Aguanomic’s blogger David Zetland moderates a Restore the Delta panel session

Delta - Hogback Island Recreation Area Photo by Maven

Delta – Hogback Island Recreation Area
Photo by Maven

In July, Aguanomic’s blogger David Zetland moderated a panel discussion hosted by Restore the Delta after a viewing of their movie, “Over Troubled Waters.”  Seated on the panel were Adam Scow from Food and Water Watch, Dr. Jeff Michael with the University of the Pacific, Cindy Kao from Santa Clara Water District, and Barbara Barrigan-Parilla with Restore the Delta.

David Zetland opened by relating that he had spent the last half hour trying to find a parking space, and he sees parking as a parable of California’s demand management.  “We’re not so good with our free parking – everybody’s going in circles for a while and it ends up having a non-cash cost,” said Mr. Zetland.  We’ve had this whole abundance theory of parking places like we’ve had abundance of water; that’s why I call my book ‘The End of Abundance’ because there’s an idea that we should deal with that scarcity.  The reason we’re here now, the reason the whole Delta discussion has become huge over the past few years is because of that same end of abundance.  So some ways, everybody wants the same parking place, but there’s only one spot.  And that, in a sense, is the conflict.”

The panelists were each given a few minutes to present their positions.

ADAM SCOW, FOOD AND WATER WATCH

Food and Water Watch is working closely with Restore the Delta to stop the tunnels, began Adam Scow.  “The tunnel project, as far as we’re concerned, is a project to take more water out of the Delta and get you to pay for it and get the Bay to suffer the environmental consequences,” said Mr. Scow.  “I don’t see it as a water policy based on need, but really based on the greed. … If you look at CA water history, these are water grabs that last a century, a lifetime.  It’s not really based upon how much we’re going to use next year or the next five years, it’s about owning and controlling the water.”

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]“The tunnel project, as far as we’re concerned, is a project to take more water out of the Delta and get you to pay for it and get the Bay to suffer the environmental consequences … I don’t see it as a water policy based on need, but really based on the greed.” –Adam Scow, Food & Water Watch[/pullquote]

Mr. Scow said that Food & Water Watch’s campaign has been focused at the city level because the ratepayers of both Southern California and Santa Clara Valley Water District are going to be asked to pay bills for the BDCP even though they would be receiving less water from the Delta.  “It’s not SoCal –LA is not the bad guy.  It is the greed of … some of the biggest corporate farms,” he said, “and I think the movie does a good job of highlighting how, should the tunnels go through, it’s really the water business they’re getting into because a lot of that’s soil is going under.”

We’re exposing this Chinatown con job and working with citizen groups around the state to rise up and take back some democracy, and engage with their water agencies, whether that’s here at the Santa Clara Water District, or Los Angeles, San Diego, and Orange County, and say ‘we don’t have the money to waste on this; we’ve got billions of dollars to spend on water projects,” said Mr. Scow.  “The sewer pipes underneath this theater, my guess is that they are pretty old.  And it’s going to cost billions of dollars to fix them.  There’s no debate about that.  There’s no debate about the drinking water systems, the storm water infrastructure we have yet to build because we have a lot of pollution from that.”

We don’t have money to waste on new tunnels to export more water for Westlands and Kern, so that’s our position,” he said.  “We’ve got a great website, stopthetunnels.org, please visit that for more information.”

“Say Westlands paid the entire cost of the tunnels and they only took the existing exports from the tunnels, would that be okay?,” asked David Zetland.

No – it would never happen,” said Mr. Scow. “Even if they could afford to destroy our Bay and Delta, that doesn’t make it okay.”

DR. JEFF MICHAEL, UNIVERSITY OF THE PACIFIC

I am an economist and I look at this fairly broadly,” began Dr. Jeff Michael.  “Basically 80% of the BDCP are the giant tunnels, $15 billion worth of it, and then there’s $3 to $4 billion worth of habitat restoration.  The way the state has framed this, my first point, is that the BDCP is a false choice in that the state is basically saying you can only get these conservation investments in the Delta if you take our tunnel.  They aren’t offering up a version of the conservation plan that doesn’t include the tunnels.  There’s actually a decent amount of good projects and good restoration projects within the BDCP, but the ESA does not require the tunnels.  They need to look at no-tunnel alternatives and they’ve been avoiding that; there are a multitude of no tunnel alternatives.”

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]”It’s actually less expensive to build a seismically resilient levee system in the Delta; it makes more economic sense because you’re not only protecting the water exporters legitimate interests in reliable water exports, but you’re protecting lives, you’re protecting transportation infrastructure, you’re protecting power lines and energy infrastructure, you’re protecting the state’s largest natural gas storage facilities, and two of the largest natural gas production fields, and not to mention all these farms and property in the Delta itself.” –Dr. Jeffrey Michael, UOP[/pullquote]

The financing and the distribution of costs are real problems, said Dr. Michael.  “All the major water agencies and the public statements about how much people will pay are based on the assumption that all the exported water is going to be paid for by the bucket, equal charge,” he said.  “That will not work with the estimated debt service just for the tunnels alone at $1.2 billion per year.  The best case scenario is 700,000 acre-feet of incremental water, and that puts the cost of water over $1500 an acre-foot.  You need 3 feet of water to grow a crop in the Central Valley minimum.  That’s $4400 to $5000 per acre which exceeds the average gross revenue per acre for farming within the export regions.  It simply doesn’t add up for agriculture at all, so the idea that they are receiving three quarters of the water and are going to pay proportionally doesn’t make sense. 

“The statements made by Metropolitan Water District and other urban agencies that it’s going to cost $5 per household per month are simply false, because you cannot finance the tunnels on that plan,” he continued.  “An affordable plan would be more on the range of $15 to $20 per household, and that’s a difficult lift for a lot ratepaying households, particularly for a project they don’t receive a lot from.”

Benefit cost analysis is how economists look at these things, said Dr. Michael.  “The state and agencies promoting this have continuously refused to follow their own rules for benefit-cost analysis.  In response to this repeated refusal and requests from legislators and others to do this, I did a 12-page version last summer of my own and put it out there and found $2.50 in cost for $1.00 in benefits, and basically said if I’m wrong, do the math and show me that I’m wrong.  That still hasn’t been done.  They continue to avoid it.”

The catastrophic risk of earthquake has been continuously repeated as a primary justification for the Delta,” said Dr. Michael.  “I’m not going to talk about what the real earthquake risk is and what the real probabilities of this happening.  I’m just going to talk about the consequences.  People talk about this as California’s Katrina, and that’s true, the consequences would be similar to Katrina.  The water exporters that promote a tunnel for this don’t talk about the 1200 people that died in Katrina and the hundreds of people that would die in a similar Delta flood.  They don’t talk about the loss of property, the loss of non-water infrastructure.” 

Dr. Michael continued: Assessments of this flood, if it were to happen, and there’s a lot of debate about the probability, show that 80% of the economic costs and 100% of the loss of life from that event would have nothing to do with the salt water intrusion problem.  That’s why I advocate that it’s actually less expensive to build a seismically resilient levee system in the Delta; it makes more economic sense because you’re not only protecting the water exporters legitimate interests in reliable water exports, but you’re protecting lives, you’re protecting transportation infrastructure, you’re protecting power lines and energy infrastructure, you’re protecting the state’s largest natural gas storage facilities, and two of the largest natural gas production fields, and not to mention all these farms and property in the Delta itself.”

Technological solutions are not really discussed much, said Dr. Michael.  “There’s enormous potential for at technological solution through water purification systems, efficiency measures – even just in the past 6 months, labs based in the Silicon Valley have patented new desalination technology … This is California and this is Silicon Valley and this is the 21st century and there are technological solutions to this that can solve our problems with water here in California today and also generate marketable products that can solve similar problems around the world.  The tunnels are not a solution that can create jobs and solve problems all around the globe.”

” Let’s say there’s a whole bunch of disinformation out there and let’s say that there’s a solution which is cheaper and more beneficial for the state and it would also keep the exporters whole,” said David Zetland.  “Why are the exporters, whether they are agriculture or urban or the people who are running this at the state on a bureaucratic level, why are they interested in these tunnels as opposed to your obviously better solution?”

I try not to speculate politically,” said Dr. Michael.  “In the past seven years when they started the BDCP, there was an argument to be made for it, and people have moved heaven and earth politically to clear the path for that so it can be put forward without a vote of the people. When the BDCP was started, the water agencies thought that the canal would cost $3 billion and would yield 6.5 million acre-feet per year in exports.  That’s not necessarily a bad deal for the water agencies if that was the solution, and then there was the thought that it might benefit the fish more.  But after 7 years of research and cost estimates that have ballooned by $4 billion, the water yield has declined so that it doesn’t generate extra water and the environmental benefits aren’t there, I think people are very reluctant …nobody wants to be the one to pull the plug.  The Governor wants it …”

CINDY KAO, SANTA CLARA WATER DISTRICT

The water issues in California are very complex; it’s not simple; it’s not black and white,” began Cindy Kao.  “There are a lot of different stakeholders with their own agendas from all regions of the state, and you’re hearing one perspective.  This is the perspective of those who live in the Delta and don’t want things to change in the Delta, and that’s a legitimate perspective.  They have legitimate issues.”

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]“The water issues in California are very complex; it’s not simple; it’s not black and white … There are a lot of different stakeholders with their own agendas from all regions of the state, and you’re hearing one perspective.  This is the perspective of those who live in the Delta and don’t want things to change in the Delta, and that’s a legitimate perspective.  They have legitimate issues.”  –Cindy Kao, SCVWD[/pullquote]

I’m in the minority; I represent water exporters, actually.  I’m with the Santa Clara Valley Water District and we are a wholesale provider of water supplies, flood protection and environmental stewardship in Santa Clara County,” said Ms. Kao.  “We service San Jose, the entire county, and we’re a public agency.  We have been supportive of the BDCP because from our perspective, we need a solution to the Delta problems.  Our county is very reliant on water that is conveyed through the Delta.”

Ms. Kao explained that very early in Santa Clara County’s history, the groundwater basins were drawn down for agriculture and subsidence began to occur.  “Subsidence is when the clay layers beneath the surface are dewatered and they compress because there is stress on those layers when they’re dewatered,” said Ms. Kao.  “When hundreds of feet of clay compress, the ground surface sinks, and so San Jose actually sunk 13 feet between 1913 and 1970.  And it wasn’t until we began importing water into the county that we were able to stop that.  We were able to replenish our groundwater basin, and provide a reliable supply to Silicon Valley, 2 million people, 15 cities and 12 retailers, so we provide water to this county and we manage our groundwater basins.”

That’s not to say that we don’t support regional self sufficiency,” she said.  “We all agree that self regional self-sufficiency is really important, and our district has taken big steps to be self sufficient.  We currently have a very strong conservation program – we conserve 55,000 acre-feet per year through our conservation programs and we’re planning to double that in the next 20 years; by 2030, we’re trying to conserve 100,000 acre-feet a year.  We currently recycle 15,000 acre-feet per year and we want to double that to 30,000 acre-feet per year by 2035; we’re also investing in indirect potable reuse which is treating recycled water to a very high level, we put it through microfiltration, UV, reverse osmosis, and we treat it so it’s very pure so we can blend it with recycled water and increase that application of recycled water.  Hopefully in the future we can actually recharge the groundwater basin with it.”

We really are doing everything we can to be self reliant to improve our regional our local water resources, but the fact is that we are very dependent on those supplies from the Delta.  And that dependency increases in dry years,” Ms. Kao pointed out.  “2013 has been very dry – we’ve had the driest January through June on record since 1974 in San Jose.  Currently, over 80% of our water supply that goes to our treatment plants is conveyed through the Delta …  so there’s a limit to what we can do to get off the Delta, unfortunately.  We would love to get off the Delta, but we have this community here; we have the Silicon Valley, we need to support it, and we have to protect our groundwater basins, because if you think about it, if we were to let the ground sink three or four feet today with the current level of development, that would be pretty catastrophic.”

Our agency supports development of that plan, we support having that plan completed so we can evaluate it,” pointed out Ms. Kao. “We currently haven’t taken a position on whether we think the plan is the one.  We want a solution that will sustain the Delta and improve our reliability, and improve the ecosystem in the Delta.  One of the things we like about the BDCP is that it restores a lot of ecosystem, it restores a lot of habitat, over 90% of the habitat in the Delta has been destroyed, and if we want to protect the endangered species, logically it makes sense that if you want native species to survive, you want native habitat to be there, so we support that.  We’re just looking for the plan to be completed.”

BARBARA BARRIGAN-PARILLA, RESTORE THE DELTA

Barbara Barrigan-Parilla began by thanking Cindy Kao for coming.  “We did want to have a representative here from Santa Clara Water District so we that were fair within the community, because that’s what you do when you come into a community, so we thank her very much for being gracious to come.” {applause}

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]”The BDCP is not the answer for the Delta, it’s not the answer for Delta farms, Delta fisheries, or for the ratepayers and taxpayers of California …  Bottom line is the science is not there.  If you do not have water flows for fish, you cannot restore fisheries.”  –Barbara Barrigan-Parilla[/pullquote]

We know that there’s enough water to share through Delta conveyance with Santa Clara County and with Southern California,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parilla.  “But where we differ is that the BDCP is not the answer for the Delta, it’s not the answer for Delta farms, Delta fisheries, or for the ratepayers and taxpayers of California, and the reason for that is, first and foremost, the current draft of the BDCP has the exact same problems located in it by the federal fishery agencies that were in the red flag report of a year ago and that were pointed out by the National Research Council two years before that.  Bottom line is the science is not there.  If you do not have water flows for fish, you cannot restore fisheries.”

The Delta habitat question is really a red herring, said Ms. Parilla.  “We in the Delta have not really altered the geography of the Delta for nearly a hundred years.  We did not see fish declines until we started exporting excessive amounts of water over the last 30 years, and that climaxed early in 2000, and that’s why in the last decade the Delta in crisis has become a crisis.  The science does not show that there is a relationship that can be correlated with habitat and the health of fisheries. … I can take you out on a boat and show you dozens of failed habitat projects in the Delta because the water flows are not there.”

Last, we think for a lot less money – $4 billion gets you improved levees with habitat on them, another $2 billion reconfigures the pumps and screens them properly as was promised by the water exporters over 20 years at the south end of the Delta,” said Ms. Barrigan-Parilla.  “We need a balancing of the public trust in California.  We want to share water with our most productive economies in Southern California and here in the Silicon Valley, and we can share successfully 3 million acre-feet of water and see the habitat improve for fisheries and protect Delta farms.  80% of the water exported goes to agriculture on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, starting with Westlands down to Kern County and districts in between.”

We have some hard decisions we have to make in California,” she said.  “We think the best use of water is to protect our fisheries, our viable farm communities that actually feed people like our strip of prime farmland in the Delta, and to share with businesses and communities that actually make money for California.  Three tenths of a percent is what Westside agriculture contributes to California’s economy, and they are taking 70% of the water.”

DISCUSSION & AUDIENCE QUESTIONS

It sounded like you were saying that exports from the Delta for non-ag uses are okay with you,” said David Zetland.

We’ve never said no exports,” said Ms. Barrigan-Parilla.

So agriculture would be out, in other words,” said Mr. Zetland.

Only in certain places,” responded Ms. Barrigan-Parilla.

“Which places?” asked Mr. Zetland.

The Westlands Water District needs to be retired.  We would have to look at what extra water is available to share in those other water districts on the Westside,” replied Ms. Barrigan Parilla.

Cindy Kao added: “A lot of the discussion seems to imply that the exporters south of the Delta take all the water from the Delta but actually just to be fair … about 17% on an average annual basis is actually exported by the pumps, and goes down to here and Southern California, and – and 30%, about twice as much … is diverted before it gets to the Delta.”

Mr. Zetland asks Dr. Michael: “Westlands … do they get the water, yes or no?

I think I would say less,” replied Dr. Michael.

Zetland asks same question of Adam Scow.

Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert details the history of how controversial it was to ever put Westlands in irrigation because they knew there was lots of selenium in the soil, so the solution for Westlands is to retire that land,” said Mr. Scow.  “The government should condemn it, we should buy them out, and every farmer and farmworker there should be paid adequately and appropriately.  If it costs $5 or $10 billion dollars, so be it – that is a much better deal than spending $50 to $60 billion on these tunnels and destroying the Delta.  That’s what we should do.”

Audience Question: “I understand you who do not want the tunnels, but is one of the reasons for the tunnels salt water intrusion and is there a need to do something about protecting the water supply because of the salt water intrusion?”

This is part of the insanity of Westlands, all of the salt and selenium in that soil gets dumped back into the San Joaquin which is increasing salinity in the Delta, so the worst thing would be to take away the Sacramento River which is 80% of the freshwater flow,” said Mr. Scow.

I can talk about why a tunnel was chosen as opposed to a canal,” said Ms. Kao.  “I listened to the discussions early on about 6 years ago when they first started this plan, and they started with a canal because it’s cheaper, it’s efficient and easier to build and people know how to build that, but there was concern that the levees of the canal would be so high – 30 feet high – and it would be an eyesore; the state was concerned that it created this visual impact in the Delta.  If it were on the surface, it would have a greater footprint so you’d have to take out more ag land, you might have to take out some environmentally sensitive areas and that’s why they decided to go through with the tunnel.  I remember when they talked about including a tunnel as part of the BDCP, the water contractors were a little surprised, it seemed kind of strange that they’d want to have a tunnel, but it grew on us.  It seemed like it would avoid more lawsuits, and one other thing is that tunnels are supposed to be safer, more resistant to earthquakes and they are resistant to sea level rise.”

We tend to argue a lot with the people at the PPIC but actually in 2008 they gave the best answer,” said Ms. Barrgian-Parilla.  “Before you can decide what you are going to do with the Delta due to sea level rise, you have to decide what you’re going to do with the Bay.’  And no one is making those decisions first. If we experience significant sea level rise, salt water will move back into the Delta, but guess what.  If sea level rise is as great as the predictions, the pumps up at Hood where they are going to put the new project will be sucking up salt water because we are going to have salt water intrusion past Sacramento.”

I think the water quality and the salinity issue, from the standpoint of the water agencies moving their diversion upstream, will get them better quality water and that’s a benefit; it is a cost reduction to them,” said Dr. Micheal.  “… If one person’s intake is moved to upstream, that comes at the expense of folks downstream and I think that’s one reason why folks in the Delta are so opposed to this because the gains in water quality for one group could very well come at their expense.”

A member of the audience asked if desalination is the long-term answer to water needs in Southern California?

It could be – they can afford it,” said Mr. Zetland.

“LA’s water plan does not have desalination in it because they think it’s a waste of money – desalination is extremely expensive and does not yield that much water,” said Mr. Scow.  “Secondly, LA’s plan calls for reducing imports – this is the City of LA – because imported water is getting more expensive. In fact, the water from the Delta has doubled in price … so it’s a no-brainer business decision for them to reduce imported water and to diversify their water supply portfolio.  That’s why our campaign in LA is to get LADWP to walk their walk.  …  Desalination is not necessary.  It’s not in their water supply portfolio.”

That is part of the alternative water supply solution and if some of the technological advances prove themselves, over the next couple of decades I think we will see a lot more of it,” said Dr. Michael.

I’d like to channel our friend Connor Everts who isn’t here today,” said Ms. Barrigan-Parilla.  “The technology for desalination may get to the point where it will be okay environmentally, but it’s not there yet, and it’s not there yet in terms of energy use.  There are so many things we can do before we get to that.  There’s no reason why we can’t do 10 million cisterns in California.  If you did cisterns and you cut everybody’s water usage in half, and they kept their lawns green by capturing water and reusing that water, that would go a long way. … If you do 500,000 waterless urinals, you make a million acre-feet of water.  How many jobs can you make turning out those urinals and putting in low flow showerheads?  There are a lot of things that can be done first before we get to that point.”

Question from the audience:  Are they considering climate change and extended droughts?

The modeling for the BDCP is absolutely horrific in terms of climate change,” said Ms. Barrigan-Parilla.  “There are real questions about how those models were calculated and we do not believe that they are accurately looking at the length of drought.  … From the work we’re doing right now evaluating the BDCP, we believe we will be damaged when water is taken in the wet periods and then what will happen is during the dry periods, it will become a stranded asset, and as climate change becomes progressively worse, we believe that the opportunity for these tunnels to become a stranded asset increases significantly.”

I think climate change argues for water supply diversification, for the investment in storm water, recycled water, fixing the pipes we already have, the cisterns; these come at much lower costs and can meet our budgets,” said Mr. Scow.  “We’re not talking about getting people off the Delta.  Santa Clara Valley Water District is going to continue to take water from the Delta, we’re not cutting anybody off, although we did make an exception for the Westlands Water District, so people are going to continue to receive water.  We just need to reduce dependence, but nobody is getting cut off.”

I’ll say two things about the Department of Water Resources,” added Mr. Zetland.  “Number one, they are using a lot of historic data to do their formulations, which of course, does not talk about the future, and when I saw a climate change presentation at Metropolitan which really does know what’s going on, they were talking about water patterns shifting northwards, so less precipitation, less snowpack in the Central and Southern California, and of course the water cycle is going to speed up.  This means bigger floods, bigger rains, and drier droughts and so on, so this kind of volatility is going to be the bigger impact and the Delta could handle it but maybe not the pipes or the pumps.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

  • This is not a complete transcription (although it’s very close.)  Please refer to the original recording of this panel discussion for more.  Click here for the mp3.
  • Visit David Zetland’s Aguanomic’s blog by clicking here.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: