Not that this is a surprise anymore, but Chris Austin has once again proven herself to be among the very best reporters on California water issues. This time she has produced an excellent, detailed summary of the independent science panel’s review of the BDCP effects analysis.
I think it is safe to say that - at least for the supporters of the twin tunnels project at the heart of the BDCP - it did not help to let loose a group of evidently independent and knowledgeable scientists on the mixture of science, suasion and policy-making that permeate the BDCP effects documents.
Here are a few excerpts (though boldface captions are by me) from Chris’s reporting, but I would strongly recommend reading the entirety at her website. Here’s that link again. And supporting her invaluable work by making a donation, too!
Employ a favorite bait-and-switch magic trick, Adaptive Management
“The panel recognizes that the success of BDCP hinges on a commitment to effective adaptive management, he said. ‘Although it doesn’t fall under our purview in this review, adaptive management and really linking the effects analysis with the adaptive management was lacking with virtually no mention of it within Chapter 5,’ said Dr. Parker.”
Make sure that poor indexing appears to be a manifestation of the challenges of a complex planning exercise trying to find common ground among multiple, conflicting agendas, and not a political tactic
“‘‘We just need better linking throughout—better cross-referencing and better indexing throughout because without it, we are left with this sense of “trust us.”’ Without the level of detail, we’re really hunting.’”
Do not value weight the affected in the uncertainty. Don’t come clean about what’s really at stake here, the value of an endangered fish that strictly speaking is probably as stupid as Devin Nunes says it is
“‘Unless you weight the attributes, you can’t determine the overall uncertainty,’ said John Skalski, a panel member. ‘An attribute that has high importance, even one of them, that has high uncertainty, makes the whole program uncertain. On the other hand, you might have a lot of attributes that are very insignificant with a lot of uncertainty but it has no effect on the overall assessment. Uncertainties don’t average; sometimes they multiply, but it depends on your model, so unless we know the weight of the attributes and how certain you are of those individual components, we can’t put the pieces together.’”
Employ rose colored glasses science
“The panel felt that there was a lack of consideration of a variety of scenarios, including moderate or worst case scenarios, with predominantly optimistic scenarios in modeling, said Dr. Parker.”
Employ rose colored glasses science wherever possible
“Restoration of tidal wetlands is highly uncertain or a very long process, and yet restoration is assumed to be 100% perfect for meeting goals, said Dr. Parker.”
Limit the “Study Area” despite the fact that Nature doesn’t do limits
“The panel overall feels that the effects of changes to the conservation measures should include San Francisco Bay, said Dr. Parker. ‘Reality is that there is connectivity, and the BDCP will likely have impacts downstream, particularly the loss of suspended sediments, and that impact to salt marsh in the face of sea level rise. ‘At this time we feel like it should be included.’”
Embrace uncertainty, embrace arbitrary and undefined measurables
“Greg Ruggerone said that per a table from the beginning of chapter 5 that for covered fish species, only 11 or 28% of the biological objectives could be evaluated in your opinion, 38% of them were partially evaluated, but 33% were not evaluated at all. ‘This is unfortunate, because the biological objectives are where the project wants to go. You want to be able to achieve those objectives and yet we don’t have the information in the basin to evaluate at this point in time whether or not those objectives might be achieved, so therefore this raises uncertainty in the overall effectiveness of the plan and highlights the need for monitoring and adaptive management as the project continues.’”
Downplay how much uncertainty is being embraced
“There is a mismatch of potential benefit from conservation action and how they are assessing it, said Dr. Parker, noting that this is a broad comment that addresses the communication of uncertainty. ‘Overall the broad consensus was that the level of detail within Chapter 5, the summary sections, that level of uncertainty is often downplayed, so there is this sense that prediction is there’s going to be a net benefit but without adequately capturing the level of uncertainty around that prediction,’ he said.”
Thought he had a problem with stupid fish? Watch Devin Nunes head explode when he tries to understand why we manage turbidity
“Science panel member Nancy Monsen offered some further clarification. ‘As you are adaptively managing the north Delta operations, that turbidity is one of those things that you adaptively manage for,’ she said. ‘You recognize that there is 8 to 9% sediment that we’d like to keep in the Sacramento, if possible, and if there’s something you can do with pump operations—if you see a pulse of sediment that possibly goes down, maybe you back off the pumping for that period of time while the sediment goes down. That’s just an example of how you could adaptively manage sediment in the system.’”
Avoid this study at all costs
[Science panel member Greg Ruggerone, referring to a paper by Phil Roni et al, said that if one applied that groups’ conclusions to the Delta, then] “‘100% of the habitat would need to be restored to be 95% certain of achieving a 25% increase in smolt production for either species.’ Ultimately, they concluded that “our study demonstrates considerable restoration is needed to produce measurable changes in fish abundance on a watershed scale.” So this just raises the question that we’re asked a lot in the Columbia River Basin by policy makers ... and we ask the question here, with the BDCP, is the amount of restoration that’s being proposed, is it enough to achieve the biological objectives set forth in recovery?’”
Like climate change deniers, let’s make it some other science’s problem to prove that we are wrong
“‘I have a question on our treatment or lack of treatment in Chapter 5 of adaptive management since that permeates so many of the conclusions, especially when there’s a high degree of uncertainty,’ said David Zippin with ICF International. ‘And I would encourage the panel to provide specific suggestions on how we might do that. In previous drafts of the document, I think we probably overdid it, and now we’ve sort of swung the other way, omitted it completely, so there has to be a happy medium somewhere in the middle. ... We opted to be conservative and rely on adaptive management very little in chapter 5, but perhaps there’s a way we could acknowledge it that’s defensible.’”
Adaptive management means do some research. It does not mean describing how to intervene in a wide range of scenarios
“‘A rigorous adaptive management plan would have a conceptual model that poses those decision points that are linked to triggers and thresholds,’ said science panel member Charles “Si” Simonstad. ‘One thing that was a little confusing to me was in the monitoring and research component, the tables had compliance monitoring, effectiveness monitoring and research, and most of the uncertainties were allocated to research. In fact, it should be sort of explicitly incorporated as a major element of adaptive management to try to resolve those with monitoring and incorporate those into alternative approaches if they pass those trigger points. So in some respects, there’s a potential need for a table, a conceptual model or some other diagram that suggests for the major uncertainties, how would you approach that with a rigorous adaptive management program. What would be the candidate triggers, what would be the candidate thresholds, what would be the candidate alternatives that you would have to move to under that condition?’”
So, there you go, David Zippen - Mr. Simonstad’s agreed to help you with your work, and his suggestion is a good one. Along with Mr Skalski’s recommendation that you give value weighting to things costs, benefits, affected, I hope we see what adaptive management looks like, what it costs, who and what suffers, etc., fleshed out across the range of possible scenarios as part of the final BDCP documents.
For the optimists among you, it is probably reassuring that Governor Brown is holding some sort of line when it comes to the BDCP, CEQA and the Endangered Species Act...
Still I remain concerned that what we are seeing here, beneath all of the rhetoric about food security, is a massive and strategically ordered shift in wealth toward the AgriFracking landscape of the Monterrey Shale region—more or less the southern half of the state. And the Governor is no small player in this.
The essentials, in a diptych:
So, onto the
trollish future history of California Water
At the most
chaotic opportune juncture in Iraq’s civil war California’s drought, a new law push is unveiled that would allow Shell and BP AgriFracking to claim the country’s vast oil reserves usurp California’s precious water supply.
September 11 the Zero Allocation announcement, the Bush Brown Administration quietly out-sources the running of the “War on Terror” “War on the Environment” to Halliburton and Blackwater San Joaquin Valley Congressmen.
tsunami wipes out levee breach floods the coasts of Southeast Asia a subsided island in the South Delta, the pristine beaches water resources are auctioned off to tourist resorts shifted to the junior water rights-holding AgriFracking bloc. New Orleans’s Delta residents, scattered from Hurricane Katrina besieged by bellowing right-wing Congressmen, discover that their public housing, hospitals and schools watch as endangered species, waterways, levees, and agricultural economy will never be reopened irretrievably degrade.
Original Shock Doctrine text sampled from Naomi Klein’s website: http://www.naomiklein.org/shock-doctrine
“In water policy, aridity often focuses attention.” That is how Jay Lund concludes a piece on innovation and drought.
No doubt it does focus attention. And in Lund’s essay, attention leads us to innovation - as opposed to, say, conflict. He begins by describing a very specific history of California water innovation. No dynamiting of Owens Lake pipes from 1924-1976 in that history.
In this era of scarcity the interests of the haves and have-nots will intensify, the resilience of the myth of American innovation is going to be tested like never before.
What California needs is to develop a Jugaad culture of innovation: be Frugal, be Flexible, and be Inclusive. This is the way that this era will not be a zero-sum game of water supply and reliability, something that the tunnels ensure.
Innovation is about the market - the power to take, to conserve when taking is physically impossible, and to mitigate when politically unavoidable - are the innovations of the haves.
The Delta may have physical limits, but is intrinsic and not slave to an extensive geography that it exists within. Who can decisively claim that the Delta is any less sustainable than say the Tulare Basin or Malibu?
Water market transfers and Valley groundwater regulation are “difficult” issues as Lund concludes at the end of his piece, but these are not the “really difficult” issues. These are what the haves are probably willing to give away.
A really difficult issue, or decision, would be to calibrate environmental and economic policy with social justice policy.
For example, a really difficult decision would be to pay off Westlands’ landowners, taking its entire toxic territory, a major contributor to the Delta’s ecosystem problems, out of production. Wouldn’t this make water supply and environmental sense for everyone but Westlands landowners?
Big Ag constantly cites unemployment rates in the poor towns of the Central Valley as a reason to open the spigot. But why isn’t ensuring that these same towns get high quality water paid for by the agribusinesses that polluted their water supplies in the first place? Why should these agribusinesses get any assurance of water supply reliability before then?
Another idea that it would be nice to hear from those with authoritative voices is about what food security actually is. On the Public Record raised this question recently: How does the production of wine and pistachios, almonds, etc. contribute to our food security? We hear a lot about wasted water, but what about wasted food?
To which I would add another: Should suburban development continue to be supported by water transfers, or should water transfers to new development, like the growing of pistachios and wine grapes, be relegated to secondary status for water?
Development be focused on frugal models that support the densification of existing cities and towns, making them much more transportation, energy and water efficient. Why the Antelope Valley is allowed to develop makes no sense.
The reality is this: The costs for food and fuel, disaster infrastructure and relief are increasing, all signs of unwanted adjustments to the effects of scarcity and climate change. The question is will this myth of innovation be informed by the parallel and dangerous myth of abundance, or by the reality of scarcity and climate change.
From a staunch advocate of Delta interests I received the following question in response to my last post:
John, I agree with quite a bit of your analysis and ideas. But, for those of us whose families have been farming in the Delta for over 100 years, the concept of a “National Park” poses the question: Where do the Delta farmer and his private property rights fit into the “park” picture? I cannot conceive of a system whereby the government determines what should be farmed (for then farmers are merely serfs), so how does the ability to farm making planting decisions based upon market conditions remain possible?
Thanks for the chance to ask the question. Rogene Reynolds, South Delta.
Rogene, in answer to your question about private property rights - a principle that cuts both ways depending on whether your concerns are about property or, say, rights to the groundwater underneath it - I have many times described the hybrid nature of ownership, property, access and development that I am proposing within the Delta National Park idea - so I won’t get into doing so again. You have more than enough information about my proposal to draw your own conclusions.
I hope you are able to recognize that my sentiments - critical though they may sometimes be - are with the Delta’s communities and its unique landscape history, and that you are able resist the conclusion that what I am proposing would make you - and Delta landowners generally - “serfs.”
Because the alternative to a more complexly programmed Delta is clear, and included in a good summary of a number of inevitabilities about California water policy entanglements that have been put together by UCD/PPIC experts Jay Lund and Ellen Hanak. In their view the Delta will become a simpler place, except for the expanded opportunities for recreation that can occur in a future Delta brackish inland sea.
In Lund’s and Hanak’s scenario, agriculture in the Delta will certainly diminish, much more than it would in a Delta National Park. For a description of the contraction scenario, refer to Point One of their thoughtful ten-point list at the above-linked UCD Water Blog.
My appeal is to think in a way that removes the Delta’s future from being a zero-sum game. This appeal does necessarily presume that the Delta will indeed change, develop, become more complex in its land uses. I believe my view to be a hybrid of all views, and not an entrenched view of any party, whether those of Restore the Delta, the California Farmworkers Coalition, the Public Policy Research Institute of California, or others.
The interests of pro-private property in the Delta regularly claim that they can manage just fine without government help, but this assertion does not reflect existing substantive government subsidies of Delta infrastructure. At the same time, in-Delta interests accurately view the tunnels as the existential threat to their way of life that it certainly is.
The UCD/PPIC experts claim that government subsidies of Delta levee infrastructure cannot prop it up forever and that this inevitably means that the Lower (westernmost) Delta levees will collapse due to a lack of any other viable form of economic support for infrastructure maintenance. This view is reductive, and doesn’t seem to be willing to consider a set of options for the Delta’s future and California’s water supply as inter-dependent. Of course, such an alternative would be profound in its impact on State governance. And on Delta mindsets.
So, two questions for in-Delta interests and risk-averse experts alike:
1/ Would Vermeer have existed in the Netherlands if it were a brackish inland sea?
2/ Is this your best proposal for how the Delta and California can benefit from using this opportunity of drought, climate change, and environmental regulation to create a conciliatory model of water policy governance?
Since my time has been preoccupied elsewhere for a while now, my apologies for what follows: A long opinion piece on the merits of the BDCP, and a restatement of the premise that the Delta’s evolution is best managed toward a more complex space of multiple public and private activity. Otherwise, the current mechanisms and masters of Grifftopia will win out.
The impetus behind this post is the Sierra Club’s recent release of an alternative to the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan’s (BDCP) plan to rip apart the historic settlement landscape and seasonal habitats of the North Delta for what many would no doubt consider to be the greater good. Unlike the BDCP, Sierra’s is a comprehensive proposal, and intelligently links California water issues to their logical extensions—the future of the Westlands Water District, groundwater monitoring and regulation, and statewide conservation and storage.
As I suggested elsewhere, the Sierra Club will have a challenging time getting their message through the technocratic white noise:
The ambitious but flawed campaign promoting the BDCP has produced tens of thousands of pages of quasi-authoritative documents. But it is anything but comprehensive because it is all about de-linking things in the context of the larger questions of who and what will have first access to the peaked out supply of California water. Perhaps this is the most one could actually achieve in a process as politically contentious as this one is, but the BDCP folks believe they have done their homework, and have now passed it in to the more or less toothless assessment phase known as the public comment period.
After the comment period, it’s on to a rubber stamp of approval from the Governor—on $60 billion dollars worth of publicly-funded infrastructure—with no vote, no actual accountability that the co-equal goals will be enforced. Twenty-two conservation measures described in great detail provide a kind of bureaucratic path of bread crumbs as evidence of some future commitment to the decidedly second of the two co-equal goals (“the BDCP will help the Delta, we will make sure of that!”).
But effectively, the Governor’s signature will initiate an extraordinary shift of wealth to a small group of southern California landowners (excluded from this judgment are the cities of SoCal, who doing well with their conservation efforts) and petrochemical industrialists. The Governor’s signature will also simultaneously shift the responsibility to underwrite the expense of building this vast water infrastructure project to the state taxpayers, since Big Ag can’t afford the price tag, and ensure the collapse of the Delta ecosystem and along with it, the extinction of several endangered fish species.
One of the go-to messages of the managers of the BDCP process is that no constituency will be entirely happy with the outcome. In the logic of realpolitik speech, these message managers invoke the idea that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all of the others.” But the BDCP process is at its foundation profoundly anti-democratic, with no vote, no real public up or down assessment. Perhaps this is justifiably so. Maybe given the complexity of the issues, scope and scale of the technological regime, California water is just too important to leave in the hands of voters. What happened to the Peripheral Canal in the early ‘80s has been critical to the shaping the BDCP’s strategically anti-democratic rollout. But don’t be fooled: there are definitely groups who are very happy with the BDCP, and they are those who would least benefit from a full and considered democratic up or down vote by a majority of California voters.
But voting is not going to happen, so once this historical non-democratic event occurs, there will be the gleeful—the Petrochemists—who if only they could harvest the acre-feet of drool they produce as they gaze over the vast Monterrey Shale geo-stratigraphy and use it for their fracking operations. Based on recent evidence in Ohio and elsewhere, they may send the southern half of California into a state of seismic catastrophe, or the Petrochemists may merely make their significant contribution to the destruction of the environment, both locally and globally, all the while draping themselves in the patriotic nonsense about unstable regions of the world and fuel security that they of course helped to produce.
The merely overjoyed group—the Agribusinessmen of the southern Central Valley—understands very well that last line of argument. Big Ag will then be able to produce with impunity high-value products for global markets and enter into long-term water contracts with property developers, while continuing to raise false alarms about food (national) security and exploit a huge pool of (extra-national) cheap labor. What a great thing it must be to be the prime financial and regulatory beneficiary of two hundred-plus years of American myth!
But most extraordinary in all of this is that these two groups will have received this water windfall with absolutely no responsibility to pay for the environmental destruction the twin tunnels will wreak. Yes, the current plan is that they will pay for the machines necessary to redistribute water to them, at least that is the current if shaky “beneficiaries pay” principle. But we’ll see how long that lasts.
This bit of twisted logic about responsibility is a stroke of brilliance. The strategists of the BDCP process have focused our attention on how the current system of moving water through the Delta demonstrably harms several endangered fish native to the Delta and turned our attention away from the primary (yes, Sacramento and Stockton—clean up your water treatment infrastructures!) and obvious reason for their demise: unsustainable and steady increases in water exported from the Delta over the past forty years. As Peter Moyle might say, Funny how it almost always comes down to fish needing water. At the risk of too many metaphors, Peter’s is the correct answer in the Occam’s Razor test of why the canary in the coal mine died.
The BDCP strategy is two-pronged: first, hard sell the shock doctrine message on earthquakes and economic catastrophe and soft peddle blind faith in scientific intuition and democratic institutions to rein in Capital. “We have an intuitive sense that by simulating the more natural flows of water through the Delta”—so the talking points go—“the twin tunnels will help these fish recover.”
The second prong is to distract our focus on the equally intuitive sense that removing at the very, very least a third of the fresh water entering into the Delta at all—and removing none of the chemical- and salt-laden runoff re-entering it from the south from the often toxic soils that exported water irrigates—may also have a significant detrimental effect on its larger ecosystem. At least Jerry Meral (mis)spoke the truth when he said “the Delta cannot be saved.”
It is not at all clear whether the push to build the peripheral tunnels will be successful. It is also not wrong to think that the state’s water distribution and storage infrastructure needs to be upgraded. More storage downstream of the Delta, whether groundwater or reservoir, seems the most useful thing to invest in, not a pair of tunnels that will likely cost between $50 and $100 billion including debt service. The problem with the BDCP process isn’t that there is a process—it is the shock doctrine strategy they’ve employed to make the case.
I could go on about the diameter of the tunnels,especially the specious reasoning for why they are completely oversized to serve stated BDCP claims of need, but should move on. We’ll tongue in cheek let it go that the authors of the BDCP are attempting to deal with a pressing issue that might require future, more pressing demands, even if electricity to move water is required. When will those demands on the Delta end does seem like a fair question.
Still, all factions, including the NIMBY-esque machinations of the various Delta groups, who often seem to be in a state of denial about their stewardship of a reclaimed territory, share in the “a plague a’both your houses” judgment of a dying Delta. The only group that seems to have taken its responsibilities seriously are southern California urban water agencies like the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District, with its impressive long term commitment to water conservation.
Big Ag and big family Ag continue to pound away at the cheap food message while much of its production heads to boutique markets for pomegranate juice and almonds, all the while pleading poverty when it comes to real water conservation and groundwater monitoring and restrictions. And finally, as they did in 1982, is there any doubt that the shadowy groups behind Monterrey Shale fracking pump money into their lobbying efforts, or why they choose to remain off-camera? They know full well that public expressions of their agenda would be anathema to their own interests.
I predict that the largely state-initiated BDCP will if realized be a failure—actually, a debacle—with little to no appetite on the part of state taxpayers to fund the many billions needed to pay for the admittedly uncertain Delta ecosystem restoration work. Taxpayers who brought you Prop. 13 asking themselves why they should pay for a hopeful outcome to something that is admitted by policy managers themselves to be uncertain and quite likely to have no beneficial effect, after all, isn’t exactly illogical. What is illogical is pointing to Adaptive Management and Habitat Conservation Planning as a solution at this scale and with this much at stake.
Central to the 1982 Amendment was the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) concept. Despite its wholesome sounding name, HCPs were designed explicitly to give private landowners and non-federal land managers ways to develop endangered species habitat without running afoul of the law. Widely reviled by developers as infringement of their perceived rights to maximize profit at the expense of wildlife, HCPs actually constitute a near-180-degree reversal of ESA’s original intent.
An HCP allows a landowner to develop or alter habitat of a listed species as long as the damage is minimized and “mitigated.” That mitigation may involve something as simple as leaving other habitat undeveloped, or paying into a fund to buy up and protect undeveloped habitat.
Clarke’s essay places the Habitat Conservation Plan process in a historically relevant timeline. We are left with questions about the real goals of the HCP process, and can’t help but conclude that an HCP is simply a form of political and regulatory triage for development interests to carry on in the face of enforceable environmental constraint to development.
The geography of issues related to California water extend to Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and ultimately, to Washington, D.C. It was the explosive growth and contract rights of unsustainable urban regions like Phoenix and Las Vegas to Colorado River water (that is another topic…) that have led to the increased demands on Delta water by all California.
All of this is a long introduction to why I have been pushing for the Delta to become a new kind of National Park. A Park that emphasizes the interdependent, commons-like thinking by all Californians about this fragile and critical region, and acknowledges the limits to the sustainable growth of the state. Not a narrowly constructed upgrade that primarily addresses one powerful if quantitatively small interest group.
A Delta National Park would merge in-Delta land and economic development with flood protection infrastructure and ecosystem restoration, water supply reliability and storage. The entire state would be obliged to care about the Delta’s well-being—just as it is now—but differently. In large part the expense of ecosystem improvements to the Delta would be locally financed and a reduced tunnel project would be funded by the state’s southern beneficiaries. For committing to this obligation, the Delta’s freshwater would be a resource shared by the entire state, and Delta landowners would be compensated for lost property with infrastructure improvements and value-added land usage.
A Delta National Park, by virtue of the state’s inherently conservative, closed system of water resources, could place the state once again in the vanguard of progressive environmental policy that ends, once and for all, the pernicious, exceedingly unsustainable and divisive myth of abundance and unlimited growth being promoted by the BDCP and Governor Brown.
Finally, despite Chris Clarke’s thoughtful arguments to the contrary, and with real reservations about another round of undermining what was a just and balanced vision of environmental stewardship and acquisitive restraint, it is also probably time for the Feds to take a close look at the effects of the Endangered Species Act.
Clearly, the plight of the Delta’s several endangered fish species has not improved despite years of ESA- and CEQA-triggered water export constraints. This shows with some conclusiveness a real flaw with the existing species protection mechanisms to actually help in contexts of overwhelming human interest. Is it time to contemplate, to paraphrase Jerry Meral, that some of the most fragile creatures in contentious places like the Delta will in the future go extinct? And if so, how are new lines drawn? At this point, it seems like many of the principles of the environmental laws of the 1970s have been turned on their heads, something that seems to be happening in current invocation of the ESA and CEQA by the BDCP. This is a perversion.
A statewide commitment to a true and lasting vision about California water would have to start from scratch, this time, with the principle of interdependence, shared sacrifice, and reconciliation across the water interests across this far-flung state. Not with a politically expedient, non-comprehensive plan full of empty promises of adaptive management, conservation planning built on a shaky foundation of scientific intuition, but with one that simultaneously ties up loose ends on ensuring that the poor of the Central Valley have safe drinking water, and that means groundwater and fracking regulations with teeth are part of this negotiation, and not some future one, after the tunnels are built.