Thursday, December 15, 2022

Is DWR Lying About The Low-Utilization Operating Plan For The Delta Conveyance Project?

The most significant change from the twin-tunnel, three-intake, 9,000cfs capacity WaterFix to the single-tunnel, two-intake, 6,000cfs capacity Delta Conveyance Project (DCP) isn't the number of tunnels, but how they are utilized.  

It would seem logical that lowering the capacity of the Delta tunnel(s) would result in the remaining capacity being used more intensively. That was how it worked when DWR briefly switched to a staged, single-tunnel plan for the WaterFix in 2017, as well as other alternatives with lower capacity.  

Instead, the draft EIR for the single-tunnel DCP states that the tunnel will be used much less than the WaterFix twin-tunnels.  In fact, the operation modeling shows zero diversions through the tunnel most of the time.  In the DCP, the tunnel only makes up 13.5% of projected Delta water exports, compared to 50% of total Delta water exports in the WaterFix.  

Is this low-utilization rate of the DCP believable?  Will the state spend $20 billion on the most expensive water infrastructure project in history and not operate it most of the time (or as Osha Meserve said, why buy a Maserati and only drive 10 miles per hour)?  

That is indeed the official plan as described in chapter 3 in the EIR, and subsequently used in all the analytical chapters that follow. 

However, the Draft EIR itself contradicts these operations in chapter 2: Purpose and Objectives and in and Appendix 3a where it interprets and elaborates on the purpose to screen out all alternatives.  The project objective is to achieve the following 4 purposes in a cost-effective manner.
1. Climate resiliency
2. Seismic resiliency
3. Water Supply for State Water Project
4. Operational Flexibility

The problem is that achieving 3 out of the 4 project purposes, as described in the alternatives analysis in Appendix 3A, require shifting diversions from the south Delta to the north Delta intakes and through the tunnel.  In other words, 3/4 of the stated project goals are in conflict with the project description and EIR modeling which focuses exclusively on a low-utilization scenario.

Goal 1, Climate resiliency:  Appendix 3A states that only tunnel alternatives satisfy climate resiliency because they can divert from the north when the south is too salty. Stunningly, this flat out ignores the water quality commitments and limited north delta diversion in the actual project description.  (In Appendix 4A, the EIR models a climate change scenario, and finds that there are actually fewer days on the calendar that the tunnel can be used under climate change.  Thus the incremental water supply benefit decreases as climate change accelerates, in contrast to Appendix 3A that assumes higher tunnel use under climate change when screening out other alternatives.)

Goal 2, Seismic resiliency:  Appendix 3A assumes that if brackish water fills the Delta in a seismic-induced mega-flood, then the north Delta intakes and tunnel will be used intensively in place of the south Delta pumps which would be unavailable for months due to bad water quality. This assumption is inconsistent with the project description which commits to operating the project to support Delta water quality objectives and limits use of the north Delta intakes. The EIR provides no explanation of why the environmental restrictions and water quality objectives in the Delta would be waived in such a scenario where the Delta communities and environment are experiencing an emergency, and it provides no modeling of the environmental impacts of operations in such a case.

Goal 4, Operational flexibility: Appendix 3A describes this as a certain kind of flexibility - shifting south Delta diversions to the north Delta. Again, directly in conflict with the project description which does not include such flexibility or any analysis of the environmental impacts of this alternative operating scenario.

The final part of the project goal, which is the only one not in the Appendix 3A screening criteria, is to achieve the goals in a cost-effective way.  The EIR is completely silent on cost-effectiveness, but this is another goal that would seem to be in conflict with the low-utilization of the tunnel in the project description.

So back to my original question: Is DWR being truthful?  Will they really keep the north Delta intakes off and the tunnels empty most of the time?

The alternatives analysis and how it interprets the project goals show they are not really committed to the low-utilization project description.  When this is combined with the lack of economic and financial feasibility analysis, I believe the project description lacks credibility.  

While it is tempting to rate the EIR project description as "Pants on Fire" on the Truth-o-Meter, I'll keep my rating at "lacks credibility" or "inadequate support" as I am sure there are honest folks who worked on this draft EIR who truly believe in their $20 billion mostly-empty tunnel proposal. 

In summary, the DCP EIR has many problems, and I have only touched on one of them here.  As a result, I believe this single-tunnel proposal will fail like the twin-tunnel proposals that preceded it. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Agricultural Jobs Data for 2021 Show Drought Impacts

The best quality jobs data (QCEW) was released earliest this month through the end of 2021, and gives the first reliable data on the state of agricultural employment during 2021, a year impacted by drought and lingering impacts of Covid.  The graphs below show employment and wages data over time for all of California in NAICS 11 (Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting). Agriculture accounts for 99% of jobs in this industry category in California.

As you can see on the graph, jobs had steadied near 423,000 in the years prior to Covid, and then declined by about 15,000 during the first year of the pandemic.  In 2021, Covid impacts on the farm labor were lower, but drought impacts likely prevented recovery.

While I say this is the first reliable data, UC-Merced (in partnership with others) released a projection in February 2022 that the drought eliminated 8,744 jobs in California agriculture compared to what they would expect in non-drought conditions.  Their estimates suggest 2021 employment would have been just under 420,000 in the absence of drought.  That seems pretty accurate to me and I am happy to see that this modeling of drought impacts seems to be much better than what UC was producing a decade or so ago.         

Overall, this is just over a 2% decline in employment relative to non-drought conditions.  While drought employment declines grab the headlines, the more impactful story in the ag jobs data is the continued strong growth in wages.  Average wages in the agriculture industry in California increased again in 2021, and have risen about 60% over the past decade (not adjusted for inflation) after years of stagnation.  While it is still the lowest-paying sector in California, this wage growth is significant and has benefited thousands.  

What will 2022 bring?  The drought continues, and the impacts of the pandemic and less abundant and more expensive labor are also continuing to some degree.  Thus, a recovery is unlikely this year.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Stanford scientists find that the Delta Conveyance Project is a much worse idea than converting Diablo Canyon into a giant nuclear-powered desalination plant.


A recent study from Stanford scientists has caused some policy makers, including Governor Newsom, to reconsider the timeline for closing the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, California's last operating nuclear plant.

Among the future visions for Diablo Canyon plant evaluated in the study was using it as a mega-scale desalination facility.  Mega-scale nuclear-powered desalination!  I can see my environmentalist friends recoiling in horror at the idea.  I am not persuaded it is a good idea either, but the Stanford team clearly demonstrated that it is far from the worst idea in California water.

Here is the second highlighted finding in the Executive Summary

Using Diablo Canyon as a power source for desalination could substantially augment fresh water supplies to the state as a whole and to critically overdrafted basins regions such as the Central Valley, producing fresh water volumes equal to or substantially exceeding those of the proposed Delta Conveyance Project—but at significantly lower investment cost 

Here are some quotes from the desalination chapter,

One of the intermediate sized Diablo Canyon-powered desalination options would produce significantly more fresh water than the highest estimate of the net yield from the proposed Delta Conveyance Project at less than half of the investment cost.

It is also notable that the projected capital cost of the Delta Conveyance Project, at $15.9 Billion, is more than twice the capital cost of the Diablo Canyon Desalination Option 2, discussed below, which, at a capital cost of approximately $6.5 Billion, yields up to seven times the amount as the DCP. 

This comparison really caught my attention because pre-Covid I had given one or two talks on the Delta Conveyance Project where I started by comparing the State Water Project and Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant with a series of multiple-choice questions.   The gist was if it is reasonable to close Diablo Canyon, then it should also consider closing the State Water Project since it has a worse safety record, similar share of statewide importance (5-6% of electricity and water supply respectively), lower economic value and tremendous costs to keep in service, not to mention environmental harm.