Research

This category contains 6 posts

The BDCP Circus Continues –Toilets, Tunnels, Exports & Scientific Data Ignored


The Tuolumne River is a tributary the San Joaquin River, which flows into the Delta.

Of the 38 million people affected by the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), at least 60 phoned in to get an update last week. The public meeting held in Sacramento was chaotic, with sounds of dogs barking, neighborhood chit-chat and the double-toilet-flush from the call-in listeners who forgot to mute their lines.

Despite the bizarre atmosphere, serious clarifications were made regarding the big-picture plan to build two giant tunnels through or around the Delta—the largest estuary on the West Coast.

Gov. Brown’s tunnel conveyance plan continues to dance around the science, although the project’s leaders have publicly claimed to embrace it.

The latest news? The current plan being pushed ahead is an operations proposal known as Alternative 4. That alternative intends to raise the limit on exports for south of delta contractors from an average of 4.9 million acre-feet to 5.3 million acre-feet.

And that may be a problem—4.9 isn’t an arbitrary number. It’s a vetted biological opinion put in place to keep key species, such as delta smelt, chinook salmon and steelhead from perishing forever. Among other things, water diversions and pumping have severely impacted the beleaguered estuary. Giant pumps sit in the south Delta and send water uphill to drier parts of the state, including Los Angeles, the Central Valley and Santa Clara. When the pumps operate, rivers flow in the reverse direction and entrap fish trying to spawn. On average, 95 percent of juvenile San Joaquin River salmon and 60 percent of Sacramento River salmon don’t survive migration through the Delta. The biological opinion limits the damage.

“It was widely recognized that the alternatives analyzed in the February effects analysis would lead to further fishery declines and the likely extinction of several salmon runs,” said Kate Poole, Senior Attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The state has promised that BDCP would be a science-driven process and would recover the ecosystem and imperiled salmon and other fisheries.” Choosing Alternative 4 means that the process is not being driven by science, Poole added.

What’s driving the process seems to be the state and federal contractors who are funding the BDCP, and their interest lies in increasing water exports.

Regardless, fish and other wildlife need fresh water flowing through the system,  and a lot more than they’re getting. The public trust recommendations for flow, as set forth by the State Water Resources Control Board, would limit exports to 3.7 to 3.9 million acre-feet. That’s more than a million-acre feet less than the current proposal.

But there is a caveat. The current plan suggests that by increasing land habitat more water can be exported—although it is unclear whether scientific studies will validate that.

“They keep saying trust us; we will build it now and figure out the science later,” said Bill Jennings,the Executive Director of California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA).  “We no longer trust those who guided these species to the brink of extinction to do the right thing. The science and assurances must come first.”

State and federal wildlife agencies are responsible for permitting the BDCP, and they are trying to ensure that science does come first, but they’re still working out the numbers. Remediating habitat is an important part of that process as well. The Delta has only five percent of its original wetlands intact.

The costs are another matter. It’s an expensive project and who will pay for it appears to be in flux.

“At least they are being honest that they expect more water,” said Dr. Jeffrey-Michael, Director of the Business Forecasting Center at the Eberhardt School of Business. “But from a benefit-cost perspective for the state, 5.3 million acre-feet is still not enough to justify the costs of the project. It is not a good project for the state. The fact that they won’t do an official analysis shows the truth to that. If they could prove its value, believe me, they would do it.”

The project cost hovers around $23 billion, with an additional $1.1 billion in debt servicing for 35 years. The debt costs nearly double the price. Currently, contractors are set to pay 75 percent of the costs, and taxpayers the other 25 percent. But those percentages will be adjusted in the future, as noted at the meeting.

Funds from state bonds provided 78 percent of the financing for the construction of the original State Water Project.

Other details were not discussed, in particular, the total capacity of the system to export water. The topic makes local delta farmers nervous. They rely on fresh water from the Sacramento River to irrigate their crops, and the tunnels may affect that. At the meeting, one commenter verbalized his concern that the project would “bleed the river dry.”

The California Aqueduct along Highway 5

The current alternative decreases the intake size of the proposed tunnels and limits tunnel exports to 6.5 million acre-feet a year. But that’s an incomplete picture of the system. The pumps in the southern end of the Delta will still be there, and they also have a similar export capacity.

Thus, the only physically limiting factor is the size of the California Aqueduct. The system would have the capacity to export nearly 10 million acre-feet a year.

Mike Taugher, Communications Director for the California Department of Fish and Game, carefully noted that the state pumps have always had the capacity to export more water, but they’ve always been limited by operational regulations.

What next? More meetings and a forthcoming Environmental Impact Report.

CDC study explores role of drugs, drive-by shootings, and other crimes in gang homicides


 

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Solar Energy Harvesting Breakthrough


A team of UC Merced professors and students discovered that changing the shape of a solar concentrator significantly increases its efficiency, bringing its use closer to reality

MERCED, Calif. — A team of researchers at the University of California, Merced, have redesigned luminescent solar concentrators to be more efficient at sending sunlight to solar cells.

The advancement could be an important breakthrough for solar energy harvesting, said UC Merced physics Professor Sayantani Ghosh, who led the project.

“We tweaked the traditional flat design for luminescent solar concentrators and made them into cylinders,” Ghosh said. “The results of this architectural redesign surprised us, as it significantly improves their efficiency.”

The main problem preventing luminescent concentrators from being used commercially is that they have high rates of self-absorption, Ghosh said, meaning they absorb a significant amount of the light they produce instead of transporting it to the solar cells.

The research team showed the problem can be addressed by changing the shape of the concentrator. They discovered a hollow cylindrical solar concentrator is a better design compared with a flat concentrator or a solid cylinder concentrator. The hollow cylinders absorb more sunlight while having lower self-absorption losses.

Luminiscent solar concentrators are designed to absorb solar radiation over a broad range of colors and re-emit it over a narrower range (for example, only red), a process known as down-converting. This light is transported to solar cells for photocurrent generation. The quantum dots embedded in the concentrator are the materials that carry out this color conversion. 

The biggest advantage they offer over traditional solar cells is that they can work even in diffuse sunlight, like on cloudy days. And because of this, they do not need to directly face the sun at all times, eliminating the need for tracking mechanisms. 

Ghosh said the discovery could make commercially viable luminescent solar concentrators a reality, especially because the design enhances performance while using the same number of quantum dots, therefore without being more costly.

This saves on infrastructure costs and also opens up the possibility that the collectors can be integrated onto vertical surfaces like walls and windows. The next step is to develop a large array of hollow cylindrical luminescent solar concentrators and track the efficiency of the panel. 

Richard Inman, Georgiy Shcherbatyuk, Dmitri Medvedko and Ajay Gopinathan are the other members of the team that conducted this research. 

Inman served as the lead researcher while he was an undergraduate at UC Merced, an example of the hands-on learning opportunities available to students. He’s now a graduate student at UC San Diego. Medvedko is an undergraduate student, and Shcherbatyuk is a graduate student. Gopinathan is a physics professor.

The team published a paper on the work, “Cylindrical luminescent solar concentrators with near-infrared quantum dots,” in the journal Optics Express last fall. 

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Information provided by UC Merced

The 2011 Top 10 Stories Most Read


As we begin 2012, Bilingual Weekly’s newsroom extracted the top 10 most read stories during the last 352 days.  Please note that the top 10 stories were not selected by the Bilingual Weekly’s staff, our team ran the http://www.bilingualweekly.com English website’s analytics’ report which evaluates the hits received daily and it ranked each story from the highest number of hits to the lowest ranking in local news coverage. The following stories are briefs of the top 10 stories you, our readers clicked on.

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Study Shows Sugarcane Ethanol Production Causes Air Pollution


UC Merced researchers show burning of sugarcane fields prior to harvest can create more pollution than previously thought, detracting from benefits of the alternative fuel source

MERCED, Calif. — The burning of sugarcane fields prior to harvest for ethanol production can create air pollution that detracts from the biofuel’s overall sustainability, according to research published recently by a team of researchers led by scientists at the University of California, Merced.

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Scientists Propose Thinning Sierra Forests to Enhance Water Runoff


Less water used by trees would result in more runoff, which could benefit farmers and water managers statewide; Project will examine impacts on forest health and other ecosystem services

MERCED, Calif. — Runoff from the Sierra Nevada, a critical source of California’s water supply, could be enhanced by thinning forests to historical conditions, according to a report from a team of scientists with the University of California, Merced, UC Berkeley and the Environmental Defense Fund.

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