I have a prediction: clarifying the science will not settle the political argument over the proposed Cadiz water project in the deserts of California.
Chris Clarke wrote this today about Cadiz, a proposal to pump water from beneath the Mojave Desert and pipe it to coastal Southern California cities:
According to an independent hydrologists’ evaluation of the proposed Cadiz Valley water project, project backers used flawed models and incomplete data to forecast the amount of water they could pump out of a desiccated valley in the Mojave Desert.
To which public relations consultant Laer Pearce, who has been flacking for the project, had this to say (scroll down to the comments on Chris’s post):
It is incorrect and misleading to your readers to refer to this new study’s authors as “independent.” They were hired and paid by the National Parks Conservation Association, a longtime opponent of the Cadiz water project and an advocacy group dedicated to resisting commercial enterprises in and around national parks. It is based in Washington, D.C. and has annual revenues of $61 million.
In contrast to the modeling done by the Association’s hydrologists, the studies undertaken by Cadiz are more comprehensive and, most importantly, have been peer reviewed by some of the nation’s leading hydrology experts who serve on the Groundwater Stewardship Committee. This committee will continue to monitor the aquifer as the project progresses to ensure that there are no impacts to the environment.
Which is richly ironic – to accuse project opponents’ scientists of having a lack of independence while citing the work of scientists hired by the project’s supporters. No doubt Pearce is paid to say things like that with a straight face.
Full disclosure: I’ve avoided writing about Cadiz because I haven’t had the time to do the necessary journalistic due diligence on the technical questions involved. If I had time, I would, but I’m not sure it matters, because it’s clear that this is shaping up as a case study in what John Bass recently called “design and the problem of ‘contradictory uncertainties’“. John invokes the work of political scientist Dan Sarewitz (which in meta fashion I pushed on him) regarding the way science does not settle political controversies. John here is writing about the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, but his argument applies, I think, with a few tweaks, to Cadiz:
My money is on a stalemated, status quo Groundhog Day future, until there is a shift in consciousness and consensus (either rightward or leftward) similar to the one that led to the great environmental movement of the late 1960’s. If that consciousness shifts right, then property rights and Randian selfishness ideology will have won out. If the shift is to the left, toward environmental justice and a willing footing of the bill for remediative machines and regimens, then our evolution will have continued.
The “stalemate” part may apply more effectively to the Delta than Cadiz. But it’s clear that, like in the Delta, science won’t settle this. Values will.