Turtles all the way down.

It is worth noting, as I’m sure some of you already have, that Dr. Lund is a strong proponent of a Peripheral Canal. I don’t know Dr. Madani’s position. I’m also a proponent of a Peripheral Canal, although not necessarily a large Peripheral Canal. So maybe that’s what is going on, that we’re just finding arcane academic-talk to drive the process towards our conclusion, including the notion that the State should take a firm hand. That’s surely possible. Biases are subtle and deep; one’s self-reports aren’t necessarily reliable. But there is a bit of a chicken-and-egg question here.

My reason for supporting the Peripheral Canal is that I think the risk of a catastrophic failure of the Delta levees is unacceptably high considering the fact that SoCal’s drinking water depends on them. So, do I think we need a Peripheral Canal because the Delta could melt down at any moment? Or do I think the Delta could melt down at any moment because I’ve already decided we need a Peripheral Canal (because of my innate love of concrete and ruining people’s lives)? Of course I think it is the former, but I am likely in an internal feedback loop, since that’s what people with biases do. You’ll probably come to some conclusion on that question, and it will also be shaped by your underlying biases. There’s no end to it.


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7 responses to “Turtles all the way down.

  1. No. You and I are the purely rational ones. It’s those other people who are doing this.

  2. Francis

    Watching (or, in my case, participating in) the rapid depopulation of a major US city could be an excellent source of entertainment and therefore a reason to vote against the Canal. Just how much larger is the population in MWD’s service area as compared to the pre-Katrina population of New Orleans?

  3. onthepublicrecord

    We should start a pool. I’ve got Atlanta as the first to go.

  4. Mr. Kurtz

    It’s actually not such a ha-ha if LA goes dry in 24 hours. It’s a goddam panic, and “to hell with the environment” will be the universal battle call. Aside from the safety issue, a properly operated PC can actually improve the operation of the CVP/SWP from an environmental perspective, by making it more flexible. I agree that a PC should not be constructed with the idea of making more deliveries. It should make the deliveries more reliable and efficient. Agricultural users can use markets to allocate their water, one the quantities and timings are known. Reliability also allows them to make long term investments in conservation projects.

  5. onthepublicrecord

    L.A. won’t go dry in 24 hours. My impression is that there’s about 18 months worth of supply south of the Delta. LA will lose all its landscaping and learn new ways, but they won’t have to evacuate in three days or anything.

    Yep. It’ll be “to hell with the environment” and “to hell with the farmers.” But the city will persist until the emergency Peripheral Canal is built. Now that’ll be a monster-sized construction project.

  6. Robert Pyke

    I must confess that I have not read more than the abstract of the Madani and Lund paper although I have read a similar paper by folks from, I think, UC Berkeley. It is interesting to apply game theory to these public policy problems but I really believe that we should get the facts right before we start gaming them. I am provoked to write by your statement: “My reason for supporting the Peripheral Canal is that I think the risk of a catastrophic failure of the Delta levees is unacceptably high considering the fact that SoCal’s drinking water depends on them.” That may be a perfectly correct statement of your opinion but I have to question the underlying basis for it. As a professional engineer with some expertise relative to levees, exemplified by serving as an expert witness for the plaintiffs, the winning side, in the Paterno case, I take levee robustness very seriously, but the idea that there will be widespread failure of Delta levees in even a moderate earthquake is basically a red herring relative to the issue of ecosystem restoration in and reliable conveyance through the Delta. First, because the probability of such failures has been exaggerated. I don’t know exactly why my friends Jeff Mount and Ray Seed, Dr Doom and Dr Doomsday, consistently exaggerate the threat in their public pronouncements but when we talk in private there is not much difference in our views – the levees are not in great shape but they could be improved, at what I think is a relatively modest cost relative to the value of the infrastructure that passes through the Delta. To say that the cost of improving levees cannot be justified given only the value of agricultural production is a red herring within a red herring. But second, it is my understanding the current studies being conducted for DWR suggest that the Delta would be flushed out within a reasonable period of time even if one assumes very widespread failures.

    But moving on to the question of whether or not a Win-Win is possible, I would like to suggest that it might be. In my judgment the basic problem with BDCP is that the idea of moving the export intakes to the North Delta is a legacy idea that has been around since the nineteen-twenties and is simply the cheapest way to get Sacramento River water safely to the South. The idea was conceived when the ecology of the Delta was not a big issue and it was also planned that there would be diversions from the Northern Rivers that would in fact provide much of the export flows. When Jerry Brown made a deal with the Sierra Club around 1982 to ban the diversions from the Northern Rivers in return for their support for a peripheral canal, he inadvertently caused the present stalemate. Without additional flow in the Sacramento River moving the intakes from the South Delta to the North Delta simply changed the flow regime in the Delta from cross flow to no flow. And no flow is not better than cross flow! If the basic BDCP concept remains the same, there is no possibility of a Win-Win. However, call me Dr Dreamer, but it may be that there is a Win-Win-Win.

    There are two keys to this:

    1. Recognition that manmade alteration of the Delta in combination with larger export flows has turned the Delta from an estuarine environment into a more lacustrine environment which favors invasive species over native species; and

    2. Recognition that precipitation in California is extremely variable and that past and future variability, which many climate scientists predict might be greater, must be addressed in any sustainable water management plan.

    Therefore, any plan to meet the co-equal goals should have these features:

    1. Natural flows through the Delta should be restored to the maximum practical extent; and

    2. Much more water should be extracted at periods of high flow and much less, or zero, water should be extracted at periods of low flows.

    Adherence to these principles, with appropriate pumping and temporary storage facilities, will allow simultaneous recovery of the Delta ecosystem and sustainable exports at existing levels.

    Such a plan would include four physical elements:

    1. Restoration of floodplains on the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and their tributaries in order to provide flood storage and stretch out the flood hydrograph in addition to providing significant flood management benefits;

    2. New pumping facilities somewhere in the West Delta to allow flows to pass through the Delta in a natural way before surplus flows are extracted; these facilities might include some temporary storage;

    3. One or more tunnels that can move the extracted water to a large temporary storage facility until the existing pumps can move it south; this storage facility would likely be located adjacent to and might incorporate the existing Clifton Court Forebay;

    4. Additional south-of-Delta storage, much of it likely as groundwater but also including new Westside surface storage.

    So the third Win is integration of enlightened flood management with benefits to Northern California residents with a plan to repair the Delta and restore reliable water supply to Central Valley farmers and Southern California urban areas. A fundamental ingredient for success is still genuine outreach to and involvement of all stakeholders, but if you have the basics right, this becomes a game that can be won.

  7. Mr. Kurtz

    A very interesting and fresh look at things, Mr. Pike. I’m not qualified to say whether the engineering solution you propose is better. But the fundamental point you make is overlooked my most: California’s problem is that the demand curve is not congruent with the supply curve, so we need to rely on storage. A secondary issue attached to this is that the population is largely concentrated in the arid coastal areas, necessitating the importation of water. This population distribution was not caused by water projects; throughout history, people have lived near ports and river junctions. Fortunately, unlike Arizona or New Mexico, we actually do have pretty abundant water supplies in our state; jut in the wrong places at the wrong times for our needs. Construction to make our systems more flexible, reliable, and safe is better economically and better environmentally.
    @opr: OK, a catastrophe might not “dry up LA in 24 hours” , but that is what the people will be told, and the authorities will act in panic.