Lies, “dam” lies, parasites and JournoLists

San Francisco has long been known for its exquisite tap water.  Yup, I know that sounds silly, but it’s true.  Back in 1923, San Francisco got the right to build a dam in what was once known as Hetch Hetchy Valley, near Yosemite.  That clear Sierra water has been flowing into San Francisco ever since.  It’s so pure that it doesn’t even need to be filtered.  All that’s required to make it potable is to treat it with lime and chlorine.

An environmental group, however, is still mourning the long-lost Hetch Hetchy Valley, and is agitating for the dam to be removed, with a new water supply built somewhere else:

Restore Hetch Hetchy, as its name suggests, aims to return that valley to its natural state by demolishing the dam and releasing the billions of gallons of water that lie behind it. Since San Francisco receives about 85 percent of its water from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir system, the group argues for storing water in another spot downstream, such as Don Pedro Reservoir.

Aside from disrupting a perfectly sound water supply, this is a very, very expensive idea.  First, there’s the cost of the new dam:

Storing the river water at another location would mean building a large-scale filtration system, a project estimated to cost $310 million to $515 million, according to a 2006 Hetch Hetchy restoration study by the state.

Second, there’s the cost of restoring the Hetch Hetchy Valley, buried under water for almost 90 years:

Whereas Restore Hetch Hetchy figures the restoration would cost about $1 billion, the state report by the Department of Water Resources said it would cost between $3 billion and $10 billion.

I don’t know about you, but during a deep budget crisis, it seems insanely stupid to me to interfere with a perfectly good water system, at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, so that billions of dollars can be spent to re-create a long forgotten Valley.

The Restore Hetch Hetchy (“RHH”) people apparently recognize this same stupidity, because they’ve decided to re-cast the whole argument as a public health issue.  They claim that Hetch Hetchy’s water isn’t pure at all, but is the source of a San Francisco-sized epidemic of giardia and cryptosporidium.  If you’re not familiar with those words, giardia and cryptosporidium are two nasty little parasites that leave people with diarrhea and other abdominal symptoms. The RHH squad, to advance this argument, points out (correctly) that San Francisco has unusually high (although scarcely epidemic) rates of giardia and cryptosporidium.

I actually know a little, a very little about giardia, because a dear friend of mine had it. But he wasn’t any dear friend. This was back in the early 1990s, and he was a dear friend who was also a gay man dying of AIDS. In addition to the Karposi’s sarcoma that plagued him, and the horrible pedunculated lesions that painfully decorated the soles of his feet, he also almost died from giardia. What would have been an unpleasant case of diarrhea for other people (assuming it had even taken hold in their immunity-rich guts) was a near fatal problem for him. He told me he probably got the giardia up in Tahoe, where the once clean Sierra waters, as a result of over-population and less than hygienic hikers, were rife with the bacteria.  I accepted that story as true back then.  Being a little more sophisticated now, I suspect that some of his sexual practices might also have been a source of his illness.

My friend’s tragic story actually ties in with the whole expensive environmental boondoggle the RHH is now proposing.  You see, the City argues, convincingly to me, that the problem in San Francisco lies not with the clear Sierra water, but with an unusually vulnerable population that also happens to engage in practices even more unsafe than drinking tap water:

Three factors are behind the elevated rates, city health experts say: San Francisco’s strong disease-surveillance program, broad access to health care, and a relatively high population of people with suppressed immune systems – specifically, gay men with HIV/AIDS.

“This is not a drinking water problem,” said June Weintraub, senior epidemiologist with the San Francisco Department of Public Health. “San Francisco is off the charts” with other sexually transmitted diseases and those common among people with compromised immune systems.

Rod Adam, a giardia expert at the infectious disease department at the University of Arizona, concurs. Adam said the prevalence of the disease in men between the ages of 25 and 54, according to the city’s 2008 annual report on communicable diseases, hints that giardiasis is being passed from partner to partner in the gay community.

“It really does suggest a lot of this could be sexual transmission,” he said.

Mark Cloutier, former executive director of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, isn’t convinced the problem lies in San Francisco’s water supply, either. But he believes the issue needs more scrutiny.

“If the rates are higher in San Francisco, we have to look at what makes San Francisco different,” he said. “There needs to be more analysis.”

This Hetch Hetchy story is a perfect example of the dishonesty that so often permeates modern advocacy.  I hate that.  As a long-time lawyer, I’ve spent my career advocating my client’s positions.  But I’ve always done so honestly.  I’ve never perverted either the facts or the law.  Aside from my being an inherently honest person (my parents raised me right), our adversary legal system also ensures that I don’t cheat.  If I do decide to lie or conceal, my opponent, if he’s any good at all, will be all over me for having done so.   My job, as an advocate, is to take the facts and the law and work them into the best argument possible.

In the case of this Hetch Hetchy story, the San Francisco Chronicle did a decent job of pointing out the opposing arguments.  Assuming as I do that the story is reported correctly (and I’m helped by knowing about Hetch Hetchy, and by knowing about gay man, AIDS, and giardia), the Chron allowed one side to tell its story, and then allowed the other side, the opposition, to take it to task for its dishonesty.  This was a good “fact” story, one that fell pretty neatly into the traditional journalism category.

What happens, though, when the journalists cease reporting and start advocating — and, worse, when they use dishonest arguments to advance their position?  It’s a recipe for disinformation on Pravda-esque levels.  That’s why this JournoList story is so deeply upsetting.  A group of people who advertised themselves as fact purveyors were, in fact, engaging, not only in advocacy, but in dishonest advocacy.  They were lying about who they were, they were engaging in myriad falsehoods through omission, and they were actively contemplating affirmative lies to advance an agenda they publicly denied having.

Further, because these covert advocates controlled the primary instruments of communication during an election, no opposing point of view made its way through to their audience.  Sure, we in the blogosphere knew what was going on.  The problem is that we’re still a minority.  People who are not internet news junkies, but who actually thought the the New York Times reported, not just “all the news that’s fit to print,” but also all the honest, non-advocacy news that’s fit to print, accepted these ostensibly factual “news” stories as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

What’s just as disturbing is that, two years out from a year in which the media ran one of the most dishonest election campaigns ever, nothing has changed.  A media that advertises itself to America as reporting “just the facts,” ignored the New Black Panther story, lied about alleged racism in the Tea Parties and, amusingly, to date has still not managed to report about the JournoList story.

All of which proves, I guess, that there are lies, “dam” lies, and JournoLists.

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  • socratease

    “Whereas Restore Hetch Hetchy figures the restoration would cost about $1 billion, the state report by the Department of Water Resources said it would cost between $3 billion and $10 billion.”

    Tell you want: You tree-huggers go take up a collection, and when you’ve got your $3 to $10 billion to finance your plan in-hand, call us back.

  • Oldflyer

    If the dam were built in 1923, I venture to say that there is no one alive who can remember what the Hetchy Hetchy was like in its pristine form. It may have been a disgusting place.
    But, there is an advocacy group for everything under the sun.  Most of them share a few things in common:  1.  They want people to give them money.  2.  They have a professional staff; usually a well-compensated one. 3.  They are perpetual.

  • Charles Martel

    Oldflyer, actually it was a very beautiful place. People often called it “Little Yosemite” for its resemblance to Yosemite Valley. Impressive waterfalls tumbled over its 1,300-foot cliffs and it was a consistent tourist draw.

    The story goes that when the lobbying power of a very determined city of San Francisco succeeded in strong-arming Congress into allowing Hetch-Hetchy to be dammed—this after an epic rearguard action by John Muir— that the decision to flood the valley broke his heart and led to his death only months later.

    If you do a quick Google search you can find many black-and-white photos of Hetch Hetchy before it was flooded.

    That said, the pagans who want to see Hetch Hetchy “liberated” are the usual self-absorbed, nature-adoring humanity haters that seem drawn to the Bay Area like horse flies to a road apple. Their terribly prissy ideal of beauty and thinly disguised antipathy toward humans are not surprising in the Bay Area, America’s most solipsistic and self-absorbed metroplois.

    But even in San Francisco, these people are seen for the extremists they are. To decide between sweet, potable and cheap water for 2.3 million people versus the ability of an effete group of scenery consumers to gaze smugly at a beautiful valley is a no-brainer for most people here, no matter how deludely liberal they are. Nature restores swiftly—if/when O’Shaughnessy Dam is taken down, Hetch Hetchy will fully restore itself within a few decades. Too long, perhaps, for our aesthetic superiors to live to see, but what the hell. They are, by their own self-definitions, meaningless flickers of light between two eternal stretches of darkness.

  • Ymarsakar

    Hrmph. And people to this today continue to wonder why I hate the Left.
    Isn’t it obvious, by now, why I hate the Left?

  • David Foster

    The “progressive” Left is hostile to dams in general, not just this particular one. Although they like to associate themselves with the New Deal, they never would have allowed the kind of large-scale construction that was sponsored by that administration. You aren’t going to hear any *modern* leftists singing Woody Guthrie’s “Roll on Columbia,” which was written in praise of a chain of dams on the Columbia river:
    Roll on, Columbia, roll on, roll on, Columbia, roll onYour power is turning our darkness to dawnSo roll on, Columbia, roll on.
    And on up the river is Grand Coulee DamThe mightiest thing ever built by a manTo run the great factories and water the land (in some versions reads “To run the great factories for Ol’ Uncle Sam“)So roll on, Columbia, roll on

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  • Ymarsakar

    Dams are also alternative energy sources.

  • jj

    The problem is, the dam’s getting old.  Many folks don’t realize that dams do get old, and even have pretty predictable lives.  One of the reasons we don’t build massive entrapment dams any more is that as they age the reservoirs silt up, the concrete requires constant repair, and they become inefficient.  After a while it becomes cheaper to import the water from Shanghai than it is to try and maintain the dam at some reasonable level of efficiency.
    Haven’t gone to the trouble of looking for any numbers on this particular dam, but if it was built in 1923, by now it’s probably holding no more than half the designed capacity of the reservoir.  Perhaps a bit above half – but not much.  That proportion will only shrink.  The weakness of entrapment dams is that they don’t just trap the water, they trap everything in the water.  Rivers move: you stop them, and the stuff they’re carrying precipitates out.  And it’s not just the silting issue.  Concrete doesn’t flex much, and when it’s the cork in the bottle holding back the weight of billions of gallons of water, plus absorbing whatever force the Colorado River (or the Columbia, or the Charles, or any other dammed river) throws against it, the concrete weakens over time, too.
    Most of the big entrapment dams in this country are regarded as getting near the end of their lives, and no more big ones of that type are in contemplation.  They’re expensive, and they don’t last.  Plus, as noted, the ecological damage of entrapment is no longer acceptable.
    We have a good case study going on in my neck of the woods.  There’s an entrapment dam in the neighborhood, a power producer.  The lake behind it is now about 80%+ silted up, and the dam is way past any measurable efficiency.  The turbines have been removed, the power station’s disconnected: it’s done.  Time to take it down.  For the last two years my little town has been crawling with government contractor’s and scientists, fabricating and putting in place huge outflow pipes (I mean these suckers are the size of the funnels on the Queen Mary) to try and control the flood when they pull the thing apart and let it go.  Great and ongoing discussions about what happens to the silt – will it flow on out, will it scour and destroy the bed of the river downstream, will it create a shelf offshore where it hits the Strait, are the engineers right when they say we can keep the flooding off the Indian reservation that lives downstream?  Etc., etc., etc., questions, questions, questions, – nobody knows.  (And this is a comparatively simple one – the dam’s only about five miles from where it hits the sea, a straight shot, pretty straightforward.  What you do with one a hundred miles, or two, or three hundred miles from its outflow point – God only knows!)  The problem is, they’re worried about the stream bed and the offshore shelf possibility because the river this things dams was once one of the very few in the lower 48 that hosted annual runs of all five species of salmon.  All five, in the one river.  Chosen, the best part of a century ago,  with laser-like precision by the Army Corps of Engineers to be the exact spot where we need a dam.  So long, salmon runs.  (As Gollum would say: “brainses.  What brainses!”  I am really not much of a tree-hugger, but Jesus, I could become one!)
    Here’s the crux.  I asked one of these government scientist types what the big deal is, that requires his presence – and that of three dozen colleagues – living in town two years before the date they plan to eliminate the dam.  His answer was enlightening.  First, it’s never been done.  This is the largest dam that’s ever been planned to be “decommissioned” in this country.  (For “decommissioned,” read “blown up.”)  That alone is of interest, but it’s also a great learning experience for these guys, because the USA currently has nearly a hundred dams of similar size or larger that are near or at the end of their useful lives, and will in the next half-century or so need to be taken down.  The problem is, when we figured out how to do it, we went through an orgy of dam building in this country, and most of the big ones were built in about the same time period – which means they’re coming due in about the same time period, too.  He mentioned some big names – Lake Mead is pretty thoroughly silted, and the Hoover Dam is a lot less efficient than once it was.  Las Vegas grows and grows, the dam is capable of producing less and less power.  The Boulder Dam is a shadow of itself as to functionality.  The Grand Coulee is the youngest of the huge ones, with the best technology – but by the end of the century it’ll be done too.  (Turn off the lights in Washington…)
    So I don’t know how the O’Shaughnessy Dam’s doing, but it’s been holding back the force of the flow of the Tuolumne River, and the weight of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir for 87 years now.  The Tuolumne moves, too, it carved a pretty good canyon, and in springtime it just slams into the eastern end of the reservoir, and the shock-wave transmits right to the O’Shaughnessy Cork at the west end of the bottle.
    So – whether the tree-huggers get it done, or time takes its toll doesn’t much matter.  Either way, the dam’s a limited thing,and probably some time this century it will indeed need to come out.  San Francisco, with an eye to the future, should have someone thinking about this by now.  San Francisco, being San Francisco, located in California – doesn’t.  I’ll be gone, I won’t care: but it’ll be interesting.

  • Ymarsakar

    We should crack the dams all at once while the tree huggers are sitting underneath them protesting.

  • Charles Martel

    “San Francisco, with an eye to the future, should have someone thinking about this by now.  San Francisco, being San Francisco, located in California – doesn’t.”

    That’s an accurate observation. What will probably happen is that, in all seriousness, the Greens will propose water desalinization plants powered by windmills, solar panels and ocean turbines. (Mayor Newsom once proposed submerging turbines under the Golden Gate Bridge to tap the immense tidal flows that surge through there.) Of course any combination of those power sources won’t be enough to desalinate anywhere nearly enough water for the current 2.3 million people who depend on Hetch Hetchy water.

    Other possible sources could include the huge freshwater flow from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers into San Francisco Bay via the Delta. The problem, of course, is that diverting freshwater could take away precious fluids from the sacred Delta smelt (or midgin, or poofkin, or whatever they call the Currently Endangered Species), and would still require a place to store it.

    There’s a remote possibility of nuclear power. Stewart Brand, one of the leading lights of the Green movement has come out in favor of it, so there’s some hope that it might get fair consideration as a desalinization power source. Of course you’re dealing with the Bay Area, which for all of its vaunted educational level, is an extremely reactionary and superstitious place, where many people believe in homeopathic medicine, chakras, the ill effects of electric powerlines, the horribleness of vaccinations, the horribleness of irradiated food, and especially the horribleness of nuclear power (they still shudder at memories of “The China Syndrome”).

    I’m fortunate to live in a county that is off the state water grid and gets all of its water from local sources (watershed surrounding the area’s tallest mountain). The water authorities, though, ever mindful of the need to make sure they have lifelong jobs, have been diddling with a pilot desalinization plant that potentially could supply 15 to 20 percent of our daily needs. The problem is that it’s very expensive, powering it would be a big concern, the water is potable but nowhere nearly as tasty as the stuff that comes off our mountain, and the NIMBYs are already complaining that the post-desalinization slurry that would be returned to the ocean via a 5-mile pipe would—get ready for this—“contaminate the sea with salt.”

  • Ymarsakar

    “the horribleness of vaccinations”
    I think most of that is actually conservative, not hippy. The issue with conservatives is choice and vaccinations are not a choice when the law requires you to have them.
    Course I got vaccinated as a kid and had my leg get infected because the government nurse didn’t place the alcohol bandage where she injected me. This was on top of an interesting reaction to the injection material itself.

  • Ymarsakar

    “and the NIMBYs are already complaining that the post-desalinization slurry that would be returned to the ocean via a 5-mile pipe would—get ready for this—”contaminate the sea with salt.””
    Same as those idiots saying you can’t have oil skimmers putting back oil into the already polluted with oil Gulf of Mexico waters.
    The Left, not only do are they insane, but they will force their insanity unto you and your family.

  • mgdo5756

    I think we’re missing an opportunity.  Drain the Hetch Hetchy.  With no water, San Francisco then becomes untenable as a city.  We ship the rabid, socialistic/communistic residents to the nearest similar civilization (North Korea) and Nancy becomes the logical successor to Kim Jung Il.  California becomes a red state, Barry can’t get reelected, and all is right with the world once again!

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