How many CFWC’s are there in this map?

My last post asked how Bill Wells, head of the Delta Chambers and Visitor’s Bureau could possibly support the agenda of the arguably misnamed California Farm Water Coalition.

Well, the answer is that he can’t. And I feel a need to give Executive Director Wells a bit of airtime here. This should help clarify and amend his less-than-successful attempt at sarcasm, or perhaps my tone-deafness to his subtle use of the style.

But before then, Mr Wells comments led me to ask the question How many separate CFWC’s are there in the entire Valley? I count six, but #3 may be split between #‘s 4 and 5. People who really know could probably count dozens.


From the comments at the Oakland Tribune article is Mr Wells’ thoughtful response to my question, quoted in full below:

John - I was being sarcastic, according to their website: “The CFWC has three primary goals in its mission to positively affect the perception of California agriculture’s use of water and provide a common, unifying voice for agricultural water users: 1. To serve as the voice for agricultural water users. 2. To represent irrigated agriculture in the media. 3. To educate the public about the benefits of irrigated agriculture”.

To the best of my knowledge the CFWC has never come to the aid of Delta farmers many whose families have worked the same land since the gold rush era. Delta farmers have been under attack by the Department of Water Resources and the Bay Delta “Conservation” Plan for years now, seeing their property invaded and vandalized. You would think a group calling itself The California Farm Water Coalition might show some concern about these goings on.

The reality is that all farmers are pawns in this game. The Delta Stewardship Council and the Bay Delta Conservation seek to consolidate the control of all of California’s water into the hands of a few powerful individuals and then sell it back to the citizens at exorbitant prices. It is like (the movie) Chinatown on a statewide scale.

Now that I am aware of Mr Wells’ subtle sarcastic style, I am better able to appreciate and enjoy the rhetorical utility of “you would think that CFWC might show some concern…” Good luck with that, Bill.

Mr Wells’ comments unpack a few important points, but I especially like the implicit point that the CFWC is really a misnomer. For a truer geographical picture of their mission, should they perhaps call themselves the Southern California Farm Water Coalition? An answer might become clearer in the near future as further expression of the diversity of farming self-interest is articulated.

Anyway, to expand on a few of Mr Wells’ points as follows:

1. Farming interests are not monolithic, and tend to adhere with other interests in complex, sometimes issue-specific ways. Like most groups, the various farm groups’ agendas are less about principle and more about self-interest.

2. The issue of property rights for Delta farmers and landowners is as sacrosanct as it is for Rep. Nunes’s (R-Hyperbole) constituents. It’s just that property rights in the Delta align nicely with the fullest interpretation of the Endangered Species Act, whereas they do not in the San Joaquin Valley.

3. Many farmers are pawns in the California’s Big Water Picture. That is the what happens when a place creates an enormous infrastructure of water storage and movement, making the resource a commodity - it’s much more transactional than it is, say, in Iowa.*

4. Chinatown, like the Mark Twain quote about whiskey, fighting and water, needs to be put down. Both have outlived their usefulness, and as kind of soft romantic reflection from the age of abundance, actually do more harm than good.

* 8:43 AM 9/27/11: Revised to emphasize the transactional capacity of water instead of whether/which farmers farm their land vs. trade its water. In all parts of the state, farmers can and do do both.

Posted by John Bass on 26 Sep 2011 | Comments (7)


I would agree about abandoning Twain’s whiskey and water quote - made easier by its sketchy provenance:

I’d read that post of yours back when you wrote it and now feel slightly a plagiarist. :-)

Couldn’t agree more about the Mark Twain quote.

Hi John, I can’t get the image to load so I can’t comment on that, but, I still have a few curiosity questions.
Could you expand on point #2 a bit?
What is it about the central valley or it’s inhabitants that would preclude it from a full implementation of the ESA in your opinion ?
The San Joaquin River that runs thru it is the same one that flows by my home on Sherman Island. :)
Point #3 is an interesting interpretation. While it is likely true that “small” farmers are pawns it is also true that “Big” Ag wields an inordinate amount of power over infrastructure operations.This is illustrated nicely by Westlands ability to get Devin Nunes to do their bidding. I don’t think infrastructure is to blame for making water a commodity,Money and greed are far more likely suspects.

Hi Chris, sorry you can’t get the CFWC map to load. Let me know and I’ll send it to you via email if you’d like.

On the other things, as you wish.

#2: The farm water lobby’s spokespeople consistently rail against the ESA’s provisions vis-a-vis constraints it often places on exporting Delta water to them. They make supply/demand arguments about the higher costs for consumers’ food. They cite their subsidies of environmental remediation in the Delta and SJV.

This and other arguments are in my opinion Trojan horse property rights (and all the benefits of them) arguments intended to bring down the ESA. The ESA is objectively a threat to their rights - un-American, even.

The BiOps that are developed as a part of the ESA align with the interests of Delta landowners, and their right to high-quality, “area of origin” water.

I had an interesting conversation today with someone who thinks that the ESA is or may be a very poor tool for making water policy. Despite Judge Wanger’s frustrations and perhaps intemperate and inaccurate characterization of federal scientists, it does seem that his recent shift in values/scientific metrics is an indication of the problem of him having to try to respect the ESA as such a tool.

#3: I don’t disagree with the first part of your statement here. Power always wields disproportionate influence. As have agriculture and rural values, historically, in the States.

It’s no coincidence that the Senate is a disproportionate representative body, privileging sparsely settled states. Hell, the Bureau of Reclamation is an instrument of this set of values.

But I think it’s hard to argue that the CA’s extensive infrastructure doesn’t make water more transactional. I am not saying that infrastructure is to “blame,” as you put it.

Through your water infrastructure, many government institutions and influential groups have greater ability to treat water as a commodity, with futures markets, stored and traded, etc.

But like many who take strong private property stances, state and federal subsidies and unpaid debts for state and federal infrastructure development are conveniently ignored.

David Zetland’s radical advocacy for a pure capitalist water market might be the answer, I don’t know.

I don’t disagree with you on how, but, perhaps a bit on why.

The ESA isn’t a poor tool , it is an inconvenient tool to those who would put personal gain above collective loss/benefit.
Gee, I sound like a socialist.

Wanger’s recent shifts are interesting to say the least.
I’ll withhold my judgement until we see who signs his paychecks now that he’s left the bench.

The transactional nature of water is merely a reflection of the current state of our political system. As long as money buys influence and the public chooses to elect people of low ethical and moral standards every facet of our existence will be for sale to our detriment.

Ongoing efforts to privatize water while continuing to erode the link between land and water rights will only serve to enrich a privileged few.

Your view of infrastructure as enabling to institutions and groups who treat water as a commodity brings to mind the story about the chicken and the egg.

I’m not familiar enough with Mr Zetland’s concept to comment on it , but if it includes public ownership of all infrastructure and water users being charged the actual total cost involved for the product, I’m likely to be receptive.

Chris -

If I may elaborate on the argument for why the Endangered Species Act is such a poor water management tool.

ESA comes into play routinely on rivers in the arid western United States because environmental flows are the first place that our water shortages show up. Under the doctrine of prior appropriation, farmers and cities got their straws into the rivers before environmental values became widespread. So all the human consumptive users take what they view as their share, the river goes dry, critters are imperiled and ESA litigation ensues. This pattern happens over and over and over.

But rather than having a societal discussion about the underlying issues - the idea of keeping rivers wet because of the intrinsic value of doing that - we end up in Judge Wanger’s court having arcane scientized discussions about X2 and smelt biology. We end up, in other words, having the societal values argument by proxy over arcane scientific questions rather than dealing with the issue directly.

Here in New Mexico, where I am, the Act leads to this odd distortion where we’re raising Rio Grande silvery minnows in hatcheries and throwing them in the river to keep the species alive. We’re allowing agricultural diversions that allow large stretches of the river to dry completely as long as a refuge for the endangered fish is kept wet. The fish seems to be doing much better. The river is not.

The policies that result force us into a box where we do stuff that doesn’t make a lot of sense in terms of sensible water management, or in terms of preserving the river ecosystem. But it is the place were our big-picture water policy management conversation takes place.

That’s what’s happening right now on the Delta, where the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is really a creature of the ESA. I guess it’s better than nothing - at least it’s forcing California to have the conversation. But it reminds me of the old joke about the drunk looking for his lost keys under the streetlight. It’s not where he thinks he lost them, but it’s the only place where there’s any light.

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