Yesterday Max Gomberg had his last day at the State Water Resources Control Board. He sent this on his last day, and cc’ed me. With his permission:
I am sharing my parting thoughts because I believe in facing hard truths and difficult decisions. These are dark and uncertain times, both because fascists are regaining power and because climate change is rapidly decreasing the habitability of many places. Sadly, this state is not on a path towards steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions reductions, massive construction to alleviate the housing crisis, quickly and permanently reducing agriculture to manage the loss of water to aridification, and reducing law enforcement and carceral budgets and reallocating resources to programs that actually increase public health and safety. All of these (and more) are necessary for an equitable and livable future. I think at some level many of you know this, yet you convince yourselves that inhabiting the middle ground between advocates and industry (and other status quo defenders) makes you reasonable. But it does not. It makes you complicit.
To my Water Board colleagues:
Witnessing the agency’s ability to tackle big challenges nearly eviscerated by this Administration has been gut wrenching. The way some of you have simply rolled over and accepted this has also been difficult to watch. However, your commitment to racial equity is a reason for optimism. A tremendous amount of time and effort is going into creating a meaningful action plan and that is worthy of praise. But, following through on those commitments means leaning into conflict. Some of you need to dig deep and find your moral compass. If you cannot do that you should step aside and let others lead.
Over a decade of working for this Board I have had the privilege of working with dedicated and caring people on important policies, and for that I am grateful. Together we have advanced safe, accessible, and affordable water for marginalized communities, reduced urban water waste, and forced conversations about equity within the climate resilience discourse.
I will continue rooting for those of you willing to fight for people and environment against industry, the right-wing death cult, and status-quo defenders. Raise your voice, express dissent, organize together, and use all of the tools at your disposal. And if you ever need a pep talk, I’ll be there.
In appreciation and solidarity,
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
This is a wonderful letter; I admire it. I recognize the frustration and pain that drove Mr. Gomberg to write it. He’s right. As a state, we are not taking the actions we need to reduce present and future misery. In our field, the Newsom administration is hobbling the agencies while claiming progress. I don’t know whether it concerns the appointeds at the executive level, but the gap between the obvious necessary work and their vast timidity has taken a real toll on staff morale.
My state water agency has an unspoken internalized mandate that nothing we do can lead to conflict or the admission that policy changes will create losers. We will let existing injustices and suffering for lack of water exist forever, so long as any real-world pains aren’t because of something we touched or changed or did. This means that poor people (farmworker communities, the homeless) and the voiceless (fish, creatures, rivers) have been and will be neglected into extinction while the agency studies and models and creates decision frameworks.
As Mr. Gomberg states, the Newsom administration has been unusually timid and conflict averse, even reversing the small progress brought about by Felicia Marcus’s Board at the end of the Brown administration. I do not know whether the water executives in this administration will eventually feel ashamed of their role in the State’s refusal to do what we all need. I am deeply petty, so I hope so. Either way they will certainly be understood to have done nothing when much was required. It is already evident and noted. If the internal dissonance becomes too much, Mr. Gomberg demonstrates perhaps the only way out of the trap of the Newsom administration: a noisy resignation.
48 responses to “On your watch.”
Having become deeply involved in CA’s water mess, am a well owner and did the research, here’s my question to all who have commented. Does anyone know and understand WHY we have a water crisis? You have to know and understand “WHY” before you can understand that government is responsible and must be stopped by “WE, THE PEOPLE.” I will continue with a brief summary of the answer because I think I am limited to size here.
Here’s my followup. Sending water from one place that has the water Mother Nature provides to many other places that do not have adequate if any water under them is where the problem starts. Real Estate Developers (RED) working hand in hand with local politicians are what cause the water mess. Local politicians (greedy for permit and other fees and eventual forever property taxes) working hand in hand with RED have developed miles and miles of development over land that DOES NOT HAVE THE NATURAL WATER to sustain that development. Thus they TAKE IT FROM OTHER AREAS which then most often are much destroyed for lack of water since said developers have taken it. There is proof of this, we here in the Indian Wells Valley (eastern side of the Sierra’s) have created (our plan), filed it all the way up to President Trump who was working on it to “DO IT RIGHT!” Details are available on pages I have donated on my Arabian Horse Website, but not sure if it is permissible to post that link here, so will do that in my next post which if it is against the rules can be deleted by this staff. Perhaps we can find another way to send interested parties the link.
Here is the “Water Mess” link from Lorry Wagner:
Actually I’m not surprised by all the foolish, useless words along with pitiful comments. I remember droughts in the 70’s I was just a kid putting tubs in the shower to water plants and we put rock in most of the yard we put 1/2 gallon milk containers in the toilet so less water was needed to fill it we were limited to 10 min showers. They got smart and guess what they did? They built a freaking dam Damn what a brilliant idea Malone’s resivoir. WOW! Fools I say. It is obvious the water needed for agriculture and human consumption as risen drastically and we do put more water down the delta than is needed for all the reasons everyone crys about, that is not hard to figure out. yet no effort has been made to make our water issues better they cry Climate, such BS sure we need to control emmisions and we have. i remember 104 deg days in the bay area in the 60s and 70s 80’s etc. Oh heres a good one lets drastically cut californias agriculture? Really, again how ignorant! Safe water for marginalized people was that a joke? San francisco had the best water from the once most beautiful valley in the sierras. Everything is gonna burn down anyways So let’s build some damn dams. Until then i will continue watering all my grass and plants when i want I will never cut back I will leave the water on while I shave and take 30 minute showers everyday just because not really. I’m no genious and it doesn’t take one to do what is needed and what’s is right for California. The government has ruined this state and every nice city there was
We must keep government out of our water world. The entire plan to correctly do so and get rid of all the political crap that has destroyed the state of California since 1905 when Mullholland and his rich cohorts made the mess of an aqueduct stealing water from the Owens Valley. I hope this is okay to share this website which has all this REAL and ACTUAL information very clear: The following pages are donated by a private property owner in the Indian Wells Valley, Inyokern, CA. The information available here is the TRUTH of why LA has to go to desalination, shut down all their aqueducts which steal water from other areas and destroy the residents of those areas property and livelyhood, etc., etc.
We, the people of California (registered voters, especially) must dump all our politicians that have (or will) voted to set up sub committees/sections to make supposed legal rules and interfere in our Water Rights. There is not enough room here to give all readers the true background, truth of political illegal movements and the path to dump all political messes and get back to “REAL Property Owners’ water rights. The above listed website does have the information and path needed.
Will the owners of this site please let me know if I am not allowed to share such a website. Thank you.
Having been involved in the water field for nearly 40 years, it’s very frustrating to see how the States priorities never amount to anything of significant benefit to the “People ” or the environment.
Your commentary on this broken system are of great insight and persuasion. Too bad the bigshots dont acknowledge your perspective.
Keep on keepin on!
Thank you for the “understanding” and encouragement, Dan.
The real problem is that the state has promised 5 times more consumptive water than is available. And the State Water Resources Control Board, the agency responsible to grant AND REVOKE water rights permits has never bothered to quantify how much usable water they are governing. The State Board needs to quantify how much consumptive water is sustainably available after satisfying the requirements of the laws ment to protect the people and the environment: the Public Trust Doctrine, Article 10 Section 2 of the California Constitution against waste and unreasonable use and Fish & Game Code 5937 protecting fish below dams. Follow the money and you will understand why there is a problem.
The reason you get nowhere with your claim that the State has granted 5x more water than is available is that it is untrue. You base this on the discredited paper by Grantham and Viers: they made a rookie mistake, adding the face value of water rights without looking at the terms and conditions and overlapping rights. For example, USBR has rights to divert directly, to store and to redivert stored water. Add it up and you get far more water than they have a right to consumptively use. Same for DWR. Grantham and Viers did not take that into account. SWRCB staff know this, as does the board. So they ignore you when you claim it.
Waterwonk, a couple of questions. You say Grantham and Viers’ work has been discredited, but I can’t find any research that documents flaws related to terms/conditions/overlapping rights. Could you point me to research that rebuts their conclusions on this basis? Also, assuming that they were mistaken, do you disagree with their conclusion that water rights that have been granted exceed actual supply?
The paper by U C Davis Professors Grantham and Viers on the quantification of California’s consumptive water has not been discredited; it stands. Logic and experience tells us there is something wrong with the way California’s water is being managed. The problems are the same for the Colorado River contractors…we at C-WIN (c-win.org) call it “paper water”…the Third District Court of Appeal agreed with us in the PCL decision in 2000…”paper water is no more than a wish and a prayer.” Go to our website for information on the paper water problem AND how to solve it. Paper water is a promise in a contract that can never be met…and building tunnels, new dams or canals will not produce one drop of “new” water.
There are solutions…lots of them…but the first order of business is that the State Board must quantify how much consumptive water is available…then the State Board must consider the laws including the Public Trust Doctrine, the California Constitution Article 10 section 2 against waste and unreasonable use and Fish & Game code 5937 requiring all dams maintain healthy fisheries below them (after all, dams are what are causing problems for fish because they block fish passage upstream where they breed.). California’s water can not be reasonably managed until these basic things are done.
Carolee: I would have expected a better response than denial followed by changing the subject (paper water has nothing to do with the fact that Grantham and Viers added face values of overlapping water rights without taking into account terms and conditions on those rights, then comparing those values with watershed runoff).
You think their estimate of water rights exceeding average runoff by a factor of 5 has not been discredited? Fine: how about explaining to us how adding overlapping rights for a storage right, a right to redivert water released from storage and a right to divert directly do not overestimate the amount of water that can be used by a factor of at least 3. Because that is what they did and that has nothing to do with paper water, it is the way the Board requires applications and grants rights. And that only starts the overlap of rights (and you only get to use one right at a time for any quantum of water, so overlapping rights do not add, Grantham and Viers apparently did not know that or ignored it). The Board knows this and SWRCB staff know it and we all just laughed at that paper when it came out.
You would do yourself a favor by not repeating that nonsense of water rights exceeding runoff from their paper, it only serves to discredit you. And I am actually someone who has long supported your and C-WIN’s work, I just don’t like to see people doing good work get discredited because they cling to nonsense and cannot change opinions regardless of facts.
As to no new water from dams, total nonsense again. I suggest you look at PPICs latest report on water use in the Delta and its watershed: in wet years they found over 400 taf available without changing anything but the ability to put water in the ground once San Luis fills; the same would be true about filling Sites in wet years, and all that would be new water.
Cmaddren: A couple of things Grantham and Viers got right: the SWRCB does not have a good accounting of just what all the water rights out there amount to when Terms and Conditions and overlapping rights are included. What they got wrong: adding face values of water rights grossly overstates the usable water rights. Examples, all water rights in the Delta watershed that are junior to the CVP and SWP have Term 91 and holders are required to stop diverting when the projects are releasing water from storage for inbasin entitlements in excess of project inbasin deliveries and exports. The face value of those water rights does not reflect that limitation and grossly overstates the amount of the right without taking that into account.
Another example I already gave: CVP and SWP have separate rights to store water, release it and redivert it and to divert water directly to export or inbasin use. Right there, the face value is way more than what can be diverted. Face value of water rights are the maximum of that right as if it were used for the entire season at the allowable maximum rate of diversion. Yet the Terms and Conditions on the CVP and SWP require them to meet the Water Quality Control Plan and their respective biological opinions and incidental take permits. So the face values far exceed what they can actually legally divert. I know of one agency whose Terms and Conditions limit them to about 1/8th of the total face value of the different rights they can divert under.
As to the your last question: depends on the river. Clearly, the Sacramento River has plenty of water even in average years, so no, it is not oversubscribed (recall Grantham and Viers claim was based on average runoff. But the San Joaquin River can run dry in reaches in average years and is clearly oversubscribed (the running joke about New Melones is that its yield is negative: it owes more water than it can deliver). So some rivers clearly are oversubscribed.
Waterwonk, Thanks for your reply. Appreciate the additional info.
Good comment, Carolee Krieger. However, except for your opening comment…”The real problem is…” is 100% incorrect. The real problem is that the State of California must be prohibited from intruding on “we, the people’s” water rights, PERIOD! We have put that plan together, it will work and goes back to protecting the individual citizen and gets State government OUT OF OUR WATER!
In light of Mr. Gomberg’s comments, it will be interesting to learn how the SWRCB decides the appeal of Blue Triton Brands – the new owners of the former Nestle’ bottled water brands – that it be allowed to continue extracting water – as it does to this day – from the San Bernardino National Forest.
It does not pay for the water, only for the annual permit fee (btw, $1,000-2,000) to operate its extraction equipment. As a result, its profit at the retail level is approx. 3,000%,
Delta farmers take out over 2 million acre-feet per year of water and pay nothing to the state and they make lots of money off the agricultural products they sell. SFPUC dammed up Hetch Hetchy and takes out hundreds of thousands of acre-feet per year and pays nothing, and they sell that water to people all over the Bay Area. the CVP and SWP have rights to over 7 million acre-feet per year and pay the state nothing, and they sell that water to farmers who grow crops and make billions. Nobody pays for water taken under State water rights, and you whine about Nestles?? The state does not charge for water rights.
Waterwonk. Please understand that the large portion of the water problem you both reference is the fact that ALL THAT WATER THE DELTA FARMERS TAKE IS IN LARGE PART FROM PROPERTY OWNED BY FOREIGN COUNTRIES AND THAT PRODUCT IS SHIPPED BACK TO THEIR OWN COUNTRY. Yes, CA gets paid along the way…illegally IMHO. This water mess goes very deep and is in layers, all of which must be dug out and thrown out of any political aspect of our water.
RICHARD: Another aspect of why government has to be prohibited from any water business. Government is bought and paid for and needs to get gone!
Waterwonk, how much oxygen do you breath each day without paying for it? The water that runs into our streams and rivers and into our reservoirs is a gift of God as is life, sunshine, air and so much more. Do you pay anything for the right to be alive? Do you pay for the sun rays that provide electricity from your solar panels? Or the wind that drives wind mills? Or the ocean that provides many benefits from food to water to recreation, sports, breath taking vistas, transport, wildlife and much more?
Karin Campbell: Richard complained that Nestles and Blue Triton do not pay for water that they turn around and sell for a big profit. I pointed out that nobody pays the State for water rights in California, not Nestles, not Delta farmers, not SFPUC, not the CVP and SWP. Your complaint is with Richard who thinks the State should charge, not me.
Waterwonk, you are equating nestle–who bottles and sells water out of state–to farmers who use water to grow crops. Taking water and selling it is not even close to the same situation as using water to farm and grow crops. Flipping free water for a profit, vs, the using water to farm. Do you really see these two things as the same?
Private companies like San Jose Water and Golden State Water take water, treat it and distribute it for a profit. Farmers take water and grow crops for a profit. None pay for the water out of the stream, because California does not charge. So how is that different from Nestles?
There are a lot of things to hate about bottled water, not the least of which is the waste of plastic and the cost (it is about 1000 times more expensive than tap water).
I live in the San Joaquin valley. We have loads of farms. We are rapidly building homes in spite of the fact that there really isn’t enough water to support them. All our water for residents in my city comes from the aquifer below. Some farmers get water from the reservoir, but many pump from the aquifer. It gets lower every year. Very little rain falls anymore to replenish it. I fear the day we turn on our taps and nothing comes out. But I see nothing being done about it. No one talks about it that I know of.
Beyond the Governor’s Executive Order this year, the following was shared with me this weekend:
Assemblymember Bennett’s water-well-permitting regulation passes committee
“A bill authored by Assemblymember Steve Bennett (D-Ventura) aimed at regulating the drilling of water wells in the state has crossed an initial hurdle to becoming law. On June 28, state Assembly Bill 2201 passed out of the Governance and Finance Committee and is now headed to the Appropriations Committee. According to the state’s Legislative Counsel Digest, AB2201 would “prohibit a county, city, or any other water-well-permitting agency from approving a permit for a new groundwater well or for an alteration to an existing well in a basin subject to the (Sustainability Groundwater Management Act — SGMA) and classified as medium or high priority, unless specified conditions are met.” … ” Read more from Ojai Valley News here: Assemblymember Bennett’s water-well-permitting regulation passes committee: https://www.ojaivalleynews.com/news/assemblymember-bennett-s-water-well-permitting-regulation-passes-committee/article_a5df7038-0402-11ed-8fa3-bb2a88290adc.html
Mark Arax wrote quite a bit about it last year – you can likely find one or more pieces by searching in his name. Beyond the Governor’s Executive Order this year, there is this that was shared with me yesterday:
Assemblymember Bennett’s water-well-permitting regulation passes committee
“A bill authored by Assemblymember Steve Bennett (D-Ventura) aimed at regulating the drilling of water wells in the state has crossed an initial hurdle to becoming law. On June 28, state Assembly Bill 2201 passed out of the Governance and Finance Committee and is now headed to the Appropriations Committee. According to the state’s Legislative Counsel Digest, AB2201 would “prohibit a county, city, or any other water-well-permitting agency from approving a permit for a new groundwater well or for an alteration to an existing well in a basin subject to the (Sustainability Groundwater Management Act — SGMA) and classified as medium or high priority, unless specified conditions are met.” … ” Read more from Ojai Valley News here: Assemblymember Bennett’s water-well-permitting regulation passes committee https://www.ojaivalleynews.com/news/assemblymember-bennett-s-water-well-permitting-regulation-passes-committee/article_a5df7038-0402-11ed-8fa3-bb2a88290adc.html
Last comment for the day…please go to the website I donated for this water-issue mess. Much history is there in the Newsletters from 2018 to present. We have created “Our Plan” which will solve the problem. Mary…much of the water LA area has “TAKEN” for you has dried up the land to the north of you. There should NEVER be any permits issued NOR any development allowed where the land under same cannot produce enough (or any) water to supply same above that land. NEVER should water be taken from other areas to service areas that have no water under their own ground. That’s the key to resolving CA’s water problem. LADWP MUST go to desalination and stop draining water from all areas north of them, stop draining the Colorado River and STOP TAKING WATER FROM ALL THE EASTERN, Etc. SITES AS THEY ARE CURRENTLY DOING. We live with drought as we have for thousands of years. We learn to live with Mother Nature. MAN IS NEVER GOING TO CHANGE MOTHER NATURE! Here’s our website…our plan went to President Trump who was working to correct the water mess.
The people responsible for this water disaster claim they haven’t done enough to reduce agricultural and diminish the food supply. They are sick. They have no conscience and no common sense. Must be a Berkeley grad. They should be tarred and feathered and cut off from any access to government power. Instead they stand on their soap box and pretend to be moral. They are morons.
On the other hand I do appreciate that you (author) see the dire consequence of such bad governance.
Meanwhile, out in the real world the Water Board is engaged in unprecedented curtailments of water use on the Scott and Shasta Rivers and is destroying the Sacramento River Settlement Contractors and the communities that rely on their water.
Plenty of pain being imposed, I assure you.
I have property in The Scott River Valley and spend time there. The “curtailment” of irrigation is a paper regulation that is not being enforced. Irrigation goes on as usual and flows are less than 1/2 the emergency flow level DFW says is the minimum needed to support salmon and steelhead.
This is, unfortunately, the way these things typically go in the Scott Valley and across the state. The good people at the Water Boards are not enforcing the laws and regulations. This is not new and it is the way the governor wants it to remain.
Too bad our state government and the environmentalists who smooze them, are by far the largest wasters of water while doing the least to mitigate the problem. They drain all abundance into the ocean rather than storing for dry seasons. They refuse to build and maintain the water storage infrastructures already approved and continue to deny funding despite Prop 1 (the Water Quality, Supply and Infrastructure Act of 2014). This kind of malfeasance in office is going to cost millions of lives. Yet they parade smugly around, confident we’ll just accept their sentencing.
For all the water that has been taken from agriculture over the last 40 years (nearly half of all of our stored water is flushed out to sea), no fish populations have ever rebounded. Farmers pay for their water, pay for conveyance even when they don’t receive any water, pay to pump it from the ground to keep their crops alive and are vilified by the very people that expect their grocery stores to be filled with cheap food.
Good riddance Max Gomberg. I hope the rest of your ilk leaves the water board as well. You think the problem can be solved with rationing, rather than finding real solutions like building more storage or giving surface water to restore aquifers.
Thank you. Spot on.
This site has blocked me from posting my response, so, we shall see in a minute if I can succeed.
TRUE, every word! Well said
We will see if I can, at least, post a quick comment, as this site blocked my rather lengthy response earlier, (causing a 100% loss of my efforts).
Went back in the comments and approved a lot of pending ones, but I don’t see a lengthy response from you. Am not sure it was hung up in wordpress. If I find it (and it isn’t spam) I’ll approve it.
My first comment was the Long one, as I had NO IDEA that all of this “trouble” would happen~!
I am not a specialist in this field, but have been feeling increasing frustration with the lack of action during an unprecedented drought. I was hoping to read a resignation letter that I could show to my elected representatives to demand action or some kind of accountability. However, what I saw was a meandering message from a frustrated official that I, as an outsider, couldn’t make sense of. We have hard decisions to make as a state. Deciding to nothing is a decision, and it’s usually the worst one. I’m not sure what I can do as a regular citizen besides shrug and move on.
Well, there IS a Governor who bears some responsibility here. Or are you just going to vote for him as President?
First off, I find the resignation letter disingenuous. Mr. Gomberg was part of an establishment to blame the “little people” for the foibles of inept government initiatives. The whole CA administration is focused on reducing water usage — and the blame game — instead of increasing water supply. The same “officials” screaming about perennial drought, are the same ones screaming about rising oceans. This does seem to foster a “Duuuuh!” moment. And remember, Newsom is NOT in charge. He has handlers. And what about complicit administration actions which help create a drought?:
And in case anyone is missing this, governments — specifically the USA — have had the technology to engineer climates for decades (GOOG search Operation Popeye). They’ll spray the skies and tell you it’s to protect against planet warming, but they don’t tell you it’s depleting the ozone layer. If you don’t believe there is climate engineering going on, do a GOOG search for “climate engineering jobs”…you might be surprised.
So where am I going with this? My point is to illustrate that a dearth of H2O is a manufactured crisis and why Mr. Gomberg’s suggestions were dismissed. He was attempting to use common sense — within parameters laid out to him and set by the administration — in an arena where the objective was a completely different paradigm. Gomberg was gaslit and so are we.
Until the focus of derision is place squarely on the backs of those in charge, instead of on each other, this crisis will become existential in short order. Don’t let normalcy and confirmation bias stymie your ability to look outside the box. If something is true, by definition, it’s not a conspiracy theory.
Mr. Gomberg’s courage and statement is a call to action in the evident injustices that have occurred and continue to this minute. Thank you!!
El puño del Pueblo los castigara.
California is over populated, this is the greater agenda: i.e., to regulate California to it’s knees and by this reduce population numbers in the state, and so water consumption.
Just The Facts Folks: Blaming Governments for any complacency regarding the Climate Crisis is a moot point when we do not have Collective (Covenant) participation Nationally or Globally — for simple things like wearing a mask or getting the Free Vaccines because some feel their “freedom” is at stake to do so. Why would we think that the lack of Water Conservation and prior planning and action by all Citizens decades ago should be the fault of Governments? SOS Red Alert Mother Earth – for decades now and still being denied as reality by many and is not just on the doorsteps of California. Examples of communities bent on rebuilding in flood zones, islands in the paths of hurricanes etc. Humans are at fault and we have been warned over and over through many decades.
I’m sorry but this resignation letter further exemplifies the reality that is the SWRCB is getting too big for its britches. Someone from SWRCB Commenting on police reform, housing, and prison reform….what?
Water is real issue that will take time to resolve. Farmers need help, they don’t need to be admonished. “stop farming” is not a solution.
As they say, ‘you’ll attract more bees with honey than vinegar’