Questions for Those That Question California’s Environmental Commitment
Shortly before the recent national election, several San Francisco-based conservation and environmental organizations peppered reporters and broadcasters with a deluge of press releases tied to a pseudoscientific report written by Jonathan Rosenfield of the Bay Institute.
The report’s main contention was that the State of California was shortchanging San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta Estuary by diverting too much fresh water for urban and farm use. It stressed dire, urgent and uniformly negative impacts on natural riverine habitats; aquatic creatures, fish, mammals and birds of the bay and delta, and even havoc extending to the Pacific Ocean.
Among its principal claims was that “thousands of dams and ditches that supply irrigation and drinking water … throughout California now deprive the estuary of as much as 70 percent of its freshwater inflow during the crucial winter and spring months each year.”
There’s only one problem with that claim: It is not remotely true. The numbers tell a vastly different story.
Records of the California Department of Water Resources’ Dayflow tracking of inputs and outputs to the San Francisco Bay show that, between February 1, 2014 and November 14, 2016 — a 33-month period that includes the peak drought years — 66 percent of all water entering the Delta flowed through it and into San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Just under 23% was pumped south to Los Angeles, the Bay Area and to the Central Valley, and the rest was consumed in the Delta or by counties north of San Francisco Bay.
In the 11-month period immediately preceding the release of the Rosenfield report, from October 1, 2015 to November 11, 2016, 70 percent of water flowing into the Delta exited it without diversion, entering San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Again, about 23% was pumped south.
No one apparently thought to independently verify the accuracy of Rosenfield’s claims. The data for both periods was readily available to him from the State when he claimed diversions were causing extreme harm to the delta and bay. There’s a huge difference between the 30–34 percent diversion actually experienced in contemporaneous timeframes from 2014–2016 when the state was experiencing extreme drought and “as much as 70 percent” diversion Rosenfield chose using a 40-year span from 1975–2014.
Rosenfield’s “study” received majority funding from a little-known environmental group, the San Francisco Estuary Partnership, a nebulous self-described “coalition of resource agencies, non-profits, citizens, and scientists” housed in Oakland at the Association of Bay Area Governments joint-powers agency and the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board, an arm of the California Environmental Protection Agency’s California Water Resources Control Board.
The report’s release coincidentally took place at nearly the same time as the start of a public comment period for a new rule proposed by the California Water Resources Control Board.
If finalized, the rule would greatly increase environmental flow releases on eastern and southern rivers feeding the Delta and San Joaquin River and would significantly decrease water diversions to cities and farms located south and east of the Delta.
It’s almost as if the Water Board went behind the public’s back to indirectly fund a study with money they passed through several public agencies and two non-governmental organization intermediaries in order to win support for their rule, perverting science in the process. Here’s their payback:
Rosenfield’s report was widely quoted in mainstream and smaller news outlets. He was featured in prominent interviews as he claimed harm to the bay and delta. He became a poster child for a “man harms nature” story that produced a groundswell of public comments from the environmental community, comments they subsequently submitted to the Water Board in support of their new rule.
When will media outlets, journalists and broadcasters stop being played for fools by those who clothe their biased and self-serving agendas in academic nonsense at the behest of a public agency that paid them for their views and use the goodwill of the environmental community as an echo chamber to instill in the public a false narrative that takes on a life of its own?