I am sincerely enjoying the work coming from women academics younger than me, demonstrating that mainstays of California water management are pretty well bullshit.
- Here is Dr. Ulibarri pointing out that water districts spend substantial time and money on management plans that they do not use to manage their water and that we don’t use to hold them accountable. Also, the plans only really address water supply.
- Here is Dr. Dobbin saying that SGMA agencies do not concern themselves with drinking water for small and vulnerable communities, and if we want them to, we will have to go beyond “outreach and engagement.”
I would love to stand behind the authors at conferences and be their anger translator. They’re saying such important things, but still saying them in academic language. I would gibber and howl and bellow things like “including DACs is worthless if you ignore them afterward!”or “if we’re going to make districts do plans, make them rigorous! If not, don’t waste everyone’s time!”
On the other hand, what I want to tell Dr. Ulibarri is that she cannot imagine how forcefully these plans were fought at the beginning. I had a front row seat. The districts were absolutely livid that big government would want to look into their internal affairs. One district manager spent the time to fill in every single blank in the guidebook with “N/A” and send it back to us. Aside from that, it was the early 90’s and the water districts literally did not have the information the water plans requested. Keep track of deliveries? Nope. Never did it; didn’t see why they would. Basic information management was a heavy lift (they told us) and doing that on a deadline was nigh impossible. They fought water plans so hard and the weakened outcome was the limbo we are in now: “turn them in and no one will hold you responsible for what is in them.”
Dr. Ulibarri is right, though. It has been thirty years since the 1992 CVPIA required Ag Water Management Plans. A generation and a half of bizarre limbo is long enough. Time for the next phase (SWRCB enforcing targets? Actually holding districts to their submitted plans?). Dr. Dobbin is right too. Requiring that agencies do outreach and collaboration with DACs is newer, coming on 10 years old. It is also a weakass process requirement. The truth is that districts will not accept strong re-direction from what they do now. They will fight anything that creates different outcomes. The other truth is that the State and Feds do not want the responsibility of actual factfinding and enforcement, so they’re happy to accept toothless process compromises.
I’m loving these papers pointing out well known, established water management practices are pointless. Keep them coming! I admire your work!
You know what else has been wonderful? It isn’t in Water; it is over in Housing. Friends, if you are not following the saga of the Builders Remedy, it is absolutely delightful. It is also a lesson about the importance of changing the BATNA. More or less, it goes like this:
State: Cities, you must write a Housing Element that adds sufficient housing and turn it in to us.
Cities: No, fuck you.
State: Actually, you do have to and we will tell you whether it is compliant.
Cities: Hah hah, here is our joke of a Housing Element, smeared with food from our lunch. What are you going to do about it?
MEANWHILE: When a city doesn’t have a compliant Housing Element, something called the Builders Remedy comes into effect, in which any project submitted by a developer is automatically accepted and cannot be revoked, even when the City does submit a compliant Housing Element. In the past month, a few cities’ Housing Elements were deemed incompliant and not corrected and finally, the city fell into Builders Remedy status. The developers were just waiting and submitted projects right away. Those projects are now permitted.
Cities: HOLY FUCKING SHIT, how fast can we get a corrected Housing Element to you and oh god can you review it quickly?
Now Water friends. Can you see the difference between that and what we’ve been doing with the Voluntary Agreements? The BATNA is everything. Water districts are getting what they want while the State tries to negotiate Voluntary Agreements. Their BATNA is better than the Voluntary Agreements and delay is the same as winning for them. Which is why, four years later, the Newsom Administration has nothing to show for their work. Now if the BATNA were flipped, as with the Builders Remedy, so that districts did not get water while they delay the Voluntary Agreements, well then. Then you would see the districts coming to the administration and begging them to negotiate terms as fast as possible.
Learn from the Builders Remedy, Newsom administration! Flip the BATNA! Everyone else, at least follow along and enjoy the schadenfreude. It has been just marvelous.