Once more around the bowl, comrades!

In my advanced blogging years, I find that I have no new thoughts.  Worse, when I think that I do have new ideas, I search my blog and find that I wrote them up fully years ago.  My only real hope is that you, my loyal readers, have the memory span of goldfish and don’t mind that I say the same things over and over.  As I react to a few different articles today with my usual thoughts, I’ll link to the post where I discussed them before.

USC wrote about their own conference that included former Governor Schwarzenegger.  My first thought was that Schwarzenegger isn’t in a position to be critiquing anyone else on water policy, since he was utterly craven during the drought on his watch.  Then Schwarzenegger went on to say:

 Our current problem, in my opinion, is not the crisis on water,” said Schwarzenegger, Governor Downey Professor of State and Global Policy at USC. “It is the crisis of vision and commitment to long-term planning. Too often politicians cannot or do not look beyond the current crisis.

This is true.  There is no vision and it means our drought response is crappy.  The vision, so far as I can tell, is: exactly like today for a little longer, only using less water.  A vision would make preferences explicit and I’ve seen no willingness to do that from state level politicians.  I also fault the emergency management framework for responding to drought.  The point of emergency management is to return things to the non-flood, non-fire, non-hurricane default.  That carries over when we use emergency management to respond to drought (make it like a not-drought!).  I would rather the drought were viewed as a transformative agent (use this drought to get East Porterville on a reliable supply or use this drought to get communities to move away from systems based on shallow or fractured rock wells) instead of an emergency to get through before things can go back to normal.


Since I complain about what I would like the State Board to do, I should compliment the parts I like.  The new tiered conservation goals for water agencies are great and I have zero sympathy for the users with large landscaping demands.  No, spoiled communities don’t need additional time to adjust.  If they haven’t been aware of drought since 2006, this kind of shock to the system is just what they need to understand their appropriate response now.

Raising the limit for fines for wasteful use to $10,000/day is also great.  A friend told me of his difficulties getting homeowners in Montecito to conserve water in an earlier drought; his district simply couldn’t raise rates high enough to  “send an economic signal”.  (So he snuck out to the worst offender and put a homemade flow restrictor on his line.  The homeowner responded by purchasing bottled water to water his lawn.)  Fines that high ought to eventually catch even a wealthy homeowner’s attention.


This details in this story illustrate my objections to our current water rights system and to using water markets to re-allocate water.  EBMUD is trying to buy water from Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District and two other northern Sacramento Valley water districts to get through the year.  EBMUD is offering Glenn-Colusa $700/af for water that Glenn-Colusa gets for $17.  Economists are delighted; this is a willing trade that gets water to a higher value use!  I am not delighted.  Why the fuck should farmers in Glenn-Colusa get that money?  They are not better people than people who live in the East Bay. They have not worked harder for that water, nor invested labor that created that water.

Honestly, urban people in California. It is time to vote for an initiative that revises water rights in your favor.  I propose an initiative that creates a commission to come up with a new water rights system that gets put before Californian voters in the next election.


Apparently I will not continue linking to my old posts that say the same thing.  In my advanced blogging years, I no longer have the concentration or follow-through. Here are a couple posts on drought I still like.


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9 responses to “Once more around the bowl, comrades!

  1. Rb

    I’m an EBMUD customer taking navy showers and letting yellow mellow. Not to mention letting my very small lawn die. Brown is the new green, right?

    I don’t mind doing all of this if we’re all chipping in and doing our part, though I hate to lose my orange tree.

    However, if I’m doing all of this so that the Resnicks can continue to clean out the aquifer and, I’m guessing, keep a very green lawn in Beverly Hills, I indeed feel like a second class citizen. In fact, I feel like a sucker.

  2. Morgan

    We recently purchased a 100-year-old house with mature trees and garden (Altadena, north of Pasadena). As far as I can tell we have not a single native plant or tree on the premises. We are experimenting with watering once per week with the existing drip system (twice per week is allowed) and slowly nearly everything is dying off. We would like to keep the Sequoias but may not be able to. People in this community are trying their best to reduce water use through turf removal and putting in gravel and native plants, but we are also acutely aware that people like the Resnicks and others of vast wealth are laughing at us. At a water board meeting the other night, somebody asked the MWD representative if there might come a time when a heavy water user would be denied water, no matter the price. The answer was slow in coming, and somewhat ambiguous. But I think the answer was, reluctantly, “maybe.”

  3. Great blog, I like it and appreciate it. The vision for our water should/must include the water rights re-do. That antiquated system was built for very different conditions, needs and a basic disregard for natural resources. The Public Trust, as a foundational principle for water rights, would far better address social equity, ecosystem services and the potential needs of future generations. We need a Public Trust ethos guiding our water management and a fiduciary accountability to the public.

  4. Mel

    I am a former (and native) Californian, now living in Iowa. It is beautifully green and verdant here due to the frequent spring rainstorms. A friend attended a conference in Palm Springs last week and played golf there. She said that the golf courses are still heavily watered and that fountains were full both at the resort and all over Palm Springs. Of course, she stated that all of the pools at her resort were also full. What’s the story there? Where does Palm Springs get its water?

  5. Glen Wilcox

    is it true that there are still some ag customers (water users) who have no meters for their water?

  6. onthepublicrecord

    Yes, there are still some ag customers who have no meter for their water. Sometimes it is a tricky technical problem to install meters on ag. Say you’re a fairly unmodernized district, unlined canals and maybe you deliver water on rotation (different laterals get filled every other week). Then you’ve got to put a meter on a sometimes dry ditch, nothing solid to attach it to, and probably for some small amount of cheap old water.

    In those cases, the district will maybe try to calculate the water (if the gate is open by two turns, and the water is this much higher than the gate because we’ve got three flashboards in, maybe it is delivering some approximate cfs). Or they put a meter stick in their flumes and the height the water reaches on the stick corresponds to a cfs. If they could prove they are accurate within 5%, that would be OK. But really, they don’t know precisely.

    Those are small, old districts in general. In the short run, it will absolutely not pay for them to meter every field. In the long run, what the fuck? Time to modernize the district, get in some real infrastructure. The solution there is Other People’s Money.

  7. Patricia Schifferle

    Greetings, if you did not see it. There was PBS segment on almond trees. It is worth taking a look if you missed it. I enjoy your blog. Patricia

  8. Steve Bloom

    What program, Patricia? A link would be nice.

  9. onthepublicrecord


    I don’t follow Mr. Rossmann’s logic.

    ANTONIO ROSSMANN, landwater.org: The problem is not that we’re selling them to China and Japan.

    The problem, says Rossmann, is that farmers and investors are planting so many more almond trees.

    ANTONIO ROSSMANN: It’s almost an act of suicide when you see these new plantings now because the water demand actually increases at about five years into the orchard. It’s kind of like a time bomb that’s going to really get worse before it gets better.

    The new middle classes in India and China are the source of demand, and relative to irrigable acreage, an essentially infinite demand. If we were only trying to provide almonds to locals, the market would eventually saturate. But that’ll never happen trying to meet demand in China and India, and that’s a problem.