27 May 2010

Science for hire?

I was surprised and impressed to see that a scientist determined that Sacramento's wastewater discharges were "primarily" responsible for environmental problems in the Delta.

Then I saw that the scientist, Patricia Glibert (U MD), was forced to resign from her position on the NAS committee (the one that Resnick told Feinstein to convene) because her paper was too definitive and premature for a committee that had reached no formal conclusion.

Then I saw that Delta exporters paid Glibert to write the report. Whoops.

Taking all this as true, I have the following questions:
  1. What was Glibert thinking? Ecologists do NOT draw firm conclusions (out of a combination of professional caution and respect for the complexity of the subject) without firm pressure.
  2. What were exporters thinking, putting that pressure on? Sounds like the DeMint end-run stupidity.
This looks like a total fuckup to me. Glibert has lost professional prestige (and future consulting), exporters have lost a sympathetic seat on the committee (and look like they are buying opinions), and nothing is resolved.

OTOH, I agree with the Sacramento Bee's editorial board -- Sacramento has to spend the $billion to get their wastewater in compliance. Not just because it would displace blame for the Delta's ill health, but because it's the right thing to do, and probably the legal thing to do.

Does that sound right to you folks?

Bottom Line: Everyone is going to pay if the Delta is going to get fixed. Parties who think they will "win" are deluded.

Hattips to MC and DW


  1. I am wondering who is the 'right' party to commission a study on this. The government (budget problems notwithstanding)? Environmental groups? Water agencies?

    Would you have greater belief and trust in the findings of the study if it was funded by, say, the Sierra Club, or Restore the Delta? or the Bureau of Reclamation?

    It seems that depending on whomever pays for it, there is reason to believe a bias towards a certain outcome.

    Who do you think is the preferred payer for such a study?

  2. You captured it succinctly David, and it looks as if she missed the mark substantially with a simplified view of a complex estuary system that others have studied.

    She has compromised her future earning potential. Its going to be a hard sell for her to consult because as she has tainted her professional integrity. As an academic, her integrity is a substantial part of her credentials. She sold out for short-term gain.

    The science does not support a single causal factor for the pelagic organism decline (POD). The Sacramento Regional WWTP provides only secondary treatment and should be upgraded to tertiary treatment, 'the right thing'. Sacramento Regional is on the hot seat in a PR context, and should consider short-term alternatives to further minimize the concentration of ammonia-ammonium in its effluent discharge. Examples could include:
    - the use of constructed wetlands could further polish effluent prior to discharge to the Sacramento River,
    - conjunctive use and groundwater recharge, or
    - export to Westside agriculture.

    Bottom Line: Its time to think out of the box to minimize impacts to water quality and do the right thing.

  3. The 'right party' could include a more diverse and balanced funding source. Possibly TNC or EDF matched by ACWA, BOR, and the State Water Contractors. Poor strategy on the part of the contractors.

  4. Palisades, your first comment was spot-on. Your second comment, however, has me wondering.

    TNC is on the same side of the other folks you mentioned. What you mean is, perhaps, a study with PCL and Restore the Delta balancing the funding from ACWA, TNC, &etc.

    The problem is that supporters of the Delta have very little money. We are a poorly populated region.

    David, this was a good post, well-rounded and clear.

  5. Maybe Sacramento should increase treatment levels. But, I am curious about your statement that they should because it is the "right" thing to do.

    What makes it right or wrong? What if benefits < costs?

  6. Josh - thank you for your thoughts. I failed to provide a well constructed thought, but my concept was a broader source of funding, a more diverse group compared to a skewed funding source, could potentially reduce any perceived bias in the analysis.

    Unfortunately, the study analyzed data from only three stations. Incomplete analysis as compared to Jassby and Kimmerer studies. She used an interesting and novel method, but she didn't evaluate Delta exports. I wonder what those results would show?

  7. @All -- the "right party" is the NAS group, and they are funded by taxpayers. (I'd have preferred CA taxpayers only...)

    @Jeff -- it's "right" from the common law perspective of do no harm to those downstream. Your C/B comment needs to be put into the context of WHOSE C or B?


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