California Water Policy Seminar Series continues with Tim Quinn: In Pursuit of “Coequal” Goals: An ACWA Statewide Perspective

TimQuinn_9318The UC Davis California Water Policy Seminar Series continued on February 4, 2013 with the Association of California Water Agencies Executive Director Tim Quinn as the guest speaker.  Prior to joining ACWA in 2007, Mr. Quinn was deputy general manager of the Metropolitan Water District, where he worked on several key state policy initiatives including the 1994 Bay-Delta Accord, CalFED, and others.  Mr. Quinn talked about the successes in California water that we oftentimes don’t give ourselves credit for, the costs associated with implementing the coequal goals, and the role of technology and infrastructure in finding solutions, as well as touching upon controversial issues such as San Joaquin River Restoration and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

Tim Quinn began by stating that he would be speaking on behalf of the Association of California Water Agencies, the only statewide political entity that engages in California water policy.  ACWA, 100+ years old, represents 440 public agency members; it is the largest association of its kind in the country.  “ACWA’s members are ‘mind-boggling’ diverse, they are ag, urban, north, south, above the rim dam watersheds, to the agricultural users on the valley floor, and they deliver the vast majority of the state’s water,” Mr. Quinn said.  “UC Davis Feb 4 2013 pdf_Page_04And of course they always agree with each other so my job is really easy” he added, jokingly.

ACWA’s board is comprised of 36 members representing 10 regions around the state.   The board members “never forget their differences, but the reason they are on the ACWA board of directors is that they want to find common areas where they can agree, despite their differences,” he said.  “It’s my experience that when I can get my board to agree …  [we’ve] probably got something that looks like it might have some legs under it as a statewide policy.”

Mr. Quinn noted that much had changed since the water projects were first built.  “1963 – it was during an era of building things for a big growing economy and there were no apologies for it.  Recently I read the speech that Kennedy gave at San Luis that day, and for a water manager and UC Davis Feb 4 2013 pdf_Page_05infrastructure guy, it filled me with pride thinking about the system we’re operating today, but that system underwent some enormous changes,” he said.

The year water started moving into Southern California, the Legislature passed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and that was a major change in the water supply element of the 1957 plan that all those contracts were written around, explained Mr. Quinn.  That was then followed by the endangered species acts, clean water acts, dozens of courts decisions interpreting all of the above, and managing the system under climate change – which wasn’t imagined back when the contracts were signed, so “we’re operating the system under dramatically different rules than the rules that were established for us when contracts were signed with commitments to pay,” he said, noting that it’s not a complaint.  “I’ve been a part of the policy development that has tried to match those changes over time.”

The first effort was the 1994 Bay Delta Accord.  “The accord was the first statement on a statewide basis that we had to move away from policies of the old towards what we now call the coequal goals.  It didn’t last as long as some would have liked,” he said.  “It was followed by the CalFED process which you will hear belittled a lot, UC Davis Feb 4 2013 pdf_Page_06but CalFED deserves a lot more credit than I think it gets.  It was part of the learning process as we moved towards the future.”

In 2008, the Delta Vision Task Force came out with a visioning document – a strategic plan that was truly remarkable.  “Five years earlier, it couldn’t have been published as they would have been run out of the state on a rail,” Mr. Quinn said.

The single most influential academic piece of work he said he had ever read was the PPIC’s 2007 report, Envisioning Futures for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  A PhD economist and a public policy analyst/wonk: “I wished I had written something as influential as this, as when I read this for the first time, I was a 25-year grizzled veteran and it changed how I looked at water policy, particular with respect to the Delta.”

The Bay-Delta Accord, CalFED, the Delta Vision Task Force, the PPIC Reports: “All of those things over a 20 year project built a foundation so we could pass comprehensive legislation. This was the biggest deal in 50 years, arguably the biggest deal ever that the California legislature has done on water, a series of bills passed in 2009, the Delta Reform Act,” he said, noting that the legislation “didn’t tell you where to go with respect to all the Delta decision making, but laid the foundation that would give you the ability to get there if you had the will and the knowledge to do so.”

ACWA still believes the 2009 legislation is the “rock we can stand on to move forward,” noting that it is built around the concept of coequal goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California, and protecting, restoring and enhancing the Delta ecosystem.  “We’ve been moving in this direction for at least two decades, but it became a formal statement of law.  What we do with it remains to be seen, but I still think it was an evolution of law that was absolutely essential.  This is cornerstone around which California water law revolves today and we’re seeing if we can find a way to make it work.,” Mr. Quinn said.

Coequal goals means comprehensive solutions, said Mr. Quinn: “I like to say you have to check the box next to “all of the above”.  UC Davis Feb 4 2013 pdf_Page_07We need absolutely massive investments in local resource development to keep local supplies up and demand for imported water down, and that’s true in the Bay Area, it’s true in the upstream areas north of Sacramento, it’s true in Southern California, it is true everywhere.  We have to be committed to unprecedented investments in local resource development,” he said.

We also have to be invested in conveyance solutions.  It’s the thing that we fear the most, but I don’t see a path towards the coequal goals if we don’t have the courage to deal with conveyance problems in the Delta,” he said.   And ACWA believes both surface and groundwater storage need to be added to the system to make it flexible enough to respond to the coequal goals.  And lastly, for the Delta, “we need to stand back and take a bigger look at multiple species, multiple stressors, multiple management tools; we need to approach ecosystem management the same way we do with water supply management in the state of California.”

We have made more progress than we give ourselves credit for, Mr. Quinn said, noting that a recent cooperative study with the Department of Water Resources found that a conservative estimate of the water supplies generated by local resource developments is 1.9 million acre-feet of water over the last decade.  “It was accomplished by the vast majority from water agencies doing what they do, setting their water rates to pay for resource development that they believe is important to their future,” he said.  “To put that in perspective, in the last decade, we have, through local resource development, created something that has the same yield as the State Water Project, which was considered a pretty big thing back in 1960. And what we’ve been doing playing little ball with supply has been pretty impressive when you add it up and look at it.  Again, most of that is being powered by local decision making, local agencies, ACWA members and others.”

We’ve expanded south of Delta storage more than we sometimes give ourselves credit for, Mr. Quinn said, pointing to the expansion of groundwater storage, the building of Diamond Valley Lake and Los Vaqueros Reservoir, and water banking in Lake Mead.  “If you add all of it up … a pretty conservative estimate is that we’ve added about 4 million acre-feet of new storage capacity, surface and groundwater, to the system south of the Delta, at a cost of about $4 billion dollars.  It’s probably considerably more than that, but to put that in perspective, it’s like adding a Shasta Lake to the system over the last 10 to 15 years.  Again a remarkable accomplishment as we’ve moved in the direction of more diversified investments then we did in the past,” Mr. Quinn said.

ACWA members and others have been bringing the coequal goals to life, UC Davis Feb 4 2013 pdf_Page_11from the Yuba River to American River to the Tuolomne River, throughout the state of California, and even in Southern California on the Santa Ana River, said Mr. Quinn; a lot of progress is being made in local systems that work for both local water supply and local fisheries.

California’s emerging water market is showing signs of progress as well.  Mr. Quinn has a history in water marketing having spent the first 10 years of his career working on it:  “I worked for a very far-sighted man, Carl Boronkay [Metropolitan Water District General Manager from 1984-1993], one of the true giants of California water that doesn’t get the credit he deserves,” he said.  “One of the things that Carl had a fascination for was the market.  He heard me give a speech once when I was at the Rand Corporation saying we needed a peripheral canal and a market.  He liked it, so he hired me, and he said go make that marketing stuff happen.”  Mr. Quinn noted that it didn’t make him the most popular person in the world at the time, and it wasn’t an idea that caught on quickly.  However, “I was a reviewer on a recent PPIC report and was very pleased to read that PPIC could document about 2 MAF in annual trades this year.  Not nearly as big as it needs to be in the long-term, but again, a sign of enormous progress.”

That being the good news, Mr. Quinn moved on to more controversial issues.  “It has to go beyond adding more tools to the tool box –  we have to think differently about those tools,” said Mr. Quinn, adding: “I want to emphasize that I’m not going to ask you at all to buy into any conclusion today, not a single one.  I am going to ask you to think differently about problems then you might have in the past.”

ACWA launched a campaign few months ago called “Rethinking California water” with the objective of  getting people to look differently at water issues.  As part of that effort, Mr. Quinn and staff wrote a commentary for the San Francisco Chronicle that asked people to think differently about the technology of water.  “Now I am not going to argue technology the only thing that counts, but boy does it count, and I’m going to make that case as to why we need to think differently about technology, infrastructure and the fundamentally important role that is has in accomplishing the coequal goals.”

As an example, Mr. Quinn discussed the city of Sacramento’s new water intake that came online in 2005. “It’s a magnificent piece of infrastructure, about 100 to 150 feet wide, rising 100 feet out of the water.  It cost $33 million to construct and its capacity is 160 million gallons per day.”  Upstream of the new intake is the old intake, much smaller in size, probably cost ten cents on the dollar for the new facility, he noted.  The surprising thing is that both intakes have the exactly the same capacity: 160 million gallons per day. UC Davis Feb 4 2013 pdf_Page_15From a water supply perspective, those two pieces of infrastructure are identical.  They provide the same service, one doesn’t do more than the other; the same capacity in both of them.  The difference is the coequal goals,” he said.  The new intake was designed for fishery as well as water supply needs, accounting for the vast majority of capital expenditures.  “It had to be big because the screen had to be big to keep the flow velocities down to keep the fish away from the screens so that you can operate your system in a way that is consistent the integrity of the ecology that you are a part of.”  Mr. Quinn pointed out that the new intake facility didn’t cost the city of Sacramento a drop of water.  “It was an infrastructure and a technological problem, not a water flow problem or water supply problem.”

He added: “Another thing I have learned in this process is that coequal goals are really expensive.  They are a lot more expensive than that old single goal of cheap water.

The 1994 Bay-Delta Accord had four categories of agreement, the third category being habitat restoration, Mr. Quinn explained; a first in the history of California water management. “Interestingly enough, it was something that we water supply entities fought for.  The environmentalists were very indifferent to it, they wanted to continue arguing about flows, but the water community felt very strongly that there had to be a habitat element to the Bay Delta Accord,” he recalled.  So Bruce Babbitt went to Woody Wodraska [Metropolitan Water District General Manager 1993-98] and said how do we make habitat happen if we don’t have money?  So Woody put up $30 million of Metropolitan money with no strings attached to make the Bay Delta Accord.  “I was the lucky guy that got to decide how that money got spent,” he said.

UC Davis Feb 4 2013 pdf_Page_16One of those places where the money was spent was Butte Creek, near Chico, said Mr. Quinn, noting that it is a special place he takes his grandchildren every few years to watch the spring run salmon spawning.  Butte Creek is 25 miles long from the Sacramento River to the foothills, and over those 25 miles there were 12 dams, multiple outtakes to irrigate rice, and none of them were screened.  “It was a killing field for spring run salmon,” he said, noting that by the early 90s, only 170 or so adult females were getting up to spawn, compared to the thousands that had spawned there before.  “Another thing really unique about Butte Creek is that the water managers up there are genuinely invested in coequal goals.  I can’t say that about all water managers, but it’s a growing phenomenon and it was certainly true up there,” he said.  Western Canal Water District’s then-General Manager Gary Brown “had the vision to drive the process and what happened was a complete rethinking of that system from one end to the other.”

It was an unprecedented partnership that made it happen, Mr. Quinn said, noting there was urban money and both the state and federal governments both were engaged.  “UC Davis Feb 4 2013 pdf_Page_17Four dams were removed completely … the other eight were replaced so they actually had state of the art fish ladders that the fish could actually climb up.  The diversions were all screened where none of them had been screened previously.  We now have 25 miles of stream with unimpeded flows and suitable habitat, and the spring run Chinook salmon population was I think fair to say restored.”

Mr. Quinn continued: “It didn’t cost the farmers a drop of water, because the flows coming out of the system weren’t the problem; the problem was the infrastructure designed 50 years before that wasn’t designed for the coequal goals,” he said, adding “when we started thinking coequal goals, we started getting coequal results.”

Mr. Quinn cited EBMUD’s new $120 million Freeport Intake Facility, a huge facility that’s only moving 350 cfs, so big because it’s designed for fish as much as for water supply.  “East Bay MUD could pay for its system, but less true for Glenn Colusa ID, a $75 million screening facility,” UC Davis Feb 4 2013 pdf_Page_20said Mr. Quinn, noting that these are expensive facilities.  “Coequal goals are expensive.  My urban members can usually eat the public benefit costs, my ag members cannot.  Those ag facilities would not exist today but for public subsidies that were aimed at bringing public interest values into infrastructure decision making at the local level.”

Mr. Quinn then turned to the San Joaquin River and Friant Dam.  “How do you think about Friant Dam and the San Joaquin River from the perspective of the coequal goals?  They got a head start on it when they negotiated a major settlement agreement that nobody seems to like anymore,” he said: “And that’s because coequal goals are really hard.”

Friant Dam was built over 60 years ago for low cost water supply, which was how things were done at the time.  The water was diverted directly from the dam into the Friant-Kern Canal, bypassing the river completely.  The Friant Kern Canal is designed to move water down the east side of the San Joaquin Valley.  “It worked well for the agricultural economy but it didn’t work so well for the San Joaquin River, particularly the reach above the Merced River where at times the river was completely dried out because it was deprived of flows,” said Mr. Quinn.  “And so of course, the environmentalist sprung into action.  The environmentalist’s view of success is to take the farmer’s water and run it out to the Golden Gate Bridge, which I guess would work okay for the fish but would not work okay for that farm economy.”

However, there was another concept that the environmentalists agreed they would think about called “recirculation”, explained Mr. Quinn.  “The concept is that water is allowed to go down to the San Joaquin River to the Delta and then is pumped back to the California Aqueduct to maintain water supply, running, in essence, in a big circle.  UC Davis Feb 4 2013 pdf_Page_23Now, with the environmentalist’s flow pattern, the water flows out to sea and “one of the coequal goals gets sold out.  Now maybe that’s the best solution for society, but the one that can keep supply going to the farm economy on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley and has the hope for restoration is this recirculation pattern,” explained Mr. Quinn.   “Dave Fullerton at MWD said the water’s got to go in the big circle if you’re going to accomplish the coequal goals.”

Of course, in the big circle, there’s controversy, there’s expense, to make the big circle work you need storage somewhere in the system – I tend to be a fan of Temperance Flat – don’t run out of the room now – because Temperance Flat is both above and below the Delta from manager’s perspective, a very flexible asset for managing flows for fisheries and then timing withdrawals out of the Delta,” said Mr. Quinn.  “You would also have to have billions of dollars in habitat restoration because the flows won’t do you a darn bit of good if you don’t match it with massive habitat investments, particularly from Friant Dam down to the confluence of the Merced River.  You have to have a fixed Delta if you are going to operate the big circle, and you’d have to construct a fairly sizeable intertie.”

From a coequal goals perspective, I don’t see how you cannot think some of these thoughts, put some numbers to them, and try and figure out what pattern of investment makes the most sense,” said Mr. Quinn.

Turning to the Delta, UC Davis Feb 4 2013 pdf_Page_25it is the elephant in the room for California water policy; you couldn’t talk about the Delta in an intelligent way for 20 years,” he said, adding “if Jay and his colleagues had written their 2007 report in 1997, they’d be teaching elementary school some place today.  And that’s because it’s a killing field, politically.  Getting sense out of this place is very, very difficult because emotions run so high, reason runs so low. … But the governor said it pretty well; there’s big problems in the Delta that have to be fixed and they’re trying to do it through the Bay Delta Conservation Plan,” he explained.

I don’t agree with everything that’s happening in the BDCP process, sometimes it’s a little too export-centric for my perspective, and I represent a statewide association, but it’s hard to imagine a system with coequal goals really being highly effective without solving this problem one way or the other,” he said.

Here’s the way I like to think about it.  You’ve got this huge footprint of this multi-billion dollar water supply project, so we might as well get out of that existing footprint what we can.  That’s about 600 reservoirs, pumping facilities, 666 miles of tunnel or aqueduct, and the BDCP is proposing to lengthen that 666 miles by 35 miles, or about 5 to 7%,” he said.  “They are moving the intake, and I know that you’ll read in the newspapers that it is a vast increase in the ability to move water into Southern California, but it simply is not true.  As a matter of fact, it’s a reduction in the ability to move water to Southern California from a lot of perspectives.”

“Here’s the problem that we’re trying to solve, an oversimplified view of hydrodrynamics from Mr. Quinn’s perspective: UC Davis Feb 4 2013 pdf_Page_28The big river’s in the north, and most of the water we pump is coming from the north, and since it’s such a big, flat place that when we turn the pumps on, it pulls the water from where the water is.  The water is up on the Sacramento River, which provides 80% of inflow into the Delta on average,” he said.

The San Joaquin River is second biggest river in California, it’s smaller, and that water is getting pulled into the Delta pumps too because it’s a big flat place and the water goes where the pumps are.  Or the water can move around the Delta … we were arguing a lot about that 15 years ago,” he said.  “But none of these flows are good for fish.  They are there because it was a low cost way to deal with water supply before the fish mattered very much.”

We basically treat the Delta as our water highway in the state of California.  I know they’re proposing pipelines today; well, the Delta’s a virtual pipeline today.  We don’t actually have a real pipeline but we treat the Delta as it if it were a pipeline,” he noted, adding “if there was one thing I learned in 2007 from the PPIC book is the Delta can’t do all this stuff and accomplish coequal goals.  You have to decide.”

He continued: “If you want the Delta to function for coequal goals, the most important thing to do is technological; its infrastructure; it’s to isolate those two water uses, the environmental from the economic, to give yourself a standing chance to deal with risks that remain and those risks in theory should be enormously smaller.   And that’s what they’re trying to do in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.”

The tunnels are indeed big, Mr. Quinn said:  “We’re not talking small, we’re talking big infrastructure moving water supply for a big economy, especially moving water supply when you’ve got lots of water to move.  UC Davis Feb 4 2013 pdf_Page_29That means you need lots of capacity.  We need to match that with storage south of the Delta that we don’t have today and they don’t talk or think about that much.”

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan includes the tunnel but is also coupled with very aggressive habitat restoration:  “I don’t think one of these works without the other.  You need to get humans and management for humans out of the Delta so you can manage it for habitat purposes, another lesson I learned in 2007.  You have to address all the stressors,” Mr. Quinn said, adding that “[the BDCP} doesn’t get enough credit for being willing to address all the stressors, things like waste management upstream of the Delta.”

There is also a very strong commitment to local resource development: “I think they need to keep standing on the parapets and shouting that they’re going to keep demands down for export water while they fix the export system. That’s something that will require policy and vigilance on the part of the statewide government because you need to be sure the export interests are going to be doing that.  I think they are willing to do it, but we need a system that assures it’s going to happen.”

One thing that isn’t being discussed with the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is storage, something that is important to ACWA and particularly the upstream members.  “I couldn’t resist quoting the recent NRDC proposal, I think it’s a great pro-storage quote: ‘Developing new water storage south of the Delta improves our ability to store water in wet years to meet needs in dry years when high Delta pumping levels can be most harmful.’”, he said.

He noted that environmentalists should be the storage advocates:  “The export interests should not be storage advocates; it’s an added expense. They don’t get more water out of it; it just changes when they can take water.  The advocates for storage infrastructure as part of coequal goals ought to be the people who care more about fish because it allows you to shift your water demands from times of higher conflict to times of lower conflict.”

Mr. Quinn continued: “My organization has consciously made a decision not to do anything that interferes with a successful Bay Delta Conservation Plan, as long as it is working for the state as a whole, and not just for export interests, but before we are done, we are going to have to take storage more seriously than we have today,” adding that ACWA believes it’s the framework we need to build on.

UC Davis Feb 4 2013 pdf_Page_31I am known as the world’s biggest optimist in California water and deservedly so; my mother raised me that way, and she did a hell of a good job.  So here are some questions that have to be answered in order to get where we need to go.  The first is will the federal government get it?  That’s a huge variable out there.  The second is can we build statewide support? We really have to start looking to statewide support, which really hasn’t much happened to date. The third is can we pay for it.  Let me give you ACWA’s brief answers to those questions,” he said.

In regards to the federal government, Mr. Quinn said that they got it more or less in the 1990s; Bruce Babbitt was Secretary of the Interior at the time, a strong environmentalist who believed that the endangered species act could work in California on water supply: “Bruce was there all the time with policy guidance to try and make sure that this thing worked for what we later called coequal goals – the term hadn’t been coined yet, and again, not to perfection, but you had this very conscious guiding hand from the federal government to not allow the biologist at the UC Davis Feb 4 2013 pdf_Page_33GS7 and 9 levels to wreck the works.”

Whether or not the success of the 1990s will be repeated remains to be seen, Mr. Quinn said, and we’ll know over the course of this year:  “I like the reconciliation concept that’s been coined by the PPIC scientists, where you’ve got to reconcile environmental and ecological goals with water supply reliability goals, and is has to be something that is demonstrably working for the state as a whole.  I certainly believe there’s way to do this, but again there’s huge discretion, big variable out there with what the federal government will do.”

As to building statewide support, Mr. Quinn said that it won’t be easy.  “The Delta is the killing field politically; it’s not just the third rail of water politics, it’s the third rail of politics in California a lot of the time, especially for northern California politicians.  UC Davis Feb 4 2013 pdf_Page_34My organization believes there is a path to success and that they need to do more than they are doing today to make it very clear that the BDCP has to be successful, but only as part of statewide plan that is working for the state as a whole.  It’s got to clearly demonstrate that you can reconcile the Delta ecosystem with water supply reliability.”

They’ve got to find a much better way to deal with managing risks, because I’ll tell you quite frankly these arguments over are they going to get this much water supply or 400,000 acre-feet more or less.  I am not really interested in the answers to those questions … I want to understand how can we deal with risks in the future, what system is more resilient, what system will allow us to deal with differences in opinion in the future?  That’s a much harder to quantify and sell in a policy environment but that’s what you’re paying $14 billion for in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.”

Mr. Quinn said that in his experience once you make the physical changes:   “Just as was true on Butte Creek, just as was true elsewhere, you have a physical system that is much more amenable to reconciling the differences between the environment and water supply reliability, and I believe that is worth an investment of $14 billion dollars.”

Can we pay for the $14 billion dollars? “It’s more like $40 billion when you add it all up.  Just for conveyance solutions, if you look at everything we need to do, it’s easily a $40 billion solution over the next quarter century which is a very, very small number for a 2 trillion dollar a year economy dealing with arguably it’s largest infrastructure challenge.  I just don’t buy the argument that it’s too expensive.  Not true before, not true now, won’t be true in the future, but we do have to struggle to find a way to pay for all of this,” he said.

Mr. Quinn continued: “One reason for that is when we switched to coequal goals, we need to switch our financial paradigm to match a system of coequal goals. UC Davis Feb 4 2013 pdf_Page_36 Coequal goals means you are broadening the mix of services when you bring an infrastructure project online. It’s not just producing cheap water.  We knew how to finance that.  You found out where the water was going to go, you said do you want this water, will you pay for it, they would say yes, and they would pay for it.  Project financed.

But we’re now producing something that produces water supply goals along with an array of public benefits for coequal goals, and those public benefits are getting linked to water supply benefits, and we need to find a way to finance both of them.  Reliable public funding sources are going to be essential for the future.  Some of the urban agencies have been willing to swallow the public benefits and load them on their ratepayers.  I don’t fault that, but I don’t think it’s a recipe for success in the future.”

About the water bond, “My organization strongly supports the bond when it was passed and we believe it would be good to pass something very similar to it in the future,” however, given it’s already been pulled three times: “We’re starting to think as we head into the legislature, is one hundred percent general obligation bond the best way to go?  It may be – again I work for a 36 member board of directors who like that bond a lot, UC Davis Feb 4 2013 pdf_Page_38but they are willing to look at alternatives, and we’re going to have to,” Mr. Quinn said.

There have been four bills already introduced to date so it will need to be restructured, but to what degree it will be restructured is not clear:  “My own view and I think the Board of Directors, is okay, let’s hang on to the policy agreements – and this is not a universally held view among ACWA members – let’s hand on to the policies we need to build the future on but figure out more innovative ways to finance them.  We’re willing to talk about changing finance but not dropping out major elements of the comprehensive solution.”

In terms of governors in recent history, even though Schwarzenegger was a pretty good water governor, “we have never seen anything like Jerry Brown.  His father built this system, he wants to make it sustainable, and it’s a fire burning in him.  Whenever you are around him talking water, it’s very clear this is something.  We’ve got the highest level of engagement of the chief executive officer of the state of California that we’ve had, until you go back to his father.  He’s going to have to match his father’s willingness to put his political capital up on water.  For Governor Pat Brown, water was almost everything to him at the time.  He put his entire political capital portfolio into water and guess how much the Burns-Porter Act passed by in 1960 – less than 6/10ths of one percent of the vote, so you need a governor to be highly invested in this issue, and even then, you’re facing a high level of political risk.”

Mr. Quinn said that ACWA’s created a finance task force to explore avenues to maximize prospects for general obligation bond financing “which is a very, very appropriate way to pay for public benefits.”  The vast majority of the bond was not pork; but there is some:  “we need to de-pork the bill, probably downsize it, figure out alternative ways to finance some things.”

One way or the other, this is going to be a really incredible year.  The next few years are going to be incredibly active years; contentious – people are going to be saying bad things about each other, UC Davis Feb 4 2013 pdf_Page_39but I never would have thought we would have the opportunities we have today to move forward with California water policy.”

So in conclusion:  “What I wanted to do today was not convince you about any particular solutions but to get you thinking differently, in particular about the role of infrastructure and technology in those solutions because I don’t think you can get there without radically changing the system we inherited.  We’re going to spend tens of billions of dollars to retrofit it so that it is consistent with the policy of coequal goals instead of just being there to deliver cheap water.”

One of the audience members asked Mr. Quinn what the effect of tunnel diversions would be on San Francisco Bay and on areas upstream of the diversion?

Mr. Quinn answered:

Upstream on the Sacramento River, no effect.  I would also argue no effect on the San Francisco Bay.  Although you do get a change in the mix.

“What’s happening here, and it raises significant issues, is that the exporters are not taking more water.  They are not looking for more water.  I know it’s hard to believe but it’s true.  I was actually the person who wrote the ‘no more water policy’ for Metropolitan Water District; the Board adopted it in 2004-2005, and what it said then, flat out, it said that we’re not looking for more water, we are looking for the same amount of water through a more resilient, more reliable system.  And they got that.  And now even the ag contractors.  Nobody is looking for more water then they had available to them when they started the BDCP process in 2006.  Let me drive that point home.  This is not about vast increases in water; this is about changing where you take it,” he said.

The pumps are located on the little river on the San Joaquin, and they take a lot of San Joaquin water, pulling Sacramento River water down across the Delta in the process.  What they want to do is get more Sacramento River water into the California Aqueduct; it’s good for water quality, it’s good for water supply, it’s good for the fisheries in the Delta, it’s good for emergency preparedness, but it may not be good for water quality within the Delta, and that’s an issue which I’m going to want to look hard at in the EIR that’s about to come out.  I think that’s a very legitimate issue, and it affects some ACWA members,” he said, adding: “there are going to be impacts to people in the Delta because they are going to get more San Joaquin River water which could adversely affect them.  There are solutions to those problems; they need to be identified and mitigated.”

He continued: “I personally think in the south they play the earthquake card big because it sells to the business community.  The business community is scared to death; they watched Katrina, they watch other stuff, I think it’s a legitimate and perfectly valuable argument but even without that, the main driver here on a day-to-day week-to-week basis is between our environment and our water supply system, because we’ve trapped ourselves in a world where we have the worst possible situation and neither side can win.  So even if it weren’t for the earthquake argument, there are compelling reasons to want to make structural changes.

“Frankly the risks as a businessman in Southern California are greater from the fact that you’ve got a system in which you’re pitted against the environment and you go into a court where the environment is the only thing that counts.  That’s going to do more damage to your water supply quicker than an earthquake will.”


  • Click here to watch the video of Tim Quinn’s speech.
  • Click here to visit ACWA’s website.
  • Click here to look for posts of the other speakers in the California Water Policy Seminar Series.
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