Little-known facts and worse
My nominee for charter membership into the Euphemism Hall of Fame goes to Karla Nemeth, who crafted the following quote:
“We decided to embrace scientific uncertainty regarding the facility’s operation, water flows, habitat restoration and the response of fish,” said Karla Nemeth, (BDCP) program manager for the plan at the California Natural Resources Agency.
Love that quote on so many levels. It is to my way of thinking a reasonable thing to do. It’s funny and at the same time honest. It’s more than a little bit tongue in cheek. And it’s politically aggressive, bare-knuckled even.
But that it is honest is what I appreciate the most about Ms. Nemeth’s take on Gov. Brown’s impending peripheral tunnel announcement. And it’s a slippery slope, too, to a place where embracing scientific uncertainty manifests as all sorts of conflated claims of benefit that extracting 9,000 CFS of water at a single point will bring to the (Delta) environment and California economy.
“If we don’t do anything, it’s clear the delta is going to continue to collapse,’’ said Mark Cowin, director of the state Department of Water Resources. “That’s bad for the environment and bad for the economy. If we don’t take advantage of this, I don’t know when we’ll have another chance.”
What set of measurements brought him to this conclusion? Yes, I can see that one might want to make the case that directing a more reliable, regulatory-assured quantity of water south will be good for business. That’s a pretty straightforward, perhaps certain, assumption, hard to argue with.
But don’t conflate how an immense, point-loaded, sucking of fresh water out of the north Delta will be both good for the state economy and the Delta’s environment.
Perhaps, to be consistent with the “embrace regulatory uncertainty” principle, Mr Cowin could have said:
“If we don’t do anything, it’s clear the delta is going to continue to collapse. But since we don’t have any way of being certain how to fix it, we are going to go ahead and ensure that this collapse has the least economic effect possible. Hopefully our understanding of the environmental science and engineering will catch up as we go along here.”
Finally, a plea to journalists who will be covering the flood of euphemism, conflation, elision, and outright lie as we enter this new era of debate:
Please fact-check and don’t just passively quote falsehoods.
“Some of those levees are 150 years old,’’ said Beau Goldie, CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which supports the project. “If there is an earthquake we are likely to have failure of those levees, which could disrupt our water supply from six months to a couple of years.”
Just as there are no 150-year-old bridges over Guadalupe Slough, there are no 150-year-old levees in the Delta. 150-year-old Delta levees were maybe three feet high, Mr Goldie. Journalists, please don’t let water contractor misinformation talking points go unchallenged.
Mr Goldie must also know that the San Andreas and Hayward faults straddle his district, somewhat ominously if you look at a map. He also must know that much of this straddled land is built on sediment and/or liquefaction-prone fill. I wonder what the insurers make the odds for which region will be impacted first by a big earthquake - the Santa Clara Valley of the Delta? The area sitting on the two largest faults on the West Coast, or the area 30 miles from the nearest of the two?
Maybe the answer to the state’s thirst is to halt, even reverse, development in places like the Santa Clara Valley. I know - regressive, anti-California myth blasphemy, right?
Embrace scientific uncertainty - embrace the myth.