Monthly Archives: January 2010

Co-equally bad.

This op-ed by MWD pretty well sums up my reasons for supporting the Peripheral Canal, even though some of the other people supporting the Peripheral Canal are politicking in terrible ways.  I can believe that the studies that show the benefit of the Peripheral Canal are artifically inflated, and still think that LA will need water from the north after they max out every local option.  (I have no interest in a Peripheral Canal to delay the inevitable salt death of Westlands.  Retire the west side, says I.)

I don’t think the dual-function Delta is working.  Right now it is neither a healthy ecosystem nor adequate conveyance.  I think of a canal as a way to separate those.  Conveyance would be covered.  But I think it offers a chance to let an ecosystem just be an ecosystem (if not a mostly farming and human habitation ecosystem).  I know some of you are scared that the Canal will take everything and no water will trickle out to the Delta.  Considering the history of water in the state, that’s not a ridiculous scare-tale.  But I don’t think it is inevitable either (in a “plumbing is destiny” way).   I wouldn’t suggest that you trust DWR’s good word, although I don’t think DWR leadership is crossing their fingers behind their backs when they talk about Delta stewardship.  (I think they mostly mean what they present to the public.)  But there are more options now, laws to protect smelt and salmon.  A judge could enforce those in a universe with a Peripheral Canal, just like one is enforcing those laws in a world without a Peripheral Canal.  I know.  That’s not much.  But it can hardly be worse for the Delta as living place than what we’re doing now.


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Hey, Alex Breitler at the Stockton Record?  I really do like your work, and I read your articles extra carefully.  You’re the only mainstream journalist I can think of who covers water* from within the Delta.  One of your stories gave me the lead-in for what I still think is the best post I’ve written here.

But I’m not going to pay for a subscription, so I can’t read your stories any more.  Now I will know less about the in-Delta perspective on meetings.  I won’t be linking to the Record anymore, so you’ll lose at least half a dozen hits.  Maybe you could tell your editors that this move will shut you out of the blog discussion circuit.  And isolate the Delta voice a little more.  Or give Aquafornia permission to quote your articles in full?  Aquafornia might as well, since we can’t click through anyway.  Don’t know.  But the subscription model doesn’t mesh with my blogging approach (read all the news stories until something strikes me) and the small blog niche.


I know that newspapers are looking for a solution and trying out different models; I don’t have anything constructive to suggest.  But if each newspaper unilaterally requires a subscription, I’ll just give up on that as a reading/blogging source.  I don’t care enough to pay for any one of them.  Not for news about a meeting or an update on a political event. 

If all the newspapers switched at once, I’d have to think about it more.  I might choose one, or hope for an aggregator.  (Speaking of which, I’m curious about what the DWR WATER NEWS will do.  If they drop the Stockton Record too, I think in-Delta water reporting will have lost a big amplifier.)  If I can’t go to newspapers?  I don’t know.  Go to the next free source.  Posted public comments?  Other blogs?  Those have a punishing signal to noise ratio, but I’m still not going to pay money for something I once got for free.

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The NAS review, front groups, sanctimony.

What I first noticed about this press release from the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta is that it is really hard to read.  Seven prepositional phrases in the first sentence?  Why do you hate your readers?  Then I laughed at the loaded phrasing.  Calling the review panel “elite” within one word?  Sure, they are, but that’s a lot of brown-nosing so early on, although I suppose they don’t lay it on thick until the second sentence.  Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, have you given any thought to what you are going to do if this all backfires on you?  What if the NAS review says the Biological Opinion is solid?  That reducing pumping and increasing in-Delta flows is the best way Science  knows to protect the Smelt, although Sacramento should also treat its wastewater to a higher standard?  Then you’ll be in the same situation, but the Biological Opinion will have the backing of the “nation’s most esteemed science body” and the Sacramento region will hate you. This plan might not work out for you.

My next thought was, “Michael Boccadoro?  Who is Michael Boccadoro?”  These days it takes about two seconds to find someone with an unusual name, and look!  Here’s Michael, at the Dolphin Group.  The Dolphin Group?  I love dolphins!  Dolphins and nature!  I bet Michael loves nature.  Oh.  Huh.  Maybe not so much.  Looks like he loves Philip Morris and Altria, lying about smoking bans and creating racist attack ads.  Well, I suppose someone has to be the hired flack for a fake “ad hoc group of water users who depend on conveyance through the Delta for a large portion of their water supplies.”  While we’re poking around the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta page, I wonder who it belongs to.  Whois could probably tell me.  If you look up, you get a Laura Kistner.  She’s kinda shy; she hid her organization behind a proxy.  But a Laura Kistner works for the Dolphin Group, so I’m going to guess it is the same one.  I wonder what it costs to buy the whole package, an “ad hoc group of water users”, a spokesperson and a website for your pretend group.  How nice to have a lobbying firm that will sell the whole thing to you.

(I have to say, the Dolphin Group website cracked me up itself.  The stock photos, man.  So many beautiful white people, dressed in suits and listening attentively.  In fact, there isn’t a single non-white person in any photo.  That’s a little odd. These days we’re supposed to show token beautiful ethnic people (but not too many!) dressed in suits and listening attentively.  Why are the Dolphin Group pictures so damn white?  Because they don’t even think about the issue?  Because that’s what their clients want to see?)

While we’re on the topic of websites, it is the regret of my blogging career that I never grabbed screenshots of the fake Latino Water Coalition website (  I wish I had; the Wayback Machine doesn’t have much of it.  I meant to do a full deconstruction: militaristic grey and white template, no Spanish anywhere, thin content.  But the site is gone now.  Whois says was registered to Daniel Kahn of the California Water Association.  Hey, lobbying firms that make up fake groups of concerned citizens?  Why is your work so fucking transparent?  Don’t you owe your clients better?  Convincing looking websites?  A spokesperson’s name that takes more than two seconds to google?  Are they not paying you enough for that?)

Anyway, I have two more thoughts on the NAS review.

First, no one should forget that this was Dick Cheney’s tactic from the Klamath.  I was afraid it would set a precedent, and using it for more situations is exactly the sort of normalization I feared.  Sen. Feinstein, I don’t care what your rationalizations are.  When you do what Dick Cheney does, you aren’t acting like a Democrat.  Only the reputation of the National Academy of Sciences is protecting you now, but you risk bringing them down with you if their decision counters a Biological Opinion that already passed through two reviews.  You would think the National Academy of Sciences would refuse to be used in such a blatantly partisan way; you’d think they’d want to protect their reputation better.

Second, I know at least one person on the NAS panel is reading this, and now I’m talking directly to him.  What you are doing damages the Endangered Species Act.  You can say anything you want about Science in your head, but you are taking part in a process that weakens the ESA.  There is a legal way to challenge a Biological Opinion. That is to take it to court, where a judge decides if it is “arbitrary and capricious.”  That is the established place and level of review of a Biological Opinion, and this one has met that.  These two politically motivated NAS reviews are starting to create a new standard for biological opinions, in which they have provide the best science in the world to the satisfaction of the National Academy of Sciences.  That is never what the law has been.

Maybe you, panel member, don’t like the ESA as configured, or want to undermine the law for some reason.  In which case, this is all fine for you.  But if you believe in the Endangered Species Act and want to uphold it, you now know that you are acting in a way that hurts it.  You, personally, are actively part of breaking the ESA.  You should feel dissonance; you should reconcile your actions and your beliefs about the ESA.  If you avoid this question, you will be a smaller person.


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Seven feet of sea level rise.

A clear and scary post on sea level rise, with explicit recommendations.  Sadly, the authors have some ridiculous east coast bias, and didn’t even talk about the Delta, instead talking about effects of sea level rise on states like “Mississippi” and “Florida” and “Vietnam”.  Whatever.  They list several take away lessons that I’ll apply to somewhere important, since they couldn’t be bothered.

Immediately prohibit the construction of high-rise buildings and major infrastructure in areas vulnerable to future sea level rise. Buildings placed in future hazardous zones should be small and movable — or disposable.

This isn’t about the Delta, but I’ve been enjoying watching the cliff crumble under this apartment building in SF.

Remember, y’all.  As sea level rises, we”re not just talking about overtopping and inundation.  We’re talking about more extreme tides, higher storm surges and more wave energy all the time.  You remember your pressure triangle behind dams, right? (Go down to pg 40 for the figures.)  And how the force exerted is a function of depth?   I’ll let you figure out what this means for Delta levees by yourself.

Relocation of buildings and infrastructure should be a guiding philosophy. Instead of making major repairs on infrastructure such as bridges, water supply, and sewer and drainage systems, when major maintenance is needed, go the extra mile and place them out of reach of the sea. In our view, no new sewer and water lines should be introduced to zones that will be adversely affected by sea level rise in the next 50 years.

This one is interesting because it makes me wonder at the Peripheral Canal route, and how the engineers are planning to handle this.  It also makes me remember Prof. Lund telling the Delta Vision panel not to spend any money on Through-Delta Conveyance.

Stop government assistance for oceanfront rebuilding. … Those who invest in vulnerable coastal areas need to assume responsibility for that decision. If you stay, you pay.

This is why I have no love for in-Delta residents.  I know they’re in a really hard place and that their way of life is at stake.  That sucks.  But the sea is going to reclaim a lot of the Delta (faster if the earthquake comes first), and I don’t want to throw a couple billion dollars into maintaining it as is before the Pacific takes it.  It would be one thing if they could do that with their own money, but they can’t.  The only thing I can imagine being stable against seas that are going to rise seven feet in a hundred years is some sort of estuarine marsh-type thing.

Get the Corps off the shore. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, more or less by default, is the government agency in charge of much of the planning and the funding for the nation’s response to sea level rise. It is an agency ill-suited to the job. Part of the problem is that the engineers’ “we can fix it” mentality is the wrong mindset for a sensible approach to responding to changing sea level.

What?  The Army Corps doesn’t do stuff on the coast.  It builds flood control dams and gives terrible advice about river levees.   Also, I don’t particularly appreciate this slander against engineers.  We fixed the LA River, didn’t we?

Local governments cannot be expected to take the lead. The problems created by sea level rise are international and national, not local, in scope. Local governments of coastal towns (understandably) follow the self-interests of coastal property owners and developers, so preservation of buildings and maintaining tax base is inevitably a very high priority. In addition, the resources needed to respond to sea level rise will be far beyond those available to local communities.

This is a big dilemma.  We’re big into collaborative solutions and giving everyone a voice.  But the stakes for in-Delta residents are incredibly high, and there’s only one thing they can say (do what it takes to maintain our way of life).  But committing the state to maintaining Delta islands requires fantastical amounts of money.  Their understandable self-interest is ruinous for the other 37.5 million people in the state, and can’t be done anyway.   Which is why I kinda don’t feel bad that Delta legislators have been edged out of water negotiations.   What could they add?  They’re representing their people admirably, but their people want an impossible thing.  (Sea, don’t rise!  Earthquake, don’t come!  Levees, be strong enough for either!  State, buy us new strong-enough levees!)

Delta legislators keep saying that they’re not being heard, that they’re being shut out, but my guess is that what they want has been heard and rejected, which is not the same.  I bet if those same legislators came bringing proposals of a managed retreat, to secure the best deal for getting the Delta clear in the next couple decades, they’d get heard plenty.  I don’t know what Delta legislators are negotiating; I am certainly not in the room with important people.  But there is no winning for in-Delta residents who want their world to stay the same, so we can’t make water policy depend on their satisfaction.  If they can’t be satisfied and they’re going to be obstructionist, the conversation has to move on without them.


Filed under Climate Change, Peripheral Canal

Water, population and planning

Just listened to the High Country News interview with Matt Jenkins*.  No surprises until about minute 12, when the interviewer asked Jenkins if any agency at any level is addressing the issue of population.  Jenkins said no, which isn’t quite right.  The 2009 California Water Plan, written by DWR, is broaching the matter in the most discreet and non-suggestive way possible, and denying that they mean anything at all by it if you ask them directly.  It is all extremely coy.  But, when they project future demand, they model demand for three scenarios (pgs 14-15).  The three scenarios have different land use patterns (from dense to sprawling) and three populations (from 45 million to 70 million people, up from 38 million now).  The models show that demand is lower in the denser, lower population future.  (Climate change increases demand in all three scenarios.  The 2013 Update should have supply numbers to pair with those demand numbers.)

Now, DWR does not mean to suggest anything by that.  They would never.  It is not the jurisdiction of the water department to make such personal and touchy policy recommendations.  That would be wrong!  The legislature should do that!  Or maybe no one should! It should happen however fate intends!  However, DWR cannot help but notice that demand would be lower if there are fewer people in 2050.  They would be more than happy to show you how they modeled that.  Modeling is within their expertise; touchy population issues are definitely not.  They draw no conclusions whatsoever.  None.

So it isn’t quite right to say that no CA water agencies are addressing the population issue.  The state water plan is broaching it in the most oblique and circumspect way possible.  You know, it is easy to overlook the water plan.  It is big, and hasn’t come out in four years, and there’s a lot of political code in there.  But it is the plan for what the state should do with water for the next forty years, and it addresses a whole lot of what is going on.


This is a fantastic opinion piece on how municipal water districts overstate their water supply so that they can permit more development.  It is relatively new that districts have to show supply for large developments (>500 houses) at all.  But they do, and are apparently using imaginary water for some of it.  I’m not really in favor of arrangements that permit more sub-divisions, but I have also thought that is is fundamentally irresponsible that cities might not have water for their people.  That’s one of the reasons I think people should have individual rights in water.  If you move to a new city, your 30 gallons of water a day comes with you.  (That’s a small drinking and bathing allotment, much less than people use now.  More than that is optional, quality of life type-stuff, and cities can scrounge for it as they can.)  We’ve got enough plumbing to achieve that.  Since cities are told by the Regional Housing Needs Assessment that they must build housing to accommodate more people, essential water for those people should come with them.

Also, I hear rumors that the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research is maybe making (suggesting?) cities have a water chapter in their General Plan.  But I just told you everything I know on that.

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Full props.

I got to the end of Matt Jenkins careful and thorough profile of Westlands and subscribed to High Country News. Solid and clear writing; no veering off into ideological blindness.

I’m always impressed with the long pieces I come across from High Country News, and today I’m grateful to Aquafornia for linking me to the story.  I very much appreciate Aquafornia’s constant work of aggregating, selecting and directing us to the news we want.  We’d miss a lot without it.

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Review: AlterNet’s piece on the California water crisis.

I’m so entertained by the thought of a crazy Russian ex-pat coming back and deciding to follow CA water policy that Levine’s essays get  the benefit of the doubt from me.  I figure that maybe he knows oligarchs and fiefdoms and cartels when he sees them.  I also like that his rants stretch the boundaries of the water conversation way out to the left, making me look measured and reasoned by comparison.  Best of all, he’s writing long pieces that say more and different things than re-heated Reisner.  So I’m glad he’s on the scene.  But.  I have four objections to his piece on myths of the recent drought, two of them serious.


He cites last year’s precip (94% of average) as evidence that we’re not really in a drought.  But precip isn’t the right measure; what matters is run-off.  Turns out that precip isn’t becoming run-off that we can catch and store like it used to.  We’re not completely sure what is happening to it.  Some is probably evaporating off the snow during hotter Springs.  The dry ground from the previous two years of drought is sucking it in, maybe.  But last year’s 94% of annual precip was only 65% of annual run-off, and it wasn’t enough to re-fill our low reservoirs.  Focusing on Westlands, as some national media has done, exaggerates the effects of the drought for sure.  But the drought is real.


Levine asks why California officials would pretend we’re in a drought if we aren’t:

[W}hy would California officials exaggerate — if not outright lie — about the drought? Well, the issue here is less about the drought itself and more about what a drought — real or not — can help achieve. If there is one thing 2009 revealed about California’s “action hero” governor, it’s that he is eagerly willing to serve as the front man for the sleaziest, most crooked business cartel in the state: a de facto water oligarchy made up of billionaire corporate farmers who run vast stretches of the state like their own personal fiefdoms, exploiting migrant workers for slave labor and soaking the taxpayers for billions of dollars in subsidies every year. And like all good businessmen, they aren’t letting a good mini-crisis go to waste. Their objective is to whip up fears of a drought-related calamity to push through a “solution” they’ve been having wet dreams about for the past five decades: a multi-billion-dollar aqueduct the width of the Panama Canal that would give them near total control of more than half of California’s water supplies.

That’s what the state’s “historic” $11-billion bond measure that will appear on the November 2010 ballot is all about. A columnist at the Stockton Record said it best: It “really amounts to an old-fashioned California water grab based on the failure to face nature’s limits.”

I absolutely believe that some politicians and some big water officials are using the drought to push a Peripheral Canal, and simultaneously, know that even a monstrously huge new Peripheral Canal IS NOT A WATER GRAB.  That’s the thing.  What water would it be grabbing?  The Sac and San Joaquin are, like, four times oversubscribed.  New water stored in the non-existent Sites Reservoir?  Grabbing water currently going to in-Delta uses, when the G-Men disappear all the Delta farmers? That water has people waiting in line for it too, and don’t think they wouldn’t sue to protect that priority and use if any water came free in the Delta.

There’s no possibility of a huge corporate water grab for Westlands.  There’s no chunk of water they could be grabbing.  That’s not what the Peripheral Canal is about.  Whether Westlands knows it or not, the Peripheral Canal is a rearguard action; they’re fighting to keep some of what they’ve got now as they retreat from a new, increasingly dry climate.   Moreover, there’s no chance Westlands can hold that water against the other power that needs it: Los Angeles.  If Westlands is lucky, they’ll get paid a freaking fortune when LA takes it.  If they’re stubborn and hold out, I’d expect to see an initiative or legislation that takes that water.  This is why MWD, who supplies the southern cities, is willing to pay to construct the Peripheral Canal.  They absolutely need the water that comes from the north, they need secure conveyance, and they know that cities of 20 million people will get their water if they’re the only ones who do.


Levine’s section on urban water conservation makes no sense at all.

Schwarzenegger’s mandate that urban water use be cut by 20 percent has earned the governor a lot of green cred, but few people realize that his plan for water conservation is actually a forced wealth transfer scheme in a environmentalist disguise. …

[N]o matter how much water city dwellers save, it’ll be sucked up by wealthy corporate farmers who are always on the lookout for more taxpayer-subsidized wet wealth. And with water trading for a minimum at ten times what they pay for it on the open market, every gallon a city dweller conserves will will end up as cash in the personal bank account of some wealthy corporate farmers. It’s all part of the master plan because, even as the governor talks up urban conservation, he tries his darnedest to get them more water.

This is completely backwards.  Water NEVER goes backwards from urban to ag.  That makes no sense; urban water prices are far too high for growers to make a profit using urban water as a farm input.  Water freed by urban water conservation goes to other city dwellers in the same district.  Even that isn’t enough, so urban buys from ag.  But every gallon conserved in a city is a gallon that they don’t have to buy from a farmer.  The conserved gallons are the ones that do not end up as cash in a corporate farming bank account.  Schwarzenegger’s 20 by 2020 is the exact part that is NOT a wealth transfer to ag.


I couldn’t help but notice that your section on the myth of food shortage looked mighty familiar, what with putting fallowed farmland in context and discussing whether almonds are vital crops.  Seems to me that a fancy online magazine like Alternet could afford to buy hyperlinks in bulk, and spend one or two connecting  readers with your sources.  That’d be a nice thing to do.  The section on unemployment in Mendota owes a fair amount to the work done by Valley Econ, so perhaps you could throw a link that way, too.

There was more.  I loved the bonus myth.  I could go into other points here and there.  I enjoyed the tone, honestly.  I hope Mr. Levine writes more about CA water.  I hope the next piece is more accurate.

The next morning: Some minor editing for clarity.


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