March 19, 2007 - From the March, 2007 issue

The Guard Has Changed at MWD: Environmentalist Tim Brick Is Chair

As a matter of policy, the guard has changed on the board of the Metropolitan Water District, but the mission remains the same: provide safe, reliable water to 18 million customers. Responsibility for this daunting task falls to the MWD board, a diverse group of representatives from member cities across Southern California. No two cities are alike in any aspect other than their mutual need for water. As longtime board member Tim Brick assumes the chair, MWD is keeping close track of developments throughout the state, especially those that relate to last year's infrastructure bonds and the billions that the state will invest in water-related infrastructure. MIR was pleased to speak with Mr. Brick about his personal goals-which revolve around environmental stewardship-and his goals for the agency under his tenure.


Tim Brick

You've served on the MWD Board as a representative of Pasadena for over 20 years; you were vice chair from 1998 to 2000 and now you are chair. What agenda will the MWD pursue under your chairmanship? What are your priorities?

I think we are entering an era in which a lot can get done. This is a time for leadership to provide solutions to a lot of the problems that have dogged us for many decades. I think that there has been a convergence of forces-at the state level, here at Metropolitan, and even at the federal level-that has created conditions for substantial progress. Metropolitan has been emphasizing reliability planning for many years-10 or 20 years depending on how you count it. Some of the challenges are to go from reliability planning to sustainability planning, to broaden our portfolio, and to increase our efforts in the areas of local resources, water conservation, and recycling, while stabilizing our basic supplies on the Colorado River and from the State Water Project.

As a 22-year veteran, how have your priorities for state and Southern California water policies evolved, and how do your current priorities reflect that evolution?

I have long advocated strong conservation programs and demand-management programs. I've encouraged Metropolitan to evolve from being more than just an agency that imports water.

Until the early '80s, Metropolitan's primary function was to import water. We had two sources: the Colorado River and the State Water Project. Since then we've developed a much broader portfolio of supply, which includes recycling, conservation, desalination, and local resources. Our responsibilities have changed; we've become more of a planning agency. Our sense of environmental stewardship has also changed.

When I came on the board I told the mayor of Pasadena that MWD needed someone who believed in environmental stewardship on their board. The mayor at that time was Bill Bogaard, who is mayor again today. He agreed with that position. I have, I think, been consistent with that position, and Metropolitan has evolved in that direction in very strong ways.

Surely you don't subscribe to Emerson's notion that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds"? You views must have evolved.

I have. The weight of providing reliable water supply for 18 million people is enormous. I think that I have a more pragmatic attitude about the kinds of solutions and partnerships that are needed for the future-and how we can balance those goals with our environmental responsibilities.

Last month, MIR ran an interview with Ron Gastelum and Michael George. The former is MWD's former general manager, and Michael is a private water executive. In their interview, they both pointed out that expected demands for investment of bond funds will press for allocations between surface water storage and conservation, with some focus also on groundwater storage. But the real issues, they believed, will be how the stakeholders force others, not the stakeholders, to pay for all these investments. How will this political contest is going to play out?

That is quite a task. I think the packages are still being shaped so it is difficult to de-mystify. We believe in the principle that the users and stakeholders who are creating costs ought to be paying for them.

We believe that the governor's bond package is an interesting set of proposals. It's not clear what the benefits of some the pieces are to Metropolitan. We're still evaluating the real benefit of the bond package-is this really the right mix for our 18 million customers throughout Southern California? We're looking to see how much we stand to benefit from surface storage reservoirs in Northern California. It includes important elements for Delta protections, but it doesn't really deal with developing a more reliable water system.

We think that is the key issue with regard to the state's water picture-developing a reliable water supply through the state water system while providing the environmental protections that are necessary for that system.

I think that groundwater deserves a stronger emphasis than it is currently receiving in Sacramento. There is tremendous potential for managing groundwater resources throughout the state (which would have significant savings over some of the other options as well). This is what I meant when I said that we are entering a period when a lot can be accomplished, but there are tensions pulling in different directions, and it remains to be seen whether we can resolve all of them to come up with an acceptable package.

In that MIR interview Ron Gastelum said, "The environmental issue as stated is as wrong as the pro-storage position. We need a portfolio of resources, and we need to spend our money efficiently." Ron would focus on conservation first, the Delta conveyance second, and then storage and other options later. Are those priorities consistent with yours?

I think it is. I think Ron is very pragmatic, and so am I. I would say that groundwater storage, in particular, is part of conservation.

The wide variety of programs that sit under conservation will provide the supplies for growth in Southern California. I would say that the second priority is to create a reliable supply through the Delta conveyance system. Storage is a little further down the list for us.

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Several months ago General Manager Jeff Kightlinger told MIR that the MWD needs to diversify its water portfolio. Can you elaborate on what he meant?

We have been moving toward a diversified water portfolio, particularly with the Integrated Resources Plan that came out in the mid-90s. And I think we are going to continue moving in that direction. A diversified water portfolio means that we emphasize the local resources; water use efficiency; conservation programs; better management of groundwater resources; and we emphasize a wide variety of efficiency and reliability programs to ensure a reliable supply for Southern California.

Senator Simitian has introduced legislation that would revive the discussion about an alternative to the Delta, namely some form of canal or throughput to Southern California. Is that essential if we are to move forward?

I think we need to look at the situation with regard to the levees and the environmental health of the Delta, the crash of the pelagic species in the Delta and the environmental crisis in the Delta all need to be part of the calculation. We need to learn the lessons from Hurricane Katrina about the vulnerability of the Delta, which could lead to an outage in the state's water system that could last anywhere from six months to three years for over 20 million people. We have a vulnerable, fragile environment there.

The governor has established a Delta visioning process. They're looking at the big issues: What should be the future of the Delta? How do we create the right kind of governance structure? How do we pay for it? That process is working its way through. I think everything needs to be on the table. I think Senator Simitian's suggestion that some sort of a new version of the Peripheral Canal needs to be on the table along with a range of other options.

For Southern California, there are three issues with regard to the Delta that are particularly important. One is ensuring a reliable water supply from the Delta. The second is improving water quality. And the third is that we from Southern California, need to recognize the importance of the Delta. Whether the water we receive is coming through the Delta or going around it, we need to make a commitment to ensuring the long-term health of the Delta environment.

MWD is one of the few successful and long-tenured public regional organizations in California. How do you explain the fact that we all know that regions matter, and yet in California they are so rare in the public sector?

That is a key question that political leaders and analysts have tried to deal with, and it doesn't seem to me that there is an easy answer. We have struggled with making regional governance work appropriately. In Metropolitan's case, there was an era of cooperation that gave birth to Metropolitan in the late '20s.

The cities of Southern California decided that instead of fighting each other over water-which was the alternative, and they were doing it at that time-they would back off and link together in cooperation. In doing that, the city of Los Angeles exercised a lot of leadership, as did my city, Pasadena, and set a tone for cooperation that has more or less continued to this day.

We still have our regional tensions here at Metropolitan, but in general there is a sense that we are all in this together and that we are going to work together. Metropolitan created a governance structure for making the key decisions about water in this semiarid region, but also for providing a financing mechanism that provides, literally, billions of dollars to provide water system reliability for the health and economy of Southern California.

Tell us about the Arroyo Seco Foundation. How does your work as its executive director relate to the L.A. River Master Plan, which is the subject of an article in this month's Planning Report?

The Arroyo Seco is a tremendous tributary of the Los Angeles River. We've been working for many years to develop a watershed management program in the Arroyo Seco that takes into account the wide range of activities that should be a part of watershed management program, including stream and flood management, habitat, recreational opportunities, and water resources and conservation.

We've been developing cooperation between about 20 public agencies and about 40 community-based organizations, which have formed the Council of Arroyo Seco Organizations. We are moving forward with a restoration feasibility study, and an Army Corps of Engineers ecosystem study has been initiated on the Arroyo Seco.

We believe that Arroyo Seco is a key part of the Los Angeles River system and that the confluence of Arroyo Seco and the Los Angeles River is a very important site. Really, it's the heart of Los Angeles. Historically it explains why the pueblo of Los Angeles was founded where it was in 1781, because of the flood flows from the Los Angeles River meeting the flood flows of Arroyo Seco. The early founders of the city needed to move the pueblo a little bit out of that area.

We think that Arroyo Seco has tremendous potential as a model for the restoration of the Los Angeles River. The new L.A. River Revitalization plan, I think, lays out an exciting vision for what a restored river can be. But that plan needs to broaden its focus to look also at the tributaries and the broader watershed if it is going to have significance. If it does that, it can be more effective in terms of dealing with flood issues, water conservation, habitat restoration, and even wildlife enhancement.

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