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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