Friday, December 11, 2015

2015 - Its a Wrap!

2015 - Its a Wrap!

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   As 2015 ends, I hope this holiday season finds you in good health and spirits. That is always my hope and wish for you. Often victimized by our circumstance, we easily fall into despair when ego or body experiences discomfort or dis-ease. In recent years, I have focused on vitality at every age and any stage. I realize that my body is the aging vehicle that carries me through this life. On my ever changing canvas, finding brilliant sunsets, shooting stars and glorious sunrises that herald the day is more intentional than circumstantial. I have turned my focus there and my recap of 2015 exemplifies that intention.

BD girls: Mom (L) and Milly (R)
Sibs: Sandra, Cornelia, David
Mom and twin Milly celebrated their 90th birthdays in April. We had a party in Honolulu that was good fun.

Also in April, I started a new job at Kaiser South Sacramento - a pilot program to bring Nurse Practitioners (NPs) back into primary care medicine. Over the last two years, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) brought 14 million uninsured US citizens into the ranks of the insured. (2015 enrollment figures are not yet released but I’m sure we can add another few million.) Every healthcare system is struggling with the influx of new members and is forced to re-think their care delivery models. Kaiser Permanente (KP) is no different. 
Long the largest, local employer of NPs, they slowed and stopped hiring NPs in the Sacramento metro area more than a decade ago. And while KP was gloved and scrubbed to deliver the brand-spanking-new ACA-baby in Washington DC, they seemingly did little to prepare for the primary care onslaught. While other systems hired and trained NPs ahead of the delivery - I guess KP thought they could hire enough docs. Beeeg mistake.
A circuitous route to: I am one of six NPs hired in a 1-year pilot to train NPs in primary care. I see the walk-ins (so all those years in the Emergency Dept. are more than helpful), manage all the blood pressure medication adjustments [our medical assistants check about 40 hypertensive (high blood pressure) patients each day], and help cover appointments, phone calls and emails of vacationing docs.
I’ve had to immerse myself in the books again - to bone-up on joint assessments, procedures, rashes and common ailments. I continue to do some insulin adjustment for my docs - after five-years in Diabetes Management I am skilled, I have more time and I enjoy it. They find it tremendously helpful. Dats da goal baby! The people, of course, make it worthwhile; I love the people. So it follows that I love my job but then… Have I ever held a job I didn’t love?
My goal is to say, “Yes!” as much as possible. “Yes, I can help you. Yes, I can do that. Yes, add them to my schedule.” I have to be more flexible than ever - its good training for aging - a time that seemingly brings inflexibility to many facets of life.
While our doctors love the help, the numbers must show that we positively impact patient care. If we succeed, our program will spread throughout the northern California region and several HUNDRED NP jobs will open within the Kaiser system. I am keenly interested in that. I can’t tell you how many NPs I know still working as RNs in the Kaiser system - awaiting NP positions. I saw this pilot program as a way to impact something bigger, much bigger.  … fingers crossed.

I own a Kamaka ukulele - one I begged for and received on my 10th birthday. (Yes, Jake Shimabukuro plays a Kamaka.) Two years ago, it returned home to the Kamaka factory in Kaka’ako for a well baby check. I began taking ukulele lessons this year. I walked into my first lesson carrying my battered case.
“Is your ukulele as old as the case?” someone asked.
“Yep.” I opened my case and people gasped. Kamaka ukuleles are feather light and cost a cool $1000 dollars now. They call my Kamaka vintage. I wonder what that says about me?
“You better buy a new case,” they advised.
Some of you may remember that I was actually offered a music scholarship to the University of Hawaii. I’ve always thought of music as my gift. I love music and practicing was never a chore. So I’ve really thrown myself into my ukulele lessons -  much to my enjoyment. It nurtures the kāhoaka (spirit) in me that is anchored to my heart/home in the middle of the sea.

As you know, California is in the midst of a multi-year drought, nine years by my reckoning, interrupted by the storms of 2011. If you’re reeeally interested, go to my blog at: for the first in a three-part series on the drought. 
Oaks of our cul-de-sac
Oak trees, notoriously adverse to summer watering, began dropping yellowed leaves and showering the ground with Hail Mary acorns in May - as if it was fall. All our trees are stressed after multiple years of drought and dry winters. I wondered about watering oaks and searched online. I found a study conducted by the University of CA in a nearby regional park. Their conclusions: Under periods of prolonged drought, supplemental irrigation of established oak trees may prevent their decline and death … if irrigation water is applied well away from the tree root crown area but within the tree rooting zone, even frequent summer water application may not be detrimental to established oak trees. 
So I began watering the Blue Oaks out front in the study’s very prescribed manner and under the cover of darkness. After several months and only when they clearly seemed improved, I contacted the city arborist, confessed by oaky sins, and we formulated a plan for keeping the oaks around my home alive and thriving.
They should be watering the oaks,” my neighbors protested, “Not you.”
“I agree but clearly, they’re not going to. And you must admit, if those oaks die, our cul-de-sac will look very, very different.” Uh… like crap - but I didn’t say that. Hence, I stopped watering my lawn and diverted my water to oaks.
LET'S DO THIS! Watering greenbelt oaks.
The greenbelt behind me is heavily studded in oaks - some that were severely stressed. After more research online, I found a formula for how and how much water. Here, each bucket has twelve 1/4 inch holes punched through the bottom - they deliver water slowly so it seeps in versus runs off. Five 5-gallon buckets  = 25 gallons. Its a lengthy process; my goal was to gimp them through the summer - and so I did. The rains have started again and I think the oaks are safe for now.

Yosemite Conservancy work group
In early August, I went to Yosemite for a week of volunteer work through membership in the Yosemite Conservancy. OMG - what a blast!!! AND-and-AND - we had a vegan cook from Italy!!! I ask you - could LB be any happier? Nay, nay! Camping in Yosemite during the summer with an Italian (certified dietician) chef preparing vegetarian and vegan meals for me? Heaven! We worked in the two, little known sequoia groves just inside the northern park entrance. 
The Mariposa Grove is currently closed for a two year restoration project. I would normally avoid projects on the Yosemite valley floor, much preferring the highlands. But I’m hoping to work in the Mariposa Grove next year. Can you imagine working amongst the giant sequoias of the Mariposa Grove while its closed to the public? Heaven with whip cream and a cherry!
I met fantastic, like-minded people. I met people who volunteer year after year and those who arrive in their motorhomes and volunteer all summer. Can you see my little gears turning? Retirement is but five years and two months away - but who’s counting?

Two close friends have suffered catastrophic illness this year. It makes me appreciate my own good health and the abilities/capacities of my body. It has also provided an opportunity for spiritual and emotional growth. I understand, in a new and profound way, that life is too short to be stingy with my love and approval. For the full story, visit my blog at:

I recently traveled an hour south to see Sandhill Cranes during their winter migration. Some of their habitat is clearly rice paddies flooded to support the Pacific Flyway migration. Their calls and coos are captivating and part of my “nature that nurtures” life strategy. 
As I said at the top, I have focused my energies toward heartstring strummers. They are: meaningful work, key relationships, daily exercise, writing and music. No-matchy? - No calendary. It makes for a life that is simple, aligned with core values and imparts a tremendous sense of peace and prosperity.

What’s on tap for 2016?
Niece Lael will shortly birth a baby girl. I plan to visit my new, grand niece in Los Angeles.
I will turn 60 and plan to party.
Friends John, Bill and I hiked in the Swiss Alps last year and plan to hike in the Dolomites (Italian Alps). 
Mom will turn 91 and I will reliably return to Honolulu.
I will fill the rest of 2016 with meaningful work, key relationships, daily exercise, writing and music. What about you? I would love to hear.

I’ll leave you with this last verse from a Country Western song  - where typically the dog and wife are on the lamb, he laments the loss of his best friend - the dog, the corn needs picken’, and the beer is chillen' on his ex’s cold heart. However in this verse, Lee Brice seemed to get it right:
Be a best friend, tell the truth
And overuse "I love you"
Go to work, do your best
Don't outsmart your common sense
Never let your prayin' knees get lazy
And love like crazy.

Prefer Ram Das? Tell the truth and love everyone.

Mele Kalikimaka é Hau’oli Makahiki Hou! 
Me ka manao hoihoi I ka mau a mau loa aku (with love infinitely) ~ Lorin

Sunday, November 15, 2015

In Thanksgiving

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I’ve been researching for a blog on guns: gun violence in America, gun control and the Second Amendment. Convoluted doesn't even being to describe… and the research is time consuming. Mere discussion seems to ignite tempers. So as Thanksgiving nears, I thought a turn toward the genteel was in order.

I’ll start with the tale of two men and who they are for me. (Both have granted permission for this posting.)

Aw comon' Eddie, just PRETEND you love me!
Eddie Joe was a surgical resident and Army Captain in the large teaching program at Tripler Army Medical Center (TAMC). Our paths collided during my first days in the Army Nurse Corp. I stood tall (well, relatively speaking), straight and starched in a long, white dress with deep pockets and gusseted sleeves, white cap, white hose, white shoes - seemingly straight from the photos of WWII Army nursing. Eddie wore the drab brown that all uniformed services seem to employ. My Lieutenant’s rank collar bars were highly polished. His? Um… not so much. Eddie is from Arkansas, he speaks in the slow, soft drawl of the south. 
“Lets go change a dressing,” he said, “I’ll show you where the supplies are and how to get it done.” We quickly fell into a friendship that endures to this day. After Honolulu, Eddie was stationed at MAMC (Madigan) near Seattle. I landed in Anchorage, AK and finagled my reserve duty at MAMC. 
   Their girls were in grade school and I remember the back of one bathroom door covered in ribbons and bows and elastic bands and things that sparkled. “How do you want to wear your hair today?” Trish asked before braiding (with or without ribbons braided through) or pony-tailing or head-banding or beret-ing, fulfilling any number of requests. Me sporting my pixie-cut? Me fascinated.
Military obligations fulfilled, they settled in Nashville and I in Sacramento. Over the years, I’ve dropped in whenever my travels crossed the country. You wanna know southern hospitality? Eddie and Trish wrote the book, opening their home and hearts to me.

Some years ago, Eddie was forced into an early retirement by Parkinson’s disease (PD). “I could feel it in my hands,” he said answering my queries.
Learning of his plight, I vowed to visit frequently and regularly. In June 2014 he was stooped and shuffling; his exercise program somewhat erratic. I gently scolded, reminding him that walking is key to maintaining mobility for people with PD.
In September 2015, he was remarkably improved, so much so that I stopped mid-sentence to inquire. We walked daily for 60-90 minutes and joked about finding me a home in Nashville. Eddie is tall with long legs; I could barely keep up.
We reminisced over large bowls of popcorn. “Besides my family and a couple childhood friends, I think Eddie is my longest friend,” I asserted. “We’ve been friends since I was twenty-three. What is so curious to me is that you never know who will be your friends for life. I never expected that it would be you two and I’m so thankful. Thankful that you let me tag along and watch your girls grow - and share in your lives.”
Eddie fell in mid-October, breaking a hip. It has since been surgically repaired and now physical therapy and rehab continues from home. And I wonder what friendship and support looks like from 2300 miles away.

Michael - post transplant
Michael is a doctor at Kaiser. We became friends during Landmark’s Advance Course. Our work locations and schedules did not allow for hallway run-ins so our friendship was built slowly and deliberately through coordinated lunch breaks on the hospital campus, an occasional beer and joining his family to hike a 30-mile section of the John Muir Trail.
Some years ago Michael was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disease that scars his lungs. After a long remission, it flared again - only to march inexorably toward his demise. Watching his decline up-close-and-personal has been sad and disturbing. He stopped surfing then hiking, stopped skiing then cycling. Much to my utter dismay, he gave away his backpacking gear. He lost weight, his color ashened, his energy waned and life ultimately became circumscribed by the tethering of a 100-foot oxygen tube. Secretly, I loathed his doctors and accused them of negligence for not doing more - as if there was more to do.

Early in 2015 he was evaluated for lung transplantation and in June, was hospitalized until death or transplantation. Most people awaiting transplant die, I thought, because Americans are generally adverse to organ donation. And I was not incorrect in that thought, statistics overwhelmingly favor death over transplantation. Most people die awaiting transplantation - not Michael.
Like mana from heaven, a pair of lungs arrived in a cooler and he underwent double lung transplantation. Friends and family breathed a collective, albeit premature, sigh of relief. His recovery continues to be complicated and protracted… and life will never be the same.

When I examine my friendships with these men, I ask myself, What does it mean to be a good friend now? By necessity, the nature of our relationships has changed and here is what I noticed.
For the immediate post-operative period, Michael was sequestered in a home near Stanford to facilitate multiple visits to the transplant and rehab teams each week. Los Altos is easily a 6-hour roundtrip from Sacramento. Friends and family streamed to Los Altos on the weekends in love and care. And after a 3-hour drive, none want to take their leave after just a few minutes; right?
Avoiding the weekend treks meant I didn’t visit as often. There’s the rub. How do I show my love and care without adding to their to-do list? How can I ensure my visits are not burdensome? 
I called to check-in. Sometimes Michael cancelled my scheduled visits. In my upset, my conversations with myself turned “young.” Well how come they got to visit and I didn’t? When is my turn? I noticed that I angled for my-fair-share as if he were a commodity at auction. I’m not proud of these inner conversations but it IS helpful to notice them. Noticing prevents me from pressuring an ailing friend to assuage my fears.
I confessed these juvenile conversations to Michael. “We have rules and agreements about how our relationships work. By necessity, you are breaking all the rules and everyone has to adapt. I notice that my inner conversations about your rule breaking are sometimes very young. Like I’ll think, Well how come they got to visit and I didn’t? I’m sure I’m not alone in this. And I notice that I still want my-fair-share-of-Dr.-Michael-GM-thank-you-very-much!”
“Oh my God,” he said, “Thank you for saying that. I’m sure you’re right; that you are not alone in this.” 
“I’m positive I am not alone. In putting my attention toward what would be helpful,” I continued, “You get to tell me what that would be. You get to say; not me - and I get to deal with it. But I have to tell you, it takes something to be in a conversation beyond What’s-in-it-for-me?

Wisdom Course instructor Joan Bordow says, “When you get really straight with how much your life is all about you - something else is possible beyond your small, selfish, little life.” Whoa!

So for most of 2015 I have planted myself in generosity and a conversation bigger than myself, looking for what could be supportive and what might be helpful, asking for input and fulfilling upon requests.
Saturday, I drove to Berkeley to take ex-mother-in-law Sarah out for her 85th birthday. She loves sports cars, so I retrieved her in one. She loves cut flowers, so I brought a vase filled with them. We dined at Chez Panisse, a swanky Berkeley fixture that is known to be one of the finest eating establishments in all of northern California. Chez Panisse tops her list. Not how I would choose to spend my birthday but… its not about me. Sarah said it was her best birthday ever. Mission accomplished.

“I’m lucky that I can be generous with my money, my time, and my attention,” I told Michael. “I can blame that on you. You are teaching me to move in the world with graciousness and grace. Sad that my friends must suffer catastrophic illness for me to shift my focus… nonetheless I am ever grateful.”

It makes me wonder about all the people I shut out, all the people I ignore and pass over. In looking there - my attention is drawn to those we collectively and justifiably exclude - the homeless are one such group. 
A few years ago, I was in San Francisco for a long weekend. San Francisco has so many homeless and they are everywhere: holding signs on street corners and straddling intersections, lurking in doorways, laying along walkways, loitering near ATMs, sleeping in parks, lingering near public bathrooms, like e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e.
Before embarking to the city, I stopped in my bank and withdrew fifty one-dollar bills. As a practice in generosity, I decided to give $1 to every beggar until my cache was exhausted. In the gloom of that early Sunday morning, I found a sizable roll of cash in a crosswalk. It was more money than I had gifted.
Now I keep an unobtrusive pencil case in each car, stuffed with $1 bills. (Mahalo Shea GM for the conversation that inspired this.) Fireman were passing-the-boot at Costco over the weekend; I had money for them. A man held a sign at a freeway off-ramp; I gave him a dollar. Its not much but its something, and it allows me to engage in a way that is comfortable for me. I acknowledge their humanity and they are no longer invisible to me. My sonar seeks and pings on them now. Its not much - its a start.

We never know who will touch us in ways that change our lives. I would have never put money on Eddie or Michael - and yet, each man has touched me deeply and altered my path.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am reflective and thankful for their touch. I am thankful for the ways my life opened with their input, friendship and love. I am thankful they allowed me to tag along and watch their families grow. I’ve been moved by sharing in their wins and losses, their struggles and disappointments with disease. Each has left an indelible print on my heart and opened me to my Mother, my family, to Sarah, to friends and coworkers, to fellow yogis, the homeless on the street and to you. I opened to you - and you opened me more.

A heart broken open that spills forth in love is a beautiful thing. Thank you all for cracking this hard coconut open. In Love and Thanksgiving ~ lb

Will you allow your heart to be broken open?
Oluolu ka hoaloha’loha ana = Happy Thanksgiving 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Amendment to LBz Drought Dilemmas

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After writing my last blog - which included a bit about the Blue Oaks in the cul-de-sac out front - I saw an opening for action. I contacted the woman in charge of Municipal Landscape Services. We had communicated several years ago about the oaks when she, the city arborist and I, met in their shade. They advised we move all the cobble from the base of the trees to the “edge of the planter.” Biggest damn planter I’ve ever seen. They planned to fill the planter with wood chips - which mimics a more natural environ for oaks and helps retain root water for the mycorrhiza fungi network. Yep, look it up. The NPS Rangers in Yosemite even sing/teach a song about mycorrhiza fungi! The market downturn forced our project off the budget. Nonetheless, we organized a neighborhood project and in a few hours had all the cobble pushed to the curbing.

Last week, I reached out again. I began by sending the UC study that watered drought-stressed oaks, informing her that I regularly watered our oaks and that they looked better. I asked her to have the arborist render an opinion. He examined our oaks, concurred with my assessment, recommended a watering schedule and that the city deliver the prescribed 4-6 inches of “duff” (wood chips) into the “planter.” Yay; we are back on their project list!

4 pyres in this photo
I also let our Municipal Landscape lady know that their were pyres of deadwood out behind my house (ready for a prescribed burn) and asked if they could be removed. She had many questions about the pyres and seemed miffed. “We typically prefer to manage and perform the brush clearance ourselves so that we can coordinate it during our fuel modification work.” Well I wish you would!

“The greenbelt behind my home is studded with oaks, I responded. I'll bet there are 20-30 oaks directly behind my property. They drop branches. For about the last three years, I have dragged said branches out from under their parent tree and gathered them into piles away from all trees. That way, if we have yet another grass fire (two since I’ve lived here), the accumulated deadwood beneath the oaks would not present a fuel load that could actually threaten them. Or that was my hope. Burning trees will threaten my home. I consider this work part of maintaining a defensible space.”
She softened, “…we also realize folks are doing their part to protect their property too,” and sent a ground crew manager to assess the pyres. They will pick up the deadwood in the next 2-weeks, chip it, and dump it into our cul-de-sac planter. Yippeeeeeee!

Awesome; eh?

So I have a bunch of work to do outside before the city comes to pick up all the deadwood in the greenbelt behind my house. I want to get every good-sized log/branch into those piles.
The neighborhood kids play in the “cul-de-sac planter” and have since moved a bit of the cobble under the oaks again - enough to prompt an arborist comment.  So I’ll be kicking those to the curb. Well - not really kicking - but you get the idea.

To that end, I sent out at Courtie update (I live on a court) informing everyone of the developments. “Once again - we need to get all the rocks to the edge of the “planter.” I'm going to work on that tomorrow. So my request is that if your children play with rocks in the circle, please have them replace their rocks back to the edges.”

One friend recently described me as “pepper and cinnamon” -  it has given me pause.
I sent an amendment this morning: “Let me amend this - I sound like a rock nazi. After the wood chips are dumped - it will be an awesome playground. 
I am just trying to comply with their request about rocks being out of the middle and pushed to the edges until the wood chips arrive.
Thanks. Sorry if I sound like a rock nazi.”
My neighbors laughed and expressed appreciation when we all met under the oaks to toss rocks. 

Sometimes I feel like this eccentric, meddling crone. And if I didn’t own a cat who hates all creatures - I’d own four more. So I’d be this eccentric, meddling crone with five cats. Uh-huh? Aren’t you glad you’re not a Courtie?
Do feel free and join me if you have any inclination to throw rocks or stack kindling.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

LBz Drought Dilemmas

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The drought is ever present in California and presses upon my mind at every turn. My last blog provided historical factoids about California’s water. This entry will address my personal responses to the pressures of water - or the lack thereof.

Last year, Californians were asked to vote on Proposition1, a 7.12 billion dollar bond for California’s water system. A “tunneling project to secure delivery of fresh water from the State's abundant north to its thirsty south and Central Valley agricultural industry.” (The abundant north balked knowing that SoCal has been more aggressive in water storage, currently has more water than we and seems to suffer fewer restrictions.) But that is an entirely different issue. 
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan proposed boring a parallel set of 37-mile-long x 33ft i.d. tunnels (60km x 10m) directly under the Delta. They are sized to deliver 9,000ft3 to 15,000ft3 of water per second and would feed water from the Sacramento River in north delta, to a set of massive Federal and State-owned pumping facilities in the south delta. There water is lifted into the delivery canals of the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project. Study data is available at The Bay Delta Conservation Plan website.
Nearly $17,000,000 was donated toward the Prop1 cause while a paltry $98,000 worked for its defeat. Understand that California’s water system is archaic and crumbling. Our water rights system is arcane and unjust.  The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is part of the largest estuary on the West Coast and ground-zero for California’s water wars. It is a vitally important ecosystem and the hub of California's water supply system, providing water for more than 25 million Californians living between the Bay Area and San Diego (or 2/3 of the state’s population) and irrigates some 3 million farmland acres in the San Joaquin Valley. The drought has brought everything water from simmer to boil.
“We can't just cross our fingers, hoping for the best in the Delta,” Governor Brown said. “Fish populations are at an all-time low. Bold action is imperative.” 
I agreed but felt completely unqualified to vote on the fate of the Delta. We knew southern Californians would vote for Prop1 and they outnumber northerners by many. My question was - should I vote for it? 
Delta denizens were adamantly opposed but I had no confidence they could see beyond local biases and a not-in-my-backyard mentality. A small feeder fish called the Delta smelt surfaced in discussions.
I studied the pros and cons of the initiative and talked to two in-the-know. One woman worked on the public information piece for the Governor’s office. She explained it quite simply. The pumps in south Delta are so strong they reverse the flow of the San Joaquin River and obviously, can suck fish into the system. In times of low water, they can’t be run. In times of water excess - when pumps could be run - fish are nearby and prohibit pump use. At those times, the proposed tunnel intakes positioned in north Delta would allow water  excesses to be syphoned off without endangering fish and damaging the Delta ecosystem.
I spoke with a federal biologist working on the Delta smelt. “Why should we care about the Delta smelt?” I asked. 
“Because its the bottom of the food chain,” she said, “And if it goes extinct, it will alter all life and health of the Delta. I’m not allowed to have an opinion but if I did, I’d vote no.”

Protecting the smelt became the rallying cry of those opposed. Both the Nature Conservancy and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), conservation organizations to whom I regularly and generously donate, supported Prop1. I cast an equivocal vote for Prop1: to “authorize $7.12 billion in general obligation bonds for state water supply infrastructure projects, such as public water system improvements, surface and groundwater storage, drinking water protection, water recycling and advanced water treatment technology, water supply management and conveyance, wastewater treatment, drought relief, emergency water supplies, and ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration.” It won with a resounding 67% of the vote.
I thought I voted for tunnels… but according to the NRDC, Prop1 “does not advance the State’s $25 billion flawed Bay Delta Conservation Plan, the proposal to build two massive tunnels under the Delta and divert unsustainable amounts of water.” 
You get my angst in California voting? Its hard, really hard to cast an intelligent vote around here despite studying the issues more than most.

Watch this 3:38 minute Delta Flow animation at It is highly informative albeit likely biased. Nonetheless, the tidal fluctuations and the need to mitigate salt water incursions are made clear.
Salt water incursion into the Delta is problematic. If you did not stop to watch the video above - do so now. As I write, a temporary, 800-foot dam is being constructed in the Delta to prevent the salty Pacific from creeping inland and contaminating drinking water. This strategy was utilized effectively during the drought of 1976-77. The dam will be removed in November (when we hope/pray El Niño brings rain). The entire project will cost tax payers a cool $28-mil. How will this help? It will allow California’s northern reservoirs to release less water for flushing the Delta to prevent salt water incursion.
Outflow from Folsom Lake was recently increased to help flush the Delta, compensating for decreased outflow by Lake Shasta - whose waters are being diverted to protect the local salmon run. Folsom Lake is the source of water in my house and water conservation is key. 
They’ve asked us to let our “lawns go gold” and use the water for trees. If I wash my car, I pull it up on my lawn. I also capture some of my gray water for plant irrigation. The City of Folsom is replacing median strip landscaping with wood chips and shutting off irrigation. Their plan for watering city trees is insufficient however, and many have died over the last year.

California’s oaks (I believe these are blue oaks - Quercus douglasi), notoriously adverse to summer watering, are dropping yellowed leaves and showering the ground with Hail Mary acorns. All our trees are stressed after multiple years of drought and dry winters. 
I wondered about watering the oaks and hunted online. I found a study conducted by the University of CA. They followed 165 oaks in a regional park near Stockton from 1978 - 1992, (all non-drought years and immediately following the drought of 76-77). Some oaks were watered; some were not. By 1992, 73% of non-irrigated trees were in serious decline or dead. An additional 24 trees were selected  for drip irrigation. After five weeks, 11 of 12 (92%) irrigated trees had new growth, while only 2 (17%) of the non-irrigated trees showed similar growth. After one year, all irrigated trees continued to thrive while their non-irrigated cohort declined.
Their conclusions: Under periods of prolonged drought, supplemental irrigation of established oak trees may prevent their decline and death. If irrigation water is applied well away from the tree root crown area but within the tree rooting zone, even frequent summer water application may not be detrimental to established oak trees. 
So now I water the oaks of my cul-de-sac circle and yard in a careful, prescribed manner and under the cover of darkness.

Meanwhile, at Folsom Lake, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is building a barge with multiple pumps  capable of drawing water from a nearly-depleted lake should water levels fall below the permanent intake pumps. 
I consider this drastic and something to consider when one opts to water a lawn. Don’t wait for the city to do their part or your neighbor or the people in Granite Bay with acre lawns. We can all do something and I can let my lawn go dormant and use the water to keep our oaks alive.

Meantime, WalMart bottles water from the Sacramento Municipal Water Supply at 99 cents for every 748 gallons and sells it for 88 cents per gallon. (And they say California has an inhospitable business climate?) Do the math.
The reasons to dislike this multi-billion dollar corporation whose workforce is decidedly part-time to avoid providing benefits and paying a living wage, thereby encouraging them to subsist on public assistance… well, for me, that’s just enough reason to boycott their enterprise outright. Socially aware Starbucks has moved its Ethos water bottling operation out-of-state.

While I would like to demonize Walmart (and did), they present a dilemma in much the same way that almond trees do. Recent local radio ads tout, “An almond tree is not unique in its water needs.”
The sustainable almond growers and Almond Board report that 6,500 almond growers farm 760,000 acres and grow nearly 100% of US almonds and 80% of the world’s almonds. Almonds add more than 100,000 jobs, $11 billion to the state’s economy and are California’s largest export. I water my sycamore to provide house shade and it provides NO income though undoubted contributes to energy cost savings. If an almond tree consumes approximately the same in water and provides the state with jobs and income, it doesn’t seem wise to shut that spigot off.

So how then do we ask Walmart to move its water bottling operation out-of-state? Nestles and Arrowhead also bottle water in California. And what about locally-owned Alhambra?
What will I do if the dregs of Folsom Lake tastes nasty? Several friends in Carmichael have switched to bottled water for that very reason, their usual municipal water sources are depleted and the current mix is distasteful. The water table is dropping and some neighborhoods near Fresno no longer have  running water. Water is trucked in by the municipality and public showers have been opened. Can you imagine? What if that was mi casa or su casa? It very well could be!

One climate model predicts a fifty-year drought and that in just two decades, there will be no skiing in California. Squaw Valley (1960 Winter Olympic site) and adjacent Alpine Meadows ski resorts must have missed that memo as they made an April announcement a to link both parks with a high-speed gondola.
I went skiing at Squaw last winter. It was rocky; my hiking boots would have been more useful and appropriate. It was a scary and disconcerting sight.
I camped in Sequoia National Park (NP) in March. The General’s Hwy linking Sequoia to King’s Canyon NP, typically closed for snow, was open all winter. Same for Tioga Pass, the east-west mountain pass across Yosemite - open all winter. Virtually NO snow was visible from the Yosemite Valley floor as I gazed across its expanse in February. And while all of that is most unsettling, it does nudge me into rethinking park access and “off-season” backpacking.

Climate models also predict a 2015 El Niño winter. Historically, a strong El Niño brings powerful storms and lots of rain to the West Coast and Southwest. Good news; right? 
“The great myth is that El Niño will be the great drought buster,” says Bill Patzert, climatologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena and one of the world's foremost experts on El Niño. He explains that typically dry SoCal’s infrastructure is built to move excess water quickly seaward. NorCal’s water infrastructure is built to capture snowmelt. El Niño winters are wet and warm leaving little snowpack. Rainwater capture will occur only when El Niño rains over a reservoir and its tributaries. Rainfall in the foothills directly replenish now depleted aquifers but don’t look to El Niño as savior.

I wonder about property values (think retirement fund) and what living in a drought blighted area might be like. Do I even move forward with terracing my back hill for planting if irrigation could be prohibited or prohibitive?

Several idioms seem sure: change is inevitable, resistance is futile  and attachment is the source of suffering.
The Buddha saw that people's ignorance of the nature of change was the cause of suffering. We desire to hold on to what we value, and we suffer when life's inevitable process of change separates us from those things. Liberation comes, he taught, when we are able to sever our attachments to the transient things of this world.
A steady shower of yellow-brown leaves flutter earthbound from the oak under whose canopy I write. My fifty-foot sycamore is encircled by a soaker hose. Stone cairns mark the watering sites 10-feet from six Quercus douglasi. My oven timer beeps and I rise to move a small sprinkler from tree to tree - a task that has consumed my morning.

Tomorrow morning I drive to Yosemite for a week of volunteerism with the Yosemite Conservancy. There we are maintaining trails, filling convenience trails and restoring the NP preferred trail in a little-known, high-country sequoia grove. I plan to head for Tuolumne Meadows on Wednesday, my day off.

This is what life looks like when its working and from my corner of the ring.

Be not attached, dwell in the inquiry and have a namasté.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Water is the new Oil

Click once to enlarge pictures. X at top, right corner to close.
As we move into a fourth consecutive year of drought, and following the driest winter and warmest summer in recorded history, Californian's are bracing for change. And Water IS the new oil. 
Putting the drought into greater perspective, 2010 was labeled the 4th year of a drought starting with the July 2006 record breaking heatwave. 2011 saw record snows and June snowpack. And while it raised fears for snowmelt flooding, it did not replenish the deficit caused by the previous four years of drought. So in reality, 2015 is California’s ninth year of drought, interrupted by the storms of 2011.

California's Capitol
Gov. Jerry Brown recently announced mandatory 25% reductions in urban water use - most of which waters lawns and landscaping. His program includes lawn-removal rebate programs, rebates for replacing toilets to low-flow varieties, increasing fines from the current $500/day to $10,000/day for major water wasters, and a ban on restaurants serving water to customers w/o an explicit request for same.
I fully expected strict water regulations last year and discouraged my neighbors from new plantings that would wither when the spigot was shut. But restrictions did not materialize beyond voluntary cutbacks, landscape irrigation limitations, and the draining of public fountains and water features.

"There is no water shortage here," my niece said of Orange County. Ag uses the bulk of California’s water. Are Angeleans running a close second?
Thanks to William Mulholland (1855-1935), Los Angeles continues living la vida loca. Mulholland designed and supervised the construction of the Los Angeles aqueduct, a 233-mile system to move water from the Owens Valley of the eastern Sierra Nevada to the San Fernando Valley in the west. (See Jack Nicholson’s 1974 blockbuster, Chinatown.) At the time, Owens Lake covered 108 square miles with a depth of 25-30 feet. Surely no one envisioned LA’s long straw sucking Owens Lake dry. …Today, the desiccated lake is a salt-flat and the largest, single source of dust pollution in the US.
The All-American Canal is an 80-mile long aqueduct operated in conjunction with Hoover Dam. It conveys water from the Colorado River into LA's Imperial Valley and is its sole source of water. Not one drop of Colorado River water reaches its terminus in the Mexican Gulf of California.

Sacramento River Delta
The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is part of the largest estuary on the West Coast. It is a vitally important ecosystem and the hub of California's water supply system, providing water for more than 25 million Californians, and for millions of farmland acres in the San Joaquin Valley. The Delta is a transition zone where saltwater from the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay meets freshwater from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. Its network of waterways and numerous islands provide habitat for hundreds of aquatic and terrestrial species, including the threatened Delta smelt (thought in early 2015 to be extinct) and the winter–fall–spring Chinook salmon runs.(1) Locals fear that the Delta could end up wiped out like Owens Valley, which Los Angeles drained like a cold beer on a hot day.
The American Aqueduct follows I-5 south from NorCal (northern CA) to SoCal (southern CA). Since the 1950s, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta has served as the great hydraulic tie between northern and southern California: a network of rivers, tributaries, and canals deliver runoff from the Sierra Mountain Range's snowpack to massive pumps at the southern end of the Delta. From there, the water travels through aqueducts to the great farms of the San Joaquin (Central) Valley and to the massive coastal cities. Without this crucial nexus point, the current level of agricultural production in the southern San Joaquin Valley could not be sustained, and many cities, including the three largest on the West Coast—Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose—would have to come up with radical new water-supply solutions.(2)

Last year I was shocked to learn that California has no unified water plan, that each area has fended for itself, some better than others, and that water contracts promise far more than the snowpack can deliver even in good years. Further, NorCal, for whom water was always plentiful, planned poorly for dry times.
While NorCal’s waters flow south and Folsom Lake (the source of my tap water) reached its lowest level since originally filled and flooded in 1955, SoCal reservoirs remained full, fountains flowed, and landscapes lacked naught. Northerners learned we were ill prepared for water storage, something SoCal aggressively pursued for decades.
Sacramento County took advantage of low water levels to heighten the levies surrounding Folsom lake/dam and to build a new spillway. I took advantage of low water levels to hike out into the dry lakebed to view remnants of the old Mormon Island mining settlement emerging from the lake bottom. 
Folsom Lake
Last May, when my 40-foot sycamore began it's autumnal shed, I consulted an arborist and horticulturist. “Two days of watering is ample. If you are watering more frequently than twice a week, you are watering too much and are not growing a drought-resistant lawn," the horticulturist said. “Water your big trees weekly," they instructed, "Drip a hose for five hours and move it hourly around the base of the tree. Normally, you don't have to water trees, they come into the summer well hydrated by winter rains. But this year they did not get enough water and are stressed by multiple years of drought." 

In December 2013, Folsom City launched a program to provide easy access to water use data through a free app.  Dropcountr tracks my daily water use and compares my consumption to nearby users of similar family and lot size.
In spring 2014, I signed on to checked water usage online and found I had reduced water consumption by 75% versus the recommended 20%. I stopped watering my backyard, diverted water to trees - and the fall abated. 
That sycamore looms large in my southerly, front yard. It's shadow umbrellas my small home such that, even solar giant Solar City discouraged me from going solar. "You don't get enough direct sunlight," their salesman said, "Your utility bills will be higher." (for equipment lease)
By mid-summer, many trees in Folsom were a deadly brown and I was thankful I’d heeded my sycamore’s unmistakeable message. It recovered well and was the last sycamore to give up its leaves during our spare winter storms.

Landscaping accounts for 50 percent of the typical residential water bill. We have long known that thirsty grass is unsuitable for arid California. The landscaping fetish followed Europeans to the New World and trailed settlers as they pushed west. Fifteen years ago, when remodeling and re-contouring my Granite Bay home/yard, weather trends were emerging: wooden roofs were discouraged and drought tolerant landscapes encouraged. My ex and I tussled with turf wars. I fought for a fire resistant, dimensional, composite shingle roof and less grass. I won the roof battle (due to fire threat, wood roofs are no longer permitted) but not the turf war… we installed 5000 feet of fescue.
Last year, the City of Roseville began paying residents $1000 to replace lawns with drought tolerant landscaping. Some counties offered $100 rebates to exchange toilets for high-efficiency models using 20% less per flush. This year, Governor Brown announced a statewide drought emergency and ordered a complete review of all water contracts, set asides and usage. Enforceable restrictions are not expected until July - a day late and dollar short by most reckonings.

How are Californian’s doing with water usage? 
Residents in the state's three largest cities, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose, are using between 82-96 gallons/day. Meanwhile, those in East L.A. use just 48 gallons per day, the lowest in the Southland. (Methinks they do little outside irrigation.)
One area using a lot of water per-capita is Beverly Hills, where the average person uses 286 gallons/day. In Orange County, the wealthy suburb of Cowan Heights uses more than 569 gallons of water per person/day. 
The largest per-capita water user in the Bay Area is Hillsborough, a tiny Peninsula town where residents average 334 gallons a day. Only 14 miles away, working-class East Palo Alto residents use less than a quarter as much = 79 gallons a day.

One factor that has kept urban water use high around Sacramento and much of the Central Valley is that many homes did not (and do not) have water meters. They are gradually being installed after former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a 2004 law mandating meters statewide by 2025. Lets face it, without penalties, there is little incentive to conserve.
According to the 2010 database, Folsom residents averaged a whopping 429 gallons/person/day. A water flat-fee of $35/month was partially to blame. In 2011, however, meters were installed and tiered rates put in place. 
My online “drop counter” shows my current, monthly average is 117 gallons/day - well below the city's targeted goal for me of 551 gal/day. And while thats good, its more than double my water use in February. (I’ve begun to water trees again.) 
Statewide statistics show that hotter climates tend to use more water. Coastal cities, which enjoy cooler summers and fog, consume less. Cities like Beverly Hills - arid environs with opulent landscapes - are facing a 36% cut in water use.

Early settlers diverted rivers and great swaths of California's Central Valley was diked and flooded for water-hungry crops like rice and cotton. In 2015, California will harvest it's smallest cotton crop in decades. It is predictable that cotton crops will be relegated, once again, to wet states of the deep south.
Black Necked Stilt
California rice is a $5-billion dollar industry. Rice, a water plant grown in flooded fields, seems a strange bedfelow for California. As it turns out, rice is grown in poorly draining soils unsuitable for other crops. Flooding effectively enhances weed control and the California Rice Commission claims 40% increase in water use efficiency over the last 30 years by water reuse and recycle.(3) The rice hulls, previously subjected to open-field burning, are now burned in biomass facilities to produce electricity. The Rice Commission claims one biomass facility produces electricity equivalent to that required for all rice production operations in the state.
California rice fields provide essential habitat for nearly 230 wildlife species. Historically, the Central Valley housed 4,000,000 acres of wetland habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds. Today, only 205,000 wetland acres remain. Winter flooding for straw decomposition has created new habitat for wintering migratory birds and 60% of their food. The Central Valley is the final destination half of the 5,000,000 ducks using the Pacific Flyway.
As a thirsty crop, methinks rice might be a keeper. However, last year some farmers sold their water rights in lieu of planting because water rights alone do not provide ample water for rice crops. No rain; no rice. Conversely, some rice growers were paid to flood fields last fall for the Pacific Flyway migration.

What about almonds? Some estimate that each almond nut requires a gallon of water. Not so! The Almond Board of California vehemently disputes that claim.(4) They accuse a May 2014 article in Slate for propagation of the myth. In their defense, they cite the health benefits of almonds and the fact that the value of California agriculture has increased by 85% in the last four decades while decreasing water consumption by 5%. Further, almonds add more than 100,000 jobs and $11 billion to the states economy AND they have reduced the amount of water required to grow a pound of almonds by 33% (All of which skirt the issue of gallons of water/nut.) Interesting, eh?

What about gray water? Black water is that which drains from toilets and the kitchen sink - the rest is gray water. Residential use of gray water is currently illegal. Many modern golf courses recollect their irrigation runoff and reuse it. Rice farmers do the same.
According to UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, “The volume of residential graywater in Southern California appears sufficient to meet a significant portion of outdoor residential water demand.” (Positive this is  also true for NorCal.) They call for immediate, coordinated government efforts for the development of graywater recycling to alleviate the pressure on already dwindling potable water resources.

What about desalinization? In November, San Diego County is set to open the first desalinization plant in California. Its a strategy I believe all Californian costal cities should pursue in earnest and indeed a dozen new desalination projects are in various stages of planning statewide.

California's water problems reach far beyond state boundaries. As the world's 7th largest economic power and national cornucopia, what happens in California does not stay in California. Watch for rising prices as a reduction of Californian production puts price pressure on produce.

Can one even discuss California’s drought outside the context of climate change and global warming?
F Moore-Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet was a 1971 bestseller and the first major book to decry meat production as wasteful and a contributor to global food scarcity. She argues the (water and) grain squandered in feeding livestock could provide two loaves of bread for every person on earth. World hunger solved. Food production has increased 40-fold since the book was first published and STILL, many in the world suffer daily hunger.

What about the US industrial meat complex? Beef and cattle make up the single largest segment of US agricultural production. Raising animals is very resource (water and grain) intensive.
Here are some statistics from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association website. (5)
Cattle inventory (as of Jan 1, 2015):  89.9 million, up 1% from Jan. 2014.
Economic impact:  $44 billion in farm gate receipts (USDA NASS)
Number of farms and ranches specializing in beef cattle: 619,172 (2012) 
Number of cattle & calf operations: 915,000 (2012) 
29.7 million beef cows 
9.3 million milk cows
5.8 million beef replacement heifers, up 4% from Jan. 2014
33.9 million head calf crop (2013)

Top 5 states for all cattle and calves (2015): 
  1. Texas - 11.8 million
  2. Nebraska - 6.30 million
  3. Kansas - 6 million
  4. California - 5.2 million
5. Oklahoma - 4.6 million
The total U.S. beef consumed was 25.5 billion pounds
U.S. commercial slaughter total was 31.9 million head  

A 2014 study found that grain-finished beef requires more land and water and produces more greenhouse gases (GHGs) and reactive nitrogen compared to poultry, pork, eggs or dairy. Livestock farming is responsible for about 10 percent of United States’ emissions of GHGs and 15 percent of the global carbon spew—a majority related to cows. 

The total U.S. beef consumed was 25.5 billion pounds 
US population: 318.9 million (2014) (6)
That’s 79.9# of beef per year per person or 6.6# per month or 0.2# per day. (Add to that our consumption of lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, farmed and wild fish, tuna, milk, eggs, cheese and yogurt.) Today it takes 441 gallons of water to produce one pound of boneless beef.(7) That’s 11,245,500,000,000,000 gallons of water per year to eat 1/4 pounds of beef/day. Really people?
Eating fewer animal products takes aim at a major factor in climate change. It also lowers dietary saturated fats as well as antibiotic and pesticide residues.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s (DGAC) recommendations will be used later this year to draft the 2015 Dietary Guidelines endorsed both by the USDA and HHS (Human Health and Services). “A diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet.” 
Needless to say, the recommendations are hotly contested by Big Food and poorly supported by the healthcare community - comprised of many who are not personally convinced of the health benefits conferred by a plant-based diet.

Dining lower on the food chain, eating foods that are closer to their natural form means less processing and less processing means less water use in food production. Plant-based diets can halve the climate footprint of the typical US or UK diet. (8)
Over one year:
Eating one less burger/week is equivalent to removing your car from the road for 320 miles or line-drying your clothes half the time.
A four-person family that skips meat and cheese one day/week is equivalent to taking a car off the road for five weeks – or reducing everyone’s daily showers by 3 minutes. 
A four-person family that skips beef once/week is equivalent to taking a car off the road for nearly three months.
If everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, it would be like not driving 91 billion miles – or taking 7.6 million cars off the road. (9)

What can I do? Does it really make a difference to conserve when the unmetered areas of Sacramento can and do water indiscriminately? Am I willing to do something for the greater good even if I am not forced to? Even if I can't be caught or penalized?
To quote my favorite Vulcan, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Are people willing to sacrifice a bit of their own short-term self interests for the greater good. Are you?
I could resist the urge to have a cozy nighttime fire on no-burn days.
I could abide by local restrictions and not water on no-watering days instead of sneaking during the night.
I could change out my toilets to the low-flush variety. (And receive a rebate to boot!)
I could install a hot water recirculation pump to prevent running potable water down the drain while I wait for warm water. (And receive a rebate to boot!)
I could do all that AND do you see that a plant and planet centered diet has the most impact? 
Does reducing meat or dairy foods sounds daunting? Just take it in small steps: If you’re a meat-eater, start with Meatless Mondays. Consider buying grass-fed, free-range beef, which has a lighter carbon footprint than conventional beef. If you’re already eating vegetarian, start with one dairy-free day/week.

Keeping California from running out of water is going to take something - and a lot more than lawn watering restrictions. It will require fundamental reform of the water system to make it more sustainable and to share that responsibility across all sectors. We need bold action to realign our water needs with our water supply and create a new water system that can serve the state for the next 100 years or more.

We are the people we've been waiting for. (10) I saw this somewhere, this definition of democracy as a living culture. We could commit to individual acts that tie us to the whole; individual acts as a demonstration of our commitments. Finding power in concert with others versus domination of others. Living democracy, creating conditions for being in community with each other across the planet. Where everyone has an equal voice, where everyone is fed. Democracy as a living culture. 
I’m interested in a world that works for everyone with no one left behind. I’m interested in a sustained and sustainable California. That long and winding road leads to my door. Yours?