I was interested and surprised when Carly Fiorina started her discussion of issues with a reference to the Delta smelt. Water politics are astoundingly complicated in California; a shorthand reference to them can be difficult - people just don't know what you're talking about, even though the complex circulatory system that keeps water moving through this state is almost literally the heart of the state's environment AND economy. (Not to prove my own point by example.)
Her answers suggest to me that she's going to rely very heavily on Central Valley farmers - her putative base - to come out for her. But can she trust that her potential supporters in big cities - particularly in southern California - get her drift? (and that nobody else will?)
Fiorina got the first question on jobs and the economy - she was asked what regulations she would cut. She blamed the decision to cut off water to the Central Valley - made to protect the endangered Delta Smelt - on a "nameless, faceless bureaucrat." That part of California's water system is operated by the federal government, check this map of the central California part:
I assume she was referring to the writer of a biological opinion related to the Delta Smelt. But the decision to shut off the pumps actually was made by Judge Oliver W. Wanger. Just to give the faceless guy a name. The faceless bureaucrats, they're the ones who wrote the opinion supporting the right of the water receivers to get their water. But anyway.
Fiorina has made water for Central Valley farmers a key piece of her environmental policy. This isn't news - though I don't think it's discussed often, part. Nor is the answer to me she gave when I asked about her views on the price of water for large scale farmers like Westlands surprising: she said, it's complicated. "Bringing relief to California farmers in the Central Valley is one of my highest priorities." Maybe you don't know how it is in the central valley.
Now, I had water issues on the brain after the Los Angeles San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council sponsored symposium tuesday on the Science Behind Water Policy - where we heard from Tim Quinn of ACWA, Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute, Barry Nelson of the NRDC, Adan Ortega with Water Conservation Partners, and Bo Cutter, an economist from Pomona College. And I do know about the plight of farmers: as I mentioned to Fiorina, my dad is a lawyer in private practice in San Francisco; he has for many years represented agricultural co-ops in the state's breadbasket: rice growers and almond growers among them.
And so I erred on the side of a nerd question. But it's a good nerd question, and the water policy it's about includes implications for our climate, for our economy, and for our environment. The question was, some farmers already get water at prices way below market. Would she keep up that practice if she got into the Senate?
I'm not convinced - certainly not by this debate - Barbara Boxer has better answers for how to manage the federal water projects in California. But it doesn't tell me too much about Fiorina's water policy for her to say she'd sit down and talk to Dianne Feinstein, then maybe look into more storage and infrastructure (for the uninitiated, that's code for "dams"). What it does tell me is she knows how to get the attention of farmers.