Newsom administration can pivot to water environmentalism.

With the Voluntary Agreements no longer at stake and the entire ascientific worldview discredited, this is the perfect time for the Newsom administration to pivot to a strongly environmental water policy. It will fit more harmoniously with a progressive administration. Next year is likely to bring willing federal partners. The Newsom administration could be remembered for restoring rivers, for giving people access to clean cold rushing water, for reorienting to climate mitigation and adaptation. If the Newsom administration decides to do this, here are some things they could do:

  • Jettison Bonham and Nemeth. They are the embodiment of ‘please just keep everything going ’til my watch is over’. At this point, they are also the embodiment of the failed Voluntary Agreements. DWR and DFW could have actual visionary leaders working toward actual environmental improvement. The agencies could be reinvigorated and inspired the way the SWRCB was under Felicia Marcus. Newsom could have his own Ron Robie!
  • It isn’t too late! The Final Water Resilience Portfolio isn’t released. They can still scrub references to the Voluntary Agreements.
  •  Take a look at different problems. Stop re-working the same ground. Modernize the courts system/adjudication process. Bring water districts into this century; create watershed-scale districts with half state-appointed board members.
  • Prepare for an environmentalist federal government. Use the economic recovery plans from COVID 19 to transform California.
  • Immediately back the instream flow standards in the Bay-Delta Plan. Do every single restoration project that was offered in the Voluntary Agreements. They are owed; the districts indicated their willingness.
  • Focus on re-building the connection between people and their rivers. Give the people of the SJV more and more beautiful river access.
  • Rigorously enforce SGMA; rigorously evaluate SGMA plans.

Should the administration choose to do this, they should aggressively partner with the enviros they excluded from the Voluntary Agreement process. I mean, I personally am extremely petty and I would dance around the room exactly like this, continuing to the little-known second verse, “You Were So Wrong”. But the other enviros are professional and strategic and they would graciously pretend the first two years never happened.

The Newsom administration could still be a water policy triumph. They showed an admirable amount of not-giving-a-fuck about public opinion when they were working toward the Voluntary Agreements. If they applied that to working on better problems toward an enviro vision, they could still be proud of their remaining time.


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11 responses to “Newsom administration can pivot to water environmentalism.

  1. Noel Park

    Amen sister! Preach on.

  2. Unfortunately, the demise of the Voluntary Agreements (brought on by the Governor and the AG deciding to take the litigation route, rather than collaboration) means that we will be back to the State Water Board’s tired old “flows only” approach that even your heroine Felicia Marcus noted was inadequate to solve the problems in the Delta. But, that’s the only tool that the State Water Board can use unilaterally. The Voluntary Agreement approach would have added in a few of the interrelated facets that were proposed in the BDCP – this time, spawning and rearing habitat restoration and protection with enhanced cold water pools; reconnection of rivers and floodplains. But more is needed – predator control, invasive species management, food web restoration, restoration of wetlands in the Delta and upstream and more – before various species will make a comeback. And of course, as you and the Water Resilience Portfolio note, we need to incorporate adaptation measures to address climate change. None of this is going to get very far, now that the Newsom Administration has chosen the litigation route.

    • onthepublicrecord

      The districts could undertake all of that restoration work at full speed simply because they are obligated to preserve fish populations below dams. The end of the VA’s isn’t stopping them. If that does restore fish populations as district “science” predicts, when the fish rebound enough to be taken off the Endangered Species list, neither Biological Opinion nor Incidental Take Permit would be relevant anymore.

    • onthepublicrecord

      Also, dude. You’re a water district general manager. If you are sad about the good things that won’t happen because the VA’s fell through, do them!

    • Dudette – water districts are not likely to spend money on habitat projects, if the state plans to pursue the unimpaired flows approach and reduce storage and deliveries to the point where it’s not economically viable for water agencies to provide those kinds of contributions. That was the point of the VA, and the BDCP – water agencies would fund comprehensive measures that would provide better benefits than the flows only approach. But if the State Water Board mandates unimpaired flows, water agencies are not going to have much incentive to contribute to the other solutions.

    • Noel Park

      OTPR on May 2:

      You can’t say it better than that!

  3. Patricia Schifferle

    FYI, Tom B said at two WWD BOD meetings ago the VA was dead.



  4. criticalreader1

    The VA was not that great, and there is not compelling evidence that it would be better than the flows approach proposed by the SWRCB. Most of the habitat restoration proposed in the VA Framework was already required or underway. Water Districts can still propose alternatives to flows during the implementation process, so there is still room for alternatives. The callback to BDCP as great for fish is also misplaced since it could not meet the HCP standard of contributing to recovery, which is one of the main reasons it was abandoned. I would note that the state and federal water contractors also chose to file lawsuits challenging DWR’s LTO EIR. Newsom has failed to provide different leadership on water and listened to the wrong people for advice.

    • The VA was much better than the unimpaired flows approach, as the Water Board’s own modeling on habitat provided by either option showed when they released it last November. The Water Board has yet to do any modeling for cold water pool or temperatures, but the work that water agencies has done shows that the benefits of the VA on that front are even more significant. And there was significantly more habitat restoration proposed in the VA than is currently required by any regulatory program, so the VA fares better there, too. As for the BDCP, many of its conservation elements were new at the time, and the science was limited, but there were clear indicators showing that when taken together, the 20+ conservation measures would have contributed to the recovery of the various listed species. There was even an adaptive management program built into the Plan, to allow for increased investments in various conservation measures, if they produced good results. But the fisheries agencies ultimately failed to agree.

  5. Give grants for regenerative farming along key watersheds!

  6. Noel Park

    OTPR asked me once if I supported the “unimpaired flows”. Not knowing enough about it I dodged the question by saying that Doug Obegi speaks for me and that I support whatever he will sign off on.

    In this context, if it’s unimpaired flows vs. the VAs, I’m for the unimpaired flows.

    I’ll say it again. Any VAs the AG industry will agree to will result in the wildlife, the rivers, and the people of California getting screwed.