Thursday, August 13, 2009

California Water Issues Forum

I went to the California Water Issues Forum on Wednesday to learn and to ask questions.

I wrote my questions on a card as directed, and waited through the 3 hour long program. When the public had it's turn to speak, they changed the rules and said no questions, just comments. They said they wanted people to be able to speak, so they wouldn't recognize specific questions (like mine). Lester Snow gave the impression that they will get back to us with answers to our specific questions. When (if?) I get a response, I will post it here.

I understand wanting to let the people speak instead of the panelists answer questions. That would have been really great if the panelists hung around to actually listen to the comments other than Leter Snow and David Hayes (I'm sure they will all watch the archived webcast.) I thought the point of the event was for the decision makers to listen to the people's concerns. Jeff Mount, Tom Birmingham (Westlands Water District), Karla Nemeth (BDCP) and others have had plenty of opportunities to give their point of view. Maybe they should have made it questions, because then the panelists would have been forced to stick around and listen.

For what it's worth, I will post the 3 specific questions I put on my card here.

1. Lester Snow (DWR) and Karla Nemeth (BDCP): Are you going to fund a cost-benefit analysis for the peripheral canal? If not, why? If yes, are you going to have an open RFP (Request for Proposal) or just hire Dr. Mount (i.e. UC-Davis)?

2. Dr. Mount: You discussed sensitivity analysis and the robustness of your results in your presentation of why it isn't cost effective for us to fix certain Delta islands after they flood. That's good. What about the more controversial part of the PPIC study in which you endorsed a peripheral canal? As a good scientist, no doubt you have done a sensitivity analysis to your assumptions. Is your conclusion about the peripheral canal robust? Specifically, does it stand up to: a) lower earthquake risk (you said yours were too high), b) lower economic multipliers (your co-authors admit they are too high), c) lower assumptions about population growth (your studies assumptions are based on huge projections justified with fake references), d) lower assumptions about water recycling cost ($1500af, proven to be nearly 3x too high today, let alone 2050), e) incorporate a 20% per capita reduction in water use which is easily attainable and a state initiative, f) lower desalination costs, g) lower costs for levee upgrades (I don't know about this, but Delta engineers say it is true), h) putting an explicit value on improving fish stocks.

3. Dr. Mount: If you flood those Delta islands as you suggest, are you aware that it will cost 80,000 jobs and the social impact will be devastating? Just kidding about the number of jobs (comment intended to be a joke about the exagerrated claims of unemployment in the Valley caused by the Smelt). My question is why such a cold treatment of Delta farming, ignoring social impacts, recreation and other values. When your study looked at a scenario that would take South Valley farms out of production, the PPIC study explicitly calculated "social impacts" such as lost jobs. When modeling a scenario that takes out Delta farms, you do not. Why the inconsistency?

[Post slightly edited by on 8/16 to tone down the rhetoric a little. I should also point out that I like much of what Dr. Mount has done, don't have a problem with him speaking on this program, and he is asking many of the right questions. His statements that we need to prioritize our investments and can't save everything are right on target, as is the focus on peer reviewed science boards. However, I suggest they broaden their perspective of what we might not save.]

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