Parting thoughts for Delta water warriors

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Source:   —  April 02, 2016, at 5:15 AM

Maybe the most enduring is that regular folks as well as hired lobbyists speak differently in public than they do in private conversation. The most common refrain in public is “me, and my interest first.” When I speak to these people in private, however, they're distant more reasonable.

Parting thoughts for Delta water warriors

More than fifty years in public policy have taught me a lot of lessons. Maybe the most enduring is that regular folks as well as hired lobbyists speak differently in public than they do in private conversation.

The most common refrain in public is “me, and my interest first.” When I speak to these people in private, however, they're distant more reasonable.

This was my latest week on the Delta Stewardship Council. It’s been described as a “new agency with an old, controversial job” – to ensure a dependable supply of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta while simultaneously ensuring its environmental protection. This goal is backed up with laws that mandate change, and allow a genuine but Ltd role for the council to enforce the laws. All this is expressed in the legally enforceable Delta Map we adopted in 2013.

How to do this is a balancing act involving water districts, government agencies, environmentalists, business and agriculture representatives, many of whom I've arrive to know over the years, and whose views I've supported or opposed at points in my public service. Talking to folks who are reasonable only in private discussion, I've occasionally demanded they declare in public what they tell me in private. Some smile, but mostly they glower or stare back without responding.

This is the American way to negotiate: Demand in public more than you wish or need, in the hope of getting something better than you expect. Ask tough questions of your opponents, but duck the ones that arrive your way. Proposal to compromise thirty minutes before a final decision.

This isn't a grand way to create public policy.

Less public posturing would oversimplify life for my council colleagues as they weigh, for example, the consistency of the governor’s water tunnels proposal with the council’s Delta plan, and consider the related ecosystem actions being planned.

The council’s marching orders are clear. The statutory “coequal goals” – a more dependable water supply for the state and a protected, restored and enhanced Delta ecosystem – are mandatory, not discretionary. That means compelling state and local agencies that arrive before the council to comprise and fund their promises, particularly promises to make better the Delta environment.

CA law also mandates that we “reduce reliance on the Delta in meeting California’s future water supply needs.” That means an real reduction in water taken from the Delta watershed, and is reflected in the Delta Plan. A lot of water users don’t love this, but it's inevitable and we necessity to obtain on with it.

State and local agencies should utilize the best available science and scientific “adaptive management” to be consistent with the Delta Plan. And they've to guarantee funding for those activities, not just unenforceable future promises.

Finally, the council needs to insist that the current mishmash of management and operating rules be more coherent.

Those are reasonable parameters. And excellent policy could emerge from them, if my friends in the water wars could let their reasonable private selves do more of the talking. Maybe it’s time to keep California’s interests first.

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