Too bad for Jefferson.

Just read Drs. Madani and Lund’s paper on the structural reasons that a collaborative Delta solution is all but impossible.  They play out a couple game theory scenarios to show that the incentives for the parties don’t lead to cooperation.  They show that limited-player games don’t lead to solution, and write that the multi-player versions are even less resolvable.  A few objections came to mind, but all of them made the problem even less likely to be resolved collaboratively.  Madani and Lund don’t include the fact that some parties can block others from Chickening-out and pre-emptively “fixing” the Delta.  They assume the players are guided by economic rationality, but I don’t think that holds true when people’s identities are at stake.  Basically, my critiques of their model only bring up complexities that make solving the game harder and reinforce their conclusion.  I know that politicians desperately want to lock the parties in a room until they find a non-existent win-win solution, but there are good reasons that hasn’t and doesn’t happen.

A few other thoughts:

Madani and Lund write: Failing into a long-term solution is likely. (pg 18.)

Not quite.  I think we are likely to fail into a new long-term simpler equilibrium.  I don’t think it will feel like much of a solution when the day comes.  Since I think that rapid catastrophic failure is substantially more likely than a collaborative solution, it’d be interesting to start planning for that.  Realistically, the Delta agencies should allocate their planning time by relative likelihoods of failure of the physical infrastructure and success of the collaborative process.  But they won’t, because that would feel yucky; humans can’t expose themselves to that much dissonance.

Drs. Madani and Lund write about a State role, and how that plays into bargaining incentives.  They write (pg 19):

Including the state of California (or federal government) with two options did not fundamentally alter the game. For the cases examined, the Chicken characteristics remained and cooperation was unlikely. Adding the state to the game suggested that California can be the victim of the conflict and the loser of the game, bearing much of the cost of a Delta failure, due to its past failure to develop reliable mechanisms which enforce cooperation.

I can’t get too worked up about the State being the one to bear much of the cost of the Delta failure.  Because, you know, the State is very, very similar to “the users of Delta waters”.  The set of people that  use water that would have drained to the Delta or got moved through the Delta is pretty close to the set of people who would be taxed to recover from a Delta collapse.  It is hard on the far north state and the central coast and Sonoma, but fuck ’em.  They’re probably smug anyway, what with being drenched in beauty all the time.  No doubt there would be relative winners and losers compared to their contribution to the collapse of the Delta, but I’ll complain about that when the day comes.

The authors write on page 19:

Whatever plan is adopted to fix the Delta in the coming decades, the Delta’s sustainability is not guaranteed without powerful mechanisms which provide incentives for cooperation or penalties for deviation from cooperation.

Seems to me this aspect has the most potential for interesting work.  I would love to see mechanisms that tie players to failures from other bargaining perspective.  I have suggested before that if the farmers of the Delta block a Peripheral Canal, they should be forced to buy insurance to pay Los Angeles for the costs of L.A.’s water shortages when the Delta levees collapse.  Perhaps the west side contractors should only be allowed to pocket the profits from selling their water rights while fish populations remain above some threshold.  In general, I get disgusted when people at the top of watersheds feel morally entitled to waste; there must be ways to tie their well-being to that of the tail-enders.

Mostly, the paper shows that a vastly simplified mathmatical model of the Delta negotiations does not lead to a collaborative solution, which is what I’ve thought for a while.  If the State remains absolutely dedicated to win-win solutions negotiated by the participants themselves, we should expect and prepare for the Delta levees to collapse before the win-win solution arrives.  (Then we can put in the back-up plan, which I presume is a Peripheral Canal built under emergency authorities.)  The State would have to get more gumption than I’ve seen to go to the other possibilities, win-lose scenarios.  I dunno, man.  I’m glad I don’t work on the Delta.


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8 responses to “Too bad for Jefferson.

  1. On the Public Record

    Thanks for that, Mr. Wattier. When I clicked on “Play”, I got “Embedding disabled by request.” I poked around; that seems to be on the YouTube end of things, not a WordPress feature, so I couldn’t fix it. I am not actually that sorry I can’t watch it. I was always a dull person, and now that I’m older I just want to tuck those kids into bed with milk and cookies.

    Since you’re here, I’d like to say that the whole state has been astonished by the amazing job Long Beach Water District has done the past few years. You guys are the inspiration right now for water conservation. I have been so impressed by the buy-in and the results your district has gotten. Amazing work, and reason to hope that my pessimism is wrong.

  2. elizabeth

    That reply brings up the concept that a Delta solution doesn’t have to simply involve the Delta; solutions in other areas, including water conservation, are necessary. What about weaning SoCal completely – almost completely? – off the Delta through putting the many $100Ks spent each month on energy to pump the resource south over the mountains, into water recycling facilities? I’ve heard this tossed around for a while, and have not heard why it’s a bad idea. Water rights issues? Urban areas already get first dibs…

  3. onthepublicrecord

    Well, I suspect the thinking is that sadly, water that moved through the Delta is SoCal’s most secure supply. The Colorado is dropping out, and Mono Lake is apparently going to keep being a lake. Besides that, water conservation is twenty times awesome, but the water to be conserved has to come from somewhere first. They could surely stretch it farther, but unless they go completely to de-sal, which has its own difficulties, they’re going to need a supply from somewhere. From south of the Delta? The Friant? Kern River?

  4. Francis

    Haven’t read the paper yet, but the post is spot on. Failure was baked into the outcome when the various entities involved agreed that the co-equal goals were preservation of place and reliability of supply, because in the very next breath they’d all agree that there would have to be winners and losers.

    OK, let’s divvy up the pain. The Delta islands farthest below msl get condemned by the SWP; until the surface is back to msl those islands only grow reeds which get plowed into the soil. Westlands gets a big cutback on its federal allocation. MWD – just to share the pain — takes a cut to its SWP allocation. All the South-of-Delta SWP contractors sign on to pay for the Peripheral Canal. (Please, make it a tunnel — the odds of H. sapiens handling global warming before catastrophe strikes seem to be about 0.) We probably need another dam or 2, just to get better control of Delta temps and flows.

    So we’re spending billions of dollars to be slightly worse off in terms of supply in SoCal, and roll back farming within the Delta and Westlands. Who precisely is going to vote for this? You and me, otpr, but that’s only 2 votes.

    btw, as a resident of Long Beach, I must commend Mr. Wattier’s hard work. (any job openings, sir?)

  5. onthepublicrecord

    Oh why can’t we get other people on board with our plan?!!?

    You forgot new sewage treatment in SF, and cutting back the Bay Area’s supply so they contribute to Delta outflows.

  6. Francis

    not just SF. everyone from Sacto downstream is going to need to discharge essentially potable water from their sewage treatment plants. And there are something like tens to possibly hundreds of thousands (not that anyone knows for sure) unpermitted discharges in the Delta.

  7. onthepublicrecord

    I meant Sacramento, but of course you knew that.