This is not a major point of the Public Water Coalition’s position paper, but it illustrates my take on the whole piece. One of their eight recommendations to improve water supply and reliability (Section II, starting page 4) is to start real time operations monitoring and reporting (II, e. page 11). In paraphrase, they propose installing measuring devices on water diversions larger than 5cfs in the Sacramento Delta and on tributary inflows. These meters should talk to the Batcave, showing State Water Resources Control Board staff real-time diversions, with an alarm if those exceed the amount allowed by water right. The cost of the meters should be billed to the diverters. Who should pay for software, maintenance and monitoring is left unsaid, but I think we all know that they mean the state should pay for that.
This is a fucking FANTASTIC idea. I would LOVE this. In fact, I would love to see all the diversions in the state larger than 5 cfs on a real-time monitoring system, preferably on the internet, so that anyone who was interested could watch gauges all day. It would be EVEN BETTER if each of those diversions were linked to a database of water rights, so that an exceedance turned colors and flashed for everyone to see. Perhaps that is too much to hope for, but all diversions on everything that flows into the Delta and through the Delta would be a GREAT start.
Here the thing. If the Public Water Coalition wants to see this happen, there is nothing to stop them from building it. Any group of agencies that large has at least as much capacity to make this happen as the state does. I am quite sure the agencies represented in the PWC have enough money to develop the software, integrate the water rights database, host the site and secure the telemetry. The meters and installation would be very expensive, but they could start with their own diversions. They could get four or five years into building this thing and hand it over to the state, who would be happy to run it after that1. Once there were some momentum behind it, I suspect the State Board would find it a lot easier to require small diverters to join.
This illustrates my points about the nature of the Public Water Coalition:
1. The Public Water Coalition doesn’t propose that they go ahead and do this, because they aren’t oriented towards taking their own action to solve the water problems of our state. They are oriented towards responding to the Delta Vision process, presumably because their sole position paper got written to serve as comments to the Delta Vision Plan.
2. The point of the system they propose is to clamp down on the little guys. They’re after the hundreds or thousands of little guys who don’t track their diversions well, who may go over their rights because no one has ever cared but the fish. I’m strongly for that, but I’ve never seen big versus little put forth like this.
3. They sure don’t offer to put up any money, and they suggest other people pay for the whole thing.
4. In-Delta water users, you are ON YOUR OWN. The Public Water Coalition is not protecting your interests.
1 Maybe not. We might not be able to afford to staff a statewide realtime water monitoring system. I try really really hard to keep insider talk off this blog. But I will tell you the insider talk that I hear at least as much as anything, which is that people in DWR are nearly desperate to keep their data gathering alive. They inherited a system of gauges all over the state and the support for maintaining and reading them has steadily declined. The state has ninety years of hydrologic record because people thought it was a prudent good management. It was. That’s how we know that climate change is happening.
But those programs have been cut back even as we need them more desperately than ever. I’ve heard men get choked up about losing the continuous data we’ve kept for seventy years on some gauges. I’ve heard talk about the gauging and record keeping programs going from nine full-time people in one region down to one, and workers checking gauges on their own time simply out of dedication. When your state is going broke and people are going without health care, it is really hard to ask for more money to check streamflow gauges. But it is an intensely valuable program that is being eaten away by budget cuts. Given that we can’t even keep that going, I don’t know if the state could take a big monitoring system if it were handed to them.