Managing the Delta’s necessary implosion
The threat of a catastrophic earthquake event turning the Delta into an inland brackish sea is one of the top rationales of the “isolated conveyance” position.
In a recent post University of the Pacific economist Dr. Jeffrey Michael raised an interesting question regarding some of the numbers behind this rationale:
Wouldn’t any rational person staring at these numbers wonder why that risk reduction strategies are so focused on 20% of the cost, and virtually ignore the other 80%. If it makes sense to spend $13 billion protecting 1/5 of the cost, doesn’t it make sense to at least consider what benefit might result from spending $13 billion (or even $2-4 billion) on seismically-resistant levee upgrades that would protect 100% of the costs, not to mention all the potential loss of lives from the big earthquake flood scenario.
What Dr Michael does here is clever. He first accepts the premise that a Delta earthquake of catastrophic effect is inevitable. And that enormous sums of money must be invested to minimize the disruptions to water supply of that event.
In a nutshell, okay - earthquake, stipulated, $13B, stipulated - but why would you spend that money only to see 80% of it washed away in the earthquake it was supposed to protect the state against?
I hope Dr Michael receives his answer. His question raised another:
- Can someone fill me in on the logic of why this presumed earthquake, so catastrophic in scale, somehow not does not wreak havoc on the system of canals/tunnels and siphons it spawned?
I also would like to contribute my own rather long-winded answer to Dr Michael’s question. the short answer is that the numbers forecast the larger strategic uses of a future Delta.
That future is one Delta’s residents (who are even today resisting the state’s latest efforts to do soils testing on their land via eminent domain-like access procedures) fear, and do not like too much. Nothing could bring out that community’s libertarian streak faster. And judging from the comments below SacBee journalist Matt Weiser’s article, nothing has.
People and their communities are not an intrinsic component of the future technocratically managed Delta.
Anyway, in a future that doesn’t repair Delta-based things or worry too much about “potential loss of lives,” you see, the Delta’s implosion is necessary. How else is it to be reinvented as a resource-rich agricultural geography where agriculture is no longer the primary export? The PPIC’s interactive map scenarios for the future Delta provide some insight into that larger strategic future. One such map is called “A Multi-Purpose, Eco-Friendly Delta.”
Compare the land uses in the PPIC map to those in the Delta today. (I especially like the term “wildlife-friendly” agriculture.) I believe even Delta residents would agree that all land uses exist in both the actual and PPIC-imagined Delta. The difference is in the proportional mix of the uses.
So my answer to Dr Michael’s question is that In the future the Delta will be reprogrammed as a habitat mitigation land bank. The Delta’s highly malleable landscape is the perfect geography for providing a necessary resource for developers everywhere.
Just look at what the Delta Wetlands Project has been spending tens of millions of dollars trying to create on four Delta islands.
The Delta is evolving into an engineered and managed supermarket of habitat types, traded up and down the state, mitigating lost habitat in places wherever exported Delta water underpins new development. That water may emerge out of a hydrant or a sprinkler in Palmdale, a fountain adorning a gateway interchange or high-rise plaza in Orange County, or a faucet slaking the thirst of a farmworker in Mendota as he works in the shadow of a new state prison.