Monthly Archives: June 2010

You reap what you sow, Gov. Schwarzenegger.

So the governor and the legislature are moving the water bond to the 2012 elections?  I’m not surprised.  I could not decide for myself what to vote on the bond, and not only am I in the field, but I’m a liberal who loves to spend, spend, spend*.    Even so, I had a hard time facing a new $11B expenditure.

My thoughts:

I agree with how I imagine the political calculations went.  The bond would have failed this year.  Who knows whether two years from now will be better, but failure this year looked pretty certain.  This keeps the possibility open.

What would make 2012 better for passing the bond?  Two dry years between now and 2012 would make the chance of passage better.  A responsible governor who can close the budget gap would make it better.  It will be a presidential election year, with high turnout, but I can’t see how that breaks for the bond.  Bunch of spendy liberals like me, out voting for Obama might throw the bond measure some votes.  But the bond measure also has the potential for dams in it, and we’ve been trained not to like those.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer governor, I say.  Schwarzenegger has been pushing this water package so hard; he wants the Peripheral Canal as his legacy.  But he was the fucker who cut the car tax on taking office, costing the state $4-6B every year since 2003.  He is largely responsible for the giant hole in the budget that makes people unwilling to spend another $11B.  I’m glad that circle closed while he was still around to feel it bind.

I’m interested in how we’re going to fulfill the rest of the water legislation without money from the bond behind it.  What will pay for the Delta Stewardship Council and the Bay-Delta restoration efforts without that money?  What will fund 20 x 2020 now?  The water legislation is law; we have to at least pretend that that we’re doing it.  How will that happen without funding for doing the work?

I’m somewhat concerned about losing the projects the bond would have funded.  I don’t mind losing the $3B for planning Sites, Temperance Flats and the Peripheral Canal.  I think the Peripheral Canal will get built as an emergency measure when the Delta collapses in an earthquake and I don’t think the other two will ever get built.  It is a shame to lose the Delta restoration funds.  But honestly, the piece I liked was the part that everyone keeps calling “pork”.   I liked the regional and local projects.

Dr. Michael objects to taxpayers at large paying for the regional and local projects.  He thinks that if the local projects are worthwhile, locals should pay for them.  I thought they legitimately belonged in a state bond for a few reasons:

  • Our next water will be collected from high entropy sources, like stormwater runoff, which is widely distributed and often polluted or from water conservation.  It is hard to convince voters to pay for that, even though it would give a region more local control and source security to have that next source available to them.
  • I believe local voters want this stuff (they lobbied for the projects, didn’t they?), but they also see a list of other local needs, like keeping pools open and libraries staffed.  Even though funding for things like a smart irrigation control rebate is something they do want, they rarely feel they want to pay for it next.
  • Some of the local projects are new to an area, and hard to convince locals to tax themselves for in the abstract.  It is understandable that they need to see a couple stormwater projects becoming daylighted creeks before they understand how much they like having that amenity.
  • Finally, I liked that the bond measure would fund a bunch of these at once.  It would have provided $3B of mini-innovation all over the state.  Frankly, the stuff in those local projects is what we’re going to have to do next; as a state, we have tapped all the big pure sources.  Lets get a bunch of those running fast so the state as a whole can find out which work.  Simply getting lots of projects running soon offers value to the state.

Those are my thoughts on delaying the bond measure (and on the bond measure in general).  Don’t figure they’ll be relevant again for another couple years.

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Thinking about Mr. Middleton’s post on water conservation.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Middleton is tired of hearing about water conservation:

Is anyone else tired of the word ‘conservation’?

Author: Brandon Middleton

I know I am. It seems you can’t go a day without being reminded of the need for water conservation in California.

He’s got a long decade ahead of him.  I am sympathetic.  We’re living through transition, being forced to hear new and frustrating things in our adulthood, just after we formed an opinion about how things should be.  I myself am tired of hearing about species after species on the brink of extinction.  I’d love to get through a week without a dire new symptom of climate change showing up.  The end of narcissism is always trying; no one wants to become aware of limits and the consequences of our actions on things around us.  I’ve said for a while that for privileged westerners, this will be one of the main costs of climate change induced scarcity, that we will all have to start thinking like the poorer people we are becoming.  It seems like a minor cost, but everyone will pay it.

Mr. Middleton acknowledges that water conservation will be useful, but goes on to complain that the federal government is wasting water, by sending it through the Delta to protect fish.

While Californians listen to the repeated requests and demands to conserve, our own federal government takes water away from these same consumers and gives it to a two-inch fish, the delta smelt.  State water projects have lost approximately 800,000 acre-feet of water this year due to restrictions to protect the delta smelt, salmon, and other fish species.

To someone who doesn’t prioritize species protection and healthy ecosystems, I suppose that would seem a waste.  However:

  • In California, ecosystem flows are legally classified as beneficial use.  So it isn’t legally a waste of water.
  • I’m not sure who “the federal government” is.  Judge Wanger specifically?  One man is “the federal government”?  Reclamation?  Reclamation is following Judge Wanger’s decisions.  Congress, for not overturning the Endangered Species Act?  Fish and Wildlife Service, for writing the Biological Opinions?  I suspect we’re getting closer here.  When I was a student intern, I was over at Reclamation on Cottage Way.  We had the usual cube farm, and I didn’t think much of it one way or the other.  One day I went over to the FWS wing of the building for something.  They had the most dilapidated, busted out, old jenky furniture and desks and computers.  I couldn’t believe it.  I looked around, staring.  “Jesus,” I said.  “They hate you.”  Even the demonic FWS isn’t the cause of the content of their Biological Opinions.  They’re messengers, not the source.  They’re reporting what is happening to fish in the Delta and reporting what Science knows about how to fix it.  If you don’t like what the Biological Opinions say, don’t blame the FWS.  Fix the Delta.
  • There’s an interesting dogwhistle in that phrase, a subconscious signal to the intended audience of Mr. Middleton’s post.  I wonder if he even noticed it or if he passed it straight through from the State Water Contractors.  Eight hundred thousand acre-feet of water?  I’ve heard that number before.  That’s the annual allocation to ecosystem needs that the CVPIA required in 1992 (PL 102-575 Sec. 3406 (D) (2)).  Every grower in a Central Valley Project water district knows that number well.  It would resonate with them.
  • The ever-present problem of baseline setting shows up here.  Who is taking what away from whom depends on what baseline you establish.  If your baseline is an era of full contract allocation, then using some of that for fish would be “taking it away”  from consumers.  If you consider the previous millennia of using the full flows of California’s water for a mostly unexploited environment to be the baseline, than diverting some of it to farming would be “taking it away” from fish.

Gotta run, but I do love deconstructing this stuff.

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No analysis for you.

So far, Jerry Brown’s “Environment” page mostly talks about the water quality side of things, which is, of course, too boring to blog about.

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He’s right. Either the legislature or the courts (more likely) should return the KWB to public ownership.

I very much liked this story on how large agribusiness came to control the Kern Water Bank.  I’ve not seen it so clearly presented before.

Couple thoughts:

  • How I love watching large players turn on each other.  Even if I don’t support either of their interests, I do enjoy watching the sharks fight.
  • The story mentions that the controllers of the Kern Water Bank, especially Roll Call International (who is Paramont Farms, who are the Resnicks, who make the pomegranate juice that you shouldn’t buy in stores anymore) are permitted to sell water to LA, rather than farm

The Monterey Agreements permit water contractors to resell the water they receive from the State Water Project. This means they become middlemen making profits on state-supplied water. If they choose to, they can dry up vast areas of productive agriculture and ship the water to municipalities south of the Tehachapi range. A coalition of agriculturalists and environmentalists has brought suit to challenge this.

If they were to sell water to LA rather than farm, would we be hearing from the Latino Water Coalition?  Would there be faux-farmworker marches on a well-head in Kern County?  Would there be estimates of tens of thousands of idled farmworkers?  Of course there would not, since all that turmoil was created by public relations firms funded by Roll Call International.

  • I wondered who wrote such a clear and fearless piece.  Aren’t all growers cowed by the Resnicks?  Apparently not retired UCLA professors who farm up near headwaters in Northern California.  People in those fortunate and  secure circumstances can write all the stories about the Resnicks they want.  How nice that agriculture is still big enough to include people with such different backgrounds.

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Pres. Obama’s oil spill speech should have been about governance.

Everyone is all, wah wah wah, Pres. Obama didn’t mention climate change in his address on the BP oil spill.  He talked about feel good stuff, like clean energy technology, but he didn’t talk about pricing carbon, the costs of climate change, or instituting cap and trade.  That bothered me too, but if he wasn’t going to mention climate change, I would have liked to see him give another speech.  He could have told a powerful story about governance.

We’ve been subjected to almost three decades of Norquistian complaints that governments don’t work well, can’t produce anything, and hinder real enterprise.  Those regulators making real people jump through endless hoops to produce stacks of paper, all those pointless plans.  But Pres. Obama could have told a very clear morality tale about what happens when those agencies are co-opted, or overruled.  Sadly, we have too many recent examples, like Cheney’s fish kill in the Klamath.  He could have drawn a straight line from the concept that governance is pointless and an impediment to business to allowing the Minerals Management Service to run amok.   The glamorous part of that story is that regulators were partying, literally sleeping with and doing coke, with the oil companies they were regulating.  That’s dramatic and unethical.  But the part that turned out to be a real problem when the Deepwater Horizon fell apart is that the hadn’t done what bureaucrats are paid to do.  The Minerals Management Service hadn’t demanded rigorous Emergency Plans from the oil companies.  By all accounts, they approved farcical plans with nice covers, and that turned out to be a tragic mistake for everyone who lives in the Gulf.

Water districts pushed back hard when we required Management Plans from them.  They didn’t want to go to the expense of gathering the data they had sort-of kept and that one guy knew real well but didn’t write down.  They certainly didn’t want to tell Reclamation or DWR that data.   A couple submitted good, thorough plans that they intended to use themselves.  A bunch submitted plans that met the bare minimum; they never intended to make that plan into a working document for themselves.  A few submitted intentionally rude plans, with no information and a fuck-you attitude.  They didn’t want to write a plan and were pissed.  A good plan takes effort, perhaps a year of someone’s time and hopefully some public input.  They seem like some dumb hurdle, until something goes wrong.  When the Deepwater Horizon exploded, how much do you think the BP executives wished they had an effective emergency plan, one that told them where all the ships and booms on the east coast were.  In this last drought, districts flocked, a hundred people at a time, to our workshops on drought.  Time after time, we asked them, what does your Shortage Contingency Plan say you will do?  The answer?  They didn’t have a decent Shortage Contingency Plan.  Could we tell them what it should say?

If President Obama was going to back away from a speech about averting world-scaled human catastrophe within the next century, if he was going to back away from an environmentally -themed speech, he could at least have given a progressive speech.  He could have pointed, very directly and step by step, to the consequences of bad governance.  He could have challenged the narrative that government is only a burden.  He could have shown where good governance would have made an incredible difference.  It is hard to see when governance goes right, because deepwater oil rigs are never permitted, and if they are, they have the safeguards they need, and then if something goes wrong, it is contained.

My liberal friends are so thoroughly disheartened by Pres. Obama.  Some feel that his moderation will lead him to maintain the wealth inequities that grew over the Bush years.  Others point to the bailout that supported big banks rather than disassembling them.  There’s no excuse for Pres. Obama’s record on civil rights and privacy.  But.  I’ve been watching the agencies, because I’m a bureaucrat.  What I’ve seen in the agencies is a return to science, a return to regulating pollutants and upholding  labor laws.  Suddenly, the federal agencies are involved in our state processes again, and we’re glad to have them back.  There’s been a void for almost a decade.  Not many people talk about this, but the executive branch of the federal government is coming back to life under Pres. Obama.  Maybe he wants to keep it on the DL.  But as a civil servant, I wish he’d connected the oil spill to the way the agencies have been starved and abused, and told the stories of how agencies can and do make people’s lives better.

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Disjointed thoughts on Judge Wanger’s ruling.

I’ve been slow to weigh-in on Judge Wanger’s most recent decision, because I haven’t read the ruling myself.  As I understand it, Judge Wanger decided that the pumping regime for smelt and salmon was invalid because it was uncertain to restore smelt and salon, and because the agencies hadn’t done an EIS on the human effects of the restricted pumping allowance.  My thoughts:

1.  Sure, whatever.  It is a wet spring and flows are high.  We can probably get away with higher pumping for the time being.  Sadly, as Matt Weiser pointed out, that doesn’t seem to be true for splittail smelt, which are on the verge of being listed themselves.

2.  I was hoping Prof. Doremus would explain the ruling to us, since that is much easier than reading things and understanding them.  My two main questions are:  I thought TVA v. Hill was pretty clear that there is no balancing the human impacts of preserving species.  Is Judge Wanger making shit up creating new law?  Will it stand?  Her quote in this story gets me closer to my other question.  The whole point of NEPA is to force people to take environmental impacts into consideration (although once they’re disclosed, you don’t have to change your plans based on them).  Why should you apply NEPA to actions upholding environmental laws?

Seems to me that tacking NEPA onto the back end of the ESA was Judge Wanger’s attempt to get around the fact that ESA has no balancing mechanism.  He’s been looking for a way to do that for a while, it seems:

When U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger spoke in February at the Madera County Farm Bureau water conference, he explained the restrictions placed on judges by the Endangered Species Act. Once a species is given protection under the act, the government and the courts are obligated to put the needs of that species over the needs of humans.

He was clearly bothered that judges could not balance the competing needs of various parties in ESA cases as they do in other cases. “As a citizen, I ask the rhetorical question: If there isn’t a way to apply balance under the ESA, would it be appropriate to find a way to balance?”

Strange that a judge would understand the requirements of the law that he is enforcing, but look for ways to cancel those, perhaps by tacking a whole different law onto the process.  It is practically activist of him.

3.  Hoooo boy.  Judge Wanger has opened up an entirely new field for competing claims.  He’s going to look back wistfully on the days when all he had to do was figure out the relative causes of fish decline in the Delta.  So easy and straightforward compared to his new vocation: sorting the causes of poverty in the San Joaquin Valley.  I was delighted by this post, and am looking forward to seeing who Judge Wanger selects as his employment and social science technical experts.

4.  I’m curious as well whether Judge Wanger will be giving more definition about which human impacts to consider in writing EIS’s about Biological Opinions.  His focus appears to be on impacts to farmworkers in Westlands Water District.  This would be a curious standard, selecting the injuries to the most vulnerable of the poor to be the standard for balance.  Not the average Californian, who didn’t notice the effects of the pumping restriction?  What about the growers who benefited from pumping restrictions?  Every grower who got a better price for his melons because Westlands planted less had a positive impact.  I suspect that Judge Wanger didn’t think ahead to that, although I’m sure he’ll get to decide the standard for “human impacts” when the EIS is brought straight back to his courtroom.  He probably thought that whomever writes the EIS will make some call about which human impacts to list.

5.  Which brings me to my last thought.  Who the fuck does he think is going to write this EIS that parses out the impacts of different levels of pumping on poor people in Westlands?  I am so curious.  Are NMFS, DWR, the Dept of Fish and Wildlife, NOAA and the Dept of Fish and Game suddenly going to develop extensive sociology expertise?  They are fish scientists!  As a result of his decision, will the major fish agencies have to bring on new staff?  A couple demographers, a historian, an economist and a sociologist or two?  That’s what it would take to provide the “best available science” on human impacts.  Unless you want a bunch of biologists trying to write those up.

Honestly, I think Judge Wanger opened up a whole can of worms, and I doubt he thought through what that would mean to have to analyze and litigate “human impacts” to the extent that species impacts are examined in Biological Opinions.   But those worms are also bucking broncos, and he hopped on.  They’re gonna carry this process down the slippery slope into a whole new swampland of trouble.  He’s on the roller-coaster of unintended consequences now, when all he was really trying to do was avoid the well-established law of the Endangered Species Act saying “no balancing”.  Well, that swarm of angry bees will come back to bite him when the exciting new goldfield of “human impacts” becomes new territory to explore in his courtroom.  Hope he enjoys his new expertise.

LATER:  minor edits for wording.

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Why Carly Fiorina is wrong about CA water – the politics (3 of 3)

From Ms. Fiorina’s water issues page:

As chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Barbara Boxer has the power to help turn the situation around. Yet, despite her willingness to help the people of New Mexico when they faced a similar situation in 2003, Barbara Boxer has repeatedly refused to take the pragmatic steps necessary to get water flowing again. She voted against a water amendment that would have temporarily allowed water to flow to California’s farmland and homes, and she continues to prioritize a small fish ahead of the livelihoods of California’s farmers and farm workers.

I have no doubt that talk like that gives Republicans in the San Joaquin Valley hard-ons, but notice that Ms. Fiorina only talks about what Sen. Boxer hasn’t done.  Notice that Ms. Fiorina isn’t talking about what she will do if she is elected.  That is because she can’t.  To “turn the pumps back on” (an inaccurate phrase), Ms. Fiorina would have to get a modification of the Endangered Species Act past the Senate, the House, and Pres. Obama.   Despite what Republicans want to hear, that isn’t going to happen.  House Representatives from the Valley have been trying to do that for years, with zero success.  They’ve made themselves into jokes trying to get that done.  Just three months ago, Diane Feinstein found out what fury she can stir up by trying to short circuit parts of the Endangered Species Act.

Further, Ms. Fiorina is running for a state office and there’s much more to the state than Westlands.  The only reason she thinks a California senator can deliver more water to “the farms” is that she has no idea what she’s talking about.  She’s ignorant of everything water but Republican polling that shows big results from mentioning “farm water”.  So she doesn’t know that if she starts pulling levers and blundering about, she’ll inevitably piss off vocal Delta interests, or farmers in the Sac Valley, or heaven forbid, Metropolitan Water District and ACWA.

If she’s elected, she’ll be a Senator.  She won’t be God, so she can’t make it rain more.  She can’t turn back climate change or restore a wet hydrology.  She can try to throw a bomb at the Endangered Species Act, but she’ll find out that Californians love it after all.  She’d also find out that when they aren’t hiding behind farmworkers, the growers in Westlands are thought of as unsympathetic agribusiness corporations, a la Reisner.  All she could do is go along with the painfully slow processes that Reclamation is developing, and support all the different Delta restoration processes.

I’d love to hear some genuine water policies from Ms. Fiorina.  But she doesn’t have them, because this is a tangled field and the knots are drawn tight.  If she does offer something substantive, we’ll talk about it here.  I don’t suppose I want to go look at Ms. Whitman’s water page, do I?  These three posts will probably cover it equally well.

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