Category Archives: Public Water Coalition

Good things in the Public Water Coalition position paper.

I should say some things I liked about the Public Water Coalition paper, most of which can be found in their introduction and core principles. (Sadly, when they develop the themes in later sections, they walk them back somewhat, or apply them to the Delta but not themselves.)

Still, they show a real solid grasp of climate change and understand that now is the time to plan and adapt for it. The section on conveyance concedes that fixing the Delta ecosystem is a prerequisite for moving water. Water agencies haven’t always shown such concern. The section on water conservation takes it very seriously, emphasizing the ties between conservation and improved supply reliability. I’ve already said that I love the idea of a real time monitoring system for diversions, and I’d love to have that tied to water rights enforcement. Section (g) introduces the idea of halting illegal diversions in the Delta. That would be a great start, although I can’t see why that should be limited to the Delta.

Something new and promising shows up a couple times in the position paper, where they say that land use agencies have to get involved. This is painfully true, but hasn’t been said much by powerful people. I’m very intrigued that large water agencies have brought it up. (Of course they have brought it up for the Delta and not themselves, but this is the post where I encourage themes I like to see.)

Overall, if this is the new water buffalo dogma, it is a very pragmatic approach, conceding to the realities that Californians want a healthy environment, or at least they are standing behind our environmental laws. I think the reality that the next big source of water is going to be efficiency gains has hit home. In this paper, they don’t dispute climate change. They are dealing with these constraints, which is much better than refusing to admit that they’re real. They call for the enforcement of water rights, which is a decent second place to fixing them. This is a realistic approach (easier for them to apply to the water users in the Delta who are not in the Public Water Coalition), and one that opens a lot of space for environmentalists to work with them. So that’s good.

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II. e. Real Time Operations/Monitoring/Reporting

This is not a major point of the Public Water Coalition’s position paper, but it illustrates my take on the whole piece.  One of their eight recommendations to improve water supply and reliability (Section II, starting page 4) is to start real time operations monitoring and reporting (II, e.  page 11).  In paraphrase, they propose installing measuring devices on water diversions larger than 5cfs in the Sacramento Delta and on tributary inflows.    These meters should talk to the Batcave, showing State Water Resources Control Board staff real-time diversions, with an alarm if those exceed the amount allowed by water right.  The cost of the meters should be billed to the diverters.  Who should pay for software, maintenance and monitoring is left unsaid, but I think we all know that they mean the state should pay for that.

This is a fucking FANTASTIC idea.  I would LOVE this.  In fact, I would love to see all the diversions in the state larger than 5 cfs on a real-time monitoring system, preferably on the internet, so that anyone who was interested could watch gauges all day.  It would be EVEN BETTER if each of those diversions were linked to a database of water rights, so that an exceedance turned colors and flashed for everyone to see.  Perhaps that is too much to hope for, but all diversions on everything that flows into the Delta and through the Delta would be a GREAT start.

Here the thing.  If the Public Water Coalition wants to see this happen, there is nothing to stop them from building it.  Any group of agencies that large has at least as much capacity to make this happen as the state does.   I am quite sure the agencies represented in the PWC have enough money to develop the software, integrate the water rights database, host the site and secure the telemetry.  The meters and installation would be very expensive, but they could start with their own diversions.  They could get four or five years into building this thing and hand it over to the state, who would be happy to run it after that1.  Once there were some momentum behind it, I suspect the State Board would find it a lot easier to require small diverters to join.

This illustrates my points about the nature of the Public Water Coalition:

1.  The Public Water Coalition doesn’t propose that they go ahead and do this, because they aren’t oriented towards taking their own action to solve the water problems of our state.  They are oriented towards responding to the Delta Vision process, presumably because their sole position paper got written to serve as comments to the Delta Vision Plan. 

2.  The point of the system they propose is to clamp down on the little guys.  They’re after the hundreds or thousands of little guys who don’t track their diversions well, who may go over their rights because no one has ever cared but the fish.  I’m strongly for that, but I’ve never seen big versus little put forth like this.

3.  They sure don’t offer to put up any money, and they suggest other people pay for the whole thing.

4. In-Delta water users, you are ON YOUR OWN. The Public Water Coalition is not protecting your interests.







1 Maybe not. We might not be able to afford to staff a statewide realtime water monitoring system. I try really really hard to keep insider talk off this blog. But I will tell you the insider talk that I hear at least as much as anything, which is that people in DWR are nearly desperate to keep their data gathering alive. They inherited a system of gauges all over the state and the support for maintaining and reading them has steadily declined. The state has ninety years of hydrologic record because people thought it was a prudent good management. It was. That’s how we know that climate change is happening.

But those programs have been cut back even as we need them more desperately than ever. I’ve heard men get choked up about losing the continuous data we’ve kept for seventy years on some gauges. I’ve heard talk about the gauging and record keeping programs going from nine full-time people in one region down to one, and workers checking gauges on their own time simply out of dedication. When your state is going broke and people are going without health care, it is really hard to ask for more money to check streamflow gauges. But it is an intensely valuable program that is being eaten away by budget cuts. Given that we can’t even keep that going, I don’t know if the state could take a big monitoring system if it were handed to them.


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I got mine.

I’ve now read the Public Water Coalition’s position paper a few more times.  It is an odd document.  Seriously, I don’t know anything about how the Public Water Coalition wants to organize or exert influence, although with the membership they claim, they could be very powerful.  All I can find online is a few Boards of Directors deciding whether to align with them based on the 19 page position paper we’ll be talking about.  This position paper is nearly all I can find (no website, no gossip), but the strange thing about it is that the paper’s initial purpose was to provide comment to the Delta Vision process.  It does that fine, but that focus is odd for a group that describes itself as “committed to solving our state’s water problems”.  Since it is 19 pages responding to this and that in the proposed Delta Vision plan, the overall impression is that the water problem all those agencies want to solve is that Phil Isenberg, the Chair of Delta Vision, is getting uppity.

The document has a number of policy recommendations, nearly all of which are “Give us money.”  This isn’t wrong.  Making the water system flexible and reliable enough to serve millions more people with less water will require lots of money and dispersing bond funds to agencies is a decent way to do that.  Still, it is a little offputting.  In 19 pages of discussion and recommendation, they suggest a few things for someone else (DWR) to do and ask for money without any strings attached.  They emphasize their dedication to local control fairly heavily.  Really?  They’re agencies with ratesetting and taxation authority.  They claim to represent 25 million Californians, nearly 3/4ths 2/3rds of the state.  Is there nothing they could get started with while DWR is occupied by the drought?  But action by the Public Water Coalition doesn’t come up, because the document isn’t about “solving our state’s water problems”.  It is about responding to the Delta Vision plan and pushing the Peripheral Canal.

Finally, to an astonishing extent, the positions in this document are about protecting power.  I’ll try to illustrate that when I talk about individual sections, but I’m honestly surprised that they feel that they have to coalesce to lobby for power they’ve always had.  The Delta Vision committee must have been very scary for them.  It is a little odd to talk about power in this context.  They claim to be water agencies representing the bulk of Californians.  If Met (the agency that distributes water to lots of SoCal) is in it, then their constituents include, for example, all of L.A.’s poor people, whom I would normally not class as powerful.  If the Friant Water Authority is in it, their constituents are as close as this state has to stable small farmers, not always a powerful group.  The powerful and the not-powerful in this coalition are larger water agencies on the powerful side, and anyone using water in the Delta and unaffiliated water users on the not-powerful side.  I don’t know how explicitly they thought about this, but my take is that they see looming water scarcity and are reaffirming their claims as against anyone smaller.  This drought is exposing all the flaws in our institutions, so the people who have done well under those institutions are trying to reinforce them in their favor before the permanent drought hits.

I don’t know how stable this coalition is going to be.  The traditional alignment was northern versus southern California, then ag versus urban, then a triangle between ag, urban and enviros.  There’s been talk recently of an east/west split, which looks to me like an ag versus urban + enviros version.  If the Public Water Coalition is the new force it claims to be, the new alignment would be large established water agencies versus anyone small.  That’s interesting.  Well, I’m interested.

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Introduction: the Public Water Coalition

I was very intrigued by this story on a new coalition in water politics, the Public Water Coalition.  It is a few months old, and like the article says, I had never heard of it.  It looks to be a loose affiliation of most of the big water districts in the state.  They don’t have staff or a website or anything, so it took me a while to track down their guiding document, a position paper issued in February.  It is among the attachments in this report to a water district board, (pages 11-29), and looks like the comments they submitted to the Delta Vision process back in November.  I found one other statement by them, again to Delta Vision.

Do you remember when this blog was just a baby, and we spent three weeks of its young life going through the Pacific Institute report?  Remember how exciting that was?  Shall we do that again, focus on parsing a position paper that none of y’all would read anyway?  LETS!

My take-away from my first couple readings is:

Every recommendation in the report is a way to protect the power of the already powerful water interests in the state.  If you want to know the water buffalo party line, this is it.  (Given that, I’m impressed with the extent to which they have conceded that environmental management is necessary.  I’m thinking that is Tim Quinn’s influence.)

This position paper heavily favors the upper Sacramento Valley water users, which doesn’t surprise me, because it looks as if they were the organizers for this coalition.

They are throwing the in-Delta farmers TO THE WOLVES.   Advocates for maintaining the Delta in its current state, know that the big dogs have turned on you.

They mount a surprising defense of “traditional water rights”.  I’ve heard a good amount of talk about scrapping our existing water rights and starting over, but dismissed it as a fantasy too good to ever come true.  So I’m surprised that the Public Water Coalition feel that they have to defend against that talk.  I can only hope that they perceive a threat to the existing rights system.


Anyway, there’s a lot in this position paper.  I’ll be writing about it in coming posts.

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