This was the shocking part of the water rights transformation process. Not the unbundling, not the accounts, not the governing boards. Within some boundary (watershed? basin? district? river reach?), this plan standardizes and sets the terms for all water transfers. Once established and the plan is adopted, there should be no legal means to appeal any transfer that follows those terms by any third party.
I had my usual flurry of thoughts about any Australian policy proposal. First came my standard “motherfuckers with their usual unscaleable bullshit, fucking single-basin, one-river, six-district fuckers, bothering me with their stupid fucking plans for some tiny-ass, no-groundwater, no takings-law hick state.” How could we possibly write the intra-basin sharing plans? The trans-basin sharing plans? How many? How could we possibly reduce the geographic and hydrologic variety of California to a standardized set of exchange formulas? But then I figured that we could take some time to write plans for smaller basins, even if we can’t cover the entire state with one plan. So I calmed down and had a new thought, which was “motherfuckers who apparently have no fucking activists, come tell me to get them all to agree on one formula for one place but they can’t sue after and how does that fucking work?” Because that’s a neat trick, if you can work it.
In essence, a water resource sharing plan sets out the rules for determining how much water needs to be set aside to provide for base flows, transfer to other systems, and allocations to shareholders. Plans also stipulate how this water may be used and how flows should be managed to take account of environmental needs, facilitate recreation, maintain water quality, and provide other types of public goods. If these plans are made statutory or are prepared under pre-existing executive authority, the opportunity for a third party to legally challenge them is limited.
Then there’s a nice example about standardizing exchange rates (which are the quantification of environmental and third-party effects) down to a coefficient. There’s not much detail about who, specifically, writes the water resource sharing plans, nor whether that is a collaborative local process. Now I like a technocratic imposition of rules and regs as much as the next bureaucratic would-be dictator, but it is increasingly hard to pull that off these days.
You know, the State of California isn’t stupid, and the State of California has wanted to “facilitate water transfers” ever since the 1992 Drought Water Bank. Oh god, does the State of California want to “facilitate water transfers”. Possibly the only thing the State of California wants to do more than “facilitate water transfers” is “streamline water transfers“. This schema, with these water resource sharing plans? They REALLY streamline water transfers. No outside appeal. All transfers covered by a plan have standardized, quantified exchange rules.
California has tried to do this for two decades. The water transfer programs have tried to write one programmatic EIR, so that if you can transfer water within their guidelines, the programmatic EIR will cover the transfer instead of requiring the buyers and sellers to do an independent EIR. CALFED tried in the 2000s. Every administration has tried. The effort never goes anywhere; it has never been able to cover the range and variety of transfers. It always founders. Looking at how much the water resource sharing plans exclude third parties and flatten out complexity, I begin to appreciate how strong and coarse-grained a Californian effort would have to be. This strikes me as the piece of the process that would be hardest to duplicate. Not the new infrastructure, not converting the rights. This is the piece that seems like the greatest change.
ADDED 10/12: This is a good explanation of the current analysis every cross-Delta water transfer must go through. The proposed water resource sharing plan would replace that transfer-by-transfer analysis.