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.


Filed under Agriculture, Climate Change

6 responses to “Thinking about Mr. Middleton’s post on water conservation.

  1. Farmer2

    Th mst mzng thng t m s tht thy wnt s t cnsrv s thy cn snd (wst) th wtr t th cn nd t bnfts n n. Fsh r wrs ff nd hmns r wrs ff. Wht r th ctl bnfts f sndng wtr t th cn? S fr thr r nly mgnry bnfts f gvng fsh mr wtr nt ctl ppltn ncrss.

    Added by OtPR: On disemvoweling.

    • onthepublicrecord

      Do not sock puppet here. I know who you are. We’ve talked; we have a relationship. Have the courage to comment under one stable handle. I will make sure that I and other commenters treat it with respect.

  2. janetm

    The problem with the farmers’ argument is that the annual 800 kaf of dedicated water for the fish has never been achieved since the passage of the CVPIA (1992). At least not before Dec. 2008 when an independent review of the CVPIA fisheries project was carried out. The agencies responsible for implementing that provision never once managed 800 kaf flow from source to sea—the intent of the law. Any of the environmental efforts were directed at habitat restoration/flow in the rivers before the water reaches the Delta. The Delta itself continued to suffer post- CVPIA. In fact, with the massive increase in pumping Article 21 water during the winter, Delta exports increased 50% post-CVPIA. It’s no mystery why the fish haven’t benefitted. They’ve never been given the opportunity.

  3. “Wasting” water has essentially the same ideo-etymology as “reclaiming” land.

  4. Dave Simmons

    I am Farmer2, Sorry I forgot. That is my usual handle on other sites.

    Jeez disemvowelment seems kind of petty. I could understand if I was a flagrant violator.

  5. onthepublicrecord

    I have other comments from you as Farmer2, and other handles, in my moderation queue. I don’t care which name you comment under (although I respect that you use your real name sometimes), but having a bunch of different names:

    1. Makes it seem as if there are more people advocating your views than there are.
    2. Makes it difficult for other commenters to keep track and have a conversation with you.

    Sockpuppeting is widely considered a major foul in blogland. I’m going to moderate against it here.

    I’ve been very glad that you comment here. You’ve sparked a lot of discussion. But please choose one identity and maintain it on my blog.