As we may soon find out for ourselves.

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.

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If they are prepping to sell the National Parks…

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.


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Feinstein running again?

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.


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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.


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Strange that Mr. Amaral leaves “water contracts in perpetuity” out of his description of the settlement.

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.



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A request for D.C. readers.

UPDATE:  We are all set and grateful.  Thank you!

I would like to join the protests against Trump on January 21st.  Do I have any readers who could host me and a friend for the overnights on Jan 20 and 21st?  We don’t need more than places to sleep.  If you are willing, please email me at onthepublicrecord @ gmail . com.

Thank you.


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Be gentle with yourself during grief.

I find the usual recommendations for grief a little silly, because my experience was that grief was the boss of me and decisions to do any particular thing never went anywhere.  That said, yes, all forms of self-care are a good idea: yoga, meditation, exercise, hygge, journaling, being with your loves, being with animals, going outside.  Sure.  Do what you can manage.

Here is my realistic list of what you can do about grief:

  • You don’t have to do anything.  If you are healthy, grief will pass.  Sleep.  Eat what your body wants and sleep some more.  Notice when you start to feel energized again.
  • Give yourself permission to go small.  For two years, I was a tiny person, with nothing left over to give to friends, no interest in anything abstract, no capacity to follow any plot beyond my own.  It is OK to be that way for a while, and for healthy people, grief will pass.
  • Give yourself permission to be OK sometimes.  Grief comes in waves; between the waves you may feel good.  That is also natural and fine.  So is black humor.  Do not waste energy on guilt for feeling good or for laughing at bleakness.
  • If you weren’t healthy going into grief, jesus fuck go get help.  This is time for therapy.  Grief and its depression will find all of the unhealed places and re-open old hurts.  Addicts are at very high risk of relapse during grief.
  • Of the standard recommendations, I got the most from going outside and from getting a dog.  I found myself compulsively driven to plant and garden, but I don’t know if that’s a widespread grief response.
  • As an overarching guide, I found Ro Randall’s presentation of the tasks of grief much better than the mainstream concept of the stages of grief.


After your grief, this situation will still be astonishingly bad and we will still have to respond. I don’t mean to suggest anything different.  But right now, grief is an additional burden, its own thing.  Respect it; one way or another, grief will take its full toll.  Also know that the part that is grief will pass.  It just does.


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