Governor Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan has its Critics

Water has always been a hot topic in California. Historically, California water districts have drained and damned large amounts of water from across the Sierras to support California’s ever-growing population. Governor Brown has devised a plan to send more water to Central and Southern California from the Delta under the Bay Delta Conservation Plant (BDCP).  The BDCP’s website declares it as a “50-year habitat conservation plan with the goals of restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem and securing California water supplies.”  According to the BDCP, Californian’s risk a loss of safe and secure drinking water, damage to the statewide economy, and further degradation of natural resources including extinction of local species if no action is taken. Opponents that include California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) and Restore the Delta state that it’s a costly project with severe ecological and environmental consequences from construction and water removal from the Delta, that will ultimately support big agri-business and not the majority of the California public.

Owen's Lake in the background. It was drained of water to supply Los Angeles in the early 1900s.
Owen’s Lake in the background. It was drained of water to supply Los Angeles in the early 1900s.

The most hotly debated topic of the BDCP is the plant to install underground “twin tunnels” that would pump water to Central and Southern California, as far south as San Diego. Along with the Twin Tunnels, the plan includes to restore and protect 150,000 acres of habitat along the delta.  One of the environmental impacts includes the likely killing of endangered species when the state gets an exemption from the Endangered Species Act (ESA). That exemption would allow for the project to kill Endangered Species for the first 50 years. Other impacts include reducing the water quality of the delta not only through sediment but saltwater intrusion and reintroduction of heavy metals such as lead into the food chain.

Proponents of the BDCP say the plan would help species over time and the United States Fish and Wildlife would not authorize a take permit (defined by the ESA as harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect) for a threatened or endangered species if they thought the project would cause an extinction. Backers of the plan also state that the money being spent will improve waterways and breeding grounds for salmon that are currently damaged and in need of repair. In the long run, whether the Delta’s habitat will improve or not is a concern of many, with both sides of the argument having their reasons.

With environmental factors aside, the BDCP will not be an inexpensive project to implement.  Paul Rogers reported at Mercury News that the project may cost as much as 67 billion dollars to implement. Karia Nemeth with the California Natural Resources Agency writes that the state and federal water contractors will only foot part of the bill for included conservation measures and “public funding would pay for the conservation measures or portions thereof that will produce statewide public benefits”. With the state already in a financial predicament, the costs of this project will add to the state’s deficit. Although, sometimes it’s justified for the state to spend money when there is already a substantial amount of debt for the greater good of the California public (i.e. education, healthcare), opponents say there are more efficient and financially sound ways to secure water and protect Delta habitat than the BDCP.

Other options besides the BDCP include water conservation, reinforcing existing levees, recycling water, storm-water capture, and improved irrigation and farming techniques. Water has always been the key to success in California through the gold mining days to the explosive growth of cities like Los Angeles and California’s booming Central Valley agriculture industry. It’s important to look at what happened historically to the watersheds that those cities have drained and the costs that have occurred both financially and environmentally. Reexamining the use and treatment of our current water supply may be a healthier option for our environment and pockets then building more water infrastructure like the “Twin Tunnels.”

The plan is currently open for public comment, to learn more you can visit the official site for the BDCP, and environmental groups like C-WIN, and Restore the Delta.

 

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vermicomposting (composting with worms) diy

Do you juice a lot? Drink coffee? Use a lot of vegetables and fruits? Where does your “waste” go? If you’re in some states, you can throw that stuff in your green (yard waste) bin and save it from going to the landfill. Vermicomposting is a way to use that “waste” which call a resource, at home. This is especially useful in areas with no yard waste bins. I see a lot online about people juicing and lining their pulp trays with plastic bags then throwing it out.

Red wriggler worms (Eisenia fetida) work great at breaking down fruits, vegetables, juice remnants, coffee grounds, and more. These worms are extremely efficient and relatively fast at breaking down these fruit cores and lettuce ends to a very rich nutrient compost for your garden. You can sometimes find  these red wriggler worms at bait shops, online, and soon through me! You can farm these worms at home with a rubbermaid container, a few pieces old wood constructed into a box, a five gallon container, a purchased worm farm kit, etc.. I find the more wide and shallow the structure, the better the environment for the worms. These worms generally live in the top 12″ of the soil while night crawlers can go much deeper into the ground. These bins for the worms must be aerated. At the very least, you want drainage holes on the bottom and a loose fitting lid for the top. Worms need oxygen too!

Here is a list of what you’ll need:

  • Newspaper
  • Sticks
  • A box for your worms
  • Worms!
  • Some soil
  • And some leftover food waste (no meat or oils)

Step 1-
Make sure your box is well ventilated. In my case, I drilled hole on the bottom and sides of the rubbermaid container with a 5/16″ drill bit.

diy worm compost vermicompost bin tub

Step 2-
Layer sticks in a crossing pattern. This will help the bin drain.

aeration worm bin vermicompost sticks twigs

Step 3-
Tear newspaper length wise and lay that over the sticks.

newspaper bedding worm bin compost vermicompost

Step 4-
Put an inch of soil in the box over the newspaper.

Step 5-
Lay worms on top of the soil.

Step 6-
Chop of the food waste into small pieces and lay on top. Tip: Don’t overload the bin with food scraps at first. They take a while to get going and giving them too much food may kill them and make your bin stinky! They generally take a month to get used to their new home.

Step 7-
Shred more newspaper length wise and lay on top.

Step 8-
Moisten the newspaper and attach the lid. You do not want an airtight lid.

Tips:

  • The worms don’t want to be soaking wet but they despise being dry. Think of a wrung out sponge!
  • You can replace the newspaper with leaves too. Make sure not to use conifer (redwood, pine, etc.) leaves because worms do not digest those. Those leaves and needles require fungi to break them down.
  • Do you juice a lot? That pulp is excellent worm food, you’ve done have the work for them by grinding it up like that.

I will be selling worms in about two months, ready for spring time!

30 days of not buying anything

I’m 26 and have been working full time for the past few years after college. I have no savings account and basically live paycheck to paycheck. This is not uncommon in the United States where people strive for the American dream but fall short and get consumed with increasing debt over time. For me, every time I have money starting to add up in my savings account, I get the urge to spend!! Something I didn’t think about before, I must have now.

I spend a good amount of time on Amazon and had the “Prime” membership for the past year.It wasn’t a bad deal, I mean most of the stuff I would buy at the store (in an area dominated by Whole Foods and overpriced hardwares stores) I could get close to half off on Amazon. So, each week, I would buy something new, something I thought I must have.

On top of me not being able to build a savings account, there is the fact that our landfills are becoming exponentially larger. There’s more plastic in our oceans then ever before and new products require energy and packaging to make it to that shelf for sale.

We’re constantly reminded to keep buying, we’re not important if we don’t own the newest greatest stuff. We’re overloaded and bombarded with advertisements everywhere we go, not only on tv but on billboards, scoreboards, radio, and online. I fall for this consumerist trap , sometimes consciously and at other times unconsciously.

Now, here I am, still wanting more but in a constant battle to free myself of clutter and put money in my savings account. I’ve decided to make myself a thirty day challenge of not buying anything except allowing myself a hundred dollars worth of groceries (no eating out). This way, I can examine what’s really important and at the same time, go through some of the food that’s been sitting in the back of my cupboard.

I will update the post with what I spend money on (groceries wise) and the thoughts that come up for me through this challenge. Hopefully, this will help you examine your spending habits.

Day 1 February 6th, 2014.
a short film worth watching if you haven’t seen it yet.
the Story of Stuff

Day 2 February 7th, 2014.
Throughout the day I thought of stuff that I wanted to buy. For example, one of those white ceramic mugs with bpa free lids that look like paper cups because my tea or coffee always gets to cold in a minute or so (I like it hot!). I thought about buying screws to build a vermicompost (worm compost) bin but then thought about maybe grabbing some from work or finding some lying around in the shed. I really want a juicer to go along with my blender so I can make fresh juice for green smoothies. It will be hard to hold off on these purchases. Some purchases that I come up with in my head, I don’t remember in an hour so. It makes me think it must not be that important.  I think this is great to do alongside my donating an item a day challenge. This is a challenge so far!

Day 3 February 8th, 2014.
With this day an age, Ebay, Amazon, and other sites make it easy to purchase items with one click. This challenge so far has made me pause from purchasing an item instantly. I think one thing I will carry from this challenge is to maybe wait a week before buying something, if I still want it after a week, then maybe proceed with the purchase.

Day 4, February 9th, 2014.
I bought some organic dino kale today that costed 2.69 for the bunch. My budget for groceries is down to 97.31 for the rest of the month. I’ve been burning through kale lately with my making of green smoothies daily. I could have not spent this money if I grew the kale myself. My kale plants right now are too small too harvest. I recommend growing your own produce when you can. I think it’s much better tasting, more nutrient rich, you know how it’s grown, and you become more self reliant. I love the way dino (lacinato) kale looks like with all it’s wrinkle and dark green foliage so, here’s a picture.

lacinato kale dino dinosaur organic green dark

Day 5, February 10th, 2014.
Spent 14.10 at the farm stand and 14.70 at Safeway stocking up on veggies, nut milks, and organic bread. Have you ever tried Dave’s Killer Bread, so good and he uses juice instead of sugar. 97.31 minus 28.80 makes 68.51 to spend on groceries with a lot of time left in the challenge. This is going to be tough.

Day 6, February 11th, 2014.
Bought another bunch of organic kale, 2.17. 68.51-2.17=66.34. I’m trying to limit myself on money spent on groceries but I’m making a conscious effort not to eat unhealthy during this month.

Day 7-8, February 12-13th, 2014
Another 11 dollars spent on soy milk, carrots, and berries today. I was graciously given a huge bag of broccoli, chard, rutabaga, lemons, and limes from my farmer friend Phyllis. There’s nothing like fresh fruit and veggies you harvest yourself! It looks like we might be teaming up to do some farming this year which will be a fun and challenging experience and on top of that, help keep my food budget low. I’m very excited about this opportunity! Down to 55.34 for groceries for the rest of the month. I don’t know if I’ll make it but I will keep trucking along. I still haven’t bought anything but I really need a 3/4″ deep socket to install my hitch on my truck. Tomorrow, I will see if I can borrow one from work. Tip: Why buy something when you might only use it once in a blue moon? Well, I’m going to try borrowing first. If I happen to be needing that tool more frequently, then I might consider purchasing one for myself.

Day 9-10, February 14th-15th
Spent 3.68 on some organic bananas.  55.34 minus 3.68=51.66 left to spend on groceries for the month.

Day 11-12, February 16th-17th
I bought my dog some treats to clean his teeth. I don’t know if I can count this as groceries but I’m going to. If you smelled his breath, you would too! So, that was 8.50. 51.66-8.50=43.16

Day 13, February 18th
By not sacrificing health, I may end up going over the limit as I spent another 22 dollars today on groceries. I’m sticking with buying mostly organic produce. If this challenge was done in the summer when my garden is producing (which I might try) I think my grocery bill would be substantially lower. 43.16-22= 21.16. I’m still going strong with not buying anything other than groceries and gas. I’ve saved a substantial amount of money and decided that I would put the money into a CD so I can’t touch it for six months.

Day 14, February 19th
I’m very tempted to break this not buying anything challenge. I’ve wanted a Vitamix for the longest time and I don’t know if I can hold out for another week and a half. I’m moving towards a vegan/raw food diet and I think it will be a valuable tool. This is how I’m justifying it to myself. How do I know when if it’s really a justified purchase and not something I don’t necessarily need?

I guess in life there’s not many things you need, other than water, food, and shelter. But, I believe there are things that can make your life more enjoyable, healthier, and work as a tool to pursue your passions. For example, if surfing is a passion or hobby, maybe having a board would make it ten times easier for you to get out in the water. But maybe, renting or borrowing a board is all you really need because you don’t go out that much. Overall, I think it’s healthy to explore these opportunities, buy that kayak or get that Bowflex but when we realize we’re not utilizing these “tools”, it’s time to let go. Sell it, donate it, don’t keep it around or you will end up with all these items that don’t get the attention they deserve. They end up being distractions from getting anything done. You began to be spread to thin and then you’re not pursuing any of your passions.

Day 15-16, February 20th-22nd
Well, I’ve held off from buying the vitamix althought I think it will help me save on food in the long run. I have a dependable beehive blender that do the job for now. Unfortunately, my last grocery trip brought me over the hundred dollar limit. I had 21.16 left to spend. I spent 46 dollars. 24 dollars was dog food along with more fresh fruit and peanut butter. So, right now, that brings me to -25.00. I still haven’t spent money on eating out. Tip: I think it’s key to make your meals the night before you work. Also, pack more than enough food for the day. If you’re like me, I never seem to pack enough. I think it’s because I’m not that hungry in the morning. By midmorning, I need food!! So packing enough snacks like fresh fruit and nuts and a big lunch. I’m known to dip into my lunch before it’s time. Having enough food will save you money because you won’t be heading to the nearest fast food or Mexican restaurant when your stomach feels empty.

Day 17-19, February 23rd-25th
Over the past few days, I’ve spent more at the grocery store. I still have yet to eat out, that part hasn’t been really challenging. Keeping the budget for groceries under a 100 on the other hand, has been very challenging. I think it would be more feasible for me to shoot for two hundred dollars for groceries a month. Especially, if I want to eat healthy, mostly organic, and no processed foods. I spent 45 dollars on my last trip to the grocery store. That puts the total at 170 for groceries so far.

Tip: Oh, do I love my online shopping sites. Those sites that give you huge discounts like Sierra Trading Post. Once, I began to click on these sites,I start to find items that I didn’t think I needed before. So, my advice would be to stay clear of shopping websites and unsubscribe to many coupon email lists as well.

Day 20-23, February 26th-28th
I purchased another 26 on groceries and bought a five dollar juice when visiting family. That puts the total at 201 spent on groceries.I still have yet to buy anything besides food and gas. I find it almost exhilarating saving money. I like the fact that I don’t make a whole lot of money yet I’m able to set money aside if I make a conscious effort. When I stop spending money on frivolous items and take a moment to really think about a purchase, I end up with more money in my pocket at the end of the month and less stuff cluttering my space. By, cutting back on eating out, I spend more and more time in the kitchen cooking my meals. Which, are almost always healthier than eating out. A win win!

Day 24-27, March 1st-4th
I’m glad this month is coming to an end but that doesn’t mean I have enjoyed taking a close look at my spending habits. Everything from big ticket items to three dollar coffees when I’m on the run have been stopped for the time being. This has allowed me to save money this month, start a CD which I never have been able to do in the past. I am grateful for that. I realize what it would cost me to eat healthy for a typical month. For me, this is around 200-250 dollars. I stepped back from the consumerism culture and began to realize just how strong it is. I notice that depending on what sites you visit online, advertising can be just as strong online compared to television. NPR even sneaks in advertisements or sponsors for their programs whle my local sports station has constantly bombarded me with ads to buy chocolate strawberries for my valentine (if i had one) or buy a new mattress because my current one sucks. For the most part, I have not falling trap but that doesn’t mean I’ve been tempted to buy, especially, with the ads now that are tailored to your interests on practically every website you view.Three more days….

Spent 9 on groceries these past three days….for a total of $210 on groceries (110 over the amount I allowed myself).

Day 28-30, March 5-7
I finished up not buying anything else.

But…
Day 31-32, March 8th-9th
I did buy some backpacking gear and found myself quickly in buying mode again. Oh man, it’s so easy to get back into the habit. Everything I learned over the month, I threw out after I bought a few items. Although, these items were used that doesn’t take away from money being spent. I thought, wow, this is a heck of a deal,I have to take advantage of it. What I bought will be used on the John Muir Trail in August, it will see good use and I can resell it if I need to. If I find these items aren’t being used,I need to make sure I sell them and not let them sit around. As I move forward, it’s important for me to put money into savings accounts I can’t touch, whether that be short term bonds or CDs. It’s a safety net for me. If I have several CDs going, I can withdraw from the in emergency situations and it stops me from spending extra money I have.

76% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Let’s free ourselves from this vicious cycle by taking a deeper look at our spending habits and cutting back on those unnecessary purchases. Keep things new, try different recipes instead of eating out. Light candles in the kitchen and make that meal special. Explore regional parks and free recreation fun in your area. Limit yourself from going onto websites that encourage purchasing. I hope this article has inspired you to examine your budget and maybe encourage you to try the challenge.

Curbing our dependence on petroleum is a must

The United States by far uses more petroleum than any other country.  How much oil do we use in the United States? According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, roughly 19 million barrels of oil each year, which equates to roughly 22 percent of the world’s oil consumption.

Petroleum is often called crude oil and is known as a fossil fuel. Why fossil fuel? Well, it takes millions of years for this stuff to be made. That’s why it’s also classified as a nonrenewable resource. It formed when ancient plants and animals got buried in sand and sediment eons ago. As the layers built up it created heat and extreme pressure, which changed this material into petroleum over time.

Photo by Simon Forsyth
Photo by Simon Forsyth

Beyond not having enough oil to sustain our way of life for another hundred years, there are other consequences of being dependent on petroleum.

The extraction of oil is a dirty process that can damage ecosystems, groundwater and streams. There have been huge disasters, such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which continues to affect the wildlife and water quality. Oil companies have also chopped thousands of trees in the Amazon rainforest and have polluted this once pristine water in order to supply the world’s demand for petroleum. This destruction is happening all over the globe, including places like Nigeria, Colombia, Ecuador and some other African countries. The people of these countries suffer for the profits of American oil conglomerates.

Not only has oil extraction been messy, but also the burning of oil products such as gasoline has added huge amounts of carbon to our atmosphere. The burning of gasoline has accelerated global warming beyond what scientists have observed in the past, causing sea levels to rise and temperatures to change. On top of that, the oil used in cars leaks over time, and when it rains, the surface oil flows into our local watersheds polluting our waterways. The combustion of fossil fuels can also cause poor air quality and trigger acid rain. Acid rain can damage trees, animals, and streams.

The use of petroleum to create synthetic fertilizers played a main role in the Green Revolution during the 1940s. The Green Revolution was a technology overhaul on farming including new hybrid plants, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Now, farmers started to rely solely on these synthetic fertilizers, which deplete the soil of valuable organic matter and disrupts the natural soil ecosystem overtime. It also leeches through the soil at a rapid rate, causing groundwater contamination. Using plant- and animal-based fertilizers eliminates the need to use petroleum-based products, and it is a more environmental friendly way to supply plants with nutrients.

You’ve now got a brief understanding of why petroleum is causing environmental harm and why it won’t sustain our population’s needs in the long run. What can we do to become less dependent on petroleum-based products?

Our government can continue to enforce taxes for gross polluting industries. They can also promote the use of energy efficient cars, heating, and other energy sources that are not derived from petroleum.  For example, rebates offered by energy companies and our government has allowed homeowners to be able to afford solar power in their homes. There are also incentives to replace old washers, dryers, refrigerators and other energy draining appliances.  Hybrid and electric cars are also becoming quite popular, with just about every automobile company having a hybrid or electric option.

Reducing our demand for fossil fuels and products is a sensible thing to do.  If we want to insure that future generations will be able to enjoy this beautiful planet, it behooves us all to use our resources wisely. Whether finding solutions at home or at the governmental level, each of us should do our part to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and petroleum based products as much as we are able. I encourage you to contact your local officials to push them for sound environmental policies and do what you can at home to help reduce our consumption of petroleum products.

Related Articles:

Sierra Club Oil Dependence Fact Sheet

Reducing U.S. Oil Consumption by Council on Foreign Relations

Oil Production and Environmental Damage, American University

The fungus among us

IMG_1089

There is something mysterious that grows beneath our feet and plays a very significant role in the health of most plants and yet, often goes unnoticed until the fruiting body, called a “mushroom,” appears on the surface.

Even then, most people don’t bother to take a closer glance. Fungi often get overlooked when people talk about the landscape. In America, it’s common to have a “fungi-phobia,” because in this country, we don’t have a rich history of collecting mushrooms in the wild, as compared to many places in Europe, for instance.

Fungi and the ecosystem
Fungi play an important part in almost every ecosystem. Biologists in the past haven’t generally studied and focused attention on fungi as much as they have on plants and animals.

Although there is a lack of extensive research on fungi, there is a basic understanding of fungi and their unique relationship to plants. A few fungi types are parasitic, meaning that while they derive benefit from a plant, the plant itself is harmed. However, most fungi have a mutually beneficial relationship with plants.

Certain types of fungus decompose wood, which then provides nutrients for plants. If you have ever turned over a pile of leaves or woodchips and have found thick white netting, somewhat like a spider web, then you have a found the “roots” of a fungus, called mycelium.

The mycelium feeds on the decomposing litter. They also have the one-of-a-kind ability to break down lignin in oak leaves and pine needles. Lignin is a substance that helps reduce rot in conifer trees. The mushroom is the fruiting body of fungus and its way of spreading its spores. The spores can be considered the fungi’s “seeds.” It is important to understand not all fungi produce mushrooms.

Plant roots, fungi relationship
There is an often-unknown relationship between fungi and plant roots. Certain fungi have a symbiotic or mutually dependent relationship with plants; these types of fungi are called “mycorrhizal” fungi.

These types of fungi have the ability to exchange nutrients with plant roots. They act as an extension of the root, absorbing nutrients from the soil that the plant can’t necessarily access. In exchange, the fungi obtain carbohydrates such as glucose and sucrose from the plant, which help the fungi grow.

There are two types of mycorrhizal relationships between plants and fungi. One is called an AM (short for arbuscular mycorrhizal) relationship. The fungi penetrate the roots to exchange nutrients. AM are found in about 90 percent of plant families. AM fungi do not produce the fruiting bodies we call mushrooms.

The other type is call EM or ectomycorrhizal. In this case, the fungus doesn’t penetrate the root but fuses to the outside of the plant root. EM is found in approximately 10 percent of plant families, and these do usually create a fruiting body, or mushroom.
This means most plants, including most of our native plants and the plants we grow for crops, have some sort of relationship with these symbiotic fungi. This is an important reason to maintain a healthy and fungicide-free soil.

I hope you have a better understanding of fungi and the roles they perform in ecosystems. They provide essential nutrients to over 90 percent of plant families through two kinds of mycorrhizal relationships. Fungi also have the ability to break down organic matter and lignins. Mulching with leaves, woodchips, and most organic matter, can provide the food needed for the fungi to thrive while also providing benefits to surrounding plants. Also, not using fungicides can greatly improve your soil life.

This article was orginally published in the Community Voice on April 7th, 2011.

A link to the original article: http://www.thecommunityvoice.com/article.php?id=2739

Photo credits: Christopher Harrod

Related Links:

Mycorrhizae Research Paper from World Journal of Agricultural Sciences

Mycorrhizae Handout from Washington State University