6 Mar 2009

The Feds, Climate Change and Water

MP at USACE sent me "Climate Change and Water Resources Management: A Federal Perspective" [9MB PDF].
The purpose of this interagency report prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is to explore strategies to improve water management by tracking, anticipating, and responding to climate change. This report describes the existing and still needed underpinning science crucial to addressing the many impacts of climate change on water resources management.
Most of the 76 pages are devoted to the typical supply-side stuff, but here's the demand side:
water-demand management is largely a State and local responsibility; the Federal role is constrained by Congressional authorization. Demand-side management balances water demands with limited available supplies by having a more efficient allocation of existing supplies. Water that is saved reduces the need for costly infrastructure.

One adaptation strategy is to enhance mechanisms for market-based transfers of water among uses. Climate change and shifting patterns of demand may increase market pressures that today are moving water from one use to another. Increased use of voluntary water leasing, water banks, and water markets can increase the opportunity for water rights holders to shift water among users. Transfers can either be permanent by purchasing water rights or temporary by having contracts to purchase water during dry years. Markets and higher prices provide an incentive to adopt water conservation, particularly during periods of limited supply and drought.

Another strategy is to reduce overall water consumption through conservation and efficiency improvements. Municipal water utilities can encourage water conservation by individual metering and pricing.
Well said. I just wish that more than two percent of the report was concerned with demand-side strategies. Relying only on the supply side is like one hand clapping.

Bottom Line: Water should be managed at the local level, and the Feds know it. Now let's get the locals to raise prices and improve markets!

20 comments:

  1. If you manage water at the local level, especially for a river that covers thousands of miles, don't you immediately get into a bad version of the multi-person prisoner's dilemma in which everyone loses?

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  2. DZ, I think in the 70s there was a shift in balance from supply-side management towards demand-side. Not being around then, I don't know how that compares to today, and whether or when a shift occurred back.

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  3. Sooooo, you economists would take our Water Welfare out of the hands of We the People at the Federal, wholesale, level and hand it over to Private Industry at the local, retail level? Let the Invisible Hand of Capitalism fill the cup, then make it half empty or half full?
    Like Black Water or KBR or Titan Corporation or Archer Daniels Midland?
    Now that's diversification for you.

    Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

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  4. @Eric -- water *can* be managed along an entire river -- provided that laws/contracts are upheld. The easiest way to do this is by establishing flow rights (quality and quantity) from the bottom up that adjust to changes in supply.

    @Daniel -- Wow, I wish I saw more evidence of demand-side, but I've NEVER seen very much (now or historically).

    @Editilla -- water MUST move from wholesale to retail. It's not the ownership that matters/leads to problems. When you read more about market power/monopoly (or merely reflect), you will realize that public greed (in the name of "we the people") can be just as screwed up as private greed...

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  5. David,
    I live in New Mexico. Water rights have been 'negotiated' here for more than one hundred years. No consensus has been met between the parties within the state. Not much consensus seems to have been met between New Mexico and Colorado or Texas.

    One source of disagreement is acequias. These are open ditches that have been used for hundreds of years to irrigate bean fields. Lots of water seeps out of these ditches or evaporates into the air. This water could be used, for instance, to make products in Albuquerque. One of these products is silicon chips for computers.

    As the newspapers report it, the owners of the acequias would be happy if Intel and actually all of Albuquerque went away as long as the owners could keep doing subsistence farming. Many in the state seem to want 'traditional ways' much more than they want rational water usage. The battle over irrigation water has been going on for about 60 years with no resolution in sight except the default resolution--'I will use the water first so you don't get any.'

    How might you handle such a situation?

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  6. Part 2

    The 'traditional ways' people do not believe in laws or contracts imposed by the state or the federal government. They believe in their tribe and what they have done in the past. (see, for example, The Milagro Beanfield War).

    Since the state is more than 50% Hispanic, the traditional ways people tend to win.

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  7. Eric -- I have blogged on acequilas (http://aguanomics.com/2008/06/acequias-community-irrigation.html), and I agree that they represent a notion from the past.

    That doesn't mean that they do not work for the community, however, so it's a much harder thing to say whether they are good or bad.

    Their "waste" (seepage) actually recharges groundwater, so lining canals to export "saved" water is not a sure fire winner.

    My solution -- as always -- is to recognize and support their property rights. I would perhaps force them to participate in all-in-auctions, which allow water owners to rebuy their water, but presents them with an explicit bill for doing so.

    If they decide to keep the water, there's nothing more for me to say. I am not interested in taking things from people by force. (People should not move to the desert and EXPECT water to arrive!)

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  8. David,
    Thanks.
    My question was a bit different. If acequias associations and pueblos (soveriegn nations) upstream claim that they need more water because they need more water, but this same water is contracted downstream, say to Albuquerque, Texas, California, or Mexico, who wins and why?
    On water seeping back into the land, this makes some sense to me if the water returns to the river in a week or two, but, in some places around here, the water returns to the river not in a week but in thousands of years. How do you handle this slow return rate?
    As to cottonwoods and other trees along a river, the water that is lost out of their leaves, due to prevailing wind patterns, often does not end up in New Mexico but gets blown east to Oklahoma or beyond. Should water regulations consider where the water ends up that is no longer in the ground but in the air.
    I am not trying to cause trouble here. I am just trying to understand the intricacies of water regulation better especially when the regulations become a political battle ground, like California's central valley and the needs of Los Angeles.

    For topics that you have already covered, just point me in the right direction to find the discussions.

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  9. Eric,

    Thanks for the clarification. I have no idea of the possibility of tribes asking for "more" water, but perhaps someone else will know. I am all in favor of protecting water rights -- even if they are imposed NOW on water that was previously held elsewhere (e.g., to recognize an historic tribal claim).

    As to seepage and trees, I'd have to defer to the "norms" of historic rights (diversion or consumption?) -- even if that means that the water is "wasted." It seems that there have been a lot of mistakes made in the name of "conserving" water thru canal lining, etc., and I'd prefer to hold back on most of those ideas, which I'd call "no-brainer" for other reasons :)

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  10. Historic water rights.

    Some tribes/sovereign nations claim water rights going back hundreds or thousands of years. They claim that they were the 'first peoples' on this land even though more recent scientific evidence shows that they were not the first people and that the current representatives of 'first people' have interbred extensively with 'second people,' 'third people,' etc. For these water claims, there was no law in existence for the times that the claims were made. So, there is no clear title to the land or to the water rights.

    Is there established case law on how such situations should be resolved? Is the case law followed or ignored, especially by 'sovereign nations', a legally slippery concept.

    On another level, what are the rights to brackish water, thousands of feet beneath standard clear title claims?

    Thanks.

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  11. I just love all this talk about markets, economy and making money. Of course water is the big thing now, so let's buy shares, rip off the poor, get corporations involved, etc...hang on...it's that kind of behaviour that led to the climate problems in the first place...

    It's a bit like Homer Simpson believing that if he can just eat one more donut he will be thin.

    I hate to sound like a socialist, but I really think it's time for effective leadership and government FOR THE PEOPLE, not for the wallets of the rich.

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  12. Eric -- Read JFleck (if you don't already) for the brackish water stuff...http://www.inkstain.net/fleck/

    I take your point about "who's on first," but the goal is to be consistent. It's hard, yep, you bet.

    @Roger -- keep reading this blog. You are mixing up several memes (water for the people, buying water "shares", poor/rich, etc.) that I consistently reconcile (private vs. public water managers; some for free, pay for more; markets to allow reallocation from WILLING sellers to willing buyers; etc.)

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  13. David,
    Consistent to what? A legal basis, a particular moral stand, the viability of the U.S., the majority of people, etc.?
    This, at the conceptual level, appears to be another prisoner's dilemma with the winner being the one who has the power.

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  14. Wow! Where to begin...with these comments (as Eric says), "Why waste my time!"

    It's interesting that some people are so ignorant in water issues but are interested in water enough to comment on blogs.

    I live in New Mexico. Water rights have been 'negotiated' here for more than one hundred years. No consensus has been met between the parties within the state. Not much consensus seems to have been met between New Mexico and Colorado or Texas.

    Clearly Eric has not heard of the Rio Grande Compact, but he should learn about it and the consensus met by these states back in the 30's.

    He should also read about the Treaty of Hidalgo and NM legislation.

    One source of disagreement is acequias. These are open ditches that have been used for hundreds of years to irrigate bean fields.

    Very little -- if any -- of the water is used to irrigate beans(!?) on any sort of scale worth mentioning... chile maybe... We NMexicans are very picky about our chile!! Another crop worth mentioning is apples (it's a very short growing season). If forage is grown it's usually grown for on the farm use feeding the family livestock.

    Acequia fed farms are made up of small family farms, typically growing vegetables to supplement their income or supplement their food supply. Most are not growing on much more than a few acres, a twenty acre plus farm is a very large farm on the acequia system. Eric should visit a local farmer's market to "get a taste" of what is grown on NM farms.

    Lots of water seeps out of these ditches or evaporates into the air. This water could be used, for instance, to make products in Albuquerque. One of these products is silicon chips for computers.

    You explained this to him, and he also needs to consider the multifunctionality of irrigated farmland, providing critical wildlife corridors(because of farmlands proximity to NM's limited water sources), open space for all, and not to mention these acequia communities are the linchpins of NM's unique culture (keeping it from becoming anywhere America). These unique cultural traditions bring in tourism dollars, one of our bigger economies.

    This water could be used, for instance, to make products in Albuquerque. One of these products is silicon chips for computers.

    Until the water runs out or the economy takes a dive! Oh yeah it did(!) and NM isn't hurting nearly as bad as other states that are "production" oriented.

    Although we could attract more people here for "jobs" and then we can try to stretch our limited resource even further!

    As the newspapers report it, the owners of the acequias would be happy if Intel and actually all of Albuquerque went away as long as the owners could keep doing subsistence farming.

    Not sure what newspapers he's reading! Although I would admit that most of us native NM's would like newcomers to go back where they cames from, because we really have limited resources here, ie water!

    Many in the state seem to want 'traditional ways' much more than they want rational water usage. The battle over irrigation water has been going on for about 60 years with no resolution in sight except the default resolution--'I will use the water first so you don't get any.'

    The 'traditional ways' people do not believe in laws or contracts imposed by the state or the federal government. They believe in their tribe and what they have done in the past. (see, for example, The Milagro Beanfield War).


    Please visit the NM Acequia Association website to learn and understand how the acequias work and are governed....not the Milagro Beanfield War movie/book.

    My question was a bit different. If acequias associations and pueblos (soveriegn nations) upstream claim that they need more water because they need more water, but this same water is contracted downstream, say to Albuquerque, Texas, California, or Mexico, who wins and why?

    Acequias and pueblos, and all other farmers can only claim water rights based on proven historic use, nothing more, NOT that they need more water because they need more water (?!?!?!)

    Water right holders may protest water transfers that may impact their water rights. This usually involves litigation

    On water seeping back into the land, this makes some sense to me if the water returns to the river in a week or two, but, in some places around here, the water returns to the river not in a week but in thousands of years. How do you handle this slow return rate?

    Take a hydrology/geology course!! The irrigated farmland is highly interactive with the rios.

    Again NM's acequia farmland lies adjacent to rios or ritos and within their floodplains. This include the Rio Grande farmland which is irrigated off the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District(MRGCD). The MRGCD is comprised what used to be 70 acequias.

    The irrigated farmland is highly interactive with the rios.

    As to cottonwoods and other trees along a river, the water that is lost out of their leaves, due to prevailing wind patterns, often does not end up in New Mexico but gets blown east to Oklahoma or beyond. Should water regulations consider where the water ends up that is no longer in the ground but in the air.

    Hydrologists do take into account ET and consumptive use of the bosque when considering water accounting.

    Historic water rights: Some tribes/sovereign nations claim water rights going back hundreds or thousands of years. They claim that they were the 'first peoples' on this land even though more recent scientific evidence shows that they were not the first people and that the current representatives of 'first people' have interbred extensively with 'second people,' 'third people,' etc. For these water claims, there was no law in existence for the times that the claims were made. So, there is no clear title to the land or to the water rights.

    Another display of ignorance... What tribes are claiming they were the "first people"...where is this information coming from?!?!?

    Is there established case law on how such situations should be resolved? Is the case law followed or ignored, especially by 'sovereign nations', a legally slippery concept.

    There are numerous cases where tribes have protested water right transfers when they feel their proven historic water rights (which have to be legally proven) are being impacted by the transfer. And they must provide hydologic proof they they are impacted.

    On another level, what are the rights to brackish water, thousands of feet beneath standard clear title claims?

    Right now water at these depth is not regulated in NM, although legislation was introduced this year to allow for regulation of water at these depths. Don't know the bill number...Visit NM legislative website.

    Also learn about the water grab on the San Agustin Plains, where an Italian owned company is claiming water rights!

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  15. CC

    Lots of useful information coupled with an arrogant attitude, a pseudonym, and few references. If you have references, please list them and include case law.

    You avoided lots of the underlying issues such as the Pojoaque pueblo's claim, a few years back, that they actually owned much of the water near Santa Fe, could use it for golf courses, and were not answerable to the state because they were a sovereign nation.

    Your claim, in the middle of your rant that New Mexicans who were not native born in New Mexico should leave invalidated most of the points that you tried to make elsewhere. It is this claim to 'native born' winning over people who have moved in that makes my point and David's point. Can 'native born' ignore laws designed for all. Are they a special class for water rights?

    If you had strong legal points, why bother with the personal attack? Since you chose an attack, my assumption (based on an old Chinese belief) is that your points are much weaker than you claim they are and are mostly emotional not legal. If so, you have just supported my main question to David about whose 'law' should win in water battles.

    It seems that you want New Mexico to have the economic strength of Uzbekistan once all the non natives move out and take the state's economy with them. Is that what you want?

    Thanks for whatever comments and references you provide.

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  16. Eric -- on consistency, I'd have to say this:
    1) Protect water rights first.
    2) Changes to water rights (takings) must be compensated.
    3) Avoid (2) with water markets.
    4) Changes that are ex-post reallocations based on re-interpretations of law (e.g., tribal rights) are fine, but existing users need to be compensated per (2) or (3).
    5) Where human life is at stake, toss (1), but that's nearly impossible (e.g., WAY less than 50gal/cap/day...)

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  17. David,
    As usual, thanks.

    CC

    I read two of the treaties that you suggested.

    On the treaty of Guadelupe Hildago, the little reading that I have done says that the version of this treaty ratified by the U.S. Senate and the legislature of Mexico gave no land rights or even U.S. citizenship rights to any people, citizens of Mexico or not, living in the area purchased by the U.S. Thus there is no title to water rights by people who have lived in New Mexico, Arizona, etc. for generations before the take over by the U.S.

    As to the Rio Grande Compact, that seems to be about Colorado, Texas, and New Mexico. It ignores many of the issues brought up here, such as evaporation or the growth of cities. It does not include pueblos or native americans at all. As far as I can tell, by quick reading, Native Americans have no standing in this compact. The issue of sovereign nations complicates things further, especially since a few of these sovereign nations were established in the 1950's.

    So, my points and David's points about water rights being a complex issue with many current legal needs being entirely missing from past legal documents seems to be on target.

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  18. Eric
    I apologize for the pointed comments, I was actually ranting in an email to David, who then asked if he could post it. I should have reviewed it and tempered my comments before allowing him to post.
    That being said, it WAS my knee-jerk reaction when I read your comments. I felt you made presumptuous comments on NM water issues, without understanding the complexity of the issues. I also felt you made some offensive presumptuous comments regarding particular groups of people, ethnicities, and cultures.

    Regarding Pojoaque Pueblo, you may want to study the NM vs. Aamodt case and a 40+ year litigation which involved not only Pojoaque Pueblo, but also Nambe, Tesuque, and San Ildelfonso Pueblos. All these pueblos are within about 10 miles of each other near or within the Pojoaque Valley. As more and more people move into the area, putting in domestic wells and pumping ground water, these tribes "prior and paramount" water rights may be impacted Check out GM Bakkers book, Law in the the Western United States Ch. 25 at this sight -.http://books.google.com/books?id=zjHQWyttp6QC&pg=PA191&lpg=PA191&dq=Treaty+of+Hidalgo+%2B+NM+%2B+water&sourc

    I never said newcomers should leave, but I will say as more and more people move here it puts more stress on an already limited resource, and I was merely validating that you probably do get that vibe from people who have lived here for generations.

    Uh...an economy of Uzbekistan (??)...I was merely stating,that because we don't have much "production" oriented industry, NM is not in as bad a shape as a lot of states right now.

    The Rio Grande Compact - You commented on consensus between the states and that's why I pointed out the RG Compact. You're right the tribes have no obligations in the compact.
    Treaty of Hidalgo- NM constituion recognizes the Treaty of Hidalgo
    http://www.neta.com/~1stbooks/nmdoc.html


    INDEED water issues are incredibly complex!! This is why it is so important to do your homework before making presumptuous comments!
    Google is a great thing...

    If you want to learn more about how complex it is (and downright scary)learn about the water dedications (the whole middle Rio Grande Valley would have to dry up irrigated ag in order to meet the dedication), look at NM regional water plans the metropolitan counties (Santa Fe, Bernalillo, Sandoval) water plans call for moving water rights from Socorro and Sierra counties. Socorro and Sierra water plans call for keeping their water within their county. And the complexity goes on...and on...
    And on top of all that, in numerous surveys NMexicans felt that irrigated ag should be a priority use of water, and that's not just hispanics and that's not just native NMexicans!

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  19. CC,
    Thanks for the reference to Bakker's book. From that reference, it appears that Aamodt vs. New Mexico gives Native Americans a prior right to whatever water they choose to extract from the Rio Grande and that this right is not subject to New Mexico laws.

    Thus, the Pueblos can build casinos and resorts which starve Albuquerque and Texas of water. Is this right?

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  20. Wrong. They are just entitled to their historic water use and enough to establish and maintain their homeland. BTW, their golf courses and resorts don't use any more water than any other golf courses and resorts in NM.
    If you are truly interested in learning the facts about water I suggest you attend the numerous water conferences/meeting in the state. Also you might want to take a course in NM water law or spend a lot of time reading about it, googling NM water law, etc...

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