Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New water legislation already old.

The recently passed and widely publicized wildly hyped water legislation is already out of date.  This is almost a full year before the voters are going to be asked to approve a bond measure that won't do what it is supposed to do even if that was not enough.  In order to follow this, you have to set aside any doubt you might have and just assume that the scientists are basically right about our changing climate.

Buried in SBX7.1(pdf) are several references to climate change and one of it's major effects… a rising sea level.  Since the Delta is on the boundary between our rivers and the bay, any change in sea level is serious and major changes are potentially catastrophic.

 85307(c) The council, in consultation with the Department of Transportation, may address in the Delta Plan the effects of climate change and sea level rise on the three state highways that cross the Delta. (bold emphasis mine).
We obviously do not want any highways to go under water, so that would have to be considered. But that items about consulting with the Department of Transportation is rather vague. In fact, the bill says only that they "may" do this.  Even more unclear is how they might arrive at the amount of change they have to account for.

There is a clue to this in another section of the bill dealing with the possible design and construction of a conveyance through or around the canal.
85320(B)(2)(c).The potential effects of climate change, possible sea level rise up to 55 inches, and possible changes in total precipitation and runoff patterns
on the conveyance alternatives and habitat restoration activities considered in the environmental impact report.
That sounds like a lot. In fact, the number is taken from estimates of sea level rise by 2100 and it to be found in a lot of the literature including some from the Pacific Institute that even provides mapping data of the areas of California to be inundated by 55 in.

So, this legislation establishes a guideline for considering sea level rise for one use. I can even envision that State Senator Simitian, who is the nominal author of this, was quite proud of getting this recognition of a key environmental issue into the final version of the bill.

The only problem is that the number is out of date. Two reports now available make it clear that we have to consider much higher numbers.  The first is a general report entitled The Copenhagen Diagnosis updating the 2007 IPPC information in preparation for the December IPPC in Copenhagen. The press release announcing the report calls attention to the areas where the original estimations of the pace of climate change were wrong.
Global ice-sheets are melting at an increased rate; Arctic sea-ice is disappearing much faster than recently projected, and future sea-level rise is now expected to be much higher than previously forecast, according to a new global scientific synthesis prepared by some of the world’s top climate scientists.

In a special report called ‘The Copenhagen Diagnosis’, the 26 researchers, most of whom are authors of published IPCC reports, conclude that several important aspects of climate change are occurring at the high end or even beyond the expectations of only a few years ago.
Note: The Copenhagen Diagnosis was written before the next report was published.

In the second, published in Nature Geoscience, it is noted that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, once thought so cold as to not be a factor, has been show to have been losing mass (thawing) after all, contributing more fresh water to the oceans. The link above is to an abstract of the report (subs required). Joe Romm has an explanation at Climate Progress. The net for this discussion is that 55 inches is not going to be enough and it was naively stupid to put such in any legislation.

The current thinking is that we need to plan for 2 meters of sea level rise by 2100 and those making the projections have consistently underestimated the effects.

The final legislative mention of sea level rise in not so detailed, only part of the definition of the term, "Restoration" as in "Restoration of the Delta".
85066. “Restoration” means the application of ecological principles to restore a degraded or fragmented ecosystem and return it to a condition in which its biological and structural components achieve a close approximation of its natural potential, taking into consideration the physical changes that have occurred in the past and the future impact of climate change and sea level rise.
Taken all together we see that this legislation was just thrown together with not enough understanding of the forces they will have to deal with. For being so specific on this one point, a 55 in. sea level rise, it is surprising that there are so many unanswered questions which the California State Legislature left unanswered.

  • How much are we willing to spend to protect any part of California from the effects of climate change that we know are coming?
  • Where will we draw the line between that which we are willing to protect and that which we acknowledge that we will have to let go? 
  • Is it in the Bay (Alviso for example is already lower than current sea level.) 
  • Will we try to stop the salt water intrusion between Suisun Marsh and the Delta? 
  • Are we willing to let Bethel Island, it's homes and businesses, disapper forever, it's residents relocated at our expense?
If we have not begun to think about the answers to these questions, it makes no sense to start building infrastructure for a future water world.  The entire water bond we will be asked to vote on lists project after project with no sense of prioritization, having been thrown together not to protect the water supply for Californians but rather to secure the votes of legislators who might otherwise have shown a streak of common sense and voted "no."

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