We need to replace water districts with something new.

WHEREAS water districts were created to deliver water for economic growth. That mission makes them unable to do the tasks of this century, which are to wisely manage contraction and risk;

WHEREAS water districts are too close to their constituents to make difficult costly decisions that counter denial and wishful thinking that the status quo is the default;

WHEREAS California has too many small water districts that are not adequately meeting current standards of engineering, managerial and financial performance;

WHEREAS many of the large water districts consider themselves separate entities that should do battle with the State’s interests;

WHEREAS we need no longer work on the small scales that 19th century technology required. Internet connectivity, SCADA and remote sensing make it possible for water managers to work over much larger scales;

WHEREAS district boundaries mostly do not contain the geographic features that matter in water management (i.e. districts in the valleys, sources in the mountains);

WHEREAS the water districts that are generally considered successes do have boundaries that align with the entire watershed;

WHEREAS special districts mostly focus on one facet of water management (supply, wastewater, groundwater) when we know these to be interconnected, and the failure to manage them together means that we are missing potential solutions;

WHEREAS many water districts are not democratic institutions, despite the intention of democratically elected boards;

WHEREAS some water districts get away with being corrupt as fuck for a long time;

WHEREAS the water policy field is spending considerable time creating workarounds for the problems created by the existing water district structure (JPAs, MOUs, Basin Plans, IRWM, SGMA, EIFDs);

WHEREAS water districts are agents of the State whose structure and powers derive from legislation;

THEREFORE they aren’t working and we can change them through the legislature or by initiative. We could consolidate all the water-related special districts within a watershed into one river district. We could change the board structure to be half elected, half appointed. We could re-evaluate the necessary powers of a district or their relationship to counties. Water districts aren’t created by physics, nor uniformly good at what they do, nor useful for the next century. We can replace them with something better.


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13 responses to “We need to replace water districts with something new.

  1. onthepublicrecord

    This pretty much kills me because this is one of the top recommendations from the annoying Australians who come through to advise us on drought. It burns to come to the same conclusion as the annoying Australians.

  2. MayDay

    I hereby declare my love for you.

  3. wdeaver@mojave.ca.us

    We are served by the Mojave PUC which handles water and sewage. It consistently meets all service standards.

    Why should we be penalized because of others?

    Also, in my 83 years of public service this is the first time I have heard a complaint that government agencies are too close to its constituents!€

    Bill Deaver
    P.O. Box 1113
    Mojave CA 93502


    • Noel Park

      Well a good example is Westlands. Grab all the water you can get and screw everbody else.

  4. Noel Park

    I’m with you 100%. But it’s hard to know where to start.

    • onthepublicrecord

      With a study group to recommend a better structure and write model legislation for the legislature to pass.

  5. Brilliant piece – we need to rethink so many things in the time of a rapidly changing climate. And John Wesley Powell would be so happy!

  6. Laura

    When you say “the water districts that are generally considered successes do have boundaries that align with the entire watershed,” which ones are you thinking of?

    • onthepublicrecord

      Sonoma County Water Agency, Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority. Even those are complicated.

    • SAWPA is a joint powers agency – one of those “workarounds” you mention. Sonoma County Water Agency is a water wholesaler, a category of governmental entity that you do not appear to consider in your resolution. The area they cover is jointly served by water agencies that sell water to retail customers, as well as various wastewater and stormwater agencies. This structure appears to violate your “one agency per watershed” rule.

  7. Allison

    I agree. If our local water agency even wanted to do better for the environment, the Board would never allow it because their interests are all completely self serving. They each individually want to make as much profit as possible, with no regard to wider community benefits. They are content with a river that cannot support salmon. Nor can the river support a healthy trout fishery in more than half of the water years. But their (farmers) interests are their only interest.

  8. jaylund

    The vast majority of water management decisions, expenditures, and effects on people are from local water management. We (state government and academics) do a poor job examining how local decisions can be made better and be better supported. These are not easy problems.