On the framework of power in California water – comments to the Delta Stewardship Council

Metropolitan Water District building

These comments were made to the Delta Stewardship Council at the October 28, 2021 meeting.

I wanted to share with you some thoughts from Hisham Ziuaddeen, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at University of Cambridge. He talked about frameworks of power. And I realized there is a framework of power in California water, and it determines:

  • who determines the frames of reference,
  • who has epistemological and moral authority,
  • who is entitled to respect and deference,
  • and whose intentionality matters.

And it’s pervasive in California water and in the Stewardship Council’s own processes and narratives.

One example I can offer is about the presentation at the DPIIC meeting. There was a study at UC Davis that showed that the current system of water operations, whereby the State Water Project and Central Valley Project hold back water in the spring and then release it in the summer, suppresses primary productivity in the Delta, because it washes out the phytoplankton rich water with cold blue water from the reservoirs. And this is something that fishing and environmental groups are aware of, and they would advocate that we could change water operations immediately and it could turn the situation around. We could save Delta smelt if we were willing to consider such a change in operations. And it’s just not part of the discussion because those groups are not at the table. They’re not entitled to respect and deference. They don’t determine the frame of the reference. They don’t have moral authority. And their intentionality doesn’t matter in the current processes.

And I’ve also seen it. We asked for more transparency in the Delta Stewardship Council budget and a conversation with the leadership and also about the Delta Independent Science Board. And we were told that our concerns were resolved without even talking to us about what our concerns actually were. It’s just absolutely systematic, systemic. It’s also in other decisions, and I really encourage you to think about who’s not at the table.

Just because you get a representative from large restoration groups that are getting a lot of money to participate in ecosystem restoration doesn’t mean you have the perspective of the rest of the environmental groups or the fishing groups who are really not at the table. So I really encourage you to think about it because it’s an issue that is way beyond just environmental justice communities. There are a lot of climate vulnerable populations in the Delta.

And I know that you all have good hearts and you take your responsibility very seriously. But this is a systemic issue. Thank you.

Further reading

Cannon, T. 2019. The Delta’s Trophic Collapse Explained. California Fisheries Blog, April 17, 2019.

Delta Stewardship Council. 2021. October 28, 2021 meeting video. Public comment at 17:04.

Hammock, B.G., Moose, S.P., Solis, S.S. et al. 2019. Hydrodynamic Modeling Coupled with Long-term Field Data Provide Evidence for Suppression of Phytoplankton by Invasive Clams and Freshwater Exports. San Francisco Estuary Environmental Management (2019) 63: 703.

Shilling, F., London, J., Liévanos, R. 2009. Marginalization by collaboration: Environmental justice as a third party in and beyond CALFED. Environmental Science & Policy,  (2009) 12: 694.

Ziauddeen, H. 2020. Power and discrimination: how power operates in societies & systems across the hierarchies of caste, gender, sexuality, ableness and class. Twitter thread synthesizing writings of Kate Manne, Ijeoma Oluo, Angela Saini, and Isabel Wilkerson. October 21, 2020. https://twitter.com/HZiauddeen/status/1319015839870427138?s=20&t=OHc_WbxRMwOeTYiAM9m8xg

4 thoughts on “On the framework of power in California water – comments to the Delta Stewardship Council

  1. So there is a framework of power in California water, and it determines:

    who determines the frames of reference,
    who has moral authority,
    who is entitled to respect and deference,
    and whose intentionality matters.

    And this framework is pervasive in decision-making about California water. However, environmental, fishing, and tribal organizations are not recognized by the state and federal governmental organizations who wield power under the framework as being among them as power brokers. We therefore have no moral authority and are not entitled to respect. We can give testimony as part of the administrative hearings of organizations such as the Delta Stewardship Council, but not much if anything will be done as a result of our testimony. And there is by definition very little that we can do about that other than file lawsuits under environmental laws such as the federal Endangered Species Act.

    1. Well, there are simpler lawsuits, ones to enforce public access under section 25. Article I.

  2. Among those that are not heard or seen are those that were concerned about the transparency around the operation of Oroville Dam. Even after the near catastrophe of February 2017, and despite promisses to the contrary, DWR did not disclose to the public the minor cracks in the newly poured concrete for several months, until after they were discovered by investigative reporters.
    And then there are serious questions about transparency and honesty in public access issues. At Fremont Weir the agencies, DER, DFW and CVFPB, arbitrarily cut off public access with no public participation in the decision and with false and misleading statements.
    Or fishing access on islands in the delta owned by Los Angeles Municipal Water Disrict – an agency subject to the constitutional right to fish on state-owned land but which nevertheless locks the public out of fishing access. Clearly a mindset exists to the effect that the public is to be managed rather than listened to; and, that managers are empowered to pick and choose as to which laws will be followed.

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