The Peripheral Canal was voted down in 1982. My sense is that the possibility of the Peripheral Canal has largely paralyzed California water policy since then (with the possible exception of IRWM). If the Peripheral Canal had been entirely off the table, the regions would have adapted by now, gone ahead with storm and wastewater reuse or turf removal or whatever needed to happen. If it had been built, whatever would have become of the Delta would already have happened. Being in limbo has meant that we never got serious about living without it or adjusted to having it. The gentlemen at that conference have spent their professional lives on trying to make it happen, at the opportunity cost of whatever else they could have achieved. (emphasis added)
Not to be a writerly critic, but I think this might be improved by flipping the voice in the opening sentence from passive to active: “Californians voted down the Peripheral Canal in 1982.” That makes clear the tension at the heart of the problem.