Begin with the adage about one man seeing the glass as half-full and another seeing it half-empty.
That's a start--but only a start--toward understanding how San Diego County and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California can survey the same set of water facts and arrive at diametrically opposite conclusions.
The county and the mighty MWD disagree on most of the fundamentals that have undergirded Southern California water policy for half a century, including who has benefited, who has been shortchanged and what the future should look like.
But the most striking difference between the warring agencies--and the one that has proved a sticking point in San Diego's tentative agreement to buy water from the water-rich Imperial Valley--is over something that water wonks call "dedicated capacity."
As part of a historic deal, San Diego sees that provision as a rose for all to admire. The MWD sees a clump of offal plopped on its doorstep.
If the two combatants cannot reach agreement--negotiations are to resume next week--the dispute will wind up in the lap of the state Legislature, where the outcome is uncertain.
In short, the San Diego County Water Authority wants a reserved spot (the "dedicated capacity") for its Imperial Valley water in the Colorado River Aqueduct, the 242-mile engineering marvel that is the backbone of the MWD system that brings water from the Colorado River to 16 million residents in six Southern California counties.
If you are a collector of historical ironies, this one is a dilly.
The aqueduct was built in the 1930s as a result of the money, political muscle and boosterish zeal provided by Los Angeles and its then-smallish suburbs. San Diego declined to join its Southern California neighbors in forming the MWD and thus remained pinch-penny and aloof from the travails of the aqueduct project.
But San Diego was forced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to end its holdout during World War II. And now, as the century closes, it is poised to become the only one of the MWD's 27 member agencies to have its own reserved space in the aqueduct.
That sputtering sound you hear is anger from powerful forces at Los Angeles City Hall, where the feeling has long been that the aqueduct belongs to Los Angeles.
But the objection from MWD officials, and from members of its board--who represent Los Angeles and suburban water agencies--is not born simply from proprietary pique. Beyond that, they offer a downbeat analysis of what could happen elsewhere if San Diego is provided this dedicated capacity in the aqueduct.
The fear among MWD loyalists is that water that otherwise would be used throughout Southern California will be ousted from the aqueduct to make room for water designated solely for San Diego.
Other MWD customers would then have to find other sources of water--most probably from the State Water Project, which brings water from Northern California.
But that water is 50% more expensive than Colorado River supplies and has an iffiness to it: The amount available each year can fluctuate greatly, in part because of environmental concerns. Increased demand by Southern California for water from Northern California could also raise hackles among environmentalists.
In the 1991 drought--the most severe in years in Southern California--there was water aplenty from the Colorado River, but the amount available from the State Water Project dropped drastically.
Under the MWD analysis, dedicated capacity in the aqueduct for San Diego could mean higher water prices for the rest of Southern California. Or, under a worst-case scenario, water shortages, if sufficient water is not available from the State Water Project or through other means, such as conservation and reclamation.
The logic of this argument is that the Imperial Valley deal might, indeed, ensure a more reliable water supply for San Diego--but at the cost of making the water supply more unreliable for other MWD agencies. This argument resonates strongly in Los Angeles, which is already facing cutbacks in its Mono Lake and Owens Valley supplies and may soon be looking to buy more water from the MWD.
"I do not understand this fixation San Diego has with moving their water through the aqueduct regardless of what it does to the rest of us," said Bill Luddy, who was appointed to the MWD board by Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.
"There will not be dedicated capacity, that's definitely a line in the sand," said Glen Peterson, who represents the Las Virgenes Water District (which serves the Agoura Hills-Calabasas-Hidden Hills-Westlake Village area) on the board and is one of the MWD negotiators with San Diego.
To Luddy, Peterson and others at the MWD, the specter of dedicated capacity in the aqueduct for San Diego represents nothing less than a threat to the economy, lifestyle and growth of Southern California.