Monthly Archives: January 2016

Reax: CAWater2.0, Gov. Brown’s statement, National Review Online


I watched most of ACWA/DWR’s CAWater2.0 conference yesterday.  They were presenting the updated Governor’s Water Action Plan and pimping new Delta conveyance.  I found the event… old.  It just looked old.  The speakers were invariably my seniors.  They were relentlessly white, nearly all men.  Even the name, CAWater2.0, feels old.  Windows2.0 came out in 1987.  It is no longer a hip reference to tag a numbered reference to a name, but the Olds might think it is.

It made me think.  The Peripheral Canal was voted down in 1982.  My sense is that the possibility of the Peripheral Canal has largely paralyzed California water policy since then (with the possible exception of IRWM).  If the Peripheral Canal had been entirely off the table, the regions would have adapted by now, gone ahead with storm and wastewater reuse or turf removal or whatever needed to happen.  If it had been built, whatever would have become of the Delta would already have happened.  Being in limbo has meant that we never got serious about living without it or adjusted to having it.  The gentlemen at that conference have spent their professional lives on trying to make it happen, at the opportunity cost of whatever else they could have achieved.

Governor Brown’s Statement

I wish I knew whether Governor Brown’s opening statement was prepared or extemporaneous.  Two things stood out to me.  First was this paragraph:

We have two very different perspectives. One is, there is no nature, don’t worry about other species, we’re king, just full speed ahead and just exploit to the max. The other side, I’m characterizing but only somewhat, is let all go, we’ve screwed it all up, let’s let it go back to nature, we don’t need any of these projects. Of course if you did that, tens of millions of people couldn’t continue to be here in California.

There is middle ground.  Much of the land farmed by the State Water Contractors is resource extraction by the 1%.  It doesn’t support farm towns; it delivers additional rents to urban billionaires; these days it is largely in tree nuts exports.  It is what you drive by on the 5.  We have about nine million irrigated acres in the state these days.  If we farmed closer to five or six million acres, we’d still farm the Sac Valley, the Friant, northeastern San Joaquin Valley, the coastal valleys and Imperial.  That’s a lot of farmed acreage.  Retiring 3 million irrigated acres would release about 9 MAF back to the environment.  That’d be a noticeable chunk to return to rivers.

The other thing I noticed was this:

I would say most people in Santa Clara don’t know that more than 40% of their water comes from the Delta, and if that thing goes because of climate change or earthquake, with massive sea water intrusion … {my emphasis}

Governor Brown’s frustration with the Delta advocates is on the surface these days, so this doesn’t reveal any secrets.  But Governor Brown referring to the Delta as “that thing” signals to me that his association with the Delta is more like ‘nearly broken machinery’ than ‘a special and unique place’.  That’s fine; consistent with his policies.  But I raised my eyebrows when I got to that phrase.

National Review Online

The National Review online is real conservative, so I knew what to expect going in.  The premise of the piece, that allocating water to fish is a bad tradeoff for farmed acreage was as expected.  I found the piece very readable and enjoyed a tone that celebrated the industrialized side of farming.  I read a lot of hippie stuff, so it was an interesting change to hear machinery, technology and control praised. I particularly noticed these paragraphs:

Uncertainty is the new normal,” CEO John Harris sighs from the driver’s seat, his smile disappearing. “This is no way to run anything.”

Harris tools the car around untouched pastures, and I am told at length about the Water Troubles. “Without water, we can’t work,” Bourdeau laments from the backseat. “It’s not healthy. We’ll do what we can. We’ll grow what we can grow where we can grow it. But without knowing how much water we’re going to get, it’s so difficult to plan!” A pistachio tree, for example, takes five to seven years to grow. “How can we plant one now if we can’t guarantee we can water it in a couple of years?” Bourdeau asks.

That the drought is making planning all but impossible is a refrain I hear all across the region — both from the established farmers who are desperate to draw this year’s crop map and from the wannabe planters who cannot secure the loans they need to start up on their own. One aspiring rancher tells me that he is thinking of selling his land and moving out. “I wouldn’t lend me the money I need to plant,” he gripes, honestly. “I’m stuck, I guess. I can’t plant. But who will buy my land?”

One way to provide that certainty would be to zone the SJV into regions that get water all the time (the eastside, permanent crops and row crops), sometimes (along the east-west rivers, row crops), and only-in-very-wet years.  Farmers would have far more certainty then, as would lenders.

Although the aspiring rancher probably doesn’t appreciate my concern, I did warn my farming readers to sell in the last drought.  He’d have done very well had he been a reader and followed my advice.


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Hello, new readers.  Thank you for your attention and visits.  I am always grateful to have readers; I hope you also comment.  (Hello, readers who’ve been with me all along.  Dude, we got blog-famous.)

This is not an easy blog to read.  Over time, I have found that I have only one writing voice.  My attempts at anything more basic or gentler just languish in the Drafts section.  For the same reason, I don’t explain background.  If this is not your field, you can find background at Maven’s Notebook, the California Water Blog, or the Water Education Foundation.   Also, I trust you to get jokes without highlighting or explaining them. You can always write me to ask about anything that sounds off or that I left unclear.  One of my primary goals for my writing is to be clear enough that the reader knows precisely why and where she disagrees (if she does).  If I’ve missed that goal, I want to know.

There are a whole lot of archives in the archives. This piece captures a lot of my philosophy.  Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about drought, about paying for damages caused by subsidence, about the new groundwater agencies and griping about water markets.  OK, I’ve been griping about water markets for years.  Every now and then someone will write something very rich, and I’ll be able to do a whole series.

Of all of my posts, I probably like this one best.  I was so angry.  It was near the end of the last drought and the commander at Lemoore Naval Air Station got on the news in uniform, talking about how the ESA protections for smelt needed to be voided immediately, so his base could get water for homeland security reasons.  It is an obscure post that digs into online resources and calls out a weak argument; it lays on the righteousness real thick.  That sums up the blog well, I’d say.


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Faux Latino grassroots groups; paying subsidence damages.

I very much enjoyed this New York Times story on how Westlands Water District is funding faux Latino grassroots groups to advocate for breaking environmental laws to deliver more water to their huge farms.  I had two main thoughts about the story:

  1.  No mention of Schwarzenegger and the Latino Water Coalition?  They were the first to try this strategy in the last drought, also paid for by west side agricultural groups.
  2. I am more and more convinced that the truly sharp political players in this game are not Westlands with their traceable lobbying funds and visible attempts at political power.  More and more I respect the districts immediately south of them, some of whom I had never heard of until I actively started searching for them.  Now those people know how to keep their heads down and grow tree nuts.  Everytime one of the owners of Dudley Ridge WD sees Westlands in the news, he must think, “Pikers.”


I am pleased to see the issue of paying for infrastructure damage caused by subsidence come up in new venues.  I was appalled by one of the suggestions for how it will get paid for:

Should these costs be assessed by difficult lawsuits under tort law, left to an arrangement under the basin plans required under the new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, suffered by canal owners or flood victims (Ronald Coase lives!), or paid for by the public under some future water bond?  And who should be responsible for pursuing these remedies?  These seem to be the most relevant points of state policy to resolve while we avoid panic that the Earth is falling.

[emphasis added]

By bond measure?  That’s horrible.  The only thing that could be less fair to 99% of Californians than paying for these damages out of the general fund is making future Californians pay for these damages (plus interest) out of the general fund.  Future Californians deserve to pay for the externalities of today’s growers even less than almost all current Californians deserve to pay for them.

URGENT UPDATE (1/9):  A source points out that a former front site for a fake grassroots organization, now has lovely pictures of horsies  (warning, music autoplay).  Those are some nice looking horses, so the world is a better place.


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