I’ve now read the Public Water Coalition’s position paper a few more times. It is an odd document. Seriously, I don’t know anything about how the Public Water Coalition wants to organize or exert influence, although with the membership they claim, they could be very powerful. All I can find online is a few Boards of Directors deciding whether to align with them based on the 19 page position paper we’ll be talking about. This position paper is nearly all I can find (no website, no gossip), but the strange thing about it is that the paper’s initial purpose was to provide comment to the Delta Vision process. It does that fine, but that focus is odd for a group that describes itself as “committed to solving our state’s water problems”. Since it is 19 pages responding to this and that in the proposed Delta Vision plan, the overall impression is that the water problem all those agencies want to solve is that Phil Isenberg, the Chair of Delta Vision, is getting uppity.
The document has a number of policy recommendations, nearly all of which are “Give us money.” This isn’t wrong. Making the water system flexible and reliable enough to serve millions more people with less water will require lots of money and dispersing bond funds to agencies is a decent way to do that. Still, it is a little offputting. In 19 pages of discussion and recommendation, they suggest a few things for someone else (DWR) to do and ask for money without any strings attached. They emphasize their dedication to local control fairly heavily. Really? They’re agencies with ratesetting and taxation authority. They claim to represent 25 million Californians, nearly
3/4ths 2/3rds of the state. Is there nothing they could get started with while DWR is occupied by the drought? But action by the Public Water Coalition doesn’t come up, because the document isn’t about “solving our state’s water problems”. It is about responding to the Delta Vision plan and pushing the Peripheral Canal.
Finally, to an astonishing extent, the positions in this document are about protecting power. I’ll try to illustrate that when I talk about individual sections, but I’m honestly surprised that they feel that they have to coalesce to lobby for power they’ve always had. The Delta Vision committee must have been very scary for them. It is a little odd to talk about power in this context. They claim to be water agencies representing the bulk of Californians. If Met (the agency that distributes water to lots of SoCal) is in it, then their constituents include, for example, all of L.A.’s poor people, whom I would normally not class as powerful. If the Friant Water Authority is in it, their constituents are as close as this state has to stable small farmers, not always a powerful group. The powerful and the not-powerful in this coalition are larger water agencies on the powerful side, and anyone using water in the Delta and unaffiliated water users on the not-powerful side. I don’t know how explicitly they thought about this, but my take is that they see looming water scarcity and are reaffirming their claims as against anyone smaller. This drought is exposing all the flaws in our institutions, so the people who have done well under those institutions are trying to reinforce them in their favor before the permanent drought hits.
I don’t know how stable this coalition is going to be. The traditional alignment was northern versus southern California, then ag versus urban, then a triangle between ag, urban and enviros. There’s been talk recently of an east/west split, which looks to me like an ag versus urban + enviros version. If the Public Water Coalition is the new force it claims to be, the new alignment would be large established water agencies versus anyone small. That’s interesting. Well, I’m interested.