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.)