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California's Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conflict: from Cooperation to Chicken

Posted By Soroush in Planning and Management

California's Sacramento‐San Joaquin Delta is the major hub of California's water supply system and is central to the ecosystem of many native threatened and endangered species. Conflicts over the Delta have evolved over more than a century. This paper traces changes in this conflict in game theoretic terms, with its implications for the region's physical and ecological decline and governance. The Delta is not a zero‐sum problem and win‐win resolutions may exist if stakeholders cooperate. Game theory provides some insights on the potential for win‐win solutions. The Delta problem has had a Prisoner's Dilemma structure, where stakeholder self‐interest makes cooperation unlikely within a reasonable timeframe. However, the core of the Delta conflict is changing as the unsustainable future becomes more widely understood. Today's Delta problem has characteristics of a Chicken game, where cooperation is in everyone's interest, but is unlikely because parties deviating from the status quo are likely to bear more of the costs of a long‐term solution. The state of California may become the victim (or chicken) of the Delta game, bearing the greatest costs, if it continues to rely on leaving parties to develop voluntary cooperative solutions without a sufficient mechanism for enforcing cooperation. -

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