Thursday, 21 March 2013

State Water Board Meeting Reminds Me of the Hunger Games

Yesterday, the State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB) opened a 3-day hearing dominated by a discussion of whether (and how much) to increase flows from San Joaquin River.  It brought out the fish versus farmers debate, and I watched passionate testimonials from both sides to the board.

I have worked with all these groups at one point or another (tributary farmers and cities, delta farmers and cities, and fisherman), and all of them are part of the region that we study and serve on a daily basis in our economic research center.  For me, this proceeding is pitting neighbors and family members against one another, an ugly and painful spectacle to watch.

Why did it remind me of the Hunger Games?

Exempted from the fighting arena, and undoubtedly watching the webcast on their computers, were a group of wealthy interests who are influential in the Capitol.

The state and federal water contractors divert massive amounts of water from this river system to places outside the watershed.  They have junior water rights, are wealthier, not even in the river watershed, and in many cases have cost competitive alternative water supplies that they aren’t adequately utilizing.  They are a huge part of this problem, whether it is the lack of flow on the San Joaquin from their upstream diversions before it gets to this area, the contaminated runoff from their westside farming, and the massive diversions in the South Delta.

How can they be absent from this proceeding while the peasants (i.e. the relatively small farmers represented by relatively small water districts with senior water rights, both tributaries and Delta, the fisherman, and the environmentalists) are pounding the crap out of each other?

The state/federal contractors must be enjoying the webcast of this gruesome spectacle. I have been watching off and on, and it is making me depressed and angry.

I hope the warring neighbors can stop hitting each other for a moment and find some unity around their common problem with the state/federal contractors.  They need to jointly demand a change to the narrow scope of this process.

P.S.  Yes, I have teen and pre-teen daughters, so the Hunger Games books/movies have been everywhere since we moved past the Harry Potter days.

About the Author

Ethan Jacob

Author & Editor

I am Ethan Jacob Executive Director of the Center for Business and Policy Research at the University of the Pacific, where I have a joint faculty appointment in the Eberhardt School of Business and the Public Policy Program in the McGeorge School of Law..

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