Everyone (urban, enviro, farmers) claims rights to that water. Since there is not enough to go around, they all sue each other. These lawsuits have been happening for over 25 years and are not going anywhere. (Yesterday's post on how bureaucrats will not solve the problem.)
Here's how I would "fix" the Delta:
- Assign property rights to all those who claim them. Some claims are spurious, but many are valid. Rights are awarded in order of seniority.
- Establish minimum environmental flows for the Delta
- Allocate "rights" to water above the minimum according to property rights, e.g., if "excess water" is found to equal 80 percent of rights, holders of the weakest (most recent) 20 percent of rights get no allocation.
- Allow all holders of rights to sell to all comers -- urban, agricultural or environmental -- in auctions.
Bottom Line: The easiest way to "fix" a dispute over a private good* (e.g., water) is by using markets to reconcile claims.
* The economic definition of a private good is a good that no two people can use simultaneously and a good from which others can be excluded from using. Although some may argue that Delta water is a common pool good (nobody can be excluded from use), I don't think anyone can pull substantial amount of water without others noticing...