It is actually a problem that the Newsom water administration
are a bunch of goal-less fuckscannot articulate a clear vision for what California water should do. If we do not develop a clear new vision, we will keep operating from the old vision. That vision was clear as day. It was to eliminate the original peoples of the state, to destroy everything wild, to mine any valuable stock and to “feed the world”. They knew what they wanted and they put our water system in place to achieve it. This is the water system we are currently operating and it is currently achieving the same goals.
We cannot tinker around the edges and get to a different end result. We’ve had four droughts since 2000’s and our water leaders are still clinging to “please can we scrounge up some more water so we can keep things the same.” They call it different things now, like “resilience”. But basically every powerful person in water is offering some version of ‘stretch water to get more of the same’. Lund, of course, is all about muddling through. Gleick is still hammering on ‘everyone conserve even more!’ The actual administration’s only vision is to get Newsom elected president so they can go do some awesome resiliencing at the national level. We’ve got non-profits training up leaders, perhaps in the hope that one of them will have a vision. It is a shame that our bunch of brilliant lawyers spent all that time on a report with a bunch of tweaks to help us limp through. Brains the size of planets and that’s all they gave us.
The reason this lack of vision and imagination matters is that things suck out here and no one in Water is offering virtually every Californian anything good. Because we literally cannot imagine any other system (such as tripling the water available to urban CA by shrinking ag), all we have to offer people is more joyless conscientiousness. We’ve just lived through two years of joyless conscientiousness for pandemic reasons. Now we’re telling people they need to prolong their joyless conscientiousness for drought? No wonder they’re ignoring us.
My father in southern California has had a vegetable garden for fifty straight years. This is the first year since 1972 that he isn’t gardening, because he’ll be on one-day-a-week watering and veggies wouldn’t make it. There was a Twitter thread last week mocking residents in Thousand Oaks for worrying about their koi ponds. But you know what? Vegetable gardening and watching koi ponds are lovely low-carbon activities. Degrowth is the only pleasant way to decarbonize left to us. But if we want people to trust us that degrowth isn’t just some rich white bullshit, we have to prove to them that we care about their quality of life. We have to prove to people that we understand what makes urban life nice (ponds and gardens and local nature, partially supported by some water (and a whole lot of other housing and transportation stuff)) and that they can keep it even through a degrowth transition. We have to prove that before we ask people to move away from a consumption-based life. We have to show that degrowth will mean long sweet evenings, not infinitely nagging people to use less and do better.
We could do that. There is and will be enough water in California to have a couple million acres of regenerative agriculture to feed all the Californians and have healthy living rivers and have urban Californians have a slice of the Californian dream: a yard with flowers, maybe veggies, and a fruit tree. But we can’t get there from a system designed to kill all California natives, extract every resource, destroy every wild thing and feed the world. We could do it with a new system designed to make the most Californians content and minimize the misery of climate change. But first we’d have to imagine it.