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Posts Tagged ‘drought’

One City’s Drought Communications “Fail”

I just watched a city council adopt a communication campaign that will do a lousy job of informing residents of the new water restrictions and fines it had just adopted in response to state mandates. For Californians to respond effectively to the drought, we’re all going to have to do better than this city did.

“Thanks” to city council input, residents of the San Gabriel Valley city will receive a cover letter and three separate inserts – four pieces in all, competing for attention, over-communicating and creating confusion – all in a bland envelope that will be lost in the day’s mailbox-full of unsolicited mail.

That’s going to be as expensive as it is ineffective.

The city did one thing right. It didn’t use a water bill insert, recognizing it wouldn’t get enough readership in a timely manner. But if you’re going to use an envelope (I wouldn’t!), you’d better print a high-impact headline on it or it’s likely to go out with next week’s trash, unopened.

Here’s a better alternative: Mail two postcards on the same day, one over-sized and one minimum USPS size. Why postcards? Because they get the message out without having an envelope in the way. Why two?

  • The large one would spell out the details, and by limiting the space to a large postcard, there’s much less chance of your message becoming gobbledygook.
  • The small postcard would be the “keeper,” designed with the refrigerator door in mind. All the good stuff would be on one side: Which days they can irrigate on, prohibitions and fines, tips, an easy URL for more information.

Combined with good policy and customer-oriented enactment, this will work.

Messaging That Isn’t All Wet

The grass isn’t greener in Sacramento

The long-awaited and often-delayed California water bond is one of the primary agenda items during the brief mid-summer legislative session in Sacramento. Before August 31, two-thirds of the Legislature must agree to a new bond, or to remove the old bond from the ballot. If they don’t, the old $11.14 billion water bond will go on the ballot with Gov. Brown’s active opposition, and will almost certainly be defeated.

Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, purveyors of what’s second only to air for 19 million Southern Californians, definitely has a dog in this fight, and that dog has a very well-constructed bark: MWD’s messages regarding what they’d like to see in a water bond are clear, straightforward and strong.

In the interest of recognizing good messaging, here it is:

Water Bond Priorities
Restoring Delta, Reducing Reliance, Statewide Improvements

Public water agencies and business organizations from throughout California that receive supplies from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta are united in their support for a comprehensive Water Bond that achieves the co-equal goals of restoring the Delta and providing reliable water supplies statewide. 

Delta Restoration – Critical for California’s environment and economy
•  
Must provide significant funding for public benefits associated with habitat restoration
•  Must provide significant funding for voluntary flow purchase programs to improve fish conditions

Department of Fish &  Wildlife – Best agency to oversee restoration funding 
•  Has decades of experience facilitating and managing habitat restoration
•  Already subject to direct oversight by Legislature
•  Has successful track record and institutional infrastructure in place to facilitate and manage habitat restoration.

Delta Conservancy – Not best agency to oversee restoration funding
•  Has no experience facilitating or managing habitat restoration
•  Primary focus on economic sustainability could conflict with restoration objectives
•  Five board members represent counties opposed to Bay Delta Conservation Plan, one of the most promising and comprehensive restoration plans in the nation designed to achieve co-equal goals.
•  Habitat restoration projects should be funded based on scientific merits and public benefits, not local politics
•  Was never intended to be sole agency for reviewing or implementing habitat restoration in Delta

Reducing Future Reliance on Delta through Development of Local Supplies 
•  Must provide funding for urban conservation, recycling, groundwater remediation, desalination, watershed management and stormwater development
•  Must provide funding for on-farm efficiency, system improvements and increased groundwater storage
•  Local matching funds should be required, as appropriate

Statewide System Improvements 
•  Must provide funding for public benefits associated with surface and groundwater storage
•  Projects must openly compete for bond funding
•  Local matching funds should be required, as appropriate

That’s it, and that’s about as good as it gets. Why? First, MWD  has taken one of the most controversial and complex issues in California and boiled it down to one page. Then there’s the clear statement of purpose below the headline, which focuses the discussion back at the basics, the co-equal goals. After that comes a structure makes it very easy to get to the topic of the moment, with each bullet presenting a single point as a fact, unencumbered by partisan rhetoric.

Whatever your position on this (and if  you don’t have a position, don’t worry – you’re like almost everyone outside the water wonk community), you should see this as a model of good messaging.

Media’s Failure to Report on Water – Good or Bad?

Even in our dry, drought-prone realm, you’d be hard pressed to find any newspaper with a reporter assigned solely to the water beat.

That’s not a guess. Kate Galbraith, a San Francisco-based journalist, recently wrote in America’s premier journalism publication, the Columbia Journalism Review,

 When I Googled “water reporter” over and over again, [only] one guy showed up. His name is Chris Woodka, and he works in Colorado at the Pueblo Chieftain, a daily based about 100 miles south of Denver.

No one showed up for the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Orange County Register, the Phoenix American, the Las Vegas Review Journal or any of hundreds of other papers covering America’s drought belt. Galbrath explains why she thinks this is:

I couldn’t prove it, but I suspected that even as the [Texas] Tribune [which she reported for] pounded away at water stories, and invited the public to panel after panel of discussions about water, the audience was often people who were already engaged. The challenge was reaching ordinary citizens—many of whom might not even know there is a water crisis.

Two polls show the magnitude of this challenge. Last year, a survey by the University of Texas and The Texas Tribune found that water lay near the bottom of Texans’ policy priorities, despite the ongoing drought. In California, which is now enduring its most intense drought on record, a 2012 poll showed that 78 percent of respondents had never heard of the river delta at the heart of the state’s water-supply system.

To an editor, water news is neither “dog bites man” or “man bites dog.” It’s no one cares whether the dog or the man bit anything.

This lack of coverage hurts a water community that is trying to increase public awareness of the value of water, the need to conserve and the need to invest in improved supply reliability and infrastructure. But before we lament our inability to call the local paper’s in-the-know, experienced water reporter, let’s consider two things.

First, he or she is not likely to be in-the-know and experienced. The sorry state of the newspaper business has led to high turn-over, especially among the (relatively) well-paid more senior reporters.  Chances are, if you were working with a dedicated water beat reporter, you’d be working with a recent hire who didn’t know much more about water than the 78 percent who never heard of the  Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

And forget broadcast outlets. Their on-camera “personalities” may have a bit more experience, but unless the water kills someone or is really, really cute, they’re probably not going to cover it.

And second, given the pressure on reporters to write stories that generate comments, what do you suppose they’d be writing about? Would it be the need to invest in boring old concrete infrastructure, or a justification of a district’s proposed rate increase?

We don’t think so. In the times a water beat reporter would find exciting, like the current drought, you’d get sensationalism in overkill mode. Galbrath recognizes this, listing “Drought and cattle! Drought and rice farmers! Drought and climate change! Drought and power plants!  Drought and  hunting! Drought and the military!” – with a link to each one!

Such coverage might drive temporary conservation, but the goal of any experienced water communicator should be to change long-time water use patterns, not support come-and-go drought-related conservation.

In less “exciting” times, would you see articles that support a more enlightened citizen view of water? Articles that explain the value of water or the need to conserve it? Sure. Some.

But you would see much more of  sensationalism in non-drought clothing. “Water district expenses out of control! Water quality deteriorates! Widow can’t pay water bill!  Water employees get lush retirement packages! District director takes golf junket!”

So, maybe it isn’t such a bad thing after all that water communicators must constantly struggle to get the media interested in the only thing on the entire planet that’s almost as essential as the very air we breathe.

 

Are Water Agencies About to Drown in Positive Polling?

A recent survey conducted by the Municipal Water District of Orange County found that 93 percent of the 500 respondents feel Orange County’s water supply is somewhat reliable or very reliable.  That’s big news to us in the business of influencing public behavior, because a similar question asked in the agency’s 2008 survey found that only 27 percent felt OC had a reliable supply.

So can us communicators take credit for the nearly four-fold jump in public perception?  After all, our water supply is just as reliable today (or unreliable depending how you look at it) than it was three years ago.  We humbly say, “not so fast.”

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Water Weekly 3: Back to School

What were the three biggest California water stories of the past seven days?  Well, the news-heads and policy wonks here at Laer Pearce & Associates have compiled them for you here.  You’ll find the Big Three here every week, or you can follow LPAWater on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news and analysis. You can also sign up to receive the Weekly 3 via email here.  This week:

Elementary Errors Plague Delta Plan

Our teachers told us we needed to know the basics first, then we’d get to the stuff we liked.  (Like recess!)  We’ve been looking at the fifth draft of the Delta Stewardship Council’s Delta Plan and we’re ready to rap some knuckles with our ruler (if that’s not considered child abuse now).  It seems they weren’t paying attention to the basics – you know, stuff like how we get less water in dry years than wet ones.  Pay attention, kids, this is going to be on the final: Draft #5 gets a D and can’t be allowed to be the final draft – it’s time to act!

Here’s a little knuckle-rapping by two who got the basics right

ACWA wants you to send a letter like this to a list like this

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Water Weekly 3: Eco-hawks, Oldtimers and Stinkers

What were the three biggest California water stories of the past seven days?  Well, the news-heads and policy wonks here at Laer Pearce & Associates have compiled them for you here.  You’ll find the Big Three here every week, or you can follow LPAWater on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news and analysis. You can also sign up to receive the Weekly 3 via email here.  This week:

“Virtual River” Runs Dry

The eco-hawks often talk of a “virtual river” that could supply Californians all the water they need, if only they’d conserve more.  It seems the virtual river flows through real farm land, given all the talk about how farmers waste water. Well, in San Diego County, the virtual river theory is getting pretty parched as farmers who are doing all the right things – installing drip irrigation, planting high-value crops – are facing economic ruin because even with the best practices, water’s still going up to $1,400 per acre foot next year.

Let the California Farm Bureau Federation tell you more.

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Fact-Checking Democrats’ Water Statement

Last week’s Congressional water hearing in Fresno, if nothing else, produced thousands of acre-feet of hyperbole – if politically expedient but morally challenged statements can be measured that way.  The Natural Resource Defense Council’s particularly reprehensible propaganda is discussed in the post below; this post focuses on an article covering the position of Congressional Democrats regarding the hearing, “California Lawmakers Seek Statewide Approach to Water Supply.”

The article quotes Grace Napolitano as the lead spokesperson for the Dems.  We like Napolitano on water issues.  Her district runs from East Los Angeles to Pomona, so she understands that her constituents are largely dependent on water delivered to Southern California from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the Colorado River.  As the former chair and current ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Water and Power, she has done a lot to support a Delta solution and to bring federal dollars to groundwater clean-up, recycling and desalination efforts.

Fortunately for our positive view of Napolitano (just on water issues, mind you), the statement that we’re fact-checking here was not attributed to the Congresswoman, so we must credit it to the editors and writers at Environmental Protection, where the article appeared.  Here it is:

Last year, the state reported that the closure of salmon fishing cost the economy at least $250 million. Recent studies have estimated that nearly 2,000 salmon fishermen have been unable to work over the last three years, job loss figures comparable to the number of farm workers who could not work due to pumping restrictions during the drought. (emphasis added)

On its face, this statement is true.  Job losses among salmon fishers are comparable to job losses among farm workers who couldn’t find work because drought and environmental restrictions shut of the spigot to many Central Valley farms.  The comparison is this:  Salmon industry job losses are probably one percent or so of agricultural job losses.

In the town of Mendota alone, which I visited when its unemployment rate hit 38 percent at the peak of the weather-and-regulatory drought, if we assume half of the town’s population of 10,000 is made up of workers, then 1,900 people were unemployed in that town alone. There are towns like Mendota every few miles throughout the  Central Valley, so the editors of Environmental Protection are guilty of minimizing human suffering for political gain, a not uncommon but always unwise tactic.

Besides, there is no consensus whatsoever that the decline in California salmon populations can be tied to pumping water south from the Delta.  In fact, the consensus seems to be shifting to blaming any number of other causes, including ammonia from sewage treatment plants, predation by non-native striped bass, oceanic conditions’ impact on salmon food supply, overpopulation of protected predatory sea mammals, and others.

Everything I’ve learned in a career in public affairs and strategic communications tells me the complex debate over California water supply and the challenging (and likely impossible) effort to find a course of action that pleases all constituents is not furthered by this sort of destructive and divisive language.

Water Weekly 3: Taxing Times?

What were the three biggest California water stories of the past seven days?  Well, the news-heads and policy wonks here at Laer Pearce & Associates have compiled them for you here.  You’ll find the Big Three here every Thursday, or you can follow LPAWater on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news and analysis. You can also sign up to receive the Weekly 3 via email here.  This week:

Sucker Punch

Smoky rooms still rule – except now it’s probably medical marijuana smoke filling rooms like the one the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Center for Biological Diversity met in to hammer out a Santa Ana sucker deal. The Center, an enviro litigation mill, had sued to expand the sucker’s critical habitat within the Santa Ana River, and the closed-door settlement added over 10 percent more land, which will gravely impact 12 water agencies’ beneficial use river flows. The agencies have implemented a successful sucker protection plan, so this is case of no good deed going unpunished.

Read about the 12 agencies’ plan to sue the Service here

Read how the settlement “would literally shut down” the local economy

Here’s a great piece on the topic from DC’s The Hill blog

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Watered-Down Truth

It’s interesting that the Natural Resource Defense Council’s blog is called “Switchboard,” since switchboards use electricity, and electricity is, you know, destroying the planet.  Be that as it may, the blog is often a source for remarkably thoughtful dissertations from an environmental perspective, so I read it regularly.

Today, however, Switchboard switched me back to the Cold War, when the Soviet propaganda machine was churning out half-truths nonstop.  How can one forget the Pravda headline about a baseball game that said “Soviets come in second, US next to last,” without mentioning only two teams were playing?

NRDC staffer Doug Obegi is at the same game with his post today,Important Facts for Today’s Congressional Hearing on California Water Supply.” His use of the word “facts” might as well have a big red star on it, for it’s a very loose interpretation of the whole concept of truth.  (For a more balanced report on the hearing, read this Fresno Bee article.)

Here’s his first “fact:”  “ESA protections have had no impact on water allocations this year.”  That’s like saying it rained a little after Noah built his ark.  The 2010-2011 rain year was one of the wettest in history, with nearly 80 feet of snow falling in the Sierras, so more than enough water is flowing through the Sacrament0-San Joaquin Delta to allow the pumps to run, despite Endangered Species Act protections on Delta smelt and salmon.  It wasn’t that way last year and it’s not likely to be that way next year.

Besides, it’s only April of “this year.” Who knows where we’ll be in August or December?

Obegi also points to the “fact” that “Recently, lack of demand completely shut down the Delta pumps.”  Are we to believe that everyone in every Southern California metropolis suddenly packed up and moved to Pago Pago, Tahiti? That every farmer in the Central Valley decided that fallowing fields was the new way to sudden wealth?  Of course not – it’s the Noah’s ark thing again, showing the author is not afraid to make a dishonest point twice.

Then there’s Obegi’s argument that protecting the endangered species of the Delta protects jobs. That’s true – but just barely.  If one focuses only on the Delta, and only on the fisheries jobs in the Delta – a $250 million industry in the best of years – we can nod our heads and give Obegi a kudo.  But, pardon the pun, the Delta fisheries industry is small fry by California standards.  Pumping curtailments in 2009 and early 2010 caused billions of dollars in losses to Central Valley agriculture alone, and forced water users throughout much of the state to pay billions more for water due to rate increases.

There are many more similar corruptions of the public dialog in the piece, but I can’t end without bringing up Obegi’s characterization of the 2009 legislative water package.  Laer Pearce & Associates used our public affairs contacts and skills to shore up support for the package among the Orange County delegation, so we can take some credit in its passage – which is why Obegi’s characterization is so offensive.  Here it is:

California Law Requires Reducing Reliance on the Delta and Strengthening Environmental Protections

In 2009, California adopted a landmark package of water legislation, and established a state policy of reducing reliance on water exports from the Delta and investing in regional tools like water efficiency, wastewater recycling, groundwater cleanup, and stormwater capture. Instead of waiving environmental laws, this legislation strengthened environmental protections in the Bay-Delta. These policies are the cornerstone of a 21st Century water policy for California, and are the most cost-effective way for California to prepare for the next drought.

What the legislation actually required was recognition of the “co-equal goals” of, first, protecting and enhancing the Delta’s ecosystem and, first (since that what co-equal means), ensuring a reliable water supply.   He’s right that the legislation heightened protections on the Delta (so why is he so freaked out?), but he’s wrong in saying the environmental protections are the cornerstone of 21st Century water policy for the state. The cornerstone is the co-equal goals, and trying to pretend it’s otherwise is just like pretending the Soviet team came in ahead of the U.S. one in that baseball game Pravda covered.

Obegi should apologize to his readers for assuming they’re a bunch of rubes instead of well-informed citizens. And maybe the NRDC should commit to telling the truth instead of propagating propaganda.

Water Weekly 3: So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu

What were the three biggest California water stories of the past seven days?  Well, the news-heads and policy wonks here at Laer Pearce & Associates have compiled them for you here.  You’ll find the Big Three here every Thursday, or you can follow LPAWater on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news and analysis. You can also sign up to receive the Weekly 3 via email here.  This week:

The Long Goodbye to the Drought

News that Gov. Brown was going to declare the drought over leaked like December’s deluges. We started hearing about it days before the formal announcement, and we figured he was waiting for the Wednesday Sierra snowpack reading.  We were right – the announcement came Wednesday night, shortly after DWR reported snow levels in the Sierras were to die for.  The Guv did the right thing by reminding us all to conserve, but disappointingly (not surprisingly!) said nothing about the need to fix the ongoing regulatory drought.

Read Brown’s drought-ending proclamation here

Read DWR’s report on Sierra snowpack here

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