A Levee Standard by any other name
The Delta Protection Commission and the Water Education Foundation are sponsoring a one-day Delta Levees Standards Conference on May 2.
Wondering about the what and who of the gathering, I downloaded the draft agenda, and noted a few things, like that the usual suspects are going to be prevalent - Westlands, the MWD, NRDC, DWR, USACE, South and Central Delta Water Agencies, Jeff Mount. There’s also the question of What is a focus on “levee standards” really about? Could there be a subtext to this get-together? Here’s the agenda for the start of the meetup:
Reading the list of conference participants, I was reminded of an acquaintance’s experience having attending the recent Coalition to Support Delta Projects meeting, sponsored by Westlands, the MWD, the Central Delta Water Agency and the Planning and Conservation League.
More or less the same group of sponsors, but an entirely different structure for the discussion.
My acquaintance asked me to:
Imagine a room of 80 people who all hate each other for different reasons and have been fighting over the same golden goose egg for 25+ years. Then throw in 5 newbies who have no clue what the tension in the room is about. Even the Dept of the Interior was there. Over 50 projects have been estimated to be presented. in the five remaining meetings. It could be a great model for meetings, or we could crash and burn.
I would like to talk to the person who has the overview. Which parties want what and who is in direct competition for the same chunk of ground or water or other resource? Only then can a compromise be offered. Maybe we could hold the meeting in Ohio…
I may be qualified to say “me” to the question of who “has the overview” because of my (reasonably) objective, outsider, and neutral status in describing the geopolitics of the Delta. So are others.
But this comment is interesting for other reasons - in particular because the idea of the event my acquaintance attended was to put people in a room together who all “hate each other,” who have agreed to hear 50 project proposals presented and to see if a consensus can be reached about implementing any of them.
That’s interesting, and I digress, but I hope that the PCL publishes a list of what those projects are.
The strategy of the PCL-organized brainstorming session(s) is clear, quite unlike the May 2 conference.
So, though the diversity of the 5/2 panelists gives some hope, it is unclear to me what the objectives of discussing levee standards are.
For starters, what does “levee standards” mean?
Judging from the 5/2 conference agenda listed below, three functions envelop levee standards. These issues seem to be for the purposes of clarifying and framing the presenters’ talking points.
The conference agenda is organized around four (really three, with an intro) topics. The topics lay the reality groundwork for the environmental and civic mitigation necessary for building a peripheral canal/tunnel, or perhaps significantly reinforcing levees (I can hope, can’t I?) necessary for ensuring greater water supply reliability.
I’ll offer some commentary and possible items for discussion.
Topic 1: Delta levee standards
Dante Nomellini will lead out with an intelligent and largely ignored volley in what will no doubt be a spirited opposition to the implicit premise of the day’s discourse leading to why a canal or tunnel is the necessary and inevitable major improvement.
Note to panelists: please address his basic question about Why the major improvement would be anything other than significantly reinforced levees from both an economic and engineering analysis.
Topic 2: Delta levees and conveyance
This entire section should be re-named How many microns wide can the openings in a fish screen be?
Topic 3: Delta levees and habitat
Will questions like those raised by UC Davis’s Carson Jeffres about the sketchy success and incomplete science of engineering habitats be addressed by the panelists since presumably the co-equal goals principle depends upon the quality of the habitat to be designed?
Topic 4: Delta levees and public safety
Does in this context the issue of “public safety” mean Is it safe to give responsibility for the security of half the state’s fresh water supply to a very small group of landowners increasingly under the economic stress of a competitive global economy to pay for the rising costs of raising (their) levees against rising sea levels, or should those levees be taken through eminent domain procedures?
For now, those are my takes on these topics. I know that it is easy for me, as an outsider, to be a gadfly. I respectfully acknowledge the difficulty those who practice in this arena face.
Still, there is an important question to be asked: Who is this forum’s intended audience, and is the medium suited to its purpose?