First, the elephant in the room: the plan says nothing about water "used" in agriculture. As many of you know, agriculture diverts 80 percent of California's "developed" (controlled) water supply. The rest goes to municipal and industrial use. (Read this post on how much farmers really use.)
So the State wants to reduce overall water use by 20 percent, but it's only dealing with the first 4 percent, i.e., a 20 percent reduction in the sector using 20 percent. I think that this plan will be DOA with the public (they will not care to cooperate) unless the public sees at least a plan for reducing agricultural use. I think such a plan is possible, particularly if farmers are allowed to make better use of markets.
With that said, here are some notes on what I saw:
- They are making the same mistake that we have seen elsewhere -- requiring cuts against baseline use, which does not recognize earlier conservation successes. The obviously better way to make cuts is to measure aggregate use, reduce that by 20 percent, and then allocate that reduced quantity to cities based on their population. That would mean that cities with low use (e.g., San Francisco) would not have to reduce by as much as cities with high use (e.g., Sacramento). It's both fair and efficient to base targets on PEOPLE, not historic use.
- The plan is FULL of command and control regulations and BMPs (Best Management Practices). That's sad, since it ties people up with rules. Better to raise prices and let people decide how to conserve water. (OTOH, lots of planners and consultants will get jobs from the current emphasis, and I guess those are "green" -- if wasteful -- jobs.)
- Watch out for the "public good" charge. This tax comes from a good intention -- water waste is bad for the public, so we should tax it to reduce waste -- but it will attract a firestorm of criticism. The first critique will come from people who claim that water belongs to "the people" already, so you cannot tax them for using it. (That's not true, since some people use more than others.) The second will come from those skeptical of how the State will spend the money. If revenue goes to the General Fund, there will be hell to pay. The third will involve monitoring. The tax will have to be collected on ALL water withdrawals -- surface and ground -- and the biggest current users, farmers, will fight this idea like crazy. If they are not axed, it will be worse; see "elephant," above!
- 20x2020 only got 57 comment letters. For such an "important" topic, this is appalling.
- DWR has decided to monitor (and perhaps reduce use) for each of California's ten hydrological regions. That's troublesome for everyone who does not know them and for all the political bodies that do not share their borders. This decision seems to exemplify the importance of bureaucracy over performance.
- The plan calls for uniform data collection. I hope that they make that data available to the public in XML format so that we can use it for monitoring and decision-making.
Bottom Line: Bureaucracies are good at setting goals and bad at improving efficiency. People and markets are better at improving efficiency without needing goals. We could have 20x2012, but not if the bureaucrats are in the lead!