15 Aug 2008

Lame Responses

I recently blogged in support of the Peripheral Canal. I did this after reading the PPIC report on how to "fix" the Delta and participating on a panel of "experts" (I wasn't one) who prepared the report.

I've taken a quick look at the "solutions" of the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council. They are lame because they merely advocate reduced exports from the Delta as a way of "saving it."

I am not sure that they read the science sections of the PPIC report. If they did, they would know that the collapse of Business as Usual is not far in the future. The combination of higher sea levels (global warming), earthquake risk and dodgy levees (really dikes) means that the Delta ecology is going saline and farming will end.

Combine this "soon to be fact" with the political necessity of continued water exports (otherwise agriculture in the south Valley will end as water is diverted to cities), and we arrive at the "Peripheral Canal Solution".*

As far as I can tell, EDF and NRDC are off in la-la land. They need to get behind the "solution" that will serve the fish (the PC will restore natural saline flows and harm invasive species) while maintaining the status quo of water exports from the Delta.**

Bottom Line: Too much ideology and not enough reality from these enviro groups.

* And, no, I do not buy the "Bechtel corruption" notion that funding from a member of the Bechtel family (a big engineering firm in SF) motivated these results. The report authors are academics -- and way too proud of their work to get bought off by Bechtel. Still, it would be good if Bechtel is NOT involved in PC construction.

** No, I don't think the PC will be used to send EVEN MORE water (on average -- seasonal flows will vary) to SoCal. (It would be easy to control those flows, assuming competence from bureaucrats.)


  1. It's in fact quite possible that the Peripheral Canal will result in increased exports. The Northern California rivers are "flashy" in that in some years they go very low (hence the need for Lake Oroville) and some years have enormous flows which used to just flow out the Golden Gate.

    Recent discussions about the Peripheral Canal are focusing on a massively oversized facility, specifically for capturing peak flows and moving them south. If the (preliminary, very rough) calculations of the impact of global warming on California are correct, rivers will be getting even more flashy, resulting in the greater availability of peak flows in excess of environmental requirements (primarily pushing back the salinity line).

  2. Note that I said imports will not increase on AVERAGE -- taking the flows you mention into account. While it's *possible* to use the canal to increase average exports, I don't think that's politically viable, and it would probably violate someone's property rights, and we both like to protect those rights...

  3. Regarding EDF and NRDC on the canal, I think a part of their position is not only protecting fish but also not enabling more growth in the desert.

  4. David, I think you're getting things backwards. One version of the new plan is to reduce diversions from the Feather River in "average" years, as to improve environmental flows, and massively increase diversions in wet years, when that water currently escapes out the Golden Gate because there is no infrastructure in existence today which can capture those wet year flows. (The likely storage place is the Kern Fan Element.)

    If wet year flows aren't now being diverted then no one owns them and they're open for appropriation. Kightlinger knows full well that the first step is getting legislative support for a PC at all (2010-2011 time frame), then going into a process with the SWRCB and RWQCB to redo the Basin Plan and D-1641, and seeing what size PC can be built as a result of that process.

    Since wet year flows can be enormous, if the infrastructure is in place to capture and store those flows, average diversions could, on a multi-year basis, actually increase.

    Also, decreasing the m&i water diverted in an average year will allay the concerns of the non-Delta ag users that their rights, which have to be exercised from surface flows in order to be affordable, will be respected. M&i users, by contrast, can afford to pay the cost of ASR (aquifer storage and recovery).

  5. David, you are absolutely charming! You think academics can't be bought. I wish you had some evidence because there is an awful lot of evidence on the other side. But it doesn't stop there. You think that the largest engineering company in the country and who would most likely build the $9-14 Billion canal has no influence on the report. The only thing that amazes me is that Bechtel is so cocky they do it in the open. Most people would have made their contribution out of sight.

  6. Here is your thought problem for the day.

    I think it would be a safe bet to conclude that just about every adult in California knows that the PC is a very controversial idea. So my question is why in the world would anybody who wants their work taken seriously solicit sponsorship from the single company most likely to benefit from a positive report. The Packards are fine. They have a long history of doing good works, e.g., the Monterey Aquarium.

    But Bechtel only has a reputation for corruption so I just don't get it. There are two explanations, it seems to me. One, the researchers were oblivous to the implications. If they were, in fact, that dumb, why should I believe anything they have to say? They could have gotten financing from a bunch of benign institutes. It is like a company that makes electric chairs sponsoring a study to show that the death penalty is a good thing. Just ugly.

    The other explanation is nastier, but here is a good rule of thumb that will never let you down. If a construction contract is in the works, so are under the table payoffs.

  7. See if you can find any studies comparing the cost of a gallon of conserved water versus a gallon of
    water imported to SoCal via a new peripheral canal. I haven't seen any yet. We need that info to make
    any valid comparisons

    And "assuming competence from bureaucrats" is a very risky strategy, given what we've learned about how Westlands water district bought and sold delta water back to the state DWR.

  8. @Francis -- your analysis is sound. That doesn't mean it will happen.

    @anon(11:52): I know these academics, so I am *more* confident in their ethics. That said, Ellen Hanak replied to my question on this with "we are are only commenting on funding to reporters, not in online forums." Great.

    @anon(13:06) Bechtel Jr. is an Eagle scout. How can you say such things! (Yeah, they were pretty stupid to take that $$.)

    @anon(22:16) Conserved water costs about $280/AF. The PC repays its costs within 10 years in terms of costs (from levee failure) avoided, so that comparison is not valid. More important, extra water from the SWP is NOT available to cities, so they must consider conservation, desal, etc. OTOH, Higher prices can be cost-neutral.

    Bureaucrats? Yeah. I'm not so happy about them, in general, but I think constraining the PC as a control method is a worse option.

  9. Good Lord, the Bechtel conspiracy folks crack me up. The tinfoil hat set should check out the history and reputation of the PPIC, and pipe down.

  10. You mischaracterize both EDF and NRDC. Yes we believe we need to leave more water in the Delta to restore it but also readily acknowlegde that there are a host of other problems. We do not advocate reduced exports to control growth (at least EDF does not and I believe NRDC does not), but believe growth and land use issues ought to be addressed separately.

    We do care about communities throughout the State that depend on water from the Delta and offer practical remedies. As you know, David, EDF tends to favor markets (as do you) while NRDC favors perhaps a more direct approach to water reliability solutions that do not depned on extraction from the natural environment.

  11. Spreck -- thanks for the clarification. I have no doubt about EDF's view; I know that NRDC is on the side of export restrictions. I also agree that land use issues are a separate matter (e.g., Sac metro growth). I may even be more extreme than EDF on the Delta these days, since I see no future for its ecology without sever restrictions on incoming pollution and exports.

    I guess we should discuss this over a cup of coffee -- perhaps a water chat in October?


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