Southern California environment news and trends

MPAs, MLPAs: A salty alphabet soup

We've got another regional meeting for what to do with marine protected areas off shore, Tuesday, in southern California. The process for establishing marine protected areas is in full simmer in southern California, for waters from Point Concepcion to the Mexican border. Stirred into the soup are acronyms and words like stakeholder. I love me some jargon, but usually out of curiosity, as opposed to out loud, on the radio. So here's a primer. 10 years ago, California got a Marine Life Protection Act. That's the MLPA. It sets goals for evaluating the state of marine life in coastal waters, and it authorizes marine protected areas. Those are MPAs. The state Department of Fish and Game is implementing the law. That's the DFG. It was about a century ago that California started making protected areas offshore. Some didn't stick; others did, and are wildlife areas, and ecological reserves. Under the terms of the new law, the process for deciding what to protect now is supposed to be science based. The state's gathered people to drop some science knowledge: they're the Science Advisory Team. That's the SAT. Then there's the Blue Ribbon Task Force. "[S]elected by the secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency for their knowledge, vision, public policy experience, and diversity of professional expertise." You can read more about them here. These people also drop knowledge: management, law, policy. That's the BRTF. No idea how to say that. Someone's looking out for California's interests as a whole; they're creatively named the Statewide Interests Group. That's the SIG. Each place the state's doing all this also has the Regional Stakeholder Group. RSG. We've got 64 people on that in the south coast - plus alternates. Speaking of, there's the South Coast Region. That's the SCR - where we live. Mix 'em up to fool friends and family! Or clip 'n save:

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Fire, the Revelator

If Hurricane Katrina were a superhero, in LA right now, she'd be The Quantifier. This Station Fire is as big a disaster as Katrina... That's one way to do it. Or, as I heard today on Patt Morrison's show, about evacuating animals: We learned our lesson during Katrina... If that last one were true, that would be great. But this isn't a quiz on one chapter. Maybe there's more than one lesson to learn.

Covering the Station Fire is a natural transition from thinking about Katrinaversary, which passed on Saturday, the day after I finished reporting on problems with hydraulic pumps at canals in New Orleans' hurricane protection system. Naturally, we're paying attention to the environmental hazard in our backyard. Maybe a little unnaturally, we don't think about the risk it presents in the same terms we think about other environmental hazards in other places. Because this year, I got the sense from news coverage or the lack thereof that we're "over" hurricane Katrina. And now, again, we're suffering loss from an environmental hazard - just in a different state.

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Reputation and identity

In reporting this story I heard a lot about reputation. The reputation of the Army Corps, different in different regions. Reputation of an engineering firm, an architecture and design firm. Reputation of Caterpillar, Hydraflo, all the manufacturers of different parts - and that of Moving Water Industries, the company that won this contract. Finally, of course, the reputation of the whistleblower herself.

It's the last two I want to focus on.

To defend its reputation in 2007, after the Army Corps publicly released an investigation of the problems, the company MWI sent to Brigadier General Crear a 140+ page document. In response to my questions this year, I received this document; the company also refused an interview. I used the document in my reporting. We posted it briefly on our website. I'm not so sure that was the right thing to do.

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SCADA data: Like Doogie Howser said...

The best thing about it, for the non-engineers and poets among us, is that it rhymes.

A less fanciful pursuit today: Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition. When I was in the thick of asking questions about whether the pumps worked, last fall, we had some hurricanes in the Gulf. It occurred to me that they had cameras on the canals; peeling that video would have cost me 10 thousand dollars, they said, in man hours and costs. So I tried for the SCADA data. And got it.

Clearly, you've noticed by now that I'm not an engineer. But when I got the data I could see where the zeros were.To quote Doogie Howser, M.D. for a minute, it doesn't take a genius to see some of SCADA's story. But my aspirations to do something complete in plotting data got dashed pretty quickly.

Nevertheless, engineering is more science than art, after all, and engineers best understand what engineering data does. Maria Garzino also obtained SCADA, and discussed it with the Apariq consultant, Gil Lucas. She spent over a month making calculations from that. I make of that two things: first, that she's still doing everything she believes is necessary to figure out what's happening. And second, that she doesn't sleep much.

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Muddy waters, not McKinley Morganfield

New Orleans specializes in muddy waters.

I was living there, covering a “Night Out Against Crime” for my peeps at the brilliant, beautiful, and sadly deceased Day to Day when I met Matt McBride. He was at the Broadmoor night out. Matt is an engineer, a husband, a devoted dog dad, and a tireless advocate for his former neighborhood. He pointed out that sometimes, all I had to do was ask for the information I wanted.

One of the reasons I really understood that I could ask for information comes from what is also one of my favorite ancient concepts of law: the public trust doctrine. I was raised in California law; when I was small, my dad and my grandfather explained it to me, I recall very clearly, in a blue dining room in St. Francis Wood in San Francisco, behind lace curtains like a good Irish house should have. My grandfather said it came from Justinian. I was about 7; I think I found one of his cases in his law reporters a dozen years before I actually learned anything else about who Justinian was.

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