12 Nov 2010

Fixing California's water problems

Now that the elections are over and California has a new (old) Governor, it's time to get back to problems that have been festering for ages. The obvious ones are poor management of groundwater, a lack of water markets, and the low prices that lead to shortages in dry places (because the price of water reflects the cost of delivery, not the scarcity of water).

But these problems can be resolved locally, without significant political action.

The Delta problem involves politics and politicians (mostly because it was caused by them).

I've written on one possible solution [PDF] that uses "put your money where your mouth is markets for stakeholders," but I've also been thinking of another idea for ages...

It's the California Water Conference

Slogan: "Leadership. Solutions. Now."

Time: 2.5 days

Attendance: 100 participants, with a composition of (roughly) 10 academics/consultants, 30 politicians/public managers/bureaucrats, 30 biz/ag people, 30 enviro/activists.

The Trick: Attendees are nominated and/or voted in by other interest groups. This means that Ideologues will be excluded. Is it possible to find a solution if they are excluded? Probably. This is a political problem that only requires a majority.

The other trick:
Lock people in the room with lots of alcohol.


Day 1:
18:00 Registration and cocktails
19:00 Plenary speaker (30 min) -- a revolutionary who accomplished something...
19:30 Dinner (2 hrs)

Day 2
08:00 Breakfast
9:00 Two speakers (15 min plus 15 min for Q&A/each)
10:00 Coffee
11:00 Two speakers (same)
12:00 Lunch
2:00 Panel (debate a metatopic)
3:00 Coffee
4:00 Breakout/Brainstorming sessions (2 sessions on the SAME topics?)
6:00 Cocktails
7:30 Dinner

Day 3
08:00 Breakfast
9:00 Solutions I (Breakout sessions presented 30 min/debated 30 min)
10:00 Coffee
11:00 Solutions II (same)
12:00 Lunch
2:00 Political/economic/legal issues
3:00 Coffee
4:00 Solving those problems/drafting language
6:00 Cocktails
7:30 Dinner

All attendees will receive booklets with photos, emails and phone numbers.

How does this sound? Suggestions for improvement? Want to help me organize it?

Bottom Line: A political solution requires that enough people find enough common ground, without resorting to high-minded, but empty, posturing.


Mark Franco said...

Add a time slot for a tribal panel to discuss 1st peoples water issues and the failure of the state to mitigate tribal water rights issues.

Mister Kurtz said...

The key to this is your interesting selection process. Otherwise it risks turning into yet another flip-chart fiasco, with a long white paper issued afterward, to be ignored. Most of the activists and ideologues have no interest in any political solution. They exist for the battle, and the personal power gained, it seems.

A year ago, I would have been very pessimistic about the success of a "summit" like this, no matter how well-crafted it was. Maybe now there is an opportunity. An outfit like the Water Education Foundation, which is well respected by anyone who knows anything about California water, might be interested in enabling the process.

What has changed my outlook a little is the idea that Brown will appoint top people at DWR with real leadership skills and imagination. We have had some skilled and intelligent people there, but they were largely just administrators. Their executive and legislative masters wanted people who did not rock the boat. If these new leaders will also listen to the engineers and lawyers who can explain how things in our water system *actually* work, I hold out some hope.

chris corbin said...

I like it - especially the copious amount of alcohol. Make sure you have some Moose Drool in there.

My criticism is I didn't see any action items. Sounds alot like all the other conferences I attend. Everyone sits around and talks about ideas (solutions), and nobody takes any action on the ideas.

Josh said...

I don't know how to start this comment...

You begin by saying that water problems need to be solved locally, and then, for your first example of solving one "water problem" (the Delta), you leave out any local voices.

I say, 100 people in the room, 75 of 'em residents of the Primary Zone. 25 of these people can be picked by the constituents you describe, and the remainder are elected by the localities of the Primary Zone. The only caveat: This group cannot change the management nature of the Primary Zone, and they cannot shrink the boundaries of the Primary Zone (this from a person from the Primary Zone).

Put your ideas where your ideals are. The Delta has a local voice. Other local water problems should, similarly, be solved locally.

Francis said...

Does the Magic Sparkle Pony get to come too?

There are plenty of solutions; there's just no political will to make hard choices because the politicians are accurately reflecting the will of their constituents.

Just how many politicians do you think you could get to come to your 2 day conference? One or two? (As the veteran of many a water conference, I can assure you that the politicians tend to appear just before their speaking slot, give their prepared remarks, take a few questions, have lunch at a table with the local power brokers then leave. What do you have to offer that would entice them away from their normal schedule of fund-raising, especially since what you're offering sounds like a legislative drafting session that's open to only a portion of the public?)

The California Water Conference is already held on a regular basis. It's called the California Legislature. The legislative process is aggravating, even unpleasant, and located in Sacramento. But there's no substitute for engaging in it.

Have you, David, taken the first step in lobbying for your ideas? Have you tried to sit down with the heads of the Senate and House committees on water and ag? Tried to build a constituency with anyone in the water world for your ideas? Talked to anyone who specializes in the initiative process about launching an initiative?

btw, statewide groundwater regulation has been proposed a number of times. It always gets crushed, by the ag industry which believes that it's none of DWR's (or SWRCB's) business how much water they pump.

David Zetland said...

@all -- thanks for the comments. Let me clarify that the "now" part of the conference is that it will be binding, as in "this is the answer."

That should take care of your objections, Francis. (Oh, and I agree that pols like a fight, but few others benefit from their dithering. I do not share your optimism on the accuracy of our political process.)

@Josh -- Delta folks will be involved, but I'm not going to agree with your 75% ratio.

Francis said...

Binding? David, you've gone from silly to ridiculous. "Binding" means a court will enforce the agreement; no court would conceive of issuing an order mandating that a bill be introduced.

You appear to have this idea that a 2-day meeting of legislators and stakeholders outside of the Capitol building can provide final resolution on the Delta. Why would your plan work when so many others have not? Because only 'serious' people get invited?

Even if as a result of the meeting a legislator agrees to carry a bill, that is just the beginning of the legislative process. Everyone else (including those who feel insulted by having been excluded) then gets to participate.

And who is going to host this meeting? You, a relatively obscure academic with no constituency and no lobbying experience? (Could you even afford it?) Why would a legislator come on your request? Can you deliver votes or money?

I have no objections to you making an effort to creating the CWC; I think you're being really naive. But grandiose visions are scattered across California's legislative landscape and a few (very few) even become law.

So, all the best. But before you starting working the phones, try calling Mike Machado and Sheila Kuehl. They're both termed out and they both worked hard on water issues, Mike in ag and Sheila representing Southern California. I'd be interested to know their thoughts.

If you're serious about being a big player in the water business, I see you having the following choices: (a) get onto the staff of a senator or representative who's on a committee with jurisdiction over water; (b) get a job with DWR, SWRCB, BuRec, MWD, KCWA, etc.; (c) go to law school and try the water lawyer route; (d) run for political office; or (e) work for a think tank / lobbying shop that specializes in water issues.

Unfortunately, I suspect you will find invidious discrimination along the way; there's a tremendous pro-engineer bias in the water biz.

Josh said...

David, then stop trying to hide behind your obvious political pandering in saying you believe these problems can be "solved locally, without significant political action." Either let it be solved locally, or admit that you think statewide, centralized control is more appropriate. It'll fit your other anti-libertarian concepts here of centralized planning and forcing particular subjects be discussed by the typical powerhouses, rather than by local communities through a more direct democratic process.

Jeff said...

How about adding 30 California voters chosen at random to represent taxpayer/ratepayers. Otherwise, like most stakeholder processes, you will just reach a solution that depends on OPM.

David Zetland said...

@Jeff -- good point.

@Josh -- "pandering"? You're not doing well here. Local works when things are LOCAL, but the Delta isn't a LOCAL issue. Get over it.

Josh said...

David, I'd just like to see some intellectual consistency here. Mr. Heasley and I, for example, often vehemently disagree, but at least I know where he stands.

If you'd read a conservative claiming to be libertarian, and then say these same words while "suggesting" a top-down, my-way-or-the-highway approach to solving some problem that he then pretends is the one problem that isn't "local", you'd accuse him of pandering, too.

If the Delta's water problems aren't local, then nobody's water problems in California are local, because the rate at which other locales improve their water efficiency, they lessen their need for Delta water. So, where's the Delta residents' voice?

Ignoring the very population who lives there is the single biggest reason for calling your comments pandering. You are obviously trying to shoehorn some top-down approach in quite a paternalistic fashion, and the only reason I can see is because you are pandering to some population. It's very convenient to pretend that people (& entities w/ no economic clout) don't actually live in the Delta.

And I haven't even gone to the part where any conversation about the polis is automatically political, so when I read someone say that things can be done in a democratic fashion but without the "politics" I know they are pandering, because they've effectively rendered that word meaningless.

You obviously have not worked in the public sphere, which is why you don't recognize your own pandering. I highly recommend a stint as some politician's assistant for a time, to see just how deals need to be made. I worked with the most conservative, libertarian-leaning group you'd ever imagine, and yet, when they organized themselves to get work done as a group, they did some serious politicking. It's human, it's how democracy works. Remember your Churchill.

David Zetland said...

@Josh -- you're wrong, and that's a pity, since you are not understanding a POV that is intellectually consistent.

I have no idea why you say pandering. Who am I pandering to, as someone who doesn't care about any constituency -- except public welfare?

Why do you fail to see the difference between the Delta, which exports huge quantities of water to SoCal and, say, ANYWHERE that has local water issues, constituents and management.

I am NOT saying that the Delta people should not have a role.

And this: "conservative claiming to be libertarian, and then say these same words while "suggesting" a top-down, my-way-or-the-highway approach to solving some problem that he then pretends is the one problem that isn't "local"" is total bullshit. WTF are you talking about? Stop fighting strawmen...

John Fleck said...

David -

I think you're ignoring the lessons of Ostrom's work on Southern California and elsewhere - the long hard work of getting stakeholders to come together around a common understanding of the nature of a problem and the process by which solutions are then crafted. (IIRC, it was you who first introduced me to Ostrom!)

A longer digression on this debate over at my blog:


David Zetland said...

@John -- good point, but my idea (which need not exclude others) gets at three problems: (1) the never ending nature of the current "discussion" that may be the result of strategic actions to maintain the status quo, (2) the lack of a critical mass of stakeholders in current negotiations that allows outsiders to claim the process is illegitimate and therefore cannot be concluded, and (3) the fact that this process has been going on for 10 (maybe 50) years already.

The BDCP process is not missing data or options; it's missing a real deadline.

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