ACWA CONFERENCE: Chair Esquivel and Director Nemeth discuss their plans for 2020

At the ACWA’s virtual conference held last week, the second keynote speaker session featured Joaquin Esquivel, Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, and Karla Nemeth, Director of the Department of Water Resources.  Chair Esquivel’s comments focused on the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Act, implementation of the Open and Transparent Water Data Act, and racial equity.  Director Nemeth spoke of the strides forward the Department was making on modernizing the State Water Project operations, improving statewide water resources planning, and addressing racial equity. Here’s what they had to say.

JOAQUIN ESQUIVEL, Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board

Governor Jerry Brown appointed Joaquin Esquivel to the State Water Resources Contol Board in March of 2017. He was then designated chair by governor Gavin Newsom in February of 2019. Previously he served as assistant secretary for federal water policy at the California Natural Resources Agency and the governor’s Washington DC office, where he facilitated the development of policy priorities between the agency, the governor’s office, the California congressional delegation, and federal stakeholder agencies for more than eight years. Prior to that, he worked for the U S Senator Barbara Boxer of California.

Joaquin Esquivel began by stating his appreciation for being able to be participating in a discussion with the Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth as much of the work the State Water Board does is integral with that of the Department.

WIth the covid crisis, about 90% of Board staff are teleworking from home, and conducting meetings online has been a challenge. Governor Newsom’s ban on water shutoffs during the pandemic to ensure people have water in their homes comes with its own challenges, such as reduced revenue for public water agencies and backlogs of debt that will have to be dealt with, so he has appreciated the opportunity at the conference to join the discussion and do their best to contribute to what is a difficult situation.

Implementation of the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Act

The Governor’s newly released final Water Resiliency Portfolio has as its number one priority implementation of the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Act.

This speaks to how this is such a critically high priority for the board this last year in implementation,” Chair Esquivel said. “We’ve been able to do quite a bit. I’ve been quite proud of the work that the Board has done in particularly getting an expenditure plan out which details not just the expenditures in the first year of the Safe and Affordable Fund, but also those anticipated in the next year. It’s an expenditure policy that better flushes out the work that the Safe and Affordable Fund will have to do over the years ahead, knowing that this is a years-long effort, it’s a decade of effort, and it’s a generational challenge that we finally have some resources to address and have before us.”

Implementation of AB 1755, The Open and Transparent Water Data Act

One of the other priorities in the water resilience portfolio is to better coordinate and leverage data. “I did want to take the time to talk about the incredible opportunities and leadership that the state has shown in passage and implementation of AB 1755, the Open Water Data Act,” he said. “We’re fortunate for the leadership of DWR and other sister agencies to really continue to wrap our minds around how we best continue to leverage data for good decision making.”

I often remark that we at the Board are nothing but a big decision-making agency,” Chair Esquivel continued. “The five of us state board members, and then the 60 plus regional water quality control board members throughout the state are called upon to weigh and balance, to do our best at making our most informed decisions and continuing to make decisions off of better available and transparent data is going to be very critical.”

But we also need to talk about where that data emanates from, and there is a strong racial equity discussion about how do we best listen to communities, synthesize their knowledge, their understanding, and their information so that we, whether in the context of the Water Boards and its decisions or our other sister agencies so we are able to make our best and most important decision based off of the variety of opinions, information, and data that may be out there.”

So I think we have a lot to do certainly in the space of trust around water data, but I think there too, we can continue to focus on ways and projects that help build that trust and more importantly, help make us be better decision-makers,” said Chair Esquivel. “The core and the thrust of so much of that data work within the water space is how do we build better trust, but also become better decision-makers in that trust, and in that better information amongst us.

He acknowledged that it’s difficult, given how disparate the management of water in this state is, as well as the multiple programs such as the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, and CV-SALTS, which is trying to better quantify, manage and integrate concerns around nitrates, water quality, and salinity.

So how do we do all of that? I think we do it by continuing to focus on what are these common decisions, support tools, and platforms that, although making disparate decisions and at different levels, whether they be at the Board or at a local water agency,the decisions are still premised off of the best available information in a common space where others can make the same decision looking at the same information and leveraging the power that can bring to our communities.”

Addressing racial equity

It’s hard to not talk about some of that data work without talking about racial equity and the difficulties that we certainly find ourselves with a lack of faith in institutions, and sometimes institutions not fulfilling or keeping the faith of those that we engage,” said Chair Esquivel. “As a public government official and someone appointed and not elected, and in a position that has its own authority, and of the five seats at the State Water Board, I have the public seat. So it provides an opportunity for me to contemplate what that actually means and how is it that the board does translate its work to the public, how is it that the board is transparent in its decision making and invites others, especially those who may not have traditionally been at the table or have had the capacity or the attention of the government institution that they may or may not have had otherwise. So going back to the principle of being good decision-makers, we have to continue to understand how racial inequity impacts people. We can be candid and look at the million Californians that don’t have access to clean and safe drinking water who disproportionately are communities of color.”

What does that mean? Certainly the board is not equipped to solve the racial inequities that we find in our society, but we’re here to be part of a conversation,” continued Chair Esquivel. “And it’s a conversation I know that Governor Newsom himself has dedicated from the beginning when he talks about a California for all. How do we continue to see ourselves and to be reflective of the diversity that we find within the state and how do we continue to make better decisions together by ensuring that everyone’s at the table?

So I think there’s a strong need to focus on workforce development. There are opportunities. We oversee drinking water operator certifications as well as wastewater operator certifications. We’re looking to move online, to have rolling testing … How do we connect into a workforce development discussion that helps us continue to bring the best and brightest and most diverse minds possible to the table, to the water sector, to help us be better decision makers in the end.”

Chair Esquivel concluded by noting there are no small number of issues before the board. “I find that this work continues to be about communities, outcomes, and the transparent operations of what it is that we’re called to do.”

KARLA NEMETH: Director, Department of Water Resources

Director Nemeth was appointed by Governor Brown in 2018 and oversees the operation of the Department of Water Resources, including maintaining the California State Water Project, managing floodwaters, monitoring dam safety, conducting habitat restoration, and providing technical assistance and funding for projects for local water needs. Director Nemeth has long influenced water policy through her leadership position previously as deputy secretary and senior advisor of water policy at the California Natural Resources Agency under Governor Brown.

Director Nemeth began by saying she was glad to be participating in the virtual conference. She also acknowledged Chair Esquivel and his personal leadership with the implementation of AB 1755.

While the Department of Water Resources is the lead on implementation for AB 1755, we do so with a lot of partner agencies, but Joaquin is very active as a thought leader in that space,” said Director Nemeth. “He really encourages DWR and our host of agencies to reach out beyond California and understand what’s happening at the national level. And so I can’t think of a better leader in that very important topic in California then Chair Esquivel.”

Director Nemeth hearkened back to Secretary Crowfoot’s keynote speech the previous day, noting that something he said really caught her attention.

That is we are a system of systems and there are no truer words in California water management then that fundamental fact,” she said. “So that absolutely requires all of us to be collaborating and moving together to meet that challenge. The Department of Water Resources can’t do it without all the public water agencies and our sister state agencies and our partners and the federal government, so we all need each other to advance an extremely important agenda for all of California. So I want to talk to you today about what the Department of Water Resources is doing to help Californians as well as the public water agencies meet that challenge, both the what and the how.”

State Water Project

Director Nemeth began with the State Water Project. “So many people know that the State Water Project serves 27 million Californians and hundreds of thousands of acres of irrigated agriculture,” she said. “But what I think fewer people understand is that of those 27 million Californians, 6 million are from disadvantaged communities. And that to me just speaks to the critical importance of the operation of the State Water Project and achieving a broader vision that brings water safety and security to all Californians.”

Director Nemeth said she was doing this in three ways.

Reliability report now includes climate change.  “For the first time ever in our water reliability report, an annual report for the State Water Project that’s out, we have included climate change forecasting into the ways that we generate the reliability of that important project into the future. That’s really important data, not just for our state water contractors, but for their member agencies and the member agencies’ member agencies, so that is in essence, our system of systems. And while it may be subtle, it really is an important shift to getting to a degree of granularity in this annual report and how we think about climate forecasts and how they affect this foundational supply for so many Californians.”

The Incidental Take Permit under the California Endangered Species Act. “Up until this point, the State Water Project sought compliance with the California Endangered Species Act through essentially a process whereby we declared ourselves consistent with the federal Endangered Species Act,” Director Nemeth said. “This year, we completed a permit a standalone permit under the California Endangered Species Act. That is important in a couple of key ways. It gives us an opportunity as the Department of Water Resources to manage the State Water Project in a way that is more flexible and more transparent than we otherwise could.”

That permit embraces a lot of key principles that are important leading to this climate resilient future,” she continued. “The first of which is moving more water when it’s wet so that we can leave more water in the system when it’s dry. And that means using our current infrastructure to meet these challenges with greater flexibility. So one of the key features of the permit is that it enables the Department of Water Resources to carry over water in Oroville reservoir, during these wet years and use them for supplies for our communities and the environment in dry years.

There’s no greater example than our last two years. You all probably remember 2019 as a pretty wet year. Had we had that permit in place, we would have been able to hold more supplies in Oroville, and that would have helped us immensely this year. We would have been able to boost our allocation in a modest way, but nonetheless, we would have been able to boost our allocation to the State Water Project contractors and we would have also had water to provide to species during these very dry conditions. So that’s one way in which the California Incidental Take Permit, is helping us start taking these steps, even in a regulatory environment where we can operate more flexibly and really in response to increasingly extreme conditions.”

Water transfer program. The State Water Project is working to finalize a new water transfer program that enables long-term transfers of core State Water Project supplies amongst the state water contractors. “It’s critical to enable greater flexibility in the water transfer market, but with that desire for greater flexibility comes an absolute need for greater transparency,” said Director Nemeth. “So this transfer program also includes better, more publicly accessible information about how these transfers work and how they work for both the buyers and sellers in those communities.”

Those are three important firsts for the State Water Project that I’m proud of and I think really contribute overall to water resiliency here in California.”

Federal-state relations

Next, Director Nemeth briefly turned to the issue of the state and federal relations as it relates to water policy. She said the long-standing relationship and the cooperation between the state and State Water Project operations and the US Bureau of Reclamation and the operations of the Central Valley Project continues to this day.

Our federal permit and the federal biological opinions are also the regulatory criteria for the operation of the State Water Project under federal law,” said Director Nemeth. ” So our incentive to align and coordinate is very strong and that work is ongoing, despite a lot of the contention around how those regulatory regimes will work together.

Statewide water resources planning

Next, Director Nemeth discussed ongoing work with statewide planning.

She began with the ongoing effort to develop water use efficiency standards, expressing her appreciation to all the local water agencies that have been working very closely with the Department of Water Resources to start to pilot new ways to understand how to establish appropriate water budgets and efficiency targets no matter where folks are in California.

We’re famous for our variability and in many ways that challenge plays out in how we think about water use efficiency into the future,” she said. “That is ongoing work at the California Department of Water Resources. And it is something that is emblematic of our partnership with the Water Resources Control Board. They have a role to play in as we move through and adopt those new water use efficiency standards. So a big thank you to the water users or water agencies that are helping us do that. There’s absolutely no way we could do that without you.”

The second is the update of the urban water management plans and the ag water management plans. Director Nemeth said that in the coming weeks, they will be releasing draft guidelines for the update of those plans.  “Many of you have been participating through various stakeholder groups, and I know you’ll comment in a full throated way on those guidelines, and I urge you to do that,” she said. “That’s going to improve our ability to put guidelines out for your use that can help us ultimately achieve improvements in water security and reliability here in California.”

The final piece is sustainable groundwater management. “I want to commend all the groundwater management agencies that have formed and have started to put their plans together. Certainly, there’s no greater challenge than that for those groundwater management agencies that are working in critically overdrafted basins. We are now in the formal review process and it’s my goal that we will be able to make some decisions in advance of our statutory deadline of January 2022. So as we continue to evaluate the plans, we are going to look for opportunities to make some decisions on those plans in advance of that so people can have the certainty that they need to continue to implement and invest.”

We know that in order to achieve sustainability by 2040, there’s a lot of other work that we need to do to really fill in how these plans are going to work together, and that’s something that the Department has a very important role to play, especially in our work around systems planning,” she said. “Many of you may be familiar with the work that the Department has done over the years on broad storage studies. And other times of system-wide planning, we are now entering into a phase where examining groundwater recharge and examining hydrology’s watershed wide, not necessarily within the boundaries of these sustainable groundwater management plans, even broader than that, to understand both the climate change impacts on hydrology at a watershed scale and how that information can help inform really important projects that we’re all going to need for groundwater recharge going forward.”

Director Nemeth said there is yet another area in which the Department is working very closely with the Water Resources Control Board in particular, which is the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Act.  “They are making fantastic progress there. And what’s really important is that is aligning in time to help us have a better understanding of the interaction between those two critical programs for California.”

Addressing racial equity

Lastly, Director Nemeth echoed Chair Esquivel’s comments on the importance of diversity equity and inclusion. “DWR has been working on these issues for quite some time, but recent events have certainly improved our focus on our efforts in that area. And I’m very proud to say the Department is participating in the Capitol Collaborative on Race and Equity. And that is a way in which we examine all of our services, from recruiting to contracting, and how our existing programs to support diversity throughout California. In the course of the next 12 to 14 months, we will have a racial equity action plan that the Department will implement that is so critical to creating the California that we want and a California water, a system of systems that work no matter what corner of the state you reside in, no matter your background, um, and no matter your economic advantage. So I’m very proud of that work.”

I’ll be very proud to share that more broadly with the water user community as well because I know you all are in the same boat as DWR, especially as we seek to recruit the next generation of water leaders in California.”

Q&A Highlights

Question: Director Nemeth, when do you think we’ll see the Prop 1 storage money starting to go out the door?

Director Nemeth noted that the Water Commission does have a continuous appropriation of $2.7 billion that was approved by voters in 2014. There are decisions that the Water Commission is set to make at the beginning of next year. There are certain planning milestones, and she said she has heard about some of the challenges that the pandemic has presented to some of the projects that are eligible for those dollars.

We are working closely with the California Water Commission to understand that and to potentially make adjustments so that we can keep on schedule with the disbursal of those funds,” she said. “DWR has an important role to play as does the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. We are working very closely with Secretary Crowfoot to make sure that work that to establish contracts for public benefits is happening in a timely manner. That is a crucial next step in the state disbursement of those funds. I will make a commitment to have a more specific update as to where we are on that timeline to get those dollars out at the fall or winter ACWA conference.”

Question: How can there be more certainty for surface water supplies for agriculture and other beneficial uses?

There are lots of programs underway,” said Director Nemeth. “I think first and foremost is really getting a handle on our groundwater supplies and what it takes to make them sustainable over the next two decades. I very much want to acknowledge and appreciate the anxieties around economic dislocation associated with the implementation of those plans, but I cannot emphasize enough that the cost of doing nothing in the context of groundwater management will be far higher and that uncertainty will be far greater. And so actual implementation of projects within SGMA are going to be crucial at providing agriculture with more certainty around surface water supplies, because what the SGMA planning process is going to do is help us address a long standing need to connect surface water supplies with how we manage our groundwater basins.”

Second are the voluntary agreements, and I know that Secretary Crowfoot touched on them briefly yesterday. Governor Newsom put out a framework in February of this year. It feels like a very long time ago, but there’s a lot of ongoing work on those voluntary agreements. We are continuing to work through challenges around surface water regulations between the federal biological opinions and the state of California Endangered Species Act permit, and it’s our goal as an administration to continue to work through those issues because they do bear a relationship to our ability to complete the voluntary agreements. That said we do continue to work with other tributaries that are not a part of the State Water Project or the Central Valley Project on voluntary agreements.”

Lastly, we have great partnerships with folks in the Sacramento Valley and folks in the Salinas Valley, but are also working more closely with agriculture in the Central Valley, particularly on their blueprint. I discussed earlier about watershed-wide assessments and layering climate hydrology on top of that, and to understand surface water supplies and understand how floodwaters can promote recharge to provide a degree of stability to agriculture in the Central Valley – that is something that’s very important to DWR. It’s one of the key things that our agricultural water users, are already paying attention to that, but get engaged and know that DWR is engaged with that blueprint effort to help answer that question.”

Question: Chair Esquivel, how does the water community collaborate with the state and its goals to improve the science, the data and the technology?

An organization was just recently stood up actually that I really hope will facilitate a lot of that,” said Chair Esquivel. “It’s known as the Water Data Consortium, and it’s an outgrowth of AB 1755 and the open water data transparency discussion, the partner agency teams and us state agency teams recognize that we’re sometimes limited when it comes to the resources that we have to put toward these projects and these discussions on the data side. It helps to have an external nonprofit body populated by water agencies, nonprofits, and others to help facilitate and leverage what are these incredible opportunities to focus on projects, focus on areas like data submission, streamlining and others. And so I would point specifically to that consortium, it’s just recently selected Tara Moran as its CEO, and she comes from Stanford’s Water in the West program and has a background in some of the groundwater modeling efforts and discussions. She will be an incredible benefit to that organization.”

There are other projects and efforts specifically at the board and some of our sister agencies. I think we need to continue to understand what are the opportunities and make sure that we’re speaking to them. I think of also the open ET project, which is at this point a very years long project, but in collaboration between Google NASA, the Environmental Defense Fund, and water agencies around getting a better tool for evapotranspiration and using that to better complete our understanding of our systems of systems. Most of the water we know is lost to ET, so being able to put that in our ledger, be able to figure out that balance sheet could be a critical tool.”

So I’d point to individual projects there, and really point to the consortium, because that’s specifically where an organization was stood up to house and coordinate and transparently engage with all water users and the academic community around these opportunities in coordination with the state agency teams or projects for learning and understanding where the data is and where best we can create tools to make better decisions.”

Question: what is the State Water Board’s role in the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act?

If you look at the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, it’s a continuum of a program between the Department of Water Resources and the State Board,” said Chair Esquivel. “And so our role is something of a backstop, if you will. So, in the previous checkpoints, we had to make sure that the GSAs were formed in all these high priority and medium priority basins; if that didn’t happen, those basins fell to the board’s purview at that point to help them figure out where they needed to go. Thankfully 99.9% of basins made that.”

Where we are now is that the Department of Water Resources is evaluating the plans from the critically overdrafted basins, and Director Nemeth talked about making some decisions on this over this next year. So those basins that are rejected, where the plan has deficiencies enough so that DWR rejects them, then the agencies and the basins will come under the board’s purview,” he continued. “There, we have incredible flexibility and we’ll be very dependent upon the basin itself as to how the board moves forward. What I want to emphasize is that in that continuum of a program, it is always about getting the resource and the basin back to local control. And if there is a deficiency, if DWR makes that determination, we’ll coordinate. We’re not starting from scratch. We have a basin, we have a plan, and we’ll begin to figure out what may have been a challenge.

An example is that the Madera basin didn’t sign a coordinating agreement, which then fell under Board purview. Much of the work was an investigation as to what was the disagreement. As I recall, the disagreement was around a certain amount of recharge that was happening on a particular property and accounting for that. Ultimately, it’s been resolved now. It will always depend upon what, where, where the basin is, and what the issues are.

The process is laid out in the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and includes a process of public notifcation and a full public hearing before the Board to take a careful look at what the issues are. “There won’t be some draconian boot that comes down quickly,” Chair Esquivel said. “We’ll be coordinating with DWR certainly. And, my message is to those basins that they not see it as a complete failure. It’s a part of a continuum of a program in a very incredibly complicated act and with longterm goals here. And so we’ll be again looking to evaluate those basins as they come as they may …with treatment and understanding between the two programs, which are really a single program at DWR and the board here.”

Question: As recently as June of 2020, polling showed that public supported state bond funding for water infrastructure. Do you have any thoughts for how the state and local water agency partners like ACWA can be successful with a bond or economic stimulus package that includes water infrastructure investments?

Director Nemeth said there hasn’t been much conversation about that as the Newsom Administration has started to understand the impact of the coronavirus on the state budget and economy. So with the news of the sharptest economic downsturn in the hisotry of the country, stimulus bills are likely both in Congress and potentially here in California, she said.

At this point, I’m not involved in discussions for a bond for this November, but I do think there is significant ongoing interest in the Newsom administration to look at subsequent elections and think about those in terms of a stimulus. The Department of Water Resources … has some analysis underway about the stimulus effects of water infrastructure projects in particular. And so that information will certainly inform anything that we do as a department to contribute to content of an economic stimulus bill. And, as we develop that information, that’s something we’d be delighted to share with ACWA. … Right now we are focused on water infrastructure as part of a federal stimulus bill potentially, and that’s happening administration wide. So we’re very eager to get some dollars back to California, for the express purpose of water infrastructure, which as you know, is the underpinning of so much of our economic stability here.”

Question: How is the state managing the desperate impact that Sigma will have on disadvantaged communities in the Central Valley?

Chair Esquivel said that this has been a topic of discussion between he and Director Nemeth and number of times, as well as with staff. “As we sort of alluded to earlier, the Safe and Affordable drinking water fund is there to try to really overcome this generational challenge, but it is impacted from the implementation of other laws … We have to make sure these efforts are in concert because those dollars on the Safe and Affordable fund to bring clean and safe drinking water to the million Californians is only $130 million. We’re leveraging all of our other sources of funding for capital project costs, but it isn’t going to meet the full need. We sort of knew that when we first had the fund, but it was what we needed to start. But with the economic downturn and perhaps assumptions that may be another plans and GSPs. It’s going to have to be something that we are aware of and best account for, There are no direct solutions now, other than ensuring that the implementation of the safe and affordable fund and implementation of the sustainable groundwater management act implementation and of these overlaying government programs be aware of each other so that we can ensure the of the outcomes that we want in the end, and don’t allow for unintended consequences to really impact or, or make situations worse.”

Within the water resilience portfolio that was released yesterday, we did signal our intention as an administration to develop a state task force on, SGMA, particularly the effects of SGMA,” said Director Nemeth. “So certainly how the implementation of that act affects disadvantaged communities is going to be a centerpiece of the policy discussion there. That is an effort that will include not just the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board, but also the California Department of Food and Agriculture, GoBiz, and the labor department to really understand the longer-term effects that implementation of SGMA will have on those communities. One of the things that we are focused on as we get all these plans in and start to understand the relationship of surface water to groundwater management and how important it is to invest in projects that help us capture surface water so that we can be more efficient and also minimize the potential for fallowing and other kinds of land use changes, particularly in the Central Valley and those effects that, they will have on disadvantaged communities.”

So the way I think about it is that these groundwater management plans give us a real regional look and there’s a lot of organizations that are helping us think about that. Some represent disadvantaged communities,” she continued.  More broadly, we’re also working with the Public Policy Institute of California to understand more regionally what the balance looks like coming out of those plans and what the state can do to make real additional water supplies that can overall help in that balance. And then take a look at demand management like fallowing or other kinds of programs that can also contribute to that sustainability.

It’s that math if you will that is going to help us as a state understand the broader economic impacts. We can expect the task force to be announced over the course of the next month or two. I’m confident that this task force is going to be a central place, because we know the effects of that really are beyond folks who work in water and really have to extend towards folks that are more active in employment and in other parts of state government.”

Question: What the status and future expectations of the integrated regional water management plans are?

I refer to that as IRWM 2.0,” said Director Nemeth. “I just want to register kind of my general disappointment that broader economic considerations have really overtaken our ability to have that resilience bond on the ballot that we had been hoping in November, because we knew that IRWM 2.0 is going to feature prominently. So I think there are ways in which that we need to look at IRWM again with an eye toward climate change.

That takes us to a place where we want to think through not just these hydrologic areas or hydrologies as they’ve been defined relative to funding areas, but really expand that a little bit more broadly. We’re looking at sort of watershed wide. So the relationship of water projects that are going to be necessary for groundwater management agencies to achieve sustainability are also going to have play another function within certain IRWM service areas. So how we connect those things geographically with other jurisdictions, and how we orient ourselves to the effects of climate change. That means deeper droughts and bigger rain events, I think those are the things that DWR is looking to address in the next version of IRWM but I don’t know exactly when that’s going to be.”

But absolutely when we start having that discussion, one of the first places where we’re going to go is our regional round table. Folks that have been very active in that program for many years, I know how effective it’s been at getting local water districts to collaborate. And you all are doing amazing work through that program. And we very much hope to position it to meet the future challenges and continue it with significant amounts of funding when we have the opportunity to do so.”

Question: Another panel today talked about the importance of collaboration and addressing our water issues going forward. How can regulate regulatory agency staff be more incentivized and empowered to participate collaboratively in stakeholder driven process?

I’ve made a focus of a lot of my time on how we continue to make more transparent or decision-making, and to invite in individuals and be clear when those opportunities are, whether they’re at staff workshops or a board workshop,” said Chair Esquivel.  “It’s also having materials ahead of time, having multi-lingual materials, all sorts of standards that we really need to incorporate again, if we’re going to be the best decision making bodies that we can. The issue sometimes is of resources. I think the question is more aimed at there are many great collaborative efforts, external necessarily … something’s coming up for development at the board. And I want bodies there. I want our program programs to be staffed to a point to really attend those, have people tracking the PYs, the staff time, it takes to collaborate, because it does take resources to collaborate.”

I’ll just be a bit candid in saying that since the board became a fee based organization about ten years ago or so, it is hard to resource those people and those positions, because it comes with a fee increase on those regulated communities and entities. So it would require an agreement that we are to be funded to better engage and collaborate. And I want to make sure we’re leaving nothing on the table before it is. We really make that ask because it’s not as if we have in any real structured way, but I am encouraged by the continued collaboration I see from our staff. I look for opportunities. If there are projects folks are working on that, they think that we should have interest in or, or please reach out we’ll, we’ll do our best to find those resources to engage.”

For me, it’s how are we making sure first and foremost, our processes are transparent. Are you able to know where are you in a discussion on the toxicity provisions for water quality, or a new MCL for maximum contaminant limit for chromium-6, you know where to quickly go to a website and see the past meetings that have gone on and the discussion that happened with the materials all in one place. Again, we have less resources at this point to do that terribly well on our website, but we’re working towards, it. It’s a huge priority of mine.”


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