Did You Know? Bonnie Donovan
In Santa Barbara and California, we talk a lot about resilience. And we should. We are, after all, part of the Wild West.
People had to cross the Great Plains and suffer through the dust bowl to get here. Once they arrived, they were reminded that we live in a wild and, by geological standards, young part of the world where blizzards invade our mountain ranges, cliffs erode and the earth shakes.
When we talk of resilience, we talk about many things: Mother Nature, our people, and housing.
But for now, let’s just talk about the basics: utilities.
In an effort to create greater resilience and in an attempt to address the greatest existential threat that appears to have ever existed — global warming — the great thinkers in our state and city have decided to implement a plethora of policies and laws that are well intended to move us toward a place of greater security.
But these policies and laws may be leading us down the wrong path.
For decades now, the city of Santa Barbara has promoted low water use, drought-tolerant landscaping with drip irrigation that employs primarily native plantings. This is a great idea in theory, but what happens when we slowly but significantly remove lush, well rooted vegetation with broad canopied trees from our city? Might we incrementally be increasing local warming through the deliberate and planned deforestation of our city, thus adding to global warming?
Dennis Allen, in his Jan. 5 article “People Can Make Rain,” very astutely discussed how it has become known that plants promote important microbe propagation that in turn supports water vapor … and rain.
In his article, he notes “The knowledge that microbes from plants and soil play a central role in rain cycles over land has profound implications. For example, the removal of vegetation by overgrazing or exposing bare soil in monocrop farming can create conditions for drought. Conversely, the restoration of a plant-rich ecosystem could increase precipitation.”
So what are we doing? While we may be conserving water in the short run, we are losing the lush landscapes for which Santa Barbara has been historically revered. Keeping our urban and suburban landscapes increases humidity (presumably desirable to diminish fire danger), offers shade that keeps hardscaping cooler, and may — as Mr. Allen has pointed out — actually helps to support increased rainfall locally. It gives one a whole new perspective on the idea of “drought tolerance,” eh?
Another blessed policy that we have adopted locally is to promote increased permeability in landscaping. This too is a great idea … on the surface (and with no pun intended).
But if permeable paving and landscape are lumped into one general category, then the suggestion is that permeable pavers for driveways and walkways, etc., provide the same benefit as landscaping. This is simply not true.
While permeable pavers are more desirable than solid concrete or asphalt in that they do provide water penetration into soil, they do not accept water as readily as well mulched or landscaped areas. Period. A small drive around town this past week or two provided an obvious education in this regard. Gallons of water were sheeting down many a newly “hard”-scaped driveway constructed of such pavers. On the other hand, landscaped areas with vegetation sat quietly and “drank” it up until satiated.
On the continued topic of water, has anyone looked at the cost of their water bill lately? A deep dive into a water bill recently illustrated the fact that Tier 1 rates are only allowed up to 4 Units (HCF) for a single-family residential parcel and that the cost of having a 1-inch water meter (one acre parcel) is now $74.26/month.
If we do a bit of math, we learn that this amounts to less than 25 gallons per person per day for a family of four, or 16 gallons for a family of six. At the current meter cost per month, this property would pay $8,910 over 10 years for a 1-inch meter.
A 1-inch brass water meter with a remote reader can be had for less than $500.
So water is a luxury, and we are paying for it. (Never mind that the water comes from our properties which, in most cases, have been stripped of groundwater rights.)
And watering landscape is clearly a lavish and opulent indulgence — regardless of the fact that it may actually promote rain, diminish fire hazards, keep our city cooler, and help us maintain a beautiful town.
This past week, 9.7 million gallons of water were running into the California Delta per minute from the American River. 9.7 million gallons of water per minute. Wow!
And this week the news came out that California will spend roughly $30 billion on projects to alleviate the potential for damage caused by flooding.
Here’s an idea. How about we use that $30 billion to actually capture and retain the water for use during drought years? If we rerouted runoff smartly, it could be a win-win. Save some low lying areas from damage, save some water. Maybe we could all actually soak in a bath once in a while again. And if we are wondering where we could capture some of it locally, might we suggest underground, beneath the field at Santa Barbara Junior High School? This is a natural low point.
The intersection of Salsipuedes (aptly named) and Cota was flooded this past week. With all of the talk of renovating Ortega Park ,maybe a broader project could have a broader benefit.
But enough about water. (I mean we have had enough water for a few weeks being the soft Califoirnians that we are, right?)
Let’s chat about electricity and gas.
Gas appliances are now banned for all new construction in Santa Barbara.
Never mind that we have a completely undependable electrical grid that is frequently shut down with little or no warning, thanks to two factors: 1) PG&E and Southern California Edison, who have done such a stellar job of maintaining infrastructure that they have now paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in law suits for those who have suffered from fire, flood and mudslide damages, and 2) The push by those at the state level to “go electric.” So hey, that sounds like a great plan. Let’s place all of our eggs in that basket so that none of us can cook during a power outage — planned or otherwise.
In the meantime, you can have a natural gas generator installed within city limits to get you through the crisis as long as you have an underground storage tank on your property … which will, of course, need to be filled by trucks carrying liquid natural gas. These trucks will travel on our highways and through our city streets.
So now we have ticking time bombs being driven through the state and across the city, all as we are buying into the systematic decommissioning of the city’s U.G. gas grid. In the meantime the overall demand for natural gas plummets presumably as a result of increased regulation and the prices soar on the West Coast.
So who will have the lights running when the power goes out? It all seems perfectly resilient for all.
Recently Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 2511. This bill requires that all skilled nursing facilities provide enough back-up energy by Jan. 1, 2024 to support all emergency power, heating and cooling for a minimum of 96 hours. (This is apparently in response to issues that occurred in Florida during disasters where air conditioning was not available at such facilities during warm months.).
So while our esteemed governor is chanting the no-gas, save-the-world-from-global-warming, zero-emissions clean-air mantra, he is signing bills that will result in an estimated increase of approximately 1,200 back-up diesel generators across his and our state. Oh sure. They have to be Title 24 compliant. But the cumulative effect cannot be denied.
This past week as the storms raged, the power went out. We sparked up the camping stove, put on the headlamps, and toasted. “To resilience”, our own — and that of all the Californians and Barbarenos.
In the end it will be up to us. As it has been from the beginning.Bonnie Donovan writes the “Did You Know?” column in conjunction with a bipartisan group of local citizens. It appears Saturdays in the Voices section.