24 Jul 2008

National Water Policy

A columnist at Grist advocates a national water policy. I can't think of a worse idea and left this comment:
I'd say that the solution would be LESS, not more, federal involvement in water policy. As you point out, the natural management unit is a watershed -- not a State border -- and locals can "manage" their watershed with more sensitivity than any federal agency or politician.

In fact, I'd go further and say that federal interference (through regulation AND funding) has done more to paralyze and thwart watershed management than any other influence.

It's my experience that the biggest blunders in water management (in the West, at least) have been orchestrated by federal bodies (USACE, Reclamation, Interior). Without their malevolent influence, we'd not only have fewer disasters in our past but be able to do more RIGHT NOW.
So, yes, I am saying that I'd prefer zero regulation and zero funding of water at the federal level. I'd prefer a common law defense of water quality and local funding of water projects. (The feds should only get involved on interstate issues.)

Bottom Line: Washington DC has no more clue about how to manage water in California (or anywhere else) than what I should have for lunch.


  1. As you doubtless know, the sainted John Wesley Powell proposed that Western counties be organized along watershed boundaries, but the idea was shot down by vested interests.
    People forget that a lot of the basic irrigation infrastructure in California was built with private money. The San Joaquin and Kings River Canal and Irrigation Company, covering about 600,000 acres, was funded largely by European and East Coast speculators. The business failed, and was acquired by another private owner in the 19th century, but the system is in use today. Mutual water companies and Water Districts now own and operate it. Likewise, Buena Vista Lake was developed by private industry into the largest reservoir in the nation in the 19th century, and it served about 150,000 acres. Only the construction of Isabella dam permitted the lake bottom to be farmed, as it is now, on a fairly regular basis.
    Had the Feds and State stayed out of things, and not built the gigantic projects we now have, I believe these private companies could have coped with the changing public priorities about environmental values. The scope of their projects was much less devastating to the environment in the first place. We would not have as large a farm economy as we now have in California, but it would still be quite significant.

    Of course, the biggest beneficiaries of the giant projects were not the farmers, but real estate interests, who got flood protection.

  2. my daily snark:

    Bureau of Reclamation is within Department of Interior. Which other agency within DOI were you thinking of, BLM?

    You seem to have a great deal of frustration with voters. Voters insist on low prices for potable water, and voters got BuRec to build the CVP. Voters are frequently irrational; it's the job of people like you and me to badger and persuade their elected officials to act rationally despite what the voters want.

    The history of the West is inextricably intertwined with federal involvement; if it weren't for the feds most of us wouldn't be here because there wouldn't be the water.

    EPA already sets national water policy with the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. NPDES permits, potable water quality standards and EPA grants to small water systems drive billions of dollars of investment in water and wastewater systems.

  3. @philip -- hear hear and HEAR HEAR!

    @Francis -- I was actually thinking of interior wrt the Colorado, but that's BurRec, so they suck twice over. BLM is hardly famous for good management, so I'm happy to add them...

    You seem to have a great deal of frustration with voters. Voters insist on low prices for potable water, and voters got BuRec to build the CVP. No, I am not frustrated with voters. I do not think that voter views are passed seamlessly through representatives. I also think that logrolling by representatives deceives voters into thinking they are getting something for nothing. See DC Follies.

    if it weren't for the feds most of us wouldn't be here because there wouldn't be the water. And because of the Feds, few of us will be here in the future. Unsustainable implies temporary and Fed policies have put us firmly in that wrong place...


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