Public policy regarding the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is in an age of "absolutely" and "absolutely nots," according to Jeffrey Mount. But policy could enter an age of reason within a decade, he said.

A hydrologist and Director of UC Davis's Center for Watershed Sciences, Mount has been sounding alarms about the state's water system – specifically the Delta – for a very long time. In delivering the final keynote speech at the Great Valley Center's annual conference in Sacramento on May 6-7, Mount continued to ring the bell. But he also painted a somewhat hopeful vision for the Delta if we can simply get past the current rough patch.

Conference organizers asked Mount to predict what the Delta would be like in 2020. He presented the following timeline:

1996 to 2006: "The age of indecision." (This could also be called the age of Cal-Fed.) Every interest group tried to get better together. Instead, they all got worse together.

2007 to 2017: "The age of absolutes and absolutely nots." Everybody has dug in their heels and is suing one another.

2018: "The dawning of the age of reason." Things start to become clearer as courts issue opinions in the litigation.

2020: "The age of reason in the Delta."

Mount went on to present a Top-10 list of what he called myths that will be defeated during this age of reason.

1. Water that flows to the sea is wasted. (No, said Mount, that's how the natural world works.)

2. Most of the water is allocated to the environment. (This is bogus accounting, according to Mount.)

3. Groundwater is separate from surface water. ("Groundwater is not separated from surface water except by lawyers.")

4. Conservation can solve our water problems.

5. Desalinization can solve our water problems. (It's an "energy hog.")

6. The Peripheral Canal is a Southern California water grab. (5/6th of the water a canal would deliver would go to San Joaquin Valley farms and the Bay Area cities, Mount contended.)

7. Water markets will solve the Central Valley's problems.

8. We can restore native ecosystems. (The Delta's native ecosystem is gone, said Mount. What we can do is create an ecosystem based on desirable plants and animals.)

9. Fix the levees and reduce exports, and everything will be fine in the Delta.

10. More surface storage will solve the problem of [preconceived notion here].

Mount even offered a bonus myth he thinks will get busted: Because of climate change, we must [preconceived notion here]. Mount's PowerPoint presentation and related items are posted on the Great Valley website.

Mount readily conceded he would not make broad policy recommendations during his speech – or ever. His primary contention was that policymakers need to make hard decisions on the peripheral canal, Delta governance and other things. Get off the dime, he said.

Fortunately, we appear to have a political moment right now during which there is a willingness to make those decisions, he observed.

Oh, and one more prediction from Mount: If a major earthquake strikes the system, all predictions are off.

– Paul Shigley