November 23, 2011 12:41pm
A recurring sentiment expressed in a series of meetings in the five counties about the Delta was that power and money drive decisions about water policy.
“Decisions are not made on science, always on politics,” said one participant, the researchers say.
“The residents showed a high-level of knowledge about the Delta and its ecosystem, but expressed skepticism that policymakers would listen to their views,” says Jodi Cassell, UC Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor.
The discussions were held in Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano and Yolo counties. The Community Water Conversations Project aimed to provide community members with an opportunity to discuss and learn about water policy options in the state in a “facilitated, non-threatening and positive environment,” the report says.
The project was launched to provide Delta residents with an opportunity to discuss water issues in-depth and share their knowledge with one another, says Shelley Murdock, UC Cooperative Extension community development advisor and director for Contra Costa County, who organized the project with Carole Paterson, who was UC Cooperative Extension community development advisor for Solano County until her recent retirement.
“Residents told us that many events were held in which experts and policymakers provided their points of view, but they didn’t seem to absorb the public’s perspective,” says Ms. Murdock. “We wanted to give the residents a forum in which to be heard.”
Many participants expressed dissatisfaction with the current water allocation process and proposals to resolve water issues, the researcher say.
“Based on these conversations, we think that water agencies and managers should consider new models for public participation that provide community members with opportunities to share their knowledge, views and values regarding natural resources,” says Ms. Murdock. “Through models like the Conversations Program, agencies and communities can exchange information and ideas, creating the potential for more innovative approaches to management.”
Participants said they would like to see more public education about water, including its use, reuse and conservation.
“Education is the key, for personal choices and for public policy,” said a resident. “Too many people are unaware.”
The UC Cooperative Extension team analyzed detailed notes to assess common themes among the suggestions made during the conversations. The researchers plan to share the views with policymakers and other stakeholders to increase their awareness and understanding.
To summarize their findings, they produced a short report and a 13-minute video containing some of the comments made at the meetings.
They can be viewed at http://ucanr.org/sites/CAH2OConversations. At this website, visitors can comment on the project, report and video.
The 10 water conversations were held in libraries in Martinez, Suisun City, Moraga, Oakley, Elk Grove, Stockton, Walnut Grove and West Sacramento between May and August of 2010 and were attended by 128 area residents.
University of California Cooperative Extension cohosted the meetings with non‐partisan organizations California Center for the Book, the Water Education Foundation, the California State Library, and California National Issues Forums network.