Today I got an invitation to “the most provocative water conference” of the spring. I nearly died of boredom just reading the speaker list. We keep hearing the same fifteen voices and they keep saying measured things that have a chance of making incremental progress. I bet the range of debate at the “most provocative water conference” of the spring is whether the State should spend lots of money building storage and give out only a little money for integrated water management, or spend a little money building storage and give out a lot of money for integrated water management. I used to mind that I am a low level bureaucrat that doesn’t get sent to conferences, but I haven’t heard an interesting thing at a conference in years. Even the crazies from the public are predictable, since I can read them in newspaper comments (not you, my treasured readers! Never you.).
I should say that I have a lot of respect for the speakers on the regular circuit. They are a conference organizer’s dream. They show up with their presentations clean and ready; they can speak for whatever length of time is needed. They speak clearly and can answer anything. That said, they are pros. They represent an administration or an organization and they are not going to be questioned into saying anything unscripted or controversial. If you heard them at the last conference, you can make an excellent guess at what they’ll say at the next conference. It will not be provocative. The range of public water discourse is very narrow; it is all incremental change from how we do things now.
Here are some provocative ideas that will not be explored at this conference:
- Urban water users will not change their behavior to conserve water. They may use less water if they can do so passively, as by switching fixtures. But even in a drought, only people who are already ideologically motivated will inconvenience themselves to conserve water. People will need the motivation of high bills to change behaviors.
- Groundwater users should pay for the damage subsidence has caused to public infrastructure. Once the cost of repairs has been determined, they should be assessed proportionally, by overlying acreage.
- If the goal is drought resilience, we could use money instead of water to keep farm communities intact until a wet year. If it is important that farm workers in Mendota live decent lives during droughts, we don’t have to find non-existent water for their employers’ farms. We could just hand the farm workers fat checks. Similarly, if it is important that no farmers go out of business during a drought, we could pay them to be there in the next wet year even if they grow nothing rather than having them live off the profit from a crop. (This doesn’t work for permanent crops.)
- Water is a public resource whose uses are properly decided by the State, not by “the market”. It is proper for the State to decide that it would rather a public resource be used to grow staples for its population than luxury crops that maximize individual farmer profit.
I have to go, but as I think of more concepts that would make conferences actually interesting, I’ll add to the list.