Plumbing is not destiny.

I often have a hard time understanding Devin Nunes, which is fine, since I am not his intended audience. Normally, I would use “narrow political interest” to explain politicians, but ever since Devin Nunes threw a fit and scolded (IIRC) Paramount Farms and the State Water Contractors for selling out to the radical environmentalists, I haven’t been sure who he considers his base. I have to consider the likelihood that Nunes is more motivated by spiting environmentalists than by representing Republicans/agribusiness in the Valley. If that is the case, his latest bill doesn’t represent what “his supporters like Stewart Resnick of Paramount Farms, and the 40 families or so who run the Westlands Water District” want, no matter what Ms. Barrigan-Parrilla says. Nunes might just be a rabid loose cannon looking for strokes from rightwing talk radio. But he might also have proposed a water bill that gives us insight into what big Valley ag wants. I’m not confident of that, because rabid loose cannon is such a plausible alternative, but for a few more paragraphs, let’s stipulate that his bill represents what big Valley ag wants. If that is the case, it is really fucking interesting that the bill “also nullifies the need to construct of a canal to bypass the Bay-Delta, savings $12 billion.”

Big ag in the Valley doesn’t want a Peripheral Canal anymore?! I see two interpretations. First, they realize they can’t farm with water expensive enough to pay back the costs of building a Peripheral Canal. They won’t get enough new water to spread those costs over, and the reliability aspect of a new Peripheral Canal isn’t worth the money to them. (Maybe they’ve come to this conclusion based on early access to whatever BDCP has produced, I don’t know.) AND, they’re willing to accept a different form of reliability.

My interpretation is that big ag in the Valley is willing to accept a re-write of water rights law giving them priority in lieu of a canal. They don’t need expensive new cement if they can get the feds and the courts to make sure they get the first portion of our variable supply. Maybe they’re willing to trust that because Westlands has been diligent about staffing the district with very politically connected folks from the Bush Administration and because their GM is an extremely litigious lawyer.

It makes for an interesting contrast to the widespread “plumbing is destiny” belief in the Delta and Northern California. Canal opponents in the Delta and NoCal simply do not believe that a Peripheral Canal won’t be used to “take more water”. If the big canal is built, it will get filled, and no governance structures (Delta flow requirements, a Delta Plan, state laws, agreements, DWR’s solemn promise) will stop LA and Big Ag from using every cfs of canal capacity at the Delta’s expense. I personally don’t share this view, but I understand that it is compelling.

I’m just guessing, and like I say, Nunes is too erratic to be a good predictor of much. But I’m intrigued by this possibility that big Valley ag isn’t interested in a Peripheral Canal anymore (even if they’re still looking for substitutes, like shameless governance structures that favor them). If they drop out, the purposes of a Peripheral Canal (insure a reliable urban supply to the South, separate water conveyance from Delta habitat requirements) become much purer and we can decide how we value those.

15 Comments

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15 responses to “Plumbing is not destiny.

  1. I realize you’re engaging in a thought experiment here, rather than trying to argue that this is what you necessarily think Big Valley Ag wants. Might I suggest another thought experiment?

    Is it perhaps possible that this is tactical, an effort to move the Overton window so that a peripheral thingie starts looking more reasonable to those who otherwise might criticize it? Nunes and the Overton window have seemed to me a conceptual framework made in heaven.

  2. I googled “Overton window” in order to find out what the heck John Fleck was talking about. I think the notion that Congressman Nunes does anything in accordance with an intellectual theory, whether by design or accident, is stretching it.

  3. Agreed that it is not by accident, but it is undoubtedly by design and consistent with the political playbook of his affiliates. Nunes has a long history of employing reactionary, selfish and demagogic tactics in his political practice. Whether he knows that someone theorized his behavior by describing it as a strategy is irrelevant. It is what it is.

  4. Robert – Sorry for speaking in code. I abhor jargon, then use it myself. Bad me.

    John – But to what end the tactics? As Michael Doyle’s story today notes (http://www.modbee.com/2012/02/16/2073240/legislation-faces-senate-scrutiny.html) this bill dies in the Senate.

  5. “But to what end the tactics?”
    IMHO it is the latest desperate poke.
    They can’t afford the cost of a canal and the voters are in no mood for a 11 Billion dollar bond. If allowed to pass 1837 would put the state in the same no win situation the feds are in with the San Luis Drain.
    The real question is what will they try next.

  6. As it stands now, not one Californian will “vote” for a peripheral canal, a tunnel or whatever other type of “conveyance.” The Delat conveyance will be paid for under a DSC concept called “beneficiaries pay.” Which means the water agencies will borrow money and raise their water rates to pay for the plumbing. Thus the Nunes bill, like it or not, will have a definite appeal to voters waiting for the water axe to fall.

  7. Mr. Kurtz

    “Devin Nunes” means “Julia Butterfly” in Portuguese. Erratic is a kind way to describe these theatrical and self absorbed creatures of all stripes, who are good at turning up the volume while turning down the lights. I honestly have no idea what the motivation behind his latest doomed grab-bag of wishes.
    BTW “Big Ag” as applied to California does not describe any common set of beliefs on water policy, trade, environmental standards, or much else. There is a difference between gardening and farming, to be sure. People who want to farm for a living instead of as a social statement often have more successful businesses, and that seems to piss some people off.

  8. jaylund

    The game of chicken continues.

  9. Jay – Thanks for jumping in. Is this a reference to your “From Cooperation to Chicken“ paper? I’d love it if you would elaborate a bit on how this fits into that analytic framework.

  10. jim

    “Big Ag”, to the extent that it’s a coherent entity, only wants an assured supply of water. It really doesn’t care what the mechanism is that assures that supply.

  11. Mr. Kurtz

    Any Ag wants water. Goes back to Cain and Abel.
    Hunter gatherer life was a whole lot worse for everyone, critters and plants included.

  12. Jeff

    Mr. Nunez proposal is undoubtedly better than a peripheral canal/tunnel/BDCP for his agricultural constituents. While I doubt the canal is in most Valley agricultural financial interests (assuming a real finance plan with actual consequences if they don’t pay), I wouldn’t interpret his statement as an admission of that.

    I think the statement that it will nullify the need for a canal (not sure MWD would agree with that) may have more to do with broadening support and framing it as fiscally conservative. There is another provision about incentivizing early payoff of CVP debt as a measure to reduce the national debt (a deceptive claim). This bill is undoubtedly dead this year, but I wonder if he thinks there is a chance if Republicans get control of the Senate next year, and it could be somehow rolled into a deficit reduction package or a measure to “pay for” a popular tax cut. Wild speculation, but I wonder if there is more to the strategy than moving the window, playing chicken, or being a loose cannon.

  13. BIG JEFF
    THE CONGRESSMAN’S NAME IS “N-U-N-E-S” NOT NUNEZ.

    IF THE FEDS DEVELOP MORE RESOURCES FOR WATER IN THEIR SYSTEM AND THIS GOES TO THE FARMERS TO KEEP THE U.S. COMPETITIVE IN GLOBAL AGRIBUSINESS THEN MIGHT THIS FREE UP SOME STATE WATER PROJECT WATER FOR OTHERS? IT WOULD BE INTERESTING TO KNOW THE ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION.

    THERE IS A COMPELLING NATIONAL INTEREST IN NUNES’ H.R. 1837 BILL FOR AGRIBUSINESS. WHY WOULD WE WANT TO MAKE FARMERS PAY CITY WATER PRICES AND MAKE THEM LESS COMPETITIVE GLOBALLY? DO WE WANT OUR LETTUCE, MELONS, BOK CHOI, AND EVERYTHING ELSE FROM CHILE AND MEXICO? NOT ONLY IS THE PRICE OF CHEAP WATER GONE THE NOTION THAT CALIFORNIA WATER HAS GLOBAL AMERICAN INTEREST IS ALSO GONE. THINK GLOBALLY, DRINK LOCALLY.

  14. Jeff

    Wayne,
    My apologies for misspelling Congressman Nunes name. I agree there is a compelling national interest in maintaining productive farmland, and disagree with most economists in that I support some limits on ag to urban water transfers. And one of my many concerns about the canal is that the prohibitive cost could harm farmers, and lead to more ag to urban water sales – thereby harming agriculture both in the Delta and further south in the Valley. Indeed more resources in the system would be good. I believe the best way to increase water resources in the system is for urban efficiency improvements and increased development of local supplies in southern California urban areas. Less water pumped over the mountains and more stays in the Valley for farmers and fish.
    Jeff