21 July 2008

Western Water Agenda

A bunch of lawyers put together a "new agenda" for Western water use in the face of increasing demand, threats from global warming, etc.
Throughout the West it is increasingly difficult to find water sources that are not already committed to another use. Most rivers have been dammed to capture high flows and to recapture water for subsequent use. Ground water has been tapped at rates well beyond the ability of aquifers to recharge, so water levels have dropped and associated surface water has declined. Alteration of aquatic systems for water development has caused extinction of species of fish, and others are in jeopardy. The West is approaching a zero-sum game in which the benefits of developing additional water are offset by the losses.
Unfortunately, none of their eight recommendations includes the use of markets for allocating water. They mention processes, strategies, management, programs, planning and efforts but say nothing about disaggregated means of increasing efficiency.

If all you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.

Bottom Line: There is no one way to solve water problems, but there is certainly a place for markets. Can we get some economists in on this?

hattip to DW

5 comments:

  1. The agenda specifically calls for improving the ag to urban water transfer process. That is support for water marketing.

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. LM said: "That is support for water marketing."

    But not by much :)

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  4. The authors also recommend establishing and strengthening water trusts - organizations with a mission to secure water rights for the environment through market allocation mechanisms, including "disaggregated" means (e.g. water banks).

    What's striking is the irony of your comment that everything looks like a nail if all you have is a hammer. The markets/prices-as-panacea thesis is beginning to have a similar ring. Your blog is often incisive and engaging, but even a smart bomb can have disastrous consequences if it misses the mark. Keep up the good work but don't miss the nuances.

    Bottom line: water rights are often inchoate, raising prices does not ensure adequate provision of water's public good dimensions, and institutions undergird markets. Politics and regulation matter. But you know all of this.

    p.s. the lead author of the new agenda report is also a phd economist.

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  5. deg -- glad to hear that there was an economist on board (in charge!) -- I guess that I missed that emphasis :)

    We *do* agree that a multi-disciplinary approach is the way to go. I just didn't see as much -- AND NOTE that I *did* not make the problem into a nail needing a market hammer. (eco-imperialist incident avoided!)

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