I’ve a chance to get out to California later this year and do some reporting on water issues, so I’ve been doing some reading, trying to get a better feel for where to focus my attention. This is in part driven by my belief that the West’s water issues have become inextricably linked, and to understand problems here in New Mexico I have to better understand the bigger picture.
With that in mind, I’ve a question for the California water wonks in the audience.
I’m currently making my way through the February PPIC report, which makes this point:
Most of the state’s (California’s) water management is highly decentralized, with many hundreds of local and regional agencies responsible for water supply, wastewater treatment, flood control, and related land use decisions. This system has many advantages but has often resulted in uncoordinated, fragmented water and land use decisions that contribute to chronic groundwater overdraft, impairment of watersheds by a wide range of pollutants, ineffective ecosystem management, and rapid development in poorly protected floodplains. Similar coordination failures among state and federal agencies have led to inefficiencies in reservoir operations, ecosystem management, and water marketing, among others.
It is easy to read through the coverage and literature and find a host of specific suggestions for dealing with California’s water problems:
- more dams
- ag conservation
- rip out all those damn LA lawns
- peripheral canal
- peripheral tunnel thingie
- throw Westlands under the bus
- throw the Imperial Irrigation District under the bus
- throw those stupid bait fish under the bus
- etc. (this list is in no way exhaustive)
What I’m baffled by is the institutional framework by which California will succeed or fail in sorting out the various choices. Where, in an institutional sense, does the conversation go on by which stakeholders come together to work these issues out?
In Arizona, for example, the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (which runs the Central Arizona Project) provides a framework by which most of the major players in the state’s water world sit down and talk about stuff. This doesn’t mean Arizona’s water problems are all unicorns and cheap beer, but it does provide a broad institutional framework. On a broader regional scale, the institutional structures around the Colorado River Compact provide such a framework. Again, no guarantee of success, but as a journalist it at least gives me a place to start.
What is California’s framework, if such a thing exists?
(Note that one potential answer may be “there is no institutional framework”, which is close to the conclusion I’ve come to regarding the similar set of questions here in New Mexico – sub/ad req. for that link.)