“More data” falls in the middle.

I know that I am being facile when I downplay calls for more data.  I actually do think that good data would be useful and good data well displayed would be even more useful.  I want to put my skepticism about calls for good data into context.  I observe a lot of collaborative processes and conferences and have come to rank policy solutions as follows.

This first category is nearly always just noise.  At worst, they are delaying tactics to prevent any serious work or addressing hard questions.  On rare occasions, they might be meaningful, but they would have to come from a speaker with substantial credibility for me to want to engage them.  If you say these without a lot of specificity, you should know a grumpy blogger in the audience is rolling her eyes.

  • A clearinghouse of already existing information.
  • Using social media to educate people.
  • Creating a framework for discussion.
  • No new work, just mining existing plans.
  • Breaking out of the silos/agency alignment.
  • A vision statement.
  • Defining the terms.

The second category can go either way.  Often the undertone for my impatience is “aren’t we past this already?”  A credible speaker with illustrative points will get my buy-in for these:

  • More data.
  • Translation into additional languages.
  • Paying for facilitation.  (Good facilitation is invaluable, but it does burn a lot of time upfront.)
  • Grant money for the good cause.  (Sadly, this often comes from bonds; the Youngs have good reason to hate us.)
  • A non-binding plan.

The third category will make me straighten in my chair and pay close attention.  These proposed policy solutions tell me that the speaker wants important change.

  • Proposals that acknowledge and address people’s emotions.
  • More data, with a dedicated source of substantial money and some detail about how the data would be gathered, stored and used.
  • Proposed governance structures.
  • Legally binding plans, with enforcement mechanisms.
  • Proposed regulation or integration into existing regulation.
  • Proposed legislation, with real money allocated.


I’ll add to these as I think of more.  Anyway, “more data” falls somewhere in the middle.  Have I mentioned my theory that we started the environmental Information Era in about the 1970’s, with the new EIRS and Timber Management Plans and fat volumes of information?  Then computers and the Internet started offering us even more ways to process and propagate that information.  Sadly, climate change is forcing us into the Management Era before we got good at the Information Era.  Now we have to do both at the same time.


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20 responses to ““More data” falls in the middle.

  1. Are you aware of the work of The Federation of Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP)? We work mostly in government (USGS, NOAA, NASA, NCAR) to make data accessible and interoperable. We like to think we are making good progress.

    The National Science Foundation pays me (and my coworkers) to provide both data AND data consultation. Our target audience is the research community, but we have been increasing our support to the government sector and NGOs as well. rda.ucar.edu

  2. Kathleen Ferris

    So, I won’t comment on any specific blog. I just want to say how much I love reading them. You are very brave and very smart.

    By the way, I have worked on water policy issues in AZ for over 38 years.

    Best, Kathy

  3. John

    I am a new reader, and I enjoy your blog very much. I would be interested in your opinion about the huge quantity of rain Norcal has seen recently,
    and why State and local governments seem to be loathe to recognize it.

    • Noel Park

      @ John,

      Well actually isn’t it just about normal for the season? Which may seem huge compared to recent years, but certainly isn’t a panacea for the dreaded drought.

      But don’t worry, we’re about half of normal again here in the thirsty South. So send it down the SWP and we’ll be happy to suck it all up, LOL.

    • John

      No Noel, the largest reservoirs are 110% to 140 % of normal, after weeks
      of spilling into SF Bay. Northern Sierra snows are also above normal, likely to flood the Sac valley when melted. SOcal has always been a desert. That’s why we built a water system from the north 50 years ago.

    • Noel Park

      Well the numbers I found show rainfall YTD at Mt. Shasta City 36.72″ vs normal of 34.79. Redding 33.81″ vs normal 28.19. Sacramento 14.90″ vs normal 17.29
      Snowpack through today, north 100% of normal, central 91%, south 73%, statewide average 88%.

      So that’s a lot better than recent years, but hardly the drought busting numbers to make up for recent year’s deficits.

      Watch the water tables keep dropping in the SJV.

    • John

      You’re cherry-picking Noel. Shasta Dam got 60 inches of rain, Gasquet Research Station 99 inches, and Oakland 23, and the April and May rain is still ahead of us. San Diego is at 115% for 2015 and on track to exceed it
      this year. This is weather, not climate, and the trend is positive.

  4. Noel Park

    I agree with your rankings from sort of total BS to somewhat less BS at #3, but real action at any level is hard to see from my simple vantage point.

    On a happier note, did anyone notice today that the growers have punted their Trojan Horse stop the bullet train, aka gut environmental protections and build more dams, initiative, supposedly couldn’t raise enough money to collect the signatures.

    Thank God for little favors!

    • Mike

      John is right. We are way above average and have 4,000,000 more acre feet of water in storage than we did last year. Also, the water content in the snow pack is 90% of normal with reservoirs at 110% of normal. This is the drought buster we hoped for and then some. Just because we can’t move it efficiently from Northern California to Southern California doesn’t mean it isn’t a drought buster.

  5. Mike: consider what “move it efficiently” means in practice. California is pretty good at moving water around, but to what end? Is it just about efficiency, fastest, most, etc., and if yes, then
    for what purpose? This is what the many dollars spent on and by many very smart people are trying so sort out.

    • Mike

      All systems have bottlenecks and the Delta is the major bottleneck that prevents California from moving water efficiently from water rich Northern California to water deficient Southern California.

    • Noel Park

      Speaking of “move it efficiently”, there it an extensive article about ” the conveyance ” on the front page of today’s LA Times. Surprisingly balanced and objective IMHO.

    • Noel Park

      It’s because it’s a desert that there isn’t enough water to sustain the number of acres being farmed. Ad my dad used to say, “It’s self regulating.” Once the groundwater is used up, the acres will retire themselves. So we can either wait around for the inevitable collapse, or we can try to do it in some kind of a planned way, as has been suggested here. My money is on the former.

      “Radical environmentalism” is s cheap shot buzz phrase thrown out against anybody who dares to oppose whatever business interest is looking to make money from something that will negatively affect the environment.

      The NRDC is a totally responsible and professional organization, of which I am proud to be a member. If that makes me a “radical environmentalist”, so be it.

    • John

      Noel it is indefensible to spill fresh water into the sea to preserve a 3″ fish.
      When people find out this is going on, the position will be reversed.
      Gov Brown’s plan will be approved, just as his father’s was, and the people of LA will get their water. What’s left will go to agriculture, California’s
      largest export.

    • onthepublicrecord

      Hi Noel, hi John.

      Thank you for having this conversation as politely as you have so far. I think you have both expressed your values and predictions, so I am closing the comments now. I hope you’ll continue to comment on new topics if I ever find something to write about.


  6. dzetland

    How about getting THE DATA WE HAVE in front of people? Sadly, my effort got no support (I tried in many countries), but I’d love to see this work: http://www.aguanomics.com/2012/03/water-data-hub-is-live.html

    • Mike

      Also using the data to create metrics that be used to establish certainty for those that rely on water each year. On April 1 we know where the reservoirs levels and water content in the snowpack are about their respective water sheds. At that point you can determine how to allocate it and whether conservation efforts are needed by region.

  7. John

    The Delta Smelt is the current bottleneck. Billions of gallons of fresh Norcal
    drinking water is being flushed into the Pacific ocean because the NRDC
    values the rights of fish over people.

    • Noel Park

      Well the ESA is the law of the land, enacted by the United States Congress and signed by the President. As a member of the NRDC, I am proud that it intercedes at times to make sure that the law is enforced.

      The Delta Smelt is the canary in the coal mine of the Delta ecosystem. If we wipe out the Delta Smelt to facilitate the farming of unsustainable acreage in the SJV, what will be next?

    • John

      Central and Southern California is a desert. Always has been. That’s why these water projects were built. Radical environmentalism is the canary in the coal mine, and until it is brought under control, mankind will suffer.