Monday, April 22, 2013

California Cruising – The Cabrillo Highway and El Camino Real

We took a prosaic road trip down I-15 to San Diego last fall, my wife Tracey and I, and decided to take the scenic, long way home on coastal California State Highway 1, also called The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), The Cabrillo Highway and sometimes El Camino Real. The Cabrillo highway is named after Juan Cabrillo who ‘discovered’ California in 1542 and promptly died there, apparently from too much bliss. El Camino Real is the Royal Road or the King's Highway that roughly connects all of the 21 Spanish Franciscan Missions, mostly along California Highway 101. These roads meander in and out of each other in the shape of Freeways and two lane highways and we wanted to see what was left of the old roads. We figured the weather would be good for some intermittent credit card camping, and the traffic would be light for us to drive our little Mini Cooper fast but leisurely up the coast. So with a tent, some sleeping bags and a sack full of snacks, we headed north on a typical sunny November Sunday in Southern California.

The coast thru North San Diego County is lined with contiguously cool little towns, each with their own flavor, all the way up to Oceanside where we were forced off the coast on to "The 5" for a long stretch to get around camp Pendleton. I swear the US government could balance their budget if they sold all their prime, coastal real-estate in California. We finally exited towards The Cabrillo - Highway 1 and the Beach Cities at Dana Point to visit good friends Laguna and plow thru Newport, Huntington and Long Beach. We had to bail from the coastal road again when we got to the busy LA City beach towns (Hermosa, Redondo and Manhattan) and we headed for “The 405” to circumvent the traffic and 1960’s strip mall madness. Highway 1 thru LA can be like a visit to an old college roommate; sometimes you just don't want to have that much fun.

Federal and State freeways all have names in California but they change and everyone calls them something different, so they just label them "The" followed by the number. It is very personable. CALTRANS runs the greatest road system in the world, because they have to, but they do have their quirks. They don't allow unprotected left turns so every traffic light, although actuated and timed to perfection, includes annoying, protected left hand turning movements. They also don't believe in clearly marking roads for you once you are on them so make sure you are on the right road when you start. Finally they write directions in the road, which seem backwards to me, and they have Braille dots for lane devisers so blind people can drive too, which is nice.

We took “The 10” west to get around LA and visit the stately Santa Monica pier and hippy-dippy Venice beach before heading north to Malibu on The Cabrillo Highway 1. Besides the rock and roll history of Topanga canyon, a few trophy homes and a cozy little pier, there is no 'there' there in the famous 27 miles of Malibu beach front. At the north end we camped in Point Mugu State Park nestled up a Sycamore lined canyon where you can hear the surf and not the highway. It costs 35 dollars to camp in California State Parks now and I understand it is very competitive in the summer to get a campsite. I think they are trying balance the state budget with exorbitant camping fees.

In the morning we popped out into Oxnard and Ventura, found a Starbucks in a Speilberg suburbia and followed the merging of The Cabrillo Highway 1 and El Camino Real Highway 101 up to Santa Barbara. This is a recurring theme along the coast; just when you get into the rhythm of The Cabrillo Highway 1, you get dumped on to El Camino Real Highway 101 or another soulless freeway.

Santa Barbara is a great little upper middle class, medium sized beach hamlet. They have eclectic, high end shopping on the red bricked sidewalks of State Street but the historic adobe Presidio from 1776 and the incredible courthouse from 1929 are infinitely more interesting. We took the free elevator to the tower overlook to really see the town and then took the stairs down and snuck into the rest of the building to see court rooms painted like the Sistine Chapel with the history of the area, a column supported spiral stairs and arched hallways suitable for Versailles.

We followed the winding, split-level local streets up into the hills to the original Mission that was built by Spanish Franciscan Monks to indoctrinate the local Indians and lure them away from Russian influence in the late 18th century. California Missions bounced quietly between Span, Mexico, the US and the Catholic Church before gold and freeways were discovered and the place went nuts.

North of here we were funneled back onto “The 101” - El Camino Real again for a while but we did escape to The Cabrillo Highway 1 near the rolling hills of Lompoc and the Eucalyptus lined beach towns south of San Luis Obispo. We detoured to Avala beach for some killer fish tacos and to watch some south swell surfing next to the nuclear power plant. SLO town is a wonderful berg, rated as the happiest and most livable town in the USA, or some such nonsense, but it does really have a pleasant downtown and a State University to keep it vibrant. We continued on to the foggy coast town of Morrow Bay and the smaller, simpler town of Cayucos for the part of California that time forgot.

Further up the coast is undeveloped range land for 100 miles, except for the Hearst Castle in San Simeon and a few lodges and hippie enclaves. The 2-lane Cabrillo Highway serpentines in and out foggy coastal canyons, ad infinitum along this stretch. Egrets and buzzards graze in pastures while Elephant Seals and Sea Lions rule the rocky beaches. This is the postcard California of Chevy and Coke commercials with the open road, rocky cliff beaches and the ubiquitous sunny Pacific Ocean.  This is what the coast is all about, no freeways, strip malls or stop lights, just the American two lane highway and there was not a motor home in sight.  It was heaven. I was torn between driving race-car fast to relish the corners and the G - forces, or grandpa slow to savor the incredible scenery. We climbed over a thousand feet above the ocean, above clouds, and dropped back down to cross majestic arch bridges over deep, narrow canyons. Landslides cut the road down to one lane in several places where CALTRANS worked feverishly to fix the road, stabilize the slide or permanently mitigate the danger with new cantilevered bridges. We rested at a small turnout and ate lunch with the birds and the bees above the cerulean sea.

When we had had enough driving we dove inland into the Redwood Canyons of Big Sur and found a campsite surrounded by 15 foot wide trees that were hundreds of feet tall. Cool, quite and dark, these forests provided a nice change from the dynamic sunshine of the day. I truly believe I saw Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy working on a 57 Chevy at one of the road house grilles. 

Further north, the road alternated between a shamelessly commercialized 2-lane and a standard freeway thru the towns of Carmel, Monterey and the agricultural top of the Salinas valley where at least there were some killer farm stands and the apparent last sighting of Bobby McGee. Further on is Santa Cruz which prides itself on 'still being weird', and it is, but I still don't get it. With Trophy beach front homes and a sleazy pier, a yuppie downtown and a campy carnival, it is contrarian more than a contradiction, more awkward than an anomaly. There is a Coastal Redwood preserve up winding Highway 9 that gave us a sense of what the area was like before it was weird.  After Santa Cruz, the beach towns’ end and the shorts and flip flops are replaced with something warmer, something more seasonal. The Cabrillo Highway becomes 2 lanes again with bucolic agriculture and pasture land stretching to the ocean cliffs. The last 60 miles of road toward San Francisco, above Half Moon Bay,  becomes increasingly rural, sub urban, urban and eventually citified, but we could not bear it. It was time to turn east, up an unnumbered winding rural road thru the hills, and head for home.

On the way home we had a date with an old friend in Palo Alto, a very old friend with more than 101 years on this coast. She has seen some changes in a land where every road wants to be a freeway and every town wants to be a city. She tells us of a simpler time and a kinder and gentler place. There were 2 million people in California when she was born.  In 1980 California had 20 million people and I thought that it was full at the time and had ‘been had’.  California now has 40 million people and adds another million every three years or 70 million by 2100. California and its coast are indicative of our future, the microcosm of the American dream, and they are being loved to death. Still, we were able to find the old highway and a few glimpses into the past of what California once was; a place where we could be alone with the beauty and diversity of the undeveloped left coast.   I can’t help but think that maybe this spring we will drive the coast north of San Francisco and discover yet another California, before it disappears. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The time value of money

Save 5 dollars a day (the price of a cup of coffee) every day for 30 years, compound the interest, adjust for inflation (say 10 percent) and you will have one million dollars.  Then you can withdraw 50,000 dollars a year, every year, for ever.  That is how you fund a pension.  Einstein said the strongest force in the universe is compound interest.  I believe him.

Who started the concept of interest, the time value of money, the original derivative?  Jesus actually got mad, for once, and kicked the money changers out of the temple for charging interest.  It is interest rates, consumption, greed and our exponential biological population expansion that forces our economies into mindless, unsustainable growth.  Einstein also said if you accelerate something fast enough, it gets smaller.  What about a dollar?  What about the world?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Changing Waters

A change is as good as a rest.
Cowboy Proverb

Water policy, like religious principles, should change slowly for if it changes too fast then it rocks our world and shakes our foundations. How do we make commitments, investments and plans for the future if the rules keep changing?  Change is better when it is transitional, measured and predictable.  Unfortunately, change is not linear; it is geometric or exponential at a counter intuitive spiral rate.  Realistically, water policy changes are inevitable and desirable to adapt to a changing world.  Alas, the winds of change are in the air, for our water and our future.

Water is the condition for life.
Werner Heisenberg

We imagine that we get lots of water out west. It falls, ostensibly, in limitless quantities in our mountains.  What the forest does not use, flows effortlessly down to the populace via our stream network and basin-range, artesian aquifers. But that is changing. As it gets warmer, precipitation and snow patterns change so that runoff and supply patterns are shifting. The Colorado River system, according to the Bureau of Reclamation, may see 20% less water by the end of the century when there could be three times as many of us living in the west.

We have historically used most of our water for agriculture, but that is changing. As we grow and sprawl, we transform Agriculture water use to Municipal water use for our homes.  Historically we have used mostly surface water for agriculture but with the perfection of the centrifugal pump in the 1930s we have tapped into ancient aquifers full of fossil water from eons ago.  In addition, for our increased Municipal water use, we have changed to cool clean groundwater. With surface water use, when you run out you obviously stop using it. With groundwater, when you run out, you dig a deeper well. But we can only dig so deep.

The world hates change yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.
Charles Kettering

We used to have a gatekeeper to make sure that water distribution was fair, equitable, orderly, certain and consistent. This was either the State Engineer or some kind of judicial board or magistrate. The powers of these gate keepers has been diminished and decimated with the changing values as people and politicians see water more as a personal ownership issue rather than as a public health and welfare commodity. In the west where personal rights and property ownership is king and the socialistic overtones of the common good are increasingly anathema, water has become something to speculate on and hoard.

The gatekeeper was historically needed to protect the water resources, prevent infringement and impairment of other users and consider the natural stream environment and the public welfare.  With the increasing demand and without the ability to strictly reserve flow for fish and riparian plants and animals, that is getting harder to do.  Determining what the societal values are, now and in the future, is a slippery slope even the sociologist will not go down, let alone engineers and water regulators.

Water is the material cause of all things.
Aristotle / Thales

Water itself used to be free, a public health commodity, usually owned and distributed by the states.  It was appropriated for the common good and public welfare, simply by an application with only a promise of beneficial use. Its priority and preference were determined solely by its application date.  But that is changing. Now there is no more free water left and it can only be bought from someone who has it. Water is developing a free, if not fair market, with its own preferences and values system driven by price and cost. No longer ‘a commodity held in the public trust’, water has evolved into personal property to be bought and sold by the highest bidder.

On the other hand, water delivery used to be cheap, developed locally years ago with low/no interest federal and state subsidized projects that have long  been paid off. That is changing and new subsidized projects are rare because of lack of funding and environmental constraints.  The good dam sites (and some bad ones) were all developed years ago and gravity powered plumbing was put in place.  With all the good sources spoken for we need to reach further a field for new water, store it off stream and pump it to the people who demand it. It may just take a new nuclear power plant; say in Green River Utah, to pump water from Flaming George to Denver, Lake Powell to St George or from Snake Valley to Las Vegas. We used to make power with water, creating enough energy and money to fund future water projects. Now water delivery is costing us money and power. All that water purchasing, plumbing and pumping is expensive.  Now water is costing us power.

Never change horses in the middle of a stream.
Cowboy Proverb

We used to know the price of water when we built the dams, dug the wells and cut canals by hand and with horses.  That has changed.  We really don’t know or see the true market price for our water any more; what it cost, and what it is worth. The feds and the states like to subsidized water development out the general funds and out of the power profits of previous water projects. Now we bury and hide the cost of water in property tax, sales tax, development fees, general funds, special assessments and impact fees. We don't know the true worth of water or the cost of its development. We give lip service to conservation now but deny any economic incentive to really conserve with truly punitive. rates. Water is a semi-elastic commodity and as rates increase, use and waste goes down, dramatically. That is a slippery slope for water providers who depend on selling water, lots of water.

There is nothing permanent except change.

John Wesley Powell urged Congress to draw new western state boundaries according to hydrological drainage basins that could be self sustainable in their growth and their resource use. They didn't listen, preferring random box shaped states. We are therefore left to create artificial boundaries for allocation and use of rivers and our water resources that foster the concept of "mine". We share and we steal and impair and infringe on each others surface and groundwater, in the field and on paper, with agreements and compacts. We give and take ‘virtual water’ from each other knowing that the sum of the parts is not really equal to the whole. We kick the can down the road for the next generation to mitigate and pay for.
The current short term political will is to slowly shake up the system that has formed our foundation and to turn it over to a capitalized free-for-all market. The priority system will take care of any future shortages and the market will sort out the preferences and value system of water use.  This is a dangerous precedent when dealing with a public health resource and our assumed inalienable right of access to clean water. The water industry used to be about people doing the right thing for the common good. Now it is about politics and politicians, doing the wrong things, for short term profit and popularity. 

He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils.
Francis Bacon

There are solutions out there if we choose to recognize them.  Even in east coast riparian water appropriations, where landowners can use the water on their property, there is a recognized value of water to the owner and to society and in disagreements the economic efficiencies and value of various uses are considered.  In California, the concept of common law and the public trust doctrine has been recognized in saving water for lakes, fish, rivers and natural aesthetics.  That is what saved Mono Lake if not the Owens valley.  They also have a Correlative Theory that encourages competing users to share the losses equally during times of scarcity.  In France this is called the Principal of Solidarity where historical users share the diminishment of the resource.  The idea of Conditional Water Rights is developing where Water Rights can be subordinate to other rights for other reasons besides priority or development dates, such as reserved Federal or Indian rights.  Water Banking allows for traditional uses in times of plenty but also allows for temporary transfer of water to more critical uses in times of drought.  The concept of ‘more’ beneficial use is being explored while values and preferences are being placed on traditional Water Right allocations

Things don’t change, we do.
Henry David Thoreau

These changes can be generational, brought about by a timely long term evolution of ideas and habits thru the education of people and politicians.  Old habits die hard while fear and greed dominate our resistance to change.  Existing rights and uses must be recognized and respected while paving the road to the future. The opportunity is here and now, before we reach the tipping points of criticality.  By starting slowly and accelerating, we can now match the exponential rate of the change of the world as we think in terms of a new sustainable water reality for the future.

Matthew C. Lindon, PE

Retired Assistant State Engineer, Utah Department of Natural Resources
Adjunct Professor of Civil Engineering - Water Resources, University of Utah
Consultant with Loughlin Water Associates and Otis Bay Ecological Company

4964 E Meadows Dr.
Park City Utah, 84098


Thursday, April 11, 2013

6.0221413 e+23

Avogadro’s Number

Derive Avogadro’s number.  This was the simple homework assignment for our Freshman Physical Science class at the New York prep school where I was determined to be somebody.  My dad had slyly predicted that I would fail out by Christmas and would come home crying to my mother’s aprons and the local penitentiary style public school.  I wanted to push and prove myself at the all boys, academically oriented prep school.  I didn’t want to go to the dumb schools and chase girls and wallow in mediocrity all my life.  This was my chance to be somebody, to be a contender, and it would set the pace and direction for the rest of my life.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

I sat with my slide rule and my mother, a math teacher, for hours working with big numbers and small exponents.  Or was it small numbers with big exponents?  We were both good with math, nurture and nature, from her years of experience and my affinity for numbers.  We spent weeks in my formative years with flash cards of the time tables and we went beyond the normal limit of twelve’s.  We did real, imaginary, prime, rational and irrational numbers, squares, square roots, identity, inverse, π, ℮, Logs, Natural Logs, Factorials, Secants, Arc Tangents, Derivatives, Integrals, Fibonacci, Fourier Series, Eigen Values, the definition of zero and the proof of unity.  We were math geeks; we had fun with it, we got the feel for it and we could run numbers in our head. But Avogadro’s number had us stumped.

Dad came home and could not help.  He did not have the numbers in him.  We discussed getting some help, a tutor I thought.  But Dad went out and came back with a small box; the help.  We opened it with some trepidation, plugged in some AAA batteries and turned the switch on.  A small, red, shaky LED light illuminated – 0.00 and we were on our way.  Our TI-100 could add, subtract, multiply and divide, square but not square root and could handle exponents up to 99 all for 100 dollars (500 in today’s currency).  We were ruined for life.  We solved for Avogadro’s number, Planks Constant, Gravitational constants on all the planets, the speed of light and sound in a vacuum but we could feel a flicker going out inside of us.  The numbers faded.

I made it thru prep school with my calculator and graduated to bigger prep schools and better calculators.  I found reverse Polish Notation, programmable and graphing models, multi color screens and printers.  When I got an engineering job they morphed into mainframes, mini-computers, desktops, laptops, that could perform trillions of calculations in a matter of seconds.  I found Apples and Macs and iPads and Smart phones which could not crunch numbers very well but could communicate, draw, play music and create.  All the while my feel and love for numbers died a slow steady death in my head.  Numbers were just lifeless tools, symbols of something bigger and real, outside of my head and me.  The LED in my brain faded to black and like everyone, my void was filled with email and social media, Apps and Web pages.  The instantaneous uncertainty of it all left me anxious and filled with anxiety, lacking the confidence that a good number crunch can give you.  My special ability and gift was rendered irrelevant and useless.  My father was right, I was not a contender.

The other day we came upon a couple of  kids selling lemonade on the side of the road for 50 cents a glass, 3 for a dollar!  We said ‘give us 5 glasses’ and they freaked.  They broke out their two dollar, super-computer-calculator but could not get it to go.  They peered up at me helplessly.  ‘How about $1.66’ I offered and they looked at me incredulously as I gave them 2 dollars.  ‘How much change’ they asked me, pounding on their calculator unsuccessfully.  ‘34 cents and keep the fractions’ I said.  They were dumbfounded.   I told them my numbers story and started to play a game with them.  ‘3 times 17’ I asked and they went blank.  ‘51’ I said, ‘Dick Butkus’.  ‘16 times 16’ they asked me, ‘256’ I said, ‘Bill Gates - Bits’.  ‘3 times 33’ I asked, and they said ’99 Wayne Gretzky catching on to the gist of the game. ‘2 to the 10th’ I asked and received blank stares.  ‘1024’ I said, ‘trick question, Steve Jobs - Bytes’.  These numbers meant something.  We went on and on but one kid said quickly that he didn’t want to play anymore.  The other was fascinated and we had great fun.  He had the numbers in him and he looked at me with a fraternal gleam in his eye.  I was still somebody.   I was a contender.  My mom and dad and Avogadro would be proud.


Token Efforts and this Blog represent an effort at developing a new voice and blog character that is open, honest and unqualified.  It attempts to be more straightforward, casual and extemporaneous without the publishing constraints of political correctness.  So much of our dialog these days is too measured and edited not to offend.  It is time to break away from that, to go all-out and be all-in with opinions and perspectives.  

Frustrated by the effort to publish opinions and technical papers, I lost my voice and ability to write anything while second guessing what people and editors might want to hear.  OCD editors with control issues have squelched my personal and professional writing style and ability.  

Several friends suggested blogging as a catharsis and a way to practice without the pressures of publishing.  But I notice the Publish button in the corner to send and save when I am done so I don't feel like I am writing in a vacuum for no one but myself.

So I am striving for the obscure, obtuse and the obscene, to be thought provoking for myself and any readers that stumble by.  You might say WTF at some postings but we all said that the first time we read On The Road, Clockwork Orange or Finnegans Wake, but the extra thought was worth the effort.  My dad used to say 'speak english junior' but that gets too boring being literal all the time.  Hang in there.  Give it a chance.

I started with water, writing what I know, but hope to branch into math and science, travel and adventure, politics and religion, personal experience and discoveries, and some good old stories.  I would love to lay down my daily thoughts, spell corrected and lightly edited, because every day is an adventure of thought and actions.  I am looking for progress not perfection and a way to stay creative and productive in my leisure years.  I need to hear my own voice.   I hope you enjoy the process.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Token efforts.

Too little too late.

The April storms that left a couple of feet of snow and a few inches of water have extended the good skiing as well as the mud season but will do little to save the snow pack and water year.  These back door events favored the Back of the Wasatch Front and replenished, momentarily, the anemic south and low snow pack while enhancing the almost healthy upper level pack.  Don't forget  we had rain up to 10000 feet until mid December and we had some in March but April is trying to save the year's snow pack, or at least regress it to the mean.    We are too far gone to be saved by a token effort at this point.  Too little too late.

At best we will have a 75% snow pack with a 50% runoff.  For the second summer in a row and 8 out of the last 15 we will be high and dry but this year reservoir storage and stream flows will be low and slow.  Get used to it.

This could be the new norm, and I don't just mean statistically.    This could be the end of the world as you know it.  The climate is changing even faster than we thought and that original change rate was already unprecedented in historical times.  The change of the change is increasing due to scientific tipping points and the mathematical exponential character of nature.   The geometric natural log,  e to the 2.78, is the killer and the culprit because change like this is not intuitive or linear like we like to think.

So there will be less surface water, less recharge of already depleted ground water, less water in the rivers for fish and boats and less for our friends and neighbors.  Pipe dreams to Las Vegas, St George, Denver, the Snake and Missouri rivers will have to be rethought in light of the new water budget. More demand, less supply.  

Utah's Governor refuses to sign a proactive agreement with Nevada to send water south because he wants a new round of negotiations.  He would rather re-actively settle interstate water agreements and regional environmental degradation at the slow Supreme Court level rather than proactively in the present.  Leave it to the free market, private sector and the lawyers instead of objective governmental agencies and reliable interstate agreements.  Good luck with that.

Vegas will thumb their noses at us and build their pipe and fight it out in congress or court.  They have no choice.  They will vindictively protest our St George pipe but it will all be superfluous if the Million pipe goes in from Flaming Gorge to Denver because all the endangered fish will go belly up and the EPA will take over operation of the Colorado river again.

 If Denver wants the water let them take it from Lake Powell and let us use the water for fish, watermelons and nuke plants in Green River first.  If Vegas needs more water, let them take it from California's share of the Colorado River and  build a Nuke plant on the coast near the Desalination plant for LA.  California has that option, Vegas does not.  Start looking at the Snake, the Missouri and the Great Lakes for new water because they are not making any more of it out west and we are not using any less of it.  Let’s start proactively adjusting our uses, practices and priorities now, before we run out and before it is too late.  Conservation and wise use can put off a bleak future, but not indefinitely.   

We will need new curve linear ideas, better critical thinking and bigger plumbing to face the uncertain future.   A wet April will not save our butts this year and the status-quowater planning will not solve the future or address the increasing change in the change.  Its too little too late.  We are too far gone to be saved by a token effort.

Matt Lindon
Water Guy