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Regional Water Planning and California Water Crises

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We can begin to grasp the distinction and significance in formulating regional planning processes as the foundation for a Green political position in regards to water that can be presented in issues work and candidate campaigns. A Green position needs, on the one hand, to promote a sound decision-making process that assures grassroots democracy while representing the needs and concerns of our voters and supporters in defining and supporting policies to implement our state Green Party Platforms. Structural reforms in our political entities are a fundamental focus in accomplishing both goals.

Prioritizing regional allocations should be a reserved right for the regions that are impacted by such decisions. Transfers and diversions have become the convenient (but expensive) alternative in California to placate the most vocal and influential users. Briefly put, what are political decisions are made into administrative matters through the State Legislature. Water wars are structured around agricultural vs. urban demands. No surprise there. Population increases, increased agricultural land use, dedicated surface water inflow increases, aquifer depletion and transfers from one region to another have become a juggling act. Politicians at the state level juggling these conflicting uses never define common goals or processes where the needs and concerns of local communities are an integral component of the decision-making process. Instead, it's "all-or-nothing" debates where winners take all.

The state is simply acting as a water company moving the water from one place to the next. Take note of the consequences of governmental control of allocations in this context. Existing governmental institutions and processes make Federal domination of water flows inherently divorced from regional users. In California, most of the decisions on water take place, not in the communities impacted but in a State Legislature where urban legislators confront rural legislators in diversion debates. As a result the distinct needs of the wide range of rural, urban and agricultural communities never become the focal point of water supply issues.

The plethora of advocacy groups of users, environmentalists, hydrologists and various interests on all sides battle each other and form coalitions based on the prioritization of allocations. It's the real essence of water politics in the state. Rarely are local people somewhere in their own communities looking at the situation and working together in making the hard decisions. Instead partisan politics pervade and conflicts are fostered pitting one community against another.

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Instead of management and administration, what results is just plain old-fashioned power politics through the Governor and the State Legislature. What are lacking are institutions that merge stakeholders, the environment and the science in a regional holistic process. What is lacking is a view of the regional demands and supplies of water in one comprehensive analysis that can point the way forward in a 50 year plan.

Choices do need to be made; priorities do need to be established. Consensus does need to be reached in regards to numerous aspects of water that range from monitoring and measurement to urban and rural conservation to efficient uses and re-uses of water to new sources for supply to reduction of evaporation losses to water quality concerns to ecological restoration. Parceling these issues into separate components leads to bureaucracies that are removed from those impacted by the decisions. It dissects regional matters and apportions them to a multitude of agencies and obscures the "how" and the "why" of decisions. And it removes those impacted the most from the decision-making processes.

Beginning with a state plan is little help in addressing the multitude of regional concerns. They do not have the ability to distinguish regional variances in supply and demand or quality and measurement and are simply general proposals that fundamentally lack substance. The preferred sequence would be regional plans, upstream-downstream integrations and then a state body to address conflicts through Water Court and a secondary adaptive governance institution of stakeholders, the environment and the science of hydrology.

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I am a Green Party member who lives in San Francisco. I have been active in water planning in the Middle Rio Grande region of New Mexico. I write political articles on the need for third parties, the contemporary failures of public education, the (more...)
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