The Delta flows requirement report (extra)

The State Board’s report detailing the flows that would be required to maintain native fish populations in the Delta make the choice very clear.  We cannot manage water the way we do now and have resilient native fish populations in the Delta.  We’ve known this, but now it is all official in a report.  Mr. Fitzgerald wrote:

Only now none can deceive. They can’t pretend fulfilling excessive water contracts – promising to deliver more water than exists – and restoring the Delta both are feasible goals. They can’t say we’ll all get better together.

California knows now that it is making a choice.  The mechanisms for making choices in Sacramento and the state are nearly hopelessly snarled and broken, and from what I’ve seen, we are particularly bad at choices with identifiable losers.  So we’ll tackle pieces of this choice in lots of venues, and if the solution doesn’t appear to be win-win, the forum will dissolve for another three years until it gets re-instated to create and select from a menu of non-existent win-win choices.  But I’m getting off track.   I really wanted to say something different.

There are thousands of water professionals, and maybe tens of very influential politicians, executives, technocrats and judges who will try to sort this out.  They claim to want to follow science, and that’s great.  But they are following science to implement a policy choice of the 39 million Californians in the state.  We project all the time about what those 39 million Californians want.  They want cheap food!  They looove salmon!  The Endangered Species Act shows that they love nature!  Their lawns show that they don’t care about nature!  They want convenience and blissful ignorance!  We guess, project and argue about what the people of the state want us to do with our water.  (They always agree with the speaker.)  What kills me is that “what the people of the state want to do with our waters” is knowable.

There are survey research companies that could detail, with good reliability and precision, the preferences of the 39 million people who would find this blog utterly boring*.  We could commission a large random sample, give them a board game and 80 pieces of water and have them allocate the 80MAF of water that fall on the state most years.  We could have them allocate in drought and surplus.  We could actually know, within a confidence interval, what the people of the state want us to do.  Maybe they don’t give a shit about a minnow.  Maybe they’d throw farming out the window.  But we could know.   We could know this within a few months and a few tens of thousands of dollars.  Perhaps the aggregate opinion of the people of the state should only be advisory, just as the Delta flows requirement report is advisory.  But as we get into the reality of this choice, change our lifestyles or let the natural environment collapse, we could know what the people of the state want to do.

*Y’all are rounding error.

[Sometimes I am reduced to begging my colleagues to consider the idea of survey research.  I know it isn’t beautiful concrete, but it is quantitative data.  Think of the spreadsheets!  The graphs we could make.  Numbers! my engineering fellows.  Feelings turned into numbers!  What could be better?]


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10 responses to “The Delta flows requirement report (extra)

  1. California has this beautiful geometry — a wonder, really — essentially a huge bowl that easily collects water and can be redirected as (desire, power, government, logic?) chooses.

    Your early barons understood this geometry, and exploited it. Since, people are indifferent to this geometry, it is so damn easy to take for granted.

    A survey? Wouldn’t people actually have to care for a survey to produce meaningful results?

    Like you say, OtPR, *we* are the rounding error.

  2. This survey idea is a fascinating question, since water is not something most people outside of Ag and other areas where water is a primary concern think about. Designing the survey will provoke a fight, since how how the questions are designed can determine the outcome to some extent if you aren’t careful.

  3. YK

    The board game sounds like a good idea. There’s one for nuclear arms control, which apparently is pretty good.

    I’m skeptical about doing a survey, because I think the real question is not what are people’s preferences, but what compromise solution are they willing to accept after negotiation. An interactive game or simulation seems like a better way to figure that out.

  4. onthepublicrecord

    Good point, YK. Thanks.

  5. SimCalifornia! A territory in Second Life! (Second California? Second Good Life? Dunno.)

    World of Water!

    Boy, would people argue about the assumptions (and justly).

  6. onthepublicrecord

    Truly you are right. By the time the assumptions were agreed upon, the allocation would be pretty well solved.

  7. World of Waterwars would still be a lark.

  8. …Speaking as a hopeful technocrat, if one could reduce the assumptions to simple enough testable statements, maybe people would understand what we have to believe to get to ‘it will all work like this’.

  9. YK

    Also, even flawed simulations can be useful, because they show you which assumptions are actually important. So you can just fight about those!

  10. onthepublicrecord