The Shocking Truth: Restore the Delta Defies Science on Earthquake Threat

May 4, 2015

To: Interested Parties
Fr: Steven Maviglio, Restore the Delta Truth
Re: The Shocking Truth: Restore the Delta Defies Science on Earthquake Threat

A series of small earthquakes in Contra Costa county yesterday apparently wakened the Delta big water user-funded group, “Restore the Delta” to once again question the need to improve the security of California’s water system by investing in a water distribution system that is more earthquake safe. Much like climate change deniers, Restore the Delta repeatedly asserts the false claim that there is little risk from earthquakes to levees, fresh water, or the state’s conveyance system.

The group gleefully tweeted in the past week:

  • 6 earthquakes today in Contra Costa County. Delta levee failures ZERO!”
  • “Eight earthquakes now in Contra Costa County last 24 hours. ZERO Delta levee failures”
  • “The Delta has never lost a levee to an earthquake.”

But as much as the developers behind Restore the Delta pooh-pooh the need for water security in our earthquake-prone state, the state’s leading scientists, engineers and emergency planners continue to issue warnings.

Let’s compare the statements of head-in-the-sand disaster deniers at Restore the Delta to what the state’s leading earthquake experts from the PPIC, USGS and UCLA have to say:

Earthquake Risk

Restore the Delta
“But aren’t the Delta levees vulnerable to earthquakes? No more vulnerable than other portions of California through which water transfer infrastructure moves, and maybe less vulnerable.”

UCLA Earthquake Expert Scott Brandenberg
“The seismic hazard is real and it’s serious.”
-Vice Chair, UCLA Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

“Levees needed to protect Delta farmland and keep salt water at bay are at risk from a rising sea level, winter floods, sinking farmland, and earthquakes.”

USGS Expert Jeff Keay
“…it’s not just the earthquakes in the Delta, but the earthquakes in the Bay Area. The Hayward Fault, a significant rupture there could easily create liquefaction in the Delta and be hazardous.”

Levee Failure

Restore the Delta:
“The majority of the levees are fine; others can be upgraded to be fine, and none of them has ever failed in an earthquake.”

UCLA Earthquake Expert Scott Brandenberg
“From my perspective, the seismic risk to Delta levees cannot reasonably be doubted…”

“Levee instability also threatens Delta farming and infrastructure”

USGS Expert Jeff Keay
“There’s a very significant relationship between earthquake hazards and levee stability.”

Water Quality and Supply

Restore the Delta:
“Under any disaster scenario the Delta is most likely to fill up with freshwater from rain or river flows, not with saltwater; and that export supplies would most likely resume in a matter of months, not years.”

UCLA Experts
“…simultaneous flooding of multiple islands would draw in saline water from San Francisco Bay, contaminating the fresh water supply for California’s water projects. With insufficient fresh water reserves to flush the salt out of the delta during our historic drought, delta water could remain salty for years.”

Once again, Restore the Delta is wrong on the science and wrong on the facts. And while the fact that the Delta has escaped catastrophe from these minor quakes is certainly reason for everyone to celebrate, it’s not reason for Restore the Delta to oppose earthquake proofing this valuable water supply.

As UCLA’s Brandenberg and Stewart wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “We ignore the potential for seismic failure of levees in California at our peril… Let’s heed the warning that (the Napa) earthquake provides by adopting a long-term solution to the water conveyance infrastructure problem in the delta.”