25 Aug 2008

Dam Prices

Last week, the Modesto Bee argued that California needs more dams. JC cc'd me in his response:
The Bee's 200 word limit makes it impossible to adequately respond to the August 21 editorial, “Feinstein on right track: We need more dams”. But here's a beginning. The Bee says that no one argues that we now have enough water, “at least not the way it is distributed and used.” The Bee should have added, “and the way it is priced.” Pricing is the first answer to dealing with water issues. Efficient use is next, and that doesn't just mean efficient drip systems; it means being efficient in not growing low value, water intensive crops like cotton with subsidized water.

The Bee argues for building new dams now (undoubtedly having Sites and Temperance Flat in mind), but fails to mention that the pending studies on the costs, yields and environmental effects of those dams are not complete. That is like having expensive surgery before the Doc has looked at the X-rays.

The Bee and Senator Feinstein want to solve a problem of my generation's making by saddling my children and grandchildren with $9.3 billion (plus interest) of debt to be paid in the future. Let those who say they really need more water pay the full cost.
Bottom Line: JC may not be the Savior, but he speaks truth!


  1. JC is right about pricing, but wrong when he states that cotton is low value, subsidized, and water intensive. The cotton grown in California (such as it is, about 15% of what was once planted) is an exceptionally high value, largely unsubsidized crop that competes successfully with slave-grown cotton from places like Egypt and Syria. Cotton is a desert plant, with a very efficient tap root system; it uses less water than many crops.

    To add to his other, somewhat more accurate points: what some proponents of new conveyance and storage do not yet understand is that solid, functioning water markets will provide the economic impetus and funding to build the infrastructure (off stream storage, water-banks, etc) that is badly needed right now.

  2. "Those" who really "need the water" and therefore must pay, in this context, are urban and environmental values.

    There are 3 Californians now for every 1 Californian that existed at the time the current infrastructure was mostly built out. And virtually all of the environmental demands - ESA, Clean Water Act, etcetera - were plugged into the sytem after the same infrastructure was built.

    So yes, urb and enviros should pay if they want new yield to service their demands. So far, however, far too many of them are looking to take the cheaper way out: displacing "wasteful" ag. Never mind that displacing "wasteful" ag is going to just cause "wasteful" ag to go somewhere else - say, Brazil or Argentina, where the same problems (species, water quality, whatever) will manifest themselves but perhaps be less intelligently managed.

  3. right on, Cap'n! Those who dismiss CA agriculture as wasteful and unnecessary fall stunningly silent when asked where they would prefer to have their food grown. No system anywhere can grow food more carefully, more safely, and with less environmental and worker injury.
    Oh, yeah, a couple of hippies in New Hampshire can just step in and do it, I forgot.

  4. Flounder and Philip make good points, but I want to clarify that we do NOT need triple the infrastructure to serve triple the people.

    I agree that $ will come from urb/enviro interests -- and it will go to farmers, who will STILL be around when water is managed in an economical way...


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