I write this blog just for him.

Dave Simmons left another comment below, one I promised to address. This has been a talking point recently, so I’m glad to get a chance to think about it.

But seriously, I don’t know about Salmon but the smelt are on a death spiral no matter what happens to us they will continue to decline. Because even the most respected scientists point to the fact that it is probably a combination of factors that is effecting them. The whole picture is not being looked at. No one really seems to focus the smelts’ myriad of other problems. How can you solve any problem when you are only willing to look at one narrow view of the situation. It is easy to just blame the farmers. Radical environmentalists have know to be wrong before. I sure as heck don’t trust them. They have their own agenda.

It is amazing to me that you can be so certain that it is the farmers that are the ones at fault. Is it easy for you to overlook the sewage wastewater pollution, numerous non native species, acres of wetlands gone, pharmaceuticals and the latest pytheriods (sp) form urban sources and many other stressors? In fact, it is getting to something like 95% of the life in the delta isn’t native! But you are sure it is the export pumps and your willing to have us “strangled” to find out. It maybe to late for the fish by then. I say we need to find and fix the problems and not “strangle” people till we find the right problem. Today it is us. Tomorrow it might be you!!!

I don’t know anyone who thinks that the pumps are the whole problem or the only problem. Every knowledgeable person would agree that the fisheries collapse in the Delta is a combination of pumps, invasive species, habitat destruction, wastewater discharge, pesticide run-off from farms and lawns, ocean conditions. The smelt collapse is a problem with multiple causes. The pumps are a conspicuous cause, possibly the predominant cause, but certainly not the only one. The reason the judge is ordering a pumping regime is not because of causes, or because of blaming farmers, or casting moral judgments. The reason the judge is ordering a pumping regime is because of remedies. Look at all those likely causes. The pumps are the only one with an available remedy. They’re the only part that we can control today. The other causes are exactly the kind that are hard to fix; widely distributed small effects that become a problem in the aggregate.

People are working on fixing those other causes. There’s a couple billion dollars in the water bond for habitat restoration, but habitat restoration and reversing invasive species will take years. Mr. Simmons is right; part of the solution will ‘come for me’. I live in Sac and expect my sewer bills to go up tens of dollars a month, as they should. But that won’t happen fast. We can slow the pumps today.

Right now, the pumps are the only dial we can turn to save fish species in the Delta. It is definitely true that we should be (and are) addressing the other causes. But I want to point out, it is not wrong to control the one contributing cause we can control. That’s the fallacy in the talking point: ‘the pumps aren’t the whole problem, so we shouldn’t turn off the pumps!’. The law field of torts has spent a lot of time thinking about causation, including multiple contributing causes. That’s nice, because it means that I don’t have to. From the linked Wikipedia page:

Concurrent Actual Causes
Suppose that two actors’ negligent acts combine to produce one set of damages, where but for either of their negligent acts, no damage would have occurred at all. This is two negligences contributing to a single cause, as distinguished from two separate negligences contributing to two successive or separate causes. These are “concurrent actual causes.” In such cases, courts have held both defendants liable for their negligent acts.

Right. Where more than one thing causes the problem, all the causes are responsible.  I said I hate analogies, so I’m being a big hypocrite by offering one. Because I’m ashamed, I’ll put it beneath the fold.

This is like a terrible car accident where a million things went wrong. There are a whole bunch of contributing causes: the parked truck blocking sightlines, the glare off the windshield, the malfunctioning light, the ball that got loose, the kid that ran after it. All those things went wrong, but we can control one aspect: the speeding car. It is worth doing that in hopes of preventing the accident.


Filed under Agriculture, Peripheral Canal

13 responses to “I write this blog just for him.

  1. This very clearly shows the inadequacy of legal solutions to complex technical problems. How on earth could you hope to join all potentially liable parties in one lawsuit? Kinda reminds me of an adjudication process. There has to be a better way, but it escapes me now.

    BTW – thanks for reminding me of Summers v. Tice, hadn’t thought of that for a long time.

  2. CharleyCarp

    You don’t have to join all parties in a single suit, and you don’t have to wait to solve one part of a technical problem until you’ve figured out solutions — and lined up the politics to implement them — for all the other parts of the problem.

  3. Wayne Lusvardi

    But shutting down the pumps has not resulted in anything close to a “remedy.” Your logic is fallacious and illogical: “something’s wrong with my car so I will disable the gas and water pumps.” Usually in law there has to be a reasonable and demonstrable nexus or connection between the mitigation and the cause. I do not yet see one in this case. As you point out the causes of the smelt decline are unknown. So why shut down pumps especially after there is no recovery of the smelt? And in science you must have a control group. What if all the prior efforts to clean the Delta water is deleteriously affecting the food chain of the smelt? What if cleaner water makes it more difficult for smelt to hide from natural predators? Iatrogenic causes have not been eliminated (i.e., the remedy is the cause).

  4. Wayne’s argument is a bit like the one Colbert parodied on his show.

    ‘It is dark outside,’ he said, so ‘we can only assume the sun has been destroyed.’

    Such a big and complicated problem, beyond the capability of scientists and policy makers to understand, let alone control.

    Wayne’s argument is something like Why would you act on a controllable process known to advance the extinction of a species IF you don’t know that your acts will save it?

    Why would you call 911 if you saw a crime, even though you know that other crimes are simultaneously being committed?

    So many unanswered possible causes, yes. Many that should get as much attention as does Westlands, yes. But some endangered animals are measured, and dead, at fish screens just outside of the pumps. This is a known cause.

    Not enough water, or answers, stipulated. Appealing to observer effects and Heisenberg principle arguments, though, seem like a stretch, legally that is.

  5. Jeff

    I am really glad that you (an environmentally sensitive Sacramento resident with a secure job) are willing to spend a couple hundred dollars a year treating your wastewater to higher levels than San Diego and LA. However, I recommend you go door to door in Oak Park and Del Paso Heights and ask what a few hundred bucks a year means to them before you casually spend your neighbors’ money. Take Mr. Simmons, Jeff Kightlinger, Phil Isenberg, Paul Rodriguez and others along with you.

    Explain to them why they should pay as a substitute to slowing down the pumps. Explain that Southern California urban areas don’t want to pay the costs to recycle their own wastewater for reuse and prefer to pump Sacramento river water 500 miles over mountain ranges. If that doesn’t convince them, maybe you can explain the need to bail out those who made risky investments in pomegranate and almond orchards in the desert. Explain to them why the additional electricity load won’t affect their power bill and is good for the environment. Maybe Mr. Simmons can give them a couple weeks of farm work or send some sacks of almonds to the local food bank to help them bear the cost.

    It may or may not be necessary and wise to impose these costs on Sacramento households and businesses, but no one should pretend it won’t harm the poor and cost jobs.

  6. onthepublicrecord

    I’m not a big fan of slagging SoCal water users, especially when the inland northern California urban water use is so shamefully wasteful.

    SoCal urban agencies are paying the costs of recycling wastewater, and one of the first reasons they give is “at least it is under our control.” But with uncertain supplies out of the Colorado and growing populations, they’ll need water from the north to be some of the initial source of water they conserve much better than us and re-use.

    My prediction is that we’ll end up paying for the Peripheral Canal AND new facilities in Sac, and higher energy costs, and new flood facilities and lots other things besides. We’ll be doing this as we grow poorer from climate change. I think it is going to be extremely hard on people. I talk about the herding; moving people in from the exurbs and also moving them into a very different lifestyle, with less money to convert into housing and cars. It will suck more for the poor. Everything always sucks more for the poor. If we were civilized, we’d be thinking about setting goals, easing transitions and managing population. But those are super taboo topics.

    I think that cities will, and should, get water. I, at least, have said nothing about bailing out west side ag. You know my predictions, that the reduced water run-off will come out of ag. I’ve said that I think ag will shrink by about 3 million acres by the end of this century.

    Finally, I remind you that costs are always paid. Right now, the Delta ecosystem is paying the costs. We could move those costs to the people who are causing the problem with their sewage (or if we’re lucky, move them onto the population as a whole, get the feds to pay for this). But something takes the brunt somewhere in some form.

    Another finally, there’s no good in Othering SoCal. They’re, like, people, many of them also poor. Life is getting vastly more expensive, for them and us. Turning poor people up here on them is just tribalism.

  7. Jeff

    I think we mostly agree. I just object to people describing Sacramento sewage treatment upgrades as if it is a minor cost, and act like they pollute more horribly than others. We may indeed have to pull all the levers to save the Delta, but it isn’t clear to me that Sacramento wastewater is the first lever to pull from a cost-benefit perspective.

    And before extolling the virtues of SoCal cities too much, I remind you that San Diego is actively fighting against cleaning up to Sacramento’s level.

    From 8/13/09 San Diego Tribune:

    “In a dramatic defeat for San Diego, the California Coastal Commission on Thursday denied the city’s request to continue operating the region’s main sewage treatment facility below the minimum pollution standard.

    San Diego is expected to appeal to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce for its third waiver from the Clean Water Act. If that fails, it could be on the hook for paying up to $1.5 billion to upgrade its Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant.

    The Point Loma plant treats sewage from 2.2 million people inside and outside the city limits, and it discharges about 170 million gallons a day into the Pacific Ocean. It’s by far the largest wastewater facility in the nation that doesn’t meet the federal threshold of “secondary” treatment.”

  8. Jeff, does Sacramento have anything like this when it comes to spending money on its water/wastewater?

    Granted, it’s the OC, not strictly San Diego, but urban areas in SoCal are dealing with this dollar wise.

    Everyone is implicated. Poor people especially.

  9. Jeff

    Of course there is nothing like this in Sacramento, the OC recycling plant is wonderful. It is the future. It’s also the only one down there, and just a small fraction of their potential.

    My point is that the water exporters seem to be saying Sacramento (and others around the Delta) need to clean up above secondary treatment instead of cutting back their pumping. (They also want a PC that will put their water intake adjacent to the Sac Sewer outflow, and they really want Sac to upgrade before that happens).

    It seems a bit hypocritical for them to make this argument until they put a lot more recycling plants in place, and San Diego decides to stop dumping untreated sewage (sorry for the exagerration, primary treated) in the ocean like a developing country.

    This is part of the problem with environmentalists substituting for Delta region interests in all these stakeholder processes. They are very quick to volunteer, of course Sacramento/Stockton, etc. should pay, but no one is defending the economic interests of this region (or the CA taxpayer).

    I’m not saying Sac should never go past secondary treatment, but environmentalists should stop asserting what Sacramento should do with no analysis of the costs/benefits/alternatives.
    It is very, very costly and these are not wealthy communities.

  10. DH

    I’ve heard it said: “The solution to pollution is dilution”…

    Seems to me, as the quantity of water in the delta system is reduced (either by drought or diversions) the issues of urban waste water, pesticide residues, agricultural runoff etc. all become more acute. A clear case of “Concurrent Actual Causes” I’d say.

  11. onthepublicrecord

    Heh. I wrote about how that mindset (solution/pollution/dilution) was stinging farmers more than a year ago. I am also a little chagrined to realize that I wrote nearly the exact same post as this one. I have no new thoughts, apparently.

  12. onthepublicrecord

    Comments are open for you, Mr. Simmons, if you want to discuss this concept here.

  13. janetm

    Is Mr. Simmons aware of the independent review of the CVPIA that was published 12/08 (“Listen to the River”)? Particularly part 3, sec 3c, which discusses the 800,000 acre ft that was to be dedicated annually for the salmon. It never happened–not once in all the 16 years reviewed. Instead annual exports increased from an average of 4.5maf (1990) to 6.5maf (2006). Just how would that benefit fish and I guess I have to say it the people who depend on fish for their livelihoods? Things would be very different for my family right now if there had been even an attempt to follow the intent of the law. “Flabbergasted” was their word. Fishermen use a different f word to describe it. I understand Mr. Resnick’s done very well. Mr. Simmons, salmon have not gotten any of “your” water –yet.