BDCP bits and pieces

Some nuggets from the Independent Science Board’s review of the twin tunnels plan, released today. (Here’s my story.)

Best quote: “It is a bit like an orchestra playing a symphony without a conductor and with the sheets of music sometimes shuffled. The notes are all there and mostly well-played individually, but the experience is less than satisfying.” (This is a remark made specifically about the water-supply portion of the plan.)

Did you know?: While much of the review is critical, the scientists say one incidental benefit might be geologic discoveries along the route of the proposed tunnels. “Borings for proposed Draft BDCP are already providing insights into prehistoric volcanic eruptions. The borings have sampled volcanic ash layers that erupted about 400,000 years ago near Bend, Ore., and about 600,000 years ago near Mount Lassen,” the review says. This kind of project could help geologists learn more about the timing of climatic and tectonic events, even in widely separated areas, the panel suggested.

Skeeter trouble: One area in which the review panel is particularly critical is public health — especially the risk of increased mosquito populations. The panel warns that the proposed large swaths of restored wetland habitat could serve as “stepping stones” for upstream migration of adult skeeters, eventually leading to their “colonization of new sources” (sounds ominous for Stockton). BDCP’s answer is to work with mosquito abatement districts on best management practices, to which the panel asks: “Is this sufficient coverage of control activities in the DEIR/DEIS in terms of what could be major public health outbreaks (e.g. West Nile Virus and encephalitis)?”

“The potential costs of nuisance mosquitoes are not discussed in this chapter,” the panel goes on to say. “Decline of home prices, loss of recreational areas and opportunities, and increased human discomfort from increases and expansion of mosquito populations could result. These could have environmental consequences as a result of public dissatisfaction and decreased regard for appropriate behavior in sensitive ecological areas. Inappropriate pesticide use could also increase.”

What’s missing: In addition to other criticisms, the panel says the tunnels plan doesn’t go far enough in examining the following: A) climate change on restored habitat areas (sea level rise could literally and figuratively erode the benefits of habitat, the panel says); B) downstream impacts on San Francisco Bay (less flow into the Bay could mean less sediment, which could make tidal marshes in the Bay less resilient to sea level rise); C) the possibility of future levee failures in the Delta and how that could change the salinity of the Delta; and D) how increased reliability of water exports from the Delta might affect the application of fertilizer and pesticides to San Joaquin Valley ag lands and the quality of already contaminated agricultural runoff.

“Surprisingly,” the report adds, there appears to be no quantification of the effects of various alternatives on salt exports to the west side of the Valley.

‘Conclusions,’ or ‘hypotheses’?: The latter might be the better word, when it comes to the notion that habitat restoration will save threatened and endangered fish, the panel found.

Consider the variables:

“The … analyses are designed to predict the nature of the changes that might occur over the next five decades due to construction and operations of a massive new water conveyance system in the Delta and a series of efforts to restore habitats and institute a number of other Conservation Measures,” the review says. “All of this is done under major known or estimated (climate change, population increases) but also unknown (new invasive species or discovered casualties) changing environmental conditions.

“That,” the the panel wrote, “is a daunting challenge.”

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  • Blog Author

    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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