Delta cost-benefit study politicized

May 10, 2012

By: Wayne Lusvardi

Noted environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg recently said that cost-benefit studies could be used to evaluate big public works projects having environmental impacts in an age of austerity.  But California legislators propose to turn an unneeded cost-benefit study of the Sacramento Delta Conservation Plan into an apparent shakedown for jobs, land and water for a range of special groups mostly in Northern California.

Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, R-Stockton, introduced AB 2421, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan Cost and Benefits bill. The Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife approved it on April 24.  It’s currently in the Appropriations Committee. Berryhill’s office told me that the bill will be heard after the state budget is finalized.

AB 2421 would authorize a redundant economic cost-benefit analysis to be conducted of the proposed Peripheral Canal project.

The Peripheral Canal is a proposed project to build either a surface canal around the periphery of the Sacramento Delta or tunnels underneath the Delta to convey water to Southern California.

The proposed independent cost-benefit analysis authorized under AB 2421 would duplicate two other cost-benefit studies of the Peripheral Canal.  The first two: the University of California, Berkeley would conduct one study and another would be completed as part of the environmental review process required under the California Environmental Quality Act.

This third cost-benefit study from AB 2421 is touted as a way for water ratepayers to hold down water rate increases. But this unneeded study would cost $1 million.

AB 2421 would require an independent third party to conduct a cost-benefit study of the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan.  A representative of the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the Delta Protection Commission, and the State Water Contractors would develop the scope of work for this study.  The Delta Protection Commission is stacked with members representing Northern California and the Delta area.  Nevertheless, Berryhill curiously said, “A fair and balanced analysis is all we want.”

Bi-Partisan But Special Interest Support

The Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife approved AB 2421 by a vote of 10 to 2.  The bill received bi-partisan support from both northern and southern California legislators:

Jared Huffman, D-Marin and Sonoma Counties;
Bill Berryhill, R-Central Valley;
Bob Blumenfield, D-San Fernando Valley;
Nora Campos, D-San Jose;
Paul Fong,  D-Santa Clara County;
Beth Gaines, R-Alpine, El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento Counties;
Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties;
Roger Hernandez, D-San Gabriel Valley;
Ben Hueso, D-San Diego;
Yamiko Yamada, D-Sacramento.

Legislators opposed to the bill were:

Ricardo Lara, D-Los Angeles County Mid Cities;
Linda Halderman, R-Fresno and Madera Counties.

The bill was supported by a coalition of environmental, commercial fishing and real estate development interests as well as Delta counties and cities.

Supporting the bill were: Restore the Delta, Food and Water Watch, Sierra Club California, the Planning and Conservation League, Clean Water Action, the Pacific Coast Foundation of Fishermen’s Associations, the Delta Coalition, Ducks Unlimited, Lower Sherman Island Duck Hunter’s Association, the San Joaquin Council of Governments and County Board of Supervisors, the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce and the cities of Escalon, Ripon, and Stockton.

The A.G. Spanos Company and the Grupe Companies, both Stockton-based real estate development companies, also supported the bill.

Twenty-seven California water agencies, mostly in Southern California and the Westlands Water District in the Central Valley, opposed the bill, along with the California Chamber of Commerce.

Study Not Needed

Quoted in IndyBay.org online, Roger Patterson of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California said, “I believe the legislation is simply not necessary.”

AB 2421 is an effort mainly by Northern California legislators to pander to Delta real estate, commercial fishing, recreation, water and other interests apparently having no firm water rights in the Delta.  A question remains if the cost-benefit study is intended to shake down the state for dedications and mitigations of land, water rights and jobs programs, or is truly concerned about the costs of the Peripheral Canal for ratepayers.

6 comments

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  1. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 10 May, 2012, 10:32

    I was just notified of proposed water rate hikes by my water district.

    The fixed cost for a residential water meter is going up 14%.

    The $/ccf (price per 100 cu feet of water) is going up about 7%.

    I called the water district and, of course, they pointed their fingers at the Metro Water District.

    They told me I could attend the water district meeting and complain. They also told me that I could stand in a 90mph head wind and urinate into it.

    The second option sounded more feasible.

    Reply this comment
  2. Generoyb
    Generoyb 10 May, 2012, 13:59

    Have you recently met a pol that really cared what we think. It is all: party, power and politics. Principle is no where to be found.

    Reply this comment
  3. Jerry Cadagan
    Jerry Cadagan 10 May, 2012, 14:52

    Wayne —- please cite the provision of CEQA that says environmental review shall include a cost/benefit study.

    Thanks.

    Reply this comment
  4. queeg
    queeg 10 May, 2012, 17:44

    It boils down to…..will the smelt swim up north or will tomatoes grow in the central valley and thousands of immigrants keep decent jobs.

    Either way you pay higher water rates.

    Reply this comment
  5. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 10 May, 2012, 21:30

    Reply to Jerry Cadagan:

    Good question.

    My understanding is CEQA may require a cost-benefit study of MITIGATIONS.

    Here is the source:

    “NEPA generally requires that any cost/benefit analysis prepared for the project be incorporated into or attached to the EIS.

    Incorporation of cost/benefit information is optional under CEQA unless it constitutes the basis for rejecting an environmentally superior alternative.”

    Link to pdf file:
    2.6 Relationship to Other Env5

    Reply this comment
  6. Chris Gulick
    Chris Gulick 11 May, 2012, 10:31

    Wayne, could you illustrate for me where in AB 2421 it is touted ” as a way for water ratepayers to hold down water rate increases.” ?
    Thanks.
    I have attached a link to the bill if that will help.
    http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/11-12/bill/asm/ab_2401-2450/ab_2421_bill_20120412_amended_asm_v98.pdf

    One of three representatives developing the analysis could be labeled a “delta interest”, one could be labeled an “exporter” and the third represents our “legislative interests”.
    Some how you are able to conclude from this that it stacks the deck in favor of the Delta ? Really ? Last I checked 1 of 3 ain’t a majority.

    Reply this comment

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