Monthly Archives: September 2019

Then they’d be ready when the VSAs fall apart.

Reasonable people are writing to me, saying that the VSA’s are necessary because the alternative is that the water districts will sue the State Board’s instream flow requirements and the litigation will last for decades.

We have seen attempts at collaboration with the water users fail every decade since the Bay-Delta Accords. These ones do not look promising either and they are undermining the Newsom administration’s environmental intentions. Rather than try re-run failed collaborations, the State should work within its own powers to change the constraints. The problem statement:

water districts will sue the State Board’s instream flow requirements and the litigation will last for decades

gives at least two avenues that the State could pursue without good faith agreement from water users that it will never, ever get.

  1. If the problem is that we can’t ever do instream flows because adjudications take 30 years, then fix the adjudication problem. That doesn’t require kissing some water user ass. The State can do this unilaterally. Create an adjudications court system that will last for ten years, fund and staff it generously. One court per river. The Newsom administration could work with the legislature on a bill that gives those courts jurisdiction and consolidates all cases. It isn’t a law of physics that makes adjudications take 30 years. It is neglect. Fix that neglect instead of surrendering on the environment.
  2. Why the fuck is the Newsom administration negotiating with water districts like they are some foreign government? They aren’t Tribes! Water districts are creatures of the State government. Any powers and authorities they have derive from special district legislation by the state legislature. If water districts cannot convert from a 19th century purpose to a 21st century purpose, then they are no longer useful forms of government and their enabling legislation should be re-visited. Perhaps a majority of board members should be appointed by the governor. Perhaps technology and scale have changed enough that the Valley needs only four water districts. Perhaps the SWRCB should take them into receivership. There are lots of options, because water districts are themselves extensions of State government.

These may sound like difficult options, but all they have to be is “easier than CALFED” and they’re better and faster than the VSA path. Further, they do not require that water districts buy in. Who would be more pleasant to work with to deliver change? The water users or the legislature? I bet Toni Atkins would do a trade to get SB1 passed.

It isn’t an either/or choice for the Newsom administration. They could keep working the VSAs AND appoint task forces, one for solving the adjudication problem and one to look at re-forming special districts. There is no evidence that the Newsom administration knows how to make good use of a BATNA, but it wouldn’t hurt for them to develop a couple more anyway.



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The opportunity costs of the VSAs.

Governor Newsom has said he will veto SB1, which maintains the Obama-era environmental protections, because they might cost him the VSAs. I observe that it is costing him quite a lot of political capital to veto a popular environmental bill. Let’s look for a minute at what else the VSA’s are costing him.

The VSA’s are costing him his chance to re-make DWR and CDFW. He’s keeping on the old directors because they are familiar with the VSAs. DWR and CDFW will not have the chance at revitalization that the State Board got with Felicia Marcus.

The VSA’s could well cost him his first two years of water policy, for no gain. It is now looking very likely that we will see a Democratic president, who will surely return to Obama-era protections or more stringent. If the VSA’s aren’t do-able a year from now under a Democratic federal administration, Governor Newsom will have wasted two years on them. The decline of fish species during those two years is also worth a mention.

The pre-occupation with the VSAs is costing the Newsom administration the opportunity to have an affirmative vision. Right now, the Newsom administration’s vision for water is “what we have now, please stretch another eight years, please god.” The underlying idea of a Resilience Portfolio is “please, make what we have now more resilience-y”. Thing is, “what we have now” cannot last; sustaining it is an impossibility, like Brexit. “What we have now”, in the water field as much as any other field, is the direct source of wealth inequality and environmental crash; it cannot be maintained. As long as the Newsom administration is trying to deliver an impossibility, it isn’t doing the work that might make climate change less painful.

So here’s the thing. In the water field, the Newsom administration is a straight line continuation of the Brown administration. Crowfoot, Nemeth, Bonham. The VSAs themselves. But what they aren’t remembering is that the Brown administration laser-focused approach failed. Let’s recall how prioritizing the TuNNelFIX at the expense of everything else worked for the Brown admin. For the FixEmUpTunnels, the Brown administration:

  • Put CalOES instead of DWR in charge of the drought. (CalOES hates working on drought; that isn’t their expertise. They want to show up in the aftermath of fast- onset disasters with trucks of food, not gather data on dry well depths.)
  • Squandered Grant Davis’s willingness to be director of DWR.
  • Installed PR professionals instead of water professionals throughout the appointeds, which remains a problem.
  • Sacrificed Gov. Brown’s integrity, he tells us. “
  • Suppressed all other policy directives, lest they counter some aspect of TunnelMANia.
    • The Water Action Plan* was initiated by ACWA, not the Brown administration, and was a undirected list of benign ideas.
    • The Brown administration neglected non-tunnel policy and expertise for so long that PPIC stepped into the vacuum, and now a handful of self-selected technocrats are setting water policy for the state.

And it didn’t work. I strongly doubt the VSA’s will work either. First, they’re a repeat of CALFED, which was an entire agency dedicated to the same notion. Why do you think a few people at Resources can do in a year what CALFED failed at for years? Second, the VSAs are meant to find a way to make rivers healthy and maintain current irrigated acreage. Can’t. Not even with the mysterious top-secret science of the water users.

So, Governor Newsom. How much do you want to repeat Gov. Brown’s approach? What else are you sacrificing with your focus on VSAs? Are they do-able, and will they look like a good approach when the federal administration isn’t horrific? Do you have reliable bargaining partners** or are they extorting you to betray your values, and your legislature, and your environmental credibility?

Continue reading


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Try a NEW futile water effort.

Seriously. Some of us have been at this for decades and this re-run business is killing us. Newsom administration, if you are going to spend everything you’ve got on a futile effort, you should do one that we haven’t seen before. Brown re-ran his exact same failed thing: the Peripheral Canal. You seem to be trying the “work with the water users for Quantifiable Objectives” and we all know how that ends. Why don’t you try a new project? I mean, the Community Water Center tried a new thing and it actually worked.

  • Run a proposition to define “reasonable use”, with priority for environmental and direct human use. Or go big. Run a proposition to revise water rights. Seriously. Pander to the 37 million urban users and farms under 300 acres and it could pass.
  • Run a bill/proposition to re-form water agencies, so they aren’t powerful agencies that fight you all the time and have larger missions than “turn rivers into money for landowners”.
  • Huge R&D and tech things. I mean, that’s not my forte, but I hear you Bay Area people like that shit and there is room for transformation.
  • Re-making ag and the Central Valley so it isn’t some feudal bullshit descended from the model of slavery. Turn the east side of the Valley into collaborative farms that grow food for Californians. Take land use planning, social justice and food security seriously.

If you’re going to make a giant effort that expends all your cred, why not do one where the sides aren’t dug in and rehearsed every ten years? Why not do one that is interesting to me?


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A bad look for the Newsom Administration

Governor Newsom says he will veto SB1, which freezes CA environmental protections at the level they were at the end of the Obama administration. The water users have told him to, or they won’t be able to make any Voluntary Settlement Agreements with the Newsom administration.

This got me to thinking. What if Clinton’s victory had been honored? What if we were three years into the Clinton administration and presumably, she had never rolled back the Obama protections with some faked-up science that won’t survive a court challenge? Would the Voluntary Settlement Agreements be possible in those conditions? If not, are the VSA’s only possible when they occupy the space that Trump created? That is yet another indication that they are a real bad idea.

I am consistently baffled at why the Newsom administration wants these so bad, especially when they have a great default: the instream flows set by the SWRCB, finally exercising their authority. I consider it very rude to attribute thoughts to other parties, trying instead to refer to quotes. But I read through this panel discussion, with Crowfoot. Kightlinger and Pierre, and thought ‘right, right, administration, urban, ag… WHERE ARE THE ENVIROS?’ And my follow-up thought was, ‘oh crap. The administration thinks they don’t need the enviros because they think they ARE the enviros.’

My new concern is that the Newsom administration staff think THEY are the progressives and enviros, therefore they can both be the governmental brokers and represent the environmental movement. But they clearly cannot. They haven’t been in the field for long enough to realize that they are replaying old mistakes and re-running fucking CALFED. They are not holding both a strong environmental ethic and negotiating VSAs, and we can tell because they are now vetoing environmental legislation.

Frankly, the Newsom administration is two strikes down (Marcus, SB1) and have lost the benefit of the doubt.  They’re going to need a heavily enviro resilience portfolio if they want to be considered a good environmental administration. They cannot trust themselves to generate that enviro perspective; they should rely on the actual water enviros for that.



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