Friday, October 19, 2012

A better definition of co-equal goals

In an announcement of proposed revisions to federal water resources planning guidelines, the Federal Government describes co-equal goals
Achieving Co-Equal Goals: The Administration's proposal reiterates that federal water resources planning and development should both protect and restore the environment and improve the economic well-being of the nation for present and future generations.
In many ways, the proposed revisions to Federal guidelines are similar in its goals to California's 2009 water legislation. But there are some key differences. As of 2009, the State of California defines co-equal goals in the following way.
'Coequal goals' means the two goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem.
In both cases, the concept of co-equal goals is used to elevate environmental considerations to be equally important as economic considerations. But the California law limits itself to one narrow economic consideration, water supply reliability, and there continues to be confusion over what exactly "reliability" means.

Yes, I realize that California's 'coequal goals' is followed by this statement,
The coequal goals shall be achieved in a manner that protects and enhances the unique cultural, recreational, natural resource, and agricultural values of the Delta as an evolving place.
That adds a few additional economic considerations, but the economic concerns in the Delta are a lot bigger than Delta Ag and recreation. Even when it comes to Delta ag and recreation, some emphasize the importance of the words "unique" and "evolving" to severely restrict their consideration.  The issue goes well beyond a lack of proper consideration for the Delta and regional economy, but a completely inadequate consideration of costs and impacts on taxpayers and ratepayers across the state through the continuing neglect of economics and finance.

The elevation of water supply reliability over other economic considerations makes California's definition of co-equal appear discriminatory and arbitrary when compared to "economic well-being of the nation for present and future generations" in the federal language.  I doubt it is discriminatory in a 14th amendment way, but I can see no compelling reason for the state to elevate the importance of water supply reliability among all economic concerns and I doubt that was the legislature's intent.  The use of a more inclusive term "economic well-being" would still allow for full and fair consideration of water supply reliability in formulating Delta plans.  I actually think it would make it easier for the agencies who have to make Delta plans and implement them since there are accepted methods and definitions that can be used for evaluating "economic well-being".

If I were in the California Assembly, I would introduce the Co-Equal Goal redefinition act to make California's co-equal goals more consistent with this federal language.  It would simply revise the definition to the following...
'Coequal goals' means the two goals of improving the economic well-being of California for present and future generations, and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem.

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