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WATERPOLITICS.JPGAs California's perennial debate over water heats up again, the Public Policy Institute of California has weighed in with a massive, book-length analysis of the state's management of water supplies, proposing a "rebalancing of water management objectives and approaches."

The main points of "Managing California's Water: From Conflict to Resolution" mirror those of other authorities that have examined the water dilemma -- creating more balance among competing uses, promoting more conservation, making transfers from agriculture to non-farm users easier, and repairing the environmentally troubled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

It appears to provide more ammunition to advocates of a peripheral canal or some other way of bypassing the Delta as water moves from northern California to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California -- a highly controversial proposal that's been debated for the past half-century. An alternate conveyance, the authors told a press briefing Wednesday, offers the best hope of maintaining water supplies while repairing the Delta's ecosystem.

"Today's system of water management, developed in previous times for past conditions, is leading the state down a path of environmental and economic deterioration. We're waiting for the next drought, flood, or lawsuit to bring catastrophe," co-author Ellen Hanak, senior fellow at PPIC, said in a statement. "But if we take bold steps now, we can move from an era of conflict to one of reconciliation, where water is managed more flexibly and comprehensively, to benefit both the economy and the environment."

"Some of these reforms will require changes in laws and institutions, while many build on existing efforts and can begin to be implemented now," co-author Jay Lund, director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences and adjunct fellow at PPIC, added. "California can't afford not to take bold steps now. By the time a crisis strikes, the best solutions may be unavailable or far more costly, and political positions too entrenched to overcome."

While proposing a restructuring of water management, however, the report does not reveal how the political impediments to change can be resolved. The contending forces -- primarily farmers, municipal users and environmentalists, but with many sub-factions -- have battled to a draw.

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger persuaded the Legislature to create a new mechanism for debating and, presumably, resolving the conflicts and pursuing the so-called "co-equal goal" of fixing the Delta and enhancing water supply reliability, but the fundamental differences remain intact. An alternate conveyance remains the most controversial issue.

The PPIC study, which is about 500 pages long in download form, can be found here.

PHOTO CREDIT: An aerial view shows one of California's aqueducts snaking its way through the San Joaquin Valley past orchards and fields, with I-5, pictured at right, March 1, 2006. Jim Wilson /The New York Times


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