29 Dec 2009

The Delta Conveyance

Note to self: blog on the issues.

Here they are:
  1. There's no lack of money for a conveyance (canal or tunnel). The water it would carry is far more valuable than the cost of construction. There's a lack of political and legal agreement on if it should be built and whether it's possible get get approval to build it.
  2. Any conveyance (esp. one with a 15,000 cfs capacity -- 10 times the 1.5 maf capacity of the Colorado River Aqueduct) is going to affect water flows. It may make things better -- reducing the need to pump water and the volume of water that has to be send through the Delta -- or it could make things worse -- diverting the Sacramento River to Southern California. Management will matter.
  3. DWR should not be put in charge of a conveyance because it's a captive regulator -- it claims to serve the people of California, but it actually serves water exporters who purchase water from DWR's State Water Project. It would be better to either split DWR in two (SWP operator and water regulator) or have a regulated utility run the conveyance. Exporters could run it, assuming that they maintained environmental benchmarks. 
  4. Delta communities and farmers are going to go. They cannot be protected from an earthquake/levee collapse/big gulp. If they are gone, the conveyance may allow the Delta to get as close to "natural" as possible -- assuming that xx maf of water exports do not do crazy harm. OTOH, a conveyance will NOT end "shortages" in SoCal, since water is still too cheap and not traded there...
  5. A few things I forgot?
Bottom Line: Many people are paying attention to the wrong issues with Delta conveyance. That means that they might "solve" the wrong ones and ignore the important ones.


  1. 1. Blog on the issues.
    2. Quantitate the issues.
    3. Propose a solution for the issues.
    4. Get a working group to try to solve the issues.
    5. Show progress on solving the issues.

    At least to me, identifying the issues correctly is the first of many steps that have to be taken. Reaching the destination, successfully solving the issue, seems to be the only thing that counts.

  2. Good clarification, Eric.

    David, I of course am saddened by your last statement. It is yet another way to set an arbitrary value. Why is it the Delta communities must go? We would save and return to "natural" far, far larger chunks of land and watersheds while improving both water quality and reliability for the remaining groups by forcing Westlands to "go", or the Southern California communities to "go." They are also in danger of the same natural disasters for which you profess a concern.

    How is it somehow more natural to pump more water out of a system, but then just flood more of it and tell people not to farm it anymore. That doesn't make it more "natural", that just makes everyone think it is.

    Also, you contradict yourself by inferring that you want a more natural system but then saying that a "good" thing would be for less water to flow through the Delta.

    How about a significant chunk of Delta levees get set back, another sizable number of islands are flooded & farmed for rice/flooded and left lay, the Westlands moves out of farming altogether, and the remaining users pay to set back the levees, to help Westlands transition to solar/wind, and for the water they will continue to use?

    Your attempt to get a market sounds strikingly similar to a command & control system for removing entire communities.

    The other stuff (except letting the foxes run the henhouse one) sounded pretty good, though.

  3. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE5BS2GB20091229?feedType=RSS&feedName=environmentNews&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+reuters%2Fenvironment+%28News+%2F+US+%2F+Environment%29&utm_content=Google+Reader

    China solves water problems in different ways. They told 1.5 million Chinese that they could move to crummier farming land or go to jail.

  4. @Eric1 -- For quantification, read this. Note that a working group with everyone will lock horns due to incompatible visions (desires).

    @Josh -- The Delta people have got to go is not based on ideology as much as the geophysical reality. They cannot afford to protect themselves from flooding from rising sea level/earthquakes, so better to evacuate ahead of time. As for "natural," that would mean no water diversions, just natural flows. A conveyance wold detract form that, but it's politically likely (not my choice).

  5. Long ago, the state of New York held a conference. The attendees were the people from the various stakeholder groups relevant to marine wetlands.

    The groups locked horns.

    The rules from the state were

    'You can lock horns as much as you want but you can't leave the meeting until the horns are unlocked and some viable draft legislation is written and agreed to.'

    The legislation was written and then passed.

  6. David, I wouldn't accuse you of ideology when it comes to the Delta, but I do disagree with your conclusions about it as a system, and what type of system it should be.

    If we get a PC, and Delta communities are forced out (because that's what it would take), then we would have no reason to maintain any kind of environmental quality or level within the Delta, itself. We would also let sea level rise consume it and create unnatural levels of salinity in the process (bye, bye, delta smelt, for example). Right now, we have an opportunity to provide enough water as reliably as possible while still protecting the freshwater marsh, offering the chance for folks to make a living and keep their homes, and improve the Central Valley by weaning it from Delta water.

    It is not horribly expensive to protect Delta communities from the threats you worry about; don't buy into the hype created by the pro-PC crowd.

    If there is no PC, then L.A. will have to continue to worry about the health of the Delta, and will try to protect it from sea level rise. I predict that the costs of protecting from sea level rise are going to be similar to the costs of building and maintaining a PC.

  7. I think you are wrong about #1. You certainly can't be sure of it.

  8. @Anon -- MWD will write a check for the PC tomorrow. Ask Kightlinger.

  9. I agree that the most vulnerable parts of the Delta are doomed for farming, and would have been wiped out by now but for the big dams and reservoirs in Northern California (funny how some Delta folks are all high and mighty about the pumps, except for their own un-screened ones; and not a peep about how Shasta and Oroville should be breached, to help the fish...). Those peat soils just burned away, either from fire or exposure to air, and the constantly lowering level can't be protected forever. Unlike the Westside, however, if farming disappears, the economy there might stay stable, or even strengthen as a consequence. Dusk hunting, fishing, water-skiing, and so forth all provide considerable employment and tax revenues.

  10. Mister Kurtz, I'm a Delta folk wanting to see Shasta and Oroville breached.

    I'll disagree with you, though, about the economics of the Delta, and also of the Westlands.

    Tourism-related industries do not provide nearly the income nor the income stability of farming. I grew up in a community built on the hope of tourism, and watched dozens of businesses come and go, each business only around for a few months. We were also surrounded by Delta farms, and I watched families of farmers attend private schools outside of the Delta, and I watched farm workers' children go off to college, with me. Life is not easy for a farm worker, but it isn't Hell, either, and for most folks in the region, they lived rent-free and had stability. Of course, this doesn't count most of the pickers, who were migrant, but most seasonal laborers in the packing sheds (me included) were locals, family members who did other things during the year, and dropped everything to make some extra money in the sheds.

    The Westlands won't get tourism, and that's a good thing, because the economics of tourism are bad, too. Its type of farming is migrant-heavy, and its local infrastructure supports that idea, so it limps along and deals with hellish problems with gangs and drugs (because of I-5). The Westlands can shift to a more permanent form of economy in solar and wind energy. The Delta can't.

    I completely agree about the peat soil. But, there are ways to farm more appropriately for the Delta; Dino Cortopassi, for example, would love to see his lessees farm rice. I would love to see rice, too, with weirs and other infrastructure supporting flooding within a number of islands, and set-backs to let the river meander, like Sacramento has for the American River parkway.

    The Delta can accommodate farming while providing habitat for those ecosystems that would be there had we not ever touched the place. The Westlands cannot, under its current farming regime.

  11. Josh,

    I'm interested in your comment "tourism related industries do not provide nearly the income nor stability of farming..."

    The latest figures I've seen show that visitors to California spent over 97 billon dollars (at least triple gross revenues from AG), with over 30 billion dollars of 'direct travel spending' (accommodations, food service, entertainment etc.) . These are huge numbers, and one might surmise, more sustainable than current agricultural practices...

    As for stability-- check out the unemployment data for the towns surrounding Westlands.

  12. Anonymous, it's not accurate to extrapolate the entire state of California's (the land of the Golden Gate Bridge, Hollywood, Disneyland, Yosemite and Tahoe) tourism revenues to the tourism for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Have you ever visited an honest-to-God delta? The smell is acquired - I love it, but it is acquired. The mosquitoes are amazing. Travel is limited. Views are limited.

    I referred to the Westlands' economic infrastructure and the devastation wreaked by relying on migrant-heavy, top-down ag. practices where the landowners often don't live in the region. It's bad, and so its infrastructure should be changed. However, it makes a TON of money for a very small group of people, and if it made no money, it wouldn't be propped up.

    Agriculture has a stability to it, even though it can be a tough business. Delta tourism, with very few exceptions, does not share this stability, nor does it share the size of revenue and its subsequent political clout.


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