Actually, that rhetoric could have been very productive.

Interesting interview with Felicia Marcus in the L. A. Times today.  I should say some things up front.  She has done an amazing job over the past two years, and it must have been completely all-absorbing.  She has the right temperament for the leadership she did.  I have wondered how she has threaded the needle between conflicting demands and the Brown administration’s focus.  I am very, very impressed with her.

All that said, this is some bullshit false enlightenment that pretends that we can get through this drought with no losers:

“I worry about how those tensions exacerbate nonproductive rhetoric that pits urban versus agriculture, or fish versus farmers, or fish versus people. Or picking on a given crop when what we really need to be doing is embracing an all-of-the-above strategy so we can all get better together, rather than wasting time vilifying a number of very legitimate needs.”

My main objections to this approach is that it sacrifices some real leverage and it perpetuates existing inequities.

Mr. Arax describes the problem in Fairmead, California.  In Fairmead:

…the way it went dry is that one day last June, Annie Cooper was looking outside her kitchen window at another orchard of nuts going into the ground. This one was being planted right across the street. Before the trees even arrived, the big grower — no one from around here seems to know his name — turned on the pump to test his new deep well, and it was at that precise moment, Annie says, when the water in his plowed field gushed like flood time, that the Coopers’ house went dry.

The choices are that 1,450 residents of Fairmead can have no domestic water, or one big grower can have no agricultural water.  That is very powerful leverage; the unhappiness of having no water could be diminished by (1,449/1,450)%.  To do that, though, means making a judgment call about what water use is  more important, and the “all get better together” strategy refuses to do that.  Further, refusing to make a judgment call leaves existing inequities in place.  In Fairmead, poor people’s water was sucked away from them by someone with the wealth to install new orchards and dig a deeper well.  In practice, refusing to target anyone or any water use fucks the poor.  Again.

On a more diffuse level, the entire urban water conservation efforts of the state last year came out to 1.1MAF.  Nearly thirty-nine million people worked to achieve that on a near daily basis.  That is a cognitive load on all those people.  Not a huge one, but it is a small constant burden for nearly every Californian.  Urban trees took a substantial hit.  For the same 1.1MAF of relief on Californian developed water demands, we could fallow 350,000 acres of land, or 4% of the 9 million irrigated acres in California (in addition to the 7ish% of land that was fallowed).  Selectively fallowing land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley would minimize owners and farm workers hurt by that policy.  If we wanted, because they have feelings too,  we could compensate them with fat stacks of cash.  “Nonproductive rhetoric” about who is intensely using water is only nonproductive because the Brown administration didn’t choose to look for leverage to minimize misery during the drought.

A few more thoughts, less well organized:

“embracing an all-of-the-above strategy so we can all get better together” is a fantastic example of State policy hamstringing itself by being unwilling to choose winners or losers.  In practice, this is the same as picking that the current losers, the poor, remain losers.


I found this quote from Marcus somewhat frustrating:

“I worry that we are going to be in another year of drought. I am worried about those communities, particularly small rural communities in the Central Valley, that are out of water and need a respite from that.…

She and her Board could prevent a fair portion of that.  They could declare it is not reasonable to irrigate orchards with water directly sucked away from domestic wells.  It is in her power to resolve this worry of hers.


“…rather than wasting time vilifying a number of very legitimate needs.”

It is my time, and I’ll waste it as I choose.  Not everyone has the inner wherewithal to contemplate Spinoza like this champion.



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8 responses to “Actually, that rhetoric could have been very productive.

  1. Jim Hughes

    And that 1.1.MAF is about 1% of all the collectable water. It is obviously politics that have forced the urban folks to suffer so that they will agreed to any proposed ‘fix’. The ‘fish’ will still get their 50% of the water, and Ag will continue to suffer along with the dried up rural communities. ref:
    I live in the foothills, where there are about 2 million of us CA folks who rely on a private wells for all of our water. We are very careful in our water use, and monitor our well’s capacity to meet our needs. My well flows 10 gpm, but I have no idea of the amount of water stored ? Every year we pray for enough rain to recharge our well fracture zones.

  2. shirley enomoto

    the least you could have done is give mark arax credit for the cooper story and put that paragraph in quotes.

    shirley enomoto
    san francisco chronicle reader

    Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2016 05:00:27 +0000

    • onthepublicrecord

      Oh, I see what you mean. I did link to the story (click on Fairmead) and put the quoted material in blockquote (indented, grey background color). I think that’s pretty standard blog style. But I am always happy to cite Mr. Arax, and would be happy to add his name.

  3. diane Livia

    Even Ms. Marcus can’t go directly up against Jerry Brown and the likes of Stuart Resnick and Dianne Feinstein. But the rest of can!

  4. Noel Park

    I truly honor what you are doing here, but I find it difficult to comment because I feel such a sense of impending doom the I know how negative I will sound. But I think it’s important to try.

    I am a suburban dweller, and have done all I can to save water. I ripped out my lawns and put in native plants which get watered by hand twice a month in the summer. I don’t flush the toilet every time and I turn off the water while I soap up in the shower. All the time I know that the water I save in a year is probably less than what gets used by Westlands in one nanosecond. But I figure that, when disaster finally comes, I will have done my best. And I do send a check to the NRDC every month.

    I think that there is an utter lack of effective leadership one these issues at any political level including, but not limited to, Gov. Brown and Ms. “all get better together” Marcus.

    I’m just getting warmed up here, but I will give you a break and end by directing your attention to the Bizzaro comic strip in yesterday’s papers. It is a scene of lush green foliage, contemporary animals, and a bearded Man, evidently Adam. In the foreground is the skull of a dinosaur. A voice from the clouds says:

    “Those things lasted 165 million years before they made me mad enough to kill them off. Let’s see how well you guys do.”

    • onthepublicrecord

      I am not yet pessimistic because I’ve never thought that we’d see any important reform before Year 6. As it happens, Year 6 will be one year after the Peripheral Canal question is settled, so maybe that will free up some policy space besides “what we have now, for a few more years please”. It’ll also be the start of a new administration, since the Brown administration hasn’t shown any willingness to think about water differently. Anyway, two years to go.

      (Would-be governors! Email me. I’ll write your water policy for you! It will not be painfully bland!)

  5. Curt Sanders

    Gov B has certainly taken a down grade in my estimation. His water boards continued impotence In the Central Valley as well as his Pro Buss Coastal Commission appointees firing of an excellent Coastal commissioner… Jerry you and yours have earned an ‘F’ as Responsible representatives of the people.. You did earn an ‘A+’ in advocating for the Black Cavalry of Commerce…

  6. Noel Park

    Thanks for your encouragement, but it still all looks pretty scary to me. If the growers/irrigation districts get their Trojan horse ballot measure to take the bullet train money for their pet projects and by the way gut environmental protections look out.

    As to the “conveyance”, I am going to try to be first on line to vote for Mr. Cortopassi’s ballot measure to put it before the voters.

    As to Fairmead, it looks to me like it’s only the beginning. Plus the growers will be drying each other up with ever deeper wells in a beggar thy neighbor race to the bottom. Interesting times.