Monthly Archives: May 2019

Still wrestling with the “portfolio approach”.

My objection to the Newsom administration’s “portfolio approach” is that a “portfolio approach” is a method, not a goal.  So in CA water, I can’t tell what goal the administration is trying to accomplish with their eight years*, besides not alienate anyone who might donate to Newsom‘s presidential campaign in 2026.

Dr. Lund endorses the “portfolio approach” here. The way he makes sense of the concept is by going through each issue area, stating a goal, and showing how to use a “portfolio approach” for that goal. Which, fine.  But that reinforces my impression that the “portfolio approach” only means “do all the relevant good things to achieve all the relevant good goals.”  This is not a useful directive! This is just bland good will. In terms Dr. Lund might appreciate, this is a model as expansive as the system it models.

I should stop fussing about this, because we are committed now and it doesn’t exclude any of my own priorities and it is too ambiguous to be wrong.  I look forward to seeing what the interagency group tasked with enforcing this comes up with. I predict a lot of talk about transparency and collaboration and maybe even synergies from the multi-benefitness!

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Deep Adaptation: Apocalypse Uncertain

I’ve been stuck on this section for a long time.  His direct address to the reader floored me the first time I read it, cost me sleep for several nights.  He writes:

Our norms of behaviour, that we call our “civilisation,” may also degrade. When we contemplate this possibility, it can seem abstract. The words I ended the previous paragraph with may seem, subconsciously at least, to be describing a situation to feel sorry about as we witness scenes on TV or online. But when I say starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war, I mean in your own life. With the power down, soon you wouldn’t have water coming out of your tap. You will depend on your neighbours for food and some warmth. You will become malnourished. You won’t know whether to stay or go. You will fear being violently killed before starving to death.

I mean, that used to be my favorite fiction. But reading that made it clear that I don’t want it applied to me. And yet, for hundreds of thousands, it is already true. We have discussed climate migrants here before; those are the intentional migrations, moving with some hope. But the wave of refugees from climate crises in Syria and Central America show what desperation driven migration is going to be like. My friend observed that it only took one migration event from a drought-and-war dissolved country to severely test Europe and America, bringing out bigotry that may yet break our countries. But we are going to have dozens of waves of desperation driven migration, from dry places, flooded places, places inundated by the sea. If we can’t handle even one of the early events… .

One reader wrote me that Bendell’s assertions are only that, no more authoritative than Bendell’s understanding.  With that in mind, I noticed another assertion with no support in Gov. Newsom’s Executive Order.  In the Whereases:

necessary and possible

Frankly, Bendell’s assertion that we’re all gonna die seems a lot more likely than the EO’s bland assertion that doing it all is necessary and possible.  Where’s the evidence that it is possible?! Our watersheds are not being kept alive on the water rations they have now and the resistance to transferring water from the monetary economy to the physical ecosystem is fierce. The only way I can make sense of that statement is that perhaps the vagueness of the collective nouns disguises a contraction of community, ag and industrial water use.

This is all I’ve got on the Apocalypse Uncertain section, despite its considerable effect on me. I am eagerly looking forward to the next section, because I’ve a lot to say on Systems of Denial and California water.

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Good luck, Ms. Vogel.

This interview killed me. My objection isn’t reasonable, because I bet the part I found objectionable was just mindless cliché. The author wrote it because all agendas are ambitious or something and they just let anyone put anything on the internet these days, so no one actually stopped to ask: ‘is or is not our new governor’s water Executive Order actually “ambitious”?’  Because if anyone had thought about it for a second, there is no fucking way to call the EO “ambitious”.  It is the purest representation of political vague fuzziness, designed to mean anything and offend no one.

The strongest parts of the Executive Order are reactions. “One tunnel” is a reaction to Gov. Brown’s overreach.  “Clean drinking water” is a reaction to the Community Water Center’s thirteen years of advocacy. The rest is a mash of all the good ideas in a broth of ‘we can all be friends’. Things that might take an actual stance are muddled by collective nouns, so any advocate can hope that the ‘portfolio’ will support their side.

I keep noticing that ‘portfolio approach’ and ‘multi-benefit’ are converses.  A portfolio approach does a bunch of things to achieve one goal.  (What is the goal of Crowfoot’s portfolio?  Fuck if I can tell.  All the good things!  Why not all of ’em!?) A multi-benefit approaches uses one project to get a bunch of things (all of them good, of course). I can’t decide whether the multi-benefit concept sounds newly desperate (like we need to start hitting some lotteries with our diminishing resources) or whether it is all the most predictable type of chasing water down the entropy slope.  The ‘portfolio’ part is, of course, language that hopes to evoke the parallel of money, standardized and interchangeable, cleanly managed by genius technocrats.

I suppose the ‘portfolio approach’ is an improvement over the last meaningless phrasing.  I mean, co-equal goals are only two things, but a portfolio could have way more than two, so that’s a super improvement.  We wasted fucking years on co-equal goals that still don’t mean anything, although we now know that water users certainly do not think they mean equal shares.  Now we’ll spend a few years pretending that “portfolio approach” means something when, by its very purpose, it can’t mean anything.  It is intended to be neutral enough to avoid conflict, which, in our real-world water system, means that it cannot have enough content to mean anything (besides “everything good”). I mean, as the Executive Order is written, what political interest does it exclude?

So now I have to spend months or years watching us all pretend that a ‘portfolio approach’ is a meaningful thing, and watching advocates jockey to define it so they can get access to the Newsom administration, and hearing that shit from our appointeds at conferences, and I do not mean to have a terrible attitude but when that talk starts, I’m highly likely to go out to the halls where I can at least chat with someone.

Last, I would like to illustrate by contrast what an actual “ambitious agenda” would be:

  • Reform CA’s water rights system.  Re-define “reasonable and beneficial” to reflect our existing and predicted scarcity.
  • Wrench our agricultural system out of capitalism, prioritizing California’s food security.
  • Acquire the CVP, merge with the SWP.  Get the project operators their own agency and merge the bureaucrats into a different unified agency.
  • Overhaul the 19th century institutions, especially the 7000 water districts in the state.
  • Restoring vigorous salmon runs throughout California. Remove a bunch of dams.
  • Expand/replace CIMIS with free open-data remote sensing for the entire state.

I could probably think of others, but I hope this sampling illustrates ambition for those who have forgotten it. I get that politicos are trapped in their realm of interacting through catch-phrases.  But we don’t have to be.



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