I am the Delta Watermaster, Are You the Smelt Gatekeeper?

A long time ago in a Legislature far, far away, newly elected Assembly Speaker Willie Brown attempted to lure his former education consultant, John Mockler, into abandoning his lucrative work as a textbook industry lobbyist and return to Brown’s staff.

Mockler agreed and asked Brown if he cared what job title he chose for himself. Brown said it didn’t matter to him.

“Viceroy” was Mockler’s selection.

Requests for business cards identifying him as same were repeatedly rebuffed by the State Printer. Only on his 60th birthday, well after leaving Brown’s employ, did he receive a cardboard facsimile of a state business card bearing the title “Viceroy.” His colleague, Rick Simpson, now Assembly Speaker Karen Bass’ top education adviser, presented it to him.

The state is not known for investing its job titles with majesty or gravitas.

Tax Technician II, Information Officer I, Examiner II, Laboratory Field Services, Research Analyst or Senior Emergency Management Coordinator are not exactly the stuff of Homeric verse.

But there are always exceptions that make the rule. And Chapter 4 of SB1 7X, which adds Section 85230 to the state Public Resources Code, is that exception.

Authored by Sen. Joe Simitian, a Palo Alto Democrat, the bill is the policy centerpiece of the recently enacted package of legislation aimed at improving the state’s water delivery system and the degraded ecosystem of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Section 85230 creates the job of “Delta Watermaster.”

The title positively thrums with power. It carries almost the same nobility as the English Highwayman and his fabled cry, “Stand and deliver.”

There’s an almost Old World cast to the phrase.

“He abandoned the clergy and the cooperage, embracing Buddhism and zuda. Now he is called Delta Watermaster.”

Otherworldliness, too:

“I am the Delta Watermaster, are you the Smelt Gatekeeper?”

While the bill is silent on the details, it seems implicit work would begin at the Watermaster’s headquarters with an Administrative Assistant I — or perhaps Grade II – piping him through the doors.

“The Watermaster is in the Wheelhouse,” the assistant somberly intones as heels throughout the building click sharply in unison.

Scrambled eggs on the cap and epaulets on the shoulders? Goes without saying.

It would be a whole other kettle of salmonid if a woman gets named to the post.

“You overdrafting slut, crawl to me and tongue clean my waders before I tear up your water rights,” the Delta Watermistress screams as her bullwhip cracks against the wooden dock.

Lycra. Tight-fitting scuba wear. Stainless steel Poseidon triad. De rigueur.

A considerable difficulty in filling the post, which has a four-year term, is that s strong title requires a strong name to accompany it.

Jim Stubbins or Ned Smith can’t be Delta WaterMaster. Bat Masterson could. Rod Iron. Chuck Steak. But not Ted Banister.

Old Testament names might be a good starting point for the appointing authority, which appears to be the board of the newly created Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy, in consultation with the newly created Delta Stewardship Council. 

Some names of candidates worthy of consideration: Zebulon, Hezekiah, Mordecai, Jedediah, Zadok, Enoch, Caleb and, for the full-on water tie-in: Ishmael.

However, those seeking the title might want to acquaint themselves with the job responsibilities.

“The Delta Watermaster shall exercise the board’s authority to provide timely monitoring and enforcement of board orders and license and permit terms and conditions,” reads paragraph (b) of Section 85230 of the Public Resources Code.

“The Delta Watermaster’s delegated authority shall include authority to require monitoring and reporting, authority for approvals delegated to an officer or employee of the board by the terms of a water right permit or license, authority to approve temporary urgency changes pursuant to Chapter 6.6 (commencing with Section 1435) of Part 2 of Division 2, and authority to issue a notice of proposed cease and desist order or administrative civil liability complaint,” the paragraph continues.

Not exactly Knights of the Round Table or Charge of the Light Brigade.

And when not issuing proposed cease and desist orders and requiring monitoring and reporting, the Watermaster is submitting “regular reports (As opposed to irregular ones) to the board and the council including, but not limited to, reports on water rights administration, water quality issues, and conveyance operations.”

Leave it to the State of California to create a title of grandeur and elegance and then saddle the bearer with a Sisyphean mountain of bureaucratic tedium.



Filed under: Venting


  1. More like the knights who say “neep”.

    Comment by virginia strom-martin — 11.10.2009 @ 8:09 am

  2. If the farmers grow shrubbery, all will be well

    Comment by Dave Halo — 11.10.2009 @ 11:20 am

  3. Given my current circumstances, I am very qualified to handle the position dealing with the smelt — “Masterbaiter!”

    Comment by M. Duvall — 11.10.2009 @ 2:08 pm

  4. Actually he has a point, but does not follow through. This position should be as imperial as he says, but it should be in the State Water Resources Control Board, and should apply to all surface water use, not just the delta, and all ground water use. Then we consolidate the SWRCB with the Department of Water Resources into The California Water Commission and have an agency responsible for the water economic health of the state.

    The Governator had some good ideas with blowing up the boxes. The legislature screwed him. This could have been a foot in the door of straightening out the water administration in the state.

    Too bad. Guess we will have to wait for the constitutional convention.

    Comment by Fred L. Curry — 11.10.2009 @ 7:58 pm

  5. Another Harold Ramis farce (\"Ghostbusters\"). Key Master, anyone?

    Comment by Robyn Boyer — 11.11.2009 @ 10:29 pm

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