Monthly Archives: October 2011

Area of origin rights to future water.

Both the editorials from the source areas assert their right to enough water for future growth.

Calaveras and Tuolumne editorial:

Lopez said the draft could also affect future water rights and does not recognize communities’ rights as “areas of origin” to eventually use available water for future development. Lopez said that would slow economic development in Calaveras County… .

Folsom and Roseville editorial:

…the deal was that Northern California water suppliers would always be able to use our local water to meet local demands. … The Delta plan proposes to make it more difficult for us to use water supplies … needed to meet future water demands.

Different Sac Valley folks are testing the strength of their Area of Origin rights in law, and I have no idea how those court cases will turn out. But, in practice, I can’t imagine that the foothill and Sac Valley folks are going to get wide sympathy for “and whatever water we ‘need’ to grow.”

Everything I’ve seen points to the state receiving less water, in less catch-able forms overall. The shocking thing about Sites and the Peripheral Canal is that they are essentially a $12-15B project that doesn’t create new water. They just help the State deliver the water it does now, and MWD is saying “Yep, that’s worth it to us.” SoCal isn’t expecting to get additional water. You’ve seen my predictions that any new urban and enviro water will come from ag, to the tune of 10MAF. They’re going to take a huge hit. Given that everyone else is aware that they’re going to make do on the same water or less, I have a hard time believing that the source communities will hold on to even more future water than they use now.

Aside from my skepticism, there interesting questions embedded in the idea of calling dibs on more future water, to which you could make up interesting answers. Do they have to have real plans for the water, like, zoned into their General Plan? Should they get to reserve water at the shameful Sac County per capita water usage, or should new water demands be a lot closer to the state average per capita use? Does it make sense for the source areas to continue to grow, in a “move users to the water-rich areas” kinda way? Those are neat questions, but it is worth remembering that the value of the Delta Plan doesn’t depend on answering them.  The Delta Plan is judged against the meeting the co-equal goals.

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Parochialism in its best guise.

Here are another pair of upstream diverters, becoming aware that the Delta Plan will have an impact on them. They do a nice job making a moderate and sober case:

We are ready to participate in a responsible Delta solution, integrating our current water management efforts into a solution that works for all. Unfortunately, the Delta plan that is currently under development would make no clear environmental gains and would impose serious restrictions on water supplies in our communities.

They go on to say why Folsom and Roseville, and all of Northern California, shouldn’t have to give up any water. Then they say that Folsom and Roseville definitely shouldn’t have to pay any fees, especially in these hard times.

I have a question for them. Water and money to fix the Delta will have to come from somewhere. Instead of just saying “Not us”, where, precisely, should water and money to fix the Delta come from? Honestly, everyone who writes an editorial saying “the Delta Plan sux because it will impose costs on us” should have to say where those costs should fall instead.

The mayors assure us that they stand ready to help the Delta:

Our region will, of course, do our part to help develop water solutions for our state.

So long as that help doesn’t cost real money or real water. Folsom and Roseville are more than prepared to donate cheap words to the cause.

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Enviro comments on the 5th Draft of the Delta Plan.

I read the enviros’ comments on the Delta Plan yesterday; a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that I critique them the way I critiqued ACWA’s Ag-Urban “plan”. My thoughts:

1. I don’t see how the DSC can get away without defining “reliable supply” much longer. I’ve heard the water users asking the burning question: making recent exports reliable by building NODOS and a Peripheral Canal, or only exporting a smaller supply that can be reliably extracted without hurting habitat and fish? Now the enviros are asking precisely that question:

For example, reliably receiving full contracted quantities or receiving the present level of water deliveries is considerably different than reliably receiving water after the public trust has been balanced and the Delta ecosystem protected. What are the yardsticks by which success will be documented?

They aren’t mincing words, either.

The inescapable reality is that consumptive water rights issued by the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) exceed unimpaired flow into the Delta and contracts for state and federal project water are far greater than available supplies.

That’s fine. Fragile buy-in to the Delta Plan will collapse when that question gets answered and at least one side will sue. But this is the fundamental question about the state’s water future. It will have to be answered by someone. We will have iterative processes that struggle with this question until it is settled or the Delta levees give way, whichever comes first. Might as well be answered in this process as the next. Mr. Isenberg’s thoughts on the matter are hinted at in this wonderful letter.

2. Lot of signatories on the enviro comments. It is nice to see them come out in force to match the long list of signatories on ACWA’s plan. I don’t see them in the meetings much, so it starts to feel one-sided.

3. The enviros go awfully easy on the upstream diverters. In fact, I found no mention of them. Water that never reaches the Delta is also lost flow for Delta fish, you know. The enviros are many of them upstream diverters themselves. It isn’t always the right interpretive lens, but looking at a conflict through the classic top-end/tail-end lens is often illustrative.

Mostly I liked their comments, as would be expected. I liked that they want the DSC to do more than “coordinate state government”. They want it to actually govern water use that touches the Delta. Which seems perfectly appropriate to me. I have a new question for ACWA’s Ag-Urban coalition. Suppose that a different project from within the state bureaucracy took on the project of coordinating and unifying state agencies. If that task were addressed in a credible process, what would you have the Delta Stewardship Committee do with itself?

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Still on hiatus.

I don’t mean to be a tease, so I have to let you know that I still won’t be writing frequently for a while longer. All is well, but I have lots going on.

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A local critique of the Delta Plan.

I loved this article, interviewing two local district managers and listing their critiques of the Delta Plan. It is a great synopsis of the types of comments I’ve heard at DSC meetings (no, I don’t go. I watch online.).

Every single complaint, every last one of their objections, is from a “this might hurt my agency” perspective. That’s fine. They’re doing their jobs as managers of particular agencies. But the thing I want to point out is that the Delta Plan is supposed to achieve the co-equal goals of the State. It is possible for a good Delta Plan to inflict injury on individual agencies and still do more good for the State overall. Further, right now the Delta is in a world of concentrated hurt. It may well be the job of the Delta Stewardship Council to partition that concentrated hurt to water users in various forms all around the state (spreading the costs upstream, for example). I can totally see how any one district could find that the Delta Plan imposes costs on it. But I believe we’re out of the realm of no-cost solutions to the Delta. The current state of the Delta is itself an on-going cost. The DSC should not hold itself to a standard of “imposing no new costs on anyone.” Saying that the Delta Plan imposes a new cost elsewhere does not disqualify the Plan from meeting the co-equal goals.

A quick note on rhetoric:

And they questioned the types of fees that the council would recommend for local water users. For instance, Kampa said the plan is looking at imposing three separate fees for TUD — one for the district’s role as a “stressor” of the system, one for being a “beneficiary” and a “public goods charge” that would help them comply with the plan’s details.

I’m sure that plays well with the locals, but I’ll point out that “stressor pays” and “beneficiary pays” are not separate fees. They’re different ways to apportion the cost of bringing the Delta right.

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Worth mentioning.

The DSC is contemplating a number of ways to fund the Delta Plan. Perhaps they will apportion the costs by “stressor pays” or by “beneficiary pays’. Maybe they will impose a public goods charge that agencies collect and funnel up to the state. I just want to point out that we’re in this boat because our state legislature is utterly dysfunctional.

If our state budgeting rules weren’t so fucked, Democrats in the legislature could pass a majority budget and have a working General Fund. Work on the Delta could be funded from General Fund monies and water agencies wouldn’t have to squabble over the extent to which they’re a stressor or a beneficiary. Instead we have Republican legislators who have abandoned governing, and refuse to pass any budget that increases taxes despite the fact that there are prominent needs.

We wouldn’t be having these conversations about parsing costs out to local agencies if the state’s budget could include new taxes, is what I’m saying. That is the core problem, and we’re spending thousands of hours discussing policy work-arounds. Even in the weeds of those discussions, it is worth remembering where the real problem is located. Ideologue Republicans in the Legislature and rules that let them hold the state hostage are the reason we have to do this shit.

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I like Tim Quinn, so why’s he got to be so emphatically wrong?

Last I saw him, Mr. Quinn was very vehement that any financing in the Delta Plan must be consensual. I can only paraphrase from memory, but I don’t think I am very inaccurate when I report that he said ‘the history of water infrastructure funding has been voluntary and consensual, that switching to a taxation basis that water agencies do not themselves propose would be ahistorical and would cause a revolt the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the Reign of Terror, which revolt would make the Delta Plan impossible to implement because of all the guillotining.’ (OK, I added in the part about the Reign of Terror and the guillotine. But he was very emphatic about the “must be consensual” part.)

First, it is simply not true the the history of water project funding has been “consensual” by the payors. The Central Valley Project, for example, was created to subsidize growers in the Central Valley. Those subsidies are the result of a vote decades ago, but they have fallen into disfavor since. Millions of dollars of annual subsidies are now the default, but it would be hard to say the taxpayers of the nation are now paying those “consensually.” Unconsciously, yes. Consensually, no.

There is an entire class of users of the system that are paying non-consensually, for whom “consensual” isn’t even a meaningful term. So long as the Delta is in collapse, the fish in the system are subsidizing every human user, and they are paying in dozens of ways. They are paying by living in hotter saltier water. They are paying by not having places to live and breed. They are paying by enduring pesticides. They are paying by being pulped in pumps. They are paying. But not in money. Their payment wasn’t and can never be consensual.

Not everyone one who paid for the water projects, local or state, was in favor of them. There has always been a subset of payors that opposed the projects, and were nevertheless included in the general taxation, because that’s how it works. Mark Dubois chained himself to a boulder at the bottom of New Melones to prevent that project, but since it is a Reclamation dam, his federal taxes go in tiny part to operating it. Environmentalists all over the place pay state and federal taxes that support water projects they hate; their contribution is not consensual support of a water project. If water users who love projects now have to pay against their will to restore the environment the projects damage, that is a reversal of the non-consensual situation, but it is not a new phenomenon.

Finally, even if Mr. Quinn’s proposition were true, we aren’t in the era of consensual spending anymore. We are paying for a new type of expenditures, and frankly, they suck. Undoing damage from environmental negative externalities? No one wants to pay those; they want to continue to free-ride. Paying for decades of deferred maintenance? Also blows. Someone else should pay for it. Paying to counteract climate change so that we can keep getting some part of our supplies but not even what we’re used to? Sucks donkey cock. We aren’t buying glamorous gravity-fed aqueducts delivering pure Sierran water anymore. Even if it were true that people paid for that kind of project consensually, we’re doing different things now. Consensual is irrelevant. ACWA’s rhetoric sounds good if you don’t think about it, but it has nothing to do with the things the Delta Plan must achieve.

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