Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Joe Grindstaff misquotes the Draft Delta Plan 3 out of 4 times

I thought the Draft Delta Plan was a snooze until someone pointed me to Joe Grindstaff's cover memo.  I guess Joe thought the plan was a snooze too and he needed to liven it up some, since 3 of the 4 key findings he quoted from the draft plan were not actual quotes from the plan. 

Perhaps I am nit picking here, but quotation marks are serious business, especially when you are the official voice summarizing a critical 51 page policy document to the press and general public.   

Unlike most people, I read the draft plan first, and Grindstaff's memo later.  I didn't think the memo reflected the content of the draft that accurately, and went back to the draft to see how I could have missed the emphasis on these key findings.  Here is the summary in Grindstaff's cover memo, and if you search the draft plan document, only his third quote actually appears in the draft plan
I want to point out four key preliminary staff draft findings in this document:

1. “California’s total water supply is oversubscribed. California regularly uses more water annually than is provided by nature.” This reality makes the management of our limited surface water supplies and the Delta even more critical. When water exports from the Delta are reduced, the unintended consequence is increased demand on an already overused and unsustainable groundwater system.

2. “California’s water supply is increasingly volatile.” Precipitation and runoff patterns are changing, increasing uncertainty for water supply and quality, flood management, and ecosystem functions.” We must adapt our management practices in order to protect ourselves against present and future risk and if we are to achieve the coequal goals.

3. “Even with substantial ecosystem restoration efforts, some native species may not survive.” Best available science indicates that some stressors are beyond our control and the system may have already changed so much that some species may never be able to recover.

4. “There is no comprehensive state or regional emergency response plan for the Delta.” In spite of all the analysis that says that we have greater risk than New Orleans, all we have at the state and regional level are plans to develop plans.
Sure enough, Grindstaff's quotes that aren't quotes were reprinted verbatim in many press accounts as the key findings in the draft plan.

There must have been 20 or more findings in the draft which were presented without any ordering or emphasis, so choosing 4 findings for the cover memo (which is all many people will read) already risks introducing personal bias, and needs to be done carefully.  Even if I ignore the misquotes, Grindstaff's selections seem to have some bias.  First, the draft report has findings in 4 chapters, and the only chapter Grindstaff ignored is the one that describes the importance of Delta as a place, whereas water supply issues get two spots (and are the most misrepresented).

It is interesting that the only ecosystem finding he quotes is the one that is intended to dampen expectations for ecosystem restoration and was the last finding in the list in this section.  No mention of Delta flow requirements.  At least he quoted this one accurately.

The first two regarding water supply aren't actually in the draft report.  The words "oversubscribed" and "volatile" do not actually appear anywhere in the document.  The commentary shows bias too, suggesting that reducing Delta exports won't do any good because it will just increase ground water overdraft.  I might point out that the opposite wasn't exactly true either, building the water projects and increasing delta pumping didn't stop groundwater overdraft.  He could have pointed out that reduced Delta exports in recent years did lead to much more urban water conservation than people expected with little cost to the urban economy, and that it also stimulated increased agriculture to agriculture water transfers and increased efficiencies.  But these would be good results from reducing exports, and he is just emphasizing the negative (although he didn't mention field fallowing which is a negative too).

When it comes to the Delta, Grindstaff chooses to emphasize that it is a disaster in the making while ignoring that the fact that it is a place as emphasized in the water legislation.  He even throws in a New Orleans comparison, even though you won't find the word "New Orleans" anywhere in the draft plan either.

Grindstaff's cover memo would be just fine if it were a blog post like this commenting on the plan, but it is a summary coming from an official spokesman, the Council's executive officer.  He has a lot of control over the information that the Delta Stewardship Council members receive (not to mention the press and the public), and they need to be able to rely on him to represent it accurately.

As the Delta plan progresses to detail important and controversial measures such as the details of any proposed conveyance and financing plans, it will be important for Grindstaff and the Stewardship Council to be more careful and accurate if they want to maintain trust and credibility.

[Update:  Joe Grindstaff left a comment with an explanation.  Click through to the comments to see it.]

[Update 2, 2/23:  I am surprised, but this is by far the most viewed post in the history of this blog.  I am also a bit sad since this is less substantive than most posts.  I guess the blog would be more popular if I talked less about economics and more about individuals and media spin.] 


  1. Jeff,
    You are quite right. I apologize. I quoted from what I was told was the final version and completed my memo before the final staff draft was released. The language was changed, although I belive the intent does remain the same. I do not apologize for highlighting those findings, they are at the heart of the discussions we need to have. Joe Grindstaff

  2. Joe,

    I appreciate the explanation.

    Since the quotes are now out there and in the press, it seems that you should release the draft you quoted from, explain why the edits were made and why they were not brought to your attention.


  3. When I wrote this post, I wasn't leading the development of a complex plan with multiple staff like I am now. I now know what it is like to have drafts getting final changes, and not having time to review and see what has and has not been done because of a deadline required by law for a public meeting.

    I don't take back the post, but I completely accept his explanation now, and take back the above comment.