One person’s pork…

Aquafornia put these up today, and I think they’re pretty representative of the anti-bond measure op-eds that have been appearing for the last many days.

From the Sac Bee:

Much has been written about how lawmakers cobbled together this $11.1 billion Christmas tree in the wee hours of Nov. 4. As lawmakers held out for more and more projects for the price of their vote, the tree became festooned with all kinds of ornaments. The cost of the bond package grew by nearly $2 billion.

The final package, approved as part of a sweeping set of reforms aimed at restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Deltaand improving water reliability, includes a little something for everyone. There is $20 million to help Siskiyou County with economic development; $100 million for watershed restoration in Lake Tahoe; $100 million for the San Vicente Reservoir in San Diego and more than $1 billion for unspecified projects – in other words, handshake deals.

Given the national backlash against self-serving “earmarks,” it is stunning that lawmakers and the governor thought they could get away with this. Yet the proverbial pork barrel is not the only reason this law should be repealed and revamped.

From the ChicoER:

The amount of money could make a difference, if it was in fact targeted to meeting the needs of the state. Instead, it’s dribbled out through several different conduits for projects that haven’t even been defined. It’s just dumping a bunch of cash out there for cities, counties, special districts, state agencies, nonprofits, conservancies, utilities and their armies of consultants to fight over.

If you were going to rationally solve the state’s water problems, you’d steer most of the money to fixing the delta and the rest to increasing water storage. But Proposition 18 allocates money to drought relief, “water supply reliability,” conservation and watershed protection, among other things.

My question for these newspaper editors is:  What do you think Integrated Regional Water Management is?  Maybe they don’t think anything about Integrated Regional Water Management, because who would, if you could be thinking about the World Cup instead.  But IRWM is DWR’s flagship program right now, and the wave of the future and the savior of us all.  (Actually, I have some doubts about it, but*.)  It emerged out of the 2005 Water Plan Update (as the only thing that no one hated); it is strongly backed by the legislature.

IRWM is California’s water policy right now, and these editorials tell me that people don’t really know what it is.  Because I promise you, IRWM is exactly things like watershed restoration, stormwater projects, local purple pipe infrastructure, and water conservation, splashed out in pieces all over the state.  If legislators gathered all those “pork” projects and bundled them into $2.5B for IRWM, would you approve of that, op-ed writers?  Because those projects are what look like the next best sources of water to the locals.  If they don’t get stand-alone money in a water bill, they’ll go to the top of the list in an IRWM Plan.  (Maybe you think that dispassionate bureaucrats should evaluate the projects as a field and be the ones to prioritize the projects in a grant funding round.  Eh.  Seems like letting the projects fight it out in a legislative frenzy is roughly the same.)

I know that op-ed writers want a pure, low entropy supply (like a big, beautiful, sparkly arching dam) to appear (with magic water to fill it), and we can fund that in one glorious purchase.  But those are gone.  We’re collecting the next best things now, the widely distributed local efficiency gains that we were rich enough to overlook before.  You can call it pork or you can call it IRWM.  But that’s our world now.  We don’t have to do those.  But if we don’t, we have to live within the recent drought years’ water supply and make life-style changes.

*Fine.   Stop begging me.  You’re embarrassing yourself.

I think that IRWM is a way for the state to devolve power outward; I think of it a little bit as a centrifuge for state money and responsibility.

Which is fine, except that I’m not sure the entities on the other end are prepared to catch that.  Very literally, I don’t understand what a “Region” is.  It isn’t quite a Joint Powers Authority, and it isn’t a special district.  So far as I can tell, it is essentially an MOU between local agencies, which is nice, but who precisely does one serve papers to if it accepts $300M of state funding and doesn’t do good environmental documentation, for example?

These “Regions” are signing on to be the responsible parties for the next round of water management in the state, but in addition to not being real entities, I don’t see how they have the authorities to do what needs to be done.  Some of their members have some authorities, like condemnation and taxation, but not all of their members do.  So does a “Region” have the broadest authorities of its members?  The narrowest?  A patchwork? which is fine and all, unless you’d like your canals to connect all the way across your geographical boundaries.

Basically, I suspect that IRWM is a way for liabilities to fall through the cracks.  When things don’t happen, the state will point to the “Region”, which isn’t a thing, and the “Region” will say “No one lives here, but the state was responsible for oversight.”  I presume both parties love this arrangement, where liabilities fall into newly created empty nothingness between the state and the “Region”, so it won’t be a problem for another decade and a half.


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