14 Feb 2009

Persistance -- and Baggs

Last Sunday, I met Terry Spragg for the first time in person.

For those of you who have not heard of Terry, he's the inventor and promoter of an alternative means of transporting water via VERY LARGE water bags -- or Spragg Bags. Here's a full write up [PDF].

Here's a video of the bags in the water on Spragg's demonstration voyage:

Spragg's key ideas are that:
  1. Water and people are not always in the same places
  2. Getting water to people requires infrastructure, which can be expensive.
  3. The bags can "move water" at low cost, in variable quantities, on short notice.
The trouble is that NOBODY will adopt them. Even worse, nobody will pay for a trial to confirm/deny their suspicion that bags will not "work." [There was one trial, but water managers elsewhere claim that their situation is "different." Right.]

Without trial evidence, it's just one man's idea against a LOT of institutional inertia, and that struggle is rarely won by the guy with the good idea -- a phenomenon I have a lot of experience with.

Is Terry's 20+ year struggle to get bags into service a mistake, a waste of time, a fantasy? I don't know. I suspect that it's probably going to work out but keeping hope in the face of such odds is tough, and for that, I admire Terry.

I am trying to do the same thing with something that practically every economist on the planet understands and supports (raise prices when demand exceeds supply), but I still get depressed when water managers ignore this harm-reducing advice and turn to tried and true means of failure: rationing.

Bottom Line: Some water utility should put up $1 million to test these bags. If When the Delta levees fail, they will be handsomely rewarded for a proactive investigation of alternatives, rather than flogged for a reactive struggle to keep failure from turning into disaster (e.g., Katrina).