Over the past decade, I have sometimes heard the PPIC/Davis water group described as "useful fools"
, who unwittingly support the further environmental demise of the Delta. This week, a pair of prominent UC-Davis biologists gave the Delta tunnels (aka WaterFix) a qualified endorsement
. Their timing,
rationalization and subsequent reaction from the WaterFix public relations machine reminded me of this political phrase.
For the past few weeks, the WaterFix discussion has been dominated by discussions of whether the Delta tunnels are worth $16+ billion to water agencies. In making their economic/financial case, water agency staff have consistently maintained that if we don't build the WaterFix, water exports from the delta will be slashed to 3.5 - 3.9 million acre feet annually, which is essentially cutting exports back to pre-1980 levels.
The UC-Davis scientists (Peter Moyle and James Hobbs) included this as the 3rd of 4 options they list as alternatives to the WaterFix, "3. Roll back water delivery volumes to pre-1980 levels." However, in direct contradiction to the current arguments of those pushing the Waterfix, these eminent fish experts eliminate the option of cutting water exports because they view it as politically infeasible. With the best option for fish thus dismissed, they endorse the WaterFix while falsely suggesting that the habitat improvements in Ecorestore can only occur with the tunnels/WaterFix. Here is their specific language...
So, the best option for smelt, and other native fishes, especially salmon, is #3, because it should result in a large increase in freshwater flows through smelt habitat... The realities of California water politics, however, dictate that one of the other three options is much more likely to happen. Of these options, the WaterFix + EcoRestore option deals best...
Predictably, the WaterFix public relations machine quickly sent out a news release
touting the "optimistic assessment" of these UC-Davis scientists. It doesn't matter that the argument completely contradicts their economic argument for WaterFix or that their endorsement is qualified with conditions that are inconsistent with the WaterFix project description (see the drought operations in detailed project description).
This episode, like so many other with WaterFix, underscores the need for a feasibility study in which economic, environmental, and technical feasibility are simultaneously evaluated under a common set of assumptions. Feasibility studies are commonly conducted and often required for water infrastructure projects, but one does not exist for WaterFix, despite the tens of thousands of pages of reports.
Rather than a consistent, unified analysis to ground a reasoned discussion of the WaterFix, its supporters present confusing information where the assumptions and arguments change for every audience and purpose. In this case:
WaterFix booster to ratepayers: "Support WaterFix, because without it water exports will be cut to pre-1980 levels."
WaterFix booster to biologist/environmentalists: "Support WaterFix, because there is no way that water exports will be cut to pre-1980 levels."
The most irksome element of the Moyle/Hobbs post is their dismissal of the best alternative for the environment. Clearly, the political screaming about the delta smelt has influenced them.
But the rest of the Moyle and Hobbs reasoning/rationalization behind their WaterFix endorsement deserves a few comments too:
- It completely ignores the cost and economics of WaterFix, and the critical linkage between paying the $16+ billion cost and the conditions and trust issues on which their endorsement relies. (i.e. Do they seriously think that TUCPs are less likely after water agencies are saddled with billions in debt payments?)
- They invalidly link Ecorestore to the Waterfix, ignoring the fact that Ecorestore can and will go forward without the WaterFix. In fact, it might even be more likely if the tunnels aren't consuming so many financial resources.
- It considers a very limited range of options to WaterFix (although more than the EIR which ignored the decreased exports scenario)
- They dismiss the "status quo" without mention that the biological assessments of the WaterFix find that it is worse for fish the status quo, and that "status quo" leaves water agencies with $16+ billion to advance their water supply goals in other ways.
- Their surface-level discussion of the levee collapse scenario only links a 2007 discussion of the topic - ignoring that a decade of research and experience since then has shown that the scenario is a) less likely, b) would cause a shorter water outage, and c) that levees have improved/not deteriorated and could be further improved to protect against this scenario.
- It views Delta options from the narrow Delta fish vs. water exports perspective. I might give biologists a pass on this if their argument was not so heavily based on the scenario of a levee collapse that could kill hundreds of people and have broad economic and environmental consequences that dwarf the interruption of water exports and an emergency freshwater pathway. I am really surprised to see this callous approach in the wake of the Oroville crisis that caused tens of thousands to flee for their lives.
Despite these many flaws, there is one piece of information of value in this post from prominent fish biologists.
They conclude that option #3 is clearly better for fish than the WaterFix.
That is very valuable information, and it should be noted, it also contradicts the arguments made by proponents of the WaterFix.