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Can California fix the Delta before disaster strikes?
April 23, 2010 5:19 PM   Subscribe

"It's the ultimate Gordian knot ... There is no other system in the world as complex as the Delta."

Previously.

With the recent “warranted but precluded” uplisting of the Delta Smelt from threatened to endangered, Judge Wanger hearing arguments in the Consolidated Delta Smelt cases, and an 11.1 billion dollar water bond on the November ballot, California's Delta is at a crossroads.

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) has laid out an analysis of the available options [pdf]. Some are are calling foul; others are on FOX.

Oh and then there are the earthquakes and levees [pdf].
posted by Groovytimes (34 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's the ultimate Gordian knot

Um, a Gordian knot is not an extremely difficult problem. It's a problem that only appears difficult but is actually quite easy to solve if you're sufficiently open-minded about how to solve it. I doubt that's what they meant.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:22 PM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


um, you might want to recheck your dictionary on that one ;-)
posted by fallacy of the beard at 5:29 PM on April 23, 2010


Actually...It is a knot that is impossible to untie. Alexander 'untied' it by slashing it apart with his sword. Would that there were a sword that could solve the Delta mess.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:30 PM on April 23, 2010


Gordian knot's are not impossible to solve, just a solution has not been found by all previous comers. But that's only half of it. Gordian knots are resolved with a "bold stroke", per Alexander. So when someone conjures the Gordian knot, they are hopefully referring to an as-yet unsolved problem that requires (or suggests) a bold and outside the box solution.
posted by stbalbach at 5:41 PM on April 23, 2010


So the sword is a big enough earthquake, and then the Delta ceases to be a problem?

/end derail
posted by Decimask at 5:47 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


um, you might want to recheck your dictionary on that one ;-)

What is it that you think Gordian's knot means?
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:49 PM on April 23, 2010


The only way I know of the 'solve' the gordian knot is to destroy it. Is that a valid solution to the problems of the Delta? I guess the only real problem is getting all the people that depend on the system to agree to that solution; might be hard.
posted by Some1 at 5:50 PM on April 23, 2010


"Gordian knot" can mean a lot of different things, because it's an allegory. Saying that it does or does not carry a particular meaning is neither true nor helpful.
posted by Etrigan at 6:03 PM on April 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Judge Wanger and the Delta Smelts is the name of my new band.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:18 PM on April 23, 2010 [8 favorites]


"Gordian knot" can mean a lot of different things, because it's an allegory. Saying that it does or does not carry a particular meaning is neither true nor helpful.

True, but saying it's a fuckin mess is so lacking in poetry.
posted by jcworth at 6:32 PM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh boy, the Delta! That's where I'm a Gordian knot!
posted by BeerFilter at 6:33 PM on April 23, 2010 [13 favorites]


The Contra Costa County farm bureau is having a dinner, which I skipped going to. I kind of wish now that I'd gone and seen how people responded to a discussion of the Delta.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:40 PM on April 23, 2010


My god. It's the next New Orleans. I've read about this before, and it seems like a poster child for the incredibly unsustainable state of California. Beautiful, fertile, but always on the brink of disaster.
posted by TrialByMedia at 6:42 PM on April 23, 2010


At least 220 government agencies have jurisdiction in the Delta...

Oh yeah, this can't help but end well.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:44 PM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


TrialByMedia: ... so basically, California is a really, really terrible person to date?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:52 PM on April 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


but the sex is amazing.
posted by TrialByMedia at 6:57 PM on April 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


The Contra Costa County farm bureau is having a dinner, which I skipped going to. I kind of wish now that I'd gone and seen how people responded to a discussion of the Delta.

I was just at a presentation given by Contra Costa Water District for their new pumping plant, AIP, and was just wondering how much salt water that thing will be pumping if the peripheral canal ever gets built.
posted by Groovytimes at 7:14 PM on April 23, 2010


How about we charge the rice farmers the same rates I pay as a residential user? Same goes for the hay farmers and the corn farmers. Go grow your dirt cheap commodity crops somewhere where they haven't anything better to do with their water.
posted by ryanrs at 7:53 PM on April 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


...The Gordian Knot ? Well, it was a particularly magical knot that was tied on an oxcart at Gordium in Aisa Minor. It was prophesied that whoever could undo the knot, would be Lord of Asia. Alexander fiddled around for hours, but couldn't untie it. The real point about that knot was that it spelt out a holy name in knot lgnaguage. You will find examples of knot language on ancient Irish arabesques and the British Druids used to exchange messages in knot-language... But Alexander was no dDruid and couldn't be bother to study their mysteries. So he took his dagger and cut the knot right across. This was his studied response.
Conversations with Robert Graves
A single event marked the final irrevocable decline of ancient Greek tradition. Alexander, after his unpardonably irreligious destruction of Thebes, one of the holiest and most ancient Greek cities, invaded Asia Minor. Having reached Gordium and there been challenged to unpick the complicated Gordian leather knot--a religious task that should be accomplished only by divine inspiration--he sneeringly cut it through with his sword. Then he marched for India, in an attempt to outdo the God Dionysus, who had got no further than Bactria, and on returning to Persia died as a result of trying to out-drink his divine rival.
Robert Graves, Difficult Questions, Easy Answers

A riddle in knot language. Untying it required an esoteric knowledge and wisdom that the king who would be god had neither the time or the patience to learn. Or so Graves would have it. Alexander not only destroyed Thebes before he drank himself to death but burnt down Persepolis as well.

The cutting of the Gordian knot is the metaphor for the easy answer. How often are the easy answers the right answers ? Alexander is the poster boy for folly and waste--not wisdom.
posted by y2karl at 8:37 PM on April 23, 2010 [11 favorites]


Ohohoho, development vs agriculture vs nature. Agriculture ranks high in California, especially in fertile areas. Old development can be torn down for new, but build anything on farmland, and it's as good as gone forever. I think the same mentality applies to water rights and pricing. Plus, you can build on most any land with proper engineering, but ag is soil-dependant. But however it falls, nature usually loses.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:58 PM on April 23, 2010


Agriculture ranks high in California

Oh yeah? Let's put it to a vote:

Proposition 465:
[ ] Water your lawn.
[ ] Subsidize growing rice for export.

How do you think that's going to work out, once things really get tight?
posted by ryanrs at 9:27 PM on April 23, 2010


Fascinating piece, thanks for posting.
posted by sleevener at 9:27 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


but the sex is amazing.

Speaking as a California native, it's overrated. Both the sex and the state.
posted by blucevalo at 10:22 PM on April 23, 2010


well, mr oxford says a gordian knot is • n. an extremely difficult or involved fucking problem. senorita mirriam-webster says a gordian knot is Function: noun Date: 1579 1 : an intricate goddamn problem; especially : a problem insoluble in its own fucking terms. dr. r. house says a gordian knot is n. An exceedingly complicated bitch of a problem or deadlock.

are dictionaries not common enough standard for word currency around here? are we supposed to be using the encyclopedia of faeries and dragons or some shit now?

posted by fallacy of the beard at 10:42 PM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


fallacy of the beard: most people who use the term think of the story. The story clearly describes a problem that was apparently difficult but actually had a trivial solution.

In the same vein as such phrases as "dog in the manger" and "sour grapes" the phrase really only makes sense as a direct reference to the story.

Quoting the first sentence of each dictionary's definition is misleading. Each definition goes on to mention Alexander's cutting...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:56 PM on April 23, 2010


oh yeah, i guess i forgot that to use a word it must reflect all its listed definitions simultaneously.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 11:45 PM on April 23, 2010


btw, you misused the word 'vein'...that, of course, is a blood vessel that, last i checked, does not carry phrases.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 11:47 PM on April 23, 2010


it's a pretty scary story--not just in the sense of this specific issue but that so many situations like it seem to get such low priority in the larger scheme of things. i'm glad there are people around to worry about it and try to attack it, but overall it seems that people give so much attention to building and drop the ball when it comes to maintenance--not to mention the general trend, in terms of public information, of oversimplifying complex issues like this.

i'm most fascinated with how, when some complex issue is debated, there are so many people who will respond with 'the answer is simple, just...', as if the problems are the result of the experts who study them rather than their inherent complexities, and that the solutions lie in folksy common sense. maybe there is a term for this that i'm not aware of, but it seems like a phenomenon that is destined to strangle us in terms of infrastructure and government. there seems to be an idea that anyone can be an expert on anything just by virtue of being able to state an opinion, and when that goes tragically wrong they find someone else to pin it on--like how insane clown posse blames scientists for their own inability to grasp the concept of magnetism.

plus, and maybe this is a well-studied concept as well, i wonder if the development of complex software systems, with object orientation and transactional analysis and chains of responsibility and ownership, have offered any useful models to these real-world complex systems.

so yeah, the issue is literally a gordian knot.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 12:38 AM on April 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Sacramento Delta flood control mess does have one very cool feature: The Yolo Bypass which is a huge area that receives flood waters and protects Sacramento and other Delta towns from flooding by conveying them to the Delta. It is also an important wildlife area. The reason the Yolo Bypass functions so well is that no development was ever allowed in the flood zone. Consequently almost no one knows it's there or what it does or even how big it is.

Another thing that most people in CA have forgotten about is the great flood of 1862 during which for a week the tides at the Golden Gate did not flood, rather there was continuous and forceful ebb of brown fresh water 18-20 feet deep pouring out above the salt water. I'm guessing another one of those would make a pretty good sword.
posted by fshgrl at 12:48 AM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


By now it is clear that the totally compelling Gordian knot debate that has taken hold of this thread and thus derailed conversation from a rather important story about American infrastructure and the future of California is as ultimately unsolvable as the Riddle of the Sphinx, a riddle which was solved by nobody ever in history at all!
posted by ford and the prefects at 1:06 AM on April 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wait 'til you hear about Procrustes.
posted by wobh at 1:44 AM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait 'til you hear about Procrustes.

Is that some sort of uber pancake?
posted by doctor_negative at 11:46 AM on April 24, 2010


My sister lives near there, and purchases her water by the Miner's Inch. There's an irrigation ditch, a canal of flowing water about 4 feet wide and 3 feet deep, that passes just uphill of her house. A board is inserted on the side that has a 1 inch hole, 1 foot below the flowing water's surface. You can order as many of these holes as you want, (she only has one,) and your water flows continuously through that hole. You deal with the flow as you please.

She put a bicycle-wheel-based waterwheel with a generator on the flow, and it way out performs her solar panels. The water pretty much pays for itself.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:30 PM on April 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


i'm most fascinated with how, when some complex issue is debated, there are so many people who will respond with 'the answer is simple, just...', as if the problems are the result of the experts who study them rather than their inherent complexities, and that the solutions lie in folksy common sense. maybe there is a term for this that i'm not aware of...

Teapartyism?
posted by incessant at 9:51 AM on April 25, 2010


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