It is just as well that I am not writing water commentary until May. The forces in play right now really aren’t water related. Devin Nunes has been our own special topic here for nearly a decade, and now he might be brought down for covering up Russian infiltration in the Trump White House? Friends, I ask you. Be fair. How was I supposed to predict that? Just last week I thought I’d point out that Nunes has an unusual amount of leverage, as Majority Chair of the Intelligence Committee, and that if San Joaquin Valley growers want any particular kind of immigration enforcement from the Trump administration, they were almost uniquely positioned to get what they want. Growers used to own every inch of Nunes, and he had a bargaining chip that few others have. But that was last week. Now we know that Nunes is wholly Trump-owned and I’m glad I didn’t write that post.
So I don’t see the major stories in Water being about water this year. I wonder how the State Water Contractors are going to pay for repairs and structural improvements to Oroville Dam. Besides that, I’m watching the labor shortage play out and waiting for news of a trade war. If I weren’t scared of a nuclear war, I could almost enjoy myself.
Hello friends. I’ve gotten absorbed into a good project. For the moment, I don’t have time to think about water policy. I will be back in a couple months. All is well.
Have a good Spring!
I am a catastrophist, I freely admit. I sometimes think that the difference between my writings and the other water pundits is that I’m willing to predict that bad things will happen, instead of repeating technological optimism. Even so, this year is making me think that I haven’t spent enough time thinking about rare events. (Yes, sure, I read Taleb.) I hadn’t, honestly, given much thought to the potential for sudden dam failure. (Yes, sure, I read McCullough.) You know what else I hadn’t thought about? The possibility of trade wars, or conventional wars, with China and Mexico. Trump brings chaos to everything he touches. Climate change increases uncertainty. Both of those will intersect vividly in the San Joaquin Valley, because it is predominantly a single climate-dependent industry and lacks the resilience of evenly-distributed wealth. If Trump is president for more than a year, I think the chaos will even reach into California.
Now would be an excellent time for California to buy the CVP.
ADDED 1/26: In 2010, the Little Hoover Commission proposed spinning off the State Water Project into its own agency (similar to the ISO for the electric grid, I believe). I’d suggest buying the CVP and putting both the projects under the same state agency, as the LHC suggested. Further, there is some urgency in doing this before Westlands gets a huge giveaway from their new friends in DC.
She says probably, but she has screwed the environmental water community fairly regularly. I don’t think her hold on the seat is nearly as secure as everyone says. She’s never in California and hasn’t been for years. There is considerable room for someone to run to the left of her. Any of the big names who wants that seat should run for it, especially someone with an environmental focus. She should have to campaign, and have to justify the water compromises she is willing to make. They aren’t appropriate from a Democrat.
I am consumed by the news about Trump and the election, which doesn’t leave me much spare capacity for thinking about water. I am heartsick about this reversal. I had genuinely thought I was seeing new forms of power (social media connectedness between clear thinkers and Science) come to the fore. I thought the old form of power (rich men buying access to political power) was on the wane. This may yet be true, but seeing the changeover pushed back several years has made me deeply sad.
Nevertheless, I have had a few spare thoughts and my poor blog is hungry.
Thought 1: Pretty wet start to the winter, which is nice. I had thought Drought Year 6 would be the year we got serious. But with the balance of power changed over, I’m just as happy for a wet year, a year when the water world goes about its business as usual, forgetting droughts ever happen.
Thought 2: I have no interest in the particular person in charge of Interior and Reclamation. I’m assuming all candidates will suck equally and see no need to try to forecast.
Thought 3: I am not sure that water policy will be the dominant force on CA agriculture this year. Immigration and labor could be big. But I’m looking hard at trade. Trump seems to be going out of his way to offend China and India, who are large markets for tree nuts. If Trump provokes a trade war, or a real war, with China, I’m thinking that this post of mine will seem prescient. Almond orchards are all the same asset; holdings in tree nuts are not a diversified portfolio. If there’s an overseas market bust, there will be an unbelievable surplus of harvested almonds, with more new orchards coming into bearing years. Although the instream flow proposals are being touted as a terrible pressure on northern San Joaquin Valley economies, after a China/India trade bust, it may be that land prices collapse and easiest ways to get flows back in the river are to simply buy up abandoned almond orchards.
UPDATE 12/21: Trade war with China.
Westlands Water District’s Johnny Amaral writes a response to Mark Arax in the Fresno Bee:
The article also criticizes an agreement between Westlands and the Obama administration. That agreement resolves a decades-long problem involving drainage facilities for the Central Valley Project, relieves taxpayers of billions of dollars of liability and requires Westlands to take over the responsibility to manage drainage in the future. Neither side got everything they wanted, but the process of negotiation worked.
At a time when many Americans are tired of the governments’ inability to work together to solve problems, this settlement ought to be treated as a model for how to get things done.
I should certainly hope not! I don’t like the terms of exchange, but those aside, this settlement is a terrible model for others. It has no terms for determining whether Westlands keeps its side of the bargain. It doesn’t establish a program for monitoring whether Westlands has fulfilled its duty to treat drainage, or set standards for treatment (salt concentrations, ppm) that Westlands must meet, nor set any remedy for what happens if Westlands doesn’t meet a standard. If Westlands doesn’t treat its drainage water adequately, what happens? Westlands gets no water the following year? Westlands pays a fine? The entire contract is nullified?
This settlement has no way to determine whether Westlands performs its side of the bargain, but of a certainty, Westlands will insist that the federal government performs its side. Bad bargain aside, this is a terrible model for acting in the public interest.