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Playing fast and loose with the truth

By:  Jane Wagner-Tyack

The Delta Risk Management Strategy (DRMS) is a study done by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and a team of consultants in response to AB 1200 (legislation authored by John Laird, now the California Natural Resources Secretary).  Phase 1 of DRMS has come in for criticism in the past for painting an unnecessarily pessimistic picture of the Delta levee system.  Phase 2 of DRMS evaluated benefits and costs of risk reduction strategies but was never released until recently.  Now the authors of the Delta Protection Commission’s Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) have uncovered a new problem with the way the DRMS was used in the past.

In January 2008, DWR reported to the Legislature on DRMS as required by AB 1200.  That report included three scenarios from Phase 2: Levee improvement (including seismically improved levees), an armored pathway, and isolated conveyance through the Delta..

DWR and the Department of Fish and Game ranked the scenarios based on DRMS Phase 2 analysis.  According to the January 2008 report to the Legislature “Scenario 1 (Improved Levees) ranks moderate for reducing risk and is the least expensive of the three.  Scenario 2 (Armored Pathway) and Scenario 3 (Isolated Conveyance Facility) rank high and very high respectively for reducing risk but also cost more than Scenario 1.” (Emphasis added)

Because the report to the Legislature contained qualitative rankings but no quantitative results, ESP author Dr. Jeffrey Michael requested from DWR the numbers that supported the rankings in the 2008 report to the Legislature.  The data in the report showed that improved levees had risk reduction benefits of $7.9 billion, nearly 40% higher than the $5.7 billion risk reduction benefits of Scenario 2 or 3.  Notes the ESP, “While the AB 1200 progress report states that adjustments were made based on the BDCP analysis, the quantitative results show that the adjustment was to reverse the risk reduction rankings of the alternatives to match the proposed isolated conveyance strategy in the BDCP.”

Responding to criticism of DRMS Phase 1 delayed DWR’s planned release of Phase 2 in 2008.  The Phase 2 study was not released until June 2011, and the cover letter received by Dr. Michael from DWR says that the Phase 2 was actually completed in 2009.  So it uses costs for isolated conveyance that are less than half the current estimates and does not consider a tunnel.

But here is the other interesting thing about DRMS Phase 2: Seismically-resistant levees in the south and central Delta disappeared from that report, replaced by levees at PL 84-99 standard.  Like the 2008 report to the Legislature, the 2011 DRMS Phase 2 report says isolated conveyance ranks highest even though the numbers in Table 1 of the report show improved levees had a higher benefit-cost ratio.

Just to be clear here:  Delta levee improvements, including seismically-resistant levees, were found to be less costly than conveyance and to have greater risk reduction benefits.  So the risk-reduction benefits were misrepresented in both reports, and the seismically-resistant levees disappeared altogether from the second.

That’s the level of commitment that the Department of Water Resources has to backing the BDCP’s isolated conveyance.

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