State lawmakers need to decide what to do with the Bay Delta, "and soon," the Legislative Analyst's Office urges in a new report. The lengthy document released in late-October is mostly an overview of the state's water system, but the report concludes with several potentially controversial recommendations.

The LAO recommends changing the state constitution to eliminate the policies of "first in time, first in right," and "use it or lose." According to the LAO, "The combination of these longstanding policies can lead to inefficient uses of water." The LAO goes on to recommend realigning the water rights system "to better reflect modern needs and circumstances."

In addition, the LAO recommends that lawmakers "establish a state-administered water rights system for groundwater," as well as a water quality permitting system that mirrors the existing surface water system. These new programs would eliminate the need for court adjudication of groundwater rights and lead to cleanup of degraded groundwater, according to the LAO, which says that groundwater users and polluters could pay for the bulk of the new program costs.

Finally, the LAO notes that all significant water system improvements "hinge on addressing current problems with conveyance of water through the Delta." The report lists three options: (1) build a peripheral canal from the Sacramento River to the State Water Project south of the Delta, (2) construct a "dual conveyance" facility that uses both a peripheral canal and conveyance of freshwater through the Delta, or (3) end water exports from the Delta to the south. "To this end, we recommend that it be a priority for the state to select an alternative to the business-as-usual conveyance approach," the report concludes.

The report, "California's Water: An LAO Primer," is available on the office's website.