I applaud the SJVWIA for their nice use of natural light.

Twitter served me a slow, sweet softball this morning.  Behold, two pictures of very recent meetings on the Friant.

I did not attend either meeting.  But we can discern some things, just from the pictures.  First, shall we note?  The picture of the SJV Water Infrastructure Authority includes no women, and by appearances, perhaps three men of color.  Also, they’re all old.  Without counting, I can say the Water Solutions Network meeting looks to be half women; youth and people of color were throughout.  They are still all listening to an old white dude (Snow), but they’ve got a man at one of the easels (countering the ‘chicks are secretaries’ bias), so I’ll let it pass.

Notice the different room set-ups.  The SJV Water Infrastructure Authority reinforces hierarchy.  The panel is set up behind a raised dias, listening to (appears to be) a couple technocrats, seated physically lower than the panel.  The Water Solutions Network is in a circle set-up without a favored “head” end.  I actually tend to find ‘circle of chairs’ a bit exposed and prefer ‘circle of tables’, but it is a physically egalitarian set-up.

I can make predictions from the pictures alone:

The results of the SJV Water Infrastructure Authority will be to double down.  They will come out of that meeting decided to do whatever they were doing before (lobbying politicians who look like them, spending money), only MORE.  They have not created a meeting that will bring them new ideas, because they have not included the kinds of people who think different things from them.  Those technocrats behind the table likely think that their jobs are to predict what the men on the dias want, and to find evidence or means to support what the panel wants to do. Our current system is so good to the men who sit on that dias that they are forced to think that it is a good system, and they will only work to do MORE within their old concepts and structures.

The Water Solutions Network meeting will produce a lot, and a lot of it will be diffuse and hard to implement.  I am sure that a lot of the work on those easels will be broad statements of preference (that I almost certainly agree with, but).  There will be suggestions that are so different from our current system that it is very difficult to think of policy or technical bridges to that endpoint. Some of the ideas will contradict each other.  And, importantly, the concept that will end up doing the work is included in there.  A lot of what these participants bring will not get used, but that is not time wasted.  Participating builds capacity for the attendees; their input tells the currently powerful in the room where the field is heading.

The organizers of both meetings will get what they wanted from their own meeting.  The meeting structure is not neutral; it replicates the forms of societies the organizers want to see (the kinds of participants, hierarchical or egalitarian). I believe the organizers of the SJVWIA meeting should be asking themselves a different question: “will this meeting bring us what we need to advance our project in today’s world?”.  But if they were capable of asking that question, they already wouldn’t be holding their meetings in a hearing room.





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8 responses to “I applaud the SJVWIA for their nice use of natural light.

  1. Bill Deaver

    Years ago I set up a community meeting here in Mojave one evening with a circle of (metal folding) chairs. By the time the meeting started the chairs were all lined up in two rows!

    People would enter the room, grab a chair, and move it.

    The group was men and women.

    When the meeting started I stood up in front and led it. We did have good interaction and everyone got their two cents in.

    I never set up a room that way again.

    Bill Deaver

    P.O. Box 1113 – Mojave CA 93502-1113




  2. Anonymous

    A few comments: First, these are two fundamentally different organizations formed with different purposes in mind, and that reflects what you see in these pictures. The San Joaquin Water Infrastructure Authority is a joint-powers agency formed mostly to prepare the Temperance Flat application for Prop 1 funds – this is a photo of their public board of directors meeting. The people at the front tables are board members. The seating arrangement is very common for board meetings or public meetings throughout government. It’s used to allow board members to see each other while not preventing the audience from having a clear view of the full board. FWIW, only two directors represent Friant-related agencies – the rest represent municipalities and westside water user groups. Actually, it’s been several years since Friant was the lead advocate for Temperance.

    On the other hand, the Water Solutions Network is a new leadership program, for lack of a better term. In the picture, it looks like they’re sitting facing inward in that photo because they’re holding a roundtable discussion, not a public meeting with an audience in which visibility would be important. For the Water Solutions Network, participants are nominated by others and selected by the organization. One of its goals is diversity; that isn’t the goal of the SJVWIA, which is led by executive directors, mayors, and the like. And the truth is that those chairs are still mostly occupied by (mostly white, mostly old) dudes, even though the staff level isn’t. The more Water Solutions Network-like groups we can use to show the real diversity within the water world, the more that public boards and commissions will reflect that, too. And to suggest that the agencies and constituencies in the photos are entirely different is incorrect – some water users are represented in both.

    Second, we might all yet be surprised about what happens with Temperance and the SJVWIA in the future. Some people may indeed “double down” on Temperance, as their careers depend on it. Others may continue to investigate the benefits of the project, which certainly do exist, through different venues but redirect their primary efforts. There are other projects and policies that could contribute as much or more to long-term water supply and sustainability on the eastside and in the valley, and some of the people sitting there know it. However, for more than 15 years the valley’s been told otherwise, and it’s a hard thing to turn around quickly. We shouldn’t dismiss Temperance as part of a portfolio approach to managing the valley’s water issues, but in the short term other things could matter a lot more. The valley needs “all of the above,” as changing climates, land uses, and regulations will render a reliance on one approach foolhardy.

    Finally, don’t dismiss the legions of thoughtful, hard-working, creative men and women who “think different things” at the agencies and organizations who participate in the SJVWIA, the Water Solutions Network, or both.
    The valley is not homogeneous; these agencies and their staff are not homogeneous; and so many are genuinely committed to securing a sustainable, responsible future for the valley and its communities. Peel back the layers a bit and you’ll see.

  3. How has the AG interests in the Valley allowed so many acres of new Almond groves to have been planted in the past few years? Especially in the South end in Westlands Water District? This is not sustainable nor responsible. This is big AG run amok – looking to force the issue of water use + availability over Urban + environment.

    • Anonymous

      Comments like this probably feel good to make but aren’t helpful to the overall conversation. I, for one, am glad a large amount of agriculture exists in the valley rather than another land use – urban development – that would permanently harden water demand. Say what you will about tree nuts, but you can’t fallow people.

    • onthepublicrecord

      Ag or sprawl aren’t the only two choices. There could be parks, wildness, beauty, pasture, woodlands.

    • Anonymous

      ^^Completely agree, OtPR. Just responding to the commenter’s suggestion that somehow ag is wresting water supply away from urban communities, as if there’s some sort of benefit to increasing urban use over ag.

  4. Mitch dion

    Hi opt, New reAder but love your insights. “Managed retreat” great concept. I am typing this fumblingfrom my phone on mile 90 of a 300 trip down the Sacramento by dory. Rowing Redding to delta. On the way talking. To folks who care for this place for a river level view of the state of the river.
    The issues are fascinating and complex. Take any tips on how to focus and clarify.(shooting video)
    Check out live blog link mitch dion.weebly.com