Thank you, State Board

They did it! I am so relieved and pleased. I really worried that there would be political considerations that forced the bullshit voluntary settlements on them and once again, I would have to be giving my own allies the benefit of the doubt as they punt on something that very clearly needs doing. But they did it! They made a choice for living rivers, against turning public rivers into private money for the few. I wish it were more; I wish it were stronger. But it is such a wonderful step in the right direction that I am inspired again.

It has been hard to write when it is hard to believe that the side of the very basics, the obvious fundamentals will win out. Without optimism, I have not believed that we are capable of choosing anything over capitalism, even the very ecosystems we need to live. I am in a fair amount of despair over what we are leaving to our children. Frankly, I do not give western modernity good odds in the next couple decades. Part of why I haven’t written has been that I could only add bile and gloom; when I can’t add value, I try not to say anything.

But today I am delighted and inspired! In the face of an actual hard choice (as compared to some win-win bullshit), the State Board got it right. You know, it is time for the infinite number of Governor Brown retrospectives and of course, the discourse would be incomplete without mine on his water efforts.  He didn’t entirely align with my preferences, so naturally I’m tempted to think that little got done. But that isn’t the case. Far as I can tell, the State Board got revitalized and became wonderful. DWR got sucked into the vortex of Gov. Brown’s obsession with the Delta Tunnels and languished.

It wasn’t that long ago that I called the State Board a bunch of fearful twitchy wretches. And they were! But it has been a couple years since I’ve noticed that they are all hoppity now. They bound into meetings with a ton of ideas and energy and they look young. Honestly, in the Brown administration, the State Board has been like the American in Paris. They’ve gone from overwhelmed and scared in traffic to a fabulous jazzy finale. Felicia Marcus has been the face of that, but I imagine that she would share credit. Anyway, the State Board has a whole lot to be proud of. Not just last night’s work, but the internal transformation. (Re-listening, I can even hear the drought years in the American in Paris.)

Congratulations State Water Resources Control Board. Thank you. In addition to helping our rivers, you’ve revitalized at least me, and I suspect many more.


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A couple side thoughts about the Lower San Joaquin River flow objectives.

Members of the State Board, I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of arguments for and against the flow objectives.  I’ll add a couple more arguments in favor, hoping that I am not repeating the comments you’ve already heard.

  • I saw the rally outside the capital today.  There were a lot of people holding signs, saying that they depend on the status quo.  I point out that the rivers would have had a similar constituency had they not been destroyed and blocked off from the public.  If the Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne were still living public rivers, there would be people who love them to rallying at the capital to urge you to protect them.  If the situation were reversed, if you were deciding whether to let the flow of the Russian River dwindle to 11 percent, or dry to muddy flats in the summer, you’d have everyone in Sonoma and Mendocino counties at rallies at the capital, telling you that their river is crucial to them.  Yes, there was a crowd at the capital today, speaking for diverting water to ag.  The other side is missing because their rivers are missing.  The people who remember those rivers still yearn for them.
  • If you believe that systemically returning flows to rivers for the sake of California’s ecosystems should be done, then I hope you also realize that this is your best chance to do it.  It is a weighty responsibility, and I know you take the opposing perspectives seriously.  (A lot more seriously than I would prefer, honestly.)  But this moment won’t necessarily come again if postponed.  After the administration changes, you could be just like the rest of us, sitting at a screen, wishing we could make things right, trying to find the right words to convince people with the authority you have right now to bring back our rivers.  Affirming the Lower San Joaquin River flows will earn you a longlasting reputation on both sides.  In the long run, I think you will be proud of wrenching Californian water onto a parallel track, where rivers live and private economic uses of water are checked.


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Have a great weekend!

In December 2016, I wrote:

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.

And today we get Indian tariffs on almonds.  This comes a month after the Chinese tariffs on almonds.  We should not be surprised if land prices for almond orchards collapse.  We should be considering how that land can be used next (rewilding) and who will bear the costs of cleaning up abandoned orchards.

It was always clear that Trump destroys everything he touches.  Californian growers may be blinding themselves to that, but the destruction he causes will come for them anyway.  He was never on ag’s side; he is a New York developer.  To the extent that agricultural voters chose him, they were choosing this.  If we escape the Trump presidency without a nuclear war, for the rest of my life, I will always boggle that he caused more damage to Nunes/almond growers/Valadao than my advocacy ever could.

UPDATE 6/28/18:  Naw. Valley Republicans are in thrall to Trump.  I never worry that the current version of Republicans will take sensible preventative measures that would avert a disaster for their constituents.


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Become very precise.

I searched the archives and it does not appear that I have written about my genuine fondness for Mr. Todd Fitchette, Associate Editor at the Western Farm Press.  I find that he is nearly always thinking about the very same topic as I am, only completely opposite.  I had great sympathy with one of his op-eds saying, more or less, ‘I just don’t want to think about water for a while’.  I hear you, brother.

This past week, Mr. Fitchette has been asking, plaintively, why he is forced to defend the need for food and water.  Usually, I have no solace for Mr. Fitchette, since he and I have the opposite policy prescriptions.  But this time, I can help Mr. Fitchette with his dilemma.  In fact, I can assure Mr. Fitchette that this problem is entirely under his control, and that he can resolve it whenever he chooses.

It would be very peculiar to defend the need for food and water, so it is fortunate that no one is attacking the need for food and water.  I like to believe that I am among the urban cognoscenti calling for drastic changes to agriculture.  Even among my snide acquaintances, there is none who stands outside restaurants mocking the diners for having to eat.

Mr. Fitchette is using a rhetorical technique that has long distressed me.  In his piece, he conflates a criticism of ‘some externalities of some types of agriculture’ to an attack on ‘all of agriculture’ to an attack ‘the human requirement for food and water’.  I have often found this type of synecdoche puzzling, because I, an ignorant city person, understand that there is a great range of agriculture, both by practices and location, and when I say that I’d like to see the end of huge corporate tree nut businesses, I am not saying that I want all agriculture to end in the state.  Moreover, I can tell the fucking difference between those two statements.

Mr. Fitchette, it seems, has trouble with this concept.  I’ve seen that problem elsewhere, at CDFA board meetings for example, during the 2006-2009 drought, when they kept saying that “agriculture is getting no water”, when an accurate statement would have been that some farms on the west side of the Valley were not getting delivered water. And here is where I can offer Mr. Fitchette some help.  Mr. Fitchette can instantly solve his mental anguish by returning to specificity.  This is under his control! Rather than trying to find a way to defend the human need for food, he could be listening attentively to the specific critiques of some practices of some kinds of agriculture from a small town mayor.  Then, he could be having conversations about whether those specific practices are necessary, or wise, or widespread.  Those conversations could be interesting and useful!

It is clear why large ag proponents want to conflate all agriculture.  They are hoping to tap into the American affection for the romantic vision of the family farm.  But in the Trump era, I think ag proponents have pushed too far.  Poppy Davis tweeted this in April:

That was insightful and prescient.  To the extent small farmers were Trump voters, they forfeited our sympathy for their labor problems and international trade woes.  They chose what they got; my concerns will go towards the victims of Trump policy that didn’t choose to be in our situation.  So big ag wants to hide behind the image of small ag, and much of small ag just took their historical American goodwill and fucked it sideways.  Mr. Fitchette will have his work cut out for him in the next couple years.  I am happy to advise him any time he likes.







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I applaud the SJVWIA for their nice use of natural light.

Twitter served me a slow, sweet softball this morning.  Behold, two pictures of very recent meetings on the Friant.

I did not attend either meeting.  But we can discern some things, just from the pictures.  First, shall we note?  The picture of the SJV Water Infrastructure Authority includes no women, and by appearances, perhaps three men of color.  Also, they’re all old.  Without counting, I can say the Water Solutions Network meeting looks to be half women; youth and people of color were throughout.  They are still all listening to an old white dude (Snow), but they’ve got a man at one of the easels (countering the ‘chicks are secretaries’ bias), so I’ll let it pass.

Notice the different room set-ups.  The SJV Water Infrastructure Authority reinforces hierarchy.  The panel is set up behind a raised dias, listening to (appears to be) a couple technocrats, seated physically lower than the panel.  The Water Solutions Network is in a circle set-up without a favored “head” end.  I actually tend to find ‘circle of chairs’ a bit exposed and prefer ‘circle of tables’, but it is a physically egalitarian set-up.

I can make predictions from the pictures alone:

The results of the SJV Water Infrastructure Authority will be to double down.  They will come out of that meeting decided to do whatever they were doing before (lobbying politicians who look like them, spending money), only MORE.  They have not created a meeting that will bring them new ideas, because they have not included the kinds of people who think different things from them.  Those technocrats behind the table likely think that their jobs are to predict what the men on the dias want, and to find evidence or means to support what the panel wants to do. Our current system is so good to the men who sit on that dias that they are forced to think that it is a good system, and they will only work to do MORE within their old concepts and structures.

The Water Solutions Network meeting will produce a lot, and a lot of it will be diffuse and hard to implement.  I am sure that a lot of the work on those easels will be broad statements of preference (that I almost certainly agree with, but).  There will be suggestions that are so different from our current system that it is very difficult to think of policy or technical bridges to that endpoint. Some of the ideas will contradict each other.  And, importantly, the concept that will end up doing the work is included in there.  A lot of what these participants bring will not get used, but that is not time wasted.  Participating builds capacity for the attendees; their input tells the currently powerful in the room where the field is heading.

The organizers of both meetings will get what they wanted from their own meeting.  The meeting structure is not neutral; it replicates the forms of societies the organizers want to see (the kinds of participants, hierarchical or egalitarian). I believe the organizers of the SJVWIA meeting should be asking themselves a different question: “will this meeting bring us what we need to advance our project in today’s world?”.  But if they were capable of asking that question, they already wouldn’t be holding their meetings in a hearing room.





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Fortunately, my friend left for another field.

For a while, I went to school with a woman who had just left working for Cadiz.  She is shockingly funny, and told me stories about how great it was to work for Cadiz.  It was pretty fun, I hear, to zoom up to the desert on a Friday night and stay at Sun World and drink at rural bars and eat amazing fruit.  That does indeed sound great. When we realized we were both in the water field, she told me about the Cadiz project; how they were going to sell their groundwater to LA.  I winced at that and she reassured me.  It was no problem, she said; the aquifer wasn’t connected to anything.  At that moment, I knew the project was bullshit, because “not connected to anything” isn’t a possible thing.  It was the early 2000’s and she told me that the Cadiz project was definitely going to happen, because Keith Brackpool was very good at Grey Davis’ preferred type of fellatio(her explanation, my classy paraphrase).

Now friends of this blog, if you study a map, you will see that neither the Mojave Desert nor Los Angeles are in the Central Valley.  Since you are all long-time readers, you know that my small and limited attention goes only towards water issues in the Central Valley.  So even though the Cadiz project has been self-evident bullshit since the very first I heard of it, and even though I have found its opponents to be brilliant and its supporters to be paid hacks, I don’t believe I’ve ever written about it here.

I’m still don’t have much to say about Cadiz, but I do want to answer a related question my friend asked me.  When I said there’s no way that water in a desert aquifer is unconnected to the surface desert ecology, she asked, but what if it were?  If it were unconnected, why not send that water to Los Angeles?  For the sake of that question, I will set aside the potential harm of the pipeline itself and the cost and pretend that this project is both spherical and frictionless. I’ll also answer that question as someone who is partial to Los Angeles.

My answer is no, even were it costless, Cadiz shouldn’t be built.  It shouldn’t be built because Los Angelenos can live within their existing supply.  Decoupling was evident even in the early 2000’s; hell, it had been obvious since the ’80’s, when the Mono Lake Committee proved that L.A. could replace Mono Lake water with conserved water.  I do understand that many more people will live in L.A., but I also know that we have not begun to approach a gppd so low that Angelenos (or, more broadly any Californians that have reliable water service) drop out of a first world quality of life.  Further, the region has the money to pursue the next-most-expensive chunks of internal water.  I reject the assertion that growth for southern California requires Cadiz’s water, and for that matter, I don’t want Californians tied to the traditional economic concept of growth.

I have come to a conclusion, here in 2018, as I look at the sleazy fucks who have resuscitated Cadiz.  As #MeToo develops, I am realizing that it is all the same extraction mindset.  Either people believe that the other has inherent worth and should be met in mutually beneficial agreement, or people believe that the other is not as important as themselves and is a target for extraction.  Desert water; living rivers; people’s labor; environmental absorption capacity; Tribal land; sex, time, attention from a weaker party.  To a taker, they’re all just stocks, insufficiently guarded.  Witnessing extraction in one realm should alert the viewer that they are viewing someone with an extractive mindset; it is likely that person is dangerous in multiple realms.  Which is a long way of saying what the last nearly twenty years have made clear: Cadiz is a terrible project supported by terrible people.



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Fresno, May 19th. Readers represent!

A reader sent this to me.  This seems like a nice way to celebrate a big setback for Temperance Flats dam.CV CA Progressive Water Policy Brainstorm Flyer


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