Thank you, ACWA. This summary of the head of the Drought Task Force’s testimony at yesterday’s Delta Stewardship Council is exactly what I needed. It is admirably thorough, and sets me up with the straight line I would have scripted if possible. The title of the ACWA post is: Unprecedented drought could bring unprecedented actions, officials say. That title applied to yesterday’s testimony reminded me of one of Chris Clarke’s complaints about Burning Man:
Faced with one of the last truly wild landscapes left in the US, their response is to build a city. This is not creativity: it is dreadful, dull conformity. Finding one of the last sublime remnants of the unpopulated West, they want nothing more than to pack it with tender urbanites in a glorified tailgate party. This is not an alternative way of life: it is standard American operating procedure.
What the drought director said yesterday is utterly, straight-down-the-line, conventional thinking for the State agencies. There is nothing “unprecedented” about the State’s drought actions. He pretty much distilled standard operating procedure with every statement.
Before I go on to demonstrate this, I should state some qualifiers. First, this is the State’s dude, implementing the State’s plan. If his own thought parallels State thinking, the administration got the right person for the job. My second set of doubts is that I don’t entirely know how the conventional State approach came to be such weak sauce. I don’t like writing to you with less than complete certainty, so it is only fair to tell you my doubts. There may be good reason that I don’t understand for this mish-mash, goal-less approach.
Maybe, the State is still at the far end of the pendulum swing from building single-purpose big concrete projects. Because this generation of civil servants witnessed the side-effects of big-ass concrete and water supply uber alles, we are still in a countercycle where everything, all projects and purposes must be gently nudged forward simultaneously. Maybe, with more
years wisdom experience than I have, senior civil servants have developed learned helplessness seen that goals that get ahead of the public simply do not get done; instead they push incremental gains. Maybe they are playing a longer game than I currently understand and know that in the long run, we will advance further with namby-pamby piddly measures by muddling through, Lindblom-style. Maybe the advocacy against a strong State role for directing water policy is so strong and mean that all the State will ever publicly talk about is doing a study, offering money, offering contingent money or dicking around with other State agencies. Wait, that’s not a good reason for a mish-mash goal-less approach. But I am not completely sure that my swashbuckling extremes are actually the most effective in the long run. Part of me wonders if maybe the senior folks in the State agencies have the right of it. But with that difficult admission out of the way, I can now write a post about why every last word I heard yesterday was utterly, completely precedented.