Monthly Archives: December 2011

And with that…

I am away until January. Hope your holidays are peaceful and joyous. Have a wonderful New Year.

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Good. Land use and a public goods charge are the real issues.

This is a great story about the Delta Plan; one I’m surprised has taken this long to coalesce. The City of Stockton is exactly right to bring up this objection to the Delta Plan, that it may impose limits on local development. Personally, I think the idea that the state can impose limits on local growth that stresses our water system or imposes new flood risks is a fucking fantastic idea, and only wish the state had started doing that fifty years ago, before the Pocket and Natomas were built out. But yeah, the City of Stockton has accurately sussed out that the Delta Plan would mean a whole new era of tying local land use to water and flood conditions. I wouldn’t have minded if that had slipped by unnoticed but gotten adopted. But I also don’t mind if it is explicitly debated, so go Stockton. So long as the Delta Council holds the line on that (because it makes perfect sense), it is at least a new and interesting facet of this conversation.

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News commentary.

Eh. I couldn’t be bothered by Judge Wanger’s signing on with Westlands. His writing in his decisions showed he’d adopted the buzzwords (and presumably the thought short-cuts) of the pro-westside-ag side of things, so I was just happy that he became an open advocate for them rather than pretending to be a neutral while making important decisions. He’s backed off that now anyways. Whatever.

(No, I didn’t think that hiring on with Westlands showed that he’d been biased all along. They have a long history of buying political clout and talent; I’m not surprised they bid on Wanger. Looked to me like he followed legal ethics. I think his own writing showed he’d become biased, presumably from living in a pro-ag milieu during a very politicized few years, but a lawyer working for the highest bidder doesn’t mean to me that he had always sided with Westlands.)

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I already regret wading into this one more time. I especially regret it because I read the Pacific Institute’s Water International article and thought that Point 1 (that non-productive consumptive use doesn’t get enough attention, although eliminating non-productive consumptive use is pretty much the whole point of drip and sub-surface drip irrigation) was very good. But I thought the gist of Point 3 was pretty unfair (to agricultural water experts). Every serious ag water conservation person I talked to said “We don’t believe there’s anything like the water yield the Pacific Institute proposes, but we believe in ag water conservation because of all the other benefits: energy savings, improved crop yields, decreased entrainment, water quality.” In fact, the fact that most ag water conservation folk didn’t accept the Pacific Institute’s water yield estimates means that they were believers in ag water efficiency for those other reasons.

Mostly, though, it galls to have the Pacific Institute tell us to get past our out-moded emphasis on new water.

But “new” water is not, and should not be, the only measure for evaluating efficiency programs.

DUDE. “New” water was the way the Pacific Institute made their report glamorous. Millions of free acre-feet of new water, that agriculture wouldn’t miss. Now, those are a few years old now, and the controversy over that report may have led them to revise their thinking. But even at the time, I was all, wow, that’s unusual that they’re willing to proclaim about new water. No one does that. So I would just like to say that a vague collection of experienced ag water professionals weren’t the ones bringing up new water from ag water use efficiency, nor are we the people who need to get over it. Now, laypeople whose thoughts on water are entirely shaped by Cadillac Desert could stand to revise that emphasis, so I hope they all read Dr. Glieck’s post in the Chron.

Finally, I do want to say that this whole Pacific Institute v. others feud (to the extent it exists) is dumb. I thought their initial report was overbroad. They suffered some unprofessional attacks, and I suspect (without knowing first hand) that they’ve dug in and attributed the unprofessional attacks to ideology, when actually people without the same ideology could have the same (and different) concerns about the Pacific Institute’s first report. Now I’d say the various sides are moving much closer to each other, which was always the position that there are very good reasons to make ag water efficient, and “new water that could make its way to urban uses” isn’t one of them. From the little I’ve observed, I think the whole thing was hard on a number of people and I wish that weren’t the case. I should do my part by shutting up about it.

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I don’t know what to make of this UC ANR study on “community conversations” in the Delta. On the one hand, I’d agree with a lot of it. On the other hand, so fucking what? My main objection is: even if every word in that report were true as gospel, what could “policymakers” do differently at this point?

People in the Delta feel that they haven’t been “heard” in the political processes around the Peripheral Canal. Dude. They’ve been heard. Their policy preferences are fully understood. They don’t want a Peripheral Canal; they think will divert freshwater that they 1. want to use themselves for agriculture and will 2. change the current freshwater patterns of the Delta. They are afraid their own land may be condemned to become part of the path of the canal, or converted to marsh as part of habitat restoration. The counties are afraid of losing tax revenues. They don’t believe their levees are at great risk of flood nor earthquake, or at least not as much risk as the state says they are. They are afraid their communities will be chipped away, if not entirely displaced. They are afraid of losing their way of life. They think the Peripheral Canal will be an expensive debacle to move water to uses they judge as immoral (houses in the desert or agriculture on selenium-poisoned lands.) Dude. We know. We HEAR them.

But here’s the thing. When advocates say “We aren’t being heard.” what they mean is “we aren’t getting our way politically (because if they could hear the arguments that are emotionally powerful to us, that would necessarily convince them to take our position).” But losing this political fight may continue to be true for Delta residents. Even if every bad prediction that Delta advocates make comes true to its fullest extent, it may still be worth building a Peripheral Canal, for water reliability south of the Delta. (Not a new water grab, but insurance against catastrophic failure of the levee system and disentanglement from the Delta ecosystem.) Advocates don’t want to be “heard” in the abstract. When they say “heard” they mean “given more influence or a veto”. But the Delta, as one (relatively small) player among many other players only has so much. How much influence could be a good conversation*, but then I would like that to be the explicit topic of discussion.

It is possible that a different presenting/facilitation/public engagement style would make Delta residents feel more “heard”. But I also don’t think they’re going to be fooled. This debate, over where the next century’s water should be allocated has genuine winners and losers. I think the losers can tell that their lifestyle is at stake. They may well feel that a different political process genuinely engages them. But even if they knew deep in their souls that every word of theirs struck home and it deeply pained every single member of the Delta Stewardship Council to call for a Peripheral Canal, they would still notice if their property were condemned to make way for a canal. Even if they’re the most “heard” people in the world, that won’t make it any easier for them if the state’s collective needs outweigh theirs.

Finally, I am fully aware that a lot of state meetings suck, and we could do a whole lot to get better at them. But I don’t think “having different kinds of conversations” is going to cure the level of political anger in the Delta. For the one, they have a whole lot at stake and their potential losses will be the same no matter how the matter is negotiated. But more, the State has a lot of ugly backstory and they would be right to approach any new type of meeting structure with suspicion. I do believe they were playing a rigged game during the Schwarzenegger administration. I do believe that people with a lot of political clout were spending a lot on BDCP and drought propaganda to force a Peripheral Canal through. I believe their representatives were shut out of water bond/water bill negotiations. They know they were getting screwed for years. The trust is lost (although maybe the Delta Stewardship Council as a new and transparent entity still has some) and any new process would be rightfully looked on with suspicion. So I don’t know what the state policymakers can do NOW to fix the conversation.

So I didn’t get much from the UC ANR report. Sure, our process is pretty bad. But the problems go way deeper. Honestly, the only new process I hope for these days is an arbitrary, unilateral decision by someone with the authority to force it through.

*i.e.: as the locals, it should be absolute. Or, as a few hundred thousand people among 39 million, it should be proportional to their numbers.

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“SoCal took your water!” The water you made by hand? That you slaved over for weeks?

Burt Wilson writes an op-ed in the Sacramento News and Review that illustrates an attitude that I consider the single worst threat to solving California’s resource conflicts.

“One state, one water!”

…It’s the latest DWR propaganda to get us to believe that Northern California water also belongs to Southern California.”

I interpret Mr. Wilson to be asserting the opposite: that the concept “one state, one water” is self-evidently wrong. I believe his alternate view is that areas of origin have strong claims on water, and that the regions to which we’ve shipped water for decades have no good claim. This belief should be hard to adopt for a Delta partisan; they are not themselves the area of origin of any water, and we’ve recently seen the foothill counties start to get more possessive about water that would eventually run to or through the Delta. It is also possible that Mr. Wilson is more tribally oriented than watershed oriented; there’s a lot of Northern California disdain for Southern California. Perhaps he associates the Delta with Northern California (although I understand that the good citizens of Jefferson don’t ) and by that alignment, doesn’t care what happens to the people of Southern California. The op-ed doesn’t give me enough to figure out precisely which angle he is taking, but I’ll argue against either.

The view that the state isn’t a collective that pools its resources, or at least that a region that has it good in some regard shouldn’t have to share, is nasty, small-minded parochialism shortsighted. Completely aside from the practicality of unilaterally shutting off a good chunk of the water that 25 million people depend on, I wonder how the people of the Delta would feel if the same concept were applied to different collective resources of the State. The Delta doesn’t generate any of the following, and is completely dependent on any of the following state resources:
A market for their agricultural products (39 million eaters for tasty Delta pears).
A system of higher education.
Road or freight transportation out of the region for their crops.
Ports for ocean access for their crops.
Tourists.
Emergency response capacity (they have some of this, but not enough in a flood)

These things aren’t as tangible as water, but they are entirely parallel – a resource provided by some parts of California (even evil Southern California!) that isn’t locally generated in the Delta. It is exactly as stupid to say “propaganda to get us to believe that Northern California water also belongs to Southern California” as it is to say “propaganda to get us to believe that Southern California food markets should also be open to Northern California farmers.”

We live in one political entity. Regions taking an “I got mine” and “Devil take the hindmost” attitude is going to break us. Not in the way they might enjoy thinking of, as in, we peacefully dissolve into separate regions. But “break us” as in fuel enough political delay that foreseeable bad things happen before political processes can prevent them. Tribe-based squabbling (and north versus south is only one angle; there are other possible alignments, like mountain counties getting possessive about additional water.) could well hold up the Delta Plan past the day when a big flood knocks out a bunch of islands. On that day, Southern California may find that depending on complex plumbing four hundred miles away isn’t a good strategy for Southern California. But Burt Wilson and the Delta will find out far more acutely that their own counties cannot provide all the emergency evacuation, food and shelter they will need. That day, they’ll believe in a collective State and using resources that come from elsewhere.

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