Blog round-up: More water without tunnels?, Delta levee strategies, and more on the BDCP’s economic analysis, plus the Delta Plan, the Colorado River and more!

Fountain in Newcastle, Australia Photo by flickr photographer, Paul BicaBloggers spew forth a fountain of commentary in today’s Blog Round-up:

More water without the tunnels?  Maybe so, says the California Spigot blog, who takes a look at proposals Sunne McPeake and others have made to fix the existing conveyance in the Delta:  ” … The idea that new engineering of the existing through-Delta waterworks can address problems that lead to cutbacks in water deliveries has been around for years. But the approach is gaining urgency as the tunnel project totters. Several sources consulted for this report believe that water exports could be improved in the near future, with new fish screens that are in current testing, plus some modifications of through-Delta channels. That, combined with new storage south of the Delta to take excess water in wet years, could either make tunnels unnecessary or reduce their size. Moreover, these same experts believe that the “killer” function of the export pumps that chew up Delta smelt and other fish, known as “net reverse flow,” can be mitigated. A dedicated group of engineers could figure out how to do that in a year, they say.  “With leadership and purpose, we could get an improved through-Delta conveyance constructed in three years. You need a governor who will declare an emergency and move quickly to focus on this,” said Sunne McPeak, president of the Delta Vision Foundation which developed California’s modern strategic vision for water in 2008 (a vision often honored in the breach since then). … ”  Read more from the California Spigot blog here:  BDCP totters financially: Fixing up existing conveyance can deliver more water

Levee upgrades and repairs a de facto strategy to reconfigure the Delta for the benefit of exporters:  Restore the Delta’s recent newsletter makes the case:  ” … Delta engineers and reclamation districts have been designing levee improvements using PL 84-99. They argue that that standard should be used for state and local investment in the entire system of Delta levees because risks cannot be segregated island by island.  However, DWR’s strategy has been to use different standards depending on what assets are being protected (wildlife, agriculture, infrastructure, or urban) and how vigorously the state responds to flooding. The State has no plan for the Delta as a whole, as we reported in our May 7, 2012 newsletter (“Delta levees: How good is good enough?”).  In a “framework for investment in Delta levees,” released last year, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) began to push for the HMP standard to be the base standard for Delta levees. DWR’s own engineering consultants said this was a terrible idea and stated, “DWR has provided no engineering analysis to establish that such a change is technically sensible or acceptable for long term investments in Delta levees.” … ”  Read more from Restore the Delta here:  Levee sleight of hand

Sunding and Michael’s analysis not comparing apples to apples, says Richard Atwater at the Southern California Water Committee blog:  ” … When UC Berkeley’s Dr. David Sunding and University of the Pacific’s Dr. Jeffrey Michael presented their findings before the legislature recently, it appeared that the two had completed their own economic analyses of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and come to drastically different conclusions. Dr. Sunding found the BDCP would preserve and create more than one million California jobs and provide significant net economic benefits to the state, while Dr. Michael concluded that the BDCP’s costs would outweigh benefits by two-and-a-half times. The important item missing from the presentation was the differences in the level of analysis that went into these findings. A recently released fact sheet by the State Water Contractors brings these differences to light. The fact sheet compares these two studies side-by-side and examines the depth and methodology between the two. The fact sheet highlights the important point that Dr. Sunding’s 244-page analysis is a product of extensive original research; research that went above and beyond what is required for an economic analysis of a habitat conservation plan. What Dr. Michael presented on is not original research by any means; instead it is a 13-page review of a draft study Dr. Sunding presented in 2012. … ”  Read more from the Southern California Water Committee blog here:  All Cost-Benefit Studies Are Not Created Equal

BDCP economic analysis lacking in regional details:  Tom Elias in the Davis Enterprise listened in on the media call:  ” … Listening to them and Alan Zaremberg, California Chamber of Commerce president, hype the project via press conference and conference call, it was clear they hadn’t thought much about the great Peripheral Canal battle of the early 1980s.  “We didn’t write this report at all with a perspective on the 1980s,” said Sunding.  Maybe he and his co-authors should have. Adding to their analysis a few considerations inspired by that fight might give the new plan, dubbed “peripheral tunnels” by some, a better chance.  For the Peripheral Canal, pushed then as now by Gov. Jerry Brown, became the ultimate regional issue in California, and there is a paucity of regional analysis in the new economic study. … ”  Read more from Tom Elias here:  Unanswered questions in the water tunnel analysis

Hydrowonk blog delves into the BDCP’s cost estimates:  BDCP’s cost estimate of between $300 to $400 per acre-foot is too low:   ” … DWR states that “with a cost of $13.3 billion, the implicit cost of water of the BDCP ranges from $302/AF to $408/AF.”  I have (approximately) replicated the calculation by amortizing the assumed cost over 50 years at a 3% interest rate divided by average annual yield of water for the high Delta outflow and low Delta outflow scenarios (differences due to rounding?).  There are three reasons why these estimates are too low:  BDCP cost estimates understated by $2 billion due to the growth in capital costs (adjusted for inflation) between preparation of opinions of probable cost and initiation of construction, timing requirements of cash flows during the construction period, and the cost of debt service reserves; ignores the difference in timing between the capital commitment (at the start of construction) versus the start of water deliveries (a decade later); and inadequate consideration of project risks.  A more reasonable range for the estimated annual cost of BDCP water (inflation adjusted) is $625/AF $890/AF.  And, this cost is before application of debt coverage ratios for capital financing to set water rates that would yield water rates in the range of $840/AF to $1,190/AF. … ”  Will there be buyers at that cost?  Continue reading at the Hydrowonk blog:  Will There Be Buyers of Bay Delta Conservation Plan Water?

Clean version of the Delta Plan is just lipstick on a pig, so says Dan Bacher who takes umbrage at the release of the ‘clean’ documents:  ” … So does that mean that the previous version of the plan was “dirty,” as in obscene, corrupt, poorly written, ill-conceived and driven by dirty corporate money?  Apparently, the “clean” the Council is referring to is the “cleaning up” of the documents that previously featured a lot of crossed out and added on language.  Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and a board member of both the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) and Restore the Delta, wasn’t impressed by the “clean” documents. “The Council can put all of the lipstick they can on the pig, but it is still a pig, a plan that perpetuates the status quo,” Jennings quipped. “The plan will not reach either of the coequal goals of restoring the Delta or providing water supply reliability.” … ”  Read more from Dan Bacher here:  ‘Clean’ version of the Delta Plan isn’t fooling anybody

The Colorado River’s “new normal” is just the old man-made abnormal that is not explainable under California’s “climate change” ideology, says the Cal Watchdog blog:  ” …The August 16 issue of the Christian Science Monitor runs an article, “Colorado River: Is Historic Cut In Water Release the New Normal,” by Michael Cohen of the Pacific Institute in Oakland. He writes, “We’re in an unparalleled — at least in recorded history — period of droughts on the Colorado River system.  It seems that this is the new normal.” He cites “global warming” as the cause of a 14-year drought.  Echoing Cohen, Taylor Hawes of the Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Program says the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s release of only 7.5 million acre-feet of water from Lake Powell “is truly historic.”  Hawes says the Bureau has never released such a small amount of water downstream. The Bureau’s water release followed the 2007 Interim Allocation Agreement between the states in the Upper and the Lower Colorado River Basins.  But is this due to climate change? A look at the following bar graph of the annual flow of water along the Colorado River, for 100 years from 1905 to 2005, does not corroborate Cohen and Hawes’ apocalyptic prophecies. … ”  Read more from the Cal Watchdog blog here:  Water Policy: ‘New normal’ for lower Colorado River lakes is, actually, normal

Beer is the catalyst for solution for low flows on Arizona’s Verde River: National Geographic’s News Watch tells the story of how a group of people solved a problem over a few beers:  ” …in the beautiful valley of the Verde River in central Arizona, farmers, residents, and conservationists are working together to restore flows to this life-giving desert river with no sacrifice to crop production or the local economy.   At the heart of this effort is a relatively simple and inexpensive technological upgrade to a vintage 1860s irrigation network that is lifting summer low flows by 50-100 percent in some reaches of the Verde – an aquatic Eden for fish and wildlife.   But achieving this conservation victory was not easy. It took the right mix of strategizing, trust, geography and collaboration – and some long talks over local brews.  “I’m sure I met Kim over a beer,” said Steve Goetting, a businessman, backyard pecan farmer, and chair of the Chamber of Commerce for Campe Verde, a quiet town of some 11,000 residents, located 90 miles (145 kilometers) north of Phoenix.  … ”  OK, truth is, it did take a little more than a few beers.  Read more about it here:  Arizona Irrigators Share Water with Desert River

Are water managers using social media?  The Pacific Institute offers some reasons why they should:  ” … The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority serves 16 million customers in Washington, D.C. but only reaches 130,000 of them through bills and other traditional communications. So in 2009, they launched a social media campaign to reach a larger segment of their customers. For example, DC Water promoted Twitter as a channel for customers to report problems, resulting in fewer e-mails sent to the general purpose inbox. The utility has also been able to help consumers understand where their water comes from and how it is priced, and answer questions as they come in.  … Social media engagement allowed both water utilities to meet and even surpass their original goals and deliver an overall better service to their customers. Beyond that, it primed the utilities to learn what was working and what potential areas could be improved to build a better brand.  … ”  Read more from the Pacific Institute here:  Why Water Managers Should Embrace Social Media

Blog honorable mentionsHundreds of Thousands May Not Have Affordable Access to Safe Drinking Water in California, says the Pacific Institute, Water Food Environment blogs about Conscious Capitalism, and National Geographic’s News Watch finds Life Without Water Is Awkward: New Viral Videos.

And lastly …  Theatre of the Absurd and the Tragedy of the Commons:  Water Wired posts about a play to be presented during World Water Week in Stockholm, titled “Theatre of the Absurd: Is There a Happy Ending to the Tragedy of the Commons?”  ” … During this inspirational and unconventional session, a series of “actors” will dramatize real-life examples of some of the most common challenges we face when it comes to trusting each other, sharing commons, and ultimately deciding if we are capable of perpetuating our evolution and development without endangering the planet and its resources.   Four exceptional Masters of Ceremony will guide the audience through different Acts debating questions such as: How can we resolve the prisoners’ dilemma? Are we destined to play in an endless theatre of the absurd? Or can we really change the way we think and interact with each other? What if we took a tour on a butterfly’s wings to discover that positive effects are sometimes more powerful than typhoons? … ”  Read more from the Water Wired blog here:  Coming Soon to WWW! From UNESCO and UN-Water: ‘Theatre of the Absurd’

 Photo credit:  Fountain in Newcastle, Australia by flickr photographer Paul Bica

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