Felicia Marcus: California Water 2016 and beyond: ‘It’s a steep hill but we can get there if … ‘

MARCUS Cal Water Policy 25 April 20 2016_Page_40Felicia Marcus addresses the California Water Policy Conference, emphasizing the need for people skills to face the future: “It has to be convergence over conflict or we won’t make it,” she says.

The California Water Policy Conference, held in April in Davis, brought together leaders from the agricultural, urban and environmental communities to discuss policy issues impacting California’s water.  CWPC_logo_final 1 smThe conference, now in its 25th year, was the vision of environmentalist Dorothy Green, and is part of her lasting legacy as an established forum that draws participants from around the state.

The conference opened with keynote speaker Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board.  In her speech, she urged the audience to draw on their people skills, emphasizing that they are essential in order to face the future under climate change.

Here’s what she had to say.

We have a lot to do collectively in front of us, and I don’t mean just in water, I mean in everything, given climate change and what it’s going to wreak while we’re all still here,” began Felicia Marcus.  “It’s not just an issue for future generations – everyone sitting in this room is seeing and will see the accelerating impacts of that and the disruption of it across every sector of the environment, public health, and the economy.  It keeps getting harder, unfortunately, rather than easier as we put more issues on deck, as we realize that the answers aren’t static and that we’re going to have to pursue things like adaptive management, in addition to setting tough regulatory standards as climate change is happening faster and faster all the time and as we have to deal with the worst drought in modern history, even as we struggle to catch up on things that are long delayed, like the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan.”

CWPC FeliciaIt’s not going to surprise any of you who know me that I’m going to talk about the importance of consciously drawing on our people skills which is what we’re going to need to face the future under climate change, even more than we need it today.  I’m going to talk about the issues we face and how the board’s approaching some of them.  I’m going to close by asking for all of your help, not in a simple way, but in a big way.”

Now I know it is a frequent convention to start with a personal story in speeches so I usually don’t, but in the last six months, one keeps coming back to me.  It’s a story about my dad.  When I was a little girl, I remember a conversation I had with my dad as we were watching TV and watching candidates for president.  One of the candidates was easy for me to understand – very clear, very decisive.  He seemed cool – I got him.  I asked my dad if he was going to vote for him.  He said ‘no,’ and I asked him why.  He said, ‘the guy had answers that were just too simple for the complex issues that our nation faced.’  And it really struck me, and it caused me to listen more closely, not only to what people said, but what they didn’t say or didn’t acknowledge.  That story has stuck with me from time to time all these years.  I was nine when we had the conversation and ten when he passed away, and those are definitely the messages that stick with you. I’ve definitely thought a lot about it these past few months, more perhaps than in the intervening years, but I know that it very much influenced me in how I view people, and how I view the world, and it prepared me to deal with so many who tout simple answers to complex problems.”

In my three and a half years on the board, I’ve seen moments where folks rise to the occasion, actually listening to other stakeholders and help us navigate the thicket of competing interests, whether in water supply, on drinking water, on water quality, or conservation,” said Ms. Marcus.  “I’ve also been surprised, even at my age, to see folks who are longtime actors, even those who have risen to the occasion on other occasions nonetheless revert to simplistic repetition of age-old talking points or worse, denigration of the intent of others, versus addressing their legitimate points.  On balance through the drought in particular, I saw more rise to the occasion than not, but we have to change this dynamic if we have a hope of making it through what climate change will bring us in the next decade, let alone the next and the next.”

So when folks acknowledge the complexity that is inherent in a crowded world and the messiness of seemingly conflicting interests and they look for solutions that meet more than their own needs, I respect them.  When folks throw sound bites or say one thing will solve all our problems if only the bleeping idiots, and that could be government or other stakeholder groups, would do that one thing, I take a deep breath and I do try to be compassionate towards them as I know there’s pain involved on all sides and I know that there is simplistic messaging happening all throughout the world that people see.  But if there’s someone who should know better, I’m not going to say what I think, but I do take a deep breath, and so do my colleagues.  Who as you may have noticed if you are looking at this particular board of five members are all problem solvers, with a history of reaching across divides and just want to get stuff moving, rather than stagnating, and the forces for stagnation are powerful.”

The language and politics of division benefit only some politicians, political consultants, lobbyists, and lawyers. … We need the attitude that we’re all in this together, versus blaming others.  It has to be convergence over conflict or we won’t make it.” –Felicia Marcus

The language and politics of division benefit only some politicians, political consultants, lobbyists, and lawyers,” said Ms. Marcus.  “I only say some because it’s true, but I also want to be clear that I’m not insulting half the room.  The issues we’re dealing with in California and the nation let alone the world are complex, and require complex, diffuse and distributed solutions, relying on people to make behavior and other changes.  We need the attitude that we’re all in this together, versus blaming others.  It has to be convergence over conflict or we won’t make it.”

My point is that it’s going to take all of our technical, our legal, our intellectual, our economic, and other professional skills to make it through what climate change will wreak, rather than trying to just mute those impacts, but let’s not overlook and let’s elevate our human skills, rather than leaving them at the doorway to our advanced degrees, or our professions, or the title that’s on our business cards.

I left the water world after the Clinton administration a little frustrated frankly of being the social worker in the water world, and I needed to recharge and I needed to do something where stuff stayed done and where there were real projects, so I went into land conservation where you’re focused on a real result on the ground and have to pull together people who are unlikely allies and don’t have anything else in common to actually make a thing happen, and that was great.

Then I came back at NRDC and got pulled into the water world, and it was interesting, because that break was very important to me, but coming back was an eye opener.  I certainly saw changes that were for the good, but I also saw some of the same people I had worked with for years in the water world who had in fact risen to the occasion with the Accord and subsequent agreements, who were the same people – they might be in a different job, a little older, a little grayer, saying the same thing, talking past each other.  People who are really smart and who really know a lot, and they really know pieces of the water puzzle and feel very strongly about it.  But they were just talking about one slice, and it reminded me immediately of the blind man and the elephant parable, where each of them are touching a part of this miraculous creature and describing something totally different, so as you look at the dialog on water, you feel that people are very passionate but they are just talking about one piece of it versus figuring out how it all fits together.

There are some key realities about California water that you have to see as a whole if you want to have enough of a vision to figure out how you bring people along to get all those things done, said Ms. Marcus.  “Of course my theme will be, it’s not one thing; it’s all of the above if we’re going to deal with what climate change has to offer.  Figuring out how to do that takes different people skills then just being a lawyer, just being a lobbyist, just being a regulator, or just being an advocate; it really takes looking at the people in the dynamic and figuring out how to connect with them so you can have a conversation.”

So what are the key things we have to pay attention to? It may seem obvious to some, but it doesn’t seem apparent in the dialog that we see.  We have the most variable hydrology in the country.  One of the most variable hydrologies in the world.  When it rains, it can really rain; when it doesn’t, it can really not.  And there’s no predicting it.  We talk about average years, but that is a statistical construct in California.  It’s not like that’s the kind of year that happens most often.  It is wildly different.  It varies from place to place.  Most of our people in agriculture are not where most of the water is; and it doesn’t fall in the time of year we use it.  What does that mean?  It means we have to have a more mature conversation about what storage means, versus sort of a simplistic meme.

It means as we look at climate change and what’s it’s going to bring, we have to figure out how to deal with the fact that with a few degrees of temperature rise, we’re going to lose our snowpack.  Half, whole, part – whatever, a lot, and what’s going to happen there?  Snowpack is a third of our storage in an average year.  It’s inescapable in California, that means we have to deal with it.  Does that mean just big dams?  No, it means everything.  It means storage above ground and below, big and small, distributed; it means ones that we can get through, ones that pass environmental and financial muster, no question about that, but we’ve got to look at every thimble we can capture it in when we have it, because we’re going to have more years when we don’t.”

We don’t throw away the tough skills, we don’t throw away the tough words … but we do need to figure out how to have a viable conversation about how we’re going to solve these problems, and it’s a puzzle with a lot of pieces.” –Felicia Marcus

That’s a big reason why the administration pushed so hard for groundwater management.  It took 100 years. We’re the last state in the union to have some kind of framework.  It’s a good framework I think because it relies on locals to manage a local resource, and I think that will get us further faster, but we have to deal with the reality of that variable hydrology.

Another thing that’s clear: every place has a different mix of sources.  Even next door neighbor districts.  So there’s not one solution, there’s a mix.  Some people can see where their water comes from but most Californians can’t.  It comes from hundreds of miles away through an amazing system of conveyances which have their own issues, but it’s incredible.  So they are not connected to where their water comes from.  They may have surface water that’s brought through their own conveyance system like EBMUD or San Francisco or even the bit of the Owens Valley that LA still relies on.  Some have groundwater, some don’t.  So it’s definitely a mix of things, there’s not a silver bullet.  Sunne McPeake at this conference a number of years ago said it’s silver buckshot, it’s not silver bullets.  That requires a complex conversation and not a simplistic sound bite conversation.”

There’s a whole mix of solutions: conservation, recycling, stormwater capture, desal in the appropriate circumstances, storage and conveyance of different kinds, not of one kind, etc,” said Ms. Marcus.  “It’s integrated water management, which requires us to reach across traditional geographic and organization silos, and we have to do all that and that takes different skills.  I loved being a lawyer and a litigator; I was pretty tough.  Now most of my cases settled, because it was in my client’s interests to settle the case, and generally opposing counsel was really pissed off, but the opposing client was actually delighted that someone actually listened to them and offered them something that would meet their needs, even though it wasn’t what their lawyer asked for, so I do think those skills are just as important as the tough skills and the tough words.  We don’t throw away the tough skills; we don’t throw away the tough words, except for the venal impugning of people’s intent – I really hate that one, it’s self indulgent and not helpful.  But we do need to figure out how to have a viable conversation about how we’re going to solve these problems, and it’s a puzzle with a lot of pieces.”

Climate change and other drivers are game changers.  Our population’s going to grow so the same water system we have now which we’re fighting over is going to be more strained.  The key thing here that we now know that we should have known all along is three year drought cycle that we’ve been used to since we started recording only over a hundred years ago isn’t really the cycle; we may have been in a relatively wet period.  We know from geophysical evidence that we’ve had droughts of 40 years and 400 years.  We know from Australia, which also had the same three year cycle that that can turn into a ten year cycle or a twelve year cycle and it happened to them between the 90s and the 2000s, and they had to do a lot and they had to do it all at one because they kept thinking it was going to rain the next year because it always had.  It took them six years; and then they had to do everything all at once.  They’ve done a miraculous job, but they also well overbuilt very expensive desal and that’s a very expensive insurance policy.  If you ask them, they wish that they had done that extraordinary job on conservation, recycling, and stormwater capture first, because then they could have paced out those bigger investments with newer technology over time.

MARCUS Cal Water Policy 25 April 20 2016_Page_04Ms. Marcus then presented a map showing California’s extensive water infrastructure.  “This is the system that we built.  This is a lot of things.  It is not natural.  It is a complicated system.  Depending on your point of view, it is a miracle of modern history in terms of blooming agricultural production for California, the nation, and the world, and the economic and social miracle that is Southern California.  (Sorry, I am from Southern California.)  But it’s also had a really serious impact because it was done before the environmental rules or the consciousness that we have, and it takes a lot to try and course-correct on that.  Every even small course correction is hard fought and fraught with debate, but it’s something that we need to deal with as well, bringing our modern consciousness about what people need, which includes the ecosystem, and the environment, etc.  But it’s complicated.  It’s not simple.”

MARCUS Cal Water Policy 25 April 20 2016_Page_05This is California on climate change.  This is 2010 versus 2015.  This is our future.  That’s why the dialog has to change.  We spend so much time thinking about our age-old fights.  We’ve got to think about what’s in front of us and come together to meet it.  It doesn’t mean just coming up with the next new bill, although these bills that we’ve gotten through the legislature these last couple of years with the help of many people in this room.  We’ve gotten more done in the legislature in the past two years than in the past two decades on water, and so we need to keep that up, but we actually need to change the debate and dialog from ‘is so, is not, you’re a jerk, no I’m not’ to how do we solve these problems.”

Food security is also an issue,” pointed out Ms. Marcus.  “You see so often see folks feeling genuine pain in the environmental community who get angry at agricultural diversions.  Well, objectively those diversions have led to the loss of species.  There is pain in that and it’s valid.  But denigrating agriculture, the people who grow our food and people who are actually good stewards of the land into a caricature of folks who take water and add chemicals as if it’s with the intent to take that water away from fish or to pollute groundwater.   That’s not why they are doing it.  They are doing a socially productive enterprise that has an externality.”

The fact that we’re one of five Mediterranean climates in the whole world that can grow the level of healthy fruits and vegetables that we grow is something to be honored. It doesn’t mean it has to be static, it doesn’t’ mean it can’t be more efficient, and it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t give something back to fish and wildlife to course correct, but to denigrate that capacity to grow that level of food and fiber for people, whether they are in California, other parts of the nation, or the world, is simplistic thinking and not that helpful.

I think this response is a problem of the silo effect, where folks talk to each other and it all sounds right as they are talking to each other, and so they must be right and those other people are wrong or venal, and it is just missing the point that we live in a much more complex very diverse on all levels society,” said Ms. Marcus.  “That’s not effective.  It can’t be possible that everybody else is wrong.  They just have a different point of view.  You solve that by working across divides and getting yourself into uncomfortable positions where you actually ask more questions than retort with rhetoric.  I see a paradigm shift happening …  The key is figuring out how to find a bridge to common understanding, not how to have the last word.”

I direct you to the California Water Action Plan; it’s not elegant, it’s not perfect, but this is our administration’s promise to folks. This is what we have to do to lay a foundation for a sustainable water future for California.  What is it?  It’s not one thing … this is an all of the above approach.  It’s conservation, it’s recycling, it’s integrated water management, it’s stormwater, desal – dealing with the Delta finally.  Protecting and restoring ecosystems ahead of the curve.  Preparing for drought ahead of time; got overrun by that one.  More storage, including groundwater, hence the groundwater management stuff.  Safe drinking water for all communities. That’s been an afterthought at the administration level until this administration and I credit the extraordinary activists in the drinking water world.

The emphasis in the California Water Plan is on action and we’re not going to wait for everyone to come to consensus.  We have to be in motion now, because as we look 30 years out and we see what climate change is going to bring, it’s irresponsible not to get moving, and it’s irresponsible not to do it all.  We’re not going to conserve and recycle our way to a sustainable water future, but we’re not going to store and convey our way either.  We got to do it all and we’ve got to find a way to harmonize with nature far better than we have.”

MARCUS Cal Water Policy 25 April 20 2016_Page_11It is the worst drought in modern history,” Ms. Marcus said.  “There are some years that have had less precipitation than any one of our years, but in combination it’s now been the worst.  We have millions more people than the last big drought that even came close.  We have more irrigated ag dependent on the same drop of water.  Why? Because ag has become so much more efficient.  They haven’t put the water back in, they’ve used it to grow twice as much food and fiber production value than they had 20 years ago.  Our snowpack last year was the worst in 500 years.  Remember that’s our biggest single source of storage.  Gone.  So even though our reservoirs were in almost the same shape as the year before, there wasn’t anything that was going to refill them, which is why we went long on alarm bells and acted really early last April.  We’ve got more endangered and threatened species than we did in the last big one, because we haven’t managed our system as well as we should have, and they don’t’ have the resilience to make it through a drought like they did in nature and we’ve blocked off all the habitat they used to seek refuge in during a drought, so the impacts have been horrendous.”

MARCUS Cal Water Policy 25 April 20 2016_Page_12Ms. Marcus then presented a graph showing the history of the April 1st measurement of snow water contract, pointing out the little red bar at the end.  “That was last year.  That’s striking; that’s huge. … We’re dealing with a crisis beyond any of our experience and trying to figure it out.  But the impacts have been huge, most to rural communities who have run out of water, largely on shallow domestic wells, but not exclusively.  We’ve had 500,000 acres fallowed this year, 400,000 the last.  UC Davis estimates it would have been ten times worse without groundwater pumping, so yes we’ve been overpumping groundwater at a faster rate, but that’s what you want it for, you want it in a drought, the trick is to figure out how to build up that bank for when there is a drought.  20,000+ out of work this year.  Fish and Wildlife impacts across the board, just hammered, in some cases by mistakes that we collectively made as agencies although with better intent than people suggest, because we just weren’t able to save enough for cold water for winter run salmon in particular, and we had increased wildfires with all that devastation.  I won’t go through everything we did but there’s a lot that we’ve done.”

We did a lot in emergency response, millions of dollars out the door in emergency response, delivering water to people with our OES and DWR colleagues.  We’re delivering it in bottles, we just approved another million and a half in Tulare County for folks who don’t have drinking water, bottled water, water in tankers, running pipe, drilling wells – that is huge.  Food – over a million boxes have gone out by the state.  Fish and wildlife – there have been voluntary agreements but also fish rescues that are extraordinary.”

We’ve been dealing with a lot of water rights things, whether curtailing water rights up to a level they’ve never been curtailed before,” Ms. Marcus said.  “The sturm und drang there is huge as people fight to preserve their water rights as they are entitled to in a system that is more complex and less information rich than any other major state.   We made a lot of progress there but it’s been painful.”

There have been a lot of temporary adjustments to conditions on water rights, because there just wasn’t enough water in storage in the projects who have all of the fish and water quality requirements from the last plan put into their permits when there just wasn’t enough water to meet all their needs.  Very, very highly fought and another one may be going out today, but fortunately this year, not so many.  But that has been really fraught and has really illustrated how outdated our water quality control plan and implementation are.  If it were truly updated to deal with extraordinary conditions and if we had allocated the water rights more thoughtfully across the amount of water, we wouldn’t have had to do this.  And hopefully we won’t have to in the next drought.”

We’ve done a lot to add supply.  We rang the alarm bells because of the Australia experience, because we didn’t see people taking action commensurate with the multi-year drought that went beyond three or four years, so we were ringing the alarm bell to say we better save it now, as opposed to dumping it on our lawns primarily, so if we do have an Australian-style drought, we have a little bit of breathing room to get those other things up and running.  And we’ve spent a lot of money to get those other things up and running.  We have nearly $1 billion or more in low cost loans and grants for recycled projects that will move from the drawing boards into the ground in the next couple of years.  That’s probably the single biggest paradigm shift we’ve seen, and we’re continuing to streamline those permits and continuing to come up with the next phase which will be the first in the nation and among the leading in the world for indirect potable surface water augmentation and even direct potable use.”

The emphasis in the California Water Plan is on action.  We’re not going to wait for everyone to come to consensus.  We have to be in motion now, because as we look 30 years out and we see what climate change is going to bring, it’s irresponsible not to get moving.” –Felicia Marcus

But we’re still in trouble.  This year, there’s snow, but it’s not where we want it to be,” Ms. Marcus said.  “There are reservoirs and a lot of them look a lot better and I’m grateful for that, but a lot of them aren’t, and they don’t have adequate snowpack to refill them.”

There were predictions of El Nino saving us.  In 2014, that killed us.  Because the media did the El Nino hype story, so folks didn’t conserve.  It was really hard, it made it hard for those agencies that were trying to get people to conserve.  Then after a lot of nagging and a lot of chagrin when El Nino didn’t appear, this year we got much more balanced reporting.  The big Godzilla El Nino was predicted, but we did get more stories saying you can’t count on it, it’s still just a prediction. …  you cannot predict the weather, it’s just one of those things.  And we don’t know what we’re going to get next year.  Now the predictions are we could get La Nina, but maybe not.  I’m not predicting anything, but we have to prepare for everything.”

MARCUS Cal Water Policy 25 April 20 2016_Page_29We have to deal with reality.  Reality is loss of snowpack.  Reality is sea level rise.  Now there are people who are overdo this in terms of the Delta, there are people who underplay it in terms of the Delta, and it is not going to be helpful.  I’m not even going to talk about the levees, but let’s talk about salinity intrusion and how much water it takes out of storage to keep that at bay so that water is usable for drinking or ag in the Delta or for exports. It’s just going to get harder.  That’s all I’m saying.”

MARCUS Cal Water Policy 25 April 20 2016_Page_30Fish and wildlife are tanking.  This started in 1999, I probably can’t even get it on the margin now, and that’s from diversions and it’s also from other things – invasive species, loss of habitat, etc.  There are other things at play, but loss of water is probably the most important thing.”

MARCUS Cal Water Policy 25 April 20 2016_Page_31Reality is we have community well systems all over this state that don’t meet drinking water standards.  This comes out of work that the water board has done and a big report we released in 2013.  Now if you’re in LA or you’re in a large water district, it isn’t a big of a deal; it’s just the application of money and energy.  Some people have money and energy, and some people don’t.  It’s those rural communities on well systems that don’t have the managerial, technical, or financial capacity to run modern day systems, especially as we find and add new contaminants, whether it’s arsenic or chrom 6 or perchlorate or 123TCP, we have to come up with an answer for this, and this I think is the issue of our time.”

MARCUS Cal Water Policy 25 April 20 2016_Page_35Population is going to rise, agriculture is a precious resource that we have to pay attention to, but reality is there’s a lot that we can do and a lot of people in this room are leading the way on that,” Ms. Marcus said.  “We have to think in an integrated fashion and in the urban arena, we have to connect the dots and work across the flood control, water supply, water quality, even parks silos to find ways to make multiple benefits happen out of each drop of water.  If you’re creative, you can do it.  … We can look to Israel, we can look to Australia, different lessons, it’s not like we have to reinvent the wheel but we’ve got to do it and do things differently than talking past each other.

MARCUS Cal Water Policy 25 April 20 2016_Page_36Similarly, in ecosystem restoration, there’s a lot going on.  The Yolo Bypass project is a miracle. The Wallace Weir project is a miracle that’s happening now.  The upper watershed thinking that folks have come back to thinking about how do we deal with forests to prevent catastrophic fires … it can yield some real water if we do it and avoid the catastrophic fires that make everything worse for climate, and mountain meadow restoration.”

The reality is, there’s a lot happening,” Ms. Marcus said.  “There are fish-farmer win-wins that don’t make the headlines – folks that are planting later so they can share their water with fish later in the season.  There are folks who are trying to get permits to be able to store water in wet years so they are not all taking it at the same time for frost protection or agriculture later in the year.  You have senior water users in the Delta who agreed to take a 25% cut in advance of any potential curtailment.  Why? Well then they knew could bring 75% of their crop in, but they also wanted to be a part of the solution at a time when urban California and others were cutting back and fields were fallowed.  Those were senior water right holders who volunteered to do that, that does not happen every day, and they have arrows in their back from their own side for daring to do that.

MARCUS Cal Water Policy 25 April 20 2016_Page_39She then presented a slide of the water board priorities, noting that they have a lot going on, both with drought and water quality issues.  “All of them, each one is complicated.  Each one requires people to figure out how to come together for some mutual advancement.  We’ll make the tough choices.  I’m not saying we’re waiting for consensus; I hate consensus.  We’re looking for discussion and the best ideas we can, because otherwise we have to invent them.  And we will, and we will keep pushing to do these things because unless we do, folks do not come to the table to try and find another way, so this is the umbrella were working in.”

MARCUS Cal Water Policy 25 April 20 2016_Page_40The next two years is going to be the time of Bay Delta.  Delayed to be sure, but the time of Bay Delta, and there are two tasks in front of us.  One is Water Fix and the tunnels.  I can’t talk about it, but it’s a big deal.  I’m a judge in that, so I can’t even listen to you … It is a formal water rights proceeding which will be evidentiary, adjudicatory, and in front of everybody, and it’s just on a narrow thing, which is a change to a water rights permit, will it hurt fish and wildlife, will it hurt other water rights holders, but it’s going to be based on the evidence versus rhetoric in a very different kind of proceeding than our usual proceedings.”

The second task is the update of the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan.  “The old plans are definitely outdated.  They were done in the mid 90s, I was honored to be a part of that whole effort to help the state finally step back into its role and set the standards. The feds had to come in and set some standards, and then we worked like dogs over the course of the next year to get everybody together.  Twenty years later, we know a lot more, and the fish and wildlife among other uses are more imperiled, so it hasn’t really worked that well.  It’s not suited to the level of drought we’ve been in, and either the plan itself which didn’t set standards for an insanely dry year or a set of multiple years and in the way it was implemented through an agreement, where the most junior water rights holders – the state and federal water projects – took on all the responsibility, and we found in this drought that there’s just not enough water in those projects to be able to meet all the responsibilities so it was very painful.

But the process is laborious and difficult to implement.  We set the plan through the process and then we implement it in one of those water rights proceedings and that can take years.  So while we’re interested in trying to move the ball forward, we’ve also encouraged settlements.”

There are two phases in process for the update of the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan: the South Delta and the Lower San Joaquin River and then the Bay Delta proper and the Sacramento River.  “We put out a draft a few years ago on the San Joaquin. It was pilloried by all sides and it was misunderstood by all sides, but even in that one, we said, if you come together on that watershed and give us a better package, and it can be habitat restoration, timing of pulse flows, and find a way to do it that uses less water, then great.  But it has to be real … People did not hear that.  They heard whatever their worst fear is, and if you go out in that area, there are a large core of people who think the only reason we’re updating the standards, to actually talk about taking water off of the tributaries is so that we can give it to Metropolitan and Westlands later on.  Which is obviously not the case, it’s about figuring out the whole watershed and everybody’s allocation of responsibility for it, whether they are below or above the Delta, based on their priority and their seniority, but not completely.  So that’s a huge process.”

Ms. Marcus said they would be releasing a draft of the San Joaquin objectives and a scientific basis report for the Bay-Delta and the Sacramento River later this year.  She acknowledged the State Board was behind in the process, noting that the staff has been busy with the drought.  “We’re three years later than we ought to be and I feel terrible about it, but I can assure you nobody’s been sitting on their butts, and we worked really hard to get and we did get the administration and the legislature to get us dedicated staff and money over the next three years so we have an isolated staff that can get this job done.”

This is where I really need you all to step in.  Our main lever is flow, to be sure, but there are more things that fish need.  They need to be free of predators, they need habitat, they need a lot of things, and we’re hoping with holding out the openness to settlements that we’ll get something much better for fish.  I can’t explain it more because it’s not out, but watch this space, and please engage.”

MARCUS Cal Water Policy 25 April 20 2016_Page_41The level of discourse we saw through the drought … I can’t tell you how much time I had to spend with people saying it was urban versus or ag, or this wasn’t fair, or wow, an almond takes a gallon – well, an avocado takes 94; a burger takes 600; a steak is 1600.  People don’t realize how much water it takes to grow the food that urban Californians eat.  Now planting permanent crops willy nilly over overdrafted groundwater basins, that’s not good, but that’s not necessarily about the drought and trying to deflect blame versus trying to solve problems. … It’s an issue, not a drought issue.”

We need some new skills to make this work,” Ms. Marcus said.  “We need to deal with renewable energy, diversified energy, diversified water, adaptive management, integrated water management, multiple benefit thinking, and dealing with that complexity in a rapidly changing world where we can’t be updating water quality plans every 20 years or even every 10 years.  That’s just not going to work.  We need a new framework for the conversation.  Coming in and being smarter than the other guy is not going to get us there.  Someone who thinks they are the smartest guy in the room definitely isn’t the smartest guy in the room.  It’s like mastering level 3 in a video game and only thinking there are 3 levels.  There are always more levels. There are different levels of consciousness, there are different kinds of thinking, and really smart people know and hope and look for people that are smarter than them or who they can learn from, so its attidunal.”

MARCUS Cal Water Policy 25 April 20 2016_Page_42It’s also not being this guy.  We see this guy a lot, even though there’s a lot to be angry about.  So what’s it going to take?  You’ve heard me talk about egosystem management as the real challenge rather than ecosystem management.  Folks will argue the extreme in front of us as if by arguing the extreme, we’re going to go closer to them, and it just isn’t that helpful. … I’m amazed at how often people bring this into our hearing room.  I’m happy to listen to them because I’m more therapeutic than others and that’s how they want to spend their time and I have compassion for the fact that they feel so strongly, but it’s not helping us do our job.”

MARCUS Cal Water Policy 25 April 20 2016_Page_45It’s going to take folks figuring out how to take a breath and really stop and listen to each other with compassion,” said Ms. Marcus.  “The Chinese have a saying about this, I can’t remember how to say it, but it’s like a chicken talking to a duck, which is folks talking past each other and not trying to understand each other. … You have to actually go in and think about what’s happening in a room and think about yourself, because what you see is people talking past each other, louder and slower, rather than asking a question or trying to figure out why does that person see it that way, as there must be a reason why seeing it that way makes some sense.”

MARCUS Cal Water Policy 25 April 20 2016_Page_47In practice, it’s not about theory, it’s about getting things done, and how do we get there.  It’s not by being an angry duck, it’s by figuring out how to reach across divides and help people be an ally with you.  I put up the Community Water Center … I have been incredibly impressed with the activists who are working on behalf of people who don’t have safe, clean drinking water, let alone the ones who don’t.  They are fierce, they organize, they tell compelling stories, people come and they are angry but they come and they ask you to help, and they listen to why you can or can’t, and they go over to the legislature and they get you the tools that you need, similar to what we did at Heal the Bay with Dorothy’s leadership, lo those many years ago.”

When you think about Dorothy, she had a phenomenal mix of fierce dedication, inviting in anybody who would help, no dues need to be paid, no title admission necessary, if you wanted to help solve the problem, you were in, we’d listen to you, and we’d let you run with it.  The best years of my life were being Sancho Panza to her Don Quixote as her lawyer. … I became her volunteer lawyer and stayed her partner over many years as we turned the City of LA around on probably the worst pollution issue in California in the 80s – not an immediate turnaround, but because a judge who forced us to be in a room listening to each other, we made connections with the city and realized that we had common cause; we just didn’t have the tools.  You would have thought the way we talked about it that we really thought these guys went to the sewage treatment plant every morning to manufacture sewage so they could dump it in the bay to pollute it, as opposed to being some hardworking underpaid engineers and others who were dealing with a river of human waste coming at them 24 hours a day, the sixth largest river in the state of California, without adequate resources to deal with it.  Because we connected, we were able to go back and turn around the political dynamic to get them the resources they need and the partnership of Heal the Bay and the City of LA is one for the legends.”

I can tell stories about people at every table here who have risen above the fray to figure out how to take a risk and work across a divide.  Those are the stories to be celebrated and elevated, they are the victories when people reached across traditional divides because they could connect with people they never thought they could.  This is the leadership facilitating others feeling proud of coming together to make a difference in the world, focused on results and their humanity, rather than sound bites, another dollar, or winning at the expense of others, and that’s the leadership this world is going to need to survive what’s coming.”

So bless so many of you for being those people, and for taking the time to foster and reward that kind of leadership,” concluded Ms. Marcus.  “Thank you for letting me join you.”

More from the California Water Policy Conference …

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2 comments

  • Thank you for taking the time to post this for all to read and reread. Problems are not solved by shouting at one another … they are solved by understanding, planning and moving on the State Water Project is one such example and it is great that we have Felicia Marcus there to provide the leadership at this time.Thanks.

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