The most interesting briefing came from Stuart Drown, executive director of the Little Hoover Commission. The subject was the Little Hoover Commission’s August 2010 report, “Managing for Change: Modernizing California’s Water Governance.”
This is a report that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, which is surprising given what it recommends: separating the State Water Project from DWR. An independent, publicly-owned California Water Authority would operate the SWP and eventually merge it with the Central Valley Project.
A new Department of Water Management would be created within the Natural Resources Agency. This Department would collect and monitor data on water use; manage supply and demand (with input from the Department of Fish and Game); administer and enforce water rights; implement the State Water Plan; manage bond-funded grant and loan programs related to water supply, conservation, and integrated regional water management; streamline the water transfer process (whatever that means); oversee dam safety and maintenance; and take responsibility for flood control, levee repairs, and floodplain management.
The Little Hoover Commission had a role in mind for the California Water Commission:
oversight of all natural resources bond expenditures, including current bond programs and future voter-authorized bonds.
According to Drown, the Little Hoover Commission recognized that California had a failure of governance when water policy began to be shaped by a federal judge.
The report recommends relocating the Division of Water Rights from its current place as part of the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to the new Department of Water Management.
According to the report, “ One obstacle to locating the Division of Water Rights within the existing Department of Water Resources is the department’s operation of the State Water Project. Locating the Division of Water Rights in the same department that holds a sizeable percentage of California’s water rights permits and licenses would present a conflict that would undermine the state’s ability to credibly administer and enforce water rights.”
“The Department of Water Resources was created more than 50 years ago to plan, design and construct the State Water Project. . . . Now complete, the project functions as a utility and no longer fits in the Department of Water Resources, where it dominates the agenda of a state department that also is responsible for water planning and management and where these dual missions often conflict.”
Commissioner Byrne asked Drown what the reaction to the report had been. Drown described the reaction as “mixed.” Environmentalists, he said, were concerned about separating water rights from water quality by taking water rights away from the SWRCB. And there has apparently been resistance from DWR, because “The State Water Project and DWR grew up together.” The process proposed would be complicated, and “funding is a huge concern.”
But as the report says, “The governance recommendations in this study are aimed at ensuring the Legislature’s 2009 reforms achieve their goals.”
If you want to give some thought to what the Little Hoover Commission’s recommendations would mean for the Delta, you can download the report at http://www.lhc.ca.gov/reports/listall.html. It is worth knowing what is there, because – as we have seen – studies like this have a tendency to work their way into legislation eventually.