Water & Power. California politics at its depressing best.

Published: October 15, 2009

When you start your day attending two meetings where the speakers apologize for being depressing, the rest of your day can only improve.  That was my day today.

I started with an early morning meeting of the Southwest California Economic Development Corporation where we were treated to remarks by John Rossi, General Manager of Western Municipal Water District. Apologizing for depressing us, John presented a factual summary of where our state is waterwise and how the water districts are dealing with our current situation. Having toured the Northern end of our state water supply system last year from Oroville Dam to LA, and having written about the issue on numerous occasions, I believe that rather than being depressed we should see this as a call to action. As Rossi did when he encouraged us not only to use our resources wisely but to engage our legislators in recognizing the complexity of the issue and dealing with it comprehensively.

With over 70% of SoCal water deriving from the north, another 25% from the Colorado River and about 5% from ground water & desalinization,  it’s clear where the answer lies. Prayer. But in addition to prayer, the water department is also working legislatively through the current ‘special session’ to address both conservation and infrastructure issues. Until and if those solutions ever bear fruit, they will also continue to squeeze their customers. Oh, by the way, if those solutions do bear fruit, they will still continue to squeeze their customers. Why? Because they can. And any fix – even the inadequate Democrat proposals, will come with a big price tag that somebody has to pay for.

Here’s a fun factoid. During the past year our primary wholesale supplier of water, Metropolitan Water District, has instituted rate increases of nearly 40%. These increases were designed to encourage conservation – a very admirable goal and one that will certainly help us deal with the problem. There’s another 20% increase due in a month or two. Why? Because our conservation efforts have been so successful at reducing water consumption that Metropolitan has less revenue coming in to service their bond debt and fixed expenses. So they need to raise rates again because the first rate increases were so successful at changing our consumption habits. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Is there a win-win in here anywhere?

Think our bills will go down anytime soon? The you should have been to the EWDC luncheon featuring Senator John Benoit and Assemblymembers Brian Nestande and Kevin Jeffries. The operative words here were also ‘depressing’ and/or ‘frustrating’ by turns, for the state’s economic outlook, any chance for real reform and for the water picture.

Assemblymember Jeffries, who was appointed to the state special commission on water, remains hopeful that some compromise solution will be reached soon, possibly as early as this coming week. He bemoaned the fact that water has become so politicized that true progress remains elusive. While the party in power in Sacramento thinks the problem can be solved by merely conserving more and restoring the Delta, the minority view prefers conservation coupled with additional infrastructure to provide long-term solutions. Capturing and storing rainfall and snowpack for future use, channeling current water resources without adversely impacting the Delta Estuary, new dams, an alternative conveyance AND continued conservation are all part of a comprehensive solution.

Our current drought is caused in equal parts by nature and regulation. Our dams truly are down by 1/2 to 2/3rds as a result of rainfall & snowpack the past few years. It is regulatory by virtue of the fact that judicial decree has determined the rights of the Delta Smelt take precedence over 18 million water users, farmers and food producers throughout the central and southern parts of the state. There are also complex water rights issues with people at the watershed source and with environmental groups concerned about preservation of the Delta. It wouldn’t be an easy fix even on a level playing field – given the way our legislature operates it’s a wonder anything happens at all.

All panelists agreed that jobs are the answer for our state. “Not bigger government, not more taxes, more jobs”, according to Senator Benoit.  “Taxes up, jobs down, legislature ineffective”, according to Jeffries.’450,000 jobs lost this year at an average $68,000 per, 150,000 jobs created at an average of $52,000 per – not good’ according to Nestande.

Jeffries also pointed out that the party in power, regardless of which party, has shown they will do darn near anything to perpetuate that power. There was some disagreement as to whether term limits have been effective at making our state more governable but all agreed that term limits have resulted in shifting power from the people who should be accountable, (our legislators), to people who are not accountable, (staff and lobbyists). The people who make the decisions aren’t around long enough to have to deal with the consequences of their actions so what’s their motivation to work for the long-term good? (Please keep in mind that all legislators are not altruistic by nature. Some just love the power, some just love the perks, and some just want to have a lobbyist mistress who wears a thong).

Agreeing that reform must occur if California is to turn itself around in any meaningful and sustainable way, they admit that if the legislature is not prepared to reform itself then the public will have to do it for them. When asked about the prospect of that occurring through Constitutional Convention, Jeffries voiced some concern about what could result from opening that can of worms while Nestande opined that any result probably couldn’t be much worse than the status quo.

Depressed yet? You shouldn’t be. This is California politics at its best. The more you know, the better prepared you are to deal with it. If you’re not at the table, you’ll surely be on the menu. Sometimes you might be anyway. Of course that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

Last modified: October 15, 2009 at 4:30 pm | Originally published: October 15, 2009 at 4:30 pm
Printed: September 28, 2020