Sierra snowpack low this year - more drought

Hot on the heels of a recently announced series of water rate increases is this article in the LA Times warning of the rather obvious drought that is now in its third year.

Statewide, the snow's water content is 61% of the average figure for this point in the season. Another La Niña may be developing, an expert says. Conservation is strongly urged.
By Bettina Boxall
January 30, 2009
The all-important Sierra Nevada snowpack remains well below normal, signaling that California may be headed for a third consecutive dry year.

When state workers took the second snow measurement of the winter Thursday, they found that statewide, the snow's water content was 61% of the average, over many years, for this point in the season. The figure was even lower in the northern Sierra, which feeds the state's biggest reservoirs.

There are still two months left for winter precipitation to catch up. But state officials say it is increasingly unlikely California will get enough to break the drought that is draining reservoirs and prompting increasingly urgent calls for conservation.

Senior state meteorologist Elissa Lynn said La Niña conditions, which led to an exceptionally dry spring last year, may be redeveloping.

"There's not a lot of indications the rest of the year will be normal, and even if it were, we'd still wind up below average for the northern Sierra," she said.

See the rest here

Local water rates increase

Hot on the heels of implementation of a tiered (well, perhaps stacked, since there's only two "tiers") rate structure is a huge water rate increase. The article below, from the Daily Breeze, is interesting because 1) it cites current average water consumption 2) it's short.

Hawthorne City Council approves water rate increase
From staff reports
Posted: 01/29/2009 03:47:16 AM PST

California Water Service Co. customers in Hawthorne will receive an increase in their bills beginning next month.

The Hawthorne City Council approved the water rate increase for residential customers Tuesday, after notices were mailed out about the proposed increase and only seven protests were received.

The current average rate for residential customers is $39.37 per month.

The change calls for a staggered increase of 14 percent in February, another 17percent increase in July and a 17percent increase in January 2010.

In July 2011, there will be a 6 percent reduction.

The average cost per customer will be about $62 per month in January 2010.

California Water Service Co. representatives said the additional income will cover increased water and employee costs, as well as infrastructure improvements.

Omnivore's hundred

Very Good Taste* has a blog post with 100 items that every omnivore ought to have tasted at least once.

*You ought to browse over to VGT and sample the writing. There's an acerbic wit at work on VGT who is quite entertaining to read.

The list includes fine food, strange food, everyday food and even some pretty bad food - but a good omnivore should really try it all. Don’t worry if you haven’t, mind you; neither have I, though I’ll be sure to work on it. Don’t worry if you don’t recognise everything in the hundred, either; Wikipedia has the answers.

Here’s what I want you to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

1. Venison - N. American jerky and Swedish reindeer
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros - I live in Southern California, do you need to ask?
4. Steak tartare - I'm not counting Osso bucco, which I have had.
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp - don't know. I think yes.
9. Borscht - delicious
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses - I'm nearly sure I have, but then I've had so many stinky cheeses
17. Black truffle - I'm not counting truffle oil or the microscopic bits in some restaurant preparations
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes - it's wine, of course I've had some.
19. Steamed pork buns - a staple of Dim Sum here in S. Ca.
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper - I'm not going to strike this out because I've had grilled habanero peppers and enjoyed them, but so far this is the closest to a strikeout
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda - I think I'll put this on my try soon list. Some preparations sound healthy.
31. Wasabi peas - didn't like them
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi - not my favorite
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar - I'm not sure how "fat" my cigar was
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat - I've had it stewed and BBQd, but never curried.
42. Whole insects - chapulines! deep fried silk worm pupae probably don't count.
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more - don't I wish
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi - I'll have to look this one up
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini - I prefer my martinis traditional
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine - another I needed to look up.
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin - Huh? The clay? (later: I read the FAQ and now recall a news article about pregnant women eating this.)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe - I think I should try some
74. Gjetost, or brunost - Mark may have brought some back from Norway.
75. Roadkill - only if it was fresh. A deer wouldn't be too offensive.
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare - I'm assuming rabbit = hare which might be presumptuous since sheep != mutton
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse - I won't count that antelope
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

(PS. There is a FAQ for the list over here)


Digital TV solutions

I get my broadcast TV for free over the air*. Last year, I was an early adopter of the new digital television broadcast standard and purchased a DTV decoder with the help of my $40 government-issued coupon. Although I later regretted not being in the second wave of adopters due to the refinements in later versions of the DTV decoders, my actions now look prescient, since as of Jan 9, 2009, the coupons are all gone.

DTV reception with the old UHF antenna on my roof has not been without its issues. The antenna required reorientation to avoid massive dropouts and pixelation. Pixelation is still an occasional issue, usually at the most inconvenient time. The inconvenience of having another box on top of my TV has been an irritant too: There's the additional complexity of another source of audio and video (component and S-video) that has resulted in some non-optimum setups. For instance: so far I haven't been able to take advantage of my DTV's S-Video output and while I can pipe my DVD audio through my stereo, I can't listen to the DTV audio through the stereo.

Some tips found on the web:

Most people don’t realize that the new signals are being broadcast on the UHF band and the VHF antennas that they buy from Lowes won’t do your HD tv justice. The UHF antennas have a smaller footprint and work amazingly well.

Here’s a good site for UHF antennas: http://preview.tinyurl.com/uhf-antennas

Check out http://antennaweb.org for proper antenna placement.

Using antennaweb.org, I was able to determine that I should get best reception pointing my antenna at 22 degrees from magnetic north. I assume this is towards Mt. Wilson. I don't know how my antenna is currently pointed, but surely this is one thing to check first.

Other resources

*If I had cable, I would spend an hour flipping channels looking for the one good program on my 500 channels. I get no more TV than I need or can handle when I use over the air (OTA) reception, plus it costs nothing.


Margaret's Mallow

I gave my friend Margaret a couple tree mallows (Lavatera assurgentiflora) while back. I've written about her California wildflower yard before. Here's what she wrote to me recently.

Hi Brent,

The top photo is from the first day of planting. The bottom photo was taken today. The mallow has been in the ground for one month. As you can see it is growing nicely. BTW, the plant is not as close to the wall as it appears. The other mallow I planted this past weekend at my parent's house. My mom was very excited to receive it. I told her the back story.

In other news, a lady walked by my yard and told me she makes it a point to walk down my street to see the progress. She told me she is letting her lawn go and will replace it with drought resistant plants. I gave her a bag of seeds harvested from my yard. She was so thrilled. Slowly, but surely, lawns will be a thing of the past!



Garden accomplishments

I managed to sleep a lot this weekend. My first full week back at work, and I was beat by Friday.

Earlier in the week, when I was anticipating a storm that never showed, I planted Apricot Mallow (also known as Desert Mallow), Sphaeralcea ambigua, in the front. It needs full sun, so the back yard wasn't going to do. This is not a California coastal plain native and my heavier soil may be a bit much for it. We'll see. It looks a bit scrofulous now, but it ought to bloom into the early summer according to the glossy brochure. This was an impulse purchase at the Payne Foundation and I've been struggling with where to put it. I ought to have used a pot so I could tailor the soil conditions. Or exercise better impulse control.

If it doesn't work out I can switch to a different genus, but still have a mallow. Chaparral Bush Mallow (Malacothamnus fasciculatus) seems to be better situated to clay soils.

I was reminded of the mallows while reading Sunset magazine online. In addition to their nice blog (linked at the right), there's a lot of good articles including this photo essay on eight native plants in the garden. The last photo in the essay says something about a non-native tree mallow, but it sure looks like California native Lavatera assugentiflora. Maybe the garden is in Arizona?

I managed a fair amount of weeding while the soil was moist after the rain. During the weeding, I stumbled across the plant stake that I buried with my Ceanothus "Dark Star". Now I know that it really is "Dark Star" and I only have to puzzle out the other Ceanothus in the yard.

"Dark Star" is getting progressively bluer.

But the other Ceanothus is not.

All its flowers are still waiting to burst forth.


Rain 0.15"; 4.33" seasonal total

Another 0.10 inch overnight.

I woke up several times to the sound of large volumes of rushing water, but I think it was a geyser from a broken water main down the street.

Then another 0.05" during the day.

An many news outlets have noted, we are behind expectations on rainfall.


Rain 0.20"

This PM had a total of 0.20" of rain in my backyard. More rain is on the way, finally!


One degree warmer may not seem like a lot

The title of the post is a quote from the following article, which I found at the LA Times.

I've mentally poo-poohed some sort of global systems engineering approach to deal with warming, but the rate of the change seems to demand a faster short term solution than we can get any other way. If we can buy a few decades with an engineering solution and if we're not too near the precipice of catastrophic change, then we can probably legislate a more durable solution.

West's trees dying faster as temperatures rise
A study of old-growth forests predicts that if the trend continues, it could alter not just the region's woodlands, but the quality of wildlife habitat and forests' ability to store carbon.
By Bettina Boxall
January 23, 2009
More trees are dying in the West's forests as the region warms, a trend that could ultimately spell widespread change for mountain landscapes from the Sierra Nevada to the Rockies.

Scientists who examined decades of tree mortality data from research plots around the West found the death rate had risen as average temperatures in the region increased by more than 1 degree Fahrenheit.

"Tree death rates have more than doubled over the last few decades in old-growth forests across the Western United States," said U.S. Geological Survey scientist Phillip van Mantgem, coauthor of a paper published in today's issue of the journal Science and released Thursday.

The researchers found rising death rates across a wide variety of forest types, at different elevations, in trees of all sizes and among major species, including pine, fir and hemlock.

"Wherever we looked, mortality rates are increasing," said Nathan Stephenson, a study coauthor and USGS research ecologist.

Tree death rates had risen the most rapidly in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and southern British Columbia, Canada, doubling in 17 years. But the highest mortality -- more than 1.5% a year -- showed up in California.

If temperatures continue to rise, as many climate models predict, "it's very likely that mortality rates will continue to rise," Stephenson said.

That could eventually alter not just the face of Western woodlands, but the quality of wildlife habitat and forests' ability to store carbon. Extensive tree die-back could lead to wholesale landscape changes, converting forests in borderline areas to grass and shrublands.

see the rest at the LA Times.


Santa Barbara vacation

I was in Santa Barbara at the end of 2008.

Late Christmas.

We went to the beach.

Saw some friends.

Went to the Santa Barbara Botannical Gardens. The gardens now charges handsomely for admission. I used to hike into it for free when I lived there (they didn't charge at that time anyway).

The meadow is at the entrance/exit. For a couple years there was an interesting woven willow house at the top of the meadow.

I think that kids enjoy the gardens.

Clearly the large boulder didn't give this Coast Live Oak any problems when it was growing.

That's all I have pictures of. We also went to La Super Rica Taqueria. I like the Especial and the Rajas. McConnells ice cream was good too.

full set of large photos

Blooms in my garden

After a week of warm weather, the Ceanothus with the better exposure is starting to bloom. I think it's "Dark Star" but I might not remember correctly.

After years of being told the Rosemary hedge around my garden was too monolithic I believed it. So last year I ripped out alternate Rosemary plants and interplanted with Artemesia californica (California sagebrush). I tried in these pictures to show how they look together. I don't think I did a good job, but it looks OK to me in person.

Ribes aureum gracillimum (Golden current) is blooming along the back fence. This is a well-shaded area and I expect they'd do better with a bit more light. Still, an impressive showing for only one year in the ground. The plan was to have Ribes in bloom when the adjacent Cercis was still dormant for winter. So far, so good.

I had one sad looking Encelia (Coast sunflower or California bush sunflower) bloom in the front where it gets direct sun for most of the day (not shown).

I got the Camelia from the neighbors. It wouldn't grow in their yard. I think that it was pruned to within an inch of its life over there. I've never pruned it in the several years that I've had it and it's doing fine. My mother covets it and if I take it out I have to give it to her.

The two Fragaria vesca (Woodland strawberry) that I planted in the dark northwest side yard didn't like it there and died. Just like last year, except that I know they weren't neglected this year and I watched them go to their unhappy place. That area of my yard is where the water drains during rain, so at first I thought it was an unhappy mixture of too damp soil and little light. The Fragaria started off strong but the light in that area changes dramatically from late fall to now.

The Heuchera hybid "Opal" (Island Coral Bells) planted in the same area as a backup plant trial is doing well. I hadn't grown this before but I'm glad I decided to experiment. I need to get more with the hope that I can get something to live in this area year round. Water requirements for Heuchera are about the same as for Fragaria "occasional to moderate" vs. "occasional to regular". The light requirements for Heuchera are "part sun to shade" vs. "full sun (coast) to part shade (inland)" for Fragaria. I guess the light is the key here, at least at this time of year.

full sized pictures


Braised red cabbage II

The LA Times had a recipe for braised red cabbage which showed up in my comments. Today I made it, following proportions closely, and it fell flat. Even after I doubled the vinegar and honey, added a bit more pepper and juniper berries, it still fell flat. Red wine vinegar helped a bit - perhaps it knit the flavors together a bit better.

I am still on a quest for the best Thuringian style braised red cabbage recipe.

Compact fluorescent

Two years ago during this billing period I used 7.43 kWh of electricity. Last year, 8.19 kWh. This year I used 8.03 kWh.

I've installed a number of compact fluorescent bulbs in the past year (but not all bulbs were replaced), so if you take the very simplest interpretation of the data (ignore random variations, changes in use patterns, different major appliances, etc) I have saved 0.16 kWh by installing the bulbs. Use-based charges are about 12.8 cents per kWh (all the charges including generation, delivery, and users utility tax are scaled by usage. The one exception is the "basic" charge.)

That means that I have saved 0.16 kWh * 12.8 cents per kWh = 2 cents this month.

Suppose I was on an upward trend of usage. That means that without CFLs I could have used 8.95 kWh this billing period, so my savings might be as high as $0.12 for this billing period.

I'm happy to be doing my part for the environment, but $0.02 per month savings will take a long time to pay back my CFL investment.


I didn't replace bulbs that have the majority of the use. This is true in part. I have various hanging fixtures which take fan bulbs and I didn't like the look of the CFL replacements a year ago, so those didn't get replaced. Most others did.

Lighting must not be my primary use of electricity. Probably also true. My computer is on all the time and then there's the fridge. A hypothetical 50% savings on 10% of my consumption would only have a 5% effect on my bill.

Change in the wind

Parts of me are excellent, but I was unexpectedly hospitalized earlier this week with some heart issues. This is serious, life threatening, stuff - caught before it manifested as an operational failure. I'm at home now and feeling fine, but I'll be making some lifestyle changes. I believe that I already have an overall healthy lifestyle, but it has to get healthier in ways that I probably don't yet understand completely. So, change is in the wind and it remains to be seen where it will take me.


Victory gardens article in LA Times

Does anyone think that the article Victory gardens sprout up again by Mary MacVean in today's LA Times is any good? Seems like its a year or more late on the whole gardening trend and there's absolutely no new information in it. No new vegetables. No new seed sources. No local heirloom suppliers. Nothing. In fact, the accompanying 15 photos seem to pander to the Topanga Canyon yuppies profiled in the article and just add to the lifestyle column feel of the article.


To Do list update

I've updated my To Do list today with a couple accomplishments from the past weeks and a couple more tasks.

The latest task involve making some of my interior space more usable. The clothes closets in both my room and my son's are not optimal. I've known this for a while, but it's really been at the front of my mind during the recent Christmas season when I've been trying to tidy, hide gifts, put away clothes, and so forth. All with a certain amount of struggle because the spaces are just difficult to use.

Maybe it makes sense to purchase a modular storage system at one of the numerous sales that are going on now, courtesy of the struggling economy. The Elfa storage system at The Container Store is on sale right now through Feb 9.

I watched some videos on how to put the closet system together, mostly with an eye on whether the system would be suitable, and it looks OK. I'll check it out in person soon at one of the stores. The pictured system shown above (see http://www.containerstore.com/browse/Product.jhtml?CATID=68559&PRODID=10024072 for original source) goes for $375.38, marked down from $568.32. This is the cheapest of the "whole closet" solutions, but it seems a reasonable price given the engineering that has gone into the system. The vertical supports are hung from a horizontal rail and all the pieces snap in and almost self-locate after that one rail is installed.

Additionally, both closets need lights, and mine needs a larger door.

I don't that I'll be doing this task this weekend. Instead, I'll try to finish up some of my other tasks that still remain undone: putting door shoes on the French Doors and painting are numbers one and two tasks. Number three is insulating my attic access.


High Spot / Black Spot; Door Sixteen

Always good fun, the 2008 High Spot / Black Spot awards are out.

Also, I found a kindred To Do list keeper and old home renovator, over on Door Sixteen who writes, I’m posting this list for the sake of other people who own old, un-renovated houses. It’s NEVER as simple as “just painting a room”. The rooms in my house have never been painted properly, nor has anything been maintained or repaired over the years.

And in a later post, Sick days always feel like a giant waste of time. What’s the point in being at home if I can’t spend every second slaving over some renovation project? Isn’t that what people do when they’re not working??


More city codes vs native plants

The Orange County Register has had a series of articles on naturalist Joel Robinson describing his cantankerous neighbors' reactions to his native plants. Now it seems that everyone has agreed to play nice, even if they all aren't yet singing Kumbayah together.

The first two were carried in the main paper in the Science and Technology section, while the third was in "greenOC" which is either a supplement or a blog. There is a linked slide show (the same one) from each article.

For those reading this from out of the area, Orange County is widely considered a bastion of conservativism in all things.

The article headlines tell the story:

Friday, August 22, 2008
Yard wars: Neighbors nettled by nature gone wild link

In which we read, "We pull weeds, and he's growing them," said neighbor Joanne Woltz, 82, who, like others on the block, has a manicured lawn and carefully trimmed ornamental plants. "We just look the other way when we drive by. We just don't like what he's done."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Yard wars: Naturalist threatened with jail or fine link

In which we read, One neighbor who dislikes Robinson's yard, Gary Redfern, said he approved of the city's letter.

"I'm still very much opposed to what he's done," Redfern said. "I'm glad to hear now that the city has taken some action. He had the right idea; he just went about it the wrong way. He did a worse than horrible job in planning his garden."

So it's all about the garden design aesthetics now?

December 23rd, 2008
Yard wars: homeowner, city declare a truce link

Where we read:

A naturalist who ran afoul of his neighbors — and Orange code enforcement officials — after filling his front yard with wild-looking native plants appears to have reached an agreement with the city, ending months of sometimes heated conflict.

Joel Robinson recently received the all-clear from city code enforcement officials, who said they would close his file if he keeps his yard well maintained


the neighbors, who have manicured lawns and carefully trimmed, ornamental plants, said Robinson’s yard looked like it was filled with “weeds.” He received nasty notes, a tongue-lashing or two and, he feels certain, had herbicide sprayed surreptitiously on some of his plants.

When some of the neighbors complained to city code enforcement, officials went to Robinson’s house, snapped pictures of his yard, and told him he had to keep it trimmed and remove dead vegetation.

The conflict reached a high point two months ago, when the city sent Robinson a letter threatening criminal prosecution — six months in jail or a $1,000 fine.

Robinson got an attorney. And, it appears, city code enforcement officials got an earful about the difference between dead weeds and dormant, but living, native plants


For his part, Robinson is keeping his plants well trimmed, giving them extra water, and growing evergreen natives, such as laurel sumac or toyon, on the outside perimeter of his yard to try to make it more visually appealing to his neighbors.

So I guess it was all about the design aesthetic after all. Here's a photo of the new and improved garden design. Yep, definitely a design issue. That's a large picture. Try pressing F11 if using Firefox (or IE?) to view it full screen. F11 again returns your browser to normal.

One of my lessons here is that if you aren't using the tried and true recipe of exotic foundation shrubs + exotic tree + wall-to-wall turf grass then you better make it pleasant to look at or people will complain. From what I've been able to tell, Joel is a do-it-yourselfer like me. But poor Joel probably had less garden design sense I had when I first started with natives, he was saddled with less tolerant neighbors, and he probably didn't introduce his garden with a ginormous spring wildflower display to set the unfriendlies at ease. In fact, I don't recall mention of a single wildflower in the three articles and slide show. The idea that pretty compensates for flawed design isn't half baked - at least in a hearts and minds struggle like this one on Valley Forge Drive in Orange County. In Joel's case maybe wildflowers could have made it tolerable for those who want the conformity of turf grass and azaleas. A little more design could have helped too.


New Year's r^Hgoals

I don't usually make New Year's resolutions. I find that I'm more introspective on my birthday. Perhaps it's because my birthday is in spring, the traditional time of rebirth and New Years is just after our darkest and dreariest days.

With that preamble, I'd like to offer some modest goals for 2009:

250 blog posts. I estimate that I made just over 250 blog posts in 2008. I don't have a hard target number for 2009, but I think that my pace was appropriate, so 250 seems right. I have an additional goal of including more photos. I received a very nice camera in 2008, so that part should be easy. Tagging my photos is something I should do as well.

Complete To Do list items. I'd like to complete more home improvement tasks and triumphantly blog about them, complete with strike outs on my To Do lists.

More outside activities. There's a lot of native plant activities in my area. I want to participate more in them in order to network and learn. This might not be achievable with the current demands on my time. Still, I'll throw it out there. How about taking up dancing again? Same caution applies.

Get to bed earlier. But this requires less of everything else. Oh well.

One of the contractors that I work with (sometimes in opposition, sometimes not) expressed appreciation for the "creative tension" that I put on them, which inspires excellence. I think that's a useful force in our own lives too.

'night. Zzzz.