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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14 responses to “Reax: CAWater2.0, Gov. Brown’s statement, National Review Online

  1. you’re a hoot. I’ve been living this s*** for 59 years – 59, I kid you not. And you are the best, the most clear-headed commentator on this arcane poop of anyone I’ve ever encountered. I’ll try to provide you more substantive replies with elucidating content for your use but for the moment just know that you’re a breath of fresh air in what is a suffocatingly obscure – and enormously important – public conversation-that-needs-to-happen. Bill Kier

  2. Excellent opening two paragraphs, it is indeed time to rethink the wisdom of replumbing the Delta just to “make the desert bloom”. Let’s wean SoCal off of State water and develop our own local sources of water as we have done in Oxnard with our Advanced Water Purification Facility. There is plenty of “free” H2O between storm water and recycling to fulfill our needs. We say now to the water-stealing engineering descendants of Mulholland; enough is enough. We have fought nature for too long. We do live in a desert, for goodness sake!

  3. jrfleck

    That’s a super insight about the opportunity costs of not accepting the 1982 decision. I’d flip your description of the vote from passive to active voice: “Californians voted down the Peripheral Canal in 1982.” That makes clear the tension at the heart of the thing.

  4. I second Bill Kier’s comment (although I cannot match his 59 years involvement in this nonsense). And John Fleck makes a good point, but MWD never accepted the loss at the ballot box in 1982, or if they did then, times have changed. To MWD’s credit after the 1986-1992 drought MWD got serious about creating storage. This is not widely appreciated. But now their problem is water quality. Because their Colorado River water is so salty, they need the best possible water for blending. And that is not the swill in the South Delta but Sacramento River water in the North Delta, to which they have no entitlement at all. That is what is driving the Water Fix, along with a little bit of Westlands frustration that they can’t fill San Luis every year (on which there was never any guarantee) and the red herring about the Livermore and Santa Clara Valleys. The Governor may be a cranky old man but he is still very shrewd politically, which is why he now seems to be focusing on sucking up to the business interests in these valleys. Those valleys actually have three things in common. 1. Both Zone 7 and the Santa Clara Valley Water district have particularly inept management. 2. Neither has done anything about adding storage in the same way that MWD has. 3. They both manage groundwater as well as municipal water supply and have done nothing about using their groundwater reserves to help get them through droughts (and don’t start on how this would cause ground settlement in San Jose because that has already occurred and as long as the past maximum stresses in the clayey soils are not exceeded, the response is now essentially elastic – believe me, I have a Ph.D. in geotechnical engineering which is the relevant discipline). What Zone 7 and the SCVWD need is interties with adjacent systems like the Contra Costa Water District and East Bay MUD who have done something about additional storage and sources of supply. That should come at a price to customers of Zone 7 and the SCVWD but that price would likely be no great than participating in planning and construction of The Fix. Their contributions to the $250 million of studies to date have of course already gone mostly down the drain. But even worse, it is reported that the SCVWD has rejected approaches from the CCWD to talk about an intertie because “we can’t be seen as doing anything that would undercut the Governor and the Water Fix”! So, talk about the blind leading the blind. The Governor thinks that Zone 7 and the SCVWD need The Fix because they are too afraid to tell him the truth, and the more he pushes The Fix, the more they are locked into it. And, by the way, The Fix does little or nothing to solve their problems! Read the comments on the REIR from Contra Costa County and the CCWD. Westlands, Zone 7 and the SCVWD in reality get little or nothing from their unwavering support for the Governor. The only real benefit is improved water quality for the MWD. Certainly the Delta is not “saved” and the trade-off between a viable salmon fishery and nuts for export is not resolved.

  5. Curt Sanders

    Vlad the Impaler, wonderful stuff Baby! Yes mam..The current top priority in CA water management to me is reigning in the CA nut conglomerates. Am I wrong? I mean, CA should at least stop all Permits for new wells in the SJV..? Subsidence going big time.. As the CA aquifer system in SJV gets drained at a completely unsustainable rate..a large portion of the SJV’s 1100 well permits for 2014 are going to be super wells. 1500 to 2000 ft deep with big turbines on the bottom that pull 2400 gals a min! Some of this water is 10,000 yrs old, some 20,000 yrs old. This is national treasure not a resource to be exploited by the Nut Conglomerates…Some of the purest most pristine water in all the U.S. The insanity got to stop. Dr Famiglietti says at the current rate of CA aquifer depletion we could have as little 5yrs and its essentially empty…All CA. water wells have to got be regulated and new well permits should be prohibited for CA Nut farmers…especially the SJV

    • Curt Sanders

      Correction: the 1100 new water well permits mentioned above were for Tulare county only..the other 6 SJV counties 2014 water well permits were NOT added…can you say water shortage disaster…coming to a theater near you? in the next 2 to 3 or decades?
      NASA in conjunction with Columbia and Colgate released a study in Feb of 2015. Bottom line with the current levels of carbon released into the atomosphere by 2050 there will be an 80% chance of a 30yr. drought for the West, (CA.. ) Yes, 80% probability….Massive droughts are not that uncommon in the Paleo Climatology of the Western U.S. Just look at the Anastazi’s…and Hohokams…a 100 yr drought terminated those cultures…
      Gov Brown has got to get serious about Much Better water management…

  6. It appears that California’s “water troubles” are not just about water. It is about trees; acres and acres of nut trees that are grown for the export market. This extravagant orchard production leads us right to the door of the corporate 1%. It is a mystery to me why any governor would waste California’s most precious asset on corporate farming south of the Delta in a natural desert?

  7. Keep them coming. I really enjoy your writing.

    Sent from my Fire

  8. Have you read Let There Be Water, Seth M. Siegel and if so, what is your impression?

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

  9. Carolee Krieger

    Chris, I have come to a very similar conclusion after my many years of involvement in California water issues. I believe that the ONLY way to get real solutions is to force a surface water adjudication of the Delta watershed coupled with a Public Trust Valuation like the one done for Mono Lake. You cannot manage what you don’t measure! That is the main focus of C-WIN. We are working very hard to stop the tunnels and this is part of that effort.

    Thanks for all your good work.


  10. Carolee Krieger

    So sorry…just realized this wasn’t Maven…but our anonymous blogger…what I say still holds though…thanks for your great work.


    From: Carolee Krieger [] Sent: Sunday, January 17, 2016 7:33 AM To: ‘On the public record’ Subject: RE: [New post] Reax: CAWater2.0, Gov. Brown’s statement, National Review Online

    Chris, I have come to a very similar conclusion after my many years of involvement in California water issues. I believe that the ONLY way to get real solutions is to force a surface water adjudication of the Delta watershed coupled with a Public Trust Valuation like the one done for Mono Lake. You cannot manage what you don’t measure! That is the main focus of C-WIN. We are working very hard to stop the tunnels and this is part of that effort.

    Thanks for all your good work.


    • Dick Allen

      Carolle, thanks for your comments. Love C-Win.

      BTW, ref… “I believe that the ONLY way to get real solutions is to force a surface water adjudication of the Delta watershed coupled with a Public Trust Valuation like the one done for Mono Lake.”

      This is how we saved (restored) Lake Merced and the Westside Basin Aquifer in San Francisco. California Trout came to our rescue.

      Dick Allen
      Protect Our Water
      San Francisco

    • Curt Sanders

      Yes Dick the larger the alliance the greater the odds of success. The League to Save Mono Lake had the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the U.S. Forrest Service and Calif Trout. The more the merrier. We have to tap more social media more effectively are my thoughts. Faccbook, Twitter, ect.