The importance of looking independent

Governor Brown’s administration has proposed a government reorganization that would include making the Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) part of the Department of Water Resources (DWR) rather than an independent entity.  This week the Little Hoover Commission (an independent state oversight agency that investigates government operations) considered the reorganization plan and heard testimony on its effect on the DSC.

Resources Secretary John Laird, speaking on behalf of the Brown administration, argued that the change would improve communications and efficiency without changing the DSC’s policy authority.  Communication with DRW is already so seamless that Laird said he was surprised to learn that the DSC wasn’t already part of DWR.

Laird praised the “independent” work of the BDCP, ignoring the fact that it is a product of the overwhelming influence of water contractors on DWR.  Later, a commissioner mentioned the State Water Resources Control Board, which, like the DSC, was established by statute but which is part of the California Environmental Protection Agency.  He commented on how free from political interference the Water Board has been.  Are we talking about the same Water Board, the one that repeatedly has been unable to say “No” to an exporter request for more water?

The Little Hoover Commission heard from Senator Joe Simitian, author of the legislation that created the DSC, as well as from DSC chair Phil Isenberg and from Tom Zuckerman of the Central Delta Water Agency.  All opposed the proposal.

Simitian argued that the appearance of independence for the DSC is almost as important as the independence itself, and some of the commissioners appeared to agree.  He was skeptical about how independent from political influence a state agency can be.  Isenberg added that the two entities are already coordinating effectively, and he doesn’t see where there would be any important cost savings.  Zuckerman noted that the DSC was supposed to be re-examining state water policy and filling an appellate role, something that would be difficult when other agencies under DWR will be taking actions that might be appealed.

The DSC sometimes doesn’t look very independent to us, and Restore the Delta rarely agrees with Mr. Isenberg.  But in this case, we do.  We’d rather see the Stewardship Council continue its work with whatever level of independence from DWR it currently enjoys.

Related Posts