9 Californians who play key roles in water policy

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9 Californians who play key roles in water policy

Category : Written by others

Published at E&E Publishing, January 19, 2016
Written by Debra Kahn

After four years of a crushing drought, Californians are hoping El Niño storms bring relief this winter.

But whether they replenish the state’s reservoirs and rebuild its crucial snowpack remains to be seen, with many experts cautioning that the state’s water deficit is too severe to be resolved in one rainy year.

So 2016 promises to be another critical year in California water policy centering on politically charged discussions of whether Gov. Jerry Brown (D) will extend urban conservation mandates and succeed in dramatically reshaping Northern California’s water infrastructure with the construction of two 30-mile-long tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta.

Also to be considered: how to divide a $7.5 billion water bond measure voters approved in 2014 and whether the state will move forward with new dam and storage projects — a path that environmentalists are watching with trepidation.

The stakes are high for the state with the world’s eighth-largest economy, including an agricultural sector worth more than $42 billion and the booming tech industry in Silicon Valley.

Below are nine players who stand poised to have a significant influence on California water this year.

Chris Austin, Maven’s Notebook

Austin, a self-professed “obsessive-compulsive California water news junkie,” is perhaps the most unbiased water expert in the state.

From her home in Santa Clarita, at the northern tip of Los Angeles County, she monitors all the goings-on in California concerning water — hearings, meetings, conferences, public comments, op-eds and news coverage — for her blog, Maven’s Notebook. She sends daily digest emails to her 2,000 subscribers, and it’s all free.

Austin, 53, takes pains to differentiate herself from journalists. She provides bare facts, without digging for more or providing analysis.

“I add context, but I don’t try to debate it,” she said. “[If] that’s what you said at the meeting, that’s what it is. It’s such a highly controversial world of California water that it doesn’t piss people off. As long as they see that I cover all the sides, they actually like it.”

Her website has seen an increase in traffic as the drought has progressed. In 2015, she had 575,000 page views and 173,000 individual visitors, about a 28 percent increase over 2014.

Austin plans to add an advisory board this year made up of “medium-size players in the water community” like John Woodling, executive director of the Sacramento-area Regional Water Authority. She also has funding from bigger players: the state Department of Water Resources and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Before she began water blogging in 2007, Austin was a recording engineer and did operations for a postproduction studio in Hollywood, where she worked on TV shows, Disney projects and a disproportionate number of Barbie commercials. She still has a professional sound editing system in her house and edits music for local figure skaters.

“I kind of understand what people like, in an entertainment sense,” she said. “I think I have that sense and apply it to the blog and make it sparkly and interesting. Every once in a while, there’s a little humor on the blog.”

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