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?
*If the Resilience Portfolio turn out to be an undirected list of benign ideas, we will know that we really are in for the Brown administration II.
**Once again, what has gone wrong?! They should be begging you for this. They should need these VSAs far more than your administration does. Why are they the ones threatening to walk, and why would you sacrifice a single thing to get them back?