Delta Group Says PPIC Used 'Leading Question' on Twin Tunnels Poll, Yields 'Bogus' Results

Photo of Bechtel Conference Center courtesy of PPIC. |
By Dan Bacher | March 28, 2017 |

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), an organization that has published several pro-Delta Tunnels reports in recent years, last week released their annual survey of “Californians and Their Government” that included a controversial question about the tunnels.

Pro-tunnels groups touted the results of the survey as showing “support” for Governor Jerry Brown’s water project, while tunnels opponents challenged  the use of a “leading question” in the survey.

The PPIC question asked:

“The governor has proposed to improve the reliability of water supplies by building tunnels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. How important is this proposal for the future quality of life and economic vitality of California?”

In response to the question, about half (51%) say the project is “very important,” (26%) “somewhat important,” and 14% “not too important” or “not at all important.”

“There are wide regional differences: 64 percent of Los Angeles residents call the tunnels very important, but just 40 percent in the Central Valley express this view," the PPIC noted. “Opinion within the Central Valley varies: in the San Joaquin Valley 79 percent of residents say the tunnels are at least somewhat important, while 58 percent of Sacramento Metro and North Valley residents express this view.” To read the press release, go to:

As soon as the survey results were released, Californians for Water Security, a Stewart Resnick-funded and pro-tunnels lobbying group, hailed the PPIC poll results with a press release headlined, “77% of Californians Think Governor’s California WaterFix is Important to the State’s Future.” 

“This week, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) published a poll which highlights that 77 percent of Californians view Governor Jerry Brown’s California WaterFix as “important.” In fact, 51 percent think it is ‘very important,’” the group said.

In a statement, Restore the Delta responded today: “While that is an accurate portrayal of the poll results, ethical public polling requires the strict avoidance of biased questions that may change the accuracy of the survey.”

“In the parlance of polling, the question the PPIC asked is known as a ‘Leading Question.’ Such questions attempt to lead respondents into giving the ‘correct’ answer,” the group said.

RTD said, “This qualifies as a Leading Question because it suggests that the Delta Tunnels proposal will ‘improve the reliability of water supplies.’ There is simply is no justification for such a claim. In fact, a large policy dispute currently underway is over whether the Delta Tunnels will actually function as advertised in either drought or flood conditions.”

RTD noted that the tunnels will not be available for use over 52% of the time during dry conditions, and during high water events like the last several months, their experimental fish screens and sedimentation ponds “couldn’t handle the sediment and brush that floats downstream fast enough to function as designed.” Tunnel operators will have to seek temporary change petitions with the State Water Resources Control Board during droughts to take water, just like they do now.

“Unfortunately, PPIC has again put their hands on the scale in favor of the Delta Tunnels boondoggle,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta. “Californians deserve a non-biased, objective, policy institute that doesn’t play these games in order to appease donors.”

The PPIC Water Policy Center receives funding from Delta Tunnels advocates including The Almond Board of California, Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California, and Stewart Resnick’s Wonderful Company, recently featured in the National Geographic film Water & Power: A California Heist.

The PPIC website also touts the facilities of the Bechtel Conference Center, funded by a "gift" from the Stephen Bechtel Fund. 

“The Bechtel Conference Center  is designed to serve as both a meeting place and a learning center for nonprofit organizations, highlighting the value that PPIC places on civic engagement, consensus-building, and respect for different perspectives. The center was made possible by a gift from the Stephen Bechtel Fund and opened in spring 2011. In its design and operation, the center reflects the values that PPIC and the Bechtel family place on environmental and technological innovation.”

Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr. is the son of Stephen David Bechtel, Sr. and grandson of Warren A. Bechtel who founded the Bechtel Corporation. His San Francisco-based foundation, the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, has as its overall mission, "to support well-managed non-profit organizations that provide quality programs and create significant sustained benefits in areas of special interest to the Founders and Directors."

However, its real mission appears to be the greenwashing of one of the most environmentally destructive corporations on the planet. The Bechtel Corporation, one of the world’s largest engineering and construction firms that was instrumental in the "reconstruction" of Iraq, is a leading advocate throughout the world of the privatization of water systems. It was Bechtel that sued the country of Bolivia for canceling a contract there sponsored by the World Bank. (

A CorpWatch report, "Profiting from Destruction," provides case studies from Bechtel’s history of operating in the water, nuclear, energy and public works sectors. These case studies reveal a legacy of unsustainable and destructive practices that have reaped permanent human, environmental and community devastation around the globe. Letters from "Bechtel affected communities" included in the report provide first-hand descriptions of these impacts, from Bolivia to Native American lands in Nevada.

The report reveals a 100-year history spent capitalizing on the most brutal technologies, reaping immense profits and ignoring the social and environmental costs. For more information, go to…  

You can read the PPIC survey here.

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1 comment

Unknown said...

I am, so far, in favor of these tunnels. The evidence I have seen indicates that installing the tunnels will save northern California water, increase the reliability of supplies to farmers and municipalities south of the Delta, and ultimately result in a restoration of the natural saline summer/fresh winter regime in the Delta, that will benefit fisheries and other wildlife throughout the Pacific northwest.

That said, I am ready at a moment's notice to abandon that position if actual evidence is found that contradicts those conclusions.

Despite my agreement with the PPIC position, however, the question they posed in that poll was underhanded on two accounts. First, RTD is right, that was a leading question. Obviously, and reprehensibly. Second, the way the question is phrased, "...How important is this proposal ...?" does not allow the respondent to say if they think the proposal is a good idea or not. It can be an "important" proposal without being a good idea.

Someone who is vehemently opposed to the tunnels might think its a very "important" proposal, because it will result in (insert whatever theory you like here)...

We can't say if the PPIC intended for the question to be inherently ambiguous, but regardless of intent, its a crummy question, and it serves only to muddy the waters, if you'll pardon the pun. PPIC is smart people; they can do better.

On the other hand, RTD is cynical, self-serving, and anti-progress. To call an organization consisting of farmers who benefit from the last hundred years of suppression of the natural salinity regime of the Delta, "Restore the Delta", is so Orwellian, so counter-factual, as to bring on nausea in any informed person with a shred of integrity.

RTD has made campaign doctrine of sub-text racism, misinformation about the natural flow and salinity regime in the Delta, and the exploitation of politically expedient pandering to ignorance and fear by ginning up shallow-dive arguments about Southern California stealing water from the north and hyperbolic, end-of-days predictions about the economic impacts of these tunnels, wholly unsupported by evidence.

The first step in restoring the delta is to allow it to be salt in the summer, so that the thousands of species that evolved in the fluctuating salinity regime there can once again thrive. That requires that we stop pouring reservoir water into the Delta all summer long. The moment we stop doing that, the farmers in the Delta will no longer be able to farm in the summer, at best, and possibly not in winter, either, for some islands. That is an economic impact, for sure, however, it also means we can stop the massive re-apportioning of water from winter flows to summer flows. It will dramatically increase our flexibility for controlling temperature in spawning seasons. The net result will be less water used in unnatural flows.

Once the tunnels are in, the only reason to keep the Delta fresh in the summer is to allow those few farmers to keep operating there. Right now, we keep it fresh in summer for two reasons: 1st, to allow us to push fresh water around the eastern edge of the Delta and south to the Banks pumps, and 2nd, to allow those farmers to keep farming. The tunnels obviate the first, and it wont be long before the tax payers see that the cost of supporting the farming operations in the Delta is far too high to be justified. Their current operations are unlikely to be profitable without state-funded dam operations and levee maintenance and repairs. But, who knows, maybe if the folks at RTD decide to put their resources towards finding a sustainable economic model for their constituents within the naturally-fluctuating Delta, they'll be able to thrive amidst the restored Delta. If not, then, at least for now, it is a small cost compared to saving the largest and most important wetland on the West Coast of North America.

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