California Bay-Delta – Doomed to Failure?

I claim no direct journalistic expertise in the California Bay-Delta water policy discussions currently underway. But in looking at it with my “institutional framework” hammer in hand (everything looks like a nail to me), it sure looks like a process doomed to failure. Take Mark Grossi’s latest in the Fresno Bee on Westlands’ decision to pull out of talks over the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. First Westland:

The draft of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan offers hope of restoring slumping water deliveries to west Valley farmers, Westlands officials said this week. But the Department of Interior advocates more limits on deliveries, they said.

Meanwhile the folks across the table seem to think the current planning parameters offer to much water to farmers, not too little:

Environmentalists and fishing groups are involved, too. Last week they criticized the draft conservation plan as a water grab for water users such as Westlands and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

This seems to have one of the necessary preconditions for effectively addressing a conflict over a common-pool resource – a process in which all the players with skin in the game engage in a serious discussion with the potential to be linked to real outcomes. That process sure looks from the outside like it’s collapsing.

But I have no idea whether the problem is as intractable as it sounds. Comments, California water tweeps?

update: From the Twitter

Tim Rote: “Westlands WD like North Korea. Create crisis in order to extort concessions.”


  1. Well, you know that I’m a huge pessimist, so my analysis will be on the dark side. I have long thought that the binding constraint on the problem is pleasing everyone. As long as the politicians are determined that the only acceptable solutions must please all participants, they won’t find an answer. If that constraint is lifted, there are some reasonable solutions. I’m pleased to see the most intractable people dropping out.

  2. OTPR –

    Thanks. So in this case do the politicians have the power to impose solutions? Or do the participants (Westlands, or NGOs via ESA or NEPA actions) have the ability to muck up a solution that doesn’t meet the “satisfy everyone” criteria?

  3. I’m afraid I’m with Tim Rote on the last-on-the-teat Westlands. But I wouldn’t say it is collapsing when interests place markers for negotiation.



  4. Even if they do reach a consensus in this particular case, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s brought up again for debate in the future. The demand for fresh produce that the rest of the country is placing on California will keep rising and the farmers will need more and more water.

  5. When we are will be able to make real decisions based on real data. We will be able to have a discussion on based actual information. Up to this point all sides have used ramdom facts to protect their “position”. I like ramdom thinking, not random facts. Thank you for noting the obvious and lending a sense of reason to this political boondoogle.

  6. The science is pretty clear; the politics are awful.

    1. Some of the big plots of farmland in the heart of the Delta needs to be condemned, or turned into growing nothing but reeds, as to rebuild soil surface levels. These islands are doomed to failure eventually, and if they go anytime soon the pull they would exert could pull really brackish water all the way to the SWP pumps, which would be catastrophic.

    2. Westlands especially, but some of the other farming districts, need to take it in the shorts. The inflows to the Delta are overallocated. As Westlands has that (teeny little) problem with selenium, it’s the obvious target. But it’s a tiny group of very rich people with longstanding ties to DiFi, so they have political clout far above what they should. (yes, us urban users get hit too, but we’ll notice it much less.)

    3. A bunch of people in the San Francisco to Sacramento region need to pay a lot more for improved sewage treatment. The flip side is that water then can become potable.

    4. We have to have some version of a Peripheral Canal or Cross-Delta Pipeline. Global warming is going to seriously mess with flows into and out of the Delta. We can’t keep going with the current infrastructure.

    Bottom line — several billions of dollars need to be spent, and some powerful political groups need to accept defeat, just to maintain the current level of service. It’ll take federal dollars to get over the hump, and that’s looking less likely since the election. (Westlands’s conduct might be in response to the election results.)

    So my best guess is we’re in for CalFed II — the assembling of all the relevant stakeholders followed by failure to make hard choices.

    How this ultimately ends is anyone’s guess. My bet is that it will take another levee failure, and water shortages all the way down to San Diego, before the Southern Californians pony up the cash necessary to start retiring SWP and CVP water rights and Delta farmland.

  7. WWD was never going to agree to reductions, so this was long in coming. They may end up screwed, if remaining parties reach an agreement that DoI (and Feinstein) accepts, esp. if it cuts off water from Junior CONTRACTS (not rights, right Tom?)

  8. ps/Totally agree with Francis.

    @Karen — WWD is not a national landmark; food will come from somewhere (esp. if the farm bill is revised to allow non-program crops to be grown nationwide.

    @Fleck/OtPR — WWD doesn’t have total control; they can get circ’d.

  9. Pingback: Was Westlands Departure a Good Thing? : jfleck at inkstain

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