On the Delta Independent Science Board and Inconvenient Truths

Remarks by Deirdre Des Jardins at the April 16, 2021 Delta Independent Science Board meeting.

One of the most valuable contributions of the Delta Independent Science Board is when they speak inconvenient truths.

One example of this is the BDCP / WaterFix project, which is a “hard” adaptation to climate change.  The locations for the North Delta intakes were largely decided in conceptual engineering work done between 2008 and 2010, when the high estimate of sea level rise by 2100 was about one meter, with an extreme value of 55 inches. But estimates of high sea level rise have since doubled, with a current high estimate of two meters of sea level rise, and an extreme value of 10 feet – 120 inches.

Delta flooding
Delta flooding with 1.5 m sea level rise (1 in 100 yr)                Source: CalAdapt

It is an inconvenient truth that the locations for the intakes chosen for one meter of sea level rise may have significant issues with salinity intrusion with 2 meters of sea level rise, especially if none of the Delta levees are raised. Here the reviews of the project by the Delta Independent Science Board were invaluable.

In a 2014 review of the BDCP project EIR-EIS, the DISB wrote:

The potential direct effects of climate change and sea-level rise on the effectiveness of actions, including operations involving new water conveyance facilities, are not adequately considered. […] Similar comments could be made about the treatments of other disrupting factors, such as floods, levee failures, earthquakes, or invasive species, any of which could profoundly alter the desired outcomes of BDCP actions. […] If the effects of major environmental disruptions such as climate change, sea-level rise, levee breaches, floods, and the like are not considered, however, one must [not] assume that the actions will have the stated outcomes. We believe this is dangerously unrealistic.

In October 2015, DISB member Vince Resh summarized the review of the WaterFix project EIR-EIS:

In general, we felt that the revised EIR-EIS provides only the information and analysis that are legally required for such documentation. To the Delta Independent Science Board, this falls far short of what is needed to assess the project’s effectiveness, to determine how uncertainties will be addressed, to determine how unanticipated events will be dealt with, or to determine how the project outcomes will be affected by climate change and sea level rise.

Delta Stewardship Council Vice Chair Phil Isenberg recalled the Department of Water Resources’ dismissal of the DISB comments:

I thought it was a cavalier dismissal of the science board comments, kind of a ‘pat on the head’ and neither politically wise nor governmentally sound, since it is consistency with the Delta Plan that a covered action will be based upon in front of this Council.

In 2018, the Delta Stewardship Council staff draft on the WaterFix project’s consistency with the Delta plan found that the Department of Water Resources failed to use best available science on sea level rise in evaluating the project.

Politically, this was a huge inconvenient truth. But a $16 billion project that is supposed to provide climate resilience for the water supply for 27 million people had major risks that were not adequately addressed. This was a time when the review by the Delta Independent Science Board was enormously important.

One thought on “On the Delta Independent Science Board and Inconvenient Truths

  1. This brief post provides a short but revealing explanation why the Delta Independent Science Board (“DISB”) is such an important entity in protecting the Delta, California’s most indispensable ecosystem. Yet the DISB has been virtually defunded by Governor Newsom and the state Department of Water Resources! What are they afraid of? The DISB has been THE major source of “inconvenient truth” about the negative impacts the proposed Delta Tunnel would have on California’s aquatic environment, including the virtually extinct Delta smelt and the endangered Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon. One of the Governor’s largest sources of campaign funds, the San Joaquin Valley agribusiness giants, want much of Northern California’s water, which must come through the Delta Tunnel!

Leave a Reply