September 19, 2006 – Volume 10, Issue 12
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


Balancing Urban Water Thirst
So just where does the water come from that you drink? Your own well or spring? A municipal system? Close by or far away? If you live in Los Angeles or San Francisco, part of your water comes from snow melt in Yosemite National Park. In New York, the Catskills provide significant water for the city. Urban areas look to the hinterland for supplies, for centuries building impressive aqueducts.

This past week I had the good fortune to examine the Los Angeles Aqueduct from one end to the other. The three-day Los Angeles Department of Water and Power tour provided an in-depth perspective of the remarkable Owens River Valley water diversion project that enabled the development of Los Angeles. Despite historic controversy about local impacts, the aqueduct is an engineering marvel. Its 338-mile system of rivers, reservoirs, open channels, and massive steel pipes is completely gravity-based with its falling water generating more than 100 MW along its day-long route.

For many years, activists have been outraged by the City’s “water grab” and clandestine purchases of Owens Valley ranches and their water rights. Today, the City of Los Angeles owns an area in the Owens Valley as large as the City’s 464 square miles. And while it has tried to be a good neighbor, its imprint on the local environment and economy is clear.

The City formed Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in 1902 to begin construction of the 233- mile Los Angeles Aqueduct to the Owens River Valley. It was completed in 1913, then extended 105 miles north to the Mono Basin in the 1940s. Before long, the Owens Lake became a dry bed lake, and Mono Lake’s water level was dropping 3-4 feet a year. While few people live in the Owens and Mono basins, by all accounts, the local ecosystem was in peril and the local way of life was out of balance.

Law suits ensued, and finally – after a century of conflict and decades of litigation – in the 1990s sweeping settlements were reached that seek to balance local use and exports to Los Angeles. At Mono Lake, the parties have agreed to a water level that protects the local ecology, attempting a balance between the thirst of millions and the environmental and local economic sanctity. Owens Lake is being “re-watered.”

For over 100 years, LA has benefited from water resources from the Owens River Valley; for nearly 60 years it has drawn water from the Mono Lake Basin. Today, that tradition continues, but in far greater balance with local conditions. For the City it means less water, more conservation, and more expensive and lower quality “make-up” water purchases. Los Angeles leaders and citizens have risen to the challenge of finding a greater balance in the Mono and Owens valleys, sending a message that consumers now bear ever-truer costs as previous externalities are internalized in the costs of water.

Organic Farming Majors

Two universities – Washington State University and the University of Florida (UF) – have announced new organic agriculture majors. "The organic-food industry is maturing," said Mickie Swisher, co-director of UF's Center for Organic Agriculture. The creation of an organic major has at least two effects: There will be more trained organic farmers going back to the land or working for major agribusinesses, and UF faculty will be conducting more research on organic farming methods and practices. While these professors before might have studied use of chemical pesticides and herbicides to increase crop yield, or more "efficient" means of raising livestock, researchers will now take on research projects on subjects such as organic weed control.

LivingHomes Hits Platinum

LivingHomes has received the highest rating possible from the pilot LEED® for Homes rating system. It’s the first residential project in the country to attain a Platinum rating while being the first company to make LEED certified prefab homes available for consumers nationwide. The LivingHomes model home – located in Santa Monica, California -- is a Zero Energy, Zero Water, Zero Waste, Zero Carbon, Zero Emissions residence.

The LivingHomes’ model home demonstrates that sustainable design helps lower operating costs, increase home value, reduce maintenance issues, and improve indoor environmental quality in the long- term. Since the LEED program’s inception in 2000, a total of 550 buildings have been certified nationwide and only 20 have achieved Platinum. The LivingHomes model home was awarded a total of 91 points out of 108.

The home is anticipated to be 80% more efficient than a conventional residence of similar size. The majority of the home’s energy will be produced by photovoltaics. Sustainable features include solar water heating and radiant floors, a native landscape and rooftop garden to divert storm-water and alleviate the heat island effect of conventional black roofs; LED lights; and a 3,500-gallon cistern and grey water recycling system to divert sink and shower water for irrigation. The model home features an indoor garden filled with plants that filter indoor pollutants and are prolific oxygen creators. In order to make the homes carbon-neutral, LivingHomes pays for a carbon off-set for each home it sells as well as first year operation. For more info, go to the LivingHomes website.

Mono Lake Level is Rising!

The photo to the right marks modern history, as water previously diverted from Yosemite's headwaters is now being re-released into Lee Vining Creek, which in turn is re-filling Mono Lake. For the first time in 50 years, Mono Lake is rising.

Mono Lake is located on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, just north of the Owens River Valley, and at the eastern portal to Yosemite National Park. It sits in a basin with no effluent, and for centuries its annual in-flow about equaled its annual evaporation.

In 1940, the City of Los Angeles extended its reach north from the Owens River Valley, over Sherwin Pass, and into the Mono Lake Basin where four of the seven tributaries were diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct. The 11-mile Mono Craters Tunnel brings water from Mono Lake to the Owens River where it continues south to Los Angeles. For over 50 years, the City of Los Angeles took 90,000 acre feet per year from Mono Lake.

Water levels plummeted and the lake was evaporating away. With its distinctive tufa towers, exposed by lowering lake levels, Mono Lake became a focal point of the debate between Los Angeles’s development and the local environment. A rookery on an island in the lake was seriously threatened when water levels dropped so far that the island became a peninsula, and nesting birds were preyed upon by coyotes.

After lengthy litigation, Los Angeles was ordered to limit its draws, and to replenish Mono Lake. A new visitor center there provides a balanced view of the region’s water history. It’s a positive story of balance. The City is now taking only 15,000 acre feet a year, the lake level is rising, and the lake is looking quite healthy! The picture above shows a healthy flow in the Lee Vining Creek headed to Mono Lake.

The Owens Lake dry bed has been another major source of controversy, but progress in the form of an historic memorandum of understanding in 1998, is being made to find a reasonable balance. Los Angeles is now in the midst of a $400 million restoration effort – that some call “enhancement,” others call “mitigation” – that involves re-watering portions of the lake bed and re-vegetating other areas to mitigate dust storms and resulting respiratory disease for locals. About 10% of the Owens River’s natural flow is now being released on its natural course.

Nicols Adds Telly Award

EcoMotion’s Virginia Nicols collected a 2006 Bronze Telly Award for the video she produced highlighting the successes of the Community Energy Partnership. The Telly Awards, founded in 1978, showcase the best work of ad agencies, TV and cable stations, and corporate video departments in the world, drawing over 12,000 entries annually.

The 12-minute video, entered in the category of “motivational, non-broadcast” was created in conjunction with Versatile Productions of Carbondale, Colorado. It joins a half-dozen other national advertising and direct response awards on Nicols’ shelf. See the Pressroom on EcoMotion's website for full details on this and other EcoMotion awards.

Texas is Number One!

For many years, Texas has been known for oil and gas. Now it is number one in a new area: wind power! Just this year, it eclipsed California as the nation’s leader with installed wind capacity. Texas's capacity now stands at 2,370 MW followed by California with 2,323 MW. According to Renewable Energy Access, “It's a historic moment. California has led the nation in installed wind capacity uninterruptedly for nearly 25 years, ever since the first wind farms were built there in late 1981, and at one time the Golden State was host to more than 80% of the wind capacity in the entire world.”

The American Wind Energy Association reports another major milestone: Total U.S. wind capacity now exceeds 10,000 MW, more capacity than ten large nuclear generating stations. AWEA forecasts that the industry is on track to install more than 3,000 MW of new wind capacity in 2006. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that wind is second only to natural gas in new capacity for the second year in a row. The EIA projects that about 10,000 MW of natural gas plants will be brought online in 2006; only 400 MW of new coal and oil plants will be added nationwide.

Just Ask Russ: Member Solar Questions

"My wife was wondering a couple of things: First, does someone manufacture a PV panel that has power outlets on it to use for providing power for outdoor electrical needs?”

George, your wife’s questions are logical. Unfortunately, photovoltaics generate DC power which must be inverted to alternating current for common home appliances. Thus, generally, the notion of a panel with an AC outlet on one edge is out of the question. (You can, however, buy DC appliances for boats, RVs, etc.) You may have seen concert/event-sized PV systems on trailers complete with inverters, but this is likely more than your wife had in mind for her gardening!

“How about a PV powered window air conditioning unit?”

Long story short: It takes a lot of power to run an air conditioner. Remember, a typical PV installation is 2 kW (2,000 watts) and costs close to $20,000 before rebates. A “window-boxer” air conditioning unit draws anywhere from 475 watts for a 5,000 Btu unit (for a small room) up to 1,110 watts for a 12,000 Btu unit when cranking out the coolth! With those numbers in mind, you would need a 1 kW system to cool a couple of rooms setting you back $8 - 10,000 and underscoring the stark reality of solar output vs. the air conditioning demand that we take for granted.

Silicon Supplies

EcoMotion Network News V10#4 reported on the international silicon shortage that has hamstrung PV manufacture just at a time when demand is at its highest. Good news: Fred Bloom of California’s GenSelf Solar reports to EcoMotion that his firm has been assured of an unlimited supply of panels in the fourth quarter of 2006. “I’ll believe it when I see it, but it’s the first time in two years that I’ve had such news.”

The trends are promising: Renewable Energy Corporation (REC) has started construction on a new $600 million production facility for solar-grade polysilicon in Moses Lake, Washington, doubling the company's annual polysilicon production capacity from 6,500 metric tons to 13,000 metric tons. REC's polysilicon is used in 20 to 25 percent of all solar cells in the world. In June, another polysilicon supplier, the German-based Wacker, announced plans to increase its annual polysilicon production by 4,500 metric tons to total 14,500 metric tons by the end of 2009. SolarWorld AG plans to nearly double its annual production of solar silicon wafers, drawing in part from a facility that can produce 1,200 metric tons from lower-grade polysilicon and recycled polysilicon scraps.

The Japanese JFE Steel Corporation has succeeded in manufacturing a new form of silicon feedstock and is now building a pilot plant to do so. To stabilize increasingly tight supplies of feedstock, JFE began to investigate techniques for producing SOG silicon in- house from metallic silicon, thereby providing an alternative to polysilicon. Prototypes created with 100% metallic silicon have achieved the same high conversion efficiency as conventional polysilicon units.

WELCOME our newest readers. Since our last issue, we've added 22 of you! You come from different walks of life, and even from different parts of the country. We value your input -- please send me an email with your energy stories or questions!

Virginia Nicols