CDFA Board Meeting last week

A quick note to thank Lubell and Campana for their write-ups of important water goings-on. I can hardly think of a better use for blogs and expertise than their notes on what they saw when people gathered to talk about water policy. Since I appreciate reading these run-downs of meetings so much, I should do them too. Here are the concepts that stayed with me from last week’s CDFA Board Meeting.

An exchange between Adan Ortega (who always says interesting things) and Phil Isenberg (who always says interesting things):

Isenberg (paraphrased): When bond money runs out in the foreseeable future and the state can’t bribe “Regions” to do stuff voluntarily, what is the alternative? Doing nothing? Regulation?
Ortega (paraphrased): Why’s it always got to be regulation? What are other drivers besides giving money or regulation?
Other people: There are market incentives. And decoupling rates. There is technology improvement.
Onthepublicrecord(in my head): This calls for a force diagram! Everyone loves a force diagram. But this one didn’t cheer me up.

Not to Scale.

Professor Howitt spoke:

Prof. Howitt said some interesting things. He says “Ag has the water; urban has the money; enviros have the votes.” That’s a good summary. He suggested pricing Peripheral Canal water by reliability, which is a neat idea. Then he discussed the public goods charge in the PPIC report and I remembered why I don’t count him as a reliable source.

He mentioned a public goods charge for generating a constant stream of revenue for a water and ecosystem infrastructure. He threw out the figure $2/household-year for urban and $2/acre-year for ag.

39M Californians x (1 household/3 Californians) x ($2/household-year) = $26M per year.
10M irrigated acres x ($2/acre-year) = $20M per year.

Prof Howitt proposes to raise $46M per year for water infrastructure and ecosystem restoration with a public goods charge? What shall we build with it all?!? You know, Prof. Howitt is thought of as the expert, but he goes around in public saying numbers that are off by an order of magnitude. I’m prepared to spot anybody double or triple the real number or one big mistake. That seems fair. But if you are an economist and newspapers quote you, you should be making these kinds of calculations in your head. Is it likely that the west side lost 40,000 jobs? Is a $2/household public goods charge meaningful? How much revenue would it generate? If this is your profession, you should have an innate sense of scale that will stop you from embarrassing yourself. Estimating is your friend.

[It crossed my mind on the way home that perhaps I have the units wrong. Maybe it was $2/household-month, which would solve the order of magnitude problem. That’s not what I wrote down, but maybe I heard wrong. If so, I owe Prof. Howitt an apology.]

And Jason Peltier:

The last thought that made an impression on me came from Jason Peltier, from Westlands. Among other things, he said something close to “We could decide we don’t want Westlands to exist anymore. That’s a policy decision. But we don’t make that decision. We make other side decisions that indirectly have that result.” I agree with him. We don’t make direct decisions about what we collectively want and the resulting trade-offs. This forces all of us to strategize and prophesize and try to reveal the hidden implications of things. It also means that we don’t make honest choices about compensating the losers, since we pretend they didn’t lose from our far away decision way over there.

That’s what I got from the Ag Board meeting last week. They had some strong panels, although I do see a lot of the same faces at these things.

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