Button Up Your Home, Save Energy & Money.

GreenTown GreenTalk Feb. 18

Audience members were treated to an energy education at GreenTowns’ GreenTalk Feb. 18. Pictured: L-R – Curtis Tongue (OhmConnect), Margie Suozzo (GreenTown Los Altos), David Siddiqui (Green Evolution Consulting).

GreenTown’s GreenTalk Feb. 18 featured two great speakers sharing two great ways to save energy, and MONEY.

First up was David Siddiqui from Green Evolution Consulting.  David told us about the main sources of energy loss in the home.  It can be simple problems, like leaky or disconnected heating ducts, which apparently happens all the time with the typical house sprouting a 30% leakage rate.  Clearly a huge waste of energy, and MONEY.

Button Up Energy Loss, Lock In Savings

To figure out where you’re “losing” energy, David recommends a whole house energy assessment instead of dissecting the problem contractor by contractor.  Once the assessment is complete you’ll have a road map for improvements that make sense.  The payoff? Improved comfort, better air quality, increased home value, and to boot, you’ll save MONEY.

Speaking of MONEY, there’s other ways to get money for energy improvements including rebates from Energy Upgrade California and PG&E, as well as good financing options available.  For more info contact David .

Second speaker was Curtis Tongue, OhmConnect.  Curtis told us about a demand response program is the proverbial win/win. It enables you to make MONEY for your school by reducing your electricity use.

A what?  Demand response? With a Payback???

When energy demand is high, think a hot day in August with all the state’s air conditioners blasting away, then all available power plants will have to be on.  The last ones turned on will be the least efficient, the dirtiest and the most expensive.  In fact, Curtis told us that 15% of the cost of all electricity is for the 1% of electricity at peak demand prices.

With that much cost involved, PG&E will pay you not to use power.  This is where OhmConnect comes in.

Their models reliably predict expected use (demand) and if you turn off your appliances, lights, air conditioner, etc. for just one hour you will make MONEY.  It’s pretty simple, OhmConnect sends you a text, you cut your power and PG&E doesn’t have to turn on that inefficient, dirty power plant.

So how does this help a school?  Since the dollars for a few hours here and there really aren’t huge, people find it more satisfying to pool them with other folks as a school fundraiser.  The dollars add up and it really helps.  Springer’s PTA did it!

Interested?  You can sign up at OhmConnect, it’s free, it’s fun and you can start making MONEY for the community.

So what are you doing to button up your home? Share with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

By Gary Hedden, Energy Chair, GreenTown Los Altos.

2015 Silicon Valley Water Awards Are On!

It’s that time of year. The 2015 Silicon Valley Water Awards are open for application submissions.  It’s your chance to nominate the water heroes in your community.

As California enters its 4th year of drought, water conservation continues to be of utmost importance to maintaining our high quality of life. Communities are renewing their efforts to stretch strained water supplies, and creative ideas are in high demand.

GTLA 2.15 SV awardsDo you have a model program or practice to share, or know of others who do?

Now in its seventh year, the Silicon Valley Water Conservation Awards highlight innovative water conservation efforts that can serve as models for others. The Awards recognize leadership that has advanced water conservation in San Mateo County, Santa Clara County and Alameda County from Hayward south.

Applications and nominations for the 2015 Silicon Valley Water Conservation Awards are now being accepted. The closing date is February 27, and winners will be recognized through news releases and at an awards ceremony on March 23 in Palo Alto.

The 2015 Award Categories Are:

  • Government Agency/Water Utility
  • Business
  • Organization
  • Greenscape Management
  • Innovation
  • Education
  • Water Champion

To learn more about the Water Awards and how to apply or nominate a candidate, please visit http://www.WaterAwards.org.

RSVP for the Awards Ceremony at http://www.svwca.brownpapertickets.com.


Sustain This: Ways to Go Green & Voice Your Opinion

GreenTown is involved with many issues that you’ve made clear you care about. Those related to sustainability, going more green, climate change to make, and even leave, our world a better place. Here’s some upcoming events and meetings we thought you’d like to know about:

.2/7 The March for Real Climate Leadership 11:30AM-3PM

The March for Real Climate Leadership, Sunday, Feb 7, from 11:30AM – 3PMFrank Ogawa Plaza, 14th & Broadway, in Oakland, California.

The March will take place on Feb. 7th, beginning at 11:30 am at Frank Ogawa Plaza, 14th & Broadway, in Oakland, California, ending with a Rally at Lake Merritt Amphitheater at the South end of Lake Merritt.

Thousands of people from all across the state will gather in Gov. Brown’s hometown on February 7 to demand that he step up. The March for Real Climate Leadership will be the largest climate rally in California history. It is being hosted by a broad group of partner organizations including the Sierra Club. The March will bring thousands of people from across the state into the streets of Oakland on February 7 to call on Governor Brown to ban fracking, stand up to Big Oil, and move beyond fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy.

Parking in the area may be extremely tight due to the large crowd expected. Traveling by BART is the recommended choice.  If you can’t travel by BART, Loma Prieta Chapter members are encouraged to come on the bus leaving from San Jose’s Diridon Stationat 9:30 a.m., and picking up riders at the downtown Palo Alto Caltrain station (Urban Lane at Wells Drive) at about 10:15 a.m.

Bus tickets are only $20 each and must be purchased in advanced to secure your seat.  Buy your tickets online.

If you are a current student and the regular $20 bus ticket price would be a hardship for you, please send your name, your current school name, your email address and a phone number where you can be reached to Bus Captain Brian Haberly beginning on Feb. 1 and we will let you know if there are still subsidized student tickets available.

Be sure to wear a Blue top or shirt, comfortable walking shoes, and bring a sign about climate change or fracking, and snacks and water.

Questions?  Please Email Brian Haberly.

2/8 Redwood Grove Restoration Workday 1-4PM & 2/21, 9:30AM-12:30PM: 482 University Ave., Los Altos, CA.

Come Volunteer! See the difference you can make by improving habitat for native plants and animals. Register here. Dates subject to change.

2/18 GreenTown Talk: Button Up Your Home: Get Energy Smart, 7-9PM – at Los Altos Library. For more info email. Speakers Speakers: David Siddiqui, Green Evolution Consulting and Curtis Tongue, Founder, OhmConnect, will discuss the main sources of energy loss in your house and how you can get rebates and financing to get energy smart.

2/22 Gamble Garden Class - 9:30AM-11:30AM - Learn how to replace or shrink a front lawn using flowering and edible plants. $25 members; $35 non-members. At Gamble Garden, 1431 Waverley St., Palo Alto. Email or visit website for more info.

Get Involved With GreenTown: Attend A Team Meeting
Water Team Meeting, Feb. 11, 1:15-2:30PM Los Altos Chamber of Commerce, 321 University Ave. At our monthly meeting we discuss how to deal with and make a difference in, local water issues.
Bike Team Meeting Feb.13, 12-1PM at Los Altos History Museum, 51 S. San Antonio Rd., Los Altos.
Our monthly meeting to plan/organize bike/walk activiities for the upcoming month. Look forward to seeing you there!

More to look forward to:
3/12 Innovations in Water Conservation, Los Altos Hills Town Hall, 26379 Fremont Road, Los Altos Hills, 7-9PM- Hear about the district’s impressive “Advanced Water Purification Center”, producing 8 million gallons a day of potable water.

Innovations in Water Conservation
As our economy and population grow, so must innovations in water conservation and water reuse. Garth Hall, Deputy Operating Officer with Santa Clara Valley Water District will offer an overview of water supply and demand locally and statewide. The District’s most impressive innovation is the new Advanced Water Purification Center, producing 8 million gallons a day of potable water. Small scale innovations are also advancing. Forrest Linebarger, CEO of Inhabiture will discuss smart irrigation controllers, time of use water meters, home water usage reports, and other water saving innovations for homes and businesses.

Garth Hall, Deputy Operating Officer, Santa Clara Valley Water District
Forrest Linebarger, CEO, Inhabiture

Contact Kit Gordon, kitgordon@me.com

Sponsors: CalWater, City of Los Altos/Environmental Commission, Los Altos Hills Environmental Initiatives Committee, Purissima Hills Water District, Santa Clara Valley Water District

Speaker Bios:
Garth Hall, Deputy Operating Officer, Santa Clara Valley Water District
Garth is a Civil Engineer with a wide variety of experience in water management and environmental planning. Prior to his work at SCVWD, he held a director level position at PG&E. He holds a Master’s degree from Stanford University and a PhD in Hydrology and Water Resource Science from University of the Witwatersrand.

Forrest Linebarger, CEO, Inhabiture
A graduate of UC Berkeley, Forrest has spent decades committed to sustainable design and building. He has created environmentally sensitive designs that are cost competitive with conventional construction.  He is nationally known for his design of zero energy homes, use of green roofs, and innovating means of creating healthy indoor air environments.

How to Create Your Own Water-Wise Home and Landscape
March 23, 7-9pm, Los Altos Library
With simple plumbing alterations and smart landscape changes, every home has the potential to create a sustainable water supply with an ecologically productive landscape. From reusing greywater, to collecting rainwater, to installing waterless composting toilets, our collective efforts can transform our home water systems. A recent study found that households saved an average of 15,000 gallons a year after merely installing greywater system. Learn how you can transform your own home so it conserves and reuses our precious water resources, while growing a bountiful garden. This presentation will teach you how. It will also include national trends, codes and regulations, costs, health and safety considerations, and system examples.

Sign up for a greywater workshop at seminar. Laura will also be selling her new water conservation book.

Sponsors: GreenTown Los Altos, Sierra Club – Loma Prieta Chapter, Santa Clara Valley Water District
Contact Kit Gordon, kitgordon@me.com

Laura Allen is the co-founder of Greywater Action and has spent the past 15 years exploring low-tech sustainable water solutions. She leads classes and workshops, including the first greywater training program for professional installers, and participates in writing state-level greywater and composting toilet codes. Laura is the author of The Water-Wise Home: How to Conserve, Capture, and Reuse Water in your Home and Landscape (Storey Press, 2015). She was named 2014 Water Champion by Silicon Valley Water Conservation Awards.

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In 2015: New Year. New Opportunities.

So many options to deal with the drought, join our mail list to get small tips that yield big results!

So many options to deal with the drought, join our mail list  to get small tips that yield big results!

Most people start off the new year wanting to somehow be different than last year.  A New Year’s resolution. A vow to make a bigger difference. A choice to make a change.

At GreenTown, we’ve kicked off four new initiatives in our core areas of Water, Watts (all things energy), Waste and WoW (Walk or Wheel).  These complement our already full slate of events including creek cleanups, bike valet parking, educational meetings, ReCycle Bike Drives, community outreach, the Glass Pumpkin Patch, and the Farm to Table dinner and create more opportunities for community involvement.

Our initiatives need volunteers, so as you read about them, think of wearing some of these impressive shoes:

Water program: Defy the drought by getting to 15% “brown” in our town.

Like you, we continue to be concerned about the drought because we know though we’ve had minimal rainfall, it’s not nearly enough to get us out of drought territory.   Hopefully, you already reduce water consumption and support a native garden instead of a water thirsty lawn.

Our water program members are very active, spreading the word about drought tolerant native plants, water wise irrigation, and educating water wise leaders.  We hope you are the example in your neighborhood.   This year, we plan to get to 15% of homes in Los Altos & Los Altos Hills without drought thirsty lawns. Look for more talks and information about easy things you can do to help conserve water and join the Governor’s 20% club.  If you want to be part of the team, contact us.

Watts (all things energy related): Grow our installed solar base to 1500.

Join us Feb. 18 to learn about energy tips that'll give you more home efficiency.

Join us Feb. 18 to learn about energy tips that’ll give you more home efficiency.

In the solar energy realm, we have a very specific goal:  to cover 1500 Solar Roof tops in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, up from the current number of 1297. With Electric Vehicles (EVs) as a beneficiary of solar, along with Community Choice Aggregation, and lower solar panel cost, now is the time for everyone to head closer to net zero energy use at home.

Look for more information in the coming months as we aim to be the greenest community in the State.  If you want to be part of the team, contact us.

WoW: Increase involvement at every school.

Our third new initiative is in our WoW program.  This year’s goal is strengthening our WoW program by identifying a PTA WOW volunteer at each public school in the Los Altos School District as well as Montclaire Elementary school.  Currently 45% of the elementary and 70% of the middle school students, bike, walk, or roll (skateboard) to school each day.

In addition to local volunteers, we need a new bike/walk program chair, inspiring others to take action and assist Los Altos reach the bike friendly community silver level.  If you want to make a difference and part of finding a solution, contact us.

Waste: Make compostables pervasive.

Our last initiative involves our Waste program.  With the recent ban on Styrofoam, the goal is expanding our compostable program to community groups and our schools.  The compostable co-op offers a 25% discount on World Centric products, a sustainable alternative to buying plastic materials that increase our landfills. Compostable materials provide a sustainable product to serve food at various events in and around town.  With the public schools assistance, we are promoting awareness and process for sorting lunchtime waste.  Educating students about the which items go into which waste bins increases the diversion to our landfills, both at school and home.

If you want to be part of the compostable revolution, contact us.

Whatever your interest, we appreciate your continued support and making a difference in our community which inspires action.  I look forward to seeing you at one of our many events or program meetings.

Next Generation Clean Energy Technology – A Talk by Dr. Dan Arvizu

GTLA Dr. Dan Arvizu

As part of his talk, Dr. Dan Arvizu cited facts and figures that were encouraging for the future of renewables in this country. Clearly CA can lead the way on this problem.

When it comes to renewable energy, the politicians are always asking, “Is this stuff for real?”  Dr. Dan Arvizu has the answer and he shared it with a packed house at the World Affairs Council talk in Los Altos, Jan. 7, 2015.

Yes, renewable energy is for real. We don’t have to invent anything, we have the technology today to make the grid work with 80% renewably sourced power.

That was the message Arvizu delivered, a positive one for receptive ears.

Through wind, biomass and solar, there can be enough power to reach the 80% goal by 2050 and with some tweaks to make the grid a smart system, it can be reliably distributed.  We still need some breakthroughs in storage technology to get to 100%, a challenge for the future.

So why isn’t it happening?  According to Arvizu, the political will isn’t there to stand up to cheap fossil fuels, except perhaps in California with the leadership of Gov. Brown.   Dr. Arvizu met with Brown who made it clear he wants to cut the use of carbon in half, which is important, as public policy is what will create the change.

Dr. Arvizu isOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Director and Chief Executive of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and true to his calling he gave lots of facts and figures.

The top three nations generating renewably sourced power in 2012:  China with 90 Gigawatts, US with 86, and Germany with 71.  For both China and the US, over half was wind power, but for Germany over half was solar.  And he pointed out that Germany is the same latitude as southern Alaska!  The good news is that the US has over 40 Gigawatts of solar in the pipeline, so we are moving in the right direction.

The other part of NREL’s mission is efficiency.  Half of the energy produced from burning fossil fuels is lost as waste heat.  Cars are inefficient.  Buildings are inefficient.  Surprisingly given its location, NREL’s headquarters in Golden, Colorado is a net zero building with 1350 employees, constructed at less cost than a similarly sized building designed to standard code.  So it can be done without exorbitant costs.  He did mention that it takes some adaptation by the workers.  No space heaters tucked under desks!

Several time he referred to a slide calling for a Profound Transformation to take us from today’s unsustainable energy system to a future system that is reliable, efficient, carbon neutral, secure and resilient.  His point was that we need to make that transition now, not 30 years from now.

After the slide show he entertained Q&A.  Some highlights:

What’s the latest on battery technology?  This will be a profoundly disruptive and important technology, but getting the price down is difficult.

Where is photovoltaic heading?  Costs are coming down and the goal of SunShot (an initiative of the Dept. of Energy) is $1/W but the big challenges are the soft costs, all of the paperwork and permit costs.

How do you get people to value a sustainable future?  His answer was a bit vague, but some folks just approach things differently.  He gave a couple of examples.  In Singapore, you have to buy a 10 year permit to drive a car and it costs $100,000.  The result? People take public transit.  In Sweden, a car registration costs almost as much as the car.  In the US, we value “rugged individualism” so none of that happens which means sustainability also takes individual choice to make it a reality.

What changes can we ask for at the local level?  Again, his answer was a bit off target, but still interesting.  He told us about 5 utilities getting together to plan for future changes.  This was notable in that they would even get together, and even more notable in that they would share confidential data.  He was there so he saw it!

How will the grid work in the future?  He had a lengthy talk about the distribution pipeline and the direction of energy flow, but finally settled on an interesting story.  NREL is studying the impact of using car batteries to smooth out the energy flow in the pipeline.  Toyota is asking should we build electric cars to supply energy during peak demand using cars that are parked, and the power companies are asking what will happen to the grid if car batteries are supplying power during peak demand?  Hmmm, makes one wonder if NREL is getting funded by both sides for the same question?

Why didn’t you mention nuclear as an energy option?  It’s in the mix, but they need to be held to the same high sustainability standards as all the other sources, and that is a problem for nuclear.

Final thought, renewable energy and energy efficiency make so much sense, let’s do it!

Written by Gary Hedden, Energy Chair, GreenTown Los Altos.

Mayor Jan Pepper’s Impressive “Green” Goals

In Gov. Jerry Brown’s second inaugural address Jan. 5, he proposed three ambitious environmental goals for the next 15 years: increase from one-third to 50 percent the electricity derived from renewable sources; reduce today’s petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent; and double the efficiency of existing buildings and make heating fuels cleaner.

Can we achieve any of those goals here in Los Altos? The answer is a definite yes – and in far less than 15 years. How? By implementing our Climate Action Plan (CAP).

In December 2013, the Los Altos City Council adopted the CAP, with the target of reducing our community’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 15 percent by 2020. It focuses on actions we can take regarding transportation, energy, waste, water and municipal operations.

How can we achieve that first goal of having 50 percent of our energy derived from renewable sources?

One way is to install more solar photovoltaic panels on homes and businesses. Another option is for Los Altos to form – or join – a Community Choice energy program. Community Choice energy allows local communities to contract directly with renewable energy providers while continuing to allow PG&E to distribute the power on its lines and provide customer service. The advantage is that we can simultaneously double the renewable energy we receive and reduce our electricity costs. This could take us 80 percent of the way toward reaching our CAP target.

Two existing Community Choice energy programs – Marin Clean Energy and Sonoma Clean Power – currently operate in the state. Each formed a Joint Powers Agency (JPA) where representatives from the participating cities govern the program, ensuring local control.

Mountain View, Cupertino and Sunnyvale are studying the formation of a JPA to initiate a Community Choice energy program in Santa Clara County. Los Altos could join also.

How could we reduce petroleum use in our cars and trucks by 50 percent?

Two obvious ways are by driving less and making use of alternative fuels. Our CAP calls for fully implementing our Bicycle Transportation Plan and our upcoming Pedestrian Master Plan, which will make it safer and easier to bike or walk in Los Altos.

We can also drive vehicles that don’t use petroleum, like electric cars. We have already begun doing that.

Did you know that Los Altos has one of the highest concentrations of electric vehicles in the state? Our CAP includes providing the infrastructure for electric-vehicle charging stations by building standards that include prewiring for commercial and residential developments. We have already installed three public charging stations. Replacing our city fleet vehicles with hybrid or electric vehicles is part of our CAP as well.

How can we double the efficiency of buildings? The David and Lucile Packard Foundation headquarters provides an excellent example of a net-zero energy building – one that produces as much energy as it uses. A zero PG&E bill!

Part of our CAP is to adopt net-zero electricity building standards for new residential and commercial buildings. And adopting higher energy-efficiency standards when remodels occur can help improve existing buildings while simultaneously reducing the energy bill.

I am always impressed by the commitment of Los Altos residents to sustainability and clean energy. Let’s continue to lead the way to a greener future.

Mayor Jan Pepper

Note: Reprinted with permission from Los Altos Town Crier:

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The State of Our Water “Union”

By Charley Pow, GreenTown Water Committee

In mid-November, Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute gave a talk on “The Present and Future of Water”. Gleick covered four areas in his talk: 1) the present state of water in California, 2) climate change, 3) water and conflict, and 4) solutions

State of Water in California

We are in year three of a drought. In November, California voters passed a $7.5B bond measure on water that with interest will cost $14B. The Pacific Institute’s assessment is that hefty sum is merely a down payment as more will be required to solve the problem.


GTLA usTemperatureRising

GTLA CO2andTemperatureChange (1)


The data surrounding our water tells a compelling story:

• Eighty percent of California’s water is used for agriculture

• The remaining 20% is used by urban and suburban users

• Residential users consume 64% of that 20%, with half the residential use outside the home.

• Californians use more water than is supplied by rain, so each year we pump 1-1.5 million acre-feet of groundwater more than is replaced. Groundwater supplies are finite, so this massive overdraft is not sustainable.

• This November, California passed its first laws to measure and manage groundwater, but implementation will takes years.

• Drought affects? This year, 10% of the agriculture land is fallow. While California normally generates 15% of its electricity from dams because of the drought, only 7-8% will come from hydroelectric this year. To replace the missing hydroelectric power, we’ll burn more natural gas, adding more CO2 to the atmosphere.

Climate change: the big nut to crack

Carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere had not exceeded 300 parts per million for 400,000 years, until 200 years ago with the industrial revolution coincidentally, when we began burning burned fossil fuels to generate energy, dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is now at 400 ppm, and rising.

The earth’s temperature rises and falls as atmospheric carbon dioxide rises and falls. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) “One of the most remarkable aspects of the paleoclimate record is the strong correspondence between temperature and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere observed during the glacial cycles of the past several hundred thousand years.” From the Woods Hole graph below, notice how temperature (red) rises and falls as the atmospheric carbon dioxide (blue) rises and falls.

Earth’s temperature rises and falls with atmospheric carbon dioxide (ORNL).

  • Rising temperature: The US temperature has been rising since 1895, consistent with the atmospheric carbon dioxide level (Source: ncdc.noaa.gov, 2014).
  • Shrinking snowpack: The snowpack and the moisture content of the snowpack is shrinking in the western US as the temperature rises.
  • Diverted moisture. In the western US, our rain comes with storms, and storms come when a plume of moisture (or atmospheric river) is pointed at California. One cause of California’s drought is a high pressure ridge that has diverted the atmospheric river away from California. The current buildup of greenhouse gases makes thiss high pressure ridge more likely (see Stanford study.)
  • Increase in natural disasters: Gleick displayed a graph showing that natural disasters are getting more frequent. Hurricanes get their energy from warm ocean water. As the earth’s oceans have warmed, hurricanes are more frequent and stronger. As glaciers melt, ocean rise increases the flood damage from storms. Hurricane Sandy caused $50B in damage, flooding Ellis Island and subway ventilation shafts. Stronger hurricanes and ocean rise due to higher temperatures are causing more frequent and more destructive natural disasters.

The Rising Tide of Water Conflicts

Since the 1980s, water conflict has been on the rise. Water supplies have not increased, while population has. One example is Syria. The Euphrates River starts in Turkey, flows through Syria, and then to Iraq. The amount of Euphrates water flowing into Syria has been dropping, while Syria’s population has grown from 3 million in 1950 to 22 million people today. Syria has had a deep drought since 2009, ruining farming and causing widespread migration from rural areas to cities. Areas receiving the most immigrants have experienced higher conflict in Syria’s civil war.

Gleick discussed California, and in particular, Proposition 1. Of the $7.5B water, $2.7B is set aside for water storage. Gleick notes, with hope, that this substantial funding could be used to create groundwater management systems, accelerate groundwater storage and clean up contaminated aquifers. Traditional solutions, such as building new reservoirs are, according to Gleick, “tapped out”. He showed storage capacity over time. California has 40 million acre-feet of water storage. Most dams were built between 1920 and 1980, with only minor additions since then. The best sites have been built so the marginal benefit of new reservoirs is small. Public oversight of the commission responsible for spending $2.7B is critical. “Only one percent of bond funds will be spent on conservation and efficiency”, and these are the only items that will “provide immediate relief from the drought”. In other words, water wars of the western US aren’t over.


There is no silver bullet. Broadly, increasing supply and reducing demand are the two means of addressing our current and future water challenges. As for supply, we already use all the rainwater we have, and we overdraft groundwater at an unsustainable level. To increase supply, we could treat wastewater, use storm water, and desalinate water (very expensive). To reduce demand, measures such as carrying shower water outside to water plants or not washing cars are temporary. Replacing lawns with drought-tolerant plants and flushing toilets with non-potable water are recurring solutions that will save water every year.

Water is an underpriced utility — we pay less for water than other utilities. As a result, people have little economic incentive to conserve water. Our water bill doesn’t pay for large infrastructure, such as building new dams or replacing aging pipes and aqueducts. At some point, the pipes bringing Hetch Hetchy water from the Sierras to San Francisco and the Peninsula will have to be replaced. We’ll need to find funds to do so.

California’s water institutions and management aren’t set up so that we use water efficiently. California allocates water based on historic water rights, and not the efficient use of water. One result: California is exporting alfalfa, an extremely water-intensive crop, to China in increasing numbers. Exports have increased eight-fold since 2009. But we could save water and boost the productivity of California’s agriculture, by shifting from low-value crops like alfalfa and rice to higher value crops like al

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Green With Benefits: Los Altos H.S. Ups The “Green” Ante

On Nov. 17, the  Los Altos High School Green Team Conference attracted students from throughout the Bay Area.
With the motto, “By high-schoolers, for high-schoolers”, the group Students for Green High Schools Conference created energy around a goal of “greening” up their school campuses.

Los Altos High School Green Team members initiated, organized and ran the conference. Seventy high school students from ten Bay Area schools gathered at Google to discuss best practices and challenges to achieve their “green” goal.

Members of the Los Altos High School Green Team leadership after their successful schools conference, including (from left to right): Bianca Champenois, Tatiana Gibson, Katia Gibson, Meredith Soward, Sruthi Jayakumar, and Roya Samani.

“The idea was to create a collaborative environment where students could share their success stories, ask questions, and find solutions to some of the key problems they face implementing green programs at their schools,” says LAHS Green Team Co-President Sruthi Jayakumar. “We wanted to use this platform as a way to allow students from across the Bay Area to raise their schools to a higher level of environmental sustainability and give them the tools they needed to make a difference.”

Following a welcome by the Green Team leadership and an icebreaker, student teams from four of the ten schools represented, shared their school’s green initiatives, highlighting what’s working and what’s not.

Successes include:
• Los Altos High School – green team members hold monthly ABC (Anything But the Car) days to encourage getting to school by bike, public transit or on foot;
• Mountain View High School – students effectively advocated for water bottle refilling stations on campus to reduce plastic water bottle usage;
• Castilleja School’s – green team members motivated other students to care about proper waste sorting by creating a “Mace-o-Meter”, which indicates how happy or sad Mace — their much-loved custodian — is on any given day, based on how effective students were in sorting their waste into the correct bins.
• St. Francis – students create a green tip of the day which is shared with the student body in daily school announcements.

Following presentations, participants broke out into two sets of themed focus groups, ranging from recycling and composting to community outreach and fundraising, before returning to their school groups and creating an action plan for next steps.And the conference delivered.

“We were very happy with how the conference turned out,” notes Jayakumar. “Many of the students told us that the things they learned were very relevant and helped them create better action plans for the future.”

For more information, visit their website.

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Ask GreenTown: The Data Is Flowing!

Question: I am looking to lower my water usage and was curious what the average water bill is in Los Altos Hills?

Answer: Here’s some historical data from Los Altos Hills that can help put average bills in perspective.

The average water bills for various communities, including the service area of Purissima Hills Water District, can be found on this chart from the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA).

Cost and Gallons Per Day

The average monthly water bill for single family households for 2012-13 (most recent data available) was $171.46. Rate structures are tiered so the first units of usage are charged at a lower rate than the successive units with the specifics depending on whether you’re in PHWD or Cal Water service territory.

The 2012 PHWD rate study notes, on average, residential households consumed 332 CCFs of water in 2010-11, (1 CCF = 748 gallons). That’s 28 CCFs per month, in a 30 day month, about 698 gallons per household per day. These numbers are sometimes reported on a per capita basis.

This number is a bit different than the 35.1 CCFs that BAWSCA reports as average monthly consumption for single-family homes in PHWD service area in 2012-13, which is closer to 875 gallons per household per day.

70% of Usage in Our Area? Irrigation

In general, around 70% of domestic water usage in Los Altos Hills is for irrigating lawns and landscaping, so the best approach for reducing water use is to convert to drought-tolerant and/or native landscaping. You do need to water the plants to get them established, however, once established they are good to go.

Many places can help with native/drought-tolerant landscaping. Added incentive? The Santa Clara Valley Water District has doubled its rebates through Dec. 2014 offering $2 per square foot for landscape conversions, known in some circles as “cash for grass.” You need to have a pre-inspection before starting any work. If a landscape conversion is not possible at this point, then you can start by watering less. Irrigation can be set to 1 day or none per week. With the “Brown is the New Green” mentality taking hold, coupled with an ordinance prohibiting watering more than 2 days per week during the drought, it just makes sense.

Other simple ways to save? By installing a laundry-to-landscape greywater system, where your laundry waste water (if you use appropriate detergents) can be used to irrigate certain plants. GreenTown offers workshops on these, send us an email to receive notice for our next event.

A Free Water Wise House Call Can Get You Started

Another option, to get you started on various water conservation measures is to schedule a Water Wise House Call, which the Water District does for free. It is an indoor/outdoor audit of energy usage that helps you figure out if you have any leaks, what your irrigation scheduling should be, if you need aerators on your valves, a new shower head or more efficient toilets, etc.

Overall, it shows you how to be smarter during the drought. And that’s a win for everyone.

Category: Uncategorized · Tags:

Uh Oh. What Toxics Are Lurking In Your Home?

Expert Kunjan Shah knows her "toxic" stuff, as she shares tips for avoiding such problems in our homes.

Expert Kunjan Shah knows her “toxic” stuff, as she shares tips for avoiding such problems in our homes.

What can you do to protect your family from toxic chemicals in your home? In short, fight with your dollars.

On Nov. 12, Kunjan Shah, local architect and expert on healthy building systems, raised the specter of toxins lurking in our homes for a GreenTown talk at the Los Altos Library. Among her recommendations, are to look for specific labels and certifications that protect the health of you and your family.

Scary but true

Chemicals are ubiquitous in our environment. Pregnant women tested by researchers at UCSF were found to have, on average, 43 toxic chemicals in their blood, many of which were banned in the 1970s. These chemicals are visible in our children as well where autism rates in the population have increased dramatically – from 1 in 2500 in 1985 to 1 in 88 in 2012. Chronic conditions, such as asthma, behavior/learning disorders, and obesity, are also on the rise from 28% in 1988 to 52% in 2006.

“One out of every six children suffers from neuro-developmental abnormality…Some environmental chemicals are known to are known to cause brain damage and many more are suspected of it.” – Philippe Grandjean, Braindrain.dk

You Need To Step Up Because The Government Isn’t Protecting Us

Wonder how these toxics “slip into” our lives? Food, drugs and cosmetics, regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are the only products that companies need to demonstrate are safe. All other products and the chemicals in them – think furniture, building products, food storage containers, and toys – are virtually unregulated.

Under the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), the burden of proving an “unreasonable risk” to health and safety lies not with the manufacturer, but with EPA. So in 1976, when TSCA went into effect, 62,000 chemicals were “grandfathered in,”( i.e., considered acceptable without any testing). Since then, 20,000+ “new” chemicals have been introduced. Each is innocent until proven guilty. Manufacturers have provided EPA with only scant data on these chemicals. More than two-thirds have no data at all. Of the original 62,000, 200 have been tested and only five have been regulated: PCBs, halogenated chlorofluoroalkanes, dioxin, asbestos and hexavalent chromium. Of the new chemicals, only four chemicals – used in metal working fluids – have restricted use. In short, TSCA has no teeth.

The worst offenders

Among the most common hazards are flame retardants, volatile organic compounds and formaldehyde. So where are these lurking in your home?

  1. Flame retardants

Flame retardants are found in just about anything with foam, e.g., home insulation, couches, carpet padding, and baby products. The various flame retardant chemicals change our cell structure and function, affecting learning, reproduction (reducing sperm counts and delaying conception), and suppress the immune system, contributing to cancer. Some of the most prevalent bioaccumulate in the environment, such that marine mammals have 100 times the concentration compared to smaller aquatic animals. Source: Green Policy Institute, 2014.

Your next couch could be better

In the U.S., flame retardant additives in furniture foam, insulation and baby products, became the norm after California issued its flammability standard – Technical Bulletin 117 – in 1975. Ironically, flame retardants added to furniture foam do not prevent ignition, which typically starts on the fabric. Further, they do not reduce fire severity or provide increased escape time.

The Green Science Policy Institute and others have been working to counter the 1975 standard. Key among its successes is a replacement standard, TB117-2013, which adds a smolder test for fabric. This standard addresses how and where fires start. Cigarettes on couch fabric is the leading cause of furniture fires. Flame retardant chemicals in the filling are not required to meet TB117-2013. However, caveat emptor, the new standard does ban the use of flame retardants in foam, so when purchasing a couch or chair, buyers should check with the retailer to ensure that the furniture BOTH: (1) complies with TB117-2013; and (2) does not include harmful flame retardants.

Wondering about alternatives? This is an awesome article on replacing your couch foam!!

  1. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a readily available and inexpensive chemical. It is found in many products, ranging from building products; glues and adhesives; permanent-press and wrinkle-free fabrics; paper product coatings; certain insulation materials, and other household products. Pressed-wood products containing formaldehyde adhesives or resins, such as particleboard, plywood and fiberboard, are a significant source of formaldehyde in homes. Formaldehyde inhalation can irritate the nose and throat, cause a burning sensation in the eyes and result in difficulty breathing. It can also trigger asthma symptoms in people with asthma and is a known human carcinogen.

Regulation and new products offer hope

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has set stringent emissions standards on formaldehyde in “composite wood products,” including plywood, particleboard and medium density fiberboard. Before purchasing pressed-wood products, including building materials, cabinetry, and furniture, buyers should ask if the product is “California 93120 Compliant for Formaldehyde.” They can also ask for engineered wood products that are manufactured with resins that contain no added formaldehyde (NAF) or urea formaldehyde (NAUF). If manufactured products containing formaldehyde have been used in a building project, all hope is not lost. These can cbe sealed with a product like AFM Safecoat to limit off-gassing.

  1. VOCs – Volatile Organic Compounds

VOCs are carbon-based compounds, such as acetone and methane, that evaporate at room temperature. In the home, they are commonly found in paint, adhesives, caulks, sealants and coatings. While they have been linked to asthma and cancer, EPA regulates VOCs only for their contribution to smog formation. So some exempt, non-smog causing VOCs are found in “low” or “zero” VOC products, despite health hazards.

How can you limit exposure?

Look for products that are certified by MPI-X Green, Greenguard or Greenseal or for products that pass California Section 01350 or the California Department of Health Standard.

Resources for safer products

Green Home Guide

Environmental Working Group

Green Science Policy

Pharos Project (Professional, Membership based)

Building Green (Professional, Membership based)

EPA’s Design for the Environment

For more information or to get your questions answered about building product choices and carpet and furniture selection for a healthy home, contact Kunjan Shah at toxics@greentownlosaltos.org.

Category: General, Green Building, Toxics, Uncategorized · Tags: