June 2, 2015 – Volume 16, Issue 12


Flanigan’s Eco-Logic

The California Drought

Rationing Water in California

K12 Schools Focus on Turf

Campus Drought Busting

The Most Efficient City

Poseidon and Desalinization

The Economic and Environmental Costs of Desalinated Water

Desalinated Water Costs

Flanigan’s Eco-Logic: Feelings of Pride and Progress

Pride and inspiration were awesome morning sentiments… unexpected ones. I’d convinced my bud Steve to go with Terry and I to the opening of a new Metro maintenance facility in Monrovia. We’d been studying it for our Metro solar works, and were excited to get on site. Our Memorial Day weekend kickoff was memorable. Hundreds of people came together to celebrate rail.

Why? The Gold Line now runs from downtown LA to Pasadena. Phase 2A of the Foothill Gold Line Extension is near complete, the tracks are laid, and we were there to celebrate a big milestone with the opening of a key facility. It’s exciting to residents of this part of the world. They’re getting connected.

Phase 2A runs from Pasadena to Azusa and includes 11.5 miles of track through six cities — Pasadena, Arcadia, Monrovia, Duarte, Irwindale, and Azusa — six stations, the maintenance and operations facility is now complete with a new name: the Foothill Gold Line Operations Campus. The entire segment is expected to be fully commissioned by September. Phase 2B will span from Azusa to Montclair. Ultimately the line will run to the Ontario Airport. This drew many rounds of applause from the crowd.

The crowd surprised me too. There were throngs of people, there were dozens of dignitaries. The press was there in force; a high school jazz band of horns and drums driven by the teacher on electric bass. Speeches until the rhetoric began to hurt; applause until our palms were red… and then more! This was remarkable. There were touching moments, like when the former mayor of Monrovia was saluted and flowered for her key role in making it happen. We were there to celebrate and rejoice.

The Foothill Operations Campus is a 24-acre, rail maintenance facility. There are six miles of track on site to maintain and store up to 84 vehicles. The main shop is LEED Gold certified, powered by the sun and with stormwater capture on site. Nearly 200 staff will work at the 24*7 facility. The site facilitates inspection, heavy repairs, “blow-down,” wheel truing, body repairs, painting, storage, cleaning, and washing. There’s a public viewing area of the site, and an artistic theme featuring the California poppy, the derivation of the term “the Golden State.” It was Spanish explorers sailing off the coast who named California “the land of fire” as widespread poppies burst in color.

The facility was built on budget — $265 million – and completed three months ahead of schedule. Now the Foothill Extension Construction Authority will turn over the facility to Metro, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.  After the speeches we get the opportunity to meet the new CEO of Metro, Phil Washington. He’s just moved from Denver to take the helm, and now lives in Pasadena and like us takes the Gold Line to work.

We also meet and congratulate Habib Balian the project manager for the site who was front and center of accolades. Super guy. We meet and congratulate the facility’s architect, Roland Genick, who tells us about the 178.5 kW solar system on the Maintenance of Way building, a facility whose primary function is to maintain and repair the system’s mainline track components. Solar was an afterthought, a means to achieve LEED Gold for the main shop building and to show off progressive design to passer-byes on the nearby 210 freeway. Its 714 transparent Lumos frameless panels and the MOW’s twisted rooftop are indeed elegant.

Currently, the Metro system in Los Angeles is experiencing major growth, with five new lines under construction concurrently thanks to Measure R that passed by a slim margin in 2008. It called for a half cent sales tax increase for 30 years to raise $40 billion for the construction. The lines under construction now are the Gold Line Foothill Extension, Expo Line Phase 2 (to Santa Monica), the Crenshaw-LAX Light Rail, the Regional Connector, and the Purple line Extension. City and county transportation advocates – galvanized by the MOVE LA – are now promoting a second ballot initiative – “Measure R2” – to take LA mass transit to an even higher level.  It would levy a half cent sales tax, county wide for 45 years to fund up to $90 billion in additional transit infrastructure.

Quote of the Week

“Every time drought strikes California, the people of this State cannot help noticing the substantial reservoir of untapped water lapping at their shores – 187 quintillion gallons of it, more or less, shimmering so invitingly in the sun.”
 – A reporter laments…

The California Drought

Boat slips in Folsom Reservoir Source: California Department

EcoNet News is all about good news, and it’s hard to find it in this topic. Where are the silver linings to water shortage? A new water offset market? A water scarcity tax? New and scaled up water efficiency services? This may necessarily become a continuing story on innovation and response to drought and scarcity.

Eastern Riverside County normally gets 12 inches of rain a year, but last year only got 4 inches. We see horrifying images of the 2013 Sierra snowpack versus 2014… and now 2015 with virtually no snowpack. Thus water must come from other sources. First and foremost is conservation. Then recycled water and purple pipes, “desal,” the Colorado River. But drought in the Colorado River’s headwater states is more prolonged, eight years versus four in California.

April 1, 2015, the lowest California snowpack measurement in recorded history. It’s 5% of normal, 2% in some parts of the State. There will be virtually no run-off this year. The water in our State’s depleted reservoirs is all we’ve got. Carol Trgovcich, Deputy Director of the State Water Resources Control Board reported that “these are devastating numbers.”

Rationing Water in California

Governor Brown waited for the fateful announcement of the snowpack level to announce his Executive Order B-26-15.  It mandates a statewide 25% reduction in water use.  This is painful for the State. There are huge costs of the drought: unemployment, business losses, especially recreational like skiing and boating. Some communities that are normally “self-supplied” with groundwater, now need water trucked in. And there are impacts to fish and wildlife, and increased threats of fires, pests, and diseases.

There are 411 water agencies in California that serve more than 3,000 customers. There are 2,600 that serve less than 3,000. Sixteen percent of Californians are served by private utilities. Each water agency/utility can set rules for their customers. Even self-supplied communities are required to comply. Some will adopt across-the-board percentage reductions – like their specific local target – while others will use more elaborate formulae. Major water users – like schools — ought to be in touch with their water agencies, voicing opinions and working together to develop custom solutions like combining turf removal with strategic watering schedules of ball fields to hit a specific target.
A year ago the State Water Resources Control Board began to mandate water use regulations, common-sense steps like no water run-off, no car-washing without shut-off nozzles. These were early prohibitions on end-use. Fish flows in some instances were limited to “belly-scraping flows,” just enough for the fish to get by. Water suppliers were asked to implement water shortage contingency plans. The results varied.

In early May, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) announced its plan to achieve the Governor’s proclamation for a 25% reduction from the 2013 baseline year. The SWRCB developed a formula – based on residential gallons of water per day per capita used in 2014 – to normalize between highly conserving cities and those that use way more than their peers. Some lobbied for climate zone and density parameters, but the Board chose only to focus on R/GPDC.

Some cities, notably San Francisco, have already achieved their goals while other cities must cut back as much as 38%. There are different percentage reduction requirements: for instance Poway 32%, San Diego 16%, and Rancho Santa Fe 65%. Some school districts are served by multiple water agencies and thus have to comply with multiple reduction requirements.

K12 Schools Focus on Turf

A School Energy Coalition conference in Ontario, California. I get a sense of who’s in the room: Mostly maintenance guys from school districts responsible for maintaining the grounds, the ball fields. I grab an unlikely seat. Before the opening, my table mates are talking sprinkler head and controls models. This is where the rubber hits the road. They’re here responding to the Governor’s 25% mandate. That’s a big number on campuses.

Landscape irrigation requires 30 – 80% of school water use. “There’s turf everywhere.” It dominates the traditional campus model, and “it’s no longer appropriate.” Why? Turf is not native. It doesn’t want to grow here. Thus it requires lots of water. So with four-year drought and no end in sight, turf removal is happening in earnest in California, being replaced by drought tolerant planting and drip irrigation. Just this same week MWD announced it was investing $350 million more in “cash for grass” programs.

Functional versus non-functional turf is a big topic. What’s non-functional? A few helpful hints: If the only time you walk on it, you mow it, it’s non-functional. Anything with a slope is also generally non-functional.

Schools have a lot of functional turf. Tom Duffy of CASH explains that they also have a Civic Center Act obligation (Section 38130 – 38139 of California Education Code) to provide the school grounds to the community. Sports fields are used before, during, and after school hours… by soccer and baseball clubs, neighbors throwing Frisbees, etc. These heavily used school and public assets are of great concern to schools required to dramatically cut water use. Limiting watering to twice a week might kill the grass.

Campus Drought Busting

We see slides of attractive xeriscaped and hardscaped school grounds, attractive grounds that combine colorful drought tolerant plantings and water retention features, with well designed for places for students to hang out, some grass areas on quads. San Marcos High School is exemplary. Many water agencies are offering $2/square foot for turf removal, about 40% of total cost. Turf removal does have a payback too by saving water, staff time, fertilizer costs, etc. And when you “stress grass,” there are less weeds, thus savings on pesticides and weed abatement.

What about “the spaces between the buildings?” Architect Andrew Wickham speaks of “design-based strategies,” and turning non-functional turf areas into functional spaces such as outdoor classrooms and meeting spots.  Schools are setting community examples by removing vast lawns and designing attractive and appropriate landscapes. Pitzer College’s primary entry went through such a transformation — from spray head to bubblers — and is now a showcase for the public. Its formally unused front lawn area now uses 50% less water and looks great.

“This may be the new normal.” Facilities staff stresses the importance of soil sampling to effectively gauge soil conditions, specifically moisture. They talk aeration of the soil and its frequency. Smart irrigation controllers measure temperature, humidity, wind, and evapotranspiration levels. In some cases, smart systems are actually forcing more water use given extremely dry conditions.

There are practical tips of all kinds: Set mowers to longer lengths, 2 – 3″ in non-sports areas. This helps turf retains water better given less evaporation and deeper roots. Increase the height of “warm-season grasses” used for sports fields from ¾ to 1 inch. New water flow meters can flag failures and unusual use and send email alerts.

Some notables: “The real question is not if we have to save, or how much we have to save… but how much will it cost to save?” “Today has been a funeral for non-functional, ornamental turf.” “We’re not asking folks to kill their trees.” “Your grass was greener yesterday than it will ever be again.” Boulders look good in xeriscape, but can cost money. “In Temecula, we grow our own boulders.”

The Most Efficient City

Mayors and local lawmakers in America’s largest cities continue to take innovative steps to lower energy costs for consumers and businesses, increase their resilience, and reduce pollution through increased energy efficiency, according to the 2nd edition of the City Energy Efficiency Scorecard, released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

The report finds that Boston continues to be the most energy-efficient city in the nation, receiving 82 out of a possible 100 points, an improvement of more than five points from that City’s 2013 score. Trailing Boston, the top 10 U.S. cities for energy efficiency are: New York City, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland, Austin, and Denver.

Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Seattle are the most improved cities compared to the 2013 City Scorecard, with many showing double-digit improvements in their scores. Los Angeles, for example, increased its score by 20 points by establishing a strong energy-savings goal; Chicago enacted a new commercial building benchmarking ordinance.

All of the ranked cities, even the highest scorers, have significant room for improvement. Boston was the only city to earn over 80 points, and only 13 cities of the 51 earned more than half of the possible points.

There are five key areas covered by the report, government operations, community initiatives, buildings, utilities and transportation. The top-scoring cities in Community-wide Initiatives are New York City and Boston. They both have broad programs, including strategies to mitigate urban heat islands. They also have efficient distributed-energy systems and policies or programs to plan for future ones.

Leading cities in terms of Buildings Policies are Boston, New York City, and Washington. They have adopted or advocated for stringent building energy codes, devoted resources to compliance, established requirements and incentives for efficient buildings, and increased the availability of information on energy use in buildings through benchmarking and transparency policies.

The leading cities in the Energy Utilities area are Boston, San Francisco, Portland, Minneapolis, and Chicago. Their energy efficiency programs offer high levels of savings; these cities also have productive relationships with their utilities in program implementation and access to data.

Poseidon and Desalinization

Santa Barbara’s Desalination Plant

“Every time drought strikes California, the people of this state cannot help noticing the substantial reservoir of untapped water lapping at their shores – 187 quintillion gallons of it, more or less, shimmering so invitingly in the sun,” laments a reporter.

For those of us that live along the coast, it’s hard to imagine that we have no water. We have lots of it, but salt water it is… The Earth is covered with water… 90% of the area of the globe is such. So how do we make it usable?

For years, desalinization has been dismissed largely because it is too expensive. While “desal” technologies exist – and they are proven, tried and true – they have been ruled out as a widespread solution due to cost.

And what does it cost to desalinate water these days? About a penny a gallon. These are new economics.

After 12 years of planning, and six years of permitting, the San Diego County Water Authority is now on the cusp of turning the Pacific Ocean into drinking water. It has signed an exclusive 30-year purchase agreement for the entire output of the Carlsbad desalinization plant. Desal will now be part of its water resource portfolio. The $1 billion desalination plant being built by Poseidon Water in Carlsbad is situated by an artificial bay opening to the sea. (In Greek mythology, Poseidon is the God of the Sea!) The plant will supply 300,000 homes in San Diego County with water and is due to open in late 2015. The plant will be the largest ocean desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere, producing about 50 million gallons of drinking water a day.

Other communities are also considering desal, notably Huntington Beach where Poseidon has been planning another 50 million gallon a day plant. Santa Barbara is on the verge of spending $40 million to reactivate its long-mothballed desalination plant. That step would drive water bills up, acknowledged Mayor, Helene Schneider. But, she added, “No water is a worse option than very expensive water.” More than a dozen communities along the California coast are studying the issue. Florida has one operating already and is looking to build more as a rising sea invades its freshwater supplies. Texas had been considering desal plants.

The Economic and Environmental Costs of Desalinated Water

Carlsbad Plant Rendering Source: Poseidon Water

A bit of research on the actual cost of delivered water in the City of San Diego: After a base fee for a single family home of $40.21, each HCF (hundred cubic feet) costs $3.896 and up to $6.234 depending on usage. One HCF is 748.05 gallons. Thus, for water alone, San Diegans are paying a retail price of 0.3 – 0.8 cents per gallon. Starting to make a penny look reasonable, right?

Another way of looking at this is that in San Diego County water bills average about $75 a month. The new plant will drive them up by ~$5 to secure a new supply equal to about 7 – 8% of the County’s water consumption.

Critics point to more than cost as tradeoffs to desal. The plants will use lots of electricity, increasing emissions that cause climate change, which further strains water supplies. Reverse osmosis involves forcing seawater through a membrane with holes so tiny that the water molecules can pass through but larger salt molecules cannot. The Poseidon plant in Carlsbad will pump water through 16,040 cylinders containing the membranes that trap salt. A lot of

energy is required to create enough pressure to push through the membranes. Advanced engineering has cut energy use of the plants in half in 20 years while improving reliability.

There are also impacts on sea life at both the water intake and at the time of disposal of salt into the ocean. Sucking in large quantities of seawater, for instance, can kill fish eggs and larvae by the billions. Voters in Santa Cruz effectively killed a desalination plant based on environmental concerns. Poseidon Water has promised to counter environmental damages by offsetting emissions of greenhouse gases. Regulators may require developers to pipe intake water well below sea floor, then to draw in water through a natural sand filter to avoid marine life and habitat disruption. This in addition to costly requirements for “disposal” of brine at the tail-end of process.

Desalinated Water Costs

Desalination has grown into an industry of note with more than 15,000 plants operating around the world. Many are small and treat brackish groundwater, requiring much less energy and costing less than seawater treatment. Large plants treating seawater have been rare here but they exist in chronically dry regions like the Middle East. In little more than a decade, Israel has moved from perpetual water crisis to a point where it will soon get half its water from desalination.

The Marshall Islands Journal reported on the Marshall Islands’ first permanent reverse osmosis (RO) water production plant powered by wind and solar energy on the Utrik Atoll. For the past three and a half years, two RO units there have produced a continuous flow of up to 3,600 gallons per day of clean, fresh, EPA-approved drinking water, staving off the effects of a year-long, region-wide drought, while improving the health of Utrik’s 485 residents.

The system is operating with no significant issues; its machines are producing at 100% capacity. The water tested 108 ppm (parts per million) which is reportedly excellent. A typical water-making unit of this size powered by a diesel generator consumes approximately 1.5 gallons of diesel fuel per hour. Utrik runs their machines an average of 10 hours a day. With fuel prices averaging $8 a gallon, Utrik’s two RO machines would have cost a minimum of $240 per day to run. Now Utrik’s fuel expense for continuous water production is zero.

Future desalination plants also have the potential to blend well with the rising percentage of renewable power on the electric grids in California and Texas. Since treated water can be stored, the plants could be called upon at times when electricity from wind or solar power is plentiful, and later ramped down when not.