LHC study: On separating the State Water Project from DWR.

The LHC report on a new water governance structure proposes to make the State Water Project (the actual reservoirs, plumbing, water rights and operations) its own deal, separate from DWR who runs it now.  The LHC mentions a whole host of problems with using the state civil service to staff the water project operations; I have no firsthand knowledge about the severity of these problems.  I can vouch that getting hired with the state is profoundly screwy.  Maybe it does cause problems over at the projects.  Then the report goes on to say that the State Water Project (state) and the Central Valley Project (feds) should get married and live together forever in the State Water Project’s new home, which I have no problem with, because  I’m totally openminded like that (pg 65).

Now for the aspects of separating the State Water Project from DWR that I do have opinions about:

One of the reasons that the LHC gives for moving the project outside the (new) Department of Water Management is that having the project inside the Dept. of Water Resources “dominates the agenda of a state department that also is responsible for water planning and management and where these dual missions often conflict.”  I think that’s a polite way to say that the big boys believe that the point of DWR is to deliver water, and delivering water becomes a little too co-equal in upper management.  Since I talk to political-level state appointees about zero percent of the time, again, I have no way to assess that personally.  I’m willing to believe it, but I also note that the big boys at the top of the agency are implementing the governor’s agenda, which in Republican administrations means delivering water.   We’ll know a lot more about what is driving the perspectives of upper management (direction from the governor or inclusion of the water project within the agency) in a few months.

The report mentions the concern from within DWR that without the glamorous, sexy projects in the Department, they might have a hard time getting engineers to work for them.  Whatever.  There is plenty of water engineering that isn’t based on canals, and if people want to do flood work, or design fish-passage improvement structures, or work with gauges and telemetry, the (new) Dept. of Water Management will still be one of the few places to do lots of that.  I guess their thinking is still dominated by the projects, if they think that’s why most engineers are at DWR.

Further, I know plenty many people who would be very pleased if the (new) Department of Water Management weren’t so engineering-based.  An organization that is supposed to plan for the waters of the state could stand to have a lot more of the earth scientists, and (to my mind) more sociologists and demographers.

Couple more things:

The LHC report talks in nice ways about the (new) Dept. of Water Management keeping rights authority over the separate project, but I was thinking plainer thoughts about how there would have to be some sort of giant-ass control mechanism over a stand-alone project authority.  I mean, if DWR is captured by the industry it serves, at least there is some political balance from the other things the department is supposed to be doing.  Think how far a stand-alone project could go along the lines of single-minded water delivery, and how hard that would be to detect from the outside.

One odd thing about the LHC’s proposed structure is that the (new) Dept. of Water Management would keep doing a function called system or reservoir re-operation (more about that soon). I don’t see any good reason for that.  Seems to me that system re-op should go with the projects, who would have the data, controls, system knowledge and authority.  They would be pretty highly motivated, too, I’d guess.  I don’t understand the reasoning for keeping system re-op in the (new) DWM.  It doesn’t seem to me to be particularly connected to the rest of their (proposed, new) state-scale planning mission.  System re-op is reservoir level stuff; planning and management for the state is much broader stuff.

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