That said, his recent piece doesn’t resolve much. The piece gives a nice reminder that we haven’t yet established that collaborative environmental policy-making works, and runs quickly through the drawbacks of other dominant ideas about how to solve environmental problems. He gives a very nice historical reminder:
From the political science point of view, the interesting thing about these debates is that they are ancient and go back at least to Plato and Aristotle. These are the classic debates about decentralization versus centralization, and expertise versus democratic participation.
But instead of asking his fundamental question “Is the current deadlock forcing us back along the spectrum towards centralized power, in the form of the Delta Stewardship Council? If so, are we doing it right?”, he goes a little astray. He sets up the vision of a Czar with strong centralized power, commissioned to “end the chaos” and dedicated to doing so perfectly. The Delta Stewardship Council is reading its grant of authority broadly (to my approval), which is sort of the direction Lubell is talking about. But the DSC isn’t tasked with ending chaos or solving all the state’s water problems or installing watershed management throughout the state. The DSC has two specific goals (still with a lot of wiggle room) and can be measured against those goals in particular. Huge as their task is, it isn’t as vague as the one Prof. Lubell matches them up against.
The qualifications that Prof. Lubell mentions for a Platonic ideal of centralized power are interesting, but only moderately so in the context of California politics. Since he establishes upfront that we haven’t found other good options, I don’t get why the DSC can’t muddle through, Lindblom style. They don’t have to do a perfect job with the Delta Plan, they just have to write something better than any other process would, which turns out to be a low bar. Besides that, though, Lubell suggests that a centralized authority should have perfect and complete information. It should be Wise (using that information well, in the context of full information about the ecology) and Just (not corrupt) as well. But look. To a first approximation, those conditions are met. Of course the Delta Stewardship Commission doesn’t have full and perfect information. But the broad strokes* are pretty damn informative and can lead to the steps we have to take in the next two decades. Yes, members of the Commission should be Wise, but we generally hope that we achieve that by having several accomplished members with lifetimes of expertise. They should be Just, true, but no one is worried that the Commission will make decisions based on personal enrichment. There are isolated problems, but generally, we don’t consider a culture of personal corruption to be widespread in state government. In the real world, we usually substitute “transparent” for “just” and figure it is close enough. If nothing else, the DSC has been transparent. Again, we’ve got this roughly covered.
That’s my objection to Lubell’s piece. It uses his extensive expertise to say, well, this is what you need to re-centralize power. But it doesn’t do real work. To my eye, it looks like we’ve mostly got the stuff he says are the pre-reqs. Does he see a problem I don’t? Is the current DSC set up in a way that violates the theoretical framework? Is there a specific problem that leads to a bad outcome, one that Prof. Lubell is alert to because he studies large scale environmental policymaking? Is he warning us about something that we should address? Lund and Madani showed us what it looks like to use policy theories in concrete ways. O’Hare does it with style. Prof. Lubell has the chops, but he’s just idly musing here.
Sustainable and adaptive water management requires striking the right balance, which is a very tricky business. Perhaps the Delta Stewardship Council brings in just enough of the Water Czar to improve things, or perhaps not.
Really, dude? Perhaps it does, or perhaps not? You’re using up pixels for that? You have a blog and tenure, and the internet waits to hear your thought. Maybe those cushy scientific journals let you get away with gently pondering questions. Here in blogland, we have higher standards.
*Broad strokes: Sea level will rise a lot. Fish populations collapse when lots of flows are diverted; the amount of water that should be diverted should be halved if the only goal is fish restoration. Sacramento’s sewage is also a big problem. Levees in the Delta are real fragile. Groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley is severely overdrafted. Exported water is underpriced, keeping food cheap in California. Cities have room to conserve more water than they do. Run-off is changing from slow snowmelt to fast, earlier rain run-off. You would want more detail on all of those to build any specific marsh or new storage. But you don’t need full and perfect information on those to direct policy. The rough picture gives enough information to get going.