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A Visit with New Council Chair Randy Fiorini

March 2014

Growing up on his family’s tree fruit and wine grape farm in Turlock, Council Chair Randy Fiorini gained an early appreciation for the importance of water, science and the land – an appreciation that only grew stronger over time as he took on various leadership roles in statewide water policy development.

In January Fiorini was elected Chair of the Delta Stewardship Council after serving a four-year term as Vice-Chair. With a nod to the man he calls a mentor, former Chair Phil Isenberg, Fiorini said, “The first order of business is to continue to build on the good work that we’ve done together and build an effective team approach to the work that we do here.

“We have such a huge, huge task before us and it’s going to be impossible to do everything right away that the Delta Plan sets out,” he said. “So we’ve got to find a way to set reasonable priorities and then empower our staff to carry those out. We’re in the midst of that process.”

Implementation of the Delta Plan requires cooperation and leadership from a number of other agencies and interested parties. Fiorini said many of the actions recommended in the Delta Plan are things that others told us they wanted to do or that they are required to do. ”There’s a community of leaders and agencies that have many of the same desires the DSC has to get things done.

“Because we don’t control the work plans of other agencies, we’ve got to find a way to align priorities,” he said. "That doesn’t come through strong-arming, that doesn’t come through begging; that comes through relationship building.”

Fiorini views his main responsibility as developing good, trusting working relationships with the leaders of the other agencies and stakeholder groups that are key to carrying out any action, big or small.

The Council is in a transition, having spent over three years working on developing a Delta Plan. The orientation of meetings when developing a plan is not the same orientation needed to organize around implementing a plan.

“We do a great job of highlighting issues and bringing knowledgeable people to address the Council and talk about particular issues and that’s all great,” he said. “But I want the meeting to serve a higher purpose than to just disseminate information. I want each Council meeting to be closely tied to what’s in the Delta Plan, what’s in our recommendations… to bring in people who can help us to better understand what the opportunities are, what the risks are, and where to engage beyond this knowledge to better and more effectively implement those recommendations in the Delta Plan.”

“The end of the meeting isn’t the end of the meeting,” Fiorini said. “The end of the meeting marks a beginning of having learned a few things, some extra steps that staff can do to help move things along, coordinate things among other agencies and enlist the help of others that may not be in an agency but have a significant interest in a particular issue.”

He envisions a thoughtful, planned approach for a season of meetings with each leading to some action beyond just gaining knowledge about particular issues.

As vice-chair he was in and out of Sacramento and Stewardship Council work about two days a week, but with the Chairmanship comes the responsibility to “treat this full time; that provides me a much greater opportunity to engage with other leaders.”

He’s committed now to creating a schedule every week that includes this focus on relationship building.

“I enjoy the people that are involved in this industry,” he said. “It’s probably one of the most important public policy arenas in California right now because of concerns of inadequate water supply and areas that are suffering greatly and we’re not even halfway through the water year. My excitement comes through the ability to interact with more leaders and interested parties. Hopefully that will lead to helping me to better evaluate where the DSC can add value to the work that’s going to happen in the near future and long-term as well.”

Fiorini’s public involvement with water issues began in 1992 when he was elected director of the Turlock Irrigation District where he served for over 16 years. He has also served as president of the San Joaquin River Group Authority, president of the California Farm Water Coalition, and president of the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA). The latter was his first hands-on, up-close exposure to water issues statewide.

“I had a very good understanding of issues related to the area where I served and grew up and worked,” he said, “but California is a complex state, so at ACWA I gained a huge appreciation for the good work that water agencies are doing up and down the state with a variety of challenges and varying degrees of resources and resource capabilities.”

That experience was helpful for him to be “a little more realistic about what can be done” and also provides him with a good foundation of relationships with leaders up and down the state.

“I have a great, great deal of respect for the leaders among the various water agencies as well as the NGOs that have a stake in water policy and environmental policy,” Fiorini said. “There are some really good people out there that I’ve had the privilege of meeting and working with for a number of years.”

Although he loves his new work as Chair, he also loves going home every night to his wife and the ranch in Turlock.

“It helps to maintain a healthy perspective on the work up here. I don’t ever want to get so involved in the work that I forget my roots,” he said. “I think health is a result of making balanced decisions and whether it is diet and exercise or work and play, or work and family you’ve got to have a balance. And I think a good leader is one that is able to say no to things.”

Coequal goals

The Delta Stewardship Council was created in legislation to achieve the state mandated coequal goals for the Delta. "'Coequal goals' means the two goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem. The coequal goals shall be achieved in a manner that protects and enhances the unique cultural, recreational, natural resource, and agricultural values of the Delta as an evolving place." (CA Water Code §85054)