20 Oct 2008

My Advice to the President

Peter Gleick offers the following advice to the next president:
  1. Develop a comprehensive national water policy, with a new bipartisan Water Commission for the 21st Century;
  2. Spotlight national security issues related to water;
  3. Expand the role of the U.S. in addressing global water problems; and
  4. Integrate climate change into all federal water planning and activity.
Frankly, I see no purpose to these recommendations. Although the federal government has a lot of power and water crosses many state boundaries, most water issues should be solved at the watershed level. Further, I think that Gleick's ideas are more likely to complicate than "solve" water problems, i.e.,
  1. A water commission will try to impose homogeneous "solutions" on heterogeneous problems. Water institutions vary all over the place -- for good reasons.
  2. National security and water? Does Gleick mean the Canadians? I'd worry about selling guns to nasty dictators before I worried about the national security implications of water policy.
  3. Global water issues? What global water issues? Water -- unlike carbon dioxide -- is a local issue.
  4. Good idea! Perhaps the best way to integrate climate change into federal policies is to implement a carbon tax [prior posts]. Unfortunately, a carbon tax has nothing (directly) to do with water.
I appreciate Gleick's desire to call attention to water issues at the national level, but these recommendations are not relevant (nor perhaps is a national water policy).

If I had to offer recommendations, I'd say this:
  1. Allocate Colorado flows among states based on shares (not volumes) defined in the 1922 Compact.
  2. Grant property rights to all Reclamation contractors and let them trade/sell those rights.
  3. Require that the US Army Corps of Engineers consider political and economic factors in its projects.
  4. End federal subsidies for flood insurance, levee maintenance, water infrastructure, etc.
Can I be head of the Department of Water now? My first act will be to end/reverse federal involvement in water (10th Amendment!); my second will be to abolish the Department of Water.

Bottom Line: Most water issues are local. They only get federal (national) when the feds interfere, and such interventions are rarely beneficial.


  1. The EPA washed its hands of our bi-state conflict over water quality resolution efforts to set TMDLs for the Spokane River. All of Washington's water wanders over borders, so past logging and mining impacts plus ongoing runoff issues complicate clean up. Idaho turns a blind eye, while Washington sets ambitious goals. Borders are not a fresh start for water, no matter what the Washington Dept. of Ecology says, and evidently, the EPA agrees. This has to be solved at the watershed level. Both sides need wake up calls...

  2. Right on, David. Water-wise (and otherwise, too, come to think of it) there is little to be done on the Federal level but to enforce the Constitution. Whether it is dreaming up gigantic public water works that have unforeseen economic and environmental consequences (and which no local government or private company could ever afford), or creating lumbering regulatory agencies, all they do is make mischief and stifle change. Unfortunately, we seem intent on following that path.

  3. Once again you have told us that the simplest solution is usually the right one. (don't ever stop) To bad the head of the Water Department isn't an elected official you would win by a landslide.


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