Monthly Archives: April 2011

ACWA’s comments about regulation.

Tim Quinn writes:

The draft relies on a heavy-handed regulatory approach that ignores the successes gained through incentive-based programs in recent years.

This is common rhetoric, but it doesn’t answer the question that the DWC DSC faces. If the question were “What can highly motivated sophisticated groups who roll in state money accomplish voluntarily?”, the answer is a lot! Look at all their success. Voluntary programs accompanied by billion dollar bond measures can work!

But the DSC wants something else, which is to establish a minimum level of accomplishment in every single district and agency. The answer to that is not “Look over here at what the fancy high-performers can do voluntarily.” The answer is that most people (in all settings, this isn’t special to water) won’t do the stuff outside their self-interest for a very long time and if a crashing ecosystem needs it to happen faster, you establish a floor of minimum performance with regulation. That’s how you get the people who aren’t fancy high-performers to come along.

Mr. Quinn’s answer isn’t wrong, but it isn’t answering the question the DSC is asking. Until I hear a better answer to “how does the Delta get everyone to pull together at some minimum level to meet the goals?” my answer is still “regulation.”

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

More on recently blocked blogs.

My work changed its net nanny a couple weeks back to exclude blogs.  I understand that; they probably think of blogs as cat pictures and smut, which are perfectly fine pursuits that adults should follow on their own time, at their home computers.  So far as I can tell, they used a fairly quick filtering process, excluding blogs by excluding URLs with blog-hosting platforms in the name: blogspot, typepad, wordpress, livejournal.  That’s an easy decision rule, but it excludes some signal along with that noise.  Here are the blogs that employees of the Resources agency can’t easily read right now:

Legal Planet – Environmental Law & Policy

Pacific Legal Foundation

Maven’s Photoblog

Bay Delta Blog

Greed, Green & Grains

Klam Blog

L. A. Creek Freak

On the Public Record

Spouting Off – Mark Gold of Heal the Bay

Valley Economy Blog

Water Librarian’s Blog

Watering the Desert


(doesn’t load right; suspect interference with blogging software)

California Water Blog


The net nanny gives us quota time.  If I see a reference to a new post on Aquafornia, I can click on it.  I get a scary screen asking if I want to use my quota time (15 minutes twice a day).  If I click yes, it goes through.  But we don’t get enough quota time to read all the water material that goes up (not because it takes more than half an hour, but because it goes up throughout the day and I can’t spend a couple minutes here and there).  So the net nanny screen is intimidating and the quota time isn’t enough.  I can vouch that my visits from state agency IP addresses is considerably down.  But the real problem with this system is that these blogs shouldn’t be blocked at all.

Sometimes, in between posting cat pictures and searching out smut, some bloggers inexplicably want to do real work.  For bizarre reasons of their own, they write about their field, adding expertise that we used to have to read on paper or learn face to face.  I’m preaching to the choir here.  If you read blogs you already know that you can get syntheses of academic work, you can listen in on lawyers chatting about recent legal decisions, you can hear people’s own voices talking about how water policy affects them.  This is not trivial; this is a (nearly) free multiplier of human thought and knowledge that people in the field should have access to.  Putting a wall between state employees and this thought is wrong.

From my perspective, blogging gives me a way to talk directly to you.  You is all of you, people who are involved and interested in water in California.  That’s worth a lot to me, enough to take the occasional break from pictures of cats.  That’s most of what bothers me about the new restrictions on blogs.  I could get around it, and so could the other bloggers on that list.  I could buy a domain name, so I don’t get caught in the wordpress filter.  So could those other bloggers.  But while the overly broad restrictions are up or unless I spend my own money, I can’t talk to the thousands of state workers who work in the field.  My blog, and the blogs I listed above are relevant; workers who happen to like to read text-based analysis shouldn’t have to read them on their own time.  Reading the substantive thought in these blogs is a legitimate use of work time; it should be freely available to us.


Filed under Uncategorized

Real quick…

Wrote the below without reading the rest of the coverage on the hearings.  I suspect it will cover what I wanted to say, but I’ll try to read the rest soon.

Comments Off on Real quick…

Filed under Uncategorized

Commentary on the hearing in Fresno.

Oh for Pete’s sake. McClintock’s opening statement is just fact-free. Tens of thousands of families out of work from the drought? Well, yeah, maybe, if the coefficient before that is 0.0002(tens of thousands of families). But in English, we normally call that “two” thousand. He got his units wrong too. That’s jobs lost, not families unemployed. Are we back to fears of Chinese carrots? No amount of citing USDA crop statistics is going to change that, will it?

Whatever. McClintock is who he is. The more interesting statement came from Westlands manager Tom Birmingham.

At the bottom of page 2, he writes:

If any proposition should be made inarguable by the current situation, it would bethat the water supply for the numerous south-of-Delta Central Valley Project(“CVP”) agricultural water service contractors is not dependent on hydrology. [my emphasis]

This is it. This really is the heart of the difference between the two camps. The camps are roughly parallel to “abundance” Republicans and enviros, but I could name a bunch of stodgy district engineers who wouldn’t call themselves enviros but would be appalled at the statement that water supplies don’t depend on hydrology. I think Mr. Birmingham was setting himself up rhetorically for the remainder of his argument, that the real culprit was regulations. The real culprit is, of course, trade-offs.

Here’s the thing. We do have an extensive water collection and distribution system throughout the state, and it does provide a substantial buffer against any one year’s hydrology. What’s the saying? Canals move water through space; dams move water through time. We could build even more of a buffer. With very much money, we could store some more and plumb some more, so that Mr. Birmingham’s intake gates are full for an even higher percent of the time.

But. The size of our water use has brushed up against the size of our environment. Now, every new bit of capacity we buy is 1. expensive and 2. was being used for another use that is also important to people. Maybe those are just effete hippies that live in cities, but even so, those people want to know there are fish around and are willing to dedicate water to that use*. Those people, of whom there are many, have put in place some laws to make sure that happens. Mr. Birminham’s problem is not “regulations” that sprang into being from some bureaucrat. Mr. Birmingham’s problem is that many other people who vote want the same water to be used for the environment and expressed that want through their legislators. His other problem is that although we can build more buffer, we cannot use that buffer to withhold more water without the environment responding negatively, because we are at past the limits of environmental tolerance.

Right now, the worst thing that could happen to Westlands is for them to get the capacity they want (Sites, a Peripheral Canal, Temperance Flats) but have to pay for it. Again, the capacity they want is possible but no longer worth the cost, because constraints of the physical world (good damsites gone, costs of mitigating the environmental effects of taking the incremental water away from rivers and the Delta). This is the part that the abundance crowd keeps waving away. The full cost of water from new capacity would be more expensive than Westlands could afford to irrigate with. Their solution is that the rest of us should pay for some of it. In less broke times, that might have slipped through. These days, not so much. Their other option is that the environment should pay for it, by crashing and dying somewhere out of sight.

The conversation goes around and around this distinction: are we constrained by physical limits? It all boils down to that. It isn’t that enviros hate farmers and want them not to have any water. It is that every next piece of water comes with unacceptable trade-offs. (Actually, the fact that we have endangered species means that the last few pieces of water came with unacceptable trade-offs.) But people who argue for returning to abundance by changing our mindset or who say things like ‘our supply doesn’t depend on hydrology’ aren’t ready to talk about very concrete trade-offs. It’ll be a long repetitive conversation until they get there.

Continue reading


Filed under Uncategorized

All the right enemies.

Wow. This is some letter (from ACWA, opposing the second draft of the Delta Plan). Long list of signatories, too.

I don’t have the concentration to address their main claim, that the DSC is over-stepping their authority. My offhand rebuttals are 1. the Legislature wanted to punt on the hard questions, handing them over to someone else and 2. the local and regional folks consider anything more than handing out money* to be overstepping state authority. But I don’t know. I’d have to read the Plan next to the authorizing legislation to say whether it oversteps, and I don’t have that kind of concentration tonight.

Since I won’t be looking at the question of overstepping, I can say some quick things. First, that’s a long list of well-known signatories, but I am relieved to see that they are all the same kind of signatory. Honestly, those are the folks I’d want to oppose any policies of mine. Some of them are Building Industry Association or Chamber of Commerce types. Their whole prospect for the state depends on the premise of unlimited cheap water. Since that isn’t the physical reality (we should be working on planned retreat and intentional shrinking of our economy to the size we’ll be able to support with our new climate), I think of the BIA’s disapproval as a guide to good policy-making. The rest are paid fulltime to advocate for their constituents’ narrow self-interests. Constituents don’t want to start paying now for resilience later or for their share of the larger burden, so I don’t consider their advocate’s disapproval a bad thing. So that is a fine list of signatories opposed to the second draft of the Delta plan.

The letter writes:

The Council should heed the lessons from Calfed: it is neither heroic nor effective to develop a plan that is unmanageable and indefensible – and ultimately fails to move California forward.

Huh. The lesson I took from CalFed is that pretending there are win-win solutions and crafting bullshit that is too complicated to offend anyone will collapse in the face of simple truths about salmon counts. The other thing I remember from CalFed is that anyone tasked with fixing the Delta arrives real quick at a realization that the entire state, upstream and down, is involved in fixing the Delta. So, you know, different people learned different things from CalFed.

My last thought was that for a strongly worded letter, that is some pretty weak-ass weaseling. What does crap like this mean?

We cannot support the second draft as it envisions unnecessary and untenable regulatory underpinning to a Delta Plan that will only exacerbate present challenges in the Delta rather than contribute to their resolution consistent with the coequal goals.

I mean, if that’s true, it is a real problem. A plan that does the opposite of its intention is bad news. So I waited to hear the mechanism. How exactly does the plan do the opposite of what it says? First the letter goes on about overstepping authority for the rest of the page. At the top of the second page, it explains the assertion that the plan will actually do the opposite of meet the co-equal goals.

The problem of the overreaching regulatory approach displayed in the second draft goes beyond the exaggeration of legal authority –it will rapidly move the Council away from success, driving away from the table the very parties, across the stakeholder community, that are critical to the successful implementation of an effective and viable Delta Plan over the next several decades.

Oh. The mechanism is “if the state is the boss of us, we won’t like it and we will sulk and you need our cooperation.” Awesome. You know, if you have the balls to sign this letter, why not go the rest of the way and say WE won’t show up for your plan? Not some vague ‘stakeholders across the community’ (I notice ‘stakeholders’ from Delta groups or the enviros didn’t sign on to your letter), but you guys, the powerful districts. What, you’re threatening the DSC with what the other stakeholders might do? No, you’re talking about yourselves, so say it. Worse, your reasoning isn’t that you refuse to do whatever the Delta plan says you’ll have to not because it won’t help the Delta, but because you go always go apeshit when the state proposes to exert authority over you and you’ll go apeshit this time too because you can’t help yourself whenever you are in the presence of regulation. You say that people will be so affronted by regulations that they’ll balk like donkeys, but you still didn’t make the case that those regulations won’t fix the Delta.

Frankly, this is some menacing posturing from the biggest water districts and trade groups in the state, and their own explicit reasons are nakedly ugly. They aren’t a detailed alternate fix. They aren’t a helpful willingness to face the future of the state and jointly shoulder the state’s burdens. They’re the same insistence on local authority and narrow self-interest that got us into this mess. DSC, stand firm. If that worked, someone would have figured out how by now. It can’t work, and you have co-equal goals to meet.

Continue reading


Filed under Uncategorized

More meta than I generally like.

Hey friends,

Having my blog* blocked at work turns out to be a bigger deal than I expected. I’ve heard from my friends at other Resources departments that this is agency-wide. It haven’t made any decisions or anything, but my sense is that it will lead to far less blogging from me, for two reasons. Obviously, I shouldn’t be composing text on work time, so I’m not going to cite that. But there are other reasons.

I can’t follow the conversation without blog access. I don’t like to write without being as current as I can, and these days I get links to court decisions and legal analysis from blogs. I follow the mood from their first-person reports. I read politicians’ blogs to mock and belittle understand their mindset. I can’t track what people are doing without clicking the links from Aquafornia. I think keeping current on that is very plausibly part of my job. These days, that means blogs in the mix of sources.

The second reason I probably won’t write much while Resources is blocking blogs is that I won’t be talking to a lot of the people who are involved in Water. It is ridiculous that I have to use the internet to talk to my co-workers, but besides the half-a-dozen people I work with, there are another several thousand people in Resources that I’ve never met. I know some of them are reading my blog, because I can see their IP addresses. I know a bunch of people in the Legislature read here too, from their IP addresses. There are also a whole bunch of undifferentiated hits from the Teale Data Center; those are from state agencies as well.

I don’t like to show any interest in blogs at work, so I can’t follow up on why blogs are being blocked now throughout my agency. I thought it might be my IT guys getting creative, but it seems larger than that. Perhaps it is a new Brown administration getting-down-to-business policy. If so, I wonder whether it was really intended to exclude the topical and relevant water blogs. I understand Brown’s austerity vibe, but if blogs are, as I believe, an important part of the discourse in the field, blocking them also costs us exposure to thought (free thought! thought that costs the state nothing!).

May I propose a solution? I suspect that the no-blogs policy was implemented quickly, since it specifically keys off blog suffixes in the URL. If any high-up people are reading (and I see you, you know), perhaps the Net Nanny software could be modified to allow the water blogs in? Those are professionally relevant. Aquafornia’s blogroll is as comprehensive as any list I know. Perhaps blogs on that list could be allowed? Otherwise, without being able to read as much as I like to and knowing that I’m not reaching a large sector of the field, I won’t be writing the sophisticated and penetrating analyses of Devin Nunes you guys have come to rely on.

*all blogs actually. Anything with wordpress, livejournal, typepad or blogspot in the URL.


Filed under Uncategorized