29 Dec 2008

Weekend Discussion: Moving Water

NOTE: This post will stay here until Sunday night. Posts for Saturday and Sunday morning go below this post.

Dear Aguanauts,

Discussion posts allow you to discuss your beliefs on a topic -- to share your understanding, experience and opinions -- without worrying about what's right or what others think. (Check out last week's discussion on commodity water.) Most important, the discussion allows us to learn from each other. So...

Tell us your thoughts on water transfers within and across watersheds and political boundaries.


  1. IMHO, it is ultimately a bad ecological idea, and when you have a case where society is tied to "natural resource services" (normally externalized), then the costs of a diminished level of service will create additional costs to that society.

  2. Water transfers are all too often reflections of power imbalances as well as hydrologic distribution disparities. Until power imbalances are addressed, transfers should not be allowed.

  3. Naturally, transfers have to take the effects on third parties into consideration. We do this on all sorts of transactions (zoning laws temper the real estate market, environmental laws govern timber harvest, etc.). Sometimes those laws are inadequate or ignored.
    However, it does not follow that the environment is preserved by keeping resources where they exist. The seaports and airports in California are always going to be on the coast. People will live and work where those facilities are located. Their needs, and the needs of the manufactures they produce, requires water, which is in comparative abundance in other parts of the state. Relocating most of the coastal economic activity to the wet parts of the State, even if it were feasible, would create a myriad of environmental problems, probably far worse than those created by water projects.

  4. To me an interesting element in this type of discussion is the de facto transfers that occur when food (or energy) that is created in one basin is transferred elsewhere.

    Also, the US Supreme Court has ruled that water is an article of commerce, which limits the ability of the states to prohibit transfers out of state. (Sporhase v. Nebraska I think).

    Although disallowing transfers out of a basin sounds good in principal, this was not the rule in the west as property rights developed under prior appropriation. And to the extent people are against sprawl and or developing areas that are now not developed, it could be argued that moving the water to the city and having more density there is better than not allowing the transfer. This appears to be what is at issue (at least in part) with respect to Southern Nevada.

    Although I am not certain, I think that in Arizona, with few exceptions, groundwater may not be transferred out of its basin (but it may be that the transfer can occur if damages are paid to those that are harmed by it.)

  5. Like Mark S said - water transfers are all too often reflections of power imbalances...

    19/20 N CA counties voted against the State Water Project in 1960; most N CA counties voted against the peripheral canal in 1982 by >90%. Why would N CA want to subsidize S CA's growth (and gains in population and political power) with their resources? Most recently, Proposition 8 failed in N CA but passed because of the larger (and more conservative) population in S CA made possible by N CA water.


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