Do not use analogies.

Analogies are the very devil; always more harmful to the conversation than a clear enunciation of the issue itself.   When offered an analogy in an important conversation, I suggest that you refuse to engage with it and ask instead for a direct statement of the issue.  That said, I am seeing a common theme in ag responses to the instream flow requirements that sounds like this:

Adding more flow to the rivers isn’t giving us more fish.  The enviros are pursuing a hackneyed, mindless approach of always wanting more water, more water, when we have been adding more water and there aren’t even any more fish.

I am now seeing a new variant of:

“More water” is old science.  The new science says make sure there’s food and nesting opportunities for the fish.

(I bet the enviros wish they had some sort of word for a landscape with enough food and nesting opportunities for fish, and that they had some way to study this new concept.)

Despite my distaste for analogies, I am going to present one now.  My usual rule of thumb is that a crop takes about 3ft of water to finish a season.  Let’s say we have a very hot year and we care about salt flushing.  For our analogy, lets use a crop water requirement of 40acre-inches/acre-year.

% Flow on the San Joaquin River

Analogous irrigation amount    (acre-inches/acre-season)

Current conditions 20 8in
Potential low end of State Board instream requirement 30 12
Current State Board target for instream requirement 40 16
Potential high end of State Board instream requirement 50 20
What enviros hoped for 60 24
What science says is necessary 80 32
The full river, no diversions 100 40

With that as our reference, I would enjoy conversations like this:

GROWER: We are only getting 8 inches of water this summer!  We need more to grow crops!

OTPR:  It probably isn’t a water issue.  Have you thought about the fertilizer your crops need?   It might be that, and your single-minded focus on water has blinded you to the fertilizer issue.

GROWER:  No, seriously.  If you want crops, we’re going to need more than 8 inches of water.

OTPR:  Have you looked into predation?  Maybe rabbits are eating your crop.   That’s probably it.

GROWER:  We are going to need at least 32 inches, and really 40 inches to have healthy crops that do well year after year.

OTPR:  Honestly, this focus on water is all-consuming with you.  We’re going to need an all-of-the-above approach that honors both of the co-equal goals.

GROWER:  Yes!  We can look at the nutrients and we can control predation.  Yes, we will do that.  But fundamentally, crops require 36-40 inches water if you want to get something to eat when you’re done.

OTPR:  You keep bringing up the water, water, water.  This unhealthy focus has got to be hiding some ulterior motive, probably because you are hiding a huge water grab.  If you understood that we’re really nice, you wouldn’t want to take all our water.

GROWER:  What if you gave us 16 inches, but maybe 20 inches, and we do our best to grow the minimum crops that are most important to everyone?

OTPR:  SIXTEEN INCHES!  That’ll destroy civilization itself!  Holding out the possibility of 20 inches is extortion!  You need to go back to the drawing board and look at the fertilizer and rabbits again.  What is it going to take to get over this one-size-fits-all approach?



I am being petty, but not actually more petty than the op-eds and comments I read.  Biological systems require the water that they require.  Up until that threshold, the yields are small and unsustainable.

I am thrilled that the State Board is starting the public process of setting instream flows.  Those are the basis for healthy rivers and fisheries, possibly a backstop for water markets, and the start of a water rights regime that reflects the actual amount of water in California.  They are long overdue.  Great work, State Board.


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4 responses to “Do not use analogies.

  1. KWay

    I LOVE this analogy. Thank you for keeping everyone in check and for opening up this crazy water world to so many people :)

  2. Jan

    I like your post. It reminded me of the two scientists in my children’s book The Fable of the Farmer and the Fish. The first scientist hired by the rich farmers because the River People are complaining that their fish are dying tells the farmers it’s because they are taking too much water. So the rich farmers say “wrong” and hire another scientist. He goes North then reports back that the problem is the oceans have been too warm, that the orcas are killing the salmon, and the River People are probably polluting the river :-)

  3. Anonymous

    Holy fuck, this is an amazing post.

  4. Anonymous

    Article linked below quotes a Farm Bureau lawyer about in-stream flows on the San Joaquin- “Scheuring said that “in a vacuum, a biologist would want all the water back in the river, but that’s just not human reality.

    Similar to your point in this post, one could also say that ” in a vacuum, a non-biologist would want all the water out of the river, and that is the actual reality of the San Joaquin River in recent times.”

    Farm Bureau and the like always go straight to hyperbole when sharing water with the environment is brought up, “the crazy enviros and the guvment are coming to shut down all Ag in the Valley”, uh no just would be nice to have our rivers back in a modest fashion that still allows plenty of water for a sustainable amount of ag acreage.