Southern California environment news and trends

Sittin' on the dock of the bay...monitoring its pollutants

Every five years, just like with the European Union commission presidency, the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission updates its State of the Bay. What is that state, you ask? Better than last time, still got problems, got some new stuff going on. There. Now you don't have to listen to a whole news spot. Community service for the impatient.

But it's worth checking out the commission's dedicated page for the report. Perhaps wisely, it didn't make the whole report available at once. Instead, it's broken up into sections – habitat conditions, water quality, natural resources, and, a reporter's favorite – looking ahead – focusing quite a bit on climate change. (Frank Stoltze says this blog talks a lot about adaptation. Here's one of many reports that proves it's relevant.)

Maybe the biggest development since the last report is improved water quality measured in the last 5 years. Bacteria, trash and other standards like metals and toxics have come into place since 2003. Low-flow diversion of runoff water sends it to treatment. New technologies are demonstrated throughout the basin for managing runoff water. Still, according to the report: "Even during dry weather, excessive outdoor water use throughout the watershed creates unnecessary runoff and increases the demand on the local water supply."


Schoolin' kids in the environment, California style

California just got its first environmental education curriculum. I'm related to a lot of people who teach (though the sort of things they teach have rhyme and scan, as opposed to kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus or species), so I checked it out.

The new "curriculum units" for the state's environmental education plans cover climate change, habitats, Monarch butterflies (what up, St. Joe's Menlo Park first grade), energy, water resources, and plenty more.

They developed the lessons with "business, non-profits, state agencies and education partners." Right now it's on-line; in the future, EEI hopes to be able to provide printed versions and teacher training. (Though on-line seems so eco-friendly, after all.)

Here's one example: alphabet cards for kindergardeners:

The second grade curriculum includes "The Mystery of the Missing Strawberries." I am glad I am not in the second grade, for I would not do well at explaining what Tina and her dad are talking about here (your guess is as good as mine; seasonality of crops?):


New deputy mayor Austin Beutner...has a lot to do

KPCC's correspondent and man-about-town Frank Stoltze is covering this announcement. But I'm interested by the release from the mayor's office, which notes that the new deputy mayor and jobs chief "will be given a large portfolio with unprecedented oversight of City resources beginning with a direct line of authority over the Department of Water and Power (DWP), the Port of Los Angeles, and economic development and business policy issues at the Los Angeles World Airports." It goes on: "As the three main engines of economic development in Los Angeles, the Port, airports and the DWP will be focused on using their considerable leverage to create jobs while delivering their core services successfully and efficiently."

The Wall Street Journal's Tamara Audi had some ideas about what that might mean. "The Department of Water and Power, the biggest municipal-owned utility in the nation, has an enormous capital-expenditure budget," she wrote. "It could try to lure firms to locate in the area by promising to purchase equipment such as solar panels from them, for example."


Long-planned Green Path North no longer on the DWP's path to renewable goals

Desert activists are marginally happier now, thanks to a little noticed action the DWP board of commissioners took last Tuesday. The board passed an amendment to the 2009-2010 budget; you can read it here. And the magic words only appear once. Green Path North. But that just might be the inglorious demise of a project with lofty goals that's been a nettle in the side of just about everyone involved.

In July of 2008, then-DWP chief David Nahai went out to Yucca Valley to speak to people who live there, and in Joshua Tree, and in surrounding communities, about plans for the project. (I covered it, but you can't find the story on our new website.) By that point I was joining a well-established story already in progress; fellow Angeleno Judith Lewis had reported on the matter the month before.


Methane seeps in Santa Barbara, rising gas in Russia: could it sink the atmosphere?

Seeps in Santa Barbara aren't just about tarballs - and seeps aren't just in Santa Barbara. They matter to surfers as well as climate scientists.

Last year, around this time, I went to Santa Barbara and got educated by scientists, energy activists, local environmentalists, and a guy who sells fuel about oil exploration, research and drilling there, not to mention attitudes toward the same. I did three stories - one about the 40th anniversary of the '69 spill, one about a new drilling hearing at the state lands commission, and one about seeps research.

Now comes news from Russian and Swedish scientists that frozen deposits of gas are giving up methane to the sea - and the atmosphere. It's not exactly the same multi-stage process, the way the gas is getting to the atmosphere there - you can see a pretty great picture of what's happening in the melting permafrost embedded in this article here- but it points up the challenge inherent in climate science, to measure present atmospheric factors well and project (using as much science and data as possible) climate impacts accurately. It also points up an increasing interest (and profile) for the methane gas which is 20 times better at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over a hundred year period.