Monthly Archives: August 2010

LHC study: On system re-operation, and an inadvertant admission.

On page ix of the Executive Summary, the Little Hoover Commission writes about what the new Department of Water Management would do as an entity.  After discussing Integrated Regional Water Management for a bit*, they say (page x):

While the state can help local efforts to change water use, there are some state-level actions which have the potential to produce immense benefits for California as a whole.  The state can increase the amount of water available for use and better perform its environmental protection role by managing California’s state and federal reservoirs as a single system, and optimizing their operations to maximize storage.  The process would require working with regional groups to integrate groundwater storage into a broader state strategy.

System re-op?  System re-operations is the only state-level action that promises benefits worth mentioning?  That’s it?  That’s what the (new) Department of Water Management can do to make water available for human and environmental use?  Oh friends.  What this tells us is that THERE IS NO NEW WATER COMING.  What we have in the system now is all there is going to be.  (Personally, I don’t think we’ll even have that.  I think we’ll lose more to climate change and environmental needs than we can squeeze out of system re-op.)  Little Hoover Commission listened to all that testimony and heard nothing about the (proposed, new) DWM planning more projects and building new dams, or opening up new sources.  The best thing they heard, or at least the only thing they mentioned, was system re-op.  Me, I can’t guess what system re-op could yield, but I’d be surprised if it is more than a million acre-feet or so.  Not nothing, but it shouldn’t be keeping a whole planning agency busy.  Actually, I think system re-op is small enough that it should go with the State Water Project to its new home.

Let’s be clear what system re-op is, conceptually.  System re-op is conceding we need new supplies so much that we are willing to incur more risk of flooding.  System re-op is being willing to cut into a margin of safety in exchange for more yields.  Many reservoirs are run by a historic rule curve that tells the operators how much to empty the reservoir each fall and winter to be ready to catch the season’s floods.  That drawdown, that rule about how empty to keep your reservoirs in the winter, can mean lost water.  Maybe it can’t be used for irrigation in the Fall and we don’t have a way to put it in groundwater, but we have to release it anyway.  The rule curves are decades old.  They may be too conservative now; our storm forecasting is better.  We could hold on to water until we know for sure that a big storm is coming.   Any piece of water that we can keep in a reservoir (when before we would have let it go to make sure the reservoir has space to catch a storm) that’s real, new water.  Maybe reservoir re-op is a way of claiming some of the new gains in our knowledge.  Keeping the reservoir fuller introduces more risk that we’ll have to pass along a flood, but maybe our better forecasting is enough of a risk buffer to even that out.  But maybe storms under climate change will be so much more variable that our old reservoir rule-curves aren’t conservative enough.  We don’t know.  It looks like we’ll be doing the experiment in real life.

On one hand, the LHC is right.  Re-operating the projects is worthwhile, especially operating the big projects conjointly.   Adding in flexible groundwater recharge as a place to store those yields will make them even more valuable.  But.  The fact that we need them, and the implication that they’re the next best option (after integrated regional management, about which I stay skeptical), tells me that we truly do not have any dramatic good next alternatives. 

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LHC study: On separating the State Water Project from DWR.

The LHC report on a new water governance structure proposes to make the State Water Project (the actual reservoirs, plumbing, water rights and operations) its own deal, separate from DWR who runs it now.  The LHC mentions a whole host of problems with using the state civil service to staff the water project operations; I have no firsthand knowledge about the severity of these problems.  I can vouch that getting hired with the state is profoundly screwy.  Maybe it does cause problems over at the projects.  Then the report goes on to say that the State Water Project (state) and the Central Valley Project (feds) should get married and live together forever in the State Water Project’s new home, which I have no problem with, because  I’m totally openminded like that (pg 65).

Now for the aspects of separating the State Water Project from DWR that I do have opinions about:

One of the reasons that the LHC gives for moving the project outside the (new) Department of Water Management is that having the project inside the Dept. of Water Resources “dominates the agenda of a state department that also is responsible for water planning and management and where these dual missions often conflict.”  I think that’s a polite way to say that the big boys believe that the point of DWR is to deliver water, and delivering water becomes a little too co-equal in upper management.  Since I talk to political-level state appointees about zero percent of the time, again, I have no way to assess that personally.  I’m willing to believe it, but I also note that the big boys at the top of the agency are implementing the governor’s agenda, which in Republican administrations means delivering water.   We’ll know a lot more about what is driving the perspectives of upper management (direction from the governor or inclusion of the water project within the agency) in a few months.

The report mentions the concern from within DWR that without the glamorous, sexy projects in the Department, they might have a hard time getting engineers to work for them.  Whatever.  There is plenty of water engineering that isn’t based on canals, and if people want to do flood work, or design fish-passage improvement structures, or work with gauges and telemetry, the (new) Dept. of Water Management will still be one of the few places to do lots of that.  I guess their thinking is still dominated by the projects, if they think that’s why most engineers are at DWR.

Further, I know plenty many people who would be very pleased if the (new) Department of Water Management weren’t so engineering-based.  An organization that is supposed to plan for the waters of the state could stand to have a lot more of the earth scientists, and (to my mind) more sociologists and demographers.

Couple more things:

The LHC report talks in nice ways about the (new) Dept. of Water Management keeping rights authority over the separate project, but I was thinking plainer thoughts about how there would have to be some sort of giant-ass control mechanism over a stand-alone project authority.  I mean, if DWR is captured by the industry it serves, at least there is some political balance from the other things the department is supposed to be doing.  Think how far a stand-alone project could go along the lines of single-minded water delivery, and how hard that would be to detect from the outside.

One odd thing about the LHC’s proposed structure is that the (new) Dept. of Water Management would keep doing a function called system or reservoir re-operation (more about that soon). I don’t see any good reason for that.  Seems to me that system re-op should go with the projects, who would have the data, controls, system knowledge and authority.  They would be pretty highly motivated, too, I’d guess.  I don’t understand the reasoning for keeping system re-op in the (new) DWM.  It doesn’t seem to me to be particularly connected to the rest of their (proposed, new) state-scale planning mission.  System re-op is reservoir level stuff; planning and management for the state is much broader stuff.

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LHC study: Overview.

Friends, I’ll likely do a number of posts on the Little Hoover Commission’s proposal for a new structure for state-level water governance.  However, I can’t bring myself to summarize the whole report.  I am just going to have to hope that you are the junkies I think you are, and that you’ve read at least the Executive Summary.

Resources:  The Executive SummaryThe full reportLinks to the testimony they listened toAquafornia gathering the news stories on the report.

The purpose of their proposed new governance structure:

From the Executive Summary, it seems like the purpose of their proposed structure is to remove existing barriers to implementing the big water legislation from 2009.  The LHC wants a governance structure that “address[es] the supply challenges ahead while supporting [California’s] environment, accommodating its population growth and ensuring the conditions that allow its economy to thrive.” (pg i)

From the Introduction to the full report, the purpose of the proposed structure is to “allow the state to determine its water future on its own, by managing its water assets and planning for its future needs, rather than running the risk of having conditions imposed on the state from the outside that might fail to serve California’s longterm needs.”  (pg 2)  I gather from the paragraph that precedes that line that the LHC doesn’t want the projects to be jerked around by the federal district courts enforcing the ESA anymore.  That’s reasonable.

If I were a good blogger, I’d be thinking about whether their proposed structure will give the state ways to meet those goals.  But what you’re more likely to get out of me in the next few posts is commentary on whatever caught my eye enough to write a few hundred words.  Let’s do it…

(Oh, and y’all could ask me questions and stuff in the comments, if you want my take (worth exactly what you pay for it) on any particular aspect of the report.  I mean, I’ve read it now, and that kind of effort shouldn’t go to waste.)

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More about the Dudley Ridge water transfer.

I want to write about the Little Hoover Commission’s report on the structure of California water governance, but there’s so much in there that I’m overwhelmed.  Soon.  In the meantime, a couple rough thoughts about Dudley Ridge’s response to the Kern County Grand Jury report.

***

Dear Hanford Sentinel,

Would it kill you to give a link to the source materials, so I don’t have to rely only on your reporting?  It took me long minutes to track it down on the County website, which is the kind of strenuous reporting that bloggers don’t like to do.  (There you go, gentle readers.  The Grand Jury report is on pages 6-11; Dudley Ridge’s response is on pages 12-13.)  That would be great!

Love,

On

***

The Grand Jury’s report called for stricter oversight by the county and DWR, so that transfers that permanently sell away a noticeable chunk of water don’t happen by surprise.

Recommendation 3:
While short term water exchanges are acceptable and common, permanent transfers need more forceful oversight on the part of county officials and local public agencies.

Dudley Ridge’s response:

Response to Recommendation 3
We disagree that “more forceful oversight” is necessary. The District and the County are sister agencies, and each is an independent political subdivision of the state. Neither has authority over the other, and each is charged with specific responsibilities. The District, like the County is bound to follow certain statutory mandates. It did so in connection with the subject transfer, and it rigorously attempts to do so in all cases. If the Grand Jury believes the District (or any other party complying with the law) should act in a different manner, it should take those issues up with the Legislature in an effort to change the relevant requirements.

I kinda like that for the big “Fuck you, Grand Jury.  Take it up with the Legislature.”  I’m also in doubt, because I do think that counties have authority over districts, but honestly don’t know and shouldn’t opine on that issue.  But mostly, the thing that always strikes me about Dudley Ridge is that unlike anywhere else I know of, there is no District identity.  The “District” can’t disagree with anyone, because there is nothing that would ordinarily make up a “District.”  No one lives in Dudley Ridge, unless maybe there are some laborer camps.  So there is no “public” to go to district board meetings, issue comment and run for the Board if they don’t like the direction the district is going.   The owners of the land, and therefore the Board Members, are corporations like Vidovich in San Jose.  They don’t have staff.  They have one “Engineer-Manager”, but so far as I can tell, he’s a hired consultant from Provost and Pritchard (page 26).  You know how easy it would be for them to replace him if he ever got to having opinions?  I am sure that CH2MHill could have someone in there in a week.

Dudley Ridge is unusual in this (which is probably also why they were able to do something as unusual as permanently transfer water rights).  I’m not describing a state of affairs that shows how corrupt all SJV water is.  I’m only boggling that none of the usual checks of local democracy apply at all in Dudley Ridge’s case.  They’ll do what they like, which presumably is whatever is profitable for those companies.  If you don’t like it, take it up with the Legislature.

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Maybe I missed something crucial.

I dunno, man.  I sorta mostly agree with some of what this article talks about.  But I can’t get really worked up about it.  I believe what the author writes; that oil production didn’t see any restrictions on water use in the past drought.  The stuff about how yucky the water is after it gets used in oil production is new to me.  Maybe that’s a problem.  But overall, I think he’s bucking some pretty conventional wisdom with this piece, and for me at least, he isn’t persuasive.  Yes, oil production got all the water it could use during the drought.  By and large, most people agree that industrial processes should get priority for water, because they’re making things.  That may not actually be the case and perhaps this article is the kind of muck-raking that will start changing minds.  But I bet that if you ask laypeople how water should be allocated in the state, they’d say: me first, business second, fishies third, cute farms fourth, non-cute farms last.  You could maybe switch around the cute farms and the fish.  But saying that oil production, or industry in general, got their water in the drought isn’t going to raise a lot of eyebrows.

I have to complain about the attempt to make this sound like a big problem.  The oil industry got 8.4 billion gallons!  Eight point four BILLION!  Except, like, gallons are tiny.  You can even carry a gallon.  What is 8.4 billion gallons in real units?  Oh.  Twenty-five thousand acre-feet?  You wrote an article about 25,000 acre-feet of water in California?  Yes, every bit is precious, but unless you’re telling me a small town halved their consumption and saved 25,000 acre-feet, I’m not that intrigued.  We can all do this in our heads by now.  You’re talking the equivalent of 8,000 irrigated acres.  In the San Joaquin Valley, that’s rounding error.

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Then, in my imagination, we finish our granola and ride our bikes back to work.

Now that the State Water Contractors are so concerned with ammonia from Sacramento’s wastewater causing fish declines in the Delta, I keep imagining myself sitting down to chat with some lobbying flack for the State Water Contractors, a group that until now has been all about engineering water solutions to deliver water to agriculture.  I like to think of them leaning earnestly across the table, to tell me things like:

  • “Even small amounts of pollutants can greatly disrupt ecosystems. Matter is always conserved, you know. Diluting the problem just makes it all the harder to clean up later.”
  • “The food web is crucial to ecosystem stability. Small organisms can have much larger importance than you might think. We don’t mean some minnow, of course, but beautiful little phytoplankton.  It is so shallow to focus only on charismatic mega-fauna.”
  • “What you can see in these complex systems are threshold events, where different effects combine to cause an unexpected crash.  The only way to prevent that is to protect natural ecosystem functions and processes.”
  • “We should spend what it takes to keep the Delta ecosystem stable. There’s no balancing test for keeping Nature alive.”

I am pleased to welcome the State Water Contractors to the world of Ecology, where everything is complex and inter-related. They are going to just love the concepts of resilience (how much ammonia can one dump into a system before it re-sets to less complex functioning) and appreciating how each small part contributes to a rich larger system. Spend enough time hanging out in Ecology, and they’ll start to love the precautionary principle, because it turns out to be really hard to patch ecosystems back together. If a small and ignoble part of me thinks that their newfound love for phytoplankton is something of an opportunistic attempt at distraction from the much larger effects of lack of water through the Delta, well, I think it could be good for the State Water Contractors to start thinking like biologists and ecologists anyway. 

Now that the State Water Contractors are all about ecology, where might they turn their attention next? I’ve loved their recent emphasis on invasive species. Are they going to get very interested in upstream creek restoration and spawning grounds? They should. How about water quality besides ammonia from Sacramento’s wastewater?  Methyl mercury from gold mining?  It all combines to influence the Delta ecosystem, as well they know. I’m looking forward to more lectures from them about food webs.

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Book review: The Johnstown Flood, McCullough

Was reading The Johnstown Flood, by David McCullough this week, because I love a disaster book like no other. You guys should read this, and then Under a Flaming Sky, by Brown, which is about a giant fire that ate whole towns. Then you should read The Outlaw Sea, by Langewiesche, which has informative parts too, but I read for the ferry sinking in the middle third. Then you’ll never sleep again.

Anyway, The Johnstown Flood was fun. There were the dramatic parts, of course, which were horrific.  I enjoyed an early sighting of some engineer named Brinkerhoff. The part that I think might be relevant for today was a poem that could have broader contemporary use. One theory of the dam collapse was that it was due to screens across the discharge pipes that were intended to keep fish in the reservoir for sport fishing. A man named Isaac Reed wrote a poem about the tragedy:

Many thousand human lives–
Butchered husbands, slaughtered wives,
Mangled daughters, bleeding sons,
Hosts of martyred little ones,
(Worse than Herod’s awful crime)
Sent to Heaven before their time;
Lovers burnt and sweethearts drowned,
Darlings lost but never found!
All the horrors that hell could wish,
Such was the price that was paid– for fish!

Farm Water Coalition, Dolphin Group, Westlands, fake Delta front groups. So far you have been concentrating on fake workers’ marches and fake websites, and I see Mike Wade everywhere commenting on any newspaper story that mentions water. Have you considered writing torrid poetry?  You could add a second verse.  “Smelt” practically rhymes with “Hell” already.  Shoot, if I get bored at my meeting today, maybe I’ll write something for you myself.

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