California governor names new leaders on water, education
By KATHLEEN RONAYNE
Wednesday, February 13
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom named new leaders Tuesday to top posts in water, transportation and education policy, his latest moves to set the state government on a fresh path during his first months in office.
It’s typical for new governors to shake up key posts even when the transfer of power remains within a party, and the appointments Newsom announced in his State of the State showed he’s moving in his own direction in policy areas considered a priority by his predecessor, former Gov. Jerry Brown, a fellow Democrat.
“There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency,” he said of the high-speed rail project. Later, he added, “we also need a fresh approach when it comes to meeting California’s massive water challenges.”
Constructing a high-speed train between Los Angeles and San Francisco and building two massive water tunnels to remake how the state’s water is moved from north to south were among Brown’s chief priorities. Newsom restated his call for a single water tunnel and said there “isn’t a path” right now for to complete the high-speed rail line as planned, though his staff said he’s still committed to seeing it through.
To chair the board of the High-Speed Rail Authority, he named Lenny Mendonca, his administration’s economic development director. He’ll replace Dan Richard, who had worked with Brown since the 1970s.
Newsom named Joaquin Esquivel to lead the State Water Resources Control Board, replacing Brown chair Felicia Marcus. He also appointed Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg to a lead commission on homelessness and chose Linda Darling Hammond to lead the state Board of Education, saying it’s time for an “honest conversation” about how California’s schools are funded.
Newsom sounded themes of honesty, frankness and transparency repeatedly throughout the speech as he sought to craft himself as a leader bold enough to confront the uncomfortable challenges facing a state that ranks as the world’s fifth largest economy but is also home to deep poverty.
“Now, let’s talk honestly about clean drinking water,” he said before calling it a “moral disgrace” that some Californians still lack access to clean water. He’s proposed a new tax to raise money for water infrastructure projects.
Newsom criticized Republican President Donald Trump for promoting a “manufactured” crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border and for vandalizing pieces of former President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law. But he also praised Trump for his calls to lower prescription drug prices.
Rather than focus on Trump, though, he spent the bulk of his speech on California policy.
“He set audacious goals, and he’s assembling a formidable team to achieve them,” said Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a Democrat. “We will need new ways of looking at old problems, and unprecedented collaboration to meet the challenges ahead.”
His leadership change on the water board comes not only as the board debates the twin tunnels project but also as it oversees a controversial plan to increase flows in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
On rail, Newsom said he’ll shift the focus to completing just a 171-mile segment of the line already under construction in the state’s Central Valley. He also called for greater transparency of the project that has been beset by cost overruns and delays.
Newsom said he’d continue doing environmental reviews for the LA-San Francisco line and seek private investment to connect the Central Valley to the state’s major hubs, prompting confusion about whether he actually was changing the current policy.
Republican state Sen. Jim Nielsen of Fresno said Newsom’s comments were an acknowledgement the full train would never be completed.
“It cannot be achieved, and the governor has essentially admitted it,” he said. “This entire thing has now changed from whether or not there’s going to be a high-speed rail to what’s going to be left for central California.”
On housing, Newsom said he has invited the leaders of 47 cities that haven’t kept up with mandated affordable housing goals to meet next week for a “candid conversation.”
“I don’t intend to file suit against all 47, but I’m not going to preside over neglect and denial,” he said. “These cities need to summon the political courage to build their fair share of housing.”
Newsom also promised to have a plan within 60 days for dealing with the recent bankruptcy filing by Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. after years of devastating wildfires.
He said he has convened a team of the nation’s best bankruptcy lawyers and financial experts from the energy sector to work with his administration to develop a strategy to protect the state’s power grid, wildfire victims, company employees and ratepayers. He also promised to address the pressure that climate change is putting on utilities.
Associated Press writer Don Thompson contributed.
Satellites reveal a new view of Earth’s water from space
February 13, 2019
Author: Tamlin M. Pavelsky, Associate Professor of Global Hydrology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Disclosure statement: Tamlin M. Pavelsky receives funding from NASA related to the SWOT mission and measuring the water cycle from space.
Partners: University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
In 1889, near the remote border town of Embudo, New Mexico, John Wesley Powell, the famous explorer of the Grand Canyon and second head of the U.S. Geological Survey, started a quiet scientific revolution.
He knew that water would be increasingly important to the American West, but no one had developed a way to figure out how much was available. Powell set up a field camp with 14 students, three instructors, two laborers and a cook, and tasked them with developing the first gauge to measure how much water flows through a U.S. river.
With their success, it was possible to know how much water could be taken out of the Rio Grande for irrigation without it becoming unnavigable or, worse, drying up entirely.
More than a century later, the USGS operates more than 10,000 stream gauges around the country. They’re remarkably similar to that first Embudo gauge. Other countries operate thousands more.
Today, hydrologists like me use the stream gauge network, along with similarly vast networks of sensors measuring rainfall, soil moisture, snow depth and other parts of the water cycle. These tools help show how much water is available to people and ecosystems and how that water moves from place to place.
Moving to space
In the last 30 years, hydrology has run into a sticky problem. There are simply not enough sensors for the questions hydrologists want to answer.
Try, for example, to measure how much snow is stored in a mountain range like California’s Sierra Nevada. This water is a critical resource for the state. The Sierra Nevada contains about 130 “snow pillows” that measure the amount of water stored in the snow directly above them. But the area measured by the sensors is something like 2 millionths of a percent of the total area of the Sierra.
If you try to figure out the total water stored in the Sierras, you run into a methodological wall. There’s no good way to get there directly.
This kind of problem crops up all over hydrology, from snow to soil moisture and rivers to reservoirs. Although putting out more sensors is an option, they are expensive to maintain, and it’s impossible to put out enough to measure an entire mountain range. A better option would be to measure large areas all at once.
Starting about two decades ago, a small group of scientists suggested a new solution: What if they could measure the water cycle from space?
The University of Saskatchewan’s Jay Famiglietti was one of these scientists. Much of Famiglietti’s work has used the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission, a pair of satellites launched in 2002. The satellites, nicknamed Tom and Jerry, chase each other around the planet and use tiny variations in the the distance between them to measure changes in Earth’s gravity. Many of these variations come from water moving around. GRACE tracks changes in total water storage across groundwater, the surface and the atmosphere.
“[GRACE] paints a compelling picture, because it allows us to see the human fingerprint on water availability, and the climate change impact on water availability,” Famiglietti told me. Some of his work with GRACE has shown deep losses of groundwater in northern India, the Middle East and other places that could be vulnerable to future water shortages. The original pair of GRACE satellites went offline in 2017, but a new pair launched the following year.
A golden age
Other satellites designed to measure specific parts of the water cycle came online at around the same time as GRACE, though they had some limitations.
IceSAT, active from 2003 to 2009, measured the changing shape of glaciers and ice sheets, but its lasers had some technical problems that limited its lifetime. The Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission provided data on precipitation at low latitudes, but it worked poorly for snow and regions with strong thunderstorms. Scientists came up with improved ways to use data from passive microwave sensors, some of which were already in orbit, to estimate soil moisture, but they provided data only at relatively coarse scales.
Starting in 2014, a new generation of satellites has offered improvements. The Global Precipitation Mission, a constellation of satellites, has substantially improved on TRMM. IceSAT-2, which NASA launched in 2018, has much better lasers than its forerunner. Dedicated soil moisture missions launched by the European Space Agency and NASA offer more finely tuned measurements than past sensors could.
I am part of an international team that will launch the first project dedicated to measuring Earth’s most readily accessible water resources: rivers and lakes. The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission is an active sensor that, starting in 2021, will send radar pulses down to Earth and measure how long they take to return to the satellite. Through finely tuned algorithms, SWOT will measure changes in the amount of water stored in millions of lakes and reservoirs around the world and estimate, from space, the amount of water flowing through most of the world’s major rivers.
With all these satellites, hydrologists will be able to track many individual parts of the water cycle using observations from space. The next challenge will be putting all of those measurements together in a coherent way. Each satellite has its own idiosyncrasies. Scientists are working to integrate all of their past and present data with computer simulations of Earth’s water cycle.
Together, these observations can help better predict drought, track floods and inform the world about how climate change is altering access to water resources. For example, a suite of satellites showed that the world’s landlocked basins, already among the driest places on Earth, most notably the Aral Sea in Central Asia, are rapidly losing water.
Space agencies are also designing new missions to cover parts of the water cycle that current satellites can’t yet adequately observe, like the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. Estimating evaporation also remains a real challenge. Current methods produce very different global patterns, and the path toward new solutions for reliably estimating evaporation from space remains uncertain.
Satellites have gone from curios on the sidelines of hydrology to central players in understanding the global water cycle. When John Wesley Powell sent 20-odd members of the new USGS to the banks of the Rio Grande, he likely couldn’t have imagined that, 130 years later, water scientists like me would be following in his footsteps using satellites orbiting hundreds of miles overhead.
Rule could limit college response to off-campus sex assaults
By COLLIN BINKLEY
Wednesday, February 13
WASHINGTON (AP) — At some of the nation’s largest universities, the vast majority of sexual assaults take place not in dorm rooms or anywhere else on school property but in the neighborhoods beyond campus boundaries, according to data obtained by The Associated Press.
But the schools’ obligation to investigate and respond to those off-campus attacks could be dramatically reduced by the Education Department’s proposed overhaul of campus sexual assault rules. That’s alarmed advocacy groups and school officials who say it would strip students of important protections in the areas where most of them live.
At the University of Texas in Austin, officials have received 58 reports of sexual assaults on campus grounds since the fall of 2014 while fielding 237 involving private apartments, houses and other areas outside campus, according to the data obtained through public records requests. Another 160 reports didn’t include locations.
“The majority of our students are just not in proximity to campus, and a lot of things happen when they’re not on campus,” said Krista Anderson, the university’s Title IX coordinator. Of the school’s 51,000 students, she said, only about 18 percent live in campus housing.
For now, federal guidelines urge colleges to take action against any sexual misconduct that disrupts a student’s education, regardless of where it took place.
But in its proposed rule, the department says schools should be required to address sexual misconduct only if it occurs within their “programs or activities,” a designation that would exclude many cases off campus.
The proposal is included in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ revision of Obama-era guidance on campus sexual assault, which officials say is unfairly skewed against those accused of assault and goes beyond the intended scope of Title IX, the federal law barring sex discrimination in education. Some colleges had complained that the Obama rules were too complex and could be overly burdensome.
The AP asked the nation’s 10 largest public universities for several years of data on the topic. Out of eight that provided data, five had more reports from off campus than on school property: The University of Texas, Texas A&M, Arizona State, Michigan State and the University of Central Florida.
At Texas A&M, for example, the number of sexual assaults reported from beyond campus since 2014 is twice the number on school property.
Leaders of some schools say the proposal appears to let them decide whether to handle cases beyond their borders, but conflicting language has led some to believe they would actually be barred from it.
One section says schools would be permitted to address cases outside their property, while another says schools would have to dismiss all complaints from outside their programs. Dozens of schools have asked the department for clarification.
“There is a concern that these regulations might strictly limit the jurisdiction of the university to conduct which occurs on campus,” said David Bunis, general counsel for Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a private school in Massachusetts.
Department spokeswoman Liz Hill said schools would be able to investigate cases outside their programs “at their discretion” but did not clarify the discrepancy. Unless the conflicting language is changed, legal experts say, it could give accused students legal grounds to get their cases dismissed.
Since the proposal was issued in November, it has generated a flood of feedback from students, parents, schools, politicians and activists on both sides.
A recent public comment period drew more than 104,000 responses, already the most in department history, and federal officials announced Tuesday that they would re-open the comment period for one day, on Feb. 15, because technical errors may have blocked some users from submitting feedback.
Tens of thousands of comments have been credited to campaigns meant to inundate the agency with criticism. In western Pennsylvania, for example, a local chapter of the National Organization for Women recently hosted an event on how to submit comments, one of many similar gatherings across the country.
Opponents are fighting against several of the plan’s key provisions, including changes that would narrow the definition of sexual harassment and allow students accused of sexual misconduct to question their accusers through a representative.
Few points, however, have drawn as much anger as the move to reduce schools’ obligations off campus. In public comments, students said it would leave little recourse for those assaulted at parties, bars or other sites. Advocacy groups worry that fewer victims would report assaults, and that more would drop out of school.
“We think it’s very dangerous,” said Terri Poore, policy director at the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. “There are several other very, very, disturbing issues, but this is absolutely among the worst aspects of the proposed rule.”
Many colleges have raised their own concerns, especially institutions that fear the rule would cut off their authority at campus boundaries.
Laurie Nichols, president of the University of Wyoming, told the Education Department that curbing schools’ powers would simply push sexual violence to areas where offenders know they’re beyond the school’s reach.
In her comment, Nichols added that refusing to take action off campus “communicates indifference on the part of the institution and ignores the impact of these experiences on a student’s ability to succeed in the classroom.”
Still, few colleges are asking the department to keep things just as they are. Instead, many want the flexibility to decide which cases to handle, even though they say they have no plans to scale back investigations.
Loyola University in Chicago is among those asking for the discretion to choose. Officials wrote that, regardless of where sexual misconduct takes place, “the lasting impact of such misconduct is likely to affect our students’ education and sense of safety.”
Further questions have emerged about the handling of online sexual harassment, which isn’t explicitly addressed in the proposal. It’s a major concern for many schools below the college level, which are bound by the same federal rules and have faced growing problems with cyberbullying.
The School Superintendents Association, which represents more than 13,000 education leaders, told the department it was “shocked” that the proposal seems to prevent schools from responding to online sexual misconduct.
“While monitoring and taking steps to address these activities can be burdensome, district policies have been built around doing so,” the group wrote. “This would unduly tie the hands of school leaders who believe every child deserves a safe and healthy learning environment.”
Even supporters of the rule say it needs clarification, but they contend it’s a step in the right direction. Some argue that police are better equipped than schools to handle cases away from campus property, although advocates who work with victims counter that only a fraction of assaults are ever reported to police.
Cynthia Garrett, leader of Families Advocating for Campus Equality, a group that represents students accused of sexual misconduct, said existing rules have led some colleges to investigate sexual misconduct hundreds of miles away. She added that schools should handle some off campus cases, but only within reason.
“I just think it has to be a practical consideration. Is this something where the school has any power over the property? Can they go there? Can they look at the evidence?” she said. “It’s very difficult to set a bright-line rule, which is unfortunate because it would certainly help matters.”
The Education Department is now reviewing the public comments before it issues a final rule, a process expected to take several months.
Federal officials estimate that, if the rule is finalized, the number of off-campus cases schools investigate would fall by somewhere between 11 percent and 30 percent. As a result, the agency predicts, schools would collectively save up to $456 million over a decade.
Officials based their analysis on the assumption that about 40 percent of sexual assaults involving students take place off-campus, a statistic that comes from an insurance company’s study of 305 sexual assault claims filed between 2011 and 2013. Some other surveys have put the figure above 60 percent.
Colleges say it’s difficult to track exactly how many offenses take place off-campus. Many assaults are never reported. Sometimes the information is channeled through friends or professors who don’t know where it happened.
At the University of Florida it was roughly an even split between off-campus and on-campus sexual assault complaints, according to the data obtained by the AP. Ohio State University had more cases on campus. The University of Maryland University College, which does not have residence halls and offers the majority of its classes online, says no sexual assaults have been reported in the past five years.
At the University of Central Florida, officials say they’re awaiting the department’s final rule but have not stopped investigating off-campus sexual misconduct complaints involving students or employees.
“It is the university’s mission to provide a safe environment for all students and employees. Accordingly, we have no plans to change this practice, but we’ll reassess if mandated to do so when the new regulations are issued by the federal government,” Nancy Myers, director of the school’s Office of Institutional Equity, said in a statement.
Anderson, the University of Texas official, said the school has no plans to narrow the scope of its work even if the final rule allows it. Although cases that arise off campus can be complicated, she said, the university will continue to investigate them unless it’s explicitly forbidden.
“The complex cases are the ones that need our attention,” Anderson said. “We have a duty to address those and respond to it appropriately.”
Follow Collin Binkley on Twitter at https://twitter.com/cbinkley