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.