CA food security. (Part c.)

Bordeau’s essay is an interesting departure. California ag doesn’t generally talk about food security, because if it did, someone might get interested in the question of ‘how much ag would CA need to be food secure?’ and the answer is ‘not much at all.’. So CA ag doesn’t usually bring it up. But, you know, it’s been a bit, so maybe no one told him to pipe down about that.

The truth is, if we want CA ag to be the source of Californian food security, we’d have to change just about everything from our current profit-maximizing, economically-optimized, plantation system. The system that we’ve come to accept is terribly brittle. I don’t know that it is brittle to COVID 19 in particular, but COVID 19 is reminding people that huge bad shit that is out of our control can happen. Our system doesn’t have a way to scale up and down for type of water year. Plantation ag is not diversified. If an almond plague came through, it’d wipe out 1.5M acres. We’re at the edge of collapse for groundwater and salt. The people in the system cannot imagine any other way; their ways of life are brittle.

We should actually convert to a system that grants real food security. Honestly, the water policy is the simplest part. The hard part is that we’d have to define our values. Food security for Californians? For the independent county of Pacifica? For America? What kind of food? Mediterranean diet? Meat heavy? Does everyone get it? If so, we’d have to build those food pathways. We have to decide what we want to spend on it communally so that people aren’t food insecure independently. We’d have to decide what kind of ag and where. I wish we would, but I don’t think Californians are scared enough yet to have the will and those conversations.


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Feinstein sends crappy letters.

These letters are exactly what I’d expect for something coming from Feinstein, which is to say, totally fucked up. That woman hasn’t improved a water policy in my adult memory. Cannot wait until she’s gone.

Anyway, they’re two parallel letters, one to the feds and one to the state, saying time is running out, they better find some way to cooperate on the different ways to run the pumps in the federal biological opinion and the state incidental take permit. However, the letters are asymmetrical, with more pressure on CA to conform to the federal permit and while they’re at it, to get those voluntary agreements done.

It is absolutely terrible advice to do anything permanent based on the federal biological opinion, for several reasons.

  • It, like most Trump environmental regulation, is likely to get overturned in court. This is especially true of a biological opinion that career staff said would kill fish in June, then they were replaced, and then the new biological opinion in the fall said it would be fine!
  • It is now looking extremely likely that Trump and his administration will be gone in 9 months. There is absolutely no reason to lock in to any policy or agreement based on any of Trump’s works. What would California say next February when science-based policy returns to feds and California is the only party locked into some Trump/Bernhardt bullshit?
  • If the VA’s must be based on the Trump biological opinion, what happens when a court invalidates the Bi-Op for being arbitrary and capricious? Are the VA’s then invalid? Will they be negotiated so they can be enforced for the 2015 federal and state fish protections?

Californian state administrators! Do not “coordinate” anything with the Trump administration right now. They’re lame ducks, nearly gone. Especially do not commit to anything that would bind you in the future. Why would you do that now, at the (hopefully) lowest ebb of federal water protection? Wait it out. The Trump administration is incredibly discredited; their science-blind worldview is visibly crumbled. The world could look extremely different in less than a year; doing anything permanent or binding now is a terrible plan. It is clear why Bernhardt wants to make his works permanent, here at the (likely) end of his administration. California should not go along with that.

MORE: Last time Feinstein didn’t like a Biological Opinion (when it got more protective), she had the National Academy of Science review it. This time, when it is farcically less protective, she’s all “GET YOUR VOLUNTARY AGREEMENTS DONE AND COORDINATE!!1!1!!!”


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Trump is coming; Trump is going.

Trump is coming back next week to talk about CA water. I swear, I’d pay each of you reporters TEN CASH DOLLARS if you skipped writing the explainers afterwards about why Trump didn’t make any sense. We know he isn’t going to make sense. He’s going to come here and garble something about how he engorged the water like no one has ever seen and he’s built sixty-seven new pumps, the best pumps, the most beautiful pumps and completely demolished the stupid little fish with his new Biographical Opinions(because he says the quiet parts loud). Fine. We know this. Trump is going to Trump.

What we don’t know is why the Newsom administration is pushing so hard for Voluntary Agreements that depend on Trump’s biological opinions. We’ve been seeing the hard sell these past weeks; I’ve been hearing rumors that the Newsom administration is strong-arming environmental organizations to say something nice about it. Gov. Newsom is staking a lot on doing the Voluntary Agreements. But there’s an angle to this that I wonder if they’ve thought about.

By this time next year, the Trump administration is likely to be gone. The next federal administration will immediately return to biological opinions that have scientific support. Then, Newsom’s Voluntary Agreements will have no cover whatsoever. It’ll be Newsom and his administration as the last governmental supporters of a biological opinion that the Trump administration had to replace real scientists to write. The  federal government will be on the left of them on CA water, and really? Really? This is where they want to be? This is what they’re alienating their natural allies in CA water forever for? To be dangling out there as the river-breakers when the federal administration changes?

I have a another objection to the Voluntary Agreements, which is that good deals don’t require bullying to get done. For whatever reason, the water districts have got the Newsom administration by the short hairs, and they have been yanking. Westlands is flouncing, which cracks me up because I remember Westlands flouncing out of talks with the Obama administration. Westlands is pure drama and don’t let anyone tell you different.  Water districts threatened to quit unless Newsom vetoed SB1; people who are developing a win-win deal don’t have to threaten each other. Now Crowfoot and his team are bullying environmental organizations to pretend the Voluntary Agreements have some promise, like these organizations don’t remember the years they earnestly went along with CALFED. Folks! Good deals don’t require bullying and strong-arming your negotiation partners, nor your allies. Good deals don’t delay actual environmental restoration by years. If you are shutting down the SWRCB, or plotting out how to bully them into submission, it isn’t a good deal.


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Direct from Gov. Newsom

Governor Newsom was asked about his water policy at the PPIC lunch yesterday. At minute 52, he said (slight editing for clarity):

Q: You appear to have endorsed Gov. Brown’s to water, relying on tunnels rather than reducing dependence on the Delta. Is there a better way. Let’s talk about your vision on water.

Put out portfolio plan, very prescriptive a counternarrative to that question. Beyond conveyance, in addition…

Not going to do, frustrate two-thirds of you. Not interested in reinforcing the arguments of the past. I love reading all that, hey he’s naïve, he’s being misled, you know, good. You know. Because it means we’re doing something a little different. (Roger Bannister- 4-minute mile.) He likes the beginner’s mind. Been at it 20 years, (references SF/Hetchy), You want to get into lawsuits, you want to screw this person screw that person, spend seven years getting nothing done, I’m the wrong person in this job. Care deeply about the folks in San Joaquin. It isn’t just Big Ag, there are real human beings whose lives are being torn asunder because of the scarcity of water. Its not a zero sum game. Not us versus them. You think I don’t love the environment (riffs on salmon – I want to bring that back) But you aren’t bringing that back by getting in seven years of lawsuits where nothing gets done. That’s why I’m pursuing Voluntary Agreements FORGIVE ME but I’m going to be stubborn. That’s why I think we can do more with flexibility working together.

I’m an urban guy that cares about the state of California. And I care about every part of the state of California. And when we talk about fallowing land, that is real people, real lives and I have to look them in the eyes. It may be an intellectual thing for some that are sitting on the coast, with all due respect, reading the newspaper, saying the economy’s doing fine. But what about that poor damn mother that literally cannot take care of that kid because they can’t get that work anymore. You don’t do that to someone. You don’t destroy a community that was built over hundreds of years. You’ve got to be accountable.

So why I’m a little more intense about this is I want everyone to calm down. Give us a chance. I’m going to have your back. I don’t need to be told ‘you need to be tough against the Trump administration’. Give me a break. I know that. But give us a chance. And if you’re right, you can sit there and jump up and down and say ‘I told you so’. Enjoy that. It might make you feel good. But give my team a chance. I’ve one of the best EPA directors we’ve ever had. He’s one of the great champions on the environment. I have one of the best … water… folk, Wade Crowfoot and the team he’s assembled? These are real great human beings that care deeply about the environment and they think it is right to reach out to ag and work with these guys. So it is just like energy. The world is changing, we have to change with it. Flexibility. Putting the old binaries aside. Getting off our high horse. Recognizing that we need each other. There’s no leak on your side of OUR boat. We rise and fall together.

My take-aways:

  • Duuuuuude. He is pissed about the pressure and pushback he’s getting on the Voluntary Agreements, and for not signing SB1.
  • I speculated that Newsom et al think that they are the environmentalists in the room, so they don’t need to consult environmentalists in the Voluntary Agreements. Newsom himself makes that same argument. This is not true. They need the water environmentalists for their technical and legal expertise and to push for rigorous agreements. Having the water environmentalists in the room will prevent the Newsom administration from being surprised when the VA’s don’t fulfill the requirements of the Bay-Delta Plan.
  • Newsom cites Crowfoot’s (and agency directors’) opinion that the VA’s are a good idea. This is entirely circular. Crowfoot will dedicate his whole being to whatever Newsom tells him to. If Newsom hated the VA’s tomorrow, so would Crowfoot. Nemeth and Bonham are quintessential company men. They don’t have independent opinions either.
  • Sadly, Newsom appears to have fallen for the “if ag isn’t there, the poors won’t have ag jobs” error. This is error for two three reasons.
    • First, ag varies quite a bit in how much labor it employs. If the goal is to keep the greatest number of farmworkers employed, they could selectively fallow the lands that support the fewest workers and have no local communities.
    • Second, plantation ag requires forced labor, because people don’t work in landscapes like these by choice. The force that drives people to work for plantation ag is poverty. Plantation ag will always maintain a stock of impoverished people in the valley so that they have a labor pool. When that stock of impoverished people gets too low, they import more. When Newsom throws in with ag, he is ensuring that SJV poverty will never end.
    • Indirectly helping farmworkers by making sure ag has water is an indirect and ineffective way to help farmworker communities. It would be cheaper to give farmworkers agency and choice, by offering them the equivalent amount of money as the SJV Water Blueprint would cost, for example.

Now I have to argue with one of Newsom’s statements. C’mon dude. The people giving you shit from my side of the spectrum aren’t evidence that you’re doing something a little different. My entire objection to the Voluntary Agreements is that every new administration comes in and tries to do this shit, like no one ever thought about negotiating before. The Garamendi Process. The 2000’s Water Plan. CalFED. These things eat years and don’t accomplish anything. Salmon and smelt decline every year that goes by. What would be truly new would be enforcing environmental laws and instream flow standards.

Which brings me to my second point. Newsom says litigation would take seven years. How long are you going to pursue the Voluntary Agreements before you give up? Because we could already be two years into the Bay-Delta instream flows. What parallel plan are you developing for when VA’s fail? How can you prevent operating out of sunk costs in two more years? You need to get moving on those now if you don’t want to look back on the waste of Newsom’s first term.

Lastly, HAH. I heard a rumor that Newsom totally loves Blumenfeld and berates Crowfoot for not delivering on the VA’s and the audio confirms that. Big praise for Blumenfeld, can’t recall Crowfoot’s name at first. Heh.


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Minor thoughts as I read the WRP

Draft Water Resilience Portfolio so you can read along.

I was legit impressed that the opening statement read that ‘water is central…’ and I had hopes that perhaps this will be a meaningful document that avoids tired clichés and weak thought and on the very next page, the first sentence said “lifeblood” and all my naïve dreams were crushed. Anyway, I would like to congratulate the authors on waiting one entire page before using the tiredest word in water.


What entity still accuses the State of proposing a one-size-fits-all approach? Why are we still dispelling that straw man? The State has been fetishizing regionalism for ever, despite my blogging. We’ve spent billions in bond funding on IRWM. Can’t we move on from denying that the state wants to impose impossible hegemonic uniformity throughout the regions of CA?

(I mean, I personally do want to, but the State has yet to adopt my preferences, even though I have been clear and explicit about them.)


This document really is a continuation of the Brown Administration’s policies. It has also neatly replaced the Brown Administration’s Water Plan in the “every good idea for all the good outcomes” style of planning.


Where is the legend for Figure 5? What does the change in color mean? Is the light color the “less than half available for people?” Is it the difference between 850MAF and 1.3BAF? Is the color a superfluous dimension that the designer added in for some zing? Who can say!


We are going to have to have a serious talk about the Future Water Supplies section, and we will. Soon. I promise.

(As long as we’re having some hard talks, why are you dumping important documents during the holidays?)


I don’t have much to say about the recommendations. The Resilience Portfolio doesn’t work backward from a realistic, specific vision of what resilient CA water would be, so the recommendations don’t build up to anything coherent. But, fine. Whatever. It is nice to see the agency programs get some love.

  • Kindof an awful lot of “implement the new law”. Suggests the Legislature is driving policy, not the administration. Do we have to say out loud that we will be implementing the new laws? Do we not take that for granted?
  • 18.1 “potentially”. Heh.
  • 21: I am not convinced water markets can ever happen, but if they do and are not constrained by rules to achieve a social goal, they will be a disaster.
  • 24: Seems a little weak for the Silicon Valley governor.


The second to last paragraph on page 26 is a nicely worded version of the “all the good things” vision. Why is it last?

I personally have zero hope that we can arrive at a good future by making improvements on our present; I think we will need to do radically different things that will mean trade-offs that really suck for some people. So I see this document as completely unrealistic political cover for not doing what needs to happen to adapt to climate change. But, given that, why not put the vague vision with no hard trade-offs before the list of every good thing we could do?



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Water Resilience Portfolio Review

After all that, all the listening sessions and all the public input, what the Newsom administration came up with was a program-by-program list of Budget Change Proposal justifications.  This is what the departments do every year internally and then submit to Finance, but apparently this year, they got put together into a glossy report and called the Resilience Portfolio. I mean this literally; I recognize the language of the BCPs we submit every year. In some ways, this is good. It means that when it comes time to report on how we are achieving the Resilience Portfolio, we will be able to report lots of progress. I suppose it is also interesting that after all the input, the Newsom administration went with “what our own agencies are currently doing plus new laws”.

I like trying to imagine the thinking of the administration. Here’s how I picture it:

Early 2019: Lets come up with something new! New, for climate change! Yeah! We’ll ask EVERYONE and survey the entire landscape and new ideas will come out and we’ll do them!

[Release Executive Order]

Mid 2019: We’re holding listening sessions. Christ there’s a lot. And all of it is the same language from the last time they lobbied us on these issues, only now they add the word Resilience everywhere. The Resilience Temperance Flats Resilience Dam!

[Input closes]

Fall 2019: OMG there’s so much. Some of it might be neat, but we’re not set up to do that. And if we put in that, we have to balance it with something from the other side. I’m not sure we can do any of this.

Late Fall 2019: You know what is kinda organized and we might be able to do? This stuff from the agencies. They are going to have to do new stuff anyway, because of new laws. Did you know we do all this? It’s not bad.

Jan 3, 2020: Resilience Portfolio!, from the State Resilience Water Resilience Resources Resilience Control Resilience Board, the Resilience Department of Resilience Water Resilience Resources, with a tiny bone thrown to DFW because their shit was never really going in there anyway.

I suppose it is delightful that the new administration got to take a deep dive into what their agencies do and came away endorsing it. But three things. First, if they had known what the agencies do and respected the agencies, they wouldn’t have had to spend a year to get to “what the agencies do now”. Second, they have no future vision, only “please keep what we’re doing now together until we’re out of office”. Third is the worst. In addition to initially not respecting the agencies’ work, they had no respect for the stakeholders’ time. People spent thousands of hours putting together their input. Far as I can see, that was all wasted.


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Frozen II: a water engineering and policy analysis.

It has been two weeks and we can no longer put off our analysis of water engineering and policy in Frozen II. If SPOILERS would destroy your pristine viewing of Frozen II, now is the time to stop reading. The dam removal theme was unmistakable and much appreciated. Still, we can delve deeper.

This readership must have immediately noticed that the “gift” of the dam was suspect; it served no observable purpose. The recipients of the “gift” are herders who don’t visibly practice agriculture. The donors of the gift live in a far northern temperate climate and would likely practice rainfed agriculture, with no need to carry water over a dry season. I don’t see a powerhouse for hydropower, indeed, these are a pre-electrified societies.

The only possible use for the dam is flood control. In that case, it is clearly not a “gift” for the recipients, who live above the dam. It isn’t clear from the movie that it is needed for Arendelle. It is true that floodwaters after dambreak do threaten to inundate Arendelle, but that was a wall of water caused by the sudden release of several years of stored water. We cannot know without a look at their hydrology, but knowing that there is an undamaged upper watershed and that they receive quite a bit of precip as snow, I have to doubt that the river that got dammed was very flashy. On an annual basis, unimpaired flow probably never did flood enough to raise the bay that Arendelle sits on. So this alleged “gift” offers no benefit to the recipients and likely, no benefit to the donors. (We may further reflect that had the magically-connected Northuldran’s wanted a dam, perhaps they could have asked the earth spirits to raise one or even become a dam.)

What I find less plausible is that Queen Elsa didn’t recognize this immediately. It is canon that Queen Elsa has considerable water engineering expertise.  In Anna and Elsa #1, All Hail the Queen, Queen Elsa is designing the city’s municipal water delivery system (at 1:25). In Anna and Elsa #9, Anna Takes Charge, it appears that Queen Elsa has gotten the system built and remains in charge of O&M (at 10:00). I have to believe that at some level, Queen Elsa must have wondered that her grandfather had built an entirely superfluous dam. She cannot have been entirely surprised by the later revelations, that he did it to destroy the balance and weaken the magic of the north.

In conclusion, I can only assume that the writers of Frozen II have read this article on the Elwa as many times as I have. People of the Klamath, hopefully your day is next.





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“We need some big boy help.”

A CSD near Redding is, like most of our infrastructure (physical and governmental), highly climate brittle. They are asking for help, as they don’t have the financial, technical and managerial capacity to solve the problem. Having hundreds of tiny districts already is not working; we should be consolidating into a few major watershed-scale districts.

ADDED 11/26: In response to the very good comments, I want to make clear that I am advocating for large-scale consolidation on a regional scale. There are thousands of these tiny CSD’s. I think they are mostly about to be unable to perform their mission. Instead of combining them by voluntary onesies and twosies, we should be examining what scale and governance we’ll need next, anticipating wholesale consolidation into new county-size (or larger) agencies.


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I am made of hairy and audacious.

I dunno, man. I read this and I kinda felt like some of it was directed at me. I hope not, because they have better things to think about. But I’d like to use that op-ed to make a point related to something that Mr. Sabalow mentioned yesterday. Mr. Sabalow said that nothing ever happens in water. This op-ed by Secretaries Crowfoot and Blumenfeld nicely illustrates that when you have no destination, you go nowhere.

The headline of the op-ed is:

Rejecting federal proposal, California lays out its vision for protecting endangered species and meeting state water needs.

I am a grown adult, so I never hold authors responsible for the headline. I know headlines are written separately. But we can agree that this headline offers hope that the 660 words that follow it will contain a vision.

Let us look at where our two most important environmental executives hope to take us in the next two or six years. They write that they intend to:

  • find… ways to protect our environment and build water security for communities and agriculture
  • embrace decisions that benefit our entire state
  • become much more innovative, collaborative and adaptive
  • turn the page on old binaries
  • develop a broad, inclusive water agenda
  • take a big step in this direction
  • improve water systems across our diverse state
  • find creative solutions that balance all water needs
  • [potentially make] tough decisions
  • [pay immediate attention to t]he protection of endangered fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
  • tak[e] a careful, science-based approach to operating the State Water Project
  • strengthen safeguards for fish and improve real-time management of the project that delivers water to … Californians
  • protect California’s interests and values
  • find… common solutions with the federal government and all those interested in ending the patterns of the past
  • work… together to develop a set of voluntary agreements
  • provide additional water, habitat and science to improve environmental conditions in the two river systems and the Delta while providing water for other beneficial uses such as agriculture
  • have… a strong commitment to move forward
  • adapt to the present, but prepare for the future

Yes. Right. That’s all great. But WHAT THE FUCK DO THEY INTEND TO DO?! Six hundred and sixty words about how they intend to work, including some vagueness about doing every good thing. I absolutely understand that they will do it with the most pragmatic-sciencey-synergistic-collaborative-feasabilitiness that this state has ever seen*, but what will they do? All of everything, with good will and none of that ugly fighting that smallminded bloggers go on about? That op-ed is two pages of optimism with no content. One op-ed isn’t everything, but it sure parallels what I expect of the Resilience Portfolio, which can apparently be all things to every water interest.

All the possibilities suck. One is that they have an interior vision with, you know, places and specifics in it, but won’t tell us because that might alienate someone. Or maybe they have no interior vision for the entire goddamned field of CA water because they don’t actually care about it and are only doing these jobs as stepping stones for national positions. The worst possibility is that they think that ‘all of the good things, synergistically rising above conflict’ is an actual vision. That will not get them anywhere. In the language of our California culture, you manifest what you vision and ‘a super-duper process to do everything good’ won’t manifest anything.

The thing that kills me is that Gov. Newsom talks about “big, hairy, audacious goals” and his top environmental executives literally will not speak goals aloud. They are utterly disciplined and professional about avoiding speaking clear goals. There is no goal in that op-ed, much less audacious goals. Not ‘achieve 15M irrigated acres of almonds’. Not ‘the salmon return thunders so loud that it keeps people awake at night’. Not the classics, like “fishable, swimmable”. There is only process, no goals. Not even tiny, clean-shaven, timid goals, like ‘mis-use my authority to make my favorite camping creek real nice’. That would at least be a distinguishable goal. No. Instead we get endless assurances that whatever their vague-ass goals turn out to be, they will be accomplished in the new collaborative future-facing paradigm.

This, Mr. Sabalow, is a big part of why CA water goes nowhere. The people in charge of it cannot imagine anywhere to take it**.




*Whomever wrote that last paragraph should be deeply ashamed.

**Why, you ask, can they not imagine what CA water should look like after four to eight years of their efforts? Because there’s no solution space within their constraints. They’ve set “pleasing everybody and especially ag” as a constraint and that excludes most things (maybe not FloodMAR), and then they (especially the State Board) have to meet their duty to protect fish and wildlife. There is not much left. Which is why you’re hearing a lot about FloodMar and unspecified “multi-benefits” these days.


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Water districts are incapable of anti-growth decisions.

WHEREAS water districts were created to deliver water for economic growth. That mission makes them unable to do the tasks of this century, which are to wisely manage contraction and risk;

WHEREAS water districts are too close to their constituents to make difficult costly decisions that counter denial and wishful thinking that the status quo is the default;

I am always bewildered by the rightwing trope that government is ineffective. Water districts were a form of government created to turn rivers into cities and farms and holy crap did they do that.  They’re still, relentlessly, doing that. Water districts are good at going along with human denial, and human insistence that the do-nothing option will continue to provide the status quo. I argue that 1. they are not capable of doing anything that counters human denial as described, and that 2. the work we face for the next many decades is not delivering economic growth, but making painful, expensive decisions to minimize loss.

I see two reasons that water districts will not be able to do the work of contraction. The first is that contraction isn’t their self-identity and they don’t want to. I mean, just look at the SJV Water Blueprint. Faced with the end of a 3-4MAF annual overdraft, rather than live within their means, the water district solution is to raise a million dollars to advocate for a ludicrously expensive plan to backfill the loss.

The second reason that water districts cannot run counter to human denial is that the directors will get recalled. Mark Arax writes about how the Paradise was never able to do effective planning.

Paradise wanted to steer its own fate, the Qualified Five were nervous about the prospect that the town’s first General Plan would bring new bureaucrats, new regulations, new taxes, and maybe even a sewer system to the ridge. Years of ugly recall elections, recalls all the way down to the Irrigation District Board, followed. Those who wanted no government feuded with those who wanted some and those who wanted more.

Most people want their district to tell them that they can keep what they have, at about the same cost. They will not pay to fix problems that they cannot see, nor to prevent predicted problems because it is human nature to believe that doing nothing will lead to more of the status quo. Board members who try to work against this denial get recalled and the effort fails. Small districts are especially vulnerable because the thresholds for recall are low.

This has more-or-less worked for the last several decades because our former climate was stable and districts only ever made one of two decisions (‘do our rates cover O&M?’ and ‘is it time for an expansion?’). Frankly, the extent of deferred maintenance says that they didn’t even make the first decision correctly. But those are the questions that districts will be facing now. Water districts in their current structure are not capable of making the decisions that we now face.



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