Monthly Archives: June 2010

Why Carly Fiorina is wrong about CA water – the rhetoric (2 of 3).

Here are the two pieces of Ms. Fiorina’s water policy that I could find. In her debate challenge to Sen. Boxer:

The Republican, however, made one debate demand, that they schedule one meeting in Mendota in the Central Valley, “where unemployment is skyrocketing because the federal government has decided that families don’t need water.”

Her water issues page on her campaign website:

“Bringing relief to the thousands of California farmers and farm workers who are out of work and also to the many other family-owned, agriculture businesses in the Central Valley due to the water crisis is one of my highest priorities.” – Carly Fiorina

Nearly 40,000 of our fellow Californians are out of work in the Central Valley because of our state’s urgent water crisis, and job losses will only increase unless the U.S. Senate acts now to turn the pumps back on. While the Central Valley is disproportionally impacted by this water shortage, our water crisis is having a serious impact across the state and threatens the water supply to tens of millions of Southern Californians.

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.

That’s what we’re working with until we get more detailed policy pages. I look forward to those, because like many Republican talking heads, Ms. Fiorina has apparently decided that the only thing that is important in California water is what happens in Westlands Water District. No policy statements about any other water issues for any other Californians. You live in a city that is facing rate hikes because of deferred maintenance, drought and population pressures? So far, she hasn’t said what she’d do. Delta residents, are you mad about the state of the Sacramento River and scared about a Peripheral Canal? You already know that she only perceives the problems of Westlands. Salmon fisherman, do you want to know her program to revitalize fish stocks? She hasn’t said. People dependent on the Colorado and interested in the Salton Sea, she hasn’t shown any interest in your issues either, but there I’m sympathetic because man alive is that stuff boring I haven’t focused on that system either.

She said “…the federal government has decided that families don’t need water”.

By that does she mean, the unanimous vote of the U.S. Congress to pass the ESA three decades ago? Does she mean the single federal judge in Fresno who is upholding the ESA? Judge Wanger didn’t decide that “families don’t need water.” He decided that pumping was illegally taking endangered fish, and slowed the pumps down when fish are near the pumps. I don’t have to add this for this audience, but I will. No one went without drinking water because of this decision. No families had their living water turned off. Some farms (many of which are huge corporations) didn’t get enough water to irrigate their entire tens of thousands of acres. This is not quite the same as families not getting water, which actually looks like this. (I’m sure the Latino Water Coalition will address the issue of nitrates in drinking water any minute now, and senators who are newly fascinated by poverty in the San Joaquin Valley will get right to work on the problem.)

On her issues page, Ms. Fiorina goes on to attack Sen. Boxer’s handling of the pumping restrictions, in rhetoric that will be familiar to the Republican base in the Valley, but explain very little to anyone who isn’t a water junkie. She never says the words “Endangered Species Act”, even though that (and climate change-induced water scarcity) are the heart of the issue. Her current issues language makes it seem as if Sen. Boxer is acting on whim, because her issues page doesn’t mention the reasons for conflict.

There’s no sophistication in Ms. Fiorina’s water issues page, and no content besides a very Republican focus on a very small piece of California’s water situation, where large corporations have exploited the image of farmworkers to try to secure a supply of irrigation water. That isn’t too surprising. Ms. Fiorina came from a tech background and hasn’t learned about water issues*. I can’t blame her for that, but then it surprises me that her very first words were about debating in Mendota, because of the poor farmworkers. I know that has been a rallying cry for Valley Republicans and very motivating for that base. But she’s got nothing underneath that talking point, nothing at all. She’s bluffing in an extremely complicated field that a subset of Californians are very knowledgeable and opinionated about. Seems like a bad strategy for her to bring it up front and center.

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Why Carly Fiorina is wrong about CA water – the facts (1 of 3).

The new Republican candidate for Senate, Carly Fiorina, answered Senator Boxer’s call for debates as follows:

“Barbara, I’ll debate you anytime anywhere. As far as I’m concerned, we can debate once a week.”

The Republican, however, made one debate demand, that they schedule one meeting in Mendota in the Central Valley,”where unemployment is skyrocketing because the federal government has decided that families don’t need water.”

Aw man. The very first thing out of her mouth on the very first day? Brace yourself, water people. This is going to be a theme, and we’re going to be hearing this crap all the way through November. If I were a conscientious blogger, I’d do a nice round-up post specifically addressing that meme. Prof. Michael, you are going to be busy for the next few months. You might want to compose a stock answer for journalists that you can send out rapidly.

Here, mainstream journalists that Ms. Fiorina is dragging into the debate over water. Some posts on the persistent Republican memes in the debate last year.

On food scarcity and Communist carrots:

This one arose out of one picture of a food line in Mendota with a can of carrots labeled “from China”. It has no relation to our actual carrot (or food) production. Real reporters, there is accurate data about the acreages of food crops in California; it is in a nicely searchable online database maintained by the USDA. Search here for California data and do not write false stories about the threat to our food security. If Ms. Fiorina tries to make this part of her campaign, point out that she is wrong. If she says it again after that, point out that she is lying about easily verifiable facts.

(If you find yourself swayed because hundreds of thousands of acres sounds like a lot, read this. CA agriculture is so big that hundreds of thousands of acres aren’t very much.)

Thousands of families out of work:

I’m going to point you to Prof. Michael and the extensive debate over the job figures.

Can I just say? All this interest in poverty on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley is great. I am so glad our senators and potential senators have decided this is a major focus. But those towns have been feudal fiefdoms for the past hundred years. Read The King of California for a description, or Goldschmidt’s 1944 study comparing towns on the east and west sides of the Valley. Feinstein and Fiorina all of a sudden care about farm laborers on the west side now? The only thing that has changed is that wealthy farming operations and their hired public relations firms have decided to co-opt the image of farm laborers to achieve their political goals of securing water by gutting the ESA.

Mostly I’m bummed because we’re going to have to hear this for months, after hearing it all last year. Did the spring rains bring us no relief ?


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Deferred maintenance is the triumph of denial over intentions.

This quote from one of the constant stream of stories on rising water and sewer rates is wonderful.  Boardmember Clark says her district will need to raise rates because:

“Maintenance is the mark of civilization,” she said. “It is not sexy but necessary to keep sewage out of your house, out of your creeks and out of the bay.”

Building great works is fantastic and all, but single celled organisms can do that.  Maintenance, however.  Maintenance shows forethought and consistency and awareness of what we normally take for granted.  A mark of civilization, indeed.

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Get Judge Roesch, if you can. That man fears nothing.

I love how audacious C-WIN is, and am glad they’re out there.  They’re taking on the right issues, and often go straight to the heart of them.  These are all from memory, so I don’t know if I have them exactly right, but suing the State Board to define and enforce reasonable and beneficial use, challenging the big project contracts, getting DWR to take environmental documentation seriously  –those are all great.  I would love it if they could wrest the Kern Water Bank back from private ownership.  They’re right; the state should own and operate that reservoir.  I love that they’re raising the real hard questions and I usually hope they’ll win.  I don’t even mind that they’re litigious; bad as courts are for deciding complex multi-party questions, it isn’t like we’ve got a better forum here.

That said, their legal complaints kinda kill me.   I’m not a lawyer and they are, so presumably they know what they’re doing better than I do.  They’ve won a fair number of their CEQA cases, I believe.  But when their grounds for complaint is, like, the Constitution, dude, I start thinking about pro se defendents waving a copy of the Bill of Rights at a judge.  “It says right here…”  They may well be right that some of our big practices aren’t Constitutional.  But they are well ingrained.  Getting a judge to up-end big pieces of our system sounds hard, especially on broad Constitutional principles.  Glad they’re doing the work, but it looks like an uphill battle to me.


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Climate change scientists have been trying to warn him since the mid-80s.

My Dad once told me that the only thing anyone ever manages is risk. You see that here, in this story about uncertainty and Westlands. The lede:

Like many Central Valley farmers, Todd Allen says it’s the unpredictability of his water supply that causes the most damage.

You know, Mr. Allen doesn’t have to be uncertain about his water supply. He could look at historic supplies and see that Westlands has always gotten at least ten percent of contract allotments. He could plant to match that ten percent and never worry again. (Actually, he can’t, because climate change will introduce even more variability than we’ve seen this decade. But, for the next couple decades, he can probably be sure of at least ten percent.) But what Mr. Allen wants is something different. He wants enough water to plant most of his acreage, and he wants certainty. He wants to offload that risk; in real life, without legal protection, the fish would feel the brunt of that variability. Bummer that Mr. Allen has to live his life during the transition period for climate change. He (and the rest of us) will feel the effects of increased variability first hand.

Allen is a mid-sized producer of lower-value crops on land whose productivity is further impacted by drainage problems. With transferred water known to cost up to $500 an acre-foot and a new well more than $500,000, he took the realistic option and reduced his production to 40 acres of wheat.

Soon Westlands’ attorneys were calling to add his story to court briefings challenging the bio-ops. Wanger pointed out Allen’s example in his May 27 ruling on flow restrictions protecting salmon, saying such human impacts — along with pollutants entering the waterway, along with other possible stressors — were missing from the agencies’ documents.

It is kindof bullshit to come in as junior contractors, explicitly accepting a risk regime, then later complain that you can’t manage the variability. That was what they bargained for when they started. They got used to more supplies under a governing regime that was willing to shunt that variability to the Delta, but a few years of regular supplies, even decades of them, shouldn’t become the new standard of acceptable risk for them. High risk activities suck, but the appropriate response is to recognize what you’re working with and not allow yourself to depend on them. That type of farming operation should only ever have been bonus, bonus production when the water is high. Mr. Allen is looking at the right response, although he probably doesn’t like it.

Allen said he was building a promising future, having upgraded irrigation equipment and purchased new land in the past few years. He wasn’t expecting such an impact from something beyond his control.

“I was really starting to turn the corner, and all of a sudden … I feel like I’m being punished and I’ve done nothing wrong,” Allen said. “Now I’m thinking about getting another career going in case this falls apart.”

Yes. He needs something stable to support his family, which being the junior contractor wasn’t ever and especially will not be from here on out. It is a shame that he didn’t understand the risk regime he entered, and gambled on more reliability than was ever there. It is even more of a shame that he feels victimized. I hope he understands that he’s in the vise of big forces, and doesn’t direct that at any particular person (like a judge, say).  What he did wrong was believe that what he observed around him was guaranteed by something (if nothing more than his lived experience).  It is a human mistake to make, but the same big forces will inexorably exact the full cost of that error.


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