TIM QUINN: Forty Years of California Water Policy: What Worked, What Didn’t, and Lessons for the Future

Tim Quinn spent more than ten years as the executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies and more than twenty years as the Deputy General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Over the course of that career, he was at the center of every major water management issue facing the state of California, including the state’s use of Colorado River water, management of the Bay-Delta, and sustainable groundwater management.  After retiring from ACWA, Mr. Quinn became a Landreth Visiting Fellow at Stanford University, where he has recently written a white paper titled, Forty Years of California Water Policy.  At a webinar in June hosted by the Southern California Water Coalition, Mr. Quinn discussed the importance of collaboration in solving some of California’s more vexing water policy problems.

Mr. Quinn began with a spoiler alert.  “Much of what I’m about to talk about comes from boots on the ground experience over a 40-year career in California water, so this presentation is to a significant degree, autobiographical,” he said.  “I would date the beginning of my water career to 1978, 42 years ago.  I had just come back from serving on the White House staff in Washington DC and decided to write my Ph.D. dissertation in economics at UCLA on groundwater management.  At the same time, I was working at the RAND Corporation, rubbing elbows with some truly extraordinary water economists at Rand.”

In 1985, my phone rang and it was the Metropolitan Water District and so I started a 22-year stint at MWD,” he continued.  “In 2007, I went to the Association of California Water Agencies as its Executive Director where, like my years at Metropolitan, I had some really great opportunities to influence California water policy and changes therein.  When I retired at the end of 2018, I was notified by Stanford that they wanted me to be a fellow there, which gave me this great opportunity to be reflective about what my 40-year career meant.  At Stanford, I combined that experience with things I was learning from my colleagues at Stanford and from students at Stanford, especially political scientists that I got to know all around the country.

What his experience at Stanford has taught him is governance is the most important decision we make in advancing new policies or projects, especially when they are complicated or controversial, but we don’t think about governance as much as we should, he said.

Another valuable general lesson from that 40-year career is that collaboration works and conflict doesn’t.  I learned this by reaching across silo boundaries hundreds of times during my career,” Mr. Quinn said, pointing out the picture of Carl Boronkay, former general manager of Metropolitan Water District, on the slide. “Carl wanted a coalition builder, and one of the first things was that I helped Carl build a north-south urban coalition which had never existed before and which changed the pattern of California water, I believe.”

So far, I hit you with two bold assertions: The first one is that governance is really important, maybe the most important decision you make when you’re trying to do something big and controversial, and the second one is that collaboration is the best form of governance.  I’m going to spend the rest of this presentation convincing you that those aren’t mere assertions but are in fact very logical conclusions.”


The definition of governance comes from a book titled, Embracing Watershed Politics, written by Edella Schlager and William Blomquist, said Mr. Quinn.  In the book, Schlager and Bloomquist argue that any public policy has to answer three basic questions:  Who gets what and when?  Who decides? And how are these decisions made?

Governance is the umbrella over how those three questions are approached in any particular public policy arena, and in California water policy, we have answered those important basic questions in very different ways over time,” he said.

Three decision making eras

Schlager and Bloomquist also suggest that there are three eras of decision making for natural resources and watersheds, which Mr. Quinn noted was something that fits California water exceptionally well.

The first era is the development era which began in the early 20th century with LA DWP and the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and ran through roughly until the early to mid-1980s.  “The development era focuses almost entirely on economic growth and the infrastructure that is necessary for a growing economy,” he said.  “The environment doesn’t count for much in the development era, so the negative environmental consequences were substantial and widespread.”

The second era is the regulatory era which sought to remedy the environmental consequences of the development era and to make sure that future economic development was more environmentally sound.  “The regulatory era started in California water in started in the early 1970s and I would argue that it still lingers today,” he said.

The third era is the collaborative era.  “I think is a logical evolution of the first two eras of decision making.   In the collaboration era, we’ve been experimenting with collaboration since the 1980s, and certainly over my entire career, I would strongly argue we have not entered a truly collaborative era of decision making just yet.”

He also noted that the eras don’t line up sequentially, and at any point in time, you might see decision making from each of these eras in California water.  “I think that will be less true when we get into a full collaborative era, but today, we’re still trying to decide if we want to get there or not.”

Three types of decision making processes

Just as there are three eras of decision making, there are three types of decision-making processes, he said, noting that this is drawn from a 2007 paper written by two UC Berkeley political scientists, Chris Ansell and Allison Gash, titled Collaborative Governance in Theory and Practice.

The first form of decision making is managerialism, which is defined as public agencies going through relatively closed processes and unilaterally making decisions based on what their in-house agency experts think.  The public may be involved in a managerial decision-making process, but they are only commenters; they are not decision-makers in any way, shape, or form.

The second form of decision making is adversarialism.  This is where adversaries face off with each other and go to battle in a ‘winner take all’ process.  This most often is a courtroom, but adversarial clashes can happen in legislative arenas or in regulatory arenas as well.

The third type of decision making is collaboration, which involves public agencies and stakeholders shaping policy jointly through an open and transparent process; stakeholders are an integral part of the collaborative process, they are not merely commenters.

Mr. Quinn then presented a slide the showed how the three eras and three decision-making processes match up with each other.  In the development era, the policy goals are almost purely economic and the decision-making process was very centralized and managerial.

Think about Mulholland, O’Shaughnessy, Harvey Banks, and a lot of icons that built our infrastructure back in the 20th century,” he said.  “Those projects faced fierce opposition in some cases, but the governmental decision-making process did not allow the critics to influence policy.”

During the regulatory era, the policy objectives shifted from economic development to environmental protection and restoration where possible.  “What I found really interesting when I got to thinking about this at Stanford is that the decision-making process did not change.  In the regulatory era just as in the development era, the decision-making process was highly centralized, managerial, and oftentimes adversarial.  The only difference was that it wasn’t driven by water agencies but by regulatory agencies.”

In the collaborative era, things are going to get more complex in terms of the types of policies that you pursue,” Mr. Quinn said.  “The collaborative era will almost always have multiple policy objectives, the economy and the environment count equally, and all the stakeholder sectors – ag, urban, and environment – they all play a role and have to be dealt with. I believe that will require a collaborative, decentralized, inclusive governance model and we need to start thinking about how do we want to go about doing that.”


Water policy is always being made in a political environment.   Some of his students have a strong aversion to politics and think of it as something to be avoided, but Mr. Quinn said he’s trying to convince them they shouldn’t.

You have to think about that black box of politics because in the political world, you have lots of stakeholders, you have lobbyists which seem to be climbing all over our democratic institutions, and you even have to deal with people like David Bernhardt and his boss, Donald Trump, because they will influence the policy making environment,” he said.  “The fact is our policy making process is very, very participative. In any public policy arena, you have scores, even hundreds of decentralized entities and interest groups that are working the legislative or administrative process to try and influence policy outcomes. So in making or understanding water policy, you must deal with the reality that you can’t escape politics.  In a democracy like ours, public policy is forged through a political process.”

Schlager and Bloomquist wrote in their 2008 paper, ‘For people to govern watersheds well requires that they make collective choices … collective choices are ultimately political choices, thus governing watersheds well required embracing politics.’

I actually realized this at a very young age,” said Mr. Quinn.  “I knew when I was writing my Ph.D. dissertation that I couldn’t ignore the political environment in which water policy was being made, and at the time as an economist, it seemed natural to think about political decision making in terms of market dynamics.  After all, private markets are places where decentralized entities compete to provide goods and services.  In political markets, decentralized entities compete to influence policy decision.”

In private markets, at least in classical economic theory, decisions are made by decentralized entities guided by Adam Smith’s famous invisible hand to determine the price, supply, and demand for goods and services,” he continued.  “In political markets, decisions are made by centralized public entities with considerable stakeholder participation.  Political markets determine the rules of the game, which we all know is really important.  To influence decisions, stakeholders compete oftentimes by building coalitions.  How many of you have worked to put together that letter with over a hundred logos or signatures to advance a common policy position in a regulatory agency or a legislature?  Almost all of you have in one way or another participated in that kind of process.”

Mr. Quinn pointed out there’s an interesting difference between private markets and political markets.  “In private markets, collaboration is viewed as bad; economists call it collusion, and it’s bad because it introduces inefficiency and reduces aggregate wealth.  In political markets, collaboration within and amongst interest groups is essential in the political marketplace to securing sound policy outcomes.  Certainly based on my experience, coalition building is the essence of political competition.  In the political marketplace, elected officials and regulators are obviously important, they make the decisions in the end, but they are working in a sea of stakeholders who build coalitions to try and influence public policy decisions.”

Shifts in demand and supply drive private markets, but shifts in coalitions drive outcomes in political markets.  Coalition building is universal in the political marketplace; Mr. Quinn said he has participated in hundreds of political and policy processes over the course of his career, and they were always focused on building a coalition to support a common policy goal.


At Stanford, Mr. Quinn came to realize that not all coalitions are alike.  “In particular, warrior coalitions are driven to grow their silos and make them as big and powerful as possible so they can defeat the other silos in the political battle.  Warriors tend to participate in all or nothing decision-making processes.  And their goal, like Cassius Clay in 1964, soon to be Muhammad Ali, is to put your opponent, in this case, Sonny Liston, on the mat.  In collaborative coalitions, stakeholders work to knock down those silo walls, get people to venture out of their silos and work together across silo boundaries and you’re not trying to put the other interest groups on the mat, you’re trying to work together to climb to the top of the policy mountain.”

Mr. Quinn acknowledged that collaboration is really hard work.  It requires venturing outside of your silo and getting others to do so in order to forge compromises, but this will almost always greatly irritate the hardliners who can be found in every one of the silos.

You reach compromise through a decentralized inclusive open and transparent process which usually requires a big tent, bigger than the more powerful stakeholders usually are comfortable with,” he said.

Collaboration also means considering multiple goals simultaneously.  Unlike the regulatory era or the development era, it’s not just about maximizing one thing and deal the residual to other interests; all the interests have to be dealt with simultaneously.

A successful collaboration has to work for the economy and the environment and it has to work for all interest sectors that are engaged in it which is complicated and to accomplish this almost always requires more complex policy solutions then was true in earlier eras,” he said.  “That’s why I always told my staff at MWD and at ACWA that ‘war is easy, collaboration is hell.’  I just want to underscore that doing collaboration is hard work but it’s also the only way to solve some of these wicked problems that we face in California water.”


So if you’ve gone through a successful collaboration, how do you make the new policy stand up and not be a victim to the entropy that often afflicts the political marketplace?  Mr. Quinn said that in market terms, that question comes down to how do you assure a stable policy equilibrium.  How can we be sure that the scales are viewed as fair and balanced by a wide range of interest groups that are out there?

To start with, you need equilibrium in both the private and the political market,” he said.  “In the private market, equilibriums are pretty straight forward: demand = supply, all firms are making a normal profit, so that resources don’t want to go one place or another.  In a political market, I think the equilibriums are trickier and more complicated.  In the political market, equilibrium is driven by coalition dynamics.  If you have taken the time and the trouble to build a broad-based coalition that supports a new important controversial policy, that policy would be more likely to be sound and to be durable.  A policy that has not made that investment in coalition building with splintered stakeholders and warriors determined to bring the policy down, will be unstable and may well be undone.  The bottom line: A sound, durable policy is all about building a broad-based support coalition.”


Mr. Quinn then recounted successful collaborations in California, some that he has been a part of and others not.  These examples are summarized in the 40 years report.

Successful collaborations at the state level

1991 Best Management Practices Agreement

One of the first collaborations Mr. Quinn was extensively involved with was the urban conservation best management practices agreement in the late 80s and early 90s.  This came about because urban agencies understood in the 1980s that conservation and recycling was going to be important for reliability, he said.

Managers at Metropolitan and elsewhere were trying to turn conservation into a positive so that local boards and directors would support it, and then we got hit from the State Board that relied almost exclusively on one size fits all regulation of urban conservation,” he said.  “The urban community went up in protest, and to their credit, we convinced the State Board staff that we should work on a collaborative process that resulted in the BMPs.  That agreement was eventually signed by 354 entities, including almost 200 public urban water supply agencies and nearly 40 environmental NGOs.  It didn’t last forever, but it set the state for conservation for 20 years.”

1991 Drought Water Bank

During the 1987 to 1992 drought, they went through a collaborative process and developed the 1991 drought water bank.  “Talk about something that threatened to get the warriors out battling each other, but we did a collaborative process,” he said.  “We developed the 1991 drought water bank … it was a remarkable showing how the marketplace could work to deal with the challenges on the ground.  To me, more importantly, it replaced potential serious adversarialism with a collaborative approach.”

1994 Bay Delta Accord

In 1994, chaos in the Delta was averted or at least it was lessened with the Bay Delta Accord, Mr. Quinn said.  “In my view, it was probably the high point of collaboration over the last few decades.  The Accord stabilized the Delta for a decade, although entropy eventually took over.”

Monterey Agreement

Also in 1994, the State Water Contractors and DWR at an ACWA fall conference in Monterey announced they had reached agreement on what became known as the Monterey Agreement.

That agreement was the subject of considerable controversy and extensive litigation by some environmentalists,” said Mr. Quinn.  “But Monterey was a clear victory of collaboration over adversarialism and it gave the State Water Contractors the ability to modernize their water supply portfolios and deal with a new age.”

21st century collaborative success

Since the 2000s, Mr. Quinn noted the truly historic legislation including the 2009 Reform Act, the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, and Proposition 1 which he noted passed by a 2 to 1 margin which approved $7.5 billion to invest in California’s water system.

Local collaboration successes

Collaborative success stories have also been happening at a local level.  In the Sacramento Valley, Butte Creek Salmon Restoration Project, the Yuba River Accord, and the Battle Creek Restoration Project are true success stories for collaboration for fish and for the farmers up in those regions, and the Lower Colorado River Multispecies Conservation Plan is a vital link in modern management of the Lower Colorado River, said Mr. Quinn.

He acknowledged there are far more success stories of collaboration in local water management than he can mention.  There are agricultural and urban integrated water resources management plans or IRPs which is work that has happened all over California.

It diversified water supply portfolios, but it was also a fundamental revolutionary change in governance where governance became more collaborative so you could get more parties working together towards a common goal of responsible water supply reliability,” he said.

One of Mr. Quinn’s favorite examples of collaboration is the Freeport Intake which serves East Bay MUD and South Sacramento County.

For over 20 years, East Bay MUD was engaged in an adversarial process trying unsuccessfully to throw its weight around and get a diversion on the American River at Lake Natomas,” he said.  “They were opposed by Sacramento County, they were opposed by fishery champions on the American River, and amazingly, East Bay MUD decided to switch gears.  They stopped working through an adversarial process, switched to a collaborative model, and within a few years, they built their second peripheral canal with an intake downstream on the Sacramento River for the benefit of their ratepayers, to the benefit of South Sacramento County water users, and for the American River fisheries.”

Now for a Southern California audience, this may irritate you,” he continued.  “They have two peripheral canals and you don’t have one, but what I want you to think about is how they got that through collaboration.”

Collaborative successes at the watershed scale

Collaboration can even work in highly complex watershed environments, he said, pointing out that the San Gabriel River Basin and the Santa Ana River Basin are both examples of something that started with adversarial decision making in the courts and eventually gave way very successfully to collaborative decision making that is working at a watershed scale.

In the Yakima River basin in Washington, they have collaborated on a multiple benefit resources management plan.  “I’ve looked it over and it looks pretty sound to me, but it’s something they are looking to replicate perhaps in some ways up in the Sacramento Valley,” he said.

In the Platte River Basin, they have done some remarkable things with collaboration, he said.  “Not unlike the Bay Delta, it started with ESA actions back in the 90s when the whooping crane and five other species were listed under the Endangered Species Act.  What they did in the Platte River Basin is they used collaboration to solve these problems and they are well down the road, unlike California where we are still suing each other in the courts 30 years later.”

So hopefully I’ve convinced you that collaboration is important, but that it’s also very hard, and all of these examples I think are informative and they’ve all been successful to one degree or another.


Mr. Quinn then turned to the factors of success.  Why have these initiatives been largely successful?


At the top of the list is leadership.  “This is really an important point,” he said.  “It is not the top-down managerial leadership of Mulholland, O’Shaughnessy, Harvey Banks or the others that built our infrastructure in the 20th century.  Collaboration requires what Ansell and Gash call ‘facilitated leadership.’  If you think of leadership as ‘we’re going to construct tunnels under the Delta and you’re going to live with it whether you like it or not,’ well good luck with that strategy.”

Collaborative leaders lead from the bottom up, which is not an easy thing to do, he acknowledged.  “I learned that at ACWA that you gain value and knowledge from the diverse participants in the process and you can’t lead a collaborative by deciding upfront all the details that you want and trying to get others to agree with you,” he said.  “Leadership comes from many, many different places.”

Now, I can tell you for certain, Betsy Rieke did not know at the beginning of the Bay-Delta Accord process that it was going to produce an agreement with four categories of agreement,” he continued.  “She let the process work.  Western Canal didn’t know that they were going to end up retrofitting most of their distribution system.  In particular, they took out the largest dam in their service area and replaced it with a $10 million siphon.  That was something they learned about in the process.  These were leaders that did not dictate upfront.  They trusted the collaborative process, protected it, and let it make decisions.”

Engaging Stakeholders

The second success factor is engaging the stakeholders, which Mr. Quinn acknowledged can be really difficult because for some stakeholders, the pull of going to court and winning can be pretty strong which can make it difficult to keep people at the table.

There’s always conflict between warriors and collaborationists, and if you want a successful collaboration, you have to be watching for that and have strategies for dealing with it,” he said.

The photo was taken on December 15, 1994 as Governor Wilson and Interior Secretary Babbitt celebrated the Bay-Delta Accord.  Mr. Quinn noted that the stage is filled with state and federal officials, but also representatives from the Environmental Defense Fund, the Bay Institute, the State Water Contractors, Metropolitan Water District, and others.

In 1994, there were warrior critics of the Accord in all three camps, but the agreement had a broad enough base of support to hold up for over a decade, so my message to you in Southern California or Northern California, if you want a collaborative success, be prepared to make the compromises that are necessary to fill up that stage when you announce a successful negotiation,” he said.

Institutional design

Institutional design is deciding who is in the tent and who is not in the tent: Mr. Quinn advised that more inclusiveness is better.

How are decisions going to be made by the group?  What are your rules for voting?  Do you just one tent or more than one tent?  A big tent with little tents underneath it?  How are you going to make decisions?  Unanimity is always a worthy goal but rarely achievable and you rarely see successful collaborations that have unanimous consent required for decision making.  Typically they have some sort of supermajority and there are all sorts of clever ways to approach this where on the one hand, you can make decisions, but on the other hand, no interest group feels like it’s been left out.”

Most collaboratives wind up with big tents and you should just get used to the idea that they are going to be bigger than some of you would like them to be, Mr. Quinn advised.  “In terms of who is in the tent, it’s really important to look beyond just the project or policy opponents.  Who is going to be affected by the policy, positive or negative, and who might want to take a corner or otherwise get in your way?  Think about some environmental NGOs.  When you’re thinking about who is in the tent, give those thoughts some consideration.”

It’s absolutely imperative that the decision-making process be fully open, transparent, and inclusive, and not just lip service, as you see a lot of lip service with these things, he said.  “It has to be truly open, transparent, and inclusive.  Be prepared to confront angry members of the public early and with empathy because you’re going to have to deal with a fair amount of conflict inside that big tent.”

Mr. Quinn added this final comment:  “One huge difference between adversarialism and collaboration is collaboration opens up a wide range of opportunities for what I’ll call entrepreneurs, which are people to be creative about how you work around conflict and how you can move a complicated group towards consensus.”

Many successes triggered by crisis

Mr. Quinn noted that in most of the examples he gave, they were triggered by a crisis, such as a drought, proposed harsh regulations, or threatened litigation.

To me, that’s the best thing about adversarialism: you can use the crisis to trigger collaboration,” he said.


One region that always seems to be in crisis in California is the Delta.  “Despite crisis after crisis, with the brief exception of the Bay-Delta Accord, we have yet to resort to true collaboration in the Delta in a meaningful and durable way,” he said.  “I don’t have to convince anybody watching this that the Delta is important.  It’s the hub of the system, it’s important for the environment, it’s important for urban and agricultural water users and the economies and because it’s so important, every Governor for the last 40 plus years have had to think about the Delta.”

He then briefly ran down the list: There was young Jerry Brown with the peripheral canal, followed by George Deukmejian and Duke’s Ditch, and then Pete Wilson with some success with the Bay-Delta Accord.  Gray Davis signed the record of decision for Cal Fed, Arnold Schwarzenegger started the Bay Delta Conservation Plan which was also supported by Governor Brown, which then became the California Water Fix.  Then Gavin Newsom became governor and pulled the plug on Water Fix project, and now we’re starting all over with the water resiliency portfolio.

If you asked the question if all these bipartisan governors supported action in the Delta, why is it still such a mess?  I think the answer is because we got the governance wrong,” he said.  “The Delta is where the warriors clash in California water.  It has been the subject of managerial and adversarial decision-making processes at both the state level and at the local level.  There’s been the water users that seem to want to go back to the development era in a lot of cases and the environmentalists definitely want to go back to the regulatory era where they think they had more power but they can’t solve their problems in that era that gave them power.”

Most important in the 21st century, we have not invested in a coalition building strategy around any Delta action plan.  Governor Brown certainly didn’t have a broad-based coalition to support the Water Fix and I think that’s one of the main reasons why Governor Newsom pulled the plug.  We have not even tried in this century to fill up that stage.”

Bottom line, we fail in the Delta because we are using decision-making processes from earlier eras when only collaboration will work in a 21st century collaborative era,” said Mr. Quinn.


Mr. Quinn noted that there is a lot currently going on that is concerning.  The state and federal leaders do not see the world in the same way.

Their relationship and the relationship between California and the federal government has in my view created a huge vacuum of leadership on governance,” he said.  “That vacuum creates opportunities for the warriors to be on the march and they certainly are on the march.  The weapon of choice lately is a mind-boggling series of lawsuits which is like a circular firing squad in the cartoon, and from which I don’t think anybody’s going to walk out alive.  We need to figure out a way to get these lawyers to lower their pistols.  And all of this of course is supported by combat science.”

Mr. Quinn recommended a recent commentary in Cal Matters written by Dr. Jeff Mount and Greg Gartrell which elaborates on the combat science going on in the Delta.


He then gave some suggestions for going forward.

Support collaboration where it has a foothold to prove that it works.  He said he is encouraged by the Sacramento Valley’s thinking on multiple benefits water management and big picture governance.  “Water management and collaboration seem to be in the DNA of those folks,” he said.  “I would encourage you all to go on the Northern California Water Association’s website, learn more about it, and be prepared to visibly support what’s going on in the Sacramento Valley.”

Urge the Newsom Administration to lead us into a truly collaborative era in water policy.  “I don’t think we’re going to be successful with this in the current political environment, but we certainly at a minimum right now, we should support Wade Crowfoot as he tries to get the voluntary agreements going again,” he said.

Use the November election as an opportunity to reset governance to collaboration in California.  “If Trump is elected, I’m not sure what the best strategy is going to be on that.  If Biden is elected, during the transition, I would encourage you guys to work with Northern Californians, environmentalists and others to form as big of a coalition that you can that wants to support getting back to collaboration and then work with the transition team with the Biden administration if that’s what we have, work with them like crazy.”

Put a spotlight on the science to get rid of the combat science.


Question: Lately, there’s an argument to be made that we’re really moving further to polarization, particularly within the partisan political arena.  Do you see that as being an opportunity or still a problem to overcome, because the vitriol between political parties – it’s not just a disagreement of philosophy and approach, it becomes almost like personal hatred.  Isn’t that harder to bring people together just to sit around a table?

Answer:  “It is, and I don’t think there’s an easy path for dealing with it but we need to find someway to make lemonade out of these lemons we’ve got today.  This is not new, by the way.  We had a lot of collaboration going on in California water in the 90s.  I think it’s fair to say when George W. Bush got elected, the agricultural interests thought that that was very much in their interests, so why should they pay so much attention to collaboration.  Same thing I would say happened with Obama, which the environmentalists in the Bay Area thought they had an upper hand.  If you think you have an upper hand with the new administration, why sit down and bargain with people who don’t agree with you?  That’s what’s happening to a degree now with Trump where once again agriculture thinks it has an upper hand.”

But the simple fact we all have to realize is that the upper hand isn’t doing you any good in a governance system that can’t produce, so the best way to deal with this is to get lots of people interested in the collaborative model.  And to get some juice behind it so that when the administration changes, you still got a chance of keeping your collaboration going.  We’ve done that to an extent in recent decades, but we need to do it a lot more effectively than we have.”

Question: What have you learned regarding how to really successfully collaborate when there appears to be no agreement on facts or on regulatory structure; there’s no agreement across the board.  There are people who have really dug in and taken a position before they ever come to the table.  What’s the one golden nugget that you’ve pulled out of there to get that shift for people to have that conversation?

Answer:  “Two comments in that regard.  The first one is that it’s really important to develop those relationships on a personal level.  In my early days, I spent a lot of time and energy on the road getting to know people and putting a human face on the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and I was pretty successful.  We’ve built relationships.  One of the things I mentioned in the 40 years paper is the three-way process.  We need more of that kind of just people sitting down with each other and getting to know them.  We have to invest more in relationships than we have in the past.”

The second thing … I don’t like to think about collaboration this way, but collaboration comes down to divide and conquer.  In all of the silos, there are people who know collaboration is the best thing and there are warriors that are never going to get there, so you have to do something that empowers the collaborationists in each of those silos to part company with their warriors and be willing to get some black and blue bruises on them because they’re going to get them, but you’ve got to empower and engage through relationship building of people in each of silos that are interested in actually getting something done.”

Question: I understand the trust based relationships.  Those just don’t materialize overnight. How would you characterize the IID San Diego Water Authority agreement and related QSA and those agreements back in 2003.  Would you list those as collaborative or was that forced change?

Answer:  “Obviously there’s some collaboration going in between IID and San Diego, something that was unheard of a half a century ago which became an important part of the QSA.  That’s an example of something where you have both collaboration going on between the parties, which also had a lot of warrior stuff going on between San Diego and the Metropolitan Water District.  Frankly the world would have been a better place if we had collaboration on a broader scale there, but sometimes you have elements of both types of governance going on.”

Question:  Folks come to the table and they get accustomed to a certain formula or culture because it starts to work for them.  With warriors, it can be a business model:  It pays me to be confrontational.  It pays me to take you to court.  It pays me to come up with alternative science.  I’ll use science and science facts that are to my benefit because I know I can win with them, as opposed to getting neutralized science facts.  Is there a value in that?  How do you overcome those business models, and then can you or how do you use science and experts over time to actually soften or change that?

Answer:  “It certainly is a huge problem.  There are people with preconceived notions about what should be happening out there.  One of the things we’re trying to do at Stanford is create in some public forums, put a spotlight on the science, show where the science agrees and where it disagrees because a lot of people are telling a lot of stories about the science that simply isn’t true, so just shining on the light on that.”

Another one is, I think it’s absolutely true that some people’s business model is built around being a warrior.  I think that happens in all of the silos.  To some people, warriorism is profitable to them.  It protects them in alignment when the hardliners are strong.  I want to strongly emphasize – dare I name names, but NRDC in the environmental community, their business model is, ‘bad people are doing bad things, give me money and I’ll sue them.’  I don’t think NRDC is ever going to break out of that, but I really want to emphasize strongly that is not the business model of everyone in the environmental community.”

The Environmental Defense Fund has very much a collaborative business model.  We should be making sure that gets rewarded.  So does American Rivers.  So does the Sierra Conservancy.  So does Cal Trout.  So does Trout Unlimited.  So does The Nature Conservancy.  There are lots of environmental organizations out there that do not have that warrior model as their business model attitude.  You need to find them, you need to create relationships, and you need to work with them.”

Question: Some of the collaborative processes you talked about as being as a success were predicated off of some form of disaster.  And so the question is, because of the way the Delta is currently so lawyered up, are we really going to need an earthquake or some disaster, some major flooding where islands get wiped out and then there are certain people that have to now come back to the table because it’s so broken?

Answer:  “My answer to that is I hope not.  I think the circular firing squad of lawyers is a big enough crisis to stimulate an interest in collaboration.  It was legal disputes and the circular firing squad of lawyers that stimulated collaboration in the Santa Ana River and the San Gabriel River basins, and many of the examples I put out there were also stimulated by crisis.  I think we have plenty of crisis; we need to take advantage of it.”

In fact, a lot of time the leadership can come from the locals, but sometimes you need leadership coming from the administration.  I’d like to get the Governor of California to be our leader into the collaborative era.  Right now I think it’s going to be very hard to have that happen, but we need to use the election, regardless of how it comes out, as a turning point to try and get Governor Gavin Newsom to realize that if he wants to have a water policy, he needs to have a collaborative governance policy as well.”

Question: We’re talking about the Delta at this point which is that hub and is most critical and also the most controversial piece of California water conflict.  Are their linkages then to that local policy process that can help us drive that state or federal policy? or in that regard, you have to start there and work your way down?  For instance, Metropolitan’s going through their next iteration of integrated resource planning.  The outcome of that may well be predicated on where is the state and the federal government in terms of the ability to move water statewide.  Does one have to come before the other?  How does that work?

Answer:  “I was very involved in the first Integrated Resources Plan of the Metropolitan Water District.  That’s where we got into truly collaborative governance.  Member agencies weren’t just customers; they were partners in regional water supply reliability.  I know there are people who think that Met could be doing things differently in the IRP, but the fact that they are out there doing that and using that as a lever to get the right kind of decision making up in the Delta.”

I wrote the policy in the early 2000s that Met wasn’t looking for more water; Met was looking for reliable water.  They wanted to know what they can count on in the future.  I think we need to be beating that drum which we did but by the time it got to the 2010s, quite frankly you guys were shoulder to shoulder with Tom Birmingham and Westlands Water District, who were saying this is all about getting more, we have to have more.  I think Southern California needs to be loud and clear that that’s not what’s driving your water policy when it comes to the Delta.  You need to know how much you can get when it’s wet, how much you can get when it’s dry, and when it’s wet you want to combine that with your storage programs and your conservation programs, and Southern California’s been doing a marvelous job of that for the last 30 years.”


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