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.)


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.


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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9 responses to “News commentary.

  1. Marcus

    “‘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.'”

    Are there really energy savings though? I had seen a presentation by a state agency (the particular one escapes me now, but I can find out), saying that energy use is likely to *increase* if ag water efficiency programs are put into place. They were doing a study to determine energy use how water efficiency measures would affect state-wide ag energy use, if I recall correctly, and this was a somewhat surprising result. The reason is that much of current water-inefficient irrigation is furrow (gravity fed) irrigation, so switching to higher-efficiency sprinkler or drip irrigation will increase energy use due to the pumping required.

    Minor point in the scheme of your post, but the presentation I saw pointed out that this is a widespread misconception when applied to ag irrigation, versus urban water use, where efficiency would indeed reduce energy use.

  2. You know, you’re right. In urban water use, there’s a ton of embedded energy, so using less water means using less energy. But you’re right. In ag water use, changing technologies to a pressurized system may be create a new energy demand. But, if it reduced the use of water that has been moved from far away and pumped through the projects, you could be looking at a savings.

    You are right, though. I was typing too fast. Ag water efficiency doesn’t necessarily mean a reduction in energy use. Good eye.

  3. Marcus

    I think it’s a subtlety that gets overlooked by many, including by ag efficiency proponents like the Pacific Institute, who may glaze over it because it’s not a win-win situation to save ag irrigation water like it is in urban water conservation.

  4. Jeff

    The problem with your last section is that it seems to be premised on a belief that there is an overwhelming state interest that outweighs the Delta concerns. That is an unproven assertion. There is a way to prove that assertion that would actually make some of the opposition go away, or at least accept the outcome is in the state’s interest and not a power play by special interests.

    It’s called cost-benefit analysis and the state is avoiding it and the Delta is asking for it. Of course, something very close was done, DRMS phase 2, and it doesn’t make a very convincing case at all.

  5. Yes, my argument hinges on the belief that there is an overwhelming state interest in a Peripheral Canal that outweighs Delta concerns. I base this only on placing a very high value on reliability of urban water to SoCal. But I might be wrong, and would love to see a full cost-benefit analysis of a Peripheral Canal.

  6. Juliet Christian-Smith

    Dear onthepublicrecord-person, I have enjoyed reading your posts over the last few years whether I agree with them or not. Yet, reading your last entry about the Institute, I felt it was finally time to weigh in. As someone who actually works there, I can tell you the Institute’s new article in Water International ( is not about getting even but it is about getting some clarity around issues that really seem to confuse people. Because they are confusing. We thought it would be useful to be specific about how our conceptions of water use and water use efficiency are similar and different from more dominant approaches, and we boiled it down to these 3 main differences:
    1) non-productive consumptive uses are important and we should put a little more time and thought into figuring out what they are and where they are,
    2) it’s not just how much water we use but what we GET out of it – productivity – so if more people or businesses are able to use the same amount of water: YAY! or if more crops are produced with the same amount of water: YAY! We haven’t increased water use but we have increased the productivity of existing uses and that can be a very good thing particularly if you’ve got some issues around water scarcity,
    3) there are a variety of other cool things related to increased water productivity, perhaps increased water quality, perhaps decreased energy use (this depends on the embedded energy of the existing water source, as we have acknowledged many times), perhaps increased stream flows, perhaps delayed or avoided infrastructure costs, perhaps better product quality. And here, I’m going to disagree with you, the issue of co-benefits may be given plenty of lip-service by the “ag experts” that you spoke with but it does not come into the equations, measurements, or monitoring efforts of traditional agricultural water-use efficiency studies. It may be considered a good thing but is most often externalized from the actual analysis. And that is what we, along with a broad coalition of interests (, hope to change. You can check out a publication that we co-authored with the Farm Bureau and many others about water stewardship and co-benefits here:
    Finally, I would like to thank you for your concern. That is really very nice (I am not being sarcastic, just in case this does not translate over the interwebs). Alas, I think it is mis-placed. Perhaps when and if you reveal your true identity, we can have a conversation about the Institute and our work, which I would welcome completely on the record.

  7. Juliet Christian-Smith

    DUDE, I cannot believe I didn’t plug our new case studies about agricultural water stewardship and co-benefits: DOH!

  8. Chris Gulick

    Dude, Are you done commenting on “SoCal took your water!” or was my opinion as an “in Delta” interest of no particular value to you and not worthy of response ?
    My comment there could easily be applied here.
    I agree with much of what you say, but your approach is way to parochial.

  9. I’ll see if I can get to your comment, Chris. There were a lot of good comments in that batch.