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What (Who) Is The PPIC?

So, is this really independent, objective, nonpartisan research?

Mar 05, 2011


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MARCH 3 2011

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What (Who) Is The PPIC?

The Public Policy Institute of California just released a 482-page report titled "Managing California's Water."  They call for lawmakers and water interests to move beyond conflict and toward a new era of reconciliation.  But, before getting into more detail about what they report, just what is the PPIC and who wrote this report?  On the PPIC web page they say their mission is to inform and improve public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major social, economic and political issues.  They list eight authors of this report:  Ellen Hanak, Jay Lund, Ariel Dinar, Brian Gray, Richard Howitt, Jeffrey Mount, Peter Moyle, and Barton "Buzz” Thompson.  They are all academics.  We invite you to click on the names and check the bios. 

We don't like to blanket all academics as liberal enviros, but since they all come from the Bay Area or UC Davis, we have our suspicions.  One of the authors, Jeffrey Mount, recently wrote "Water To The Sea Isn't Wasted" in which he says 'it makes no economic sense to build the massive structures necessary to capture and consume the largest floods.'  In the same article he says 'floods provide broad, beneficial uses that cannot be replicated in any other way.'  So, is this really independent, objective, nonpartisan research? 

The PPIC report recommends a merger of existing water departments into a new water department that would enforce water rights, administer water quality laws, conduct statewide planning for water, oversee flood management and protect the public trust.  We have no problem merging departments as there is no doubt a lot of waste in duplication, as this article exposes(Billions in Bloat Uncovered in Beltway).  But, it appears that all efforts to avoid duplication results in even more duplication.  There is a story below from the Association of California Water Agencies(ACWA) and an editorial from the Sacramento Bee.  You can also click on PPIC to the left under 'In This Issue' to view the entire flood of information, if you can wade through 482 pages. 

What you might want to read instead of the PPIC report is this short article on the Restore the Delta website titled:  It Seems To Us We've Heard This Song Before.  In it they write about the academics who are continuing to pad their resumes by writing about the Delta, and repeat the mantra of their 4-year-old report called Envisioning Futures for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  Not suprisingly, they say the report is hostile to agriculture. 

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PPIC Report Calls for Major Changes in Policy, Governance


Lisa Lien-Mager 

Saying bold policy reforms are needed to avoid further environmental and economic deterioration, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) has released a new report calling for a wider range of tools to manage water supply, water quality and flood risks.

The report, “Managing California’s Water: From Conflict to Reconciliation,” says new approaches offer more promise than the current system and its reliance on major infrastructure such as dams, levees and conveyance facilities. Reducing urban per-capita water use by 30%, expanding groundwater banking and streamlining water transfers would help reduce pressure on the Delta, replace storage lost due to a shrinking Sierra snowpack and help stretch limited supplies, the report says.

“California has essentially run out of cheap new water sources,” said Ellen Hanak, a senior fellow at the PPIC and co-author of the report. “Agricultural and urban water users now compete among themselves and with environmental demands.”

Current policies and institutions are fragmented, she said, and are failing to meet growing needs for reliable, high-quality water supply, healthy ecosystems and flood protections.

“Today’s system of water management, developed in previous times for past conditions, is leading the state down a path of environmental and economic deterioration. We’re waiting for the next drought, flood or lawsuit to bring catastrophe,” Hanak said. “But if we take bold steps now, we can move from an era of conflict to one of reconciliation, where water is managed more flexibly and comprehensively, to benefit both the economy and the environment.”

The report suggests creating regional stewardship authorities at the watershed scale to coordinate functions such as water supply, water quality, flood protection and habitat restoration. It also recommends creating an independent utility to manage the State Water Project and merging the non-project functions of the Department of Water Resources with the State Water Resources Control Board to form a new Department of Water Management.

Other recommendations include giving the State Board jurisdiction over groundwater extraction, creating a water transfers clearinghouse and instituting a public goods charge on water.

“For the foreseeable future, state general funds are unreliable and unsuitable for managing the public aspects of water management,” the report says. “California should learn another lesson from the energy sector and introduce a public goods charge on water use. This charge – a small volumetric fee – would also be a more appropriate funding source for regional projects than the general obligation bonds that have been used recently.”

The report also calls for specific fees for environmental mitigation, control of contaminants, and other regulatory functions.

ACWA Executive Director Timothy Quinn credited the authors for drawing attention to the issues and forcing those involved in the water policy debate to think outside the box.

“Anyone reading the report will find plenty to agree with and plenty to debate,” Quinn said in a statement. “While many recommendations are consistent with ACWA policy principles, some ideas are provocative and would be widely opposed in the water community. For example, the report’s calls for State Water Resources Control Board jurisdiction over groundwater and the imposition of fees and a public goods charge on already overtaxed local public water agencies are sure to provoke lively debate.”

At the same time, he noted, some things that may be supported in the water supply community would probably be opposed by others. “Ideas such as reconciling environmental and human uses of water rather than ‘restoring’ the environment, modifying the Endangered Species Act, and vigorously promoting water transfers would find support among many ACWA members, but could be controversial with other interests,” he said.

The report can be found at www.ppic.org.

Read ACWA's statement on the report.


Editorial:  Time for a New Era of Governing Water Statewide

Sacramento Bee

Water is California's most precious resource. Yet in lean years and wet ones, California manages to mismanage this precious resource in spectacular fashion.

That is the take-home message from a monumental report released last week by the Public Policy Institute of California, titled "Managing California Water." The 482-page report issues both a clarion call and a road map for lawmakers and water interests to move beyond conflict and toward a new era of "reconciliation."

One clear message of the report is the need to modernize and consolidate the various institutions that govern how water is used. On the state level, decisions about water are now bifurcated between the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board.

The PPIC report, like the Little Hoover Commission before it, recommends that the water resources board be merged with sections of DWR that have nothing to do with running the State Water Project. This new state water department would enforce water rights, administer water quality laws, conduct statewide planning for water, oversee flood management and protect the public trust.

Making this department separate from the State Water Project would address the perception (and the reality) that state water contractors have inordinate influence over state water planning. Under the PPIC proposal, the State Water Project would become an independent public benefit corporation, similar to the Independent System Operator, which manages the state's power transmission.

The PPIC proposal is a good one. In buying and selling electricity and maintaining its infrastructure, the State Water Project would be more nimble and responsive if it didn't have to deal with the state's convoluted contracting procedures. Yet the PPIC is smart not to recommend that the state water contractors take complete control of these water works, as some of them would like to do. Contractors could sit on the board of an independent benefit corporation, but other interests would have a seat the table, too.

The PPIC also is on target recommending a stronger role for the Department of Fish and Game. Under its plan, this department would no longer be subservient to the Fish and Game Commission and would have more direct authority over river flows to help fish. The Fish and Game Commission, meanwhile, would go back to its original role – regulating hunting and fishing.

Once he deals with the budget, Gov. Jerry Brown would be smart to assess the recommendations of the PPIC and the previous Little Hoover suggestions, and bring more sense to water governance.


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