7 Apr 2010

Anti-Westlands hysteria

The same writer who did such a good job in pinpointing Westlands' weaknesses goes off the rails with this piece (via DB), "The Looming Water Disaster That Could Destroy California, and Enrich Its Billionaire Farmers."

Levine claims that Westlands Water District (WWD), DWR and Metropolitan Water of SoCal are conspiring to ignore the Delta's levees because they want to build a peripheral canal (PC) that will bypass the Delta.

Although Levine is right to point out the magnitude and distortions of subsidies (direct and via cheap water) that WWD gets (and right that these guys want the PC, at all costs), she's gone off the hysteria scale with:
  • her scattergun use of "WWD's billionaire farmers;" 
  • her defence of levees (that should have been abandoned years ago); 
  • her claim that WWD is using free markets and avoiding regulation (when WWD is no free-market creature; it only exists because of subsidies); 
  • her claim that the PC will cost $40 billion; 
  • her claim that people in SoCal will die if the Delta levees collapse (they won't they NOW use half their water on their lawns, so losing the half -- really 30 percent -- that comes from the Delta will not matter); 
  • and her claim that "the Public Policy Institute of California is a pro-billionaire think tank working out of UC Davis...for Bechtel," which is wrong:
    1. PPIC is based in San Francisco; the report was funded by a member of the Bechtel family but also by the pro-environment David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
    2. The PPIC report justifies the PC based on the needs of urban SoCal.
Levine then adds some howlers:
[The PC would enable] a full-fledged "water market" would allow them [a handful of farmers and urban water districts] to acquire and sell Northern California's water to the highest bidder, like any other commodity.
WTF? The PC would allow these guys to BUY water for local use. NorCal water sellers would make a killing. But wait, there's more:
The details are opaque, but word out on the street among Delta water activists is that the deal comes down to this: Westlands and their billionaire farmer buddies will team up with Southern California real estate developers if all water transfers from the Delta first go through them. That way, the farmers would become the de facto middlemen in California's water market, harvesting subsidized water from the Delta at below-market cost, storing it in their vast underground water reservoirs and then flipping it to Southern California cities and suburbs for a massive profit.
I don't know what gangsta crewe Levine belongs to, but mah homies tell me that the Valley is in the middle -- geographically -- but that SoCal urbans will eat them for lunch (financially, politically) rather than pay them an extra dime. If anything, the Valley Guys have made a killing off of public mismanagement (the CVP, SWP, environmental water account, etc.); the end of "public resource management" would reduce their obscene profits.

Bottom Line: There's a lot of propaganda and misinformation around water issues, and this piece is full of it. (Read this -- via JWT -- instead.)


Mister Kurtz said...

Once you get out on the fringe of political opinions, you find lots of exited folks taking about "secret deals", "repressed research" and so forth. It is characteristic of a deluded and grandiose mind, and there is no correlation with political affiliation.

The problem for the rest of us is that these opinions get a disproportionate amount of attention, because everybody loves a good fairy tale with villains, angels, and secrets. In addition, if these fanatics are more or less on your side of an argument, it becomes harder to tell them to shut up and go away. I think the larger environmental groups (like EDF and NRDC) have been better than the agriculture industry in maturing to the level where they can start to ignore the lunatic fringe in their own camp.

Wild Rose said...

You make fun of what Lavine is writing about, but if you did more research into other facts than those that lie at your feet before you, you would see there is some validity in what is being said...

David Zetland said...

@Wild Rose -- please enlighten ne, with some more research that contradicts what I said.

Wild Rose said...

@David...I will reply in a bit, very busy and didn't want you to think I was shining you on!

Robert said...

David, Yasha Levine’s article is over the top, but you are incorrect in suggesting that the levees should have been abandoned years ago. Both the risk of damage resulting from levee failures and the cost of making them more robust, have been wildly overstated. I suspect that most of the people who opine on these topics have never seen a representative selection of Delta levees. Many of them are in fact in quite good condition although it is true that others need work. Hopefully the forthcoming Delta Economic Sustainability Plan, being prepared for the Delta Protection Commission by a team led by Jeff Michael at UoP, will do a better of shining light on the true status of the Delta levees (disclaimer – I am a small part of that team). If you want to read up on why the Delta levees should not and cannot be abandoned, read Robyn Suddeth’s updated paper, Policy Implications of Permanently Flooded Islands in the S-SJ Delta, available on the UCD Center for Watershed Sciences web site. Robyn’s paper lists a number of legal and other impediments to permanently flooding Delta islands. And, it turns out that the ecological benefits of flooded island are unclear. They might benefit some pelagic fish species or they might not! Because the levees are not failing fast enough on their own accord, the UCD group actually wants to dynamite some levees as an experiment! They are just playing in the sand box! If you want a read a rational policy for Delta levees, read my comments on the first staff draft of the Delta Plan, available on the DSC web site. As to whether there is an organized conspiracy by the Contractors to diss Delta levees in order to promote an Isolated Conveyance, many reasonable people think so, as well as some unreasonable ones! I saw possible evidence of such a conspiracy first hand in meetings with DWR personnel within the last week. But it may also be that the Contractors just seize on gloomy opinions which get cut and pasted and repeated by people who are too lazy to actually study the facts. Yes, I know DWR spend $6m on DRMS which painted a somewhat dismal picture of the levees, but not one dollar of that was spent on acquiring new data and the large uncertainties drive the expected results in a more conservative direction in studies like DRMS. Further, more recent studies reportedly show minimal impacts on export water quality even if there are mult-island levee failures. The Delta is flushed out with fresh water within 6 months at a maximum and likely soon. Oddly enough these studies have been driven by MWD, who may have shot themselves in the foot since they still make the argument that the Isolated Conveyance is need because of the earthquake threat to the Delta. Anyway, the economics of the Isolated Conveyance need to stand or fall on their own merits and not be confused by red herrings, which is what the Delta levees are.

Robert said...

P.S. Just a note to say that I don't disagree with Mr Kurtz. Conspiracy theorists and people who go over the top on either side of an argument usually contribute more to the problem than the solution.

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