Photo by DWR

Maven’s Minutes: PPIC panel talks adaptive management

Photo by DWR
Photo by DWR

In April of 2013, the Public Policy Institute of California released the report, Stress Relief: Prescriptions for  Healthier Delta Ecosystem, which noted that the state is at a critical juncture with adoption and forthcoming implementation of the first “Delta Plan” and a decision on the BDCP possible by early next year.  “But California still faces an uphill battle to incorporate science effectively in decision making and make judicious management choices with a highly fragmented and adversarial institutional structure involving dozens of federal, state, and local entities,” states the report’s summary.

The report emphasizes a ‘reconciliation ecology’ approach to managing the Delta, an approach that would restore natural processes wherever possible and use infrastructure and technology to support native species.  However, this reconciliation process needs to be guided by science and broadly supported by Californians.  Better outcomes that control costs can be achieved with just a modest set of changes to existing institutional structures, says the report, such as consistent planning, integrated and accountable management, more comprehensive and integrated regulation, and creating a JPA for doing science in the Delta.

In May of 2013, the PPIC held an event that featured a series of panel discussions with officials and scientists to talk about their views of the report and the findings.  The second panel, titled Managing Adaptively for Multiple Stressors, featured Phil Isenberg, Chair of the Delta Stewardship Council; Mark Cowin, Director of the Department of Water Resources, Campbell Ingram, Executive Officer of the Delta Conservancy, and Will Stelle, Administrator of Northwest Region National Marine Fisheries Service.  The panel was moderated by Jay Lund, Adjunct Fellow to the PPIC and Professor at UC Davis.

“The central issue for reversing the declining conditions in the Delta is fragmentation of management and governance,” began Jay Lund.  “The real question that comes from that is how can local, state and federal governments work together on a very large strategic and complex problem that they all have narrow responsibilities for?  I think it’s quite arguable that all of the agencies are failing in their missions because we don’t have an integrated approach to managing this problem.  But every agency has some very particular missions in resolving this issue that don’t necessarily overlap or work well with others.”

For integrating science, we proposed a science JPA, and for trying to integrate management, we proposed that the Delta Stewardship Council lead in integrating management and adaptive management through a strong Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee that has already been established in legislation, although we suggest expanding it to include some local agencies as well,” said Mr. Lund.

He then turned to Phil Isenberg.  “The Delta Stewardship Council is one of the few state agencies with broad authority in the Delta, but its authority and its funding remain quite limited.  What is needed to make integration under the Interagency Implementation Committee effective as opposed to another ineffective interagency coordination committee, who are, as Harold Sideman said, the ‘crabgrass in the garden of government’?  (audience laughter)  Is this the best approach?”


(jokingly) Well, I was going to nominate some of the other panelists as crabgrass and I would simply be the gardener who would rip them up out unsuccessfully.

This is America.  Everybody believes they get to choose what laws get passed, which laws get enforced and which laws apply to them.  We’re all like that.  It doesn’t matter who we are or what our positions are, we’re individualistic, but we demand efficiency from government.  I have no idea why anybody thinks it is possible to have unlimited personal choice and efficiency at the same time, but that is very much what we do as a society.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re asking the wrong question.  When you walked up here on the stage and I asked you, where do you want me to sit?  It seems like a simple question, and you say, ‘anywhere.’  (kiddingly) You’re a scientist, Jay – you’re supposed to give clear, precise, actionable direction.

You’ve got laws passed that say pretty much what we all know.  There are a lot of governmental agencies, state, federal and local, with shared legal responsibility in the Delta.  There have been endless laws and budget language passed in the state of California calling for everybody to cooperate, agree and all of that.  But the fact of the matter is that there is no single issue in the Delta; there is a multiplicity of issues, a multiplicity of entities, and 38 million individual people in California who, if they have any interest in the subject, have a lot of different views on what should be done.

I don’t think in America or in California that there is going to be any miracle solution to come down that will solve it.  I’m flattered that you would say that the Delta Stewardship Council and poor Randy Fiorini, who is going to chair the Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee, is the person to bring everybody together.  Kinda like punishment for all of your sins, real or imagined.

It doesn’t work that way.  The backdrop for this is the water problems of California and the environmental problems in the Delta and how they relate together.

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]“I think our conversation has to be directed out there – the scientists’ conversation, too, not just us – to inform the public about what’s going on.  Not the details that we care about, but how they can get a more reliable water supply and improved Delta ecosystem.  That‘s what they care about, that’s what we should be talking about.” –Phil Isenberg[/pullquote]

I’ll just give you my instinct.  We are so lost in talking about how to improve processes that we forget that a whole lot of things are already going on, but more importantly, what the collective entities need to do is start somewhere and do something.  In politics in California, everybody always asks, Ok, I want you to answer every question I have about any possibility that I can think of that I might not like that results from your action, and once you’ve answered it to my satisfaction, we’ll talk about whether you should proceed.  Whether it’s a water facility, an ecosystem restoration, building a school, a highway – it’s all the same.

There are opportunities to apply what you wrote about in this report that are just sitting out there and waiting.  You know the courts, in the biological opinion litigation involving salmon and smelt, have essentially granted a 1 year extension with the right to renew on the enforcement of the existing biological opinions, and that’s pursuant to the request of the state and federal agencies for a delay so they can develop an ‘adaptive management plan’ – something that everybody says they are for, that no one can define with clarity, and all the interest groups want to write it so they get to control the outcome.

Well, if we can’t do it in a court setting, we can’t do it anywhere else.  I will just suggest to you Jay, if you want to focus down the discussion and test the ideas, I’d look at that litigation, what Mark and other agencies are doing on that litigation.  They have to report to a court every 12 months, and they are back February 2014, and they’ve got to show progress on developing an adaptive management plan.

Now, this room is full of the usual suspects, the unindicted co-conspirators of the water wars, and I think the willingness of the folks in this room to easily and simply agree to an adaptive management program is minus zero.  So the question for agencies is – and this is truly a government agency program and responsibility – can you use that opportunity in a way that is meaningful?  And this is where I think some of your ideas tend to play.

The fact of the matter of it is that whether you’re a scientist who believes that the scientific method is THE most important determinant, or you’re a water district that wants water, that says oh, geesh, I’ve got to hide behind good science to get what I want, it doesn’t matter what your attitude is.  The political deal, whether in that litigation or the BDCP or the next California explosion on water in public policy, it will involve a much higher and clearer involvement of science in the process and everybody has said the same thing.  So the point is, get to the argument of what that means.  Not to the argument about abstractly whether miracles happen.  We imply miracles, but there are no miracles in this business.

So for the PPIC, next week, tell us does science get involved in big public projects early or is it an after the fact, shoot the wounded, and condemn in action?  I’ll bet that most scientists would say, yeah, we ought to be in there early.  How often? Every minute?  No, not every minute.  How often?  Just tell me how often?  How do you get involved in a project?  How does it play out?  Does science have anything to tell us about the share of big capital improvement projects around America, the share that can be identified as to the costs for scientific involvement?  That’s the way I’d do it.  Whether it’s a joint powers authority, whether it’s the DSC doing it, whether it’s poor Randy who has these discussions, that’s less relevant than starting somewhere with something real, because the message is that the people of California care about a reliable water supply and doing something good for the Delta ecosystem.  They do not care about the endless things that consume our lives.  And so I’m happy you identified us.  We’ll do the best we can.  We’ll kibbitz, holler, yell, whatever you want us to do to help, but it won’t solve all of the problems, as you well know.  But with hard work, we’re moving that way.

That’s the other thing.  Americans have the shortest attention span on issues.  Look over history.  We have been battling about these things as long as we’ve been a state – 160 years – and we’ll battle about them forever, but we are slowly seeing decreased per capita use of water.  We’re slowly seeing improvements in the water quality.  We’re slowly seeing efficiencies in the water system, but we don’t know how to create water that nature doesn’t provide.  And so how you make that work is do a whole bunch of things at one time, and you spend a lot of money, and you get people to adjust.

Last point … all of us fear the voters, the rate payers, because they are pretty demanding.  They want what they want and they’d prefer not to pay much for it, and they expect us to work out all the details and leave them alone.  I think our conversation has to be directed out there – the scientists’ conversation, too, not just us – to inform the public about what’s going on.  Not the details that we care about, but how they can get a more reliable water supply and improved Delta ecosystem.  That‘s what they care about, that’s what we should be talking about.

LUND: So you see the real decision making and integration is going to be a more decentralized and driven more by courts …

ISENBERG: There are many approaches to it.  The simplest solution is to identify every governmental agency with some authority in the Delta, remove from every governmental agency except one, all of that authority.  Transfer all that authority to one agency.  Can you do that?

LUND:  I don’t think that extreme is likely to happen.

ISENBERG: OK, so if you can’t do that, then  what do you do?  Identify six governmental agencies that you really like … do you think that will happen, either?


ISENBERG:  So you’ve already reduced the parameter of the discussion to the crabgrass in the garden of government.  The interagency committees, the cooperation, the coordination …  one of my favorite conservative academics is James Wilson, and he says, ‘the screwy American system seems to be what people like.  They don’t change it.  They must, if not tolerate it, like it, or something … ‘ and I think we’re stuck in this morass, but every once in a while, in the history of California and the water issues, society makes a jump, a change, a motion, and you can feel it out there, something’s happened.

In politics, we only want to talk about yes tunnel, no tunnel –  that’s nonsense.  There are so many other things going on in the water world that are important and significant that the politics is decades behind the policy discussion and we ought to change that around.


Jay Lund turns to Mark Cowin and asks if the State Water Project and the larger BDCP effort can work together with the many other authorities and many other issues that are involved in the Delta?

Mark Cowin answers:  I’ve got a love-hate relationship with the word ‘integration’.  First time I heard it in my professional life was back in 1994, when integrated resources planning became the vogue in California water planning.  I immediately got myself an assignment to go work on that for the DWR and thought it was pretty cool.  I still love the notion of integration.  And we went on to integrated watershed planning, I got involved with integrated regional water management and integrated flood planning, and now we’re wrapping it all together in something we call “integrated water management”.

On the other hand, I hate integration, because I can’t tell you how many panels I’ve been on and how many letters I respond to that have started with the notion that I am failing to integrate.  So what the heck does that mean?  How do you measure integration?  I guess that is one of the key questions of my life.

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]”If you start with the notion that integration is good and that we want to achieve integration, that requires collaboration, then you’ve got to avoid litigation.  In order to avoid litigation, you have to have regulation that is participatory and transparent so people understand it.” –Mark Cowin[/pullquote]

My conclusion is that integration is a state of mind.  It works best when it’s in your self-interest to integrate.  I had a talk with Chuck Bonham at the ACWA luncheon yesterday; we discussed that if you’re to buy into the notion of sustainable water management as a modern-day water  manager, you understand that reliable water supplies go along with a healthy ecosystem, so those coequal goals are ingrained in you.  It’s not a matter of me trying to accomplish my mission in spite of somebody else, but instead how do we do it collaboratively and constructively so we both succeed because that’s the only option.

I bristle at the notion of combat science and the notion that we still have water managers out there trying to sell cigarettes to kids.  I don’t see it in my professional life.  I see a lot of concern from water managers that have particular responsibilities back to the ratepayers; if a regulation is put into place that affects their interests, they want to understand why.  And we’ve had good conversations over the last year about explaining the rationale behind decisions, and in fact, there’s a prime piece of evidence here.  The water projects forewent about 800,000 acre-feet of water in January, February and March of this year to provide for this reverse flow regulation to protect Delta smelt and migrating salmon.  Nobody litigated.  Why?  Well, folks are probably second-guessing that now, but the main purpose was to give collaboration a chance, so that we could actually have a conversation about the science that is driving these regulations because collaboration and litigation cannot coexist.  That’s the other life lesson of the last few years.

So I was trying to draw this conceptual model because that’s what I’ve learned from scientists over the last decade.  If you start with the notion that integration is good and that we want to achieve integration, that requires collaboration, then you’ve got to avoid litigation.  In order to avoid litigation, you have to have regulation that is participatory and transparent so people understand it.

So there’s a cycle there, somewhere, and I don’t know if it’s cycling up or down at this point, but I’m going to work on my conceptual model and get it published.  My main premise here is that to achieve this model of governance that’s going to make the spiral go in the right direction, we’ve got to be able to achieve a balance between having one agency that’s accountable so you have one person to hang, versus having the foundational buy-in from all of the interests so they believe in the regulation or they can tolerate the regulation because they understand there’s a basis in it.

I don’t know how to achieve integration.  I told you, I’ve been trying to do it since 1994 and apparently haven’t succeeded, but I know that it is essential and you know it when you’ve got it, and we just have to keep pushing.

LUND: So how do you see BDCP fitting in to all of this?

COWIN:  I think that’s going to play out over years and decades, frankly.  From DWR’s perspective, it’s not just BDCP, it’s the Central Valley flood plan, it’s the California water plan – we have to make all of these plans fit together.  I believe in ‘crawl, walk, run’ – that’s another one I’ve learned recently, so I don’t think we should try to solve this in one big giant leap. We’re working right now on this collaborative effort among US FWS,NOAA, Reclamation, DWR, and some of the other parties in litigation to see how we might establish better collaboration in the foundational science that drives water operations.  That has to fit with broader science for the Delta, it has to fit with what I’m going in my department with flood management and broader California water planning, so I am skeptical of coming with the perfect organizational structure that’s going to solve these problems for us.  It’s more to me establishing the motivations that will drive our behavior in that direction and perhaps future generations will perfect the organizational model, but at the end of the day, I am a pragmatist and I’m looking to make baby steps here.

LUND: So the decision is really going to be made by motivated people than by an organizational structure.

COWIN:  Absolutely.


Jay Lund: “Moving on to Campbell Ingram who represents a lot of Delta counties.  How can the many local governments in the Delta be part of meaningful adaptive management and the larger governance of the system, and participate in a common science program?  It’s a lot to ask of small, local governments to be involved in these things.  It takes a lot of time and effort and a different purview, sometimes.  What would be the most effective way for state and local agencies to work together, particularly for ecosystem outcomes?”

Campbell Ingram answers: First, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the Delta Conservancy, just very quickly, we are the new state conservancy for the Delta.  Our role is to be a lead agency for ecosystem restoration and economic development in the Delta, but we’re supposed to do that as a state conservancy, so really to be a partner to the Delta community as well.  It sets a slightly different role for us, and there are some expectations that we will be an integrator and coordinator within the Delta.  We try to understand the Delta perspective and represent that perspective.

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]”Currently they view adaptive management as the agency ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card.  If they need more in the future, they’ll take it through adaptive management.  I think there is a lot of work to be done to help them understand that in a very complex ecosystem, we have no choice but to manage things adaptively, and what that means, what are the bounds of that, how do we put that in practice.” –Campbell Ingram[/pullquote]

So in terms of the first question on adaptive management, they can play an active role and they should play an active role.  The constituencies that the local governments represent have the greatest impact from everything that we will do in the Delta.  I think the first challenge in getting them to effectively engage is helping them understand what adaptive management is really all about.  Currently they view adaptive management as the agency ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card.  If they need more in the future, they’ll take it through adaptive management.  I think there is a lot of work to be done to help them understand that in a very complex ecosystem, we have no choice but to manage things adaptively, and what that means, what are the bounds of that, how do we put that in practice – maybe with examples.  I think as we educate them and bring them along to the value of that, they will want to participate and I think they can be very effective and meaningful participants.

So to the second question, how do we coordinate and integrate all of these, I think there have been some great comments.  Phil’s recognition of all the agencies that are actively engaged there.  I think you can add another layer of complexity here when you think of all the programs that exist.  CVPIA, ERP, BDCP, the Delta Plan … all of the same agencies are working in that regard too, so it just adds a layer of complexity, and as Phil and Mark have said, that’s just the reality of where we are.  I don’t think we’re going to be able to break that down in the future.

One of the things we’re trying to do that I think is hopeful, is that to have an effective program for restoration moving forward, we do have to start to bring the groups together to have these discussions.  We’ve spent a lot of time planning; it’s time to shift the focus to implementation, and the first step is just bringing the groups together to have these discussions.

We’ve started what we call our Delta Restoration Network. Our intent is to bring all of the agencies who do Delta restoration together as well as the Delta community to really start to focus on how, where, when and why do we do restoration, how do we track it, how do we make sure we can tell the public and the legislature at any given time where we are.

We view that as a component of the Stewardship Council’s implementation committee.  It’s sort of the restoration component of that.  I think one of the things that can be helpful in this regard is starting to unify all of those organizations around a fairly simple framework that ultimately turns into an implementation plan.  And with that framework we can articulate what we know about restoration today.  These things are helpful.

The SFEI historical ecology report, that’s very helpful for how we do restoration in the future, as are the DRERIP models, and in the framework, we can articulate that and talk about how projects that come through in the very near term can move forward with that guidance.  We can also articulate those tools that we think we need moving forward.  We talk about the need for landscape-scale models and maybe regional hydrodynamic modeling so we understand the impact of change in tidal dynamics as we do habitat restoration, and we can talk about those tools and others and what we need and how we get there over time, but with a relatively high-level simplistic framework, it starts to create a unifying understanding of where we need to go into the future, and I think that is something we can really achieve without a great deal of effort.

We are convening these meetings and people are willing to come and participate in these meetings.  That’s encouraging, and I think given the complexity of all these agencies together, that’s probably the way we need to move forward.

LUND: Do you see this unifying framework sort of emerging out of these many decentralized processes or … ?

INGRAM: I think it would be relatively easy to get a high-level framework and to bring the groups together, to start to articulate this high-level framework.  I think the reason that is easy is because you are also articulating what you need into the future, and how maybe you get there.  No doubt, it’s challenging, but the higher level and the more simplistic you make it …

I think performance measures are a really good example.  Performance measures, there have been hundreds of them discussed, and it’s been a decade-long process to try and get to some good performance measures for the system.  But for the public and the legislature, other systems have distilled those down to five to eight real driving ones that people can understand, so I think you start at that level but build the complexity as you need it, but all the while recognizing that it has to happen concurrently, you have to do the planning and you have to get things moving at the same time, and you have to bring people along to understand that the planning and the process creates efficiencies and cost savings, because absent that, we’re just out there with a shotgun approach, and we’ve done that before with the Calfed ERP program and the CVPIA program.  We have to be very careful not to repeat that.  I like the simplicity mantra.

LUND:  I’m seeing a lot of chaos which is normal for the system … I worry about trying to see a unifying framework emerge when we are, in a sense, being over processed, because every agency has a least one, and when they have many programs, they may have several processes.  Mark, your agency probably has half a dozen processes at any given time.  How do you see that emerging?  Is there some sort of political leadership that is coming from the Governor’s office or just some inspired individual in the form of a chair of some committee that will catalyze this to come together?

COWIN: (jokingly) If it’s just a matter of political leadership from the Governor’s office, we’ve got plenty of that, so we can provide that in spades.

In my mind, and perhaps it’s just too general of an answer, but I don’t see any resistance from coordinating all of these efforts. My concern is that by trying to make them conform you lose the basic buy-in from the bottom up and that leads to isolation and litigation – back to my bad conceptual model.  There’s a balance there, so I think evolving towards a more unified structure, there’s a lot to be said for taking small steps towards that.

ISENBERG: I just want to add a note, I don’t think Mark toots his own horn enough on this.  I know the word integration has problems, but DWR now has been pushing regional self-reliance, integrated choices and options available to people for 20 years, and has captured a lot of the professional attention and respect.  We underrate that importance.  Now everybody says  ‘oh I am only talking about reliable water, I’m not talking about more water’ is part of how mature societies deal with finite resources and allocate them.  And I think that’s underrated in importance.  I think, Mark, that you shouldn’t underrate it.  Integration may trouble you as a word, but those activities best expressed in the last four management plan updates are the closest thing you have to a clearly articulated – albeit generalized – approach to water management.  You think it’s bad now, but without that, it would be insane.

LUND:  Water markets, conjunctive use, water conservation – it’s been very successful approach, and very decentralized.

COWIN: I guarantee you that although I don’t have a metric for integration, I’m not going to stop using the word.


I’d like to both offer my own observations, but in so doing, respond to all of the comments thus far from Phil, Mark and Campbell.  First of all, from my perspective, and I should confess, I represent and employed by one of the combatants – we administer the salmonid program here in the Central Valley, amongst other things.

A couple of core points, one of which is, from my perspective, a point of substantial optimism.  And what I mean by that is that I think there are the ingredients for some relatively immediate and significant reforms and improvements in the way we do business and they are right in front of us, so all we need to do is make some pretty easy choices and get on with it.  So one is a significant point of optimism.

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]”I mean by that is that I think there are the ingredients for some relatively immediate and significant reforms and improvements in the way we do business and they are right in front of us, so all we need to do is make some pretty easy choices and get on with it.” –Will Stelle[/pullquote]

Let me explain why.  First of all, let me bring a few lessons from other places as to why this optimism is well grounded.  I have spent decades also in other big complicated basin controversies, in particular, I have spent a lot of time in the Columbia Basin.  And let me describe to you what has changed there.  When I first when to work in NOAA fisheries, it was in the Pacific Northwest.  My main job was to deal with the Columbia Basin, because it threatened to be just a hell-hole of controversy.  I came at the end of a very difficult spotted owl controversy that tore apart the Pacific Northwest and Northern California for maybe 8 to 10 years.  At the time, I spent probably 70% of my time on Columbia Basin issues.  I am now back in a similar job or same job, and I spend about 5% of my time on Columbia Basin issues.  That’s a very good metric as to what has changed.

What has changed is that we figured out – not perfectly –  … how to establish and implement the machinery that is necessary to try and improve the productivity and performance of the systems that we administer in the Columbia Basin.  Huge progress, so that I don’t have to pay much attention to it anymore because it doesn’t need me to.

I want to describe what the essential ingredients are and why I think those ingredients are smack-dab in front of us right now here in the Central Valley.

First of all, on the performance side of things, how are we doing in the Columbia Basin?  The answer is that we’ve set up a system that is governed largely by federal law.  The core of the system is the federal Columbia River power system that is owned and operated by the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, but the power from it is marketed by the Bonneville Power Administration, and that is the central drive shaft of the machine.  The other major driver is ecological issues that are best represented by the application of the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act, but mostly the ESA, because that has fundamentally changed the way we operate the system over the last 20 years.

The endangered species program has hydropower, hatcheries, harvest, and habitat in it, so it’s the full meal deal.  It’s governed by a set of macro performance standards that then get dropped into each of those major modules.

How are we doing on the performance standards?  We are doing incredibly well.  In particular in the hydro system itself, they are exceeding survival standards for all of the salmonids from what had been prescribed in the biological opinion, so it’s huge progress.

So what are some of the ingredients?  One is you need to identify your core institutional drivers, and in the Columbia case, it’s the Bonneville Power Administration and the FCRPS because it’s both the economic engine of the Pacific Northwest, it is central to rebuilding the ecology of the basin, and it’s the bank.

Two, you need real deep political incentives for collaboration and you need the political leadership to make those choices that collaboration is to be preferred.  If you’ve decided that you’re going to collaborate to try and effectuate some real reforms in how the system is run, then you need to put in the basic elements of the program, and you all know them.  The PPIC report goes through them, Phil touched on some of them, Mark did too.  You need the programmatic elements, you need governance structures, you need financing structures, you need technical and scientific capabilities, and I’ll leave it there, but those are the big items.  And you need to tackle these things at multiple scales.

So it’s not going to be one machine, not one great ‘dux machina’ from the sky that takes care of everything.  It’s going to be layered, and that’s okay.  It doesn’t have to perfect, so don’t sweat the details.

So why are these ingredients right in front of us?  What are the core institutional drivers?  It’s easy; they are the State Water Project and the federal water project.  They are the FCRPS of the Central Valley.  They are the economic engine; they affect the ecology, and they are central to the reforms that need to be made.  And they are also the bank.

So you need the political leadership of the state and federal water projects as your core driver that commits to change.  Then you need to build around it the essential modules that you must collaborate with, and what are they?  Again, you don’t have to be too complicated, but it starts probably with the ESA because the ESA is driving the operation of the system.  You also need to wrap in water quality issues because water quality issues are going to be driving the system, too.  So get on with it.  We know where we find the ESA authorities, we know where we find the water quality authorities, and we know where we find the leadership and the structures that govern the state and federal water projects,so  put them together and then build around it.  Build the institutional, programmatic and scientific mechanisms that are going to be essential to success.

Mark and DWR and the Bureau of Reclamation and all of us other ancillary agencies are in the process of building that infrastructure as we speak through the implementation of the biological opinions and the systems required by it, etc.  So it’s right in front of us, it’s right there, and we are in fact launching into a reform structure that will hopefully take root.

Campbell touched on what I think is a vital issue of success, and from a technical and scientific perspective, it is settling out on a system to think about and measure and evaluate the health of the system we’re trying to rebuild, because if we all are using different metrics constantly, it’s going to be really difficult to achieve the reforms, the efficiencies and the integrations that are essential.  So building a common language, building a common set of measuring tools and metrics that can be used at multiple scales is really a vital component of success.

Again, how far we there?  We’re not there all the way, but we are building it and it is there in front of us.  So I want to emphasize that one, it’s not rocket science, it’s pretty simple, in some respects.  Two, we’ve got the ingredients that we need right in front of us, and half of them – the leadership – is sitting in this room today, and three, we have the political recognition and desire that better integration of what we’re trying to do is essential for success and that we will make the political commitment to reform.  And we’ve got the venues, institutional and otherwise, to effectuate that reform.  So I am actually quite optimistic that in 2013, 2014, 2015, you’re going to see real change in how business is done in the basin, and that will be a good thing.

It isn’t easy, and it’s raucous at times, and these decisions are hard, because there are winners and losers, but they are unavoidable.  You can either make them intentionally or make them by accident, but they are unavoidable.

INGRAM: You mentioned that we do have the venues, I think we need to steer more towards those venues because what I see happening throughout the system now is that there are conversations about every facet of this happening in little satellites in different processes, and so there is definitely a need to bring those discussions together in a very focused and deliberate manner to get a better collective understanding about how we are going to address some of those issues.

STELLE: I concur.  I didn’t mean to suggest everything’s perfect, but the ingredients are there for some real progress.

COWIN: I think Ellen mentioned early on in her discussion that there has been sort of a BDCP-centric discussion, but we don’t profess that BDCP is trying to solve the entire equation.  It’s an important part of it, but we do need to figure out how to interact with the rest of the equation as we try to build this piece of it.


Question from Burt Wilson, Public Water News Service blogger: I want to take issue with a couple of things Phil said.  You said the American people have a choice.  That may be true for the other 49 states but not here in California.  We can’t vote on the tunnels.  Jerry Brown has made this so there is no vote on it, except maybe with a referendum, which I’m sure will happen once the permit is issued.  The other thing you said was water problems cause environmental problems.  I have a solution for that.  Leave more water in the Delta.  When they stopped the diversions in 2006, the fisheries came back in two years.  That’s all the science you have to know there.  Leave more water in the Delta.

Isenberg answers:  Burt, you are neither a lawyer or a scientist but you are a good critic of a lot of the stuff that goes on.  The voters in 1960 authorized the State Water Project.  They did it on the ballot.  The authorization, although it was deeply contested and it only narrowly passed, contained language instructing and authorizing the construction of facilities to export water from north to south.  Those of us northerners that didn’t like it lost that fight, and that has not been reversed, legally.  That’s what the Governor means and I think he is legally correct.  The funding, however, requires acts of the legislature if public funding is involved, and the citizens have a right to do a referendum on funding measures as well.

On the science stuff, the notion that, and this is a good illustration and I’m glad you brought it up, the notion that the water exports dropped in 2006, some fish – only some, not all – popped up a little bit and that’s all the science that you need.  No, Burt, that isn’t all the science we need, because if it were that simple, then all these hotshot scientists would come in and say, well it’s just that simple, you have to stop the exports.

The decline of the fisheries started before the turn of the 19th century.  It is not just attributable to the pumps because the human use of water is a use that all of us, north and south and in the Delta, have done for years.  We’ve reconfigured the Delta and the habitat for fish species to put farms and cities into the Delta region, and all of those cumulative impacts have led to deteriorating ecosystem conditions.  As the National Research Council said in that wonderful report last year, you can’t guarantee to go back to a time that existed in 1850 or anything else.  You can improve the situation if you work hard, but it requires all of us to acknowledge that our total use of water has something to do with the conditions of the Delta.  Not just to point to people that we don’t like and say ‘it’s their fault.’  That’s gone.  It’s us.

It just seems to me that as you look for solutions and choices, you’ve got to at least open your mind to the possibility. … The point is, we’re in a mess together as a society, we’re going to get out of it together as a society, or we’re not going to get out of it at all.  And all these complicated confusing detailed processes are trying to improve the situation and move forward.  In 50 years, new people will be having similar conversations on water and the environment and what to do then, and that’s what all of this is about.  Some decisions are right, some decisions are wrong, no doubt about it, but it’s the effort collectively moving forward that to me is the mark of a mature society.

QUESTION FROM DOUG BROWN FOR WILL STELLE:  You were talking about launching into a reform structure.  It sounds interesting.  Can you provide more detail on that? Who is part of it? … How that would work in the Delta?

STELLE: I can sketch something quickly.  Again the heart of it has to be building it around the main drivers, and the main drivers are the state and federal water projects.  So the state and federal water project managers have to be in at the center of the circle.  You also have to have the other public agencies that are deeply responsible for some of the other main drivers in the system, meaning the water quality crowd, and the ESA crowd.  They have to be part of it, so that will define your initial essential components, but the you also have to build into that process the other access for the key constituencies.  You can do that in a number of different ways but it’s essential.  That’s the starting place.

In addition to it, getting to the scale issue, and this is where Campbell comes in.  That is a region-wide structure, but within that structure and nested in it and connected in it has to be more localized structures as well to enable and empower the local units to take on those activities that are most properly dealt with locally and they need a mechanism to plug in.  We’ve got it in the Columbia Basin where we’ve got four states, thirteen treaty tribes and multiple local governments and we have structured a governance capability that does have the layers that builds in county, local, farming and other economic interests plus the region-wide scale issues with the federal government, the four states and the thirteen tribes, and it functions.  So it’s totally doable here.

COWIN: Let me just add that the purpose of having the state and federal project managers in the center of the circle as you describe is to promote this shared understanding.  In no way does this suggest that we get to take over the roles of regulators.

STELLE: No, I didn’t mean to turn the keys of the kingdom over to DWR and the Bureau.  That’s not going to happen.


  • For the PPIC Report, Stress Relief: Prescriptions for a Healthier Delta Ecosystem, click here.
  • To view the video for this panel discussion, click here.
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