21 Sep 2009

Delta Options: No People or No Fish

LP asks:
Do you answer questions from lay persons regarding the causes of water shortage in the Delta and the economics involved? I am interested in a simple language and time-frame or point explanation regarding the controversy over the EPA of the Delta Smeldt and farmers in the area, who say, "Just turn the water on." I have read several arguments but none seem very clear. Again, as a lay person, who is right and who is at fault here?
Hard to say who is at fault. Seems that several parties are at fault -- the farmers who take water and discharge runoff; the indigenous species; the communities that have taken over wetlands and discharge their sewage into the Delta.

So it's everyone's fault.

I think its more of an ecological (beyond sustainability) than economic (supply and demand) problem -- mostly because there were few prices and no markets involved.

Can economics be used to "fix" the delta? Probably not, except perhaps as a way of moving from here to there, e.g., by assigning property rights to someone (anyone!) and then letting others bid to buy/transfer/destroy those rights. [Read more on my "solution" here.]

But then you have to ask: what about the fish? Who represents them? And I am not sure. I am sure that the groups claiming to represent the fish are going to be imperfect (and perhaps conflicted) representatives.

Bottom Line: The Delta is "broken." There are two ways to fix it: End all human involvement or forget nature. (In other words, the misleading political fiction of "co-equal" goals -- simultaneously protecting environmental and human activities -- is impossible to achieve.)


  1. WaterSource/WaterBank21 Sep 2009, 17:28:00

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. The primary fault for today's "fish vs farmworkers" brawl are the MWD - and some central valley factory farmers who went to DWR after the state's supply of Colorado River water was capped by the feds in 2002, and convinced DWR to increase Delta water export to the valley and SoCal from 1.6 million AF in 2002 to over 6 million AF in2007. That huge increase in pumping almost destroyed the Delta's ecosystem, forcing the federal courts to step in and limit Delta exports for part of the year. The big valley farmers aren't happy about that, so they are quietly funding the leaders of the farmworker marches and paying for the posters and placards they are waving around at their rallies.

  3. I love it ... even the mention of a 3rd option ... DOOR NUMBER 3 ... gets me deleted ... PRICELESS !

  4. @Ray -- Yes, that's right. Opaque, joking or code-mentions of your project will get you deleted. If you want to post adverts, please send $5/each to me (Paypal is fine). Then we'll talk about "priceless."

  5. Have just scanned your paper. I generally share your position that making commitments to the money involved is absent from the current political processes regarding the Delta's future.

    Microcosm that it is, the Delta is not a monolith, but is instead comprised of its own regional geopolitical fracture lines. I think your model could be applied to these internal Delta dynamics, and be directed toward a "save the Delta" scenario that would create a quite radically different but resilient physical and cultural Delta ecosystem.

    The outlines of this premise are implicit in many of the DNP's speculative proposals, in the form of "exchange authorities." But let me preemptively stipulate that the connection between these speculations and your work is broad, incomplete, and possibly flawed. But I will try to make the case soon in my blog.

  6. @John -- please send a link when you're done. I agree that things are more complicated.


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