Undertake a thought experiment: Assume that the California Delta politician and policymaker get exactly what they want. They—we—get that first-ever waterway, the never-before governance structure, and uniquely comprehensive ecosystem planning and management. The dreams of Delta carver and modeler are fulfilled unconditionally. Lasting governance, environmental restoration and water conveyance infrastructure in the Delta have been achieved.
Oops…what’s that lasting mean?
What are the consequences of unprecedented construction, governance and environmental initiatives here to stay, now and in the foreseeable future? Might it be that the more we see the consequences more, the less we agree on what to do about them? Who pays for establishing path dependencies that really do last, well, indefinitely? Had we heeded that universal caution—Be careful what you wish for!—then one question to ask is always: Who should be the first to pay for what turn out to be long-lasting (irreversible?) interventions that achieved only what was initially wished for them regardless of subsequent needs?
One answer: Those whose wishes are driving these interventions should be the first to pay for their wishes having been realized—and they should be paying well before the rest of us. They’re the ones who wished away contingency from the get-go. They’re the ones who believed that there’s nothing big that can’t be fixed afterwards. (Not to worry: We’ll manage adaptively!)
Where they got it wrong, they should pay; where they got it right, they should be rewarded. If and when the rest of us start to benefit from these interventions, if only by luck (read: those unavoidable contingencies), then we too should start to pay, even as all this comes about messily indeed.