It is worth comparing the Peripheral Tunnel debating points that were presented this week in the Sacramento Bee. First there was Peter Gleick’s analysis of the state of the BDCP planning process. This was followed by State Water Project general manager Terry Erlewine’s response.
First of all, let’s establish a basic fact about the exchange. What Erlewine doesn’t do is respond to Gleick’s core and well-reasoned arguments. Instead, he substitutes a magician’s trick for a direct response.
“How to make a coin disappear” - hard not to choose this particular video clip with a title like that…
Anyway, let’s look just a bit more at the two pieces of analysis.
First, there is the relative rigor and discursive affiliation of each. Where scientist Gleick breaks down his skepticism into very clear and objective questions, general manager Erlewine responds with generalities that remain firmly positioned within the techniques of political debate. Mostly, Erlewine points to the sheer amount of (scientific, economic, public hearing, etc.) material that has been generated during the BDCP process to date.
Mr Erlewine goes to great lengths to emphasize that the BDCP is still only in a draft stage, and reassures that there will be lots of time for public comment. He wishes to shift the focus to really minor errors of fact embedded in Gleick’s set of questions. Erlewine knows that quantity (of data, of time, of number of drafts) does not automatically translate into quality. I suspect he knows that it doesn’t need to given the arena within which his discourse plays.
Second, there is the way in which rhetoric is used. Gleick self-effacingly but unfortunately opens the door to an aggressive rhetorical counter. Erlewine jumps all over the ‘Uh, we don’t know” quote. For Erlewine, this opening allows him to deflect the argument, to trivialize it, to paint Gleick as a lotus land Northern Californian who hasn’t bothered to get his facts straight.
But it is Gleick who is providing the facts. Facts about the systematic uncertainty about the hydrology, environmental effects, financial costs, etc. of the BCDP. Facts that we have known since Karla Nemeth embraced scientific uncertainty are of secondary importance in the sphere of political debate.
Mr Erlewine may want to use the sleight of hand tactic. That’s fine, but worth pointing out.
Here are the seven principles of sleight of hand (via Wikipedia):
Palm - To hold an object in an apparently empty hand.
Switch - To secretly exchange one object for another.
Ditch - To secretly dispose of an unneeded object.
Steal - To secretly obtain a needed object.
Load - To secretly move an object to where it is needed.
Simulation - To give the impression that something has happened that has not.
Misdirection - To lead attention away from a secret move.
Like all magicians, Mr Erlewine responds by exaggerating his movements and expressions - reflexively reveling in the success of the ruse he has just pulled off - coin stealthily shifted to his pocket watch pocket.
Climate/water scientist Peter Gleick yesterday tweeted a graph that illustrates water use by the three major Delta water entities - the Delta itself, the Central Valley Project, and the State Water Project. Gleick says the graph shows that the exports are “not ecologically sustainable.” I would like to elaborate.
Here’s the graph:
That in-Delta water exports have remained virtually the same throughout the time span illustrated in the graph.
This makes sense since Delta water use has not fueled rapacious development within its borders, or relied on poorly-constructed business models that assume water supply reliability when there is no such thing. It is also likely that in-Delta water use has been reduced in order to augment through-Delta environmental uses.
That until flattening out around 1990, CVP water exports steadily increased, except in the most extreme drought years.
Before and since 1990, CVP allotments come at the expense of the SWP allotments, but not in/through-Delta use. This seems a reasonable consequence of riparian water rights, even if it seems tremendously unfair to Capitalism generally. And we all know that Capitalism is based on nothing if not fairness, right?
That contractors with the SWP arrived late (mid-1960s) to the well, and have had manic, boom and bust cycles of water delivery.
When there is ample water, SWP contractors have had water exported to them in huge, accelerating rates. This is important in all sorts of ways, including not least because such a practice is profoundly unsustainable. It is important because legal traditions like the aforementioned water right of riparian land ownership is a fundamental expression of property rights. The graph indicates that these tradition have held, at least so far. The powerful agents of the myth of progress know this and it drives them crazy. So they prepare their strategies and tactics accordingly. Hence, the BDCP, and the bait and switch at its core.
Conclusion: The lobbyists, political representatives and shadow groups that represent the interests of the SWP need to get some perspective. There also needs to be greater transparency regarding the intended uses and users of new (aka reliable) water.
Too often these groups talk about food security, yet much of the water used in their territory goes to the production of non-staple products like almonds and pomegranates. One day i believe the hidden, powerful fracking oligarchs will put enormous pressure on politicians to build out the capacity of the tunnels to its fullest. That will truly be the end of the Delta.
They talk about private property rights, but are unwilling to accept responsibility for their own poor business models. The very knowable laws regarding water rights make the reliability of their water inherently vulnerable to Mother Nature and Climate Change. They know this very well.
They believe that keeping the cost of food down should come at the expense of farm workers, yet toss astroturfing operatives like the California Latino Water Coalition into the fray.
Should the state and federal government do what it can to resolve the contentious California water debate via something like the BDCP? Of course.
But the BDCP doesn’t deal with several underlying and chronic issues that should be addressed first.
Building a 25-50 billion dollar infrastructure has exactly one confirmed purpose: to ensure to the highest degree possible that the economic future of the state continues to reside in the development of its southern half. It is possible that the Delta environment will benefit, but then again, it may not.
Before any project to shunt water south gets built, citizens of the state would be wise to secure the following guarantees.
1. That the entire Westlands Water District will be fallowed and its owners compensated for the value of their lost agricultural property.
2. Laws will be struck ensuring that Delta water will not be used for fracking.
3. Laws will be struck that ensure groundwater monitoring will commence across the Central Valley.
4. Laws will be struck to compel Big Ag to pay for safe drinking water for the towns of the Central Valley.
5. Food security will be ensured by limiting CVP/SWP agricultural products destined for export markets.
6. That the other half of the co-equal principle of the BDCP, Delta ecosystem restoration, is much more scientifically certain than it is now.
The latest WSJ poll shows that Republicans are increasingly being blamed for the shutdown fiasco. As is the Tea Party. Nice to see. Eventually, Californians will see the anti-Democratic bullying that is going on with respect to CA water policy, too. And they won’t be happy.
Deal with the basic issues first. Despite calls for it, there is no trust, nor should there be.
The LAT reports that Californians have concerns about fracking. They should be concerned, given recent news about the strong correlation between spikes in earthquakes and fracking.
From the LAT article:
In addition, a majority of likely voters surveyed opposed the increased use of fracking, which involves injecting water and chemicals into the ground to remove the resources locked underneath.
The issue is gaining increased attention in California because energy companies are eyeing an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil in the massive Monterey Shale rock formation.
Sixty-one percent of likely voters said they favor stricter rules, and 53% said they’re against the expansion of fracking in the state.
But balancing out the economic risk that is shifting away from Delta water export recipients is the greater earthquake risk that will shift toward them - if of course fracking is intensified on Monterrey Shale territory, as seems likely.
Remember that one of the arguments for the peripheral tunnels is that they will reduce the possibility of a Delta earthquake interrupting the flow of Delta water south and west.
But forgetting the potential contamination of groundwater by the mysterious, proprietary toxic brew of fracking liquids for a minute - what happens, from a strictly seismological perspective, when you inject millions upon millions of acre-feet of water and lubricant into a seismically unstable territory?
Many Californians might be prepared to accept a very speculative argument about Delta earthquake risk that is being used to justify spending tens of billions of dollars to ensure water supply reliability. But are they ready to accept the risk that that relocated water might cause even more catastrophic earthquakes closer to home if and when it is redeployed to a vast subterranean territory for fracking?
With a hat tip to Jeff Michael and the LA Times’ Bettina Boxall, what in practice embracing scientific uncertainty means seems to be coming into focus.
As Prof. Michael first identified, in the BDCP planning documents is a vague but important note to readers. This note is about shifting risk associated with in-Delta ecosystem restoration costs. If things don’t go so well for the Delta ecosystem and additional water is needed, then upstream users and California taxpayers foot the bill.
How could this be? Because the BDCP process ensures that water users in the south will get supply certainty, and everyone else gets cost uncertainty. This approach is, according to the BDCP’s Mark Cowin, “an early concept.”
So this conceptual idea is a nice illustration of how the BDCP reduces regulatory uncertainty for the water contractors by increasing regulatory uncertainty for taxpayers, upstream water users, and the environment. And that transfer of risk is why I have not included any value for regulatory certainty in statewide benefit-cost analysis. If you want to count the value of this risk reduction benefit to the contractors, you also have to value the cost of the risk increase to upstream interests, taxpayers, the environment and the Delta. The BDCP economic studies released this summer do not provide this balanced assessment.
So how does this concept get tested? By exposing it to the light of day, not burying it in a footnote.
Via Twitter, the Fresno Bee’s Mark Grossi linked to a UC Davis research paper done way back in the aftermath of the Peripheral Canal. The research focused on an analysis of the vote, who was on the yea and nay sides, etc.
One thing that stands out especially strongly is an item in Table 1, “Contributors of $1,000 dollars or more, for or against the Peripheral Canal by economic sector,” seen below:
What I see here is that back in January/February 1983, the Oil and Natural Resources Sector contributed 35.6% of the “for” monies while being only 7% of the “for” donors. Small number of donors making big investments to ensure that they get their water, not for farming, food security, and family, but for what? Fracking, perhaps?
It seems reasonable to think that fracking’s expansion and extensive use of water to dislodge the fuel from the fossil or whatever will only make that sector’s interest in a water supply keener now than then.
Let’s review where the Monterrey Shale fields that frackers are drooling over are:
Since Exxon/Mobil is not (at least in public) advocating for it, what are BDCP proponents like the California Farm Water Coalition of the Ag sector saying?
Is the CFWC argument about food security and affordability and the need for a more reliable water supply to produce a nation’s fruits and vegetables and grains just a messaging strategy?
Food security presumably is a more generally appealing message than is “oil grows where water flows,” after all.
But do the owners of farms, family, corporate or otherwise, really care about food security, or do they care about water as the key to developing their land in whatever direction the market leads them, even if it leads to polluting the aquifer below the Central Valley?
Would these landowners, who use a huge proportion of exported Delta water, be willing to guarantee, as a stipulation of legislation, that they will not divert their BDCP-engineered more reliable supply of water to fracking operations?