A bad look for the Newsom Administration

Governor Newsom says he will veto SB1, which freezes CA environmental protections at the level they were at the end of the Obama administration. The water users have told him to, or they won’t be able to make any Voluntary Settlement Agreements with the Newsom administration.

This got me to thinking. What if Clinton’s victory had been honored? What if we were three years into the Clinton administration and presumably, she had never rolled back the Obama protections with some faked-up science that won’t survive a court challenge? Would the Voluntary Settlement Agreements be possible in those conditions? If not, are the VSA’s only possible when they occupy the space that Trump created? That is yet another indication that they are a real bad idea.

I am consistently baffled at why the Newsom administration wants these so bad, especially when they have a great default: the instream flows set by the SWRCB, finally exercising their authority. I consider it very rude to attribute thoughts to other parties, trying instead to refer to quotes. But I read through this panel discussion, with Crowfoot. Kightlinger and Pierre, and thought ‘right, right, administration, urban, ag… WHERE ARE THE ENVIROS?’ And my follow-up thought was, ‘oh crap. The administration thinks they don’t need the enviros because they think they ARE the enviros.’

My new concern is that the Newsom administration staff think THEY are the progressives and enviros, therefore they can both be the governmental brokers and represent the environmental movement. But they clearly cannot. They haven’t been in the field for long enough to realize that they are replaying old mistakes and re-running fucking CALFED. They are not holding both a strong environmental ethic and negotiating VSAs, and we can tell because they are now vetoing environmental legislation.

Frankly, the Newsom administration is two strikes down (Marcus, SB1) and have lost the benefit of the doubt.  They’re going to need a heavily enviro resilience portfolio if they want to be considered a good environmental administration. They cannot trust themselves to generate that enviro perspective; they should rely on the actual water enviros for that.



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Is the San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint “community organizing”?

Don left this comment below:

August 20, 2019 at :
It’s not just Friant. The Valley Blueprint is Valley wide and includes non ag participants, NGOs, disadvantaged communities and real live people who work and live here. I don’t get the push back. It’s community organizing.

So. Is the San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint “community organizing”?

No. The San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint is lobbying, not community organizing. There are several tells:

  • Its single focus is a project that benefits the already powerful.
  • The lobbying effort relies on money, not social capital.
  • There are no women in the lobbying effort.
  • It has no alliances outsides the benefactors; they are not supporting reciprocal efforts.
  • The solution it proposes puts the costs/burden on less powerful entities and gives the benefits to powerful entities. (It proposes that the poorer subsidize the richer.)

Let’s go through them.

Its single focus is a project that benefits the already powerful.

The SJV Water Blueprint does one thing. It proposes to generate 2-3MAF to backfill the groundwater that the west/south Valley can no longer overdraft. It is not a project to bring water to the Valley in general, for cities towns and tribes. A project created by community organizing would serve more than one set of water users.

The water users that would benefit from the SJV Blueprint are the already wealthy. At minimum, they are landowners, which makes them wealthier than most Californians. At the maximum they are literally millionaires and billionaires.  They are already powerful; they are represented by governmental and NGO’s with budgets in the millions; here in the early months of creating the Blueprint, they speak of extended contact directly with Governor Newsom and the Natural Resources Agency.

The SJV Water Blueprint relies on money, not donated skills.

The agencies participating in the SJV Water Blueprint are being asked (and readily approving) for $15K each for the initial effort. This is paying for engineering consultants and the design firm for the brochure. The people promoting the Water Blueprint at meetings around the Valley are paid (paid well, in fact) for their attendance at these meetings. All things are possible, but I would be surprised to hear of anyone promoting the Water Blueprint on his own time, out of personal conviction.

Community organizing forms when people who cannot buy nice presentations and access to governors join together. Their work is often, unfortunately, unpaid, relying on donated skills and time. They mostly do not have access to even one fifteen-thousand-dollars, much less several, readily approved.

There are no women in the SJV Water Blueprint lobbying effort.

As I read through the meetings that discuss the Water Blueprint, all the names are male. This is because they are paid professionals, drawing on professional networks in established agencies. Real community organizers are often women, drawing on their social networks, grown through long participation in the community. Real community organizers in the San Joaquin Valley look like this. Women are in every one of those pictures. I know several dedicated male community organizers. But I don’t know of any community organizing that doesn’t have women.

It has no alliances outsides the benefactors; they are not supporting reciprocal efforts.

The SJV Water Blueprint effort is lobbying within grower organizations and water agency groups. Because this is not an effort for the general well-being of the Valley, they have nothing to offer other interest groups in the Valley. They are not cross-coordinated with faith groups; they are not supporting clean air initiatives; they are not supporting the Fresno parks initiative. They are not connected enough to see where supporting other organizing work will create good will for them.

By contrast, the most recent news I saw for community organizing in the Valley showed Dolores Huerta getting arrested for protesting for home health care workers. Her historic focus was on farm worker issues, but her connections to the community gives her commonality with home health care workers. She extends herself on someone else’s behalf, which is not something we see from the Water Blueprint effort.

The solution it proposes puts the costs/burden on less powerful entities and gives the benefits to powerful entities. (It proposes that the poorer subsidize the richer.)

The SJV Blueprint proposes that Californians as a whole pay for projects that always fail a cost-benefit analysis in order to build works that gather water away from the environment towards wealthy landowners that overexpanded their farmed acreage.

The people who will bear the costs are all Californians, who are almost all less wealthy than landowners in the San Joaquin, especially west side growers. They other entities who will bear the costs are fish, rivers and habitat. These are all voiceless, dependent on humans to volunteer to represent them. In the model of the SJV Water Blueprint, costs are forced downward, benefits accrue upward. That’s how I know it isn’t community organizing. In community organizing, people band together to extract benefits and put costs on someone wealthier.


I don’t fault the Friant Water Authority for pushing the Blueprint. There’s a window and extractors gonna extract. But community organizing is an actual thing, and calling the Blueprint effort “community organizing” is deeply wrong, adjacent to astroturfing.




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A few last thoughts on the San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint (5 of 3)

The San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint is some jacked up bullshit. This is facially evident. Everything in it is either a project undergoing realistic evaluation now or projects that have been rejected time and again, usually for a cost-benefit analysis but occasionally because someone found the will to protect the environment.

I can’t fault the Friant Water Authority for throwing it out there. Trump loves him some jacked up bullshit, thinks analyses are for losers and doesn’t care about costs*. So this is a great moment on the federal side. What I don’t get is why the Newsom Administration is playing along. I mean, I’ve been to a Portfolio listening session or two, and they sound real friendly about considering everything and thinking big, and maybe the big ag guys are hearing the standard smooth talk and taking it personally. But that’s not what it sounds like in the meeting minutes I quoted from. I won’t speculate yet, because I can’t put any of the options politely. I am reassured though, by the imminent release of the Resilience Portfolio. It will be out by October, and then we’ll know what the Newsom Administration is made of.

I will likely keep adding thoughts to this post; while I generally try to keep my posts static, please be aware that this one may change by more than small edits.

Continue reading


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The SJV Water Blueprint is not resilient in practice (4 of 3)

The irrigated lands that the SJV Water Blueprint is designed for are the lands that would go out of production because of SGMA. These lands. The way agriculture is practiced on these lands is itself not resilient. These are plantations, monocropped to the horizon. These specific plantations are all simultaneously vulnerable to disease, Trump tariffs, saltification, lack of winter chill. They create and embody huge wealth inequalities. These irrigated lands are tremendously brittle; note that at the first shock (that they cannot overpump groundwater), a million acres are instantly at risk.

Resilient agriculture includes a wide diversity of crops, so they don’t create disease and have options to thrive under varying conditions. Resilient agriculture hosts a great variety of wildlife on farm. In resilient agriculture, soil tilth increases. Resilient agriculture distributes wealth evenly in the ag community and supports real towns. In practice, we do not see the SJV Water Blueprint supporting actually resilient ag.

The San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint, in both concept and practice, has no place in a Resilience Portfolio. Not if “Resilience” actually means anything.


I have a little more room and a few pixels left. Let us quote from the cannon. Once again, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing on capitalist ruins:

…[T]here is one connection between economy and environment that seems important to introduce up front: the history of the human concentration of wealth through making both humans and nonhumans into resources for investment.   This history has inspired investors to imbue both people and things with alienation, that is, the ability to stand alone, as if the entanglements of living did not matter. Through alienation, people and things become mobile assets; they can be removed from their life worlds in distance-defying transport to be exchanged with other assets from other life worlds elsewhere. … The dream of alienation inspires landscape modification in which only one stand-alone asset matters; everything else becomes weeds or waste.  Here, attending to living-space entanglements seems inefficient, and perhaps archaic.  When its singular asset can no longer be produced, a place can be abandoned.  The timber has been cut; the oil has run out; the plantation soil no longer supports crops.  The search for assets resumes elsewhere.  Thus, simplification for alienation produces ruins, spaces of abandonment for asset production.

With our other lodestar, Donna Haraway:

There is a way in which the Plantationocene forces attention to the growing of food and the plantation as a system of multispecies forced labor. The plantation system speeds up generation time. The plantation disrupts the generation times of all the players. It radically simplifies the number of players and sets up situations for the vast proliferation of some and the removal of others. It’s an epidemic friendly way of rearranging species life in the world. It is a system that depends on forced human labor of some kind because if labor can escape, it will escape the plantation.

The plantation system requires either genocide or removal or some mode of captivity and replacement of a local labor force by coerced labor from outside, either through various forms of indenture, unequal contract, or out-and-out slavery. The plantation really depends on very intense forms of labor slavery, including also machine labor slavery, a building of machines for exploitation and extraction of earthlings. I think it is also important to include the forced labor of nonhumans—plants, animals, and microbes—in our thinking.

So, when I think about the question, what is a plantation, some combination of these things seems to me to be pretty much always present across a 500-year period: radical simplification; substitution of peoples, crops, microbes, and life forms; forced labor; and, crucially, the disordering of times of generation across species, including human beings.

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The SJV Water Blueprint is not resilient in concept (3 of 3)

My initial objection to the Resilience Portfolio was that it was a weasel phrase that could mean anything to anyone. It consists of a buzzword and a strategy, both flexible.  But if the word “resilience” retains any shred of meaning, it excludes the San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint. The SJV Water Blueprint is anti-resilience.

The purpose of the Water Blueprint is to maintain maximal irrigated acreage in the Valley, at the expense of every conceivable peripheral water source, at any cost. “Resilience” is starting to mean as little as “sustainable”, but it does not mean bolstering one million acres of overexpansion into marginal ag lands with no regard to the economic costs to taxpayers nor environmental costs to the water sources.

Setting demand at the uppermost engineered possibility and straining every limit to fulfill that demand is not resilient. Resilient would be protecting and supporting the couple million east side acres that we can farm in any water year, with a comfortable buffer that is intermittently farmed in wet years. Resilient is working within the cheap, solid parts of our existing engineered system, spending user fees to modernize them if needed. Resilient is maintaining ecosystems through wet and drought years. Resilient is acknowledging supply constraints (like keeping some fish alive and passing a cost-benefit analysis) and using a little less than that.

Let’s play out the concept of the SJV Water Blueprint for another decade or two. Even if we waved our magic wand and put the elements of the Blueprint in place now, it wouldn’t cover the increased ET from climate change, nor the possibility of drought at the sources.  When the new 3MAF from the Blueprint isn’t sufficient, by the logic of the Blueprint, the next thing to do would be to reach out for the next available source. Their ag demand must be met, so they would then reach north for the Wild and Scenic Rivers, or east for I don’t even know which Sierra lakes. Cost is no object, by the logic of the Blueprint. This notion, that maximal irrigated acreage creates a fixed demand that must be met by reaching ever outward for MOAR WATER is inherently not resilient.

The San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint has no place in a Resilience Portfolio.


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What is the SJV Water Blueprint? (2 of 3)

Far as I can tell, it originated with the Friant Water Authority. Here is the mission; here is an interview that touches on it; here is the  engineering proposition (Item 6); here is a draft of the lovely brochure (pages 6-7, after some budgeting).  I could do a whole post on how visual language is converging for all the water documents and you can’t tell them apart anymore. But first, let’s figure out what the Valley Blueprint IS. In their language (top of pg 2):

Foundational to the Water Blueprint will be the development of a set of projects and associated operations that would bring the Eastern San Joaquin Valley into balance while avoiding as much land retirement as possible. This plan will include a comprehensive look at local, regional, and statewide activities and investments that, collectively, will aim to resolve 2.5 million acre-feet per year or more of regional overdraft. Given the magnitude of the problem being addressed, this plan will need to look ambitiously beyond the range of projects that have previously been contemplated for the region.

Full props. They did indeed take an ambitious scope. The premise is that no lands should go out of production in the Valley as a result of SGMA. Because growers over-expanded their current water supplies by a million acres, the shortfall when they are not allowed to mine groundwater is 3 million acre-feet/year (but we all know it was 5MAF/year during the drought). The Valley Blueprint aims to get that back by resuscitating every project that has ever been scrapped for failing a cost-benefit analysis or an environmental analysis. And why not! Now is their moment. The Trump administration doesn’t give a shit about either of those and the Newsom administration appears to be playing along as well.

Here is how the Friant Water Authority shows the problem and the solution:

MBK Sustainability Blueprint for Friant 022819_Page_04

The problem is that they are using 2-3 (but sometimes 5)MAF/year more water than they have, and they believe no land should go out of production. The solution?MBK Sustainability Blueprint for Friant 022819_Page_06

Their solution is every expensive piece of water they can engineer to them. I do not exaggerate.
MBK Sustainability Blueprint for Friant 022819_Page_07
MBK Sustainability Blueprint for Friant 022819_Page_23

There is more in the powerpoint; some reservoir operational rules that will screw fish and amplify droughts. But what there isn’t is any cost or history or analysis. Because none of this is new. Most of these projects have been rejected for cause every time they’ve come up. It isn’t like these were good options that we happened to reject because we’ve never wanted water before.

But now, I guess, is the moment. Trump’s Interior will support this, at every cost. It is the times for grandiose proposals; just weeks ago I proposed a spectacularly expensive set of recommendations with no consideration of cost. Still, as the Newsom administration debates whether to include the San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint into the Resilience Portfolio, I remind them that the purpose of the Blueprint is that the lands pictured here continue to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for millionaires for a few more years. I invite them to consider an alternative. They could add up the costs of the Water Blueprint and give every agricultural worker on the West Side a check for millions. It would be cheaper and do less damage.


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The San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint? What’s that? Looks important. (1 of 3)

Friant Water Authority April , 2019

Austin Ewell gave the board and update on the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint saying the funding/finance/governance committee is looking for further funding. He said Governor Gavin Newsom has been commenting on the Blueprint. … Ewell continued saying the outreach to disadvantaged communities and other matters are being considered. Outreach and engagements committee efforts have not gone unnoticed by Newsom and his ag advisor Bill Lyons. There was a meeting with them and they got to look over the Blueprint. The Public Policy Institute of California has a groundwater effort going and Ewell said that is tying in with the Blueprint. The next meeting will be May 15th. … Phillips said getting all the communities to coordinate on water is more difficult than would be expected. He said the Blueprint is a way for all to speak in a unified voice. The idea of having the Blueprint becoming part of the Governor’s water plan is approaching reality. Phillips also said the actual plan has not yet been released to the public but soon will.

(my emphasis)

Huh. That’s interesting.  The ag big boys say that Newsom is working closely with them on some new Water Blueprint.

Friant Water Authority July 15, 2019, item 6E, bottom of page 1

4) Advocacy & Public Relations: The Committee will continue to work with key stakeholders and the administration to fold the Water Blueprint into The governor‘s Water Resiliency Plan (WRP). The WRP is expected to have a policy paper out in October and additional milestones by the end of this calendar year. The committee continues to meet with key leaders and advocate for use and pursuit of the Blueprint by the Governor.

(my emphasis)

Friant Water Authority July 25, 2019

Consultant Austin Ewell updated the board on the Valley Blueprint. There was a recent meeting of the VB committee. This project, this Blueprint is garnering a very large amount of support and is worthy of a story of its own. A formal organization has been formed with officers and a bank account and is now able to bring in contributions. Ewell said he, Phillips and VB committee member Sarah Woolf met with my favorite NGO/enviros the Environmental Defense Fund. These guys and gals at EDF aren’t your typical clown car full of social warriors. They are working with others and not just filing lawsuits. The VB could and hopefully will become a part of Governor Gavin Newsom’s Water Resiliency Plan. There will be another meeting next month. A scope for the socio/economic report portion of the plan will be conducted by a UC Berkeley professor with street cred for the SJW and realistic performance for the rest. One person rhetorically wondered aloud if since it’s coming out of Berkeley the report will be gender neutral. Arvin Edison WSD Director Edwin Camp wisely asked if SB1passes as is will it impact the VB. Ewell said it will go forward either way. Phillips said SB1 will make the need for the VB even more pressing. Phillips said since yesterday’s meeting with EDF he believes the VB is representing water solutions that are true, needed and inclusive. Ewell also thanked Newsom consultant Bill Lyons, who was present. Phillips said the work on the Resiliency Plan there have been good contacts with Wade Crowfoot, Karla Nemeth and others in Newsom’s cabinet. 

(my emphasis)

Well, I haven’t chased any of that down, but I have a couple initial guesses:

  • Oh Dr. Sunding. Again? (If my guess is wrong, let me know! I’ll post a public apology. UPDATE 11-4 HAHAHAHAhahahahaha. No apology needed. We all know who the water user community goes to for its numbers.)
  • EDF, I’ve been skeptical of you since your water market initiative. Used to be that the Natural Heritage Institute was famous for being the sell-out environmentalists, but I haven’t heard from them in ages. Perhaps EDF is stepping into the void.

San Luis Delta Mendota WA August 8, 2019

SLDM’s J. Scott Petersen … also said the SJ Valley Blueprint is growing and efforts to get this entered into Newson’s water plan are looking good.

(my emphasis)

Wow. Looks pretty serious. Weird that I haven’t heard much about it. But a Blueprint sounds like those things that the COGS had to do a while back, for transportation.  It is probably really resilience-y.


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