Mr. Mark’s question is perfect; interesting topic and I can speculate wildly. Thanks. He asks:
Okay, here’s a philosophical one I suppose. Just asking for pure speculation on your part, wild extrapolation into the future. I believe that in the current — and likely future — political climate in California, the chances of any of various things that I would term “completely ridiculous” coming to pass, e.g. raising the level of Shasta Dam and flooding the Upper Sac for miles up towards Dunsmuir, or the construction of the proposed Auburn Dam, are extremely unlikely; at least I want to believe that this is so.
On the other hand, and this is my question, do you personally believe there is any remote chance that, say, in the next 30 years, the political/social climate in California might be such that one of any number of what I would term “ridiculously great things for the environment” might actually come to pass? To take a specific example, do believe that the water which is currently stolen from the Trinity watershed and sent over into the Sac Valley will ever be allowed to flow down its natural course to the Pacific? Is there any chance that something this obvious could become a priority for the body politic in California? What would it take for this to become reality? There are many other examples, of course, but this one has been on my mind lately, for some reason or another.
I don’t know, man. Last year salmon returned to the Seine, and just this week, the San Joaquin River re-joined the Pacific for the first time in 50 years. Those are pretty outrageous things, yet both happened. So it is possible.
I agree with your guesses about what is likely in the short term. I don’t expect CA to build any big storage, primarily because it is expensive for very little yield. The only big project that I see as possible is a Peripheral Canal (perhaps the small one the Planning and Conservation League is saying should be studied), and that’s because I simply cannot imagine Southern California letting their water supplies depend on weak Delta levees indefinitely. For the next five to ten years, being broke will be a good line of defense against big marginal water projects (and all remaining dam sites are marginal. If they were good, there’d be dams on them already.)
But what about prospects for the long run? In favor of outrageously good things for the environment:
New governor next year might remind the state that we’re Democrats, and proud to be environmentalists. He could set a new tone, and I’m encouraged that Jerry Brown’s been pretty active on forcing cities to incorporate greenhouse gas mitigation into their general plans. The agencies might be a whole lot different under a Democratic governor. Schwarzenegger hasn’t been as bad as he might have been, more erratic than consistently destructive, but if you remember, wild-eyed crazy enviroguy Jonas Minton was a deputy director in DWR during the last Democratic administration. So there’s precedent for the agencies to be a whole lot different. Eight years of an environmentalist governor could start a lot of trends in motion.
If you want to know what drastic project might happen in thirty years, the time to start looking at rumors and crazytalk is now. I’ve come to believe that big shifts take twenty years from being crazytalk to institutionalized. Pipedream grad student seminars are a good place to look; when those poor saps are broken upper managers, they can put their ideas in place.
I think generational succession will boost the state’s environmentalist thinking. I’ll be glad to see the single purpose engineers retire out of the field. I mean, I love the square old guys, but they were never flexible thinkers, you know. They want to optimize One Thing, and overbuild while they’re at it. I think the Kids These Days have more capacity to hold multiple goals in their heads and more willingness to try different strategies.
Neutral, but possibly influential:
We’re in a turbulent period and I cannot predict the alliances any more. If anything, I’m expecting to see more “every man for himself”, and less of agriculture or urban coalitions acting as a block. This may mean that you aren’t going to see “ag” determine policy for much longer, since they’ll be squabbling amongst themselves.
Against the possibility of extravagently wonderful environmental restorations:
We’re about to be poor. Much poorer. We were optimized to the old climate and living off mined wealth. With both those ending, a whole bunch of things are going to get more expensive in tandem (gas prices, water prices, sewage prices, firefighting costs, food costs, moving goods, cooling costs in summer, moving seaside infrastructure), although probably not communications, electronics and health costs. But people will see more of their income go to daily non-discretionary goods. They will feel (and be) poorer, and then I think there will be a big fork in the road. The thing that will matter is how scared they feel.
If they correctly perceive themselves as getting poorer, and our mega-policies don’t change, they will be rightly scared. They’ll be scared of getting sick or injured. They’ll be scared of losing their houses. They’ll feel trapped and vulnerable and nothing will yield, not their water bill, not their gas bill, not their mortgage. That kind of scared makes people mean, selfish and shortsighted. They’re not going to care about making some river they can’t afford to visit look pretty.
But if our society re-installs its social net, our society could get poorer and people will yet know they will not die of untreated dentistry, that they can take their babies into the doctor, that they can send their kids to a university, they can get out of their cars and take light rail. Being poorer is likely to mean living in smaller places and eating less meat, but it doesn’t have to mean falling out of the middle class. If we can get on that path, then people can have the expansiveness of spirit to be stewards. In that spirit, who knows what they’ll decide. Maybe they’ll want to know that northern rivers run to the sea undisturbed by us.