November 11th, 2012

Aboard the Wacky Jacky, Destination Unknown

Category: October Meeting
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Phase 1 of the Delta Dialogues wrapped up on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, with a briefing tour by commercial fishermen, a wild salmon lunch, and a fast-paced afternoon of conversation.

The conversation among participants shifted between the difficult daily lives of salmon fishermen and unanimous pledges from participants in attendance to continue the dialogues into a second phase — a phase for which there is as yet no funding.

The afternoon Dialogues, at the Aquarium of the Bay, were built around a detailed summing up of the process, as participants went back through the Dialogue Maps from the six months of the process. Those interactive maps, viewed together, represented a living document of the process, showing shared understanding in three broad areas: about the legacy of broken promises in the Delta, the complexity of the numerous stressors for the Delta, and the need for greater improvement and inclusion in existing Delta planning processes.

The participants added to those maps thoughts from one last exercise in which they were asked to post yellow notes on a wall upon which they had written answer to the question: What do we need to do to better meet stakeholders needs with current conveyance over the next 15 years?

The answers were wide-ranging and could frame future discussions: Improve water flow for species in the Delta, restore habitat (starting with experiments), continue trust building, understanding interests / getting to yes, more science and adaptive management, get better, improve water supply reliability, improve water quality, deal with additional stressors make hard decisions, and create spaces in Delta governance where everyone has a voice.

Based on a show of hands, the participants voted to focus this last meeting of Phase 1 on trust building. The detailed conversation included a provocative suggestion from Nancy Ullrey of the Delta Conservancy that the Delta needed a process something like the truth and reconciliation process after the troubles in Northern Ireland — a way to deal fully and forthrightly with the past, and move forward together so Delta stakeholders can verify what they’re doing, and its effects.

The discussion followed a morning-long field trip — including a stop on the sport fishing boat Wacky Jacky — that participants called powerful. Fishermen who work in the Bay and Delta described the decline of their industry. The pain is not merely financial; fisherman Larry Collins said he had seen friends and colleagues disappear, and in at least one case commit suicide because of the decline of fishing.

One point of emphasis: the fishing industry had been willing to accept less to protect fish and water — including shutting down the California salmon fishing in recent years — but other interests that affect the Delta and fishing had been unwilling to sacrifice for the long-term greater good.

The fishermen also described in detail how they work — catching one fish at a time under California rules — and shared stories (especially about the evils of sea lions — “fur bags” because they eat lots of the salmon that the fishermen want to catch).

Participants, as they recounted the conversation with fishermen, described one regret about the field trip: that Dialogues participants from agriculture and the water agencies were unable to attend because they were traveling.

Facilitator Kristin Cobble of Groupaya concluded the meeting by reminding the participants, “You have built relationships. You have built trust. Now you are ready to be bold together. If you can be bold together, you will see results.”

Participants pledged to support a continuation of the dialogues, though their ambitions varied. Some said they hoped the dialogues could be a forum for developing practical solutions and deals to the Delta’s real problems. Others indicated they liked to preserve the dialogues as a “safe space” or “safe container” for conversations that could not be had in more formal settings and in the official planning processes within the Delta. Some suggested that both could be part of the dialogues future.

Campbell Ingram of the Delta Conservancy said he felt that the spirit and work of the Delta should infuse those planning processes. “The sentiment at the table going around is very, very different than the BDCP table or the Delta Stewardship Council. I want to bring more of this into these processes.” Ingram added that “as the issues get more contentious, there’s a more solid foundation to get into the issues” in future conversations.

When and where those conversations will take place was uncertain.