11 Mar 2009

Quinn on Groundwater and the Peripheral Canal

Tim Quinn spoke at Berkeley on Tuesday evening [video here in a few weeks...]

Most of his talk centered on the Peripheral Canal, and he took questions from the audience.

Basically, he (and ACWA, the organization he heads) support the Peripheral Canal because it will protect the status quo (water exports to ag/urban interests in SoCal) while "doing something" about the Delta's deteriorating ecology. (I cannot find ACWA's "official statement" in support of the PC; the issue is still controversial...)

I asked why he wanted to reconfirm unsustainable practices by Delta and San Joaquin farmers reliant on water imports (instead of buying them out). He replied that there are significant communities and economies in the area, and that a PC is better than the current mess -- which it is.

The trouble is that he failed to mention a third option (cutting off all Delta exports) that I support. Of course, ACWA is not interested in discussing a cutoff, since water exports are popular for agri-business. (I am not quite convinced that it's ALL about community. There's a lot of money/investment sunk into SJ agriculture -- regardless of "the children." Read Westlands' agit/prop here.)

Anyway, you can read my thoughts on how SoCal should live off its "own" water here.

Tim briefly mentioned groundwater, and offered an off-the-cuff estimate that overdrafting in the Central Valley (pumping more water out of the ground than sinks into the ground) will increase from 2MAF/year to 4MAF/year due to drought and export restrictions. (There's 17MAF of pumping capacity in the valley!) Since farmers are responsible for most of this pumping, they are basically robbing from their future selves. Not a happy situation.

Tim mentioned that ACWA is considering an official stance in favor of STATE groundwater monitoring. That's a far cry from regulation and/or taxation, but the first step on a slippery slope towards those policies. (After all, monitoring is useless if withdrawals continue to be unsustainable.) I favor both monitoring and sustainable withdrawals, since restrictions are less likely to hurt pumpers and more likely to solve the current tragedy of the commons, i.e., pumpers racing each other to the bottom...

Note the interesting connection between these two topics: Surface imports of water have often been justified as a means of "restoring" depleted groundwater (Colorado River Aqueduct, Central Valley Project, State Water Project), and I am SURE that some overdrafters will claim that the resumption of water exports from the Delta will "fix" depleted aquifers south of the Delta. That's what they will claim, but they will do what everyone has done every prior time: Use the surface water AND continue to overdraft the groundwater.

The only way to prevent such unsustainable behavior is to monitor and regulate BOTH ground and surface water withdrawals, use markets to reallocate water from those who hold rights to those who want to use the water, and pay-off those whose water rights are superseded by changes in public policy/public trust actions.

Oh -- one more thing: Quinn mentioned the fact that SWP contractors receive "no subsidies" for their water. That's true in the cash sense (they pay fixed and variable costs), but not in the economic sense. Because SWP buyers have contracts, they have access to water that could be used elsewhere (or would be used elsewhere, were there a competative market for water), so those contractors are receiving an "opportunity cost" subsidy that is as large as the difference between "highest and best use" and the actual value of their water in use.

Bottom Line: Past water allocations are no longer the best water allocations, but those who received them need to be compensated as the water moves to contemporary "highest and best use."

Addendum: (via DW) The SWRCB has warned surface water diverters that they may not be able to draw out water. That will mean even MORE overdrafting.

Addendum2: "Normal" delta exports are 7MAFY for the CVP and 3MAFY for the SWP. Of CVP water, about 70% goes to Ag, 8% goes to urban and 22% goes to environmental uses. Of SWP water, about 70% goes to urban and 30% to agriculture. In total, that means that 60% of delta exports go to agricultural users. Ag users are cut to 0% and 15% (CVP and SWP, respectively) this year...

1 comment:

DW said...

Southern California will eventually develop a semi-closed loop water system using repurified wastewater and desal. Its just a matter of when, not if. It will be opposed by those who make money by grabbing and importing water from elsewhere, but it will come.

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