UC Merced picked for solar energy project...DANIELLE GAINES...8-15-09
UC Merced has been chosen as the lead campus on a new University of California program aimed at developing alternative renewable energy sources.
Professor Roland Winston will head the project, California Advanced Solar Technologies, which is funded by a $2.25 million grant from the University Office of the President.
Researches at sister campuses in Berkeley and Santa Barbara will also be involved in the project.
The researchers will use nanotechnology and non-imaging optics to develop new solar cell materials and methods to cool and heat buildings or generate electricity.
The program will also train graduate students and speed the commercialization of solar technologies.
"Professor Winston and his colleagues are to be congratulated as competition for this funding was extremely fierce," said Samuel J. Traina, vice chancellor for research and dean of graduate studies. "UC Merced welcomes the opportunity to help find solutions to advance the development of solar energy technologies."
Winston has invented devices that harness sunlight and multiply the energy to thousands of times more than its natural level.
"UC Merced's location in the San Joaquin Valley provides many ideal settings for the development and utilization of solar energy," Winston said in a statement. "Solar energy is, by far, the most abundant of all renewable energy resources and development of technologies to harness and use that resource is an important topic for California and the world."
Cardoza favors health care reform if it's done right...Dennis Cardoza
As the representative for the 18th Congressional District, my office routinely receives calls from people needing my assistance on a host of matters. Among the most difficult calls are those from constituents who have had a medical need that has gone untreated.
Like many of you, I absolutely and wholeheartedly believe we need to reform health care in the United States. The simple fact is that health care costs are spiraling out of control in our country.
Too many people are sacrificing other basic needs in order to cover the cost of their medical bills. Even worse, as you know, many people simply are not able to get needed medical treatment because an insurance company considers it to be a pre-existing condition.
The bottom line is we currently pay much more for our health care than any other country. Yet the satisfaction rate among patients who deal with complicated insurance regulations is among the lowest in the industrialized world.
In the 18th Congressional District we have significant health care challenges. More than a quarter of my constituents simply have no health insurance at all. Each year, 6,500 seniors in the district hit the so-called doughnut hole in Medicare Part D and are forced to pay their full drug costs.
In 2008, an estimated 1,730 health care-related bankruptcies in the district were caused primarily by health care costs not being covered by insurance. Also in 2008, health care providers in the district provided $167 million worth of uncompensated care to patients who lacked insurance coverage and were unable to pay their bills. The cost of health care for those uninsured is often picked up at the county's expense. It often results in medical providers shifting the burden to those who can pay for treatment. Our problems are further compounded by a lack of physicians in the valley due to the reimbursement rates that our doctors receive under current federal policies.
What we need is health care reform that actually works, that actually reduces costs and improves the quality of care we receive.
In July, a health care reform bill was introduced in the House of Representatives. It is now making its way through various committees and going through the markup process. There is a long way to go before this bill becomes law.
The guiding principles for any measure that receives my vote include:
A mechanism to improve access to care and increase the number of physicians in the valley;
The patient's right to choose their physicians;
Health care decisions determined by medical professionals and the patient; and
Additionally, I believe that significant cost savings can be identified in our current system. Until those savings are found — and waste, fraud and abuse are eliminated — I cannot support a financing mechanism that places the cost burden solely on private employers or taxpayers.
Please be assured that as this process continues I will work to bring about the best possible outcome for those I represent and am happy to hear your views on this issue. You may e-mail me through my Web site (www.house.gov/cardoza/) or contact any of my offices at any time.
The 18th Congressional District includes all of Merced County and parts of San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Madera and Fresno counties.
Dan Walters: A new shot at settling Delta water war...Dan Walters
Gov. Pat Brown's proudest achievement was California's historic water system, including Oroville Dam – the nation's highest – on the Feather River and the California Aqueduct that carries water south to San Joaquin Valley farms and millions of Southern California homes.
But that half-century-old system had a weak link – the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta into which Oroville's water flowed (via the Sacramento River) and out of which the aqueduct's immense pumps drew water for shipment southward.
The system worked well enough in the early stages when water shipments were relatively small. But as the aqueduct was completed and local water agencies began drawing their allotments, the pumping began to wreak environmental havoc on the Delta, including reversing natural stream flows and sucking fish into the pumps.
The answer was what was called a "peripheral canal" that would pull water out of the Sacramento River and deliver it to the aqueduct, bypassing the Delta.
Brown's son, Jerry, got the Legislature to authorize the peripheral canal, but it went for naught as an odd-bedfellows alliance of San Joaquin Valley farmers and environmental groups persuaded voters to reject it in 1982.
Succeeding governors either failed to resolve the deep-seated water conflicts or, in the case of Gray Davis, didn't even try. But, Davis' successor, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, with characteristic optimism, has tried to make something happen – albeit with no more success than his predecessors.
Schwarzenegger wants to build some version of a peripheral canal and some new reservoirs to create more water-supply dependability. And the "alternate conveyance," as it's called now, has gained political traction, even among some environmentalists, because of the Delta's continued deterioration and a federal judge's restrictions on pumping that create severe shortages of agricultural water.
Although the Legislature has stalled on Schwarzenegger's water bond request, Democratic leaders have introduced their own skeletal water package that they say will be fleshed out in the final weeks of the legislative session.
"Twenty-five million Californians – two-thirds of our state – rely on the Delta for their water supply, so it is vital we ensure the Delta's reliability and quality," Assembly Speaker Karen Bass said as the package was unveiled.
As it stands, the package is little more than a declaration of multiple goals, some of them mutually exclusive. One provision would create a "Delta Stewardship Council" to write a "Delta Plan," and authorize it to pass judgment on a new conveyance.
The water stalemate is a symbol of California's governmental dysfunction. The new water package could be a path to decision or just another of countless time-eating studies and debates that postpone hard decisions. Given the water war's tortured history, one shouldn't bet the farm, as it were, on its succeeding.
A pause for suction mining...Editorial
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took long-overdue action to protect the state's endangered coho salmon when he signed a bill that slaps a temporary moratorium on suction dredge mining. Under the now-banned practice, miners used giant motorized pumps to vacuum streambeds, sucking up tons of gravel and river rock in search of tiny specks of gold. In that process, fish roe and fingerlings were sucked into pumps as well, and spawning grounds were damaged or destroyed.
Even before the governor signed Senate Bill 670, a court ordered the Fish and Game Department to stop issuing new suction dredge mining permits. But the urgency measure by Sen. Patricia Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, bans all such mining, invalidating existing permits as well as barring new ones.
The moratorium will remain at least until the department completes a study on the effects of motorized dredge mining on fish habitat and issues regulations to protect salmon, trout and steelhead.
A preliminary study in 2005 concluded that dredge mining has a "deleterious effect" on fish habitat. But prodded by mining interests that filed a lawsuit, the courts ordered the state to conduct a more thorough review before issuing any new rules. As the department dithered, the decline of salmon populations continued.
Salmon runs are so depleted that the government banned commercial salmon fishing off the California and Oregon coasts for the past two years, and thousands whose livelihoods depended on fishing have lost their jobs.
Suction dredge mining has taken a toll. Endangered fish and the fishing industry urgently need the protection the new moratorium provides.
Water board seeks Delta ammonia control queries...Wes Sander...August 14, 2009 4:34 PM
The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board wants the public to suggest questions about the science behind measuring and controlling ammonia in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The questions will be directed to panel members during the board's Ammonia Summit, a workshop scheduled for 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 18 and 19, in the regional board's offices, 11020 Sun Center Dr., Rancho Cordova, Calif.
The summit is part of a series of workshops coordinated by the Interagency Ecological Program.
An agenda and background information are available at www.water.ca.gov/iep/activities/workshop.cfm.
San Francisco Chronicle
Editorial: Doing away with dams
President Obama is playing for time before wading into one of the oldest - and most far-reaching - disputes in the West's water wars: the fate of four dams on the Snake River in Washington. But eventually he and his policy team should muster the courage to go with a sweeping but science-backed option: Take down the string of outmoded structures that impede salmon.
It's a plausible stance that is already guiding demolition plans for four similar dams on the upper Klamath River on the California and Oregon border. A decision to breach a dam on the Snake could widen a trend already under way to re-evaluate water, power and environmental problems brought on by the aging structures.
Built more than a half century ago, the Washington state dams were designed to shunt water to wheat farmers, crank out electricity and provide a shipping waterway along the lower Snake River, flowing from Idaho into the Columbia River.
But there was a hidden cost, one that's drawn debate for over a decade: a sharp decline in salmon that's left a dozen strains endangered or near extinction.
Under legal pressure, federal operators have spent an incredible $8 billion to save the fish. There have been new hatcheries, extra scientific monitoring and dam improvements. Other steps border on comedy: salmon fingerlings are carried by barge through shipping locks or driven, limo-style, by tanker trucks downriver to avoid turbines and harmful spillways.
A federal judge in Portland, not surprisingly, has had enough. Last week, U.S. District Judge James Redden gave federal authorities an extra month to say where they stand on a third try at devising answers for the plight of the salmon.
The judge has also signaled he will consider breaching the dams if other solutions aren't convincing. For months, the Obama team has deployed a flying squad of experts to sound out the participants in the complicated, history-heavy saga.
There's a glimmer of hope in the hurried finale. All sides - Indian tribes, farmers, environmentalists, power agencies and riverside cities - want a solution, not a prolonged fight. The pressure of a judicial dictate is obliging the warring sides to get together on a compromise plan that the White House can join as well.
But, please, no more half measures that don't do the job. Tearing down the dams, which could take 10 to 15 years, could work if done right. Farmers could draw irrigation water from the free-flowing river. The power output - only 5 percent of the region's needs - could be replaced by system upgrades and conservation. Grain shipments might travel by rail instead of barge operations.
Whatever the judge does will send echoes throughout the region. Breaching the Snake dams would add impetus to the demolition plans on the Klamath, now expected to start in 2020.
But something else is going on. Dams aren't the infrastructure darlings they once were. Since 1999, 430 dams have come down, according to the American Rivers environmental group. The reasons are largely economic: Maintenance is high as the concrete walls age. Also, power needs can be supplied by other sources. The decline of migrating salmon and steelhead are also a factor.
These problems don't mean all dams are doomed or new ones will never be built. Dam defenders note that hydropower is produced without emissions. And flood control and growing water needs remain issues that are suited for the water-controlling structures.
There are other challenges. Removing a dam unleashes years of mud and silt settled on old river bottoms. Also, emptied-out reservoirs must be brought back to nature. Communities that grew up around dams will need to change as well. Pulling the plug is just the start.
No wonder the Obama team is taking its time. Dam demolition charts a new, uncertain course. But the present direction is filled with risks, too. It's time to chart a new future for the Snake - and other rivers as well.
New York Times
River Basin Fight Pits Atlanta Against Neighbors...SHAILA DEWAN
ATLANTA — The residents of the economic engine of the South, as they like to call this comparatively gleaming and rapidly expanding state capital, have always suspected that they are the objects of resentment from their more rural neighbors.
Now they are certain of it.
A recent court defeat has left Atlanta howling that its enemies, including Alabama and Florida, are trying to choke off the city’s prosperity, if not out of sheer spite then at least the misguided notion that jobs and money would flow to them instead. The conflict is the timeworn rural-versus-urban enmity writ large, a battle over water that has pitted Atlanta against its neighbors in and out of Georgia.
“The only motivation is political,” Charles Krautler, the director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, said of the fight. “We don’t have as good of spin doctors as they do. It’s easy to point the finger at big bad Atlanta.”
Ostensibly, the war among the three states is about a river basin that supplies the taps of 3.5 million people in metropolitan Atlanta before it flows down the Alabama-Georgia state line and into the Florida Panhandle. Each state says the others are demanding too much water. But many experts say there is no actual scarcity — the system, managed properly, could meet the needs of users along the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers, including power companies, farmers and oystermen.
Still, the three states have spent nearly 20 years battling over the allocation of the water. And now, no matter their motive, Alabama and Florida have the law squarely on their side. On July 17, Judge Paul A. Magnuson of Federal District Court agreed with their argument that supplying water to Atlanta was not an authorized use of Lake Sidney Lanier, the federal reservoir northeast of the city at the headwaters of the river basin.
For decades, Judge Magnuson ruled, the Army Corps of Engineers had illegally managed the Buford Dam, which created the lake beginning in 1956, to provide the Atlanta region with drinking water. He said Congress built the dam only for navigation, flood control and hydropower. The 97-page ruling largely faults the corps for overstepping its authority but also suggests that Georgia knew for decades that Congressional approval was needed.
Govs. Charlie Crist of Florida and Bob Riley of Alabama, both Republicans, hailed the decision.
“Atlanta has based its growth on the idea that it could take whatever water it wanted, whenever it wanted it, and that the downstream states would simply have to make do with less,” Mr. Riley said.
After the court’s ruling, he added, “this massive illegal water grab will be coming to an end.”
Alabama officials say that they are not trying to prevent Atlanta from growing but that they want the city to pay for the infrastructure that growth requires. In 1948, the mayor of Atlanta declined to contribute money to the construction of the Lake Lanier dam, arguing that the city would not need the water.
Atlanta has responded with a major public relations offensive, painting the city as a good steward that has carried out a water plan, treats its sewage until it is drinkable and, during the recent drought, put conservation measures in place when downstream users did not. (Environmentalists concede these points but
say that they are half-hearted at best and that the metropolitan area could save millions of gallons through more aggressive conservation.)
Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia, a Republican who is not normally an Atlanta ally in intrastate battles over rural and urban priorities, has recently begun to defend its water use. Mr. Perdue cites figures showing that the city’s net water use is less than 1 percent of the river basin’s water flow when it reaches the Florida-Georgia border. At that point in the basin, the minimum water flow maintained by the corps is 5,000 cubic feet per second, compared with 750 in Atlanta.
Mr. Perdue argues that the real goal of Florida, in suing for more water under the Endangered Species Act, is to protect the fishing industry in the Apalachicola Bay. And he says that while Alabama has argued for better navigation, it really wants water to cool power plants. Neither goal is an authorized use of Lake Lanier, and neither, Atlantans say, is as crucial as their own needs.
“What happens in metro Atlanta and Georgia doesn’t hurt either of those states,” said Pat Stevens, chief of the environmental planning division for the Atlanta Regional Council, blaming Georgia’s opponents for the many failed efforts at negotiations over the years. “But if their goal is to hurt metro Atlanta and Georgia, they could achieve that. I always just thought they never had a reason to come to an agreement.”
If that is true, they have less reason now.
Judge Magnuson did not order the spigots shut off immediately, nor did he say that the system could never be used for drinking water. Instead, he said he would allow three years for the corps to receive approval from Congress to use the lake for that purpose.
Several members of Congress have said they will not act unless the three states make a deal. But Georgia’s hand is now far weaker than it was before the ruling.
“Why didn’t they go to Congress for approval 20 years ago?” asked Sally Bethea, executive director of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, an environmental organization. “It was obvious that this was a gamble to say well, the corps gave it to us so we get to keep all this water. There’s no insurance policy in that.”
Instead of taking a conciliatory approach, though, Mr. Perdue has vowed to “fight to the death,” accused his opponents of hypocrisy and pointedly brought up a 150-year-old Supreme Court decision declaring the Chattahoochee River to be on Georgia’s side of the state line. Mr. Perdue is hoping to find allies among other states where reservoirs built for other purposes are used for drinking water.
The governor has also talked about building reservoirs and is planning to appeal the decision, although even his allies say a successful appeal is unlikely.
Mr. Riley has engaged in theatrics of his own. When Mr. Perdue appointed Mike Garrett, the chief executive officer of Georgia Power, to work with Congress on the water issue, Mr. Riley warned the power company’s parent, Southern Company, to stay neutral. He did not mention that Alabama Power, another subsidiary of Southern Company, has been a party to the lawsuit for years.
Seeking Congressional authorization would be a tricky matter for Georgia, whose delegation is outflanked by Alabama and Florida combined, both in size and influence, though all three states are led by Republicans and lack firepower in the Democratic leadership that controls Congress.
Representative John Lewis, a Democrat from Atlanta and the senior member of the Georgia delegation, said members of Congress would become more involved in negotiations among the states. “It would be our hope,” Mr. Lewis said, “that the three states and the members of Congress from the three states would work it out, and if not we will take it up at the Congressional level.”
One of Mr. Perdue’s goals, meanwhile, is to go back to the negotiating table. To show his enthusiasm, on July 30 he sent a letter, which he made public, to Governors Crist and Riley, listing 40 possible dates for a meeting.
They are both still reviewing their schedules.