Monthly Archives: March 2010

Just a thought.

LAO’s gw report is out. Didn’t say anything shocking.

There’s a fairly well established way to distribute a small amount of a desired good, right? Cap annual gw withdrawals at annual sustainable yield (minus necessary re-charge) and let in-basin water users trade for pieces of that quantity?

Haven’t seen discussion of cap-and-trade systems for groundwater anywhere, but it does seem like the locally controlled option that people say they want.

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The rule is, never read the comments at a big site.

Newspaper comment sections are a vile cesspool, we all know that.  So I’ll freely admit I’m showing the worst case scenario.  But look at this, from the Bee, whose comment section makes me despair of my neighbors:

That a certain amount of self-interest will skew the findings of this panel of “experts” is predictible – and inevitable.

Similarly, the power and prestige – say nothing of budgetary concerns – of the government agencies who fund such studies is heavily dependent upon the corrupt panels of “experts” conducting such studies lending legitimacy to the funding agency’s agenda.

***
Just because a bunch of grant money hungry second-rate scientists say something is true and terrible, we shouldn’t believe them without solid and peer-reviewed proof. These bozos who have never done a day’s work in their lives are just like politicians: liars, cheats, thieves, and self-interested men and women. Be very cautious and skeptical of what they proclaim as truth. Look behind the curtain to ascertain who is speaking and what agenda they are promoting for personal interests. The more they shout “Armageddon”, the more restraint you must exercise.

***
The biological opinions are the scientific equivilent of political slush fund. As usual, follow the money trail. The panel agrees the unmanageable is an appropriate alternative, but more research is needed. Hmmm… This is code for I do not have my next research grant, but this seems like an opportunity.

It would be informative to know the composition of the panel and their areas of expertise. It would also be informative to know how many of the scientists have received grant money and/or paid or unpaid consulting contracts, etc.

This is what I predicted. The NAS review didn’t change anything about the political landscape here. The only new element in the conversation is libel directed against the Delta National Research Committee. That wasn’t in the air before Sen. Feinstein brought them into this. She was relying on their extremely good reputation, and now she’s dinged it, just a little bit. She’s willing to trade pieces of their reputation for a process that weakens the ESA (although it strengthens the reputation of FWS scientists, who had their Biological Opinion right) and hasn’t changed the infighting here. If I were the National Academy of Science, I’d be pissed at being her pawn.

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What a fantastic question. Dude, thanks.

Mr. Mark’s question is perfect; interesting topic and I can speculate wildly. Thanks. He asks:

Okay, here’s a philosophical one I suppose. Just asking for pure speculation on your part, wild extrapolation into the future. I believe that in the current — and likely future — political climate in California, the chances of any of various things that I would term “completely ridiculous” coming to pass, e.g. raising the level of Shasta Dam and flooding the Upper Sac for miles up towards Dunsmuir, or the construction of the proposed Auburn Dam, are extremely unlikely; at least I want to believe that this is so.

On the other hand, and this is my question, do you personally believe there is any remote chance that, say, in the next 30 years, the political/social climate in California might be such that one of any number of what I would term “ridiculously great things for the environment” might actually come to pass? To take a specific example, do believe that the water which is currently stolen from the Trinity watershed and sent over into the Sac Valley will ever be allowed to flow down its natural course to the Pacific? Is there any chance that something this obvious could become a priority for the body politic in California? What would it take for this to become reality? There are many other examples, of course, but this one has been on my mind lately, for some reason or another.

I don’t know, man. Last year salmon returned to the Seine, and just this week, the San Joaquin River re-joined the Pacific for the first time in 50 years.  Those are pretty outrageous things, yet both happened.  So it is possible.

I agree with your guesses about what is likely in the short term.  I don’t expect CA to build any big storage, primarily because it is expensive for very little yield.  The only big project that I see as possible is a Peripheral Canal (perhaps the small one the Planning and Conservation League is saying should be studied), and that’s because I simply cannot imagine Southern California letting their water supplies depend on weak Delta levees indefinitely.  For the next five to ten years, being broke will be a good line of defense against big marginal water projects (and all remaining dam sites are marginal.  If they were good, there’d be dams on them already.)

But what about prospects for the long run?  In favor of outrageously good things for the environment:

New governor next year might remind the state that we’re Democrats, and proud to be environmentalists.  He could set a new tone, and I’m encouraged that Jerry Brown’s been pretty active on forcing cities to incorporate greenhouse gas mitigation into their general plans.  The agencies might be a whole lot different under a Democratic governor.  Schwarzenegger hasn’t been as bad as he might have been, more erratic than consistently destructive, but if you remember, wild-eyed crazy enviroguy Jonas Minton was a deputy director in DWR during the last Democratic administration.  So there’s precedent for the agencies to be a whole lot different.  Eight years of an environmentalist governor could start a lot of trends in motion.

If you want to know what drastic project might happen in thirty years, the time to start looking at rumors and crazytalk is now.  I’ve come to believe that big shifts take twenty years from being crazytalk to institutionalized.  Pipedream grad student seminars are a good place to look; when those poor saps are broken upper managers, they can put their ideas in place. 

I think generational succession will boost the state’s environmentalist thinking.  I’ll be glad to see the single purpose engineers retire out of the field.  I mean, I love the square old guys, but they were never flexible thinkers, you know.  They want to optimize One Thing, and overbuild while they’re at it.  I think the Kids These Days have more capacity to hold multiple goals in their heads and more willingness to try different strategies.

Neutral, but possibly influential:

We’re in a turbulent period and I cannot predict the alliances any more.  If anything, I’m expecting to see more “every man for himself”, and less of agriculture or urban coalitions acting as a block.  This may mean that you aren’t going to see “ag” determine policy for much longer, since they’ll be squabbling amongst themselves.

Against the possibility of extravagently wonderful environmental restorations:

We’re about to be poor.  Much poorer.  We were optimized to the old climate and living off mined wealth.  With both those ending, a whole bunch of things are going to get more expensive in tandem (gas prices, water prices, sewage prices, firefighting costs, food costs, moving goods, cooling costs in summer, moving seaside infrastructure), although probably not communications, electronics and health costs.  But people will see more of their income go to daily non-discretionary goods.  They will feel (and be) poorer, and then I think there will be a big fork in the road.  The thing that will matter is how scared they feel.

If they correctly perceive themselves as getting poorer, and our mega-policies don’t change, they will be rightly scared.  They’ll be scared of getting sick or injured.  They’ll be scared of losing their houses.  They’ll feel trapped and vulnerable and nothing will yield, not their water bill, not their gas bill, not their mortgage.  That kind of scared makes people mean, selfish and shortsighted.  They’re not going to care about making some river they can’t afford to visit look pretty.

But if our society re-installs its social net, our society could get poorer and people will yet know they will not die of untreated dentistry, that they can take their babies into the doctor, that they can send their kids to a university, they can get out of their cars and take light rail.  Being poorer is likely to mean living in smaller places and eating less meat, but it doesn’t have to mean falling out of the middle class.  If we can get on that path, then people can have the expansiveness of spirit to be stewards.  In that spirit, who knows what they’ll decide.  Maybe they’ll want to know that northern rivers run to the sea undisturbed by us.

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The news is all boring.

I’ll take questions, if anyone has them. Although who knows if the thoughts they prompt will address the question. SWP and CVP territory only, please. I don’t know any other systems well enough to opine.

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Yes, well.

Stories saying that internalizing negative environmental externalities imposes direct costs on the users do not get my sympathy.

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He has the good sense to turn off his comments, at least.

It is hard to know whether Representative Devin Nunes writes his blog himself.  The posts are all in the first person singular, and one should assume that someone claiming to write a blog is the real author.  On the other hand, don’t elected people have staff for stuff like this?  And he writes pretty good for an ag business major with a masters in agriculture.  I sat in a lot of classes with ag majors and I didn’t come away thinking of them as writers.  I wonder because I found his recent post deeply strange, and wanted to talk about what  it reveals of the author.

First, the title:
Unnatural Greenies: The Two Faces of Radical Environmentalism

“Radical environmentalism” is an attempt at a new catchphrase, right?  I’ve seen it around more in the past six months.  I’m not sure what it is supposed to convey.  Some combination of the Earth Liberation Front and Center for Biological Diversity, only in body paint?  Is it in implied contrast to mainstream environmentalism, which the speaker can mostly accept, so long as it sticks to anti-litter campaigns and de-oiling birds?  Supposed to imply that the speaker is reasonable and could treat with reasonable environmentalists, but not these radical ones?  The opener, “Unnatural greenies”, only reinforces that, although I suspect it is more supposed to be clever.  Like, greenies are supposed to be “natural”, but these aren’t, get it?  Heh heh.

The first paragraph shows an apocalyptic view of the conflict.  If the radical environmentalists get their way, the SJV will be transformed into desert.  The whole thing.  Nothing but dunes, from Sierra to Coast Range.  Well, far as I know, I’m making the most radical predictions on the water blogs, and my prediction is that we’ll lose 3 million acres of ag in the next several decades, out of 10 million acres of ag in the state (from reduced runoff from climate change).  Further, I think ag could stabilize with a robust east side industry, which is Nunes’ own district.  (Besides, if I got my own radical way, (parts of) the SJV would return to grasslands and seasonal marsh, not desert.)  But, the author of that blog post thinks that he is battling against desertification of the whole San Joaquin Valley.

Then comes my favorite paragraph:

To this end, environmental radicals, operating in the name of Gaia, Mother Earth, the wiccan religion and a host of other cult-like organizations, have litigated, legislated and extorted away the water needed for San Joaquin Valley communities.

This is who Rep. Nunes thinks makes up the environmental community?  What? I have to make a list.

  • First, I’m pretty unhappy with the imputation of false gods.  Now, I don’t think it is an insult to say that someone worships something besides an Abrahamic god, but my understanding is that from within narrow-minded sections of Abrahamic faiths, accusing people of serving other gods is a serious business. Thou shalt worship no other, and all that.  The author is throwing around serious charges, and I don’t know if it is worse if he means it or is spewing the garble in his head.
  • The gods listed are Gaia, Mother Earth and hilariously, wicca.  This list, all female, sounds to me like a very, very short step away from calling environmentalists “uppity women.”  It also makes me wonder what powerful woman could be haunting the author.
  • Doesn’t this sound like small-minded rural folks talking about the scary (unnatural) people in the big cities?  Does the author look on LA and SF and see cult-captured freaks?  Is that why he doesn’t see urban environmentalists as reasoning opposition?  They’re crazy even aside from wanting to turn the Valley into deserts!
  • The only pagan anything I’ve heard about in ages is the Winnemem Wintu prayer at the Salmonid conference.  Don’t know if that’s what set off Rep. Nunes, but if it wasn’t that prayer, that means he thinks of enviros as deeply Other all the time.  Suspicious, chick, urban Others.  Radical.  Unnatural.

The third paragraph is interesting; it confirms my earlier take on Westlands’ maneuvering.

Yet despite their ability to command the agenda of our government through powerful alliances in Congress, none of the endangered fish have shown signs of recovery.

From within the House of Representatives, Rep. Nunes (or his staffer and blog writer) believes enviros command the agenda of our government and are powerfully allied in Congress.  This is a Congressperson writing this; he must feel stymied. No wonder Westlands is doing inexplicable thrashing about.  D.C. is not going to overturn the Endangered Species Act for a couple hundred thousand acres of farmland in California.

The rest of Rep. Nune’s post spins off into ornate and oddly emotional gotcha arguments, easily refuted by editorials like this one.  But I’m left with one last question.  To whom is Rep. Nunes addressing this post?  Who is the audience for such a peculiar view of “radical environmentalists”?  Are there still peasants out there, willing to hear accusations that the enemy is, literally, witches?  This can’t be a persuasion piece, because it isn’t reaching out to the opposition.  If it is trying to reach neutral masses, the first two paragraphs won’t be like the enviros they know, and the end of it sounds like walking in on an old fight, where the arguments have gotten too complicated to follow.  So it has to be a piece for his allies, to confirm biases and give talking points.  But he is misleading his own allies.  If this is who Rep. Nunes thinks is after San Joaquin Valley water, he has missed about 95% of the complexity of the conflict.  He got the other 5% wrong.

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Yet another boring explanation.

Was reading through this story on the oversight hearings for the new Delta Stewardship Council.  Sounds like it was fairly exciting, as committee hearings go.  Reading it, I am prepared to agree on some things up front:

1.  I am perfectly happy to believe that Gov. Schwarzenegger and Sec. Snow are trying to stack this council, push through documents and hire consultants in service of building a Peripheral Canal. 

2.  I have no love for former CALFED, which I think went off track way back in the beginning when it believed its own talk about win-win solutions.  Then it got weird for interpersonal reasons, which were an additional burden and hastened the end.  (This is from rumor and distant observation, mind you.  I wasn’t close and can’t absolutely vouch for that.)

3.  I agree that presenting an incoming council with a whole bunch of nearly completed work is an extremely powerful way to set their agenda and narrow the field of potential outcomes.  I do wonder at the issue of near-simultaneous deadlines, but can’t be bothered to sort through whether they’re really a problem.  If the Legislature is bugged by the conflict, they can give clear direction.  Mostly, though, I hope that when the full Delta Stewardship Council is seated and faced with pre-made decisions (as looks inevitable), they will keep the doctrine of sunk costs in mind.

So if you’re looking for proof of conspiracy that there’s an AGENDA, I’ll grant you all of those.  But I do want to object to this one:

Joe Grindstaff is the Acting Executive Officer for the Delta Stewardship Council. He’s also the CALFED Director. Several legislators on the committee grilled Grindstaff on why CALFED was leading the project when the water project bills called for an entirely new department to replace CALFED. Using CALFED employees to staff the Delta Stewardship Council seemed to defeat the purpose and intent of the whole project, they said.

Grindstaff insisted that the Delta Stewardship Council (which as yet lacks a single member, if you recall) was “in fact, in charge of what happens.” Grindstaff also said he only transferred 27 CALFED staffers to the Delta council, which has 58 positions.

Look, y’all. The man has about a year to create a workplace of 60 people. Do you know how small the qualified, local, professional community is? There are probably, say, a couple hundred people like that in town, and a bunch of them are already working in interesting jobs for one agency or another. They may not feel like doing Delta stuff this decade, since they’ve gotten intrigued by salts or meadow restoration or something. In fact, the ones who really love the Delta and haven’t run screaming from the politics (I mean, I won’t go near it, for exactly that reason. I spectate and snipe from the sidelines.), are already working on it. Like, from the corpse of CALFED.

Second, do you have any idea how hard it is to hire people into the state? They have to pass a test to get on a list, and that test is offered years apart and you can’t hire anyone who isn’t on that list. If there is no list for the positions that the Delta Stewardship Council needs, you have zero external hiring pool. You would have to write the test, convince the Department of Personnel Administration to administer it, advertise it and grade it, and then you could start to hire. That would take a year, at the very fastest. Then you have to convince highly qualified people that they want to come work for a nascent agency, with no funding the following year, in an extremely contentious political environment where half of everyone will always hate you for something. Sometimes the half that loves you and the half that hates you switch sides.

Instead, this manager dude is going to look at his staff of thirty qualified people, who already have extensive expertise, and don’t need to be hired from outside. Of course he is going to move them over.

I want to address the other point, that this is a conspiracy to advance a Peripheral Canal. See, here’s the thing. Yes. That is the Schwarzenegger administration’s policy choice. That is what he directs the agencies to do, and what he’s going to try to rig any way he can in his last year in office. He thinks the state would be better for it, and he’s trying to make it happen. It is perfectly legitimate to disagree with that, and to point out and oppose his machinations. Sure, fine. But this isn’t, like, a secret mysterious agenda or even an inappropriate thing for an administration to do. He is pushing his preferred policy, because he wants it to happen, even though there is unresolved opposition. Yes. It may or may not work, but the presence of opposition doesn’t de-legitimize his actions*.

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