Working with Regulators, Dealing with Bureaucrats

Whenever you divert water, you’ll inevitably have to deal with people.  There are laws and rules about the diversion, use, return, and other factors of water use…and of course laws are made by people.  These aren’t the laws of physics or chemistry, of course, but human laws.  The documents and organizations that establish, make, change, and enforce water laws and rules include the California Constitution, the Legislature and Governor, the Courts at various levels, and everyone’s favorite: federal, state, and local agencies.

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Agencies, otherwise known as bureaucracies, all have one thing in common.  They are all run and staffed by people.  Some people are easy to deal with, others aren’t.  Some act like normal folks, and others hide behind the requirements of a job.

What exactly is a bureaucracy?  Here is a very good explanation:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bureaucracy

Really, 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.

There are some money-saving, hassle-saving methods to dealing with bureaucrats.  These are time-tested and have worked for me and many others.  Hopefully these will aid you in dealing with an agency or a particularly difficult bureaucrat.

  1. Do some research.  “Google it”, as the saying goes, and learn about the agency you are dealing with.  Google 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 WalMart 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.
  4. Always be polite during at least 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.
  5. Explain your problem or need in as few words as possible.  That way a helpful person can get you the help you need quickly, without strain on your vocal cords or his or her ear.
  6. Give thanks and credit to the people who help you.  Write their bosses a note about the great work they did in helping you.
  7. 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 involved.
  8. On the other hand, if the answer 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. If needed, know 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.
  12. If you are being harassed or threatened by an agency and you are pretty sure they are going above and beyond their 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 half or more bureaucratic actions off right at the knees.  Ask for them to include references to all laws, rules, regulations, codes, court cases, etc., that they are relying on.
  13. 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.  There are some particularly effective ways of jumpstarting a stuck process, but I won’t list those here because I don’t want to make the bureaucrats I have to deal with angry.  As suggested at the start of this list, use the Internet.
  14. 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!

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Solving Diverters' Headaches To Provide Peace Of Mind And Help Stay Out Of Trouble. Helping California residents understand, define, and protect their water rights since 2005.

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