“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.

Advertisements

10 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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

  1. Christopher Marks

    I shouldn’t be writing this as I don’t have the time to properly get into the nitty gritty at this exact moment, but I guess I was overly excited to find a new post on your blog this morning (I, for one, have missed your sarcasm and wit over the last few weeks), and/or I drank too much coffee just now. But here goes:

    I agree completely that operating from a “tribal” viewpoint, as you call it, solves nothing. Nonetheless, I would prefer to see a dispassionate analysis from you concerning the other points made in the op-ed you reference. These points seem largely valid to me, despite what some anonymous people have written in the comment section of said op-ed (with accompanying ad hominem bullshit invective, nicely done whoever you are). I don’t know anything about this guy, never heard of him, and I understand you were trying to make a specific point, which is extremely well taken, but what about the rest of his argument?

    And while I’m at it, here is something I have been meaning to ask for a long time. At what point, in your opinion, does the “needs of the many (down south) outweighs the needs of the few (up north)” argument become a non sequitur? What I mean is, I would hope that we can all agree that it does NOT make sense to pump every single gallon of water down to SoCal in order to facilitate a population of 150 million or something down there, yes? Sooo, where do you draw the line? Is it reasonable in your opinion for people to demand that this line be drawn sooner rather than later? For example, is it reasonable to demand that SoCal build desalination plants (which I am sure have their own litany of environmental concerns), and just make people pay the true cost of living in an overpopulated region of the desert southwest? I can’t and won’t speak for anyone but myself, but things like a canal would be a lot more palatable if there was some reasonable hope that this imaginary line had been drawn and agreed upon beforehand, so that all parties know what to expect going forward. Right now, it truly looks and smells like a big time water grab, and obviously that is what causes the ruckus (and of course the boondoggle construction aspect of the PC, which I suppose is unavoidable in the current political climate).

  2. Jeff

    Welcome back. I would agree that Mr. Wilson is not making an effective argument, and I also think it is a losing argument for Delta interests.

    This may seem very minor, but a few clarifications about the state benefits on your list for which you suggest the Delta (which is a lot more than the farmers) should be grateful.

    1. The Delta has no state institutions of higher education. The Stockton MSA (which is San Joaquin County, roughly half the Delta) is the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. without a public, 4-year university. I would suggest there is a strong correlation between this and its perennial placement near the top of various economic misery rankings. The area is remarkably underserved by the state, higher education system.

    2. The state transportation system is nothing to crow about in the Delta, and on its current path, the Delta Plan would, by design, increase the risk towards the state highways that do exist by reducing the state’s objectives for the levee system. The Delta plan says PL 84-99 is plenty of protection for state highways (and other infrastructure) but not good enough to protect water exports, even though DWR’s own DRMS analysis shows the economic loss from highways in a catastrophic earthquake are equal to water exports.

    On another state transportation issue, high-speed rail, the state has chosen the Pacheco pass over the Altamont. The Altamont route would be beneficial to the economy of pars of the Delta, and reduce the increasing pressure (and consequences of disruption) on through-Delta transportation corridors. Even though I am not convinced HSR is a good investment, I have wondered whether the Delta Plan should be advocating for an Altamont route (of course, they would probably take the opposite stance, fearful that it could make someone more likely to build a house in Lathrop.).

    3. The state has little to do with the ports, although the federal government has been helpful.

    Your point about emergency response is a good one, as is your general point. My point is just that many state services (education, highways, parks) are poor in the region even by California’s minimal standards, and it should be considered when thinking of the broad economic impacts of the Delta plan.

  3. I’ve read your offering twice and still I’m left scratching my head.
    The last two sentences offer, perhaps, an answer to my consternation.

    “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.”

    You’ve effectively made a mistake as detrimental to a successful outcome as Burt Wilson’s partisan attempt. By attempting to portray Burt Wilson’s opinion as representative of the opinions of all who live in the delta you are painting with way too broad a brush and are belittling those who live here. I have no issue with stipulating that water is owned equally by all who are residents of this state or that they should have equal access to the reasonable and beneficial use of it, but it’s a little hard to reconcile that 80% of all “developed” water is used by agriculture while the majority of the cost is borne by the general public.
    I’m not anti ag, to the contrary, I just don’t believe 99% should be asked to enrich 1%.
    MONEY GOES WHERE WATER FLOWS……..sound familiar ?

  4. Glad you’re back blogging. Couple of random thoughts:

    Last I checked other states also provide a market for the delta’s ag output…. and they don’t have any right to claim my water.
    ————–
    ‘“break us” as in fuel enough political delay that foreseeable bad things happen before political processes can prevent them.’

    You’re dead on about this… but that doesn’t make it right… and suggests (another) reason to change the political processes that have hamstrung this state

  5. Mr. Kurtz

    The divide is more East/West than North/South anyway, at least from a hydrological standpoint. Oddities about California: Our biggest economic and population centers are in poorly watered areas (the coast). Our greatest water demand is in the summer, and the bulk of our supply is delivered in the winter.
    We could move everyone to the High Sierra and Redding, and 86 a lot of agriculture, but I don’t think that would be very wise environmentally. Or economically, since our seaports are so important to our economy.
    My point is that instead of taking this reactionary and parochial view about “Delta” or “Kern County” water, we should thank our lucky stars we *have* water (unlike, say, New Mexico), realize the unique situation that geography has dictated for us, and let markets, engineers, and human ingenuity do what they have generally done very well.

  6. a dispassionate analysis from you concerning the other points made in the op-ed you reference

    His other points seem to be a reprisal of the idea that south-of-Delta interests are after MORE water than they currently get. That’s a widely established fear, and if people don’t trust DWR/the state’s track record, it doesn’t do much good to reiterate that the whole effort would be to make current (and future decreased) supplies more reliable.

    many state services (education, highways, parks) are poor in the region even by California’s minimal standards

    I know. If Howard Jarvis hadn’t broken my state, we could maybe do something about this.

    By attempting to portray Burt Wilson’s opinion as representative of the opinions of all who live in the delta you are painting with way too broad a brush and are belittling those who live here.

    I hope I didn’t do this; I know there are a wide variety of opinions amongst Delta residents.

    a little hard to reconcile that 80% of all “developed” water is used by agriculture while the majority of the cost is borne by the general public.

    Well, yeah, but subsidized water is also the basis for artificially cheap food (especially dairy and meat) which people seem to like. (I don’t, since I’m vegetarian, but I gather the public wants to eat meat more than every now and then as a special treat.) Those subsidies trickle back through the public. But, like I say, it wouldn’t matter one bit to me if they went away, because my diet happens to be veggie and intentionally local. The part that galls me isn’t that subsidizing ag water use keeps food artificially cheap for Californians, it is that some of that water gets packaged into foods that are shipped away, and I don’t see a shadow of a benefit from that. Fuck almonds sent to China, with money only going to the grower. I’d rather have a fuller local creek. But I don’t think many people are interested in that sort of detailed parsing-out of ag water.

  7. Mr. Kurtz

    The amount of subsidized agricultural water and the value of the subsidy itself are greatly exaggerated. By Solyndra standards, the amounts are piddling. In the case of the SWP, it was necessary to entice farmers with low prices in order to get them to sign on as users. If the M&I users had to amortize the entire construction and operations costs for the SWP, their water would have been impossibly expensive. It gets worse when people compare urban water cost to farm delivered water. That’s like comparing the cost of a pile of building material at Lowe’s to a finished house.

    By far the biggest beneficiaries of the giant water projects are the insurance/real estate complex, who have paid nothing for the flood control benefits created by the big dams. In some areas, residents pay levee district assessments, but these are peanuts compared to the capital and M&R costs of the dams. By extension, State and local governments have benefited from the property tax revenues generated from property made valuable by flood protection and/or irrigation water. At this point there is also some safety benefit provided to the general public; but if the dams had not been built, nobody would be so daft as to move to a place like Lake Natomas…or would they?

    LA is no longer looking to the Delta and further north as the source for its future water needs; any bigshot at MWD will tell you this. It may (and ought to) buy some water from farmers south of the Delta, in addition to constructing more off stream and flash-flood storage facilities, as it has been doing.

  8. Chris Gulick

    “subsidized water is also the basis for artificially cheap food”
    True enough, although I would have more money in my pocket to spend on food if I wasn’t being asked to finance the subsidy.
    “Fuck almonds sent to China, with money only going to the grower. I’d rather have a fuller local creek.”
    WELL SAID ! I couldn’t agree more although I would at least add pomegranites and sudan grass to the list.
    What irks me is the B.S. line about “feeding the world”.
    I’d be willing to bet Pom Wonderful isn’t on the menu in Somalia.

  9. Chris Gulick

    “LA is no longer looking to the Delta and further north as the source for its future water needs”
    If you believe that I’ve got a bridge I want to sell you.

  10. Mr. Kurtz

    Chris, examine what MWD has been doing the last ten years or so. They may be interested (as a great many other people are) in making the Delta work in a safer and more environmentally friendly way, so as to assure the long term reliability of the CVP/SWP. But they are not looking to *increase* their supply from that source any longer. Talk to Barry Nelson at NRDC if you don’t believe me. He does not strike me as a bought-off stooge of the Big Water Interests, plotting away to destroy the Little Guy.
    Even a plan like raising Shasta is designed to allow the system to deliver water with less damage to fish and habitat; never a part of the original design criteria. In big wet years, we might be able to capture more water for off stream storage south of the Delta, which to any rational person is preferable to exports during a dry summer, or catastrophic shutdowns that generate lawsuits and hysterical TV shows.
    And yeah, to hell with those furriners, we should sell them nothing. Who cares if they get their farm products from some hell-hole where nobody cares about safety, environmental standards, or much of anything else. Out of sight, out of mind, I say. It’s not One Planet, people, it’s MINE!