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.



Filed under Uncategorized

17 responses to “Good luck, Ms. Vogel.

  1. caroleekrieger

    Dear On the public record;

    The California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) had a meeting with the Under Secretary of Natural Resources, Tom Gibson 2 weeks before Governor Newsom’s Executive Order was released. I am very encouraged and wanted to share with you the materials we sent to then Governor-Elect Newsom and the document we subsequently put together for Mr. Gibson.

    The only way to really fix California’s water problem is to first quantify how much consumptive water is actually available and get a proper public trust analysis of the non-market public trust resources…then see what is left for the water rights holders.

    Simple and logical in concept but it’s going to be a fight to the finish.

    Thanks so much for your insight and determination.


    Carolee Krieger

    Executive director, C-WIN

  2. Carolee Krieger

    I couldn’t agree more!!!

  3. Indeed. Well said, as always. May I add to the list: Cut the eternal handwringing about the cost of water main repair and do it.

  4. Noel Park

    I like your list. Heavy on the water rights reform. As in a clean sheet of paper do over.

    Likewise on the salmon runs and the dam removal.

    Tough challenges, but hopefully inevitable when the handwriting on the wall gets big enough.

  5. Michael Wall

    I just unsubscribed from your post as I find your language symptomatic of a lot of what is wrong in politics and society in general in this era. What a shame.

    • onthepublicrecord

      Friends, this comment gives me a chance to point out something that is crippling our public discourse.

      Mr. Wall did not unsubscribe from my post. He unsubscribed from my blog.

      A blog is a series of online chronological writings, presented from most recent to oldest. Any one of those writings is a post.

      Mr. Wall’s use of “post” for “blog” is rare but interesting. Perhaps he thinks of it like a newspaper and means the entirety of the journal. That would be an interesting mistake. But the other direction, calling a single blog entry a “blog”, is a common mistake. It always makes me cringe. One essay is not a blog! It is a post on a blog!

      Mr. Wall makes another internet error that I urge you to avoid. Informing the community of your departure is called flouncing. If I could only teach you two things, the first would be not to go to law school and the second out be not to flounce. Flouncers nearly always slink back and it is much less embarrassing if they didn’t flounce on departure.

      It is OK if you come back, even if you comment, Mr. Wall. Internet etiquette and terminology is difficult. My blog is always open to you.

  6. Nice thoughts, with the exception of the dams. I’m torn: on the one hand, I’ll have to move from my little place in southern California if the wrong dams come down, because the water in my pipes will drop by about half, and there comes a point when I can’t conserve my way through that and will have to migrate. On the other hand, more salmon would be nice, and more wild rivers would be even nicer. On the third hand, I’ve read Battling an Inland Sea, so I can see the point of having dams in some watersheds for when the odd ARkStorm hits watersheds deforested by too many fires, so that the Sacramento Valley can’t rewild itself prematurely and make food insecurity and seasonal migration a way of life again. On the fourth hand,* well, we’re basically living in a terraformed state anyway, and most of California’s population depends on our extraordinarily problematic water system and the food system it enables. Selectively breaking that system without creating a mass exodus to Vancouver and Ohio is, indeed, extremely ambitious.

    *Guess having four arms and two legs makes me a spineless insect. Maybe that’s why I’m hesitant.

  7. Noel Park

    “There are none so blind as those who do not wish to see _

  8. Noel Park

    A mass exodus to Ohio and Vancouver sounds like a good thing to me.

    There are plenty of obsolete, silted up, dams that could be removed without impacting the plumbing at all. All it takes is money and political will

    By the grace of God, it looks like the ones on the Klamath really are going. Matilija in Ventura county is another prime candidate. We could also do nicely without the dam that inundates the Hatch Hetchy valley in Yosemite, but San Francisco can’t face reality.

    • onthepublicrecord

      There is capacity behind New Don Pedro! SF wouldn’t have to lose any water.

  9. Noel Park

    As to New Don Pedro, exactly!

    Restore Hetch Hetchy has made the case over and over. San Francisco is supposed to be such a liberal and progressive leader, but they cling to the obsolete monstrosity of that reservoir. It inundates a valley in Yosemite National Park which rivaled Yosemite Valley for beauty.

    For shame!

    Hetch Hetchy is probably the best example in California of the environmental disaster that dams create. We certainly don’t need any more. Spend the money to try to restore the equally terrible damage that has been done to our groundwater aquifers.

  10. Steve Bloom

    Let’s not forget about the potential worst-case sea level rise of ~7 meters this century. That will make life and policy very interesting indeed in the Delta region.

    • Noel Park

      I wonder if that would increase the salinity as far upstream as the proposed intake of the “water fix”?

      There was a Huell Howser rerun on TV last night about China Beach State Park on San Pablo Bay. The area once supported a large shrimp fishery operated by Chinese immigrants. Two interviewees said that the shrimp died out after “the water diversions”.

      One more example of the far reaching environmental impacts, one I had never heard of before.

  11. Stopthearmwaving

    While I don’t disagree with anything on your list, I think it’s naïve to believe items 1 and 2 are remotely possible. The State Board just spent years trying to develop a flow standard for the SJ River, one stream. The Chair was removed for supporting a 30 to 50% instream requirement, voluntary agreements continue to be negotiated with seemingly little hope of getting to a resolution that doesn’t end up in litigation for years. It’s a fine line between ambitious and quixotic, I think you are well over it.

    • Noel Park

      One person’s quixotic is another person’s visionary leadership. Anything can happen when the water crisis gets bad enough. Even reform of our antiquated and counterproductive water rights laws.

  12. Stopthearmwaving

    Concur, anything can happen when the wheels fall off the cart. But asking the administration to assume worst case, or even near worst case scenario as justification for cracking open CA water rights, some of the most powerful law on the books, is beyond visionary and more likely certain political suicide.

  13. Hi there OtPR,

    Just wondering what the status of the state Groundwater Management Act is, and whether it is part of either the Portfolio Approach or your Ambitious Agenda? I don’t see it in either, at least not explicitly. Maybe it’s a subset of something else. Maybe the lack of such a management regime is one of those “19th century institutions” embedded in your Agenda. Or maybe it’s just too “wicked.”

    I ask because much like your dismay over Bendell’s thoughts, not being able to do just this little bit of regulatory implementation — just to measure water use(!) — in less than 20 or 30 or 100 years points to the bigger reason to be dismayed in general about our prospects.

    I’ve not posted in a few years over at my *blog*.. Sometimes, optimism is hard to trust, and not being able to do that, well – better to find something worth doing somewhere else.