Glad to be back; I’ve missed you guys.

I’ll ease my way back into this with the easiest of posts: news commentary. 

  • First, I want to say how much I appreciate straightforward meeting summaries like this.  I appreciate Mr. Breitler’s post of crowd commentary even more.  I often regret that I can’t go to important public meetings, and posts like these help fill me in.  Thanks for those.
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  • I see a couple rate-increase stories a day.  The standard story involves angry citizens vowing to fight the increase and saying that the district should find other sources, like the piles of money that the directors sleep on at night.  So this story about a rate increase in wealthy, liberal St. Helena was pretty fun.  Well, yes, say the puzzled locals.  Of course you need the money to maintain the infrastructure.  But we would have preferred that you ramped the rates up gradually a few years ago.  Why did you let it get this bad?  There is a small mention of little old ladies eating catfood, but it is pretty perfunctory.  It must be nice to be an elected official in St. Helena.
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  • The thing that intrigued me about this opinion piece from the American Farm Bureau Federation is that the author gives the environmentalist perspective no altruistic motivation.  The only explanation Mr. Ness has for decades of environmentalist effort is that they “seek to … control the water and all that comes with it. ” Mr. Ness quotes the perspective that environmentalist “activist groups … try… to shut down irrigation in the name of a bite-sized fish and an over-sized political agenda”, but closes by saying that farmers should “make sure a little silver fish is not really a red herring.”  But neither the quoted gentleman nor Mr. Ness explain what they think the environmentalist agenda really is.  Control for control’s sake?  Preventing irrigation for no reason at all?  Why doesn’t Mr. Ness accept the possibility that environmentalists really like fish?  Even small fish.  Or that fish represent something that environmentalists like even more, like working natural ecosystems? 

It mostly doesn’t matter what any individual opinionater believes about their opposite’s mindset.  But if this is ever to reach a negotiation phase, the negotiators at least will have to believe that the person they’re negotiating with has genuine goals.  Genuine goals can be traded and accommodated in negotiation.  Vague secret goals of ‘power’ and ‘control’ can never be met.

  • I have to say.  My feelings were a little hurt by Mr. Curlee’s opinion piece earlier this week, saying that everyone south of the Delta should follow Westland’s lead and rage against “unwanted and unmerited federal interference” in California’s water business.   What am I, a potted plant?  Have all our state efforts meant nothing to you, Mr. Curlee?  What about the State Board’s Delta flows report?  What about the new Delta watermaster going around telling ag that inefficient irrigation practices aren’t a reasonable use of water?  Is the California Endangered Species Act nothing, a trifle?

I suspect, with nothing in the way of personal evidence, that Mr. Curlee is in the grips of a confused Tea Party-esque view, in which the federal government is the source of oppression and the states are valiant experiments in freedom.  How confusing this must be in California, where the same federal judge hands down the rulings that set a pumping schedule to protect state and federal endangered species (Fed judge BAD), and later told FWS to re-write their Biological Opinion (Fed judge GOOD, fed agency BAD) .  What a conundrum for Mr. Curlee.  Fortunately, Gov. Brown appears to be picking unabashed liberal environmentalists for his administration.  Perhaps they can help Mr. Curlee overcome his ideological focus on the Feds as the source of all trouble and open his mind to new complexities.

  • Very much enjoyed Matt Jenkin’s Grist piece, as well as Dr. Michael’s thoughts on it.  My own thoughts weren’t especially deep.  I was interested in the anecdotes of farmers purchasing additional lands to consolidate their water use either within or outside Westlands.  The unused land is effectively fallowed (or possibly retired), but we don’t hear much about small scale transfers like that.   I was very curious about the number “6.9 million acres of farmland.”  I’ve heard all sorts of estimates.  Dept. of Conservation uses 12 million acres, but I think that includes rangeland.  DWR says 9.2  irrigated acres.  I don’t especially care, and believe there must be some definition that applies, but 7 million is the lowest I’ve heard.   I loved reading that at least one grower was thinking about an exit strategy; since I believe that there’ll be considerably less water for ag over the next decades, I’d like individual growers have decent transitions out.  I liked Dr. Michael’s commentary as well.  Neither of them talk about the overarching issue of whether California should be supplying the entire world with almonds, shipping our sunlight, water and ecosystem health abroad in the shape of very tasty nuts. I personally would trade my abstract pride in our almond-dominating prowess for the abstract knowledge that salmon are swimming in our waters.  But that’s because I insatiably crave power like fish.
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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Glad to be back; I’ve missed you guys.

  1. Robert Pyke

    Welcome back!
    I want to second your commendations to Sarah Langford of ACWA and Alex Breitler of the Stockton Record under your first bullet. Both pieces are relatively straightforward reports, as is Sarah’s subsequent report of the second day of the Delta Stewardship Council meeting. However, Sarah’s subsequent report http://www.acwa.com/news/delta/delta-stressors-seismic-risks-focus-delta-stewardship-council-meeting, that covers the ISB report on stressors and USGS comments on earthquake risk, contains an apparently innocuous quote from Dave Schwartz, an old friend, who said: “We are less sophisticated at retrofitting levees for earthquake risks as we are at retrofitting buildings”. My problem here is that that is just not true. I’ll explain why I say that in a moment, but my reason for writing is primarily to point out the difficulty of sustaining intelligent public debate on these somewhat technical issues. I recently had a long debate by e-mail with Paul Tullis, who had a well-researched and well-written article on Delta issues in Miller-McCune. Paul, understandably in many ways, had highlighted the most quotable quotes from people on either side of the argument – the most quotable, not the most accurate, rational or helpful. I suggested that he should do a follow-up article exploring the biases of the people that he had quoted, but he said that he did not think that he could sell that to his editors.
    In Alex’s report of this same meeting he includes a quote from Phil Isenberg, the chairman of the Council, which speaks to this same issue: “Everybody is remarkably capable of determining something should or should not be done based on their own previously determined policy positions”. Phil is not far off the mark, but a one size hat does not necessarily fit all heads in this instance. Most people who choose to speak in public are posturing and prejudiced to some extent, but not everyone, or at least not everyone to the same extent. So, here is my question: how can a layperson decide the merits of opposing views put forth by different, apparently well-qualified experts?
    Disclaimer: I already have a draft of an article on this subject and I will pirate any useful suggestions!
    Footnote: my problem with the quote from Dave Schwartz is actually two-fold. One problem is that, although he is an unusually well qualified and able tectonic geologist, our relative ability to retrofit buildings and levees is an engineering question, not a geologic question. The second problem is that the assertion is just not correct. Nor was Joe Grindstaff’s comment, reported by Matt Weiser in the Sacramento Bee, that : “We have no earthquake standard for levees in the state, it’s not something we design a levee around yet.” It is true that DWR has been slow to develop procedures for analyzing the earthquake hazard to levees and in drawing up standards, but the DWR Urban Levee Evaluation includes consideration of earthquake shaking and so does the recently released 4th draft of the DWR Interim Levee Design Criteria. While specifically for urban levees, these criteria address what are called “non-intermittent” levees, i.e. Delta levees and constitute a useful step towards developing appropriate standards for Delta levees. Otherwise, in addition to working on both Delta and riverine levees, including serving as an expert witness in the Paterno Case, I have worked on evaluating the earthquake hazard to levees around San Francisco and San Pablo bays since at least 1977. These levees protect both homes and landfills that contain varying amounts of toxic waste. Neither BCDC, nor the multiple agencies that regulate landfills, will accept even low probabilities of failure of these levees. As to whether it is easier to retrofit a levee or a building structure, as someone who has also worked on the BART seismic retrofit and the design of the new East Bay Bridge, as well as a number of school and hospital buildings, I will assert that making a levee robust to withstand earthquake shaking is a lot simpler than retrofitting or even designing a new building or bridge structure to be robust. Basically it just takes a wider cross-section and more dirt. Oh, you say, the test was sophistication. Well, we can do very sophisticated nonlinear analyses of levees and their foundations, given time and money – in some ways more sophisticated than most seismic analyses of buildings and bridges. But the point is more that they are not generally necessary because the design of a levee is simpler and more common-sensical.

    Robert Pyke Ph.D., G.E.

  2. jroth95

    I feel certain that I’ve told you before of my wife’s most infamous encounter with an accuser with vague rightwing notions in mind. A preservation planner, she was accused by a lawyer of wanting to see a new historic district designated because she wanted to “expand her bureaucratic power base.” Because, for a civil servant, greater workload with no increase in wage is the ultimate reward.

    To the mild credit of the law firm in question, said lawyer never appeared at a preservation hearing again. But I do sometimes wonder if there’s anything more to the rightwing mindset than crass projection.