California

California's Latest Environmental Boondoggle

The facts about Jerry Brown's misguided plan to "save" the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

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In Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov," a priest recalls the words of a man who confessed: "The more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular." We can all think of people like that – folks of varied political persuasions who rally to "save" humanity, but become so consumed by their cause that they lose patience for the individuals they ostensibly are trying to help.

Judging by Gov. Jerry Brown's latest plan to "save" the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, he appears to suffer from a variant of the same condition. California's Green Governor loves the Earth in general but he doesn't seem to care about particular earthly environments.

Throughout his political career, Brown has championed grand Earth-saving projects such as AB 32, the state's first-in-the nation cap-and-trade system designed to prod the world into cutting the carbon dioxide emissions that supposedly lead to global warming. He is pushing a high-speed-rail system that is designed to lure people out of their automobiles. He speaks often about his commitment to the environment.

Yet I wonder whether the governor has ever taken the short trip from the Capitol to one of California's ecological treasures. As it comes down from the mountains and heads toward the San Francisco Bay, the bulk of the state's water passes through the Delta. It is a land of marshes, islands, charming small towns, Victorian mansions, and orchards interspersed between 1,000 miles of waterways.

The Delta also is Ground Zero for ongoing fights over the state's water supplies. Judges have routinely stopped the water flows out of the Delta, toward the dry but agriculturally rich San Joaquin Valley and toward Southern California's massive metropolises, to help a tiny endangered baitfish known as the Delta Smelt. The smelt is viewed as the canary in a coal mine – a bellwether for the ecological health of the waterways.

Millions of smelt are killed each year as they get caught in the giant pumps near Tracy, near the south end of the Delta. Environmentalists also express concerns about the level of saltwater that moves inland from the Pacific Ocean.

This tiny, tranquil region is about to undergo dramatic, government-imposed changes that threaten its beauty and way of life. The governor's plan is touted by Southern California water agencies and farmers alike who view it as a means to assure more consistent water supplies.

I'm a believer in providing water to thirsty farmers and thirsty cities. But the Bay Delta Conservation Plan won't necessarily increase the flow of water, according to the first parts of the plan, which recently has been released to the public.

The plan would start a decade-long construction project to build two massive tunnels to bypass the current river system. At a cost estimated as high as $39 billion before the usual government-project overruns, the tunnels would move water supplies under the Delta and thereby decrease the current reliance on the aging, earthquake-prone levees.

The plan has two equal goals: restore the Delta ecosystem and improve water reliability. It won't increase water flows, but by resolving the Delta Smelt issue it will end the court-ordered water stoppages – at least in theory. Here, the administration proposes the use of tax dollars and massive engineering feats to solve a legal and regulatory problem. This is a poor use of resources, especially in a state that still is largely broke and that already faces some of the biggest debt and tax burdens in the nation.

What are the chances that once the smelt issue is fixed that environmentalists won't find another reason to sue to stop the water flows given that the water flows are the source of the real dispute?

The administration's plan will tear up the Delta for at least 10 years. We know how government infrastructure projects are always delayed, so it's anyone's guess how long it actually will take. Even its advocates admit that they aren't sure about the unintended consequences of the project.

As part of its ecosystem restoration program, this boondoggle will flood a large portion of the Delta's land, destroying vineyards, farmland, orchards, and marshes. It will submerge islands. There will be land confiscations.
Environmental groups believe the re-engineering of the ecosystem will destroy salmon and other fish habitats. No one in their right mind would hand over a precious region such as this to bureaucrats, but in Sacramento these days the Brown administration is trying to relive the glory days of the New Deal where central planning and big spending are the in thing.

Here's a case where free-market advocates such as myself and true environmentalists should make common cause – to stop a misguided project that will raise water rates and increase the state's debt load to provide limited and questionable gains. There are better, cheaper, more reasonable ways to increase water supplies, tend to a damaged ecosystem and shore up the levees.

I don't expect this governor to worry much about debt spending, tax burdens and that sort of thing. But perhaps his might take a trip through the meandering waterways and charming small towns of the Delta where he can learn that one shouldn't save the environment in general by sacrificing an environment in the process.

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  1. …to stop a misguided project that will … increase the state’s debt load to provide limited and questionable gains.

    If we stop all such projects, then what will the government do with itself all day?

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      1. This comment is shockingly relevant.

    2. play with their own dicks?

  2. Sounds like STIMULUS! Pouring tax dollars literally into a hole in the ground. Who could be against that?

    1. Meanwhile, in an additional bit of hilarity, anti-human environmentalists in San Francisco tried to get the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, source of all of San Francisco’s (and much of the Bay Area’s) drinking water, returned to its natural state last year via a ballot initiative. “It would be really beautiful, we can find water elsewhere,” was the main cry.

      The Hetch Hetchy was created by putting in a dam about 100 years ago in a valley not far from what is now Yosemite National Park. It is indeed beautiful, but even as it currently is, and you can walk trails around the reservoir, below cliffs and peaks. But the initiative’s backers wanted the reservoir destroyed, and then spend billions so the beauty of the valley would come back as well.

      As you can see from the article above, CA has water troubles. One thing we don’t have a shortage of is beautiful mountain valleys. Leaving one as a reservoir is a no-brainer, except for these folks, whose clear message is always evident: “the planet needs about six billion less people, we should get rid of them but spare my backpacking buddies.”

      Even the kooky San Francisco voters didn’t go for this one. The “no” votes on the measure were over 75%.

  3. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which way the wind blows in California. Having lived in Sacramento for the past year I can tell you that the place is like a miniature D.C. The only “good” jobs are either with the state or contracting with the state. Such is life in Soviet Sac.

    1. in Soviet Sac

      Eew, gross.

      1. I heard recently that Ball State University’s fluid dynamics school was opening a remote campus in Sacramento – the Ball Sac State campus for fluid research.

  4. Has anyone suggested trying to put screens over the pump intakes to stop the fish from getting sucked in?

    1. Then you’d just end up with fish paste all over the screens. I’m guessing here, but I think the suction would still be too great for the small fish to escape.

      1. OK, well then maybe some screens and fences further down the canal from the pumps… It can’t be that expensive relative to the economic damage caused by not pumping at all…

        1. The Screamapillar is an endangered species that takes up residence in a Koi Pond in the Simpson family’s backyard. It is large and red and is similar to a caterpillar.

          In, The Frying Game, the Screamapillar is easily identified by its constant screaming?it even screams in its sleep. The Screamapillar is the favorite food of everything, is sexually attracted to fire, and needs constant reassurance or it will die. After learning all of this, Homer remarked, “You sure God doesn’t want it to die?”

        2. But then that would damage the habitat of the purple-spotted delta toad. Or something like that. Anyway, you see where this is going.

          1. That’s ridiculous. It’s the fuzzy-nosed bat who’s in real danger.

        3. Delta smelt, Hypomesus transpacificus, is an endangered[1] slender-bodied smelt, about 5 to 7 cm (2.0 to 2.8 in) long,…

          playa, any screen that would protect the smelt would get clogged on an hourly basis from debris.

          1. any screen that would protect the smelt would get clogged on an hourly basis from debris.

            Sure, but that would lead to STIMULUS!

  5. Here’s a case where free-market advocates such as myself and true environmentalists should make common cause ? to stop a misguided project that will raise water rates

    Are these “thirsty farmers and thirsty cities” paying free market rates for the water they are using? I would seriously doubt it. Maybe if they were, the problem would correct itself, no?

    1. Stop making sense.

      1. exactly, green jihadis hate capitalism, because environmentalism is basically the ideology that filled the void of the left’s psyche when socialism started collapsing…but they’ll get it right next time

  6. If millions of smelt are in fact killed every year at that one single location, it is kind of ridiculous to argue that smelt are endangered. There are like, you know, millions of them.

    1. The science is settled.

    2. I wonder how they taste…you know, fried in a little butter with white wine & shallotts…

  7. I love how the green left considers themselves to be all in favor of science. Evolution means that 99% of all species who have ever lived go extinct. Mother Nature weeds and prunes her garden like nothing else.

    Anyone else remember park rangers shooting the wrong kind of owl because it was moving in to the spotted owl’s territory?

    1. Virginian| 4.12.13 @ 12:40PM |#
      “I love how the green left considers themselves to be all in favor of science. Evolution means that 99% of all species who have ever lived go extinct. Mother Nature weeds and prunes her garden like nothing else.”

      And the Delta is about as close to “nature” as mid-town Manhattan.
      Is was a swamp; that’s all. Maybe one channel big enough to float a boat, and that would change on a weekly basis.
      Now it’s diked “islands”, all below sea level, with engineered channels that allow blue-water ships to go 60 miles inland from the bay.
      Preserve what?!

  8. You know what else is disturbing…?

    The lack of alt-text.

  9. ALT-TEXT:

    “Can”
    “You”
    “Dig”
    “It”

    1. “Look, we just lift up the delta, slide the tubes under it, then set it back down. How hard could that be?”

  10. He who smelt it delt it.

  11. “Of course Jerry Brown has had sex on a train,” Jerry Brown said, a bead of sweat gathering in his right eyebrow like a translucent mole. “Jerry Brown has had sex in or on every form of motorized transport in use in the last 60 years,” Jerry Brown insisted. “Jerry Brown had even received a hummer in the sidecar of a Nazi motorcycle.”

    “But Jerry Brown has never had sex in no bullet train,” Jerry Brown said, a hint of sadness tinging his voice. “Jerry Brown deserves to have sex on a bullet train. And not no ching-chang-chong Chinaman bullet train neither. A California bullet train. Jerry Brown will make them serve kale milk shakes and macrobiotic union food pellets. And it will have composting toilets and stickers about everything causing cancer all over the place. Jerry Brown will make this happen.”

    “And then Jerry Brown will have sex on Jerry Brown’s Jerry Brown’s Bullet Train with a really expensive sex hooker,” Jerry Brown declared.

    Jerry Brown’s assistant, who had been trained to answer to the name “Jerry Brown,” stuck her head into Jerry Brown’s office and asked Jerry Brown who Jerry Brown was talking to.

    “No one, Jerry Brown. Jerry Brown was talking to no one.”

    “Does Jerry Brown want to have lunch?”

    “No. Jerry Brown wants you to bring Jerry Brown one of Jerry Brown’s potted plants to piss in.”

    “Your plant or mine, Jerry Brown?”

    “Jerry Brown doesn’t care, Jerry Brown.”

    1. I have now read this 4 times and found a new thing to laugh at each time.

    2. +1 Jerry Brown.

  12. I think Jerry Brown is the personification of boondoggle.

    1. He didn’t get the name Moonbeam for nothin’.

      1. I thought his nickname was ass-wipe…

  13. For completely pragmatic reasons, this is the wrong year to start any project that mucks about with the water supply in the delta. The Sierra snowpack is, like, half of “normal” — shit, we’ve hardly had any rain this winter — and my local reservoir (Bullards Bar) is sitting about fifteen feet or more below where it should be right now.

    An equally pragmatic warning to my friends in the Bay Area: get used to flushing only twice a day, ‘cos there ain’t no water, period. (Somehow though, all the golf courses in Southern California will stay nice and green. The Imperial Valley may turn into a dust bowl but by christ you’ll be able to golf!)*

    *Yes, I know these are two different supply chains. Still, as go the Sierras, so goes Utah and Colorado.

  14. ” but by resolving the Delta Smelt issue it will end the court-ordered water stoppages ”

    $39billion, plus cost overruns, for a fish in a particular place. That’s the usual bang for the buck one expects out of government.

    I wonder how much it would cost for every american family to raise a bucketful of them at home.

    1. It’s not even a very useful fish.

      I may sound like an asshole but let it go extinct.

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  16. ‘Environmental groups believe the re-engineering of the ecosystem will destroy salmon and other fish habitats’

    Totally cool with 30 million dead due to ddt ban…funny that

  17. I have been amused by some of the moronic comments made by readers of such a site called “Reason”.

    1) Gov. Brown got the nickname Moonbeam by a Chicago old-school columnist in 1976 when he had the “crazy, ridiculous, government incompetent boondoggle” by proposing that the state of California should create a (shudder) SATELLITE system! Oh, what a wasteful government spending spree that was–so not at all helpful to our modern conveniences and media we benefit from circa 2013.

    “Brown was given the Moonbeam label in the late 1970s not just for his idea for a state-owned communications satellite but because he broke the political mold. He opted to live in a one-bedroom apartment instead of the governor’s mansion, turned down the state-paid limo to drive his own Plymouth”. Apparently, thriftiness and being a visionary made one “out there” in the 70’s.

    2) The Delta Smelt, is indeed a bellwether to the region both environmentally and economically. I am assuming that salmon are an important “economic” entity, as well as a gastronomic enjoyment for many of the six billion extra humans on this planet. The Smelt happens to be an important “gastronomic” part of the salmon’s diet. Kill off a primary food source of salmon just to send water to farms IN A DESERT, then you will also be creating another problem. That is why the Smelt is an issue–not to invest billions just to save a tiny insignificant bait fish.

  18. 3) The ideas spouting up are amusing as well– such as screens. I am sure the litany of state engineers, and outsourced consulting companies never considered such an elegant solution before. Yet someone in their underwear typing at a computer can bring up solutions that no one else thought of first!

    The lack of the public’s ability to take a moment to sit back and think about just how complex policy making can be before they get their verbal pitchforks out is head shaking. (BTW, many of the boondoggle ideas and over runs you all blame on government are actually the doing of PRIVATE sector contractors and consultants, not bureaucrats).

    4) I am not particularly a fan of golf courses, mainly because of land use issues and the typical d-bags that dress like PTA members. However, the notion that golf courses are inefficient water users is misguided and out of date. Actually greens managers and their practices are some of the most water-conserving pioneers and have become a pseudo lab for new best practices that other industries and governments have enjoyed. Some of it has been forced upon by water agencies and municipalities but others are just good old fashioned economics and saving money on water costs. Grey water systems, storm water run-off ponds are just some of the ways that course managers are off-setting the needs of their otherwise resource intensive turf. Still doesn’t make up for dress slacks worn for a sport, though.

    1. and you probably hit your 9 iron like a girl…

  19. In the author’s case, suggesting that “there are better, cheaper, more reasonable ways to increase water supplies, tend to a damaged ecosystem and shore up the levees”, it would be logical, maybe even REASONable, to expect that he use some of his word count to actually suggest what those better ideas are. No, that would mean that instead of tearing down an idea, he would himself be up to scrutiny for his solutions. This reminds me of the old adage, “Any jackass can kick a barn down. It takes a real carpenter to build one.”

    Mr. Greenhut also throws in this gem: “cutting the carbon dioxide emissions that supposedly lead to global warming”. Love the “supposedly”. Ah, 1990 called and they want their tobacco industry playbook back!

    As in most large scale, controversial policy planning, there are no easy answers to avoid creating “winners and losers”. The issues are always between the backbiting of self interested short term needs, politics and the need for long range solutions that avoid unintended consequences that we end up paying more socially and economically because of them.

    I understand what the governor is trying to do and it is not easy–otherwise it would have been solved a long time ago. But I don’t know if sending water to farm in a desert is something we will be doing 30 years from now. That depends on the whims of the Sierras and other sources. Nature gives us the rope, but we often end up hanging ourselves.

  20. Finally, scoff all you want at environmentalists, but the issue is really about the SUSTAINABILITY of water, period. We are running out of it all over the world and we do NOT treat it as the precious commodity it is. Water is priced way too low, cavalierly polluted by industry, grandfathered water rights assignments are woefully out of step with changing times, and corporations are quickly buying up local water sources…to bottle and sell back to us at 1000% mark up! We have kicked the can of these growing problems so long they have evolved to a crisis point.

    Think about this little inconvenient truth: California spends 25 cents of every energy dollar TRANSPORTING water–80% of this for agricultural use and the price is well below what it should be. The smartest comment I read thus far was the person who suggested prices SHOULD INCREASE, thus lowering demand over time. Heavens forbid we actually pay the true cost of something and not have to alter a thing about our needs.

    1. nuclear powered or even solar powered de-salinization plant…

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  22. Envirogal| 4.13.13 @ 2:39PM |#
    “I have been amused by some of the moronic comments made by readers of such a site called “Reason”.”

    I’m amused at your stupidity.
    Sorry, too many idiotic, irrelevant and/or PC comments to bother with. Go peddle your crap where watermellons are popular.

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