Let them eat selenium

Maven has posted a missive from the ever-creative Westlands legal machine that is aimed at (South, for now) Delta water users’, riparian water rights, just the latest salvo in their strategy to flip the state’s water management regimen on its head.

When it doesn’t rain, it sues.

The complaint claims that Westlands’ water is being stolen upstream, and that this was very easy for their people to discover. That if this was so easy to discover, then something or someone, perhaps the Delta Watermaster management bureaucracy, wasn’t doing its job. Perhaps the entire system of water rights and management is broken and should be torn up and rewritten. Farmworkers are suffering because of this, after all…

I was surprised that an argument wasn’t made that Westlands’ position at the bottom of the access-to-water food chain was hurting America. Or that Westlands was being denied its god-given right to subsidized almonds exporting and bad business models. Is planting trees in a virtual desert and expecting others to supply them with water smart, practically?

Maven excerpts the following:

“Westlands believes that the Delta Watermaster and the current water rights enforcement have failed to achieve any meaningful compliance with the legislative mandate to collect information through statements of diversion and use from water users in the Delta,” the letter states. “The statements of diversion and use supplied in the letter submitted by DWR and Reclamation under exhibit 1 represent a sample of what is - at best - questionable assertions, and what - at worst - amounts to a flagrant disregard for the law.”

Ooooh. The law….

Then there’s this:

”...southern Delta riparian right holders have no right, in any year, to natural flow from the Sacramento River because the Sacramento’s natural flow does not reach those diverters, and therefore they are restricted to the natural flow in the San Joaquin River.”

Westlands is of course the same group that will fight litigation-tooth and lawsuit-nail any proposed regulation of ground water pumping. Using powerful pumps to extract a resource from hundreds of feet below a property is, according to that logic, a natural source of water. A god-given property right, and all that. Subsidence and the destruction of publicly funded infrastructure that results, that’s a problem for somebody else.

Let’s first stipulate that none of this debate, litigation, NIMBY-ism, etc. is about what is or isn’t natural. The Delta is a reclaimed landscape, and no pristine wilderness.

So, how to define this idea of “natural?” According to Westlands, what is less natural is a South Delta farmer opening a valve in a pipe so that an adjacent river’s or slough’s water can flow, via gravity, onto a field. I know that there are lots and lots of laws that define when this is and isn’t legal, but which do you think sounds like a more “natural” way to source water? South Delta farmers should limit their water supply to the selenium-laced effluent that Westlands themselves provide?

I get the argument, but that doesn’t make Westlands amoral lack of accountability and hypocrisy any less hard to stomach. Because, along with helping to supply fractured aqueducts or road surfaces to their own region, and almonds and pistachios to China and Canada, Westlands is a major supplier of toxic water to the Delta and not a huge contributor to the “food security” of the state or the nation. I guess that’s not their responsibility.

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Posted by John Bass on 08 Aug 2014 | Comments (0)

Nobody gets what they want

Glad to see the ever-languishing poll numbers on the “give us the tunnel then we’ll give you habitat” conservation plan. You name the reason—the rise of anti-tax constituencies and the environmental movement, smart urban conservation policies, a diversified, ag-independent economy, the growing influence of Native rights—a 1950s answer to a 2014 question was never going to fly.

As we near the end of this round of the California water struggle, every constituency is weighing what they are going to give up and what they are going to get.

Some people don’t support the plan because they don’t get much from it—except some “assurance” that if the water’s available then they will get theirs. Problem is, they already get that—without spending $50 billion dollars.

Others don’t support it because it takes something away, that thing being what they consider their Jerusalem, their traditional homeland, despite the history of transformation, exploitation, and destruction that this irrevocably altered place was, is and always will be.

Others support it, but want others to pay for it—because that’s the way it’s always been—and others too support it, tepidly, because they have managed their affairs very well by self-imposing prudent conservation policies and fashioning good tools.

As I watch news of the ever-shrinking BDCP water bond, and the rise of (finally!) Sen. Wolk’s modest and measured water bond, I have hope that the Shock Doctrine rhetoric of Earthquakes! and Rising Sea Levels! and Drought! can finally be replaced by incremental, long-term, rational planning.

What is needed is a phased plan to armour the Delta’s levees, beginning with the westward ones, and moving upstream north, east, and south from there. Parallel to this, public discussion about managing a civil society when a decades-long drought happens.

No, Fortress Delta may not address the conflict between endangered fish migrations and pumping, but spending $50B on an experiment to see if an under-Delta solution would—now that would have been really stupid.

Since it will require levees approximately two metres higher and 30-60 metres wider, Delta residents will not like Fortress Delta’s effects on their properties and communities. This big new, engineered levee infrastructure will be transformative and intrusive.

Towns already sitting astride the existing levees, like Isleton and Walnut Grove, Locke and Courtland, will need to be moved, if someone wants to pay for that, and if not, half-destroyed. Beautiful land-side cottonwood groves will be ripped up, as will many lovely Victorian houses of the early Delta era. The picturesque Delta will have to be rebuilt.

And I guess we’ll have to accept the fact that our produce will be less perfect, though hopefully more flavourful, because it will come from somewhere where almonds cannot be grown instead of tomatoes, because that’s what the market dictates gets grown in CA (but not Rhode Island, or Nebraska) if there’s not enough water. Obviously.

And of course, the unfortunately evolved Delta Smelt goes extinct, as do the Salmon and Splittail.

Nobody gets what they want. And that’s how it will be, whether $50B or $5B is spent.

Just to be clear, I certainly didn’t get what I wanted, either—which was to get a thoughtful discussion going and be a bridge across conflicting interests. Silly me.

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Posted by John Bass on 06 Jul 2014 | Comments (3)

The importance of kvetching

It’s been interesting to read the responses to Jay Lund’s essay “Virtual Water vs. Real Water in California.” In it, he describes as “kvetching” criticisms that question whether water should be used to export boutique agricultural products to global markets in a time of severe drought.

Professor Lund’s great to read, in large part because he doesn’t feel the need to overly self-edit. This of course gets under the skin of people who are both more knowledgable and better writers than I am.

For example:
“‘Virtual water’ and related ‘water footprint’ calculations are cute and popular. We can have lots of fun with the idea of a virtual this and that. (Virtual manure can be imagined coming and going from California and flowing globally.)”

A while ago, Professor Lund felt that I overinterpreted his “funding the Delta like a public sewer” essay. But like when I write “Sewer analogy > Heuristic fail,” if I were to choose to title an essay of mine linking “sewer” with “Delta” I would know that I was looking to pick a fight. And I would expect Lund would, too.

So Professor Lund is either being coy or naive about how words work when they are put together, or he just wants to pick a fight with a group of people (Delta people, bloggers or opinions of bloggers he considers illegitimate, etc.), period.

In Lund’s defense (I guess) is that I honestly sometimes can’t tell which it is.

Mike Wade agrees with Professor Lund about all of the kvetching kvetchers. Feeling like he’s in a safe space, Wade incautiously but accurately pulls out the “we live in a global economy” argument. It certainly can’t hurt Mike and the CFWC when Lund and his colleagues at the PPIC seem to understate just how expensive it will be to get them the water they need to feed the global economy designer pomegranate drinks, pistachios and wine, too.

Peter Gleick doesn’t agree with Lund about the kvetching. He thinks that if it is fair for one group to argue that water supply and environmental policy should be measured via “food security” and out of the other side of that same group’s mouth chasten the naive with talk of the global economy (see Wade, Mike), then it is reasonable to ask whether it is really food security or power politics that is at stake for that group.

On a recent plane trip, I was sitting next to a logistics VP for a major media equipment outfitter. He was a very young guy, and got his new job after noticing that like 95% of the servers used in the TV and radio industry were manufactured in one place. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your ability to foresee how catastrophe becomes dollars, that place was a vast IT park sitting on a floodplain in Thailand. That was where this guy’s company sourced their servers, too - just like all of their competitors.

This concerned him, and so he watched weather reports for the region, and saw a major storm coming that would surely inundate the IT Park. Days and hours before the storm hit, he explained the emerging situation to his boss, and was instructed to buy every available server manufactured in North America ASAP. His company flourished in the supply chain chaos that ensued, and he was promoted.

This little anecdote helps to explain why Mike Wade’s argument about food security is backwards. It also explains why the inclusion of virtual water in any drought debate is relevant, and why a significantly reduced agricultural territory south of the Delta is the only practical solution to both virtual and real California water supply.

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Posted by John Bass on 14 Mar 2014 | Comments (4)

This is what independent science looks like

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!

The BDCP Playbook, Part II

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.

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Posted by John Bass on 11 Feb 2014 | Comments (0)

#cadrought Shock Doctrine history

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.

Immediately following 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.

After a 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

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Posted by John Bass on 05 Feb 2014 | Comments (0)