-rise scenarios ranging from one-to-two-meters (6.5 feet) by the end of the century. Continue reading

What Will Your Water Cost?

Report: Big changes needed to avert “widespread environmental and economic losses” in California

Grand illusion? Water rushes over the spillway at Nicasio Reservoir in Marin County. (Photo: Craig Miller)

A high-profile team of experts is calling for a major overhaul of the way California manages its water. In a 500-page report from the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California, the authors say decades of well-intended water policies simply haven’t worked, leaving the state vulnerable to major crises, including water shortages, catastrophic floods, decline & extinction of native species, deteriorating water quality, and further decline of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

“Our system has been dying a death by a thousand cuts,” says co-author Ellen Hanak, an economist and policy analyst at the PPIC. Hanak says that the state’s water management efforts have been “incremental” and “piecemeal,” with little success to show for it. Continue reading

Mapping California’s Worldbeating Cleantech Boom

The Golden State shines in a new global listing from the UK’s Guardian newspaper

Detail of an interactive map of the world's innovative "cleantech" companies (Image: Guardian UK)

Of all the companies around the world that the UK’s Guardian called out for its second annual Global Cleantech 100, roughly a third are based in California. The list spans technologies including energy generation, storage and efficiency; water and waste water; transportation and others.

The special report includes an interactive map of where the firms are located. It makes an interesting study by itself, showing a dense cluster of 31 firms over California, with a smattering of others around the US. About a dozen are concentrated in a few northeastern states. Four are located in China, two in India. Continue reading

Lonely Road for Cap and Trade

California is the lab rat in the cap & trade maze

(Photo: Craig Miller)

One day after the midterm congressional elections, President Obama was already talking about cap & trade in the past tense: “Cap & trade was just one way of skinning the cat. It’s not the only way,” the President told reporters. “It was a means, not an end. And I’m gonna be looking for other means to address this problem. Senator Joe Lieberman put it more bluntly. “Cap and trade is off the table,” Lieberman said. “We have to start on the presumption that the table is clean, that nothing is on it.”

But while Washington is “looking for other means” to reduce the carbon emissions that cause global warming, the table is set for cap & trade in California. By day’s end Thursday, the state will likely have the nation’s first system that covers more than electric utilities. Continue reading

Poll: Californians Still Support Cap-and-Trade

A new poll shows Californians holding firm to their support of California’s climate strategy, including cap-and-trade provisions likely to be approved next week. The poll accompanies a sheaf of new studies commissioned by the pro-clean-tech think tank known as Next 10.

(Photo: Craig Miller)

The Field poll of about 500 Californians, taken right before Thanksgiving, shows two-thirds (66%) of respondents still favor (either “strongly” or “somewhat”) the 2006 climate law known as AB 32, including the cap-and-trade provisions (64%). About one in four oppose both.

The studies released with the poll point to an economic anticlimax under the cap & trade regulations of AB 32, with net benefits in the long-term. One of the lead investigators, David Roland-Holst, calls it a “small ripple in a giant teapot,” the teapot representing the massive California economy. A “synthesis of the findings” released by Next 10 shows a “very small” impact on the state’s economy, and “very small” changes in retail electricity rates. It also concludes that so-called “leakage” — the regulation-induced exodus of business from California is “likely to be small.” That’s not to say there are no losers. “We’ve got to be honest and say there will be trade-offs,” said Roland-Holst. Continue reading

Chu Tones it Down for Cancun

Energy Secretary takes the cautious route in Cancun; just part of the sideshow at COP16.

US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu appeared to pull some punches while speaking at the US Center in Cancun on Monday. (Photo: Gretchen Weber)

The UN climate negotiations in Cancun may be the official attraction, but in many ways, there’s just as much happening at the “side events” here at COP16.  There are dozens everyday — last week there were more than 150, and that number is increasing this week as more people arrive for the final days of the talks.  While the negotiations are limited to representatives from national governments, the side events provide a stage for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), scientists, business leaders, and local and regional government officials, many of them, it turns out, from California. Continue reading

Rich and Poor Collide in Cancun

Contrasts and bus connections in Cancun provide a metaphor for the climate talks going on there.

COP16 attendees waiting in line for the UN bus (Photo: Gretchen Weber)

For a conference aimed at lowering the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, COP16 sure looks like it has big carbon footprint.  Just the air travel alone for the thousands of people coming to Cancun from literally all over the world is a huge source of emissions.  But once you get here, the excess emissions continue.  Cancun’s hotel zone is one long line of huge beachfront resorts boasting luxury accommodations, all-you-can-eat buffets, and — in the case of my hotel — giant jacuzzi tubs in every bedroom, despite the sign on the bathroom sink suggesting that guests remember to conserve water.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), there isn’t really time for taking baths in enormous tubs, because attendees must spend so much time on the road.  Special UN buses are shuttling people back and forth between the Hotel Zone and the negotiations constantly, commutes made more arduous and carbon-intensive by the added miles and long circuitous routes the buses have to make due to security.  Most of the hotels are located north of the negotiations, but security to attend them is located to the south. Therefore, attendees must first travel south, then north (up the same road) to get into the conference.   A common conversation on the buses is wistfully recalling how wonderful it was at COP15 last year, when attendees could simply take public transit (or walk through the streets of Copenhagen) to reach the talks.

At least the long intervals spent standing in line at bus stops provide a chance to warm up in the hot sun and recover from the Arctic conditions inside the conference centers.  Despite the fact that attendees were encouraged to “dress down” this year: traditional Mexican shirts for men and cotton dresses for women, so that the venues could save emissions with less air conditioning, many of us are wearing jackets and sweaters inside the venues.

One journalist described this year’s conference to me as “an island within an island.”  Military blockades have closed roads at various points, diverting local traffic.  Because of the geography, it would be very easy for people to come to COP16 and never actually see the town of Cancun, which, is a far cry from the Hotel Zone.  There’s a sharp divide between rich and poor here, with the opulence of these resorts just a few miles from abject poverty — which may be a fitting metaphor for the climate talks themselves.

Rich nations and poor ones are, in many ways, lined up on opposite sides of a fence as they sort out how to level the field.  Last year, as part of the Copenhagen Accord, a coalition of developed nations, including the United States, agreed to provide funding to help developing nations deal with climate change: $30 billion by 2012 and $100 billion by 2020. A major issue at this conference is working out how to allocate this money. While much of that money has been pledged, much of it has yet to materialize.

While the United States is moving forward with building and solidifying the Copenhagen Accord, according to chief negotiator Johnathan Pershing, some people (and nations) are concerned that this path will not be enough to stop the Earth from warming to dangerous levels. Even UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, who heads the UN climate effort, said on Monday that if all the emissions-reduction promises made in the Copenhagen Accord were delivered, the world would be on track for warming more than the two degrees Celsius that the accord was designed to meet.

On Tuesday night I attended a community prayer vigil in downtown Cancun.  There were about 200 local people from different denominations, including Pentecostals and Catholics, gathered to sing songs and say prayers for the Earth.  Victor Menotti, head of the California-based International Forum on Globalization described the Copenhagen Accord as a path to “collective suicide.”

“The Copenhagen Accord doesn’t get us what we need in terms of emissions reductions, financing, and technology transfer,” he said. “All it is, is a collection of voluntary pledges that don’t add up.”

State Water Picture Improves

If you’re counting on water from the State Water Project, this year is at least starting off better than the last couple.

For the farms and towns that depend on deliveries from the SWP, the outlook for the coming year is better than in recent years, which is not to say ideal.

State water managers today made their preliminary estimate that customers would get one quarter of the water requested from the system. That beats last year’s initial estimate of five percent–the lowest on record. Mark Cowin, who heads the state Department of Water Resources, says these early estimates are intentionally stingy:

“Over the past few dry years, CA has made good progress in improving our ability to conserve water,” Cowin told reporters in a conference call today, but cautioned that “We must continue to promote an ethic of using water efficiently—regardless of  the day-to-day outlook for water supplies.”

But Cowin says that between the wet spring and early start to the rainy season this fall, chances are good that the initial 25% projection will rise.

A key reservoir on the system, Lake Oroville, stands at more than three-quarters of its average for this time of year, whereas last year at this time, it was only about half full. By the time the water year was winding up, DWR officials had raised the allocation to 50%. They added that with average precipitation the rest of the way, customers could end up with about 60% of their hoped-for deliveries in 2011. So far this season, precipitation is running ahead of the long-term average.

You can check on how the state’s major reservoirs are doing throughout the year, with our interactive map.
View KQED: California Reservoir Watch in a larger map

View KQED: California Reservoir Watch in a larger map

Water in the State Water Project, like the federally run Central Valley Project, comes in large part from the mountain snowpack of the Sierra and lower Casdade ranges. Growers typically make up for shortfalls by pumping more groundwater.

The Next Battle Front for AB 32

California’s Proposition 23 has failed at the polls, so now either the “second Industrial Revolution” may proceed or it’s the end of free enterprise as we know it, or we simply move on to the next front in the assault on California’s emerging carbon regulations.

(Photo: Craig Miller)

The $40 million fight over Prop 23 presented two opposing themes: (a) AB 32 will wreck the economy, or (b) AB 32 will save the economy. Both visions for California’s climate law were hyperbolic. It would be fascinating to be able to tap into some parallel universe where it did pass, just to see what would really happen. More than likely some middle ground would prevail, as it will now, in this Universe. Continue reading