Category Archives: Climate Change

Couple more thoughts.

I have a couple more thoughts on the “death by strangulation” metaphor for Westlands, because I always have a couple more thoughts.

1. There actually is a possibility for death by strangulation for Westlands farmers, and that is if they hang themselves. Farmers commit suicide at disproportionate rates; it is terrible. There’s a lot of research on this, and help is available. Please, please do not kill yourself. Growers on the west side, please also keep an eye out for your neighbors. If they look depressed or hopeless, please ask them how they are. In many farmer suicides, western cowboy culture keeps people from volunteering how bleak they feel. But they might answer if asked, and it could prevent a suicide.

2. My other thought is that I keep telling growers on the west side to get out. The water situation isn’t going to get any better for them. Did you see the 2009 State Water Project draft reliability report? But it occurs to me that growers in Westlands may have no exit opportunity. What, they’re going to sell their land? To whom? Without water, that land has almost no value.

At the water law symposium a couple weekends back, Jason Peltier (a manager at Westlands) said something interesting. He said (recalling, so I can’t swear by the wording), ‘Shoot, most of them are already in bankruptcy, but the banks don’t want to foreclose.’ Which was very interesting.

Who holds those mortgages? What bank in their right mind would want to own those lands? What would a bank do with them? Who knows if liability will change, and one day they’ll be billed for their selenium drainage? A bank can’t sell those lands without water any better than the current owners could. A bank could maybe bundle them, and sell them to someone trying to start a solar energy empire. It’d be nice if the Nature Conservancy would take them; managed would be better than empty. But I think the Nature Conservancy has higher priorities, with more biodiversity left in them.

Anyway, the idea that without water, those lands have negative value to the holder would make it hard for farmers to get out, even if they could walk away. Man, I don’t know how to handle that. Land swaps somehow? But good farmland with secure water is being farmed now. Transitions are hard. Too bad we changed the climate away from the one we were optimized for.

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Filed under Agriculture, Climate Change, Drought

Seven feet of sea level rise.

A clear and scary post on sea level rise, with explicit recommendations.  Sadly, the authors have some ridiculous east coast bias, and didn’t even talk about the Delta, instead talking about effects of sea level rise on states like “Mississippi” and “Florida” and “Vietnam”.  Whatever.  They list several take away lessons that I’ll apply to somewhere important, since they couldn’t be bothered.

Immediately prohibit the construction of high-rise buildings and major infrastructure in areas vulnerable to future sea level rise. Buildings placed in future hazardous zones should be small and movable — or disposable.

This isn’t about the Delta, but I’ve been enjoying watching the cliff crumble under this apartment building in SF.

Remember, y’all.  As sea level rises, we”re not just talking about overtopping and inundation.  We’re talking about more extreme tides, higher storm surges and more wave energy all the time.  You remember your pressure triangle behind dams, right? (Go down to pg 40 for the figures.)  And how the force exerted is a function of depth?   I’ll let you figure out what this means for Delta levees by yourself.

Relocation of buildings and infrastructure should be a guiding philosophy. Instead of making major repairs on infrastructure such as bridges, water supply, and sewer and drainage systems, when major maintenance is needed, go the extra mile and place them out of reach of the sea. In our view, no new sewer and water lines should be introduced to zones that will be adversely affected by sea level rise in the next 50 years.

This one is interesting because it makes me wonder at the Peripheral Canal route, and how the engineers are planning to handle this.  It also makes me remember Prof. Lund telling the Delta Vision panel not to spend any money on Through-Delta Conveyance.

Stop government assistance for oceanfront rebuilding. … Those who invest in vulnerable coastal areas need to assume responsibility for that decision. If you stay, you pay.

This is why I have no love for in-Delta residents.  I know they’re in a really hard place and that their way of life is at stake.  That sucks.  But the sea is going to reclaim a lot of the Delta (faster if the earthquake comes first), and I don’t want to throw a couple billion dollars into maintaining it as is before the Pacific takes it.  It would be one thing if they could do that with their own money, but they can’t.  The only thing I can imagine being stable against seas that are going to rise seven feet in a hundred years is some sort of estuarine marsh-type thing.

Get the Corps off the shore. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, more or less by default, is the government agency in charge of much of the planning and the funding for the nation’s response to sea level rise. It is an agency ill-suited to the job. Part of the problem is that the engineers’ “we can fix it” mentality is the wrong mindset for a sensible approach to responding to changing sea level.

What?  The Army Corps doesn’t do stuff on the coast.  It builds flood control dams and gives terrible advice about river levees.   Also, I don’t particularly appreciate this slander against engineers.  We fixed the LA River, didn’t we?

Local governments cannot be expected to take the lead. The problems created by sea level rise are international and national, not local, in scope. Local governments of coastal towns (understandably) follow the self-interests of coastal property owners and developers, so preservation of buildings and maintaining tax base is inevitably a very high priority. In addition, the resources needed to respond to sea level rise will be far beyond those available to local communities.

This is a big dilemma.  We’re big into collaborative solutions and giving everyone a voice.  But the stakes for in-Delta residents are incredibly high, and there’s only one thing they can say (do what it takes to maintain our way of life).  But committing the state to maintaining Delta islands requires fantastical amounts of money.  Their understandable self-interest is ruinous for the other 37.5 million people in the state, and can’t be done anyway.   Which is why I kinda don’t feel bad that Delta legislators have been edged out of water negotiations.   What could they add?  They’re representing their people admirably, but their people want an impossible thing.  (Sea, don’t rise!  Earthquake, don’t come!  Levees, be strong enough for either!  State, buy us new strong-enough levees!)

Delta legislators keep saying that they’re not being heard, that they’re being shut out, but my guess is that what they want has been heard and rejected, which is not the same.  I bet if those same legislators came bringing proposals of a managed retreat, to secure the best deal for getting the Delta clear in the next couple decades, they’d get heard plenty.  I don’t know what Delta legislators are negotiating; I am certainly not in the room with important people.  But there is no winning for in-Delta residents who want their world to stay the same, so we can’t make water policy depend on their satisfaction.  If they can’t be satisfied and they’re going to be obstructionist, the conversation has to move on without them.

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Filed under Climate Change, Peripheral Canal