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I spent all day Tuesday and most of the day Wednesday at the conference for Integrated Regional Water Management Planning sponsored by the Water Education Foundation . I was invited to participate as a panelist on the future of IRWMP in California, in particular what criteria we should use to evaluate success. The invitation was stimulated by a paper that I wrote on a pilot study of the Bay Area IRWMP, which pointed out the challenges of IRWMP and suggested that the Bay Area had only made incremental changes from water politics as usual.
Should California have a Water Czar? Everybody would agree that California water management is complex and chaotic with many different actors making decisions in many different policy venues, often ignoring how their welfare is interdependent, and therefore missing out on opportunities for mutual gains and avoiding mutual costs. For the last two decades in California, along with many other places in the US and internationally, the solution to this chaos was the implementation of collaborative watershed management, or integrated regional water management, or whatever synonym you prefer. The theory is that by getting all the stakeholders together to jointly make water management decisions, they are able to recognize interdependence and make mutually benficial decisions. "Getting better together", "the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the longest time", "co-equal goals", and all that.
I've just returned from a trip to Washington DC for a project on social network analysis as a tool for monitoring and evaluation of international development projects. While I was there, I met with a friend of mine at USDA who focuses on developing markets for ecosystem services for agriculture. Like other payment schemes, such markets would provide farmers credit for environmental performance such as carbon sequestration. We debated about whether markets would be better than regulation for non-point source pollution.
This discussion gave me an opportunity to vent on the topic of non-point source pollution. For the most part, non-point source pollution is the third rail of water management and environmental policy. In contrast to point sources (end-of-pipe) such as industrial effluent and sewage treatment plants, non-point sources are diffuse and multiple. The classic examples are runoff from farms, and urban runoff from construction sites or lawns.
I went on a field trip today as part of the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute's "National Symposium on Food and Sustainability." I was in a group focused on "resiliency", and we were paired with three general managers from local reclamation districts. Reclamation Districts are relatively unknown to most people, but they are local special district governments responsible for flood control, drainage, and irrigation. They have a long history of providing local public goods to agricultural landowners in California, with many of them dating back to the late 19th century.
Can you manage water without thinking about people? I went to an eye-opening meeting between UC Davis researchers and many program managers at the California Department of Water Resources. DWR is the main state agency responsible for water supply infrastructure, and they are heavily based in the civil engineering profession. They are also responsible for publishing the California State Water Plan. The meeting was about funding research at UC Davis to help DWR make decisions and do water planning. Among the materials provided at the meeting was a big wish list of projects that UCD researchers might get involved with.