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Posts Tagged ‘water bond’

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.

It’s a Wet La Nina

This chart shows rainfall as of 8 p.m. yesterday at the Costa Mesa measuring station. The dotted red line is the long-term seasonal average, and the blue line represents season-to-date rainfall for the 2010-2011 rain year, which runs from July 1 to June 30.  As you can see, we’re already just three-quarters of an inch behind the average rainfall for an entire year – and it’s only December … and it’s still raining.

It’s obvious that we’re in the midst of a “wet La Nina” year, which leads us to many ponderings.

First, why do reporters insist on thinking La Nina years will be dry and El Nino years will be wet? That’s a trend, for sure, but if there’s one thing any reporter should know, it’s to ask questions and not assume trends will repeat themselves.  A modicum of research would show plenty of precedents for years that went the other way.

Second, we always wonder about the effect of wet years on California’s heated water politics.

Since the water bond was proposed in 2009, we’ve now had two years of relief from drought.  That means very little in the larger picture, especially since we still have reservoirs to refill (including Lake Mead, which recently dropped to its lowest elevation since Hoover Dam was built), but people tend to be more willing to spend money on water supply when the well’s running dry.

Will the wet winter make it harder to pass the bond if it returns to the ballot in 2012?  We realize that the state’s fiscal condition will be more important than rainfall levels in most people’s minds, but wet winters certainly won’t make the campaign any easier.  Still, the messages in support have the advantage of being true:  A wet year is an aberration; we have to plan as if we were going to have dry years. Supporting construction of an new, sustainability-based water infrastructure for the State isn’t just necessary, it’s the environmentally right and economically right thing to do.

Third, as a public affairs firm here in Southern California that has written probably at least ten thousand words promoting water conservation, we worry that this wet December will cause people to get sloppy about their water use.  To them we say, striving for efficiency in your water use is something that should become a lifestyle commitment, something you do without thinking because it’s important for the health and well-being of our society.

Lastly, I have to admit I’ve also been thinking about the bozos who installed our landscaping at our home.  Our undersized and poorly placed drain pipes allow water to seep in around the side door of our garage whenever it rains like this – and last night, as I stood barefoot in the cold water, sweeping it down the sidewalk towards the driveway and the rain gutter, I admit the thoughts I was thinking about those landscapers weren’t exactly alive with the Christmas spirit!

The Water Bond – Now What?

It was the strangest sort of victory.

Last night’s last-hour squeaker of a vote to delay Proposition 18, the $11 billion California water bond, could be seen as an admission of defeat … well, future defeat anyway.  Had there been confidence campaign funds would roll in and the California electorate would vote “yes” in droves, Sacramento would have been busy with other things yesterday.  Important stuff no doubt, like regulating pet insurance.

But the vote was also a victory, because those who prefer the status quo – an odd mix of environmentalists, Delta residents and fiscal conservatives – were geared up to keep the bond on the November ballot, because they sensed they might be able to stop the state’s biggest step forward on water resource management in decades … if they could force the vote in year when Californians are (finally!) getting concerned about the state’s finances.

So, 2012 now will be the year of the water bond.  In California politics, 2012 is about as far in the future as white-wigged Whigs are in the past.  Who knows what mischief will transpire between now and then?  Well, we have a few ideas:

  • Chances are very good that at least one citizen initiative countering the bond will be on the ballot.  It will likely be a greener alternative, but it could also be a more gung-ho one, calling for the fast-tracked construction of more storage and a new  canal. It just depends on who raises enough money to send out the signature-gathering armies.
  • Forces will be tearing at the water bond itself.  Expect bills by the boatload in the next legislative sessions, each pushing one constituency’s position forward and another’s back.  So far, the rather miraculous coalition supporting the bond has held together, but can it last two more years?
  • Expect wet winters … or dry ones. Who knows? Either way, weather will influence the electorate.
  • And oh yeah, expect there to be a presidential race on the 2012 ballot, with all the attention and emotion it will bring.

We are supporters of the bond.  We think “meaty” describes it much better than “porky,” particularly if it’s compared to previous water bonds. We think the state’s water infrastructure has deteriorated to the point where big steps are needed.  We understand that in California, you’re not going to be able to get anything through the legislature that solves everything and does it without some sweeteners thrown in and some necessities thrown out.

In short, we’re willing to settle for the miraculous, even if it’s not the perfect.

Restore the Delta, a rabidly anti-bond group that puts the Delta “sense of place” above the state’s economic vitality, just said, “The problems with the bond will only grow more glaring in time.”

That’s what they fervently hope. Supporters of the bond need to counter this by showing – clearly, conclusively and forcefully – that it’s the problems with the state’s water infrastructure, not the problems with the bond, that are growing more glaring, and at an alarming rate of speed.

The recent State Water Resources Control Board staff report calling for an end-of-life-as-we-know-it level of cuts in water exports from the Delta, bad as it is, is a step in that direction.  Here’s hoping the water bond campaign has the resources, courage and capability to build a solid messaging lead in the next two years, and that the best bond wins.