Everyone can generally agree that we should be working toward a more sustainable Delta. After all, the estuary is responsible for providing drinking water for 26 million Californians and the water supply that drives the world’s fifth largest economy, including food production for much of the nation. Improving the system for fish, residents, businesses and farming is indisputably an urgent need.
Figuring out what to do in the Delta is hard enough, figuring out who is best suited to do it is yet another challenge. Government has a way of making things far more complicated than they need to be. Year by year, new institutions are created with new laws, policies and regulations to go along with them. All told, dozens of state and federal agencies and hundreds of stakeholders are now working in a tangled web of jurisdiction attempting to better manage the Delta as a sustainable estuary and reliable water supply system. Making measurable progress on any front has become difficult, time consuming and sometimes impossible.
“All told, hundreds of organizations have a role here, making it difficult for anyone to wrap their mind around how Delta management works”
– Delta Stewardship Council
No fewer than three major Delta planning processes are underway and literally dozens of other water planning process workgroups meet each week, with their own separate charge to better the management of the estuary. As the Delta Stewardship Council has stated, “Sometimes the efforts reinforce one another, sometimes they cover different ground and sometimes they conflict with one another.”
This is not an effective or efficient way to manage one of the state’s most important resources. Decades and millions of dollars have failed to make a measurable difference, despite the best laid planning processes.
Water planning in California will always be a complex and complicated process. Hundreds of local, state and federal agencies, academics, politicians, environmentalists and the business community have a stake in the outcome. The next Governor would, however, be wise to seek to streamline and make the Delta process more efficient and effective. Untangling what government bureaucracy has built over time is never easy but in this case it is critical. The dozens of working groups slogging earnestly to improve the Delta must start joining forces and working together using informed science or a sustainable system will never be achieved.
The next Governor must provide the kind of leadership that empowers his cabinet and the agencies under him to work together. The next Governor must make measurable progress on water issues by creating flexible policies that can evolve over time as more is learned. He will need an equally flexible, nimble and singular process to make it happen.