From "Delta Flows", the weekly newsletter of Restore the Delta
The Public Policy Institute's New Report: An Elaborate, Yet Incomplete Sales Brochure For the Peripheral Canal
By Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla
Before reviewing what is wrong with the report's faulty assumptions and conclusions, Restore the Delta staff feels compelled to share two key pieces of information regarding the report that have been ignored by the mainstream media. First, on July 18th, the report's authors held a media event in Sacramento to discuss their findings. Whenever an individual in the audience raised a question, the authors advised the questioning individual to look for the answer in the on-line appendices.
Consequently, Restore the Delta staff diligently went about seeking the answers to their questions in the appendices. To their surprise, the majority of the appendices could not be found on-line, and according to the report's website the missing appendices will not be made available to the public until later this summer.
At first, Restore the Delta staffed, while irritated, assumed that this lack of full disclosure was a simple oversight, the result of a communications hiccup between the report's authors and those managing the website. However, sources close to the Restore the Delta campaign have learned that the Schwarzenegger Administration pushed for the publication of the report before it was complete. These same officials wanted to see this report out the door before the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force moved too far forward with its own finding and recommendations for the future of the Delta, and the report's authors complied.
While the details in the missing appendices will without a doubt support the report's many inaccurate claims promoting the peripheral canal, the Governor's attempts to alter public opinion through media orchestration in order to push his water agenda exemplify California water politics as its worst.
Second, Restore the Delta cannot help but to question the link between some of the funding for this study and its conclusion that the peripheral canal is the silver bullet for the Delta. Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr., one of the report's financial contributors and co-owner of the Bechtel Corporation, would be eligible for a huge contract if a peripheral canal were to be constructed. Bechtel Corporation's history with the management of water projects, especially large-scale projects as tried in South America http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=6670, reveals the company's disregard for local communities, public health, local economies, and the environment.
As a friend with Restore the Delta notes, Bechtel's past practices in the area of water indicate "a sordid history in the name of profit."
In addition to our disappointment with the report, Restore the Delta is dismayed that the Public Policy Institute accepted funding for this report from a source with such a questionable history in the area of water management.
Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, deserves credit for the sales brochure analogy for the PPIC report
Here is a simple laundry list of what we have found wrong with the report on the surface:
The peripheral canal will not make more water for California. Rerouting the Sacramento River will take away the Delta's last major fresh water source, worsening Delta water quality.
The peripheral canal will not alter the need for a comprehensive flood management plan for the Delta to protect property, infrastructure, and more importantly the 400,000 living around the Delta.
The report's proposal to abandon Delta islands experiencing levee failures in the interior of the Delta - or the idea to purchase and deliberately flood Delta islands - is highly problematic for the surrounding urban areas. The stress that would be put on existing urban levees would cause problems with seepage and wave erosion and would increase potential flood risk that we believe would be more expensive to repair than what's cited in the report. Also the report doesn't calculate potential urban flood costs from employing such a strategy.
The report's analysis assumes that water flowing into and out of the Delta remains unchanged when the point of diversion is changed. But everyone who lives, works, and recreates in the Delta knows that with less fresh water flowing through the Delta, more salt water will intrude into local waterways.
The water quality analysis in the report is truly incomplete. It only features a discussion of a potential increase in salinity due to sea level rise, but it does not include a complete hydrological analysis of how climate change will affect the Delta. It does not examine the possibility that Sacramento River flows will decrease during dry periods, limiting or possibly stopping exports all together. The long term possibility of significantly reduced available flows also needs to be part of the water/cost analysis of a peripheral canal. And of course, there should be an analysis the evaporation factor that would result from moving such a large amount of water south in a warmer climate.
The report tries to builds the case that the Delta should be abandoned because sea level rise will make it unsustainable. Climate change is a reality and must be prepared for, but that means for coastal California as well as the Delta. Decisions made to protect the coasts will play a part in determining what needs to happen in the Delta. We should be looking at studies on how to stop salt water intrusion into the Delta. We should be planning for set back levees and gate systems, as is being done in other regions throughout the world. Climate change should not become a reason to abandon the people of the Delta any more than it should be used as a reason to abandon people living in coastal communities.
The report does not build in costs for fish screens for diverting the Sacramento River. We have heard cost estimates from the state that would run into billions of dollars. But more importantly, environmentalists tell us that there isn't a fish screen big enough in the world to protect fish from the amount of water that would be diverted from the Sacramento River.
The report says that the peripheral canal would have a major impact on salmon as they migrate upstream. Salmon fishing is part of our history and culture and deserves protection. The report says that the State Water Project serves as a sound precedent for the principle that water users should pay for water infrastructure from which they will benefit. As demonstrated through CAL Fed, once the water contractors and agencies have their water, they won't pay for environmental protections like fish screens.
The report is biased in favor of Central Valley agriculture. It doesn't even consider the retirement of drainage impaired lands loaded with selenium and salt in the Central Valley. Instead it posits that a peripheral canal would bring about a Central Valley Farming benefit of $1 billion per year. But the report does not contain an accurate and full economic analysis of the Delta region. Delta agriculture with secondary community benefits is estimated by local agencies to be worth $2 billion each year. Delta recreation (boating, sportfishing and tourist industries) is estimated at $750 million per year. And of course the commercial salmon run from the Delta is also a significant economy. Something isn't adding up here. So the idea seems to be to rob the Delta of its fresh water for the economic benefit of another region. Their economic analysis (which is still not fully available to the public) values the islands that they are proposing to allow to flood in the Delta at $81 billion and calls Delta crops "low value crops." But good water quality in the Delta is supporting an overall economy of at least nearly $3 billion annually, before we even add in commercial salmon fishing.
Our "low value crops," as they are called by the report's authors, include asparagus, blueberries, grapes, and pears and cannot be sustained with degraded water quality. Furthermore corn and alfalfa are not such low value crops in today's economy, or when you consider the need for local food security.
And besides, we cannot think of a more low value crop than subsidized cotton grown on drainage impaired lands!
This report has gone a long toward pitting the future of Delta family farmers, Delta business owners, boaters, wake boarders, and sports and commercial fishing communities against large corporate agri-business in the southern part of the Central Valley. It's not about fish being more important than Californians. It's about the people within Delta communities, our culture, our history, our way of life, and our public health being sacrificed for a water grab. We don't believe that Californians want to see Delta family farms and communities done away with for the benefit of large corporate agriculture.
We do agree with the report's findings that governance of the Delta is in crisis. But the report does not contain a proposed solution. It merely asserts that because consensus cannot be reached on Delta water uses that local Delta stakeholders should not be part of governance. The report is deciding our future for us and is seeking to exclude us from being at the table in terms of governance. It goes against the grain of democratic, representational government - not very American.
If the probability of earthquakes is so high in the Delta, then we need a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan with materials set aside for a disaster. More importantly, we aren't we moving to reinforce levees crucial to water supply on the five islands considered critical to water supply in the report? Instead of hand wringing, existing bond money should be used to begin this work.
There are problems with current state analysis regarding subsidence which the authors use for their data. Rather than abandoning islands, it would be more cost effective to build land up by planting tulles in appropriate places and compensating landowners accordingly. Also, there are agriculture studies under way looking at crops that could be useful for reversing the subsidence problem.
Cost estimates in the report are in 2008 dollars. Costs in Delta Vision analysis have shown that a peripheral canal would cost more: one source says it could reach $80 billion. Costs for fish screens are not listed.
Last, as a friend of Restore the Delta mentioned yesterday, "It seems that the authors of the PPIC report are seeking to create an artificial Delta that mimics the idea of what the Delta once was, rather than improving what we have in the present."