Monthly Archives: April 2009

II. e. Real Time Operations/Monitoring/Reporting

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.


Filed under Public Water Coalition, Uncategorized

I got mine.

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.

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Introduction: the Public Water Coalition

I was very intrigued by this story on a new coalition in water politics, the Public Water Coalition.  It is a few months old, and like the article says, I had never heard of it.  It looks to be a loose affiliation of most of the big water districts in the state.  They don’t have staff or a website or anything, so it took me a while to track down their guiding document, a position paper issued in February.  It is among the attachments in this report to a water district board, (pages 11-29), and looks like the comments they submitted to the Delta Vision process back in November.  I found one other statement by them, again to Delta Vision.

Do you remember when this blog was just a baby, and we spent three weeks of its young life going through the Pacific Institute report?  Remember how exciting that was?  Shall we do that again, focus on parsing a position paper that none of y’all would read anyway?  LETS!

My take-away from my first couple readings is:

Every recommendation in the report is a way to protect the power of the already powerful water interests in the state.  If you want to know the water buffalo party line, this is it.  (Given that, I’m impressed with the extent to which they have conceded that environmental management is necessary.  I’m thinking that is Tim Quinn’s influence.)

This position paper heavily favors the upper Sacramento Valley water users, which doesn’t surprise me, because it looks as if they were the organizers for this coalition.

They are throwing the in-Delta farmers TO THE WOLVES.   Advocates for maintaining the Delta in its current state, know that the big dogs have turned on you.

They mount a surprising defense of “traditional water rights”.  I’ve heard a good amount of talk about scrapping our existing water rights and starting over, but dismissed it as a fantasy too good to ever come true.  So I’m surprised that the Public Water Coalition feel that they have to defend against that talk.  I can only hope that they perceive a threat to the existing rights system.


Anyway, there’s a lot in this position paper.  I’ll be writing about it in coming posts.

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Filed under ACWA, Public Water Coalition

Stimulus Package and the Peripheral Canal

The new Secretary of the Interior toured the Delta today and announced some of the Stimulus Package monies that Reclamation will be spending in California.   So far, nothing rules out the possibility that some Stimulus Package money will go towards the Peripheral Canal.

Secretary Salazar says that California will get $400M to spend. The Governor’s Office spells out $260M of that.  I can’t find an accounting for the other $140M; I would believe that they haven’t dedicated it to any specific project yet.  The Recovery Portal tracking project doesn’t help, and all of the language I’ve seen anywhere is vague enough to include a Peripheral Canal.  “Ensure adequate water supplies in Western areas impacted by drought” and “restore the Delta” don’t rule out a Peripheral Canal.

I favor a Peripheral Canal, so this doesn’t bother me.  But if you are a Peripheral Canal opponent, I think you can keep your suspicions alive.

LATER: A knowledgeable reader wrote me to suggest that the other $135M will be water recycling projects, which is a third or so of the $450M Reclamation got to spend on Title XVI water recycling projects and rural water projects in the west.  He pointed out the very handy site detailing how Reclamation will spend its Stimulus Package money.  Thank you, knowledgeable reader!

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Filed under Peripheral Canal, Reclamation

They may as well dance to the rain gods.

Yes! This quote:

Long story short, the super-simple proposal you’ve developed for ending piracy has probably already been thought of, and probably has a host of problems that you haven’t considered.

This is especially true if the super simple proposal for fixing California water is END WATER SUBSIDIES TO AGRICULTURE. I actually support ending water subsidies for agriculture and instead providing direct subsidies designed to buy the form of agriculture I want. But it is really rare to hear discussions of that. Instead you get blog commentors shouting that water subsidies must end, with no discussion of what that would look like. The problem with an abrupt end to water-based subsidies is that those subsidies are old now. They’ve been going on for fifty or more years, and their existence means that some noticeable piece of the agricultural sector has come to depend on them.

Losing water-based subsidies abruptly would set off the ‘host of problems’ that would matter to real people. Grower’s land would be suddenly worth much less. Some growers would find the costs of water tip the balance, so that farming is no longer possible for them. I keep saying that subsidized water grows field crops that are the basis of cheap meat. I don’t care if cheap meat vanishes, but I think there are a whole bunch of people who think eating meat frequently contributes to their quality of life. Those are attenuated problems, and maybe you aren’t very sympathetic to growers who are all MULTINATIONAL BILLIONAIRE CORPORATIONS anyway. But the first people who are going to hurt, as I’ve been saying all along, are farmworkers.

We’re seeing that now, that when water leaves the ag sector farmworkers hurt first and worst. But, even as farmworkers have all my concern, I have to say that their march this week just kills me. Farmworkers are marching from their dying town to a reservoir as a way to lobby for “state money for dams and canals and the lifting of pumping restrictions at the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that were imposed to comply with environmental laws”. They’re deliberately evoking Cesar Chavez. I find that march to be a horrible perversion and wish they weren’t doing it.

I have to assume that to the marchers it feels like a meaningful protest that will draw attention and aid, but I can’t see how it will work. The primary problem is that they are asking for the wrong remedy. Specifically what they want is to lift the ESA restrictions on the pumps that protect salmon and smelt. I don’t really have much claim on Chavez’s legacy, but I have to say that it breaks my heart a little to have farmworkers using his tactics to shift the drought burden to the only entities in our water system that are suffering worse (farmworkers have it bad, but they are not physically ground to pieces by the pumps) and have less voice or capacity to escape the consequences of drought (fish, however, must be in drying rivers and cannot move to another).

That aside, this march doesn’t pressure anyone who can respond. In Chavez’s original marches, farmworkers and boycotts could pressure growers for better wages and working conditions. Those improvements were something that growers could give, or legislators could legally require. But knowingly breaking the ESA as a result of this march? Who could do that? Pres. Obama could call a God Squad, which I hope he doesn’t do. A judge or the state legislature could try, but the resulting litigation would last longer than this growing season. The Department of Fish and Game could reverse all their findings that this pumping regime kills fish that are already nearly extinct, but that would require some pretty surprising new scientific studies. So long as the ESA holds, we can’t do what farmworkers are marching for, which is to send more water to the farms that would employ those farmworkers.

The farmworkers have a different remedy, but to my regret, they aren’t asking for it. They don’t need water to go to those specific farms to get those specific jobs. They need some jobs, or failing that, they need money to live on and to transition out of a farming-dependent life. That’s something the state could do. They aren’t asking for it, though. I don’t know if it is politically impossible (because how would you take care of the farmworker victims of the drought without attending to the other victims of the recession) or if they haven’t thought of it (because the idea of the state taking care of its citizens has become a joke) or if they are too self-identified with the some bullshit rugged individualism made even worse by a western farming mythos.

I’ll say this, too. I don’t know this to be the case, but I get a yucky feeling that this march was cynically engineered by politically savvy water districts. I hate that feeling. It would mean that sophisticated large water users manipulated the hurt and restless energy of farmworkers and their desperate families and used the legacy of Cesar Chavez as cover to attack the Endangered Species Act. If that happened (and of course I’ll never know) it was a shitty thing to do.   Making this march about dams, canals and running the pumps more won’t get farmworkers the help they need.  All  the desperation and hope they put into the march will be disappointed.  That’s another disappointment they don’t need.


Filed under Agriculture, Drought

Cities and resilience.

I’m also trying to read up on cities and resilience, which is frustrating me.  This book, The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover From Disaster sounds like it would be just right.  It would be a totally good book if I were reading it for fun*.  But it isn’t helping, because they keep talking about sudden perturbations, like fire and bombings and earthquakes, which doesn’t help me.  Now I’m thinking that I maybe need to understand how cities withstand siege, but I can’t go chasing down all these tangents.

Droughts!  I need to understand.  What does the drought actually DO?   What does it do on the household and block and annual level?  How does it aggregate to effect a city?  How could that be countered?







*DAMN!  Cities NEVER give up.  Like, ever.  You cannot raze a city so bad that it goes away.  Like, some study showed that between 1100 and 1800, only forty cities stopped existing.   I suppose that makes sense.  I mean, the fact of a city not existing is so powerful that we remember it forever: Atlantis, Babylon, whatever that one was that got volcanoed.  I’ve been wondering if New Orleans and Galveston will be the leading edge of a new era of cities vanishing.  We’ll know in a generation, I guess.


Filed under Drought


I’m reading a lot about Australia’s drought these past couple days.  Two things.  First, it looks exactly like an accelerated version of my dystopic version of how California agriculture will respond to climate change.  I’m always relieved at validation, because I thought through that post from first principles, not from copying a drought scenario.

But, one real bad thing is that one of the sidenotes in my old post is pretty prominent in these articles about Australian drought.  Farmers kill themselves a lot.  I guess the identification with their land and way of life is overwhelming.  Maybe people at the Department of Public Health know more about that, but I don’t think many water managers think of responding to that as part of their job.  Also, the first and worst victims of California’s water scarcity are and will be farm workers, but I don’t see mention of suicide in any of the newspaper stories about them.  Why do farmers kill themselves but the more destitute farmworkers not?  (Catholicism?  Different sort of self-identification?  Sampling and reporting error?)   What’s going on here and how does it become part of drought response?

Later: Relevant. And another article mentioning drought and suicide.

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Filed under Agriculture, Drought