clean water

Unleash the Toxic Avenger on climate change

The year 1984 may be famous -- especially amongst high-schoolers -- for the angst of Winston Smith. He's the guy trying to cope with illegal daydreams of individual freedom in the repressed collective created by George Orwell.

But 1984 also brought "The Toxic Avenger," a low-rent cinematic romp with environmental themes. Described as an action comedy horror film, it broke new ground by being surprisingly entertaining and launched the B movie careers of directors Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz.

Mitch Cohen, who later appeared as a bit player in Kevin Smith's incomparable "Clerks," stars in Toxic as Melvin, the Tromaville Health Club mop boy. Cohen's Melvin "inadvertently and naively trusts the hedonistic, contemptuous and vain health club members, to the point of accidentally ending up in a vat of toxic waste," says Cinema Fan on

For the good of the people

Rather than becoming a mindless monster, as would normally be the case in this genre, the "transmogrification effect" turns Melvin into the Toxic Avenger, royally irritated by "corruption, thuggish bullies and indifference."

Imagine then Melvin's response to climate change. Truly pissed.

Climate change has emerged as a summer blockbuster this year with more than half the United States experiencing drought. Still a far cry from the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, the phenomena is increasing popular awareness of the fragility of the environment. And rising average temperatures appear all but a certainty at this point, giving credence to predictions of future difficulties.

Nate Seltenrich of the East Bay Express writes about how sea level rise, brought on by climate change, would affect the San Francisco Bay region. He says the toxic legacy of polluted old industrial sites ringing the bay could unleash some particularly bad news for residents.

"Water could wear away at existing caps, barriers, and other containment measures, increasing the mobility of buried materials," Seltenrich says. "It could also carry metals, chemicals, and oils directly into groundwater and the bay, where they would harm human health and plant and animal life."

Up, up and away

In a another piece, Molly Samuel of's Climate Watch, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists eight superfund sites near the bay. There are 1,304 superfund sites across the country, according to the EPA.

Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard is one of those sites.

Hunter's Point covers 493 acres on land and another 443 underwater and was established in 1869 as the first dry dock on the Pacific Coast. The Navy arrived in 1940 and used it as a shipbuilding and repair facility. Submarines nosed in after World War II and continued to hang around until the 1970s, when some of the land was leased to a private ship repair company. The EPA says tests in 1987 confirmed the area was rife with "polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), trichloroethylene and other solvents, pesticides, petroleum hydrocarbons, and metals including lead."

In 1991, the Department of Defense closed the shipyard.

My mom the activist avenger

I have a personal connection. My mother the activist has been trying to clean up Hunter's Point using local labor for decades. She's a longtime resident of the Hunter's Point Bay View neighborhood and is fixated on bringing the land back to health. That means birds, wetlands and people.

Sea level rise there wouldn't be pretty. Nor would it in the nearby Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, where rising waters threaten the complex network of levees and channels that provide the source of water for two of three people in the state. Fresh water from the Sierra Mountains is sent by way of a massive aqueduct and a sophisticated and energy-intensive network of pumps down through the San Joaquin Valley and up over the Grapevine pass to Los Angeles.

Visualize the superfund toxic mixture mingling with that precious fresh-water system. Ugh.

And here's the connection to the Toxic Avenger, or at least my attempt to make one. Melvin just wouldn't stand for such pollution. Of course, he might explode trying to right the wrongs. There are so many. Too much for one really ugly dude.

There may be room for a sequel, however. Cohen came back for "Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV." Maybe he could do another and call it "Superfunds of San Francisco" or something.

Home builder tests water efficient housing

A Los Angeles home builder has embraced water conservation, at least on a trial basis.

KB Homes has partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, building the first homes in the nation to be certified by the agency's WaterSense program, agency officials reported. The four homes are in Roseville, Calif. and are expected to help families save 20 percent over the run of the mill home, or an average of 10,000 gallons of water and at least $100 on utility costs each year.

“The construction of the first WaterSense labeled homes, and the plans to build more, mark the beginning of an innovative approach that gives homeowners the chance to cut their water and energy bills and protect a vital environmental resource.” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, in a statement.

The program, which seeks to help home buyers cut their water and energy use, serves as another indication of where the industry appears to be headed. Energy efficiency and water conservation are big in California and gaining prominence throughout the West and South where water allocation issues appear to be cultivating nothing less than high anxiety.

I'm reminded of Jack Nicholson in the movie "China Town," in which John Huston, as villain Noah Cross, says, "Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water."

It's all about water. Was then and it is now.

Frank Ferral, who heads the Recycling Energy Air Conservation program for the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce, has been spreading the conservation message to business -- and anybody else who will listen -- for the better part of the past decade. His point is relatively simple: Saving energy and water and keeping waste out of the trash makes economic sense.

Hundreds of businesses have signed up for his program in which a team of experts goes through a building and identifies areas that can benefit from installation of energy efficient lighting, water saving devices and waste diverting practices. The REACON program in Stockton has helped develop an industry manufacturing products out of former debris.

With a recent grant, Ferral has been expanding his program and message throughout California's Central San Joaquin Valley. His concept has been to team up with chambers of commerce and offer them up the team energy audit concept so the chambers can provide it as a value-added product to members.

I tagged along on a couple of audits in Fresno, one at a bank and another at a business in an old downtown building. The lighting expert said he could get immediate savings of about 20 percent on the bank and more than 30 percent on the older building. The water savings were more basic, adding a 1.2-gallon flush toilet among other measures.

The EPA has entered into a consumer friendly realm with its WaterSense site, which offers tips and quantifies retrofit measures. Each of its WaterSense houses includes aptly labeled plumbing fixtures, an efficient hot water delivery system, water-efficient landscape design and other water and energy-efficient features.

EPA officials estimate that if the approximately 500,000 new homes built last year had met WaterSense criteria, the homes would save Americans 5 billion gallons of water and more than $50 million in utility bills annually.

Yeah, it's in the water.

Water Conference Planned For Tulare

The state of water in the Central Valley, current and proposed policies and renewable energy generation will be among the topics when Southern California Edison hosts a water conference Sept. 29 in Tulare.

The event will be from 8:30 a.m to 3:30 p.m. at SCE's Agriculture Technology Application Center (AgTAC).

Speakers will include California Assemblywoman Connie Conway, R-Tulare; Ron Jacobsma, general manager of the Friant Water Authority; and Cynthia Truelove, senior water policy analyst for the California Public Utilities Commission.

Truelove will be the luncheon speaker. Her topic: "Emerging Policy Frontiers in the Water and Energy Nexus: From Renewable Energy to Funding Innovation in the Water/Wastewater Sector."

Breakout sessions in the afternoon will focus on renewable energy generation. Electric utility incentives, agricultural efficiency, cool planet projects and energy partnerships will be among the topics.

For more information or to register call 1-800-772-4822 or 559-625-7126. Online registration is at

Shed more than a tear for clean water

One of the most iconic commercials I've ever seen shows a Native American in a hand-made traditional canoe paddling slowly from idylic natural surroundings into the garbage choked waterways of a big city port.

It ends with the Native American walking alongside a highway surveying what his country has become. A passerby in a car tosses a bag of garbage at his feet and he looks at the camera while the Dragnet-style voiceover says, "People start pollution. People can stop it."

The camera closes in on a tear sliding down his face.

To me, it said clean water and that image often comes to me anytime I'm around a river of any size whether it's the mighty Yukon in Alaska, the Skagit in Washington or the San Joaquin. And I wonder whether the river I'm looking at is getting better or worse.

Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its draft report on how it plans to keep that Native American and people like me from being disgusted when we look at a waterway.

The agency calls the effort Coming Together for Clean Water. The draft outlines how the EPA hopes to accomplish goals established by the Clean Water Act, which was passed in 1972 when President Nixon was in office.

I still have a pin that says, "Nixon: Now more than ever."

The EPA says, "We’re pleased to share this draft with you and welcome your comments." The approach focuses around "two thematic lines: 1) healthy watersheds, and 2) sustainable communities," the report says.

Solutions outlined include regualtion, of course, but also cooperation, partnerships and communication. It's all our business: corporation, business, resident, farmer, fisherman.

It's important stuff. Now more than ever.

The situation as outlined by the EPA sounds dire. "Recent surveys found that nutrient pollution, excess sedimentation, and degradation of shoreline vegetation affect upwards of 50 percent of our lakes and streams.

"In addition, recent National Water Quality Inventories have documented pathogens as a leading cause of river and stream impairments. Sources of these stressors vary regionally, but the main national sources of water degradation are: agriculture, stormwater runoff, habitat, hydrology and landscape modifications, municipal wastewater, and air deposition."

The report says pollutants have been detected in virtually all tested stream water and streambed sediment and about three-quarters of groundwater wells.


The draft strategy will be available for comment until Sept. 17. The EPA plans to have its final strategy by late this year. Until then, here's a link to Keep American Beautiful.