Archive for April 2012

What Happens In The Garden When You Are Not Looking

April 25, 2012

The beauty of pollination accelerated by the magic of time lapse photography

Antioch Bridge Seismic Retrofit Completed

April 19, 2012

The nearly two yearlong project to seismically retrofit the 1.8 mile long Antioch Bridge has been completed. The bridge, opened in 1978 using the current earthquake safety technology, was originally thought to be adequately protected from earthquake damage. Upon further review Caltrans and the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) evaluated the seismic safety of the bridge and determined it required seismic retrofit work to make the bridge safe during a major earthquake. The $47 million project was paid for by the BATA using your bridge toll dollars.

On Tuesday I had the opportunity to tour what had been done. For the first part of the tour we climbed up the scaffolding to view the seismic isolation bearings that were installed at each of the 41 piers. These bearings use a sliding mechanism to control the bridge’s seismic response and to dissipate earthquake energy and will allow for up 26 inches of movement in any direction. The bearings were installed using jacks to separate the bridge from the pier and then sliding in the bearing. A total of 82 bearings were installed without affecting the nearly 15,000 vehicles that cross the bridge each day.

You’ll notice that 21 pier columns have been strengthened by the addition of cross braces and strengthening hinges. Additionally 116 columns supporting the nearly 800-foot-long concrete slap approach on Sherman Island were enhanced with steel casing jackets.

From Conception to Birth Visualized

April 18, 2012

Alexander Tsiaras presents a powerful visualization, based on MRI data, of the miraculous development of a human being, from conception to birth, with a focus on the amazing developments that occur in the first nine weeks, as cells divide to become the highly specialized structures of brain and heart.

Wanting more of a good thing: water subsidies, cotton subsidies, and the corporate agribusiness elite 1%

April 14, 2012

This post is from the Restore the Delta Newsletter

Restore the Delta is a grassroots campaign committed to making the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta fishable, swimmable, drinkable, and farmable to benefit all of California. Restore the Delta – a coalition of Delta residents, business leaders, civic organizations, community groups, faith-based communities, union locals, farmers, fishermen, and environmentalists – seeks to strengthen the health of the estuary and the well-being of Delta communities. Restore the Delta works to improve water quality so that fisheries and farming can thrive together again in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Restore the Delta has been thinking a great deal lately about who receives water exported from the Delta and how these recipients use this exported water. The more we learn about how exported water is being used by the corporate agribusiness growers on the west side and southern San Joaquin Valley, the more convinced we become that exported water supports a business model that is bad for tax payers, and completely antithetical to the hope of a sustainable economy and environment for the Delta and for California

This week’s case in point: the growers of Semitropic Water Storage District. According to its website:

Semitropic Water Storage District is one of eight water storage districts in California and is the largest in Kern County. The District delivers water to nearly 300 customers for the irrigation of approximately 140,000 acres for agricultural uses. Semitropic also supplies energy to a variety of users and provides groundwater banking and storage services.

Established in 1958, Semitropic Water Storage District covers an area of more than 220,000 acres. It began as an irrigation district for the purpose of securing State Water Project supplies to reduce groundwater overdraft….

The development of the Semitropic Water Storage Bank was based on three primary objectives:

•Increase water supply reliability.
•Decrease the cost of water for irrigation.
•Correct overdraft in the groundwater basin.

In other words, Semitropic from the beginning, as a recipient of State Water Project water, was created to improve water supply reliability for a fairly arid region, to make water cheaper for big growers, and to fix the groundwater basin which had been overdrafted.

We, therefore, decided to look at the business models for some of Semitropic’s growers. This week we focus our attention on Todd Tracy. Mr. Tracy’s family is part of the historic Tracy family, a pioneer farming family that operated Buttonwillow Land and Cattle. So far, so good. Large tracts of semi-arid land, with just enough rain to support grazing — end result cattle production. It makes sense to us.

However, between 1995 and 2010, Buttonwillow Land and Cattle received $11,666,428 in cotton subsidy payments according to the Environmental Working Group. To see the data click here.

Water exports from the Delta (which is subsidized water as the State Water Project has never paid for itself) were used to produce these cotton crops that had to be subsidized by our Federal tax dollars. Meanwhile between 1995 and 2010, coastal fishing industries declined significantly, water quality worsened for beneficial use in the Delta, Delta fisheries collapsed, and Delta farmers spent millions of dollars in litigation to protect their water rights and access to good water quality.

These cotton crops do nothing to increase national food security, which an argument can be made for, for other subsidized crops. And while Restore the Delta does complain frequently about San Joaquin Valley almond exports to China, the argument can be made that those almonds are at least feeding people in other nations.

But what troubles us the most is that we are still subsidizing cotton with Delta water and Federal payments, when it can be grown cheaper in other parts of this country. This public policy model is unsustainable – for both our economy and the environment. But it continues because it enriches a small group of corporate agribusiness, who rake in private profits with socialized losses, who then have money to influence the political process.

Oh and by the way, the Semitropic Water Storage District supports the peripheral canal.

We guess that their growers simply want more of a good thing.

Hummingbirds and Spiders – A Unique Bond

April 5, 2012

I was out in the backyard Sunday continuing the spring cleanup. The backyard was active, birds flying between the feeders and baths, lizards sunny themselves on the fence and hummingbirds drawing nectar from the red salvias that start early and last through the summer. Towards the evening I watched the hummingbirds behaving in a peculiar manner. They were hovering at the fence and appeared to be pulling at old spider webs that littered the fence line just under the top board.

I went back inside, logged onto the computer, and confirmed what I thought. She is building a nest. From the World of Hummingbirds.com: “Female hummingbirds will need nesting material to make her nest. She likes to use nice soft material like moss and lichen. She also likes to use cotton fluffs, bits of willows, soft plant pieces, dryer lint, and leaf hairs. She will bring these items back to her nest a little at a time, gluing it all together with spider webs. The spider webs make terrific glue for the nest, allowing the nest to stretch and be flexible as the baby hummingbirds grow. The spider webs also make it easier for the mother hummingbird to repair the nest when damaged or when kids do what kids do. While building the nest, the female hummingbird will try to camouflage it as much as possible by using small sticks, seeds, and plant pieces to shade the outside of the nest. She will make sure the lighter parts of the nest are in the sun, while the darker parts of the nest are in the shade, blending it in with the surroundings.”

BART to Provide Riders with a Glimpse into the “Fleet of the Future” by Replacing Cloth Seats with Easier-to-Clean Ones

April 3, 2012

BART’s new fleet of train cars may still be 5 years away, but starting today, many BART riders will be able to commute every day on easier-to-clean seats that will resemble those on the “Fleet of the Future.”

More than 5,000 riders who participated in the “Fleet of the Future” seat labs last fall overwhelming let the agency know that they wanted easier-to-clean seats in the new fleet. The BART Board decided that instead of waiting 5 years for the new fleet to arrive, the agency will throw out the cloth seats in up to 100 cars beginning tomorrow and test new vinyl seats. If the public responds positively to the change, the agency
will replace another 100 seats.

BART is replacing existing wool seat assemblies with brand new easier-to-clean material. BART will conduct a media event Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 10:00am to showcase a whole trainful of new seats. This special
train will begin its journey at BART’s 19th Street Station in Oakland, head to Montgomery Street Station then return to 19th Street, picking up passengers along the way.

Before BART commits to making over more than the first 100 cars, the agency will survey customers for their feedback on the new seats later in April. Surveys will be conducted on board the cars outfitted with new seats, with on-board survey-takers who will ask riders for their feedback. Trains with new seats will have a decal to identify which cars have the new seats on board.

WHAT: BART Showcases New Seats

WHEN: 10:00am on Tuesday, April 3, 2012

WHERE: BART’s 19th Street Station – Meet at Richmond/Bay Point Platform
closer to the 20th Street Access 1900 Broadway, Oakland 94612

WHO: BART Board President John McPartland, Board Members Gail Murray and
Bob Franklin; and BART General Manager Grace Crunican

VISUALS: 4-car train outfitted with new seats; passengers trying out new
seats, sample survey forms, time lapse video of seat installs (provided as
DVD)

BART has the oldest fleet of train cars in the country. Learn about BART’s plans to replace aging train cars with the Fleet of the Future: www.bart.gov/cars

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