News from Restore the Delta: June 5, 2014

“In one of our conversations yesterday, we were talking about adaptive management and how everyone seems to be using the term differently, and the most cynical interpretation of a lot of the use of ‘adaptive management’ is promising to fix it later.”
— Dr. Jay Lund, Delta Independent Science Board

“If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit.”
— W. C. Fields

An Implementing Agreement at last
Lost in translation
A Water Bond soup with too many cooks
Hits, runs, and an error
Ask for a dome
No barriers after all (updated correction 6/6/14)
Every great campaign has an art movement

An Implementing Agreement at last

We finally have a draft Implementing Agreement (IA) released for public review and comment, plus additional time to pour over the BDCP and its EIR/EIS (until July 29). The Implementing Agreement is the document that the water contractors and the fisheries agencies will actually sign to allow BDCP to happen. Right now, the IA appears to give the water contractors everything they want and require virtually nothing from them in return.

Don’t expect to learn anything new there. The language of the IA makes it sound like everything has been decided, everything agreed to. DWR Director Mark Cowin said, “those findings and agreements aren’t final until we have a final signed executed agreement.” And DFW Director Chuck Bonham echoed, “When you read the IA, you’ll find a [verb] tense and prospective set of languages. They are anticipating future findings, none of which have been made today.”

No findings. That’s about right. As of now, there are still no funding guarantees and no operating details.

Why did we have to wait so long to see this document, which ends up not clarifying much anyway? That would be due to the drought, this year’s all-purpose excuse for every waived regulation and every broken promise about water. “Drought response,” said Cowin, “has taken precedence.” But DWR is a BIG department, with lots of different offices working on lots of different (and sometimes contradictory) projects. They could have gotten this IA out if there hadn’t been a lot of internal disorganization about how to proceed.

It remains unclear how much fresh water will have to remain in the Delta to help certain fish species. The IA says that the final decision about flow criteria will be made once the tunnels become operational.

According to the IA, take permits won’t necessarily be revoked just because ecosystem funding doesn’t materialize. This turns on its head the whole idea of a habitat conservation plan to support take permits. The exporters can keep operating even if they never do the ecosystem restoration they said they were going to do.

If the tunnels and the habitat restoration don’t work for fish (and they won’t), a special fund will buy water from voluntary sellers to supplement flows through the Delta. The contractors won’t have to change their project operations.

At this point, they are still talking about 50-year take permits rather than permits for a shorter term. If adaptive management doesn’t work as planned, they won’t need 50 years. Species of concern will all be extinct.

Once the Implementing Agreement is signed, the water contractors can veto anything they don’t like.

Lost in translation

Someone took advantage of the release of the IA to ask if BDCP documents would be translated into other languages. Resources Agency Deputy Director for Communications Richard Stapler said that for the entire process, they’ve had an 800 number where people can ask questions about BDCP in various languages and get answers. Which is fine if people know there is as project they should be asking questions about. But BDCP hasn’t done that kind of outreach to non-English language communities.

Stapler mentioned the “prohibitive cost associated particularly with translating technical language, if it’s even possible to translate some of that technical language.” So all those languages that aren’t English just don’t even have the words to explain the BDCP? And all those people who don’t speak English wouldn’t understand anyway?

What arrogance.

Said Stapler, they (the Resources Agency? DWR? BDCP?) are “extremely sensitive to those populations.” They are “currently translating some other fact sheets and such for those populations,” going beyond what CEQA requires. But they aren’t going to translate the 35,000 plus pages of draft BDCP and draft EIR/EIS.

The question everyone should be asking is: How should the State explain to ALL citizens what it plans to do, or allow to be done, with public resources and public funds?

Reviewers are calling for reissued documents to address dozens of inadequacies in BDCP and the EIR/EIS. But that doesn’t mean that anyone wants more of the same. More of the same wouldn’t clarify anything. At least one reviewer has called the BDCP and its EIR/EIS a “data dump” – bloated with details, short on usable analysis of those details. Native English speakers, even those with technical science training, have trouble understanding it.

The Delta Science Program conducted an independent science review of the BDCP Effects Analysis, which should explain how implementing BDCP will impact covered species (the point of a habitat conservation plan). The review panel looked at the Effects Analysis chapter, which is 745 pages long, but also at eight technical appendices with about 4500 additional pages.

Reporting to the Delta Stewardship Council for the review panel, panelist Dr. Alex Parker said they found a disconnect between the Effects Analysis chapter and the technical appendices with regard to scientific certainty. The panel also found that the document lacked structure and was therefore hard to interpret.

Said Dr. Parker, “[The] Effects Analysis needs to provide clear guidance about what [the] uncertainties are, where our information gaps [lie], and then also inform adaptive management in terms of what information should we be monitoring along the way, what are the appropriate triggers so that we know when we are on the wrong track and then course correct – move in a different direction. That was largely lacking.”

For example, Technical Appendix 5-D “provided a great deal of information. The scientific literature was there; the information was there although sometimes not well organized, but in the actual effects analysis, there was only a page and a half devoted to contaminants in the 745-page document, giving the impression that the best case scenario probably is the likely outcome, and that was difficult for the panel.”

The Delta Independent Science Board (ISB) reviewed BDCP and its EIR/EIS for matters related to adaptive management. The ISB had a variety of concerns about matters like overly optimistic expectations, inadequate consideration of uncertainties, neglect of effects outside the Plan Area, and lack of contingency plans if things don’t work out as planned. But they also complained about the way information was presented. Said Dr. Tracy Collier, speaking for the ISB, “There’s a lot of good writing and a lot of good content, but we suffered equally as well as the effects analysis panel with the inability to get the information we needed. This is one where we tried really hard not be to really cranky in our review comments because we have said this many times over the last couple of years. It would benefit so much the ability of people who want to review it . . . but also to actually use the information in a constructive way.”

A data dump.

A Water Bond soup with too many cooks

If the legislature doesn’t do something different, we will finally see the $11.14 billion Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2010 on the November 2014 ballot.

At least nine alternatives to the existing bond, with different degrees of support, have been put forward. Some people won’t support any bond that DOESN’T include above ground storage (dams), and some people won’t support any bond that DOES include above ground storage. Some people thought the original bond was much too large, but some of the alternatives now being considered would cost almost as much.

There’s funding in the existing bond proposal that water contractors could use to meet some of the habitat requirements of BDCP. We don’t think taxpayers should be asked to pay for fixing ecosystem problems caused primarily by decades of excessive water exports. Restore the Delta would be happy to see some bond money made available for ecosystem work in the Delta, but we want a Delta entity (preferably the Delta Protection Commission), not the water contractors, to be responsible for how that money is spent.

In a Legislative Alert opposing Senator Lois Wolk’s SB 848, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, some other Southern California water districts and business interests, and Westlands Water District praise the original bond because it “explicitly recognizes the importance of identifying potential funding for the broader public benefits associated with the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), beyond any mitigation obligation of the federal and state water contractors.” They see this as part of “a statewide approach” to improving water management.

They don’t think that funds designated for Delta habitat restoration projects under Wolk’s proposal would actually be spent for habitat restoration. We don’t think that these users will ever pay for any mitigation if they can figure out how to shift the obligation to California taxpayers. And they want the bond to finance a fund for water purchases from north of the Delta to augment their water take through the Delta tunnels. In other words, they want a bond that will pay for even more water subsidies. We’ll never have a truly statewide approach to water management in California as long as most of the benefits go to purveyors of export water and most of the costs are borne by the Delta.

One way or another, we are likely to end up with indigestible soup.

Hits, runs, and an error

Restore the Delta has produced a video showing better solutions for California’s water management challenges, and it has been very popular. It includes a statistic from an article published in the Fall 2013 issue of the University of Michigan’s Michigan Engineer that we later learned was incorrect. No one caught that in the published article. When it was called to our attention by the Alliance for Water, we corrected it in the video.

We live in a world where material produced and put online by an organization like Restore the Delta gets more exposure and more careful scrutiny than an academic publication by a major university. Some of that scrutiny came from the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, which thinks we should have caught the error that Michigan Engineer editors missed: “For every $1 million spent on water efficiency over 10 trillion gallons of water and 220,000 jobs can be created.”

The correct figure is 10 trillion gallons of water and 220,000 jobs for every $10 million spent on water efficiency. Well, $10 billion for 10 trillion gallons of water and 220,000 jobs is still a bargain compared to the $67 billion tunnels which won’t make water. The article in the Michigan Engineer quoted the incorrect figure twice, on pages 13 and 17. When we learned that the figure was wrong, we corrected the video and added the source data for the correction in a note to the video.

We find it interesting that the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, Stewart Resnick’s astroturfing group trying to speak for the Delta, is busy tracking our video. If the Coalition is so worried about accuracy, they should question their own science on fisheries — and take the original error up with the University of Michigan.

Ask for a dome

We like the suggestion of West Sacramento Mayor and Delta Protection Commission member Christopher Cabaldon at a recent Commission meeting: Don’t be reticent in specifying appropriate mitigation measures for significant and unavoidable adverse impacts under BDCP. If you would need to put a dome over a Delta legacy community to protect it from adverse impacts, then ask for a dome.

No barriers after all

Word from DWR is that emergency drought barriers will not be necessary this year. But they’re glad they’ve done the planning in case we have a fourth consecutive dry year next year.

Correction regarding drought barriers

The word from Bradford Island is that DWR is getting ready to put in the West False River barrier, despite what someone from DWR told someone from the Delta. (“We have assessed water supplies and demands. Based on this assessment, the emergency drought barriers will not be needed this year.”)

Reports are that reclamation districts in the vicinity of False River have been told by DWR that their levees have to be improved to be ready to accept the barriers as of July 15, 2014.

DWR’s website is still announcing that the Emergency Drought Barriers have been cancelled for 2014.

We’ll just take this opportunity to add that this is the kind of confusion we can expect from BDCP with regard to “real time operations” of the Twin Tunnels. The left hand will never know exactly what the right hand is doing.

Every great campaign has an art movement

Check out the video made by artivists working with Restore the Delta, and The Beehive Collective.

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