I worked 30 years as a bureaucrat. That gave me first-hand immersion in working with members of the public, especially water right holders who divert water from various streams in Northern California. When it comes to property rights, owners are intensely interested in getting problems solved, fast and hopefully permanently. As a property owner I will get the help of whoever I can and whoever it takes to solve my problem. On the flip side, when I worked for state government, I sure know what worked to get me to work on someone’s problem!
Whenever you divert water, you deal with people. Your neighbors are very interested in what you divert. They want you to use only your water right and hopefully less…and they want every possible law applied against whoever takes more than their legal share.
Laws are made by people. I’m not talking about God’s Laws which are not in your or my control. The man-made documents and organizations that establish, make, change, and enforce water laws and rules include:
- the California Constitution
- the Legislature
- the Governor
- Courts at various levels
- everyone’s favorite: federal, state, and local agencies
Agencies, otherwise known as bureaucracies, all have one thing in common. To emphasize a very important point: they are all run and staffed by people. Some folks are easy to deal with, others aren’t. Some are truly caring human beings, and others hide behind the policies of their employer.
What exactly is a bureaucracy? Here is a very good explanation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bureaucracy By the way, corporations are the same as bureaucracies in a lot of ways. Since we are talking about the diversion of surface water, that means bureaucracies. And bureaucrats.
The “How To” Rules
Here are some money-saving, hassle-saving methods to dealing with bureaucrats. These are time-tested and have worked for me and many others. When other people acted this way with me, when I was a bureaucrat, to get me to do something even when I was too busy – it worked! Hopefully these practices and techniques will aid you in dealing with an agency or a particularly difficult bureaucrat.
- Do some research. “Google It”, as the saying goes, and learn about the agency you are dealing with. (Actually, I am using Bing and DuckDuckGo as much as Google these days, to get accurate instead of popular results.) Search for comments by people who had the same problem as you. How did they handle it, and what was the result? Did someone have a particularly effective way of getting a problem solved? It might be worth an hour of your time to use the Internet to find out everything you can first.
- Document your problem in writing before contacting a bureaucracy, with text, photos, maps, drawings, contacts, everything you can get on paper. Scan it if possible so everything you have can be emailed.
- Assuming you are calling or talking to the person, write everything down. E-ver-y single thing. Date all the entries. Get each person’s name. You might buy a cheap spiral bound notebook at a Wal-Mart or Dollar store – or buy a few, and the ones you don’t use when dealing with bureaucrats you can use for a diary, or shopping lists, or dealing with corporations. Let the person know that you are keeping careful notes.
- Always be polite, and especially so during the first few contacts about a problem. Do not threaten, curse, yell, or any of those things that would be classified as “impolite”. If the person you are talking to gets unpleasant, just keep a record of it for later, and maintain your calm demeanor.
- Explain your problem or need in as few, relevant words as possible. Boil your problem into one or two specific things that you need done. That way a helpful person can get you the help you need quickly, without strain on your vocal cords or his or her ear.
- Don’t share your life story, complaints about your neighbor’s dog, the hassle you had getting your car repaired, or go into what a rotten, horrible person your neighbor is. That is wasted time. Unless what you say bears directly on the problem, it takes away working time from the person listening on the other end of the phone line, or reading your email, or sitting across the table from you. There may not be enough time left to solve your problem!
- Give thanks and credit to the people who help you. Call their boss or write the boss a note about the great work they did in helping you. Let everyone else you talk to about your problem know about those helpful people.
- If a bureaucrat says, “It’s not my job”, politely explain the person’s statutory/legal/moral or other obligation to help you, and the terrible consequences to you if the person does not carry out his or her agency’s mission. Give a reasonable estimate of the economic harm or cost involved.
- On the other hand, if the answer you get is “I have no idea how”, don’t get frustrated, get more contacts from the person. You’ll be following a trail, sometimes clear, sometimes through thick brush.
- If you are talking to the right person and cannot get the help you need, or an exemption from a rule, or whatever help you are looking for, ask to talk to the bureaucrat’s boss. Don’t insult the employee to the boss, just explain to the boss that he or she has the great power needed to help you.
- If the boss cannot help, ask to talk to his or her boss. See the pattern here? Be courageous and go up the line as high as you need to go.
- Take a few minutes and search online for the names and contact information of the people on the Board, or the Director, or the Chief, of the bureaucracy you are dealing with. It can help to let a bureaucrat know that you know who these people are, and while you really don’t want to have to go that far, you will contact them if necessary.
- If you are being harassed or threatened by an agency and you are pretty sure they are going above and beyond their authority or normal practice, there are ways to get them to back off or slow down and listen. Sometimes mentioning that they may be in violation of RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, can give them pause. Ask them for all communications in writing – that can cut up to half of bureaucratic actions off right at the knees. Ask bureaucrats to include references to all laws, rules, regulations, codes, court cases, etc., that they are relying on.
- Find the agencies, boards, or people to whom you can file a complaint, if you have exhausted all normal ways of getting the help you need and you haven’t been helped. You may even have to enlist the help of staff at your state legislator’s office, or your congressperson.
- Although it is expensive, you may have to hire an attorney.
That’s a long list, but if you are dealing with the State Water Resources Control Board, a lot of those folks are reasonable people. The main problem at the Board is that these folks have five times the work to do than they can get done. You’ll probably have to call several times to get someone’s attention. See Rules 1 and 2 above!
Note: Before founding Rights to Water Engineering Shawn Pike worked for the California Department of Water Resource for many years and was Water Master of numerous Northern California streams before founding Rights to Water Engineering in Los Molinos, California. You can contact him at: https://allwaterrights.com 530/526-0134 RightsToWaterEng1@gmail.com
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