Oh, Yeah, That Water Thing is Going to Be Tough

I wake up this morning and see some sort of shock from the LA Times that the stars didn’t align themselves to create the perfect water package.  It turns out, that this stuff is hard. Who knew? Well, those who listened to the Calitics podcast, that’s who!

“It’s fear of losing water, fear of having to pay for stuff,” said Ellen Hanak of the Public Policy Institute. “It’s the same old interests,” she added, that have for decades impeded any kind of overhaul of California’s complicated and increasingly troubled water system.

The Democrats’ proposal is broad-ranging, but far from revolutionary. It takes what many water experts have characterized as modest steps in regard to groundwater, urban water conservation and state enforcement of water rights.

(LA Times 10/28/09)

The package is quite modest, a good start, but it doesn’t really solve our water issues. But to tell you the truth, nobody expected our water issues to be really resolved this year. There are too many moving parts, too many interest groups for this to all be resolved at once.  

Meanwhile the Republican “plan” is an even more modest change that, while provides for more storage, doesn’t address conservation in a suitably strict manner.

And the elephant in the room that everybody feels no compulsion to discuss? None of the plans call for any water conservation by agricultural users. Look, I’m for a healthy agriculture sector as much as the next guy, but we have to be realistic here. While urban users have dramatically cut usage, especially areas like Monterey and Sonoma Counties that have radically reduced their water usage over the past twenty years, agricultural users have barely scratched the surface.  There have been a few stories here and there of farmers using forms of hi-tech water monitoring and drip irrigation to reduce water usage, but these stories are notable because they are the exception. For the most part, farms are planting the same crops and watering the same ways.

The problem is that we have come to expect that water is an infinite resource whose price is at or near zero.  It is a model that works fine for online storage and email, but it’s just not a sustainable course in California’s water future. Until all users start treating water as the precious resource that it is, we can’t really get to a “solution.” And as much respect as I have for Steinberg and Bass, that just isn’t going to happen this year.

This year we’ll get some modest reforms and maybe some interesting storage products. But we’ll only get a real solution when water is properly valued.

One thought on “Oh, Yeah, That Water Thing is Going to Be Tough”

  1. especially about the so called Republican version.  It is no more than a placeholder for negotiations and way to show the Westlands Water District that it is the Republicans who are on their side.

    There are four areas where I have significant disagreement with even the Democratic bill.

    • It is really UN-democratic in the sense that the Delta Stewardship Council leaves it up to the good graces of the governor to even have a strong representation from Delta farmers, small businesses or citizens.  We know that Arnold is looking at something like this to be his legacy.  I am afraid that it will end up as another Cal-Fed which will always be Feinstein’s legacy.
    • All provisions of the Delta Plan as put forward by the Stewardship Council, and which they have little power to enforce, are subject to appeal by those with deep pockets. This setup is a lifetime endowment for lawyers schooled in water law and big ag will have it’s way.
    • The bill calls for a conservancy, but leaves a lot open, including the use of eminent domain to acquire land for the conservancy.  It would make a lot of sense to put some of the Delta in to such a conservancy but it needs to have more controls on how that gets implemented.  If I were a Delta farmer, I would get some help from the Farmland Working Group and put my land into an agricultural trust now. I know one who is trying to do just that.
    • Brian has it right about the subject of conservation. There is no hard requirement that can not find an exemption.

    There is a lot of work that still needs to be done.  I would hope that we end up with a result that is much more small “d” democratic.  

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