28 Nov 2008

Speaking of Property Rights

Two articles touch on property rights with respect to water.

In the first, we hear about an irrigation district that paid for the aqueduct required to take delivery of water from the Bureau of Reclamation. BurRec never delivered because the water was diverted elsewhere -- to fish.

The district lost a suit claiming breach of contract, and others have been told to expect the same treatment, i.e., "the courts seem to be finding the government is not in breach of contract if the government decides to use the water for another purpose."

In the second, farmers and others in the California's central Valley are up in arms on the LAO's suggestion that their groundwater withdrawals be monitored and/or their rights be subject to means "beneficial use" testing. [I blogged in favor of the monitoring and against testing here.]

The farmers' hyperbole does make for good reading: Stockton water attorney Dante Nomellini said "It should be a local matter. They want to eliminate all property rights to water."

Yeah, right.

Well, the first thing to remember is that many Central valley areas are in the dark ages with respect to water management,* and the second one to note is that "what gets measured gets managed." Since groundwater is shared by different people, and surface water flows all over the place, we need to know how much of each is being used -- especially if water markets are expanded. If surface water can be sold and replaced by groundwater, there could be trouble if groundwater levels are not watched.

Bottom Line: Yes, protect water users' rights, but (first) make sure that the rights exist before they are given, and (second) require that rights be specified, i.e., adjudicated groundwater.

* Stockton has decreasing (!) block rates for residential users and flat rates for commercial users.


  1. Did you mean to strikethrough half of your post (and the majority of your site)?

  2. nope. I kinda like my blog, and that was a gross failure in editing :)

    I was offline until this afternoon so I missed it.

    Sorry folks...

  3. It is both a pity and a disgrace that the groundwater resource in the Central Valley has largely been governed by the "rule of capture" (biggest straw wins). Unfortunately, we actually don't know enough about the resource in many places to determine what is a sustainable yield, and hence to devise some sort of equitable regulatory framework. It will cost a lot of money to do this. (Hmmmm. money from water sales could pay for quite a bit of research...)
    Farmers have fought this tooth and nail, and will have a regulatory scheme rammed down their throats if they do not show some leadership here.


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