Water Resources & Trust

They are connected and this article from the Sacramento Bee explains why.

An excerpt.

“A recent conversation made me realize that something critical was missing from the efforts to “fix” the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

“The Bay Delta Conservation Plan proponents are spending tens of thousands of dollars daily to develop a plan that will cost taxpayers and ratepayers well over a million dollars daily, for decades. But not one cent is being spent to directly address one of the Delta’s most fundamental problems: gut-level mistrust among key stakeholders.

“For starters, finding a Delta farmer who trusts anything the Department of Water Resources says is as difficult as finding a Delta smelt in a summer tow-net survey. Moreover, unlike the smelt, mistrust is not found only among Delta residents.

“While some environmentalists support the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to some extent, if pushed hard, there’d be fundamental concern among many that, in a critically dry year, a governor’s emergency declaration might tip operations of new Delta plumbing away from ecosystem values and toward Big Ag and Big Urban interests.

“Similarly, I imagine that leaders in areas that receive Delta water have their own deep skepticism about the willingness of Northern Californians to allow exports to thirsty trees, vines and Angelenos in those same dry years.

“In short, how the pumps and tunnels will be operated concerns all who have a stake in the Delta’s waters. I haven’t read all of the latest drafts to see what BDCP proponents have to say about this. But whatever they say is largely irrelevant. Given the distrust among key stakeholders, there are no assurances that its backers can give that will overcome what its opponents think is its fundamental flaw: In a drought, water will flow south, toward money and away from Delta farmers and fish.

“With stakes so high, mistrust should be expected. What’s discouraging is the tacit assumption that nothing can be done about it. This mistrust imposes huge costs on all who depend upon the Delta for any part of their water supply – in short, the majority of Californians. Mistrust amplifies uncertainty, hardens positions, breeds litigation and blocks solutions.

“California’s water leaders tried unsuccessfully for more than a decade to seek consensus-based solutions. The postmortem on those efforts could identify multiple causes for their failure. Distrust among stakeholders would emerge high on my list of causes.

“Despite the distrust, or, perhaps, because of it, in 2009, the Legislature enacted laws that codified the “co-equal goals” for the Delta – restore the Delta ecosystem and improve water supply reliability.

“It tasked state agencies with meeting those goals while vaguely encouraging the Delta’s “evolution as a place,” whatever that means. Collectively, the state’s efforts to achieve these two, or 2 1/2 goals, are the “Delta Plan.”

“As a critical component of that plan, the BDCP has its covered actions, its conservation measures and its environmental documentation. It’s got more extensive technical appendices than any policy document I’ve ever seen.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of good stuff in it. There’s so much stuff in it that some of it has to be good. But, as I’m neither a scientist nor an engineer, I can’t help but feel as if I’m being blinded by the sheer volume of technical material presented.

“The message I take away from these massive information dumps is “Trust us.”

“Trust us, because the subject is so mind-bogglingly complex, and we’re so doggedly thorough. Trust us, because we’ve spent more money addressing these matters than any effort previously. And, finally, trust us, because we’re right; our conclusions flow from our premises, observations and analyses.

“I don’t question the bona fides of the BDCP team. I do not believe that it is obfuscating by burying us in paper. “Trust us” is the message that I’m taking away, not the message intended. Instead, that intended message seems simple: “The problems are complex and serious; spend billions of dollars to try to fix them in the ways we propose.”

“But I keep returning to trust, and I keep recalling the conversation described at the beginning of this article. It doesn’t matter how well-thought out, well-documented and well-articulated the Bay Delta Conservation Plan becomes. It will be dead on arrival simply because key stakeholders do not trust the people or the process by which it was developed.”

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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