The recent publication, MANAGING CALIFORNIA’S WATER: FROM CONFLICT TO RECONCILIATION by the Public Policy Institute of California has created a stir of late. There are concerns expressed in regards to the role of Bechtel Corporation in funding the process that brought the report together. Recently, a forum for discussion by PPIC being held in San Francisco was denounced as a “Greenwashing Event”. The writer, Dan Bacher chooses to dismiss the PPIC with accusations of “elitism” and “institutional racism”. This was based on the lack of representation on the presentation panel of Delta residents, tribal members or fishermen. In point of fact, there is no real representation anywhere in California’s water management system of users, advocates and stakeholders.
What Mr. Bacher omits is the significance of the structural reforms being proposed by the PPIC in the MANAGING Report. It is one thing to criticize Bechtel for its record in Cochabamba and elsewhere around the world. It is quite another thing to summarily dismiss the PPIC report with its proposals in regards to California water. The Report constitutes a change in direction and proposes significant structural reforms long overdue in California. (see MANAGING CALIFORNIA'S WATER, FROM CONFLICT TO RECONCILIATION, Chapter 8, Effective and adaptive Governance, p. 365 "To further encourage integration of water resource planning, the California legislature could create an affirmative structure for regional integrated planning and management. We propose creating nine regional stewardship authorities, coinciding with the jurisdictions of existing regional water quality control boards. As discussed below, the authorities would develop and manage integrated basin plans.")
As things stand, the plain fact is that California’s water politics are polarized and the main arena of battle is the State Legislature. The politics of water are rural (Republican) vs. urban (Democrat) with the result that localities are isolated in regards to diversions from one region to another. Further, the political landscape is skewed towards the urban users in the context of the large metropolitan areas in the state and the resulting Democratic majority in the State Legislature. This was seen in the debate around the peripheral canal in the Delta, in the Hetch-Hetchy diversion and in the Owens Lake diversion.
The point is that this is NOT simply a function of the Democratic Urban Machines that dominate the cities of California. It is a product of a water system that is diffuse and not designed to function in the context of sustainable regional uses. This is a point brought out in the PPIC Report as well. Two key elements remain unaddressed in regards to the future of water management in California:
1. How can sustainable water allocations in California’s regions be planned and implemented without depending on diversions; and
2. How can regional planning processes assure the open input and transparency needed to make fair and equitable decisions.
When one reads the PPIC Report one cannot help but be impressed with its recognition of the need for restructuring water management in California. The dilemma is: California has disregarded the consequences of actions that have increased the stressors on public infrastructure throughout California. The peripheral canal proposal is one more log on that fire. Big Ag and Big Urban are fighting over Big Water. Now that the drought is over everyone has some breathing space to re-structure the entities making the decisions. The water management system of California is a fundamentally flawed process, and the PPIC report is premised on this. This alone makes it a report worthy of consideration.