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.