Disinformation Floods Delta Water War

FEB. 7, 2012


Ready for another phantom “drought”? The National Resources Defense Council is. The NRDC’s bogus Delta Smelt lawsuit brought the court-ordered “drought” from 2007 to 2010.

Now the NRDC is launching a disinformation campaign to divert the public’s attention from the bigger water issues of the Sacramento Delta. On Sept. 16, 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger threw the case out of court as based on bogus science.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared the “drought” over in 2011. Yet water rates have risen anyway across the state as a result of the bogus “drought.”

In the Feb. 6 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, NRDC attorney Doug Obegi  said there are three “facts” and three “myths” about the Sacramento Delta.  Like any slick attorney, he is working on you as if you were on a jury to make sure you are persuaded of his case.

The Delta is where most of the water runoff from the snowpack of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range ends up.  California depends on the Delta for most of its water for farms and cites, as well as fishing and water recreation.

To understand the big issues with the upcoming Delta Plan of the State legislature’s Delta Stewardship Council and the proposed $11.1 billion Water Bond on the November ballot, it is important not to be distracted by small facts and alleged irrelevant myths.

The NRDC’s device for distracting you from the water issues of the Sacramento Delta is a purported checklist of so-called “facts” and “myths” about California’s water system.  Let’s look at them without being diverted from the larger issues.

Small Facts and Big Myths as Diversions

NRDC Diversion No. 1:  “Northern Californians don’t get their water from the delta, so we shouldn’t care what happens.”

Obegi wants Northern Californians to care about what happens with the water from the Delta.  Northern Californians should not think that they don’t get their water from the Delta.  Ok, being involved is a good thing.

But NRDC’s emotional appeal is to your intelligence.  If you were smart and knew that Northern California relied on water from the Delta you would be politically alert and active.  People want to brag about being smart about the car they bought, about their “Smart Phone,” or the politician or ballot measure they voted for.

It is important for Northern Californians to be educated about the upcoming Delta water issues. But the above so-called myth is just used as a subtle set-up to make you believe that Southern California is about to steal more water again from Northern California. As will be explained below, this is the opposite of what has happened and is likely to happen.

Water is a socialized commodity in California. It does not belong to Northern Californians or Southern Californians.  There is no water to “steal.”  Long ago Californians agreed to a social contract for water: Southern California got water and Northern California got flood protection from the occasional destructive rising of the inland sea of the Sacramento Delta. (Think Hurricane Katrina.) By subtly entering emotionalism into the issue, Obegi diverts you from the bigger facts that will be explained below.

NRDC Diversion No. 2: “Even with stronger restrictions on pumping to protect salmon and other native fish, the state and federal water projects divert as much water from the delta as they did from 1980 to 2000. As much water is diverted from the delta on average today as before the historically high pumping levels of the 2000s devastated the delta ecosystem, according to the state Department of Water Resources and the Public Policy Institute of California.”

What the NRDC has done is slipped what is called a non sequitur into the above fact.  What a non sequitur does is claim to make a cause and effect relationship when, in fact, there is no logical connection. In street language, it is a “disconnect.”

It is true that state and federal water projects are pumping no more water from the Delta on average than they did from 1980 to 2000 (with the exception of the 3 years of the above-described court ordered “drought” from 2007 to 2010).  But that does not mean that “high pumping levels of the 2000’s devastated the Delta ecosystem.”

Salmon and even the Delta Smelt are currently thriving after the high rainfall and snowpack of 2010 and the resumption of pumping from the Delta.

There are other reasons for a long-term threat to the Delta ecosystem.  But high pumping levels typically also mean high water levels in storage reservoirs. They also mean abundant fresh water levels in the Delta that boost the population of desirable species of fish, fishing and recreation.

Huge pumps on the Delta that send water to Southern California are not the only threats to the Delta ecology. The Delta ecology is more threatened by local urban runoff than from pumping water out of the Delta. One of the major sources of pollution of the Delta is local government wastewater treatment plants in Northern California.   But the NRDC wants Northern Californians to believe that high water pumping to Southern California is the only culprit. The NRDC can manufacture an unnecessary water war just as it manufactured a phony drought.

NRDC Diversion No. 3: “As many jobs were lost from closing California’s salmon fishery in 2009 as were lost in farming communities from restricting pumping to protect fish. True. Despite wildly inflated myths, studies by economists from the state, UC Davis and University of the Pacific show that California’s fishing industry lost about as many jobs as did the farming industry when pumping was restricted during the 2009 drought to protect fish.”

This may be true. But unlike fishing, farmers can shift their workers to fallow fields and alternative crops in other locations that are not dependent on Delta water.  Farmers typically rely on groundwater supplies when there is a dry year and the Delta cannot meet all its contractual obligations to farmers.

Once again, what the NRDC is trying to do is cover up its own blame for causing job losses due to the Delta Smelt case they filed to stop pumping of water to farms in Central California and cities in the southern half of the state. The NRDC should be blamed for job losses to both farming and the fishing industries.

The NRDC once again is trying to politically play fishermen against farmers, while shifting blame away from themselves for job losses during the phony drought of 2007 to 2010.  Nice try. But it won’t work.

NRDC Diversion No. 4: “Fact: 4. Despite increasing flows to protect fish over the past two decades, delta fish populations continue to decline. False. Since pumping has been reduced, populations of delta smelt have rebounded dramatically, and salmon populations have also increased after the rainy season of 2010.

Contrary to the NRDC, the Federal judge in the Delta Smelt case ruled that the science presented by the NRDC and other government agency in the case was “false testimony.” It was never proven that Delta Smelt fish populations declined during the pumping of water out of the Delta.

NRDC Divsersion No. 5: “Most of the water pumped from the delta goes to Southern California lawns and swimming pools. False. Nearly half of the water exported from the delta is for agribusiness. Thanks to improved efficiency, Los Angeles uses as much water today as it did 25 years ago, despite adding 1 million residents, and Orange County has one of the largest water recycling plants in the nation. Even so, improved water-use efficiency could create trillions of gallons of new water each year for cities and agriculture.”

The above is true.  Southern California lawns and swimming pools do not get half of the Delta water exports.  But what the NRDC omits is that the “environment” gets 64 percent of all distributed water in a wet year; and 35 percent even in a dry year.

Southern California water agencies are entitled to a maximum of 62 percent of the water deliveries from the State Water Project through the Delta in a wet year. But that only represents 2.6 percent of all the distributed water in California in a wet year.  And agriculture uses only 28 percent of distributed water in a wet year and 42 percent on average, according to the State Department of Water Resources.

The NRDC touts water recycling as a resource for Southern California. But California’s new Green Chemistry Law threatens water recycling. The Green Chemistry Law may not allow hard to dissolve chemicals from drinking water in tiny amounts.

NRDC Diversion No. 6: “California can divert less water from the delta and still meet its water needs by investing in water efficiency, water recycling and improved groundwater and storm water management.  True. Modeling by the state Department of Water Resources shows that the new water sources available by investing in water efficiency and recycling is more water than California has ever exported from the delta. Urban water managers know this; the City of Los Angeles plans to meet its water needs by investing in these tools, while simultaneously cutting its use of delta water in half.”

What the NRDC does not tell you in the above statement is that Southern California has already reduced water use by 1 million acre feet — enough water for up to 6 million people — from the 1980s to the present.  The new Delta Plan proposes to cut water another 20 percent.  But this will not replace the necessity for a water conveyance system around the Delta that would provide a more stable ecology.

Lost Legitimacy

As in court cases, diversionary tactics can be useful when arguments fail you, when you are backed into a corner, when you feel you are about the lose or when you are uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation.  The NRDC is signaling that they only have diversionary tactics to persuade you to shift local cleanup of the Delta mainly onto Southern Californians.  The NRDC’s arguments have been made to look like they have captured the high ground with facts and that others positions are mere myths.

After the infamous Delta Smelt court case, the NRDC has lost legitimacy in California. Their current disinformation campaign on the Delta is just a continuation of their divisive water wars.  The NRDC should not be listened to any longer on the issue of the Delta.

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