Wednesday, November 9, 2016

After the Earth is Scorched - Election Edition!

I awoke this morning to soft rain outside. My thoughts turned to my son's rock climbing gear left out on his climbing wall in the yard.  I had planned to bow hunt this morning, but like many people, I stayed up far too late watching the final act of the kabuki that was our 2016 presidential election.   Like many people, I'm worried about what happens next.  Like many other people, I'm slightly excited that maybe our power structure will start listening to Americans (most notably, young liberals and conservatives who are people of color) and stop with the DNC's and RNC's presumptive entitlement in our lives.   After all, they are not us.  Repeat: they are not us.

Step away from the fear of Trump and the spite for Clinton, and the racist vs. career liar false equivalency (and it was a false equivalency, you know that), and what you have is a very basic statistic:  only twice in the history of our nation have Democrats won three consecutive elections. Equalizing all other factors (which I know is statistically unfair), this gave Clinton very poor odds of winning.  To drill down into that a bit, Clinton was a strong and capable institutionalist candidate in a year where almost 80% of Americans said they were dissatisfied with the institution! And on top of that, was attempting a 3rd straight Democratic presidency, which (repeating myself) is itself statistically unlikely.

Then, if you read, as I did, that Donald Trump's candidacy was intentionally buoyed by the DNC, we see another layer of political dysfunction.  From the DNC/HRC campaign memo entitled "Muddying the Waters",  "We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are the leaders of the pack, and tell the press to take them seriously."  The candidates specifically named as far-right "Pied Pipers" were Donald Trump and Ben Carson.  As it turned out, that strategy sucked - a lot. 

Anyone who knows me knows that I hated the presumptive (or assumptive) entitlement of the Clinton campaign.  I was vexed by the fact that Clinton's career record so clearly swings to the right of my politics on gay rights, racism, "not selling bombs to really bad people" and gender equality, and dangerously left of my politics on constitutional rights, particularly the 1st through 14th Amendments.    I would never vote for Trump, and I didn't.   But in the end, we should not have been surprised that over 40% of women and almost 40% of millenials voted for Trump.  We should not have been surprised that people of color turned out to vote in significantly lower numbers for Clinton than they did for Obama, just four years ago.  

So, now it is done.  Specific areas I will be watching are:

1) Transition in/out of officials at US EPA.

2) Status and pursuit of numerous Clean Water Act federal lawsuits, as well as other actions such as Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act enforcement in the field.

3) Supreme Court nominee process (which inarguably should have been everyone's worry in this election, regardless of political affiliation - at least it got *some* media coverage).

4) Promises on withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

5) Resistence (or lack thereof) to Trump's policy ideas from a GOP Congress.

6) Promises on retaining federal lands in federal control.

7) Promises on attempting to bring China in-line.

Let the experiment begin, I suppose.

Friday, October 28, 2016

After All The Earth Is Scorched

I am 42 years old.  My marriage has survived 16 years so far, we have a son who seems to do well at school and sports, and both my career and my wife's career are going great.   We get to travel some, though not as much as we'd like, or as far as we'd like.  We are paying down debt, though not as fast as we'd like.  I own my truck (hope it doesn't blow up).    I have reverence for nature, and work hard to have faith in a God that I can understand.  I work really hard to love people, and I am fueled off of their positivity and enthusiasm.  My mental health is probably the best it's been in my life.  Life - in general - is pretty great, even if it's not easy.

But part of that puffy daydream is a lie.  My ability to work 40 hours by the end of most wednesdays; my ability to rejoice in my son's successes and work with him through his challenges with happy patience, each fish I catch and each duck I shoot.....a tiny part of it's fueled by something else.  What? Well, bad people generally, and assholes who have used their energy to try to break or ruin me, specifically.  Their ill will, their bad faith, their's all fuel, if I'm being honest.  And most of the time, I'm not being honest, because this is the extra boiler room inside me that I don't want anyone to see.  What if anyone could see the minor slights and stupid insults that I have carried with me.

What's worse is that I'm learning that energy placed towards that anger is, as they say, seed sown in a desert.  Biblical stories about mustard seeds come to mind.  Many of these people who do bad stuff end up having bad stuff happen to them.   Which in many cases seems fitting, but it doesn't make me work any harder.  Learning about their downfall doesn't make me a better person either.

There was a guy who supervised me (years ago) and subverted me until I quit.  He was pretty proud of his ability to do so, and bragged that his wife (who married him for reasons I don't understand) was the hottest in the land, or something like that.   He's been promoted once in the last 15 years, is still in the same cubicle, and his wife left him.   He has a poor professional reputation and people generally avoid him. That won't help me finish these grant application reviews tonight at my desk.

There was an uber-corporate guy who was the COO at a firm where I worked.  He loved showing off the appearance that he had the perfect career and most obedient, TV-polished family, even though I figured he was probably a tyrant at home.  He rode me hard because he thought  that I was a hippy stoner (not a good match for his Reagan politics).  I really looked up to him, but it seemed like every outdoor adventure I told him about, he had already conquered, and let me know it (he was 10 years older, with double my salary, which can lead to good hunting and fishing).   But his kids never finished college, one of them is a publicly declared drug user, and his wife divorced him.  I think work keeps him from hunting but 2-3 days per year.  I can't imagine the confusion and dissafection he feels, approaching age 60.   I can't cash in any of this for additional vacation days.

One of my nonprofit bosses was a tyrant to everything and everyone beneath her, and made a daily habit - from 800 miles away! - of reminding us we were beneath her.  Ultimately her pre-ordained ascent into senior leadership fell victim to an audit, the details of which I heard about but never saw. She lost her entire staff and her operating budget.  Her mentor and political cover was forced to retire.  Her new supervisors refused to fire her and specifically filled her prior position with another woman very publicly, perhaps to show her she was not singular; perhaps to guard against discrimination litigation; likely both.   She quit in disgrace, and then had to struggle through an awful divorce that by all accounts, was not her fault.   She is still successful, but works somewhere that makes her a Ph.D. scientist in a sea of Ph.D. scientists.  She is no longer singular. She no longer has the freedom to rule as a tyrant. That fact likely makes her skin crawl.   And all of that will not increase my annual bonus this year. 

There's the guy who used to make fun of me in middle school.  He was a gifted kid, like me, but also a sports star and the girls all loved him.  I was awkward and quiet in those years.  He used to tease me relentlessly for not being able to verbally spar with him.  Man, he was quick with the insults.  He got off the bus at one of the first bus stops.  I remember exhaling as he'd climb off, every day.  Rid of him until tomorrow. He disappeared into a jock vortex in high school, attended a crappy college far below his intellect, never played college or professional sports, and was divorced with kids by 35 - in a state that takes alimony (too) seriously. Looking at age 43, he's still single; still alone, which must be hard for him and his need to be liked.  And that's not going to help me finish my first novel. 

As I read in a book about ninjutsu, "Do not attack your enemies; merely show them the path to the destruction they seek."   That being said, after all the earth is scorched, there is nothing but scorched earth.  You can't till that ground for shit.  I knew these people and watched them fall, creating a mental storybook of devastation I created, perhaps for my own self-validation, or at least to validate my memory that these were bad people I shouldn't emulate.   It's a dark, negative creation.   I wasn't responsible for their failure, and I certainly couldn't have helped them while I was being victimized by them.  I simply moved out of their way.  But there's something that's equal parts unsettling, guiltily rewarding, and just tragic about all of it.

Some days I look over the scorched earth of those who crossed me, and I smile.  They got theirs.  But the smile does not last, because there is too much work.  And because my satisfaction is awful and inhumane, and I know it. Who is watching me, waiting to document and analyze my fall?  I should probably stop thinking that there won't be an audience.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Good Morning Largemouth

As I've griped about here for 8? 9? years, I don't get to fish enough.  Although it's true enough that like a living parable, everyone I know who can "fish enough" is not satisfied either.    I had a tour with elected officials canceled one morning and so I thought I'd challenge the October Gods for a Maryland largemouth before work.   I caught several 8-12" bass in extremely heavy cover in a flowing pool, and had big fish slip the hook at least three times, before getting a hold of this guy.  My second biggest largemouth of the year.  Interestingly enough, it was caught on a very small Diezel Chatterbait set up for redfish.   Silver hardware and pearl trailer.  Because why not.

It wasn't a monster, somewhere in the 3lb and 15" range.  But it's a big fish for me, and I was happy to come down in the swamp and "do what I came to do."  On the other hand, my fish selfie game needs some serious improvement.  See below.

Hope you all are enjoying the recent onset of fall weather and getting outdoors.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Richmond's Reedy Creek Restoration Project - Mistakes Were Made

I love Richmond, Virginia.  It's less than two hours from my hometown and though I've never lived there (not for lack of effort - the job market isn't so hot, and never has been), I love the city.  I love its historic past, both beautiful and ugly, its extremely gritty recent past, and the wonderful 21st Century city that it's becoming.   But change (or even growing up) isn't always easy in Virginia.   As the saying goes - it takes 8 Virginians to change a lightbulb.  One to do it, and the other 7 to stand around and talk about how much better the old one was.

Richmond, like many cities and counties in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, finds itself  - after 400 years of unbridled development and habitat destruction - in the vice grips of federal water quality mandates.    One, the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, demands compliance by 2025.  The other, the Richmond MS4, demands compliance by 2018.    Arguably, the City of Richmond is not likely to comply with either the TMDL or the MS4, which means a costly Federal Consent Decree is likely. More on that in a bit.

First, how does a municipality "comply" with these mandates?  Largely, compliance is made through the completion of "projects" that reduce the input of key pollutants (typically nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment, bacteria, and trash) into interstate (federal) waterways like the Chesapeake Bay.  "Projects" include sanitary sewer upgrades, tree plantings, stream stabilization, wetland creation, and other efforts that generally reduce sewage and stormwater from reaching large water bodies.  Each "project" is assigned a pollution reduction value (i.e. measures like rain barrels and tree plantings get a relatively low score, while sewer plant upgrades receive a high score).  

A measure of some controversy has been the relatively generous crediting of stream restoration projects that 1) stabilize eroding stream banks, 2) enhance hyporheic exchange, and 3) reconnect the stream to the floodplain on a more regular basis.    The City of Richmond has staked much of its 2018 MS4 compliance hopes on the construction of three stream restoration projects, one of which is known as the Reedy Creek Restoration Project.

Reedy Creek is a very typical fall line stream in a developed area.  It is generally highly eroded, and any historic floodplain wetlands have been drained due to stream downcutting in some areas.  In some areas, however, the stream has a relatively stable cross-section.   There are many trees present, however, many of them (like maples and poplars) are not considered to have high value for habitat or nutrient uptake.  Much of the stream valley is subject to run-outs and headcuts associated with the watershed's urban hydrographs.    In short, the system is a mess.    Here are what I believe to be indisputable facts:

1) Some sections of Reedy Creek are extremely unstable.
2)  These sections will not "heal themselves" in a human timeframe, even if all runoff was removed from the watershed (impossible). 
3) Trees will have to be removed to do the work. 
4) The planted trees will not achieve that same size for decades.
5)  Trees do, eventually, grow bigger, if they are maintained and kept free of vines.
6) The TMDL and MS4 permits are driving restoration projects. 

However, much more is *in* dispute.   The large, tree-holding area of Reedy Creek showing the most erosion happens to be City property.  If you're the City of Richmond, and you have to do these "projects" by 2018, the one way you can possibly achieve that is by using City property.   That's not in dispute, either.  There is no way between 2014 and 2018 that the City could negotiate enough private property projects to comply with the permit requirements.  However, it appears that the City didn't feel compelled to share their early plans with the community surrounding the park.  In fact, the City DPU (the MS4 permittee and the stream project sponsor) still doesn't seem ecstatic about this whole "public input" thing.  To their point, the MS4 and TMDL permits may have specified this project, and certainly did have public input periods, which I'm fairly confident this community ignored.

Enter a bunch of local do-gooders, or, at least they think they are local do-gooders, the Reedy Creek Coalition.   I chuckled at an online comment that read something like, "How come the only reference to the restoration of Reedy Creek on your website is "Stop the Stream Restoration?!" .....and it's a valid question.  The Reedy Creek Coalition isn't fond of the way this project materialized (which seems like a fair complaint) or the way that the City plans to re-align a stream on City property (which seems like less of a fair complaint).    I was excited to read one article that said that the City had not considered the validity of Reedy Creek Coalition's alternative plan for watershed restoration.  Upon hunting for that "plan," I read another article stating that it was simply a list of other City-owned properties in the watershed, that maybe could possibly sort of somehow be used for stormwater reduction.   As someone who has built 200+ ponds, wetlands, streams, rain gardens, etc., I know that a list is not a plan.  A plan is something that provides adequate information to judge cost, impact, and benefit.    After considering this for a while, I can't get over my feeling that this "plan" wasn't meant to be a real plan at all.

This begs a bigger question:  What is Reedy Creek Coalition's vision for saving Reedy Creek and restoring it back to some prior version of itself?  What calculations have been done on the alternatives they suggest? Where does their strategic plan say the highest quality projects would be - and how was that calculated?  To be fair, those same questions should be asked of the project proponents as well!  
But I haven't seen any calculations -   it certainly seems like the City wants to build this project because they have decided to build it; the Reedy Creek Coalition appears to object to the project because they have decided they don't like it.

If the Reedy Creek Coalition succeeds in killing this project, I can virtually guarantee a few outcomes:

1) In 2018, the City of Richmond will specifically blame this RCC for the City's failure to attain pollution reduction goals (and again in 2019, for the TMDL 2-year milestones).  That will become the reputation of Reedy Creek Coalition.  I cannot imagine trying to fundraise on that public reputation.  Especially when fines are levied, creating an excuse for the City to raise taxes/fees (and explicitly blame RCC).

2) Reedy Creek will not be restored, uplands or downstream, in this generation.   The state and city agencies will not allow substantial funding to flow to this watershed due to demonstrated risk of project failure.

If City DPU succeeds in installing this project, I can virtually guarantee a few outcomes:

1) Reedy Creek Coalition will publicly document every eroded pebble, every dead planted tree, every slightly misplaced boulder with exposed soil behind it.   We have a guy who does this at restoration projects in Maryland.   He is miserable; hearing him speak with the media is even more miserable.  "Look here! It's dirt! This project is a failure!" The City can look forward to that, if they continue on their present course.

2) Unless substantial stream monitoring protocols are already in place, the City will have a hard time categorizing the site as a "success," because the majority of people talking about the site will remind everyone else of the dead trees.

A Real Framework for the Restoration of Reedy Creek

What does this all mean?  Well, in the words of comedian Keegan-Michael Key, "Ya done messed up!"  The two primary parties in this dispute have a lot to lose by sticking to their guns, and they seem reticent to admit that.   Might I suggest a "both, and" approach to the restoration of Reedy Creek instead of an "either, or?"  

For instance, the parties could execute an MOU that provides:

1) RCC to hire a stream restoration engineer (at their own cost) to recommend specific tree-saving techniques to City DPU.   Perhaps 10 major recommendations, of which 5 (City's choice) *must* be accomodated.   RCC must provide these recommendations to City DPU in 90 days or less.

2)  City will place "escrow" type funding with a local conservation organization with the capacity to do actual watershed restoration activities (unfortunately, that means probably not the organization whose restoration goal is "Stop The Restoration!") for the purposes of 10 growing seasons of mechanical and/or chemical control of invasive species.

3)  City will establish an "escrow" or "tree trust" funding for 30 years that will ensure that within 30 years, forest canopy coverage is high or higher than pre-restoration.

4) RCC will desist from anecdotal stream condition descriptions, and instead hire an independent ecological consultant (at RCC's own cost) to perform a functional assessment (recommended: Harmon-Starr Functional Pyramid) on various reaches of the stream to document whether City DPU's proposed restoration method will provide meaningful "uplift" to the stream's condition (if not, consider abandoning work or reducing impact in those areas).

5)  RCC will serve as the primary partner on the restoration of the private property "concrete gully" upstream.  City DPU agrees in concept to provide speedy permit review and grant application support letters (RCC should be able to raise the (guessing) $1.5 million to accomplish the concrete channel restoration).  RCC may be able to negotiate that the City provides up to 50% matching funds for that effort, as well (or, even more importantly, $200,000 in start-up funds to begin the survey, engineering, and permit work).    Also, local partners like RCC typically have better success navigating private property concerns (and right of way costs) than City agencies.   If RCC is serious about treating the stormwater to Reedy Creek, and not simply using the "concrete gully" as a red herring to stop the project downhill, RCC will readily pursue this huge opportunity for their organization.

My overall worry is that the City of Richmond doesn't care all that much about Reedy Creek, if they never produced a set of alternative approaches and didn't conduct meaningful listening sessions for the community.   My overall worry is that Reedy Creek Coalition might not care that much either, if they have no concrete plan for advancing meaningful-scale watershed restoration work with or without the City's engineers.  

There is a huge opportunity, and huge obligation, for community and city leaders to work together in this period of generous funding for watershed restoration and simply get it done in a way that everyone will be happy to describe to their grandkids one day.   But as of last week, the two parties couldn't be much farther apart.   And if Reedy Creek continues to erode and unravel (and take out big, beautiful trees) for another 30 years, I don't think anyone will be proud to tell their grandkids about their role in that lost opportunity.   "I tried to steamroll a community, and failed!"  "Oh yeah, well I stopped the City from investing in our community - and they never came back!"