Sewer analogy > Heuristic fail
It’s not possible to comment directly at the CA WaterBlog, so I’ll do it here, always happy to trot out the blind men touching the elephant image.
Professor Jay Lund’s recent post there is titled “Multiple stressors - funding the Delta like a public sewer”. The title and imagery in itself is interesting—more in-your-face rhetorically than usual for the people who write at CWB - but as analogies go, it doesn’t test so well against a few key measures.
Professor Lund’s thoughts are related to “stressor fees” suggested in the Delta Stewardship Council’s draft EIR. On the one hand, his thoughts as usual are founded on knowledgeable contextual assessments that lead to reasonable conclusions—but on the other, are politically tone-deaf and culturally reductive - even if these conclusions are only about funding, not valuing, change in the Delta.
Consider any normal well-run urban wastewater system. Thousands of communities, large and small, build and pay for urban wastewater systems, including many miles of sewers and pumping plants to collect wastewater, regional wastewater treatment plants, and treated wastewater discharges.
Leaving aside his view that the “multiple stressors” ambiguities are opportunistically played by the various Delta interests, which seems to me to be an accurate assessment, “stressors” don’t account for significant qualitative factors of the Delta as a landscape. I don’t think it’s trite to say that landscapes are cultural things, not (simply) natural things, not (simply) technical, engineering things. This makes his sewer analogy a heuristic fail.
1/ Generations of families haven’t lived in and on urban wastewater systems.
2/ Urban wastewater systems do not contain historical landmarks. Though I’ve long thought that the American Society of Civil Engineers should pursue making the Delta a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
3/ Urban wastewater systems are not beautiful.
Contentiousness exists on the quantitative front as well:
4/ Urban wastewater systems are not the habitat of endangered species whose future is dependent on the health of complex, stressed ecosystems that are poorly understood by scientists.
5/ Since the USACE cannot produce inarguable evidence that vegetation on levees increases flood risk, people who enjoy the scenic aspects of flood-prone landscapes will resist. So will the DFG.
None of the above five aspects of the Delta can be accounted for by Prof. Lund’s analogy. They are slippery but persistent facts that frustrate those who seek strategies for straight-line thinking. They are all intrinsic parts of a more complete picture of a Delta’s ecosystem that cannot be reduced to numbers.
Nevertheless, Prof. Lund’s proposals, if not his analogy, seem to be headed in a plausible direction that will help define future policy. Hopefully, he and others who have influence will be able to expand their definition of the Delta’s ecology, finding a way to value (and game) its qualitative elements, too.