California’s new water czar introduces herself
by Gene Beley, CVBT Correspondent

December 3, 2017 9:01pm
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•  Eileen Sobeck is the new executive director of the State Water Resources Control Board

•  “We’re not talking about the long term horizon but the next year or 18 months”


Eileen Sobeck
(Photo from video by Gene Beley)

Eileen Sobeck, the new executive director of the California State Water Resources Control Board, has a sense of humor that will serve her well as she deals with the state’s unending water woes and wars.

She’s a Stanford graduate, an attorney, and former Davis resident who has spent 38 years in federal jobs in Washington D.C. This included positions in the Department of Justice, Department of the Interior, and as director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“This has been a great opportunity to come back to the state as a recovering lawyer and recovering federal bureaucrat,” she told the Mountain Counties Resources Association in Auburn (MCWRA) at a recent water symposium.

“I’ve heard every lawyer and fish joke in the book and I don’t laugh at them anymore,” she said. “But the last few weeks I found myself laughing at farming and water jokes. I seem to be the only one laughing because everyone else has heard the jokes 50 times. So you can do me a favor today and tell me all of your old chestnuts of farming and water jokes so I can get them out of my system and won’t look like a newbie.”

“It has been a real privilege to come back and learn about the issues that are facing all of us in California,” she continued. “I don’t think it has ever been more important. I’ve been totally overwhelmed at the wealth of knowledge — the positive collaborative effort to deal with tough issues. I know we’ve been coming off a rough drought and a good water year. It seems to have brought out the best in everyone.”

Despite her background, Mrs. Sobeck said she has been surprised at some things upon returning to California.

“I was a little bit surprised when I got here and found out one of the most immediate things was adopting a new statewide policy of establishing strict environmental standards for cannabis cultivation. This is something we didn’t really deal with at the federal level part of the Justice Department but seriously, it could not be a more important issue to deal with the implementation of statewide legislation involving cannabis,” she said. “If you’re going to bring a new part of industry online, doing it the right way and trying to get it done collaboratively the first time around is very important for the action the Board took last week to move forward on that.”

She said the Board continues to pursue its priorities regarding the state’s human rights water program. “We’re working to consolidate small water districts. What we’ve found is the problems in small water districts in the state are the wine county’s fires. There were a number of very small water districts where facilities burned to the ground who don’t have the resources to bring themselves back on line. We’re moving to look at opportunities to merge smaller systems or work with those who are adjacent to larger a system to make sure that doesn’t happen again elsewhere.

Also on the to-do list, she said:

• “We are working at implementing permanent regulations to figure out the state’s water conservation way of life in a campaign to figure out which emergency drought measures should be made permanent.

• “We are looking to finalized our procedures for dredge and fill materials, our wetlands regulations, aquatic toxicity, and state wide standards for bacteria and water quality. We’re not talking about the long term horizon but the next year or 18 months.

She also talked about Gov. Edmund Gerald Brown Jr.’s push to build massive twin water tunnels beneath the California Delta, an underground version of his voter-rejected Peripheral Canal of the 1980s. The tunnels scheme is marketed as the “WaterFix.”

“This (Brown) administration has made a lot of demands on the board but I think the State Water Resources Control Board chaired by Felicia Marcus has really stepped up to the plate on that. The state ‘Water Fix’ is proceeding and the board is in the middle of working on it and will recommence in the middle of January and [it] once again will be front and center on the board’s plate.”

She said she and the board wants input from everyone involved on Bay Delta issues. “It’s going to take many actions from many different players. Our part is to amend and update our water quality control plan for the Bay-Delta that hasn’t been done substantially for 20 years.

“We have a mandate to get this out and done as soon as we can. It is a major planning process.” It has been divided into two phases. She said this includes updating San Joaquin River flows for protection of fish and wildlife as well as South Delta salinity for protection of agriculture. “It’s one of the Board’s top priorities,” said Mrs. Sobeck.

The second is in-flow requirements for the San Joaquin River and its east side Delta tributaries plus habitat for fish and wildlife protection.

Mrs. Sobeck said, while flow is critical, “we recognize that flows alone will not adequately protect fish and wildlife. We’ve heard extensive comments and heard extensive testimony that indicate more flow structures such as loss of habitat are contributing to the decline of the Delta ecosystem.”

“We are trying to take that into account.”

California’s new State Resources Control Board Executive Director, Eileen Sobeck, introduces herself from Gene Beley on Vimeo.


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