5 Mar 2009

Weather Driven Policy

Last summer, I noted how politicians' interest in water policy fluctuates with the weather, and this article (via DW) points out how policy-makers, lobbyists, and interest groups have used "drought" as a bludgeon to advance their agendas:
On Monday, the state Department of Water Resources announced that the mountain snowpack that feeds the state's reservoirs has reached 80% of normal for the date. Precipitation in the northern and southern Sierra has climbed above 90% of average and another storm is on the way.

"Right now it doesn't look too bleak," said Maury Roos, the state's chief hydrologist. "I think we'll have more runoff than last year."

The water interests who have spit out grim news releases the last two months were silent Monday in the face of the growing snowpack.

Those who would like to build new reservoirs and canals and to weaken environmental regulations have invoked the drought like a mantra in recent weeks.

A recently introduced congressional bill that would allow federal officials to relax endangered-species protections in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is titled the California Drought Alleviation Act.

"For over 100 years in California, the drought argument has been used consistently to justify actions, and I think this is no exception," said Robert Wilkinson, director of the Water Policy Program at UC Santa Barbara's Bren School of Environmental Science and Management.

In late January, a public relations firm representing state water contractors trumpeted: "California's water supply dries up." It was highlighting the need for a delta "fix," including a canal bypass.
Although I will agree that my "value" rises as water shortages increase, I will not put myself in the opportunist category.

I advocate water markets as a means of allocating water, and market prices -- by definition -- would fall when water is abundant and rise when it is scarce.("some for free, pay for more" would also fluctuate, since the "pay" part will rise in shortage and fall in surplus.)

The same cannot be said for those who seek $billions for dams, canals, etc. Once that money is spent, the infrastructure will be "used" -- regardless of water scarcity.

Bottom Line: We need water policies that accommodate changing water conditions. The "hard path" (to borrow from Peter Gleick) is too hard to change when conditions do. Follow the "soft path" -- use markets.