Archive for June 19th, 2011

Water wars: Little-known rules proposed for the Central Coast are causing a big fight that may be reaching Sacramento


Water wars: Little-known rules proposed for the Central Coast are causing a big fight that may be reaching Sacramento


Posted 19 June 2011, by Jason Hoppin, Santa Cruz Sentinel,

WATSONVILLE — Pajaro Valley farmer Dick Peixoto minces no words when it comes to a proposed set of water regulations that could play a key role in state budget talks: They will destroy farming in California.

“It’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Peixoto, whose Lakeside Organic Gardens grows 44 kinds of organic vegetables on 1,200 acres. “It’s holding us to a standard that’s impossible to attain.”

Peixoto is not alone in that view. Large and small farmers throughout the Salinas and Pajaro valleys have spent the past two years warning that the rules threaten agriculture, the top industry in the state and county.

Moving slowly toward a September vote, the rules would radically reshape how farms in the Pajaro and Salinas valleys are regulated, making Central Coast water rules among the toughest — if not the toughest — agricultural regulations nationwide.

But those controversial, and largely unknown, rules could still be part of the mix as Gov. Jerry Brown seeks a final budget solution that likely would need at least some Republican support, including possibly from Republicans whose districts include the Central Coast farmlands covered by the proposed rules.


What’s at stake? Merely safe drinking water for Californians, the price of putting food on the table, the economic vitality of a $36 billion farming industry, and a decision that should resonate for years, locally and across the country.

The rules propose tough new rules for farmers that aim to eliminate pesticide discharges and limit nitrate runoff and even sediment runoff.

Nitrates, which can enter groundwater through fertilizer, are a nationwide problem and growing point of contention between farmers, regulators and environmentalists seeking to ensure access to safe water. In levels that exceed safe drinking levels — and a lot of the untreated groundwater beneath the Central Coast does — nitrates can lead to numerous ailments, including a blood problem known as Blue Baby Syndrome, when an infant’s blood is incapable of carrying sufficient oxygen.

The rules also implement a broad monitoring and enforcement program that has farmers up in arms.

While some general monitoring has been done to outline the scope of the problem, the proposed rules also allow the board to keep records on individual farms, and make those records public.

In other words, the rules name names.

Farmers have objected on numerous grounds, and Peixoto’s sentiment is a common one. Farmers say it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how much farms contribute to the nitrate problem [something many agree with] and that seeking to prevent pesticide runoff amounts to a back door regulation on pesticide use. They worry about costly remedies that could include everything from lining retention ponds to caps on how much fertilizer to use.

“It would be impossible to have zero runoff,” Peixoto said.

Those are only a few of the complaints. Mostly, what had emerged since the proposed rules were released is an old-fashioned culture clash: Farmers and environmentalists don’t trust each other.

More than 100 groups have weighed in on the proposals, which would affect farms from Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz. They include politicians, advocates for farmworkers, the poor and clean water, Monterey Bay caretakers, strawberry growers, small wineries and more.

“Everyone has a dog in this fight, even if they don’t know it,” said Gary Shallcross, a former member of the obscure board weighing the rules, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. “There hasn’t been much press on it, and part of the reason is, it’s so complicated.”


It wasn’t always like this. When the state signaled more than a decade ago that it wanted to get a handle on the water quality problem posed by agriculture, the two sides ventured forward in a spirit of cooperation. Proposals were advanced that helped outline the scope of the problem and begin work on solutions.

But a second set of rules was due in 2009, and with more aggressive rules, things changed. That spirit of cooperation — forged in part by people no longer part of the debate — now seems an idyllic memory.

“Everybody looked to the Central Coast as the model,” said Danny Merkley, a water quality lobbyist for the California Farm Bureau Federation. “You have a whole new dynamic, a whole new set of human beings with different values and different perspectives on how the world should work.”

Shallcross, a pro-environmental former board member replaced in one of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last acts in office, agrees with Merkley’s assessment, even if their outlook on new proposed rules differs.

If passed, the rules would hand environmentalists their biggest victory yet in their battle against nitrates, an issue some say dwarfs the biggest environmental struggles of the past several decades. A win here gives them a pedestal from which to carry the fight nationally.

“These are serious, serious problems. We should be glad to live in a state where it’s easier to have your voice heard,” said Dipti Bhatnagar, Northern California program director for the Oakland-based Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, stressing that farming must become sustainable.

“We’re not interested in type of agriculture that’s taking place in the Salinas Valley, which is ridiculously harmful.”

Merkley bristles at those kind of sentiments. He said the Farm Bureau is having “high-level” conversations about finding ways to ensure communities have access to safe water. To him, some of the players in the environmental community seem less interested in finding solutions and saving farms, particularly small ones, than in raising money and building their organizations’ membership lists.

“They do not understand agriculture,” Merkley said. “They do not understand the art and the science of moving water across a field to bring a commodity to market, and all the things that play into that.”

Other regional water boards have proposed tough rules, but it’s widely acknowledged that the Central Coast rules are the toughest.

In an email, board staff made it clear it is not backing down, pointing out that Central Coast waterways and groundwater are severely impaired. Supporters say that’s because this region grows crops such as strawberries and lettuce that require added fertilizer, which contributes to water problems.

“The water board is the only agency with the authority and responsibility to take on this challenge,” wrote Lisa McCann, supervisor of the watershed protection section of the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

“We must meet this challenge head-on so we can turn from further degradation of our groundwater, our drinking water supplies, and our streams and estuaries, to safe drinking water and a healthy environment. The time to act is now.”


As the two sides have become more entrenched, speculation has turned to whether lawmakers in Sacramento would force a solution more favorable to farmers.

Normally, state lawmakers would hold only persuasive authority over the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. In fact, many have weighed in through letters that almost universally criticize the aggressive rules.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, long a supporter of working with farmers cooperatively to develop clean-water strategies, sent his own strong letter.

“I fear that if the board implements the staff’s current … proposal, much of the time, energy and resources that previously went into water quality measures, will instead be channeled into further conflict over practical viability, economic impact and scientific validity of the new proposal itself,” Farr wrote in February.

But so far, the board has been unable to vote on the rules. With three vacancies and two members who cannot vote due to conflict-of-interest rules, the board lacks a quorum. And since the governor is tasked with filling those vacancies, Brown could wield vast sway over how the controversy plays out.

Politics already has entered the debate, according to many. On his last week in office, Schwarzenegger replaced Shallcross with a member considered more friendly to agricultural interests. Asked whether he thought the move was a direct response to the proposed rules, Shallcross concurred.

“Oh, definitely,” Shallcross said.


Speculation has focused on the two moderate Republican senators representing the Central Coast, Sam Blakeslee and Anthony Cannella. Both have emerged as key figures in the budget debate, seeking Democratic concessions on big issues such as a state spending cap and regulatory reform as a condition of their support.

Brown would need both votes, along with two Republican members of the Assembly, to force through a budget that includes an extension of taxes due to expire June 30. His budget veto last week is likely to renew efforts to win that support.

Weeks ago, members of Brown’s staff notified select members of the environmental community that Republicans had placed the Central Coast proposed rules on the table as a talking point during budget discussions, according to several sources familiar with the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the talks.

“The Republicans in the state Legislature are really on this,” Shallcross said. “This is one of the things they want, from what I understand, in trade for their vote on the budget deal” — in particular, putting the tax extensions to a statewide vote.

A spokesman for Brown said the governor was working to fill the vacancies, but declined to say whether the agricultural water rules are on the table as a potential piece of the final budget solution.

“That would be a great question for our colleagues across the aisle, but we don’t discuss internal budget negotiations,” Brown spokesman Evan Westrub said.

Environmentalists are guarding against any Sacramento effort to tinker with the rules. Save Our Shores is asking supporters to sign form letters that are being sent to Brown’s office, urging the governor not to negotiate away clean water rules.

“Our understanding is, one of the asks in the budget — and this is all being done behind closed doors — is easing up on the ag regulations. And that’s real problematic,” said Jennifer Cleary of Save Our Shores.

Jim Metropulos, a senior advocate with the Sierra Club, said it wouldn’t be the first time environmental rules got caught up in budget deals.

“It gets leveraged in back-room dealings to try to pick off a Republican vote,” Metropulos said. “This issue dealing with agricultural runoff in the Central Coast is not something that should rise to the level of budget negotiations.”


During a hectic week in Sacramento, neither Blakeslee nor Cannella were available for comment. But both have signaled that agricultural interests have their ear, mentioning in testimony or correspondence with the board that they have heard from farmers on the issue.

“I am gravely concerned that the increasing level of regulation and mitigation requirements … will result in the loss of productive agricultural land and will threaten the existence of small farmers and ranchers,” Cannella wrote in a letter sent to the board in March.

Cannella is not alone in those sentiments. Even Democratic Assemblymen Luis Alejo of Watsonville, and Bill Monning of Carmel, have questioned the breadth of the rules.

In a statement provided by his staff, Blakeslee said more work needs to be done on the rules.

“An ag … program must be developed to protect water quality without driving agriculture out of our state,” Blakeslee said. “I continue to be concerned that the staff proposal fails to strike the right balance.”

Lobbying, of course, is a vital part of any regulated industry, and Merkley doesn’t deny that he’s spoken with state lawmakers and the highest levels of state government about the issue.

“We’re constantly asked by legislators who represent that region, and the governor’s office, what’s going on down there? What’s happening? What’s your side of the story?” Merkley said.

The rules remain deeply concerning to farmers, who are floating their own alternative set of regulations that could compete for votes on the board. Several small growers have sent letters to the board claiming the regulations would devastate their operations, or even may be impossible to comply with.

Merkley said the Farm Bureau prefers to work with staff to make the rules more palatable.

“When that fails, sometimes that’s your only other option, to raise it to a higher level,” he said.

But environmentalists are hoping the board sticks to its guns, with a vote on the rules now scheduled for September.

“We, as a country, as a state, have an obligation to provide water that is safe for families,” said Bhatnagar of the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water. “We don’t want farms to go away, but they have to become sustainable.”

Blueprint for fresh ideas

Blueprint for fresh ideas


Posted 18 June 2011, by Tiara Walters, Times Live (Sunday Times (South Africa)),

A train that looks like a kingfisher’s beak; a building like a termite mound – biomimicry is a system that copies the survival strategies of the natural world

Ever wished you could keep the air in your house at a constant temperature without bothering with expensive heating or airconditioning? Well, biomimicry – a science that copies nature’s genius in order to produce sustainable solutions for human problems – may hold the answer. Green Life spoke to Claire Janisch, engineering boff and founder of Biomimicry SA, to find out how this new discipline can remake our world.

How does biomimicry differ from other biological approaches, such as sticking chimps in a lab and putting chemicals on their skin to determine the reaction?

Just take the giraffe’s tongue – it has this amazing, goopy lubricant that prevents it from being pricked by thorns. Now scientists have taken this mucus and found a recipe to create an equivalent lubricant that breaks down into benign chemicals and could be used to replace conventional machinery oils. This doesn’t mean we’re farming giraffes. We’re just borrowing the recipe from one giraffe so all the others can stay where they are. It’s creating conditions conducive to all life, which is the principle of what biomimicry is about.

What else are we learning from bio-mimicry in Southern Africa that has the power to change the way we live?

A lot of Southern African organisms – everything from the Namib Desert beetle to the zebra to the rhino – are being studied by anyone, from the University of Bath in England to Harvard University in the US.

The rhino horn, for example, has this amazing, self-healing material. When the rhino cracks its horn, all the material around that crack will disassemble and then refill – or self-heal – the crack. So now, when there’s a crack in a bridge, for instance, researchers have found a way to apply the rhino horn’s self-healing principle to that crack in the bridge and fix it automatically by using a material that is similar to the one found in rhino horn.

In biomimicry we copy the recipe, the blueprint or the strategy of an organism or ecosystem. We do not use the actual material from the organism – that would just be “bio-utilisation”.

So in the case of the hippo, an animal that has pink, sensitive skin and spends a lot of time in the sun, the University of California is researching the recipe of hippo sweat, which is a UV-resistant and antibacterial substance. The idea is to copy this sweat to make an equivalent chemical that we could use in human sunscreens or antibacterial agents (or a combination of both).

Are there any commercially successful, international examples of how nature has been used to solve human problems?

The Eastgate Centre in Harare mimics termite mounds by using a series of thin tunnels in order to regulate the temperature of the building itself, which, as a result of this design, uses 80% less energy than a building with a conventional airconditioning system. The building has been going since the 1990s, and has been saving all this energy, every single year.

Another very successful example of biomimicry comes from Japan, where the designers of the Shinkansen train have copied the kingfisher’s beak to make the train more aerodynamic and therefore quieter when it moves through the tunnels.

All of which underlines why it’s tragic that species are going extinct before we’ve even mapped all the planet’s fauna and flora – some of which may teach us the cure for Aids, or reveal the secret to invisibility through clever camouflage.

The thing we need to remember is that we are nature as well: we are a species among species – and a very young species in evolutionary terms. All the species that have thrived on the earth for a long time have done so because they’ve learnt to look after their own needs as well as those of the place they live in. We’ll need to recognise this if we are planning to fit in on Planet Earth for the long haul.

TELL US: Can you think of an example of biomimicry that could solve a problem in your own life? E-mail



Conventional solar-charged lighting is so yesterday. This concept camping lantern functions as both a light and a portable nursery, allowing you to regenerate the veld as you bushwhack your way through it. “To start, you plant a seed into the base, and allow it to grow within the lantern,” explains the man behind the idea, Franklin Gaw of Carnegie Mellon University in the US. “The lantern has a dimmable growth light that helps cultivate the sapling. When the sapling is large enough to plant, you just take the top handle off, and replant the sapling into the forest. The hope is that, one day, the sapling will grow into a tree.” Visit



Biomimicry SA is the very first of its kind in South Africa. Founded by biomimicry guru Claire Janisch in May last year, the organisation, says Janisch, is now “slowly following the strategy” of the movement’s founding organisation, the US-based Biomimicry Institute, “to bring biomimicry into education by reaching schools and universities, as well as doing public presentations and workshops that train South Africans to understand biomimicry”.

Aside from working with the Water Research Commission on a five-year project that is investigating how nature treats and purifies water, the organisation is also supporting several local academic institutions, such as the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, which has now “incorporated the principles of biomimicry into its entire design curriculum”, says Janisch.

“It’s got to the point where we are now doing professional training in South Africa and are the leading hub in the world outside the US. Other hubs, for example in the Netherlands and Mexico, are phoning and asking us for advice,” she explains.

“The Professional Pathways Programme (a Biomimicry Institute initiative) is brand new and ran its first workshops in Costa Rica only at the end of March and then also in Vancouver. Joburg and Cape Town will be the very next ones to do this.”

Aimed at biologists, designers, engineers, business people, educators and artists, the workshops will offer entry-level courses on the principles of biomimicry and explore professional opportunities in the biomimicry community. The workshops – taking place at the Joburg Zoo from July 1-3 and at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town from July 8-10 – will include free public presentations. Visit

The importance of mixing


The importance of mixing

Posted 15 June 2011, by Staff, European Space Agency,

It was a good flight back in 2007: an unmanned Foton-M3 spacecraft flew around Earth for 12 days with 43 scientific and technological experiments on board. Some of the results were in hand right after the flight, but some haven’t blossomed until now – like Gradflex.

The suitcase-sized Gradflex experiment is a textbook example of fundamental research, producing just complex-sounding titles on scientific publications after years of effort by many people. Beneath the title the results reveal important steps ahead in our understanding of the natural world – that is how systems that are not in equilibrium, such as mixing fluids, behave.

The way two liquids mix has been understood since the pioneering work of Albert Einstein.

What is less well known is that mixing is accompanied by large fluctuations consisting of localised motions that move the two liquids into each other. This effect occurs when liquids with different compositions diffuse into each other or even in a liquid subjected to a temperature difference that causes heat to diffuse.

These fluctuations are so small that they are extremely difficult to observe, but in 1997, physicists Alberto Vailati and Marzio Giglio from the University of Milan, Italy, showed that they could become detectable under certain conditions, and theorists predicted that they could even become quite large if the gravitational force could be removed.

The experiment was then proposed to ESA as an international collaboration coordinated by Marzio Giglio and David Cannell from the University of California at Santa Barbara, USA.

The science team was delighted when the initial results for fluid mixing were published on 19 April in the journal Nature Communications, and again when the results for heat diffusion were accepted on 5 May for Physical Review Letters.

In short, the scientists found that during the diffusion of tiny, nano-metre-sized molecules in a liquid, their concentration exhibits fluctuations with sizes ranging up to millimetres, and lifetimes as long as almost 17 minutes.The thickness of the fluid layer is in the end what limits any further growth of these fluctuations.

But it is not just about size. The most striking result is that fluctuations of all sizes are present, hinting at the ‘fractal’ nature of a diffusion front. There are many fractals in nature, from clouds to snow flakes, all with extremely complex but fascinating shapes. When magnified, any portion of a fractal looks similar to the whole of it.

The finding is interesting because it challenges the accepted vision of diffusion as a smooth mixing of fluids or a smooth diffusion of heat.

This is especially important for space where gravity does not interfere with the growth of huge fluctuations. Since a large fraction of physics and biology experiments in space rely on modelling diffusion as a smooth mixing process, it is important to realize that diffusive processes are not as smooth as they might seem.

For more information contact:

Stefano Mazzoni
ESA GRADFLEX project scientist
Human Spaceflight and Operations
Tel. +31 71 565 8377

Kumi braves water cannons to scale Arctic oil rig

Kumi braves water cannons to scale Arctic oil rig

Posted by email on 19 June 2011, by Staff, Greenpeace International,

As you read this, the global head of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo, remains in jail in Greenland. He was arrested on Friday after braving water cannons and freezing seas to scale an Arctic oil rig and demand that it stop drilling in this beautiful fragile environment.

Before leaving us here on the ship he said he’d been profoundly inspired by the 20 activists who’d gone before him in the past weeks – and proud to follow in their footsteps.

As he left the ship he had this to say:
This is one of the defining environmental battles of our age. It’s a fight for sanity against the madness of those who see the disappearance of Arctic sea-ice as an opportunity to profit. If we don’t stop them, the oil companies will send in the rigs and drill for more of the fossil fuels that got us into this mess in the first place – in a place where the cost of a spill is unimaginable.

We have to draw a line somewhere and I say we draw that line here today.

He left all of us on the ship feeling very inspired, and with a renewed determination to see this through to the end.

I think you’ll feel the same when you watch this amazing video of Kumi as he and his companion scaled the side of the giant rig.

Right now, Kumi remains in custody in a Greenlandic jail, but you can leave a message here for him to read once he regains his freedom.

– Nick (on board the Esperanza)

PS. We were all so inspired by this video and I think others will be too. Bearing witness is a core value at Greenpeace, one that motivated Kumi to scale that rig. Ask your friends to bear witness to the Arctic oil rush by sharing this video with your circle of contacts on Facebook or by email – here’s the link: