22 Jun 2009

Bootlegger Irrigation

Fleck asks if we should agree with those who claim that their outdoor irrigation is okay because it "recharges" local groundwater.

Besides the obvious engineering problem (pump up, irrigate, percolate SOME back is a net user of energy AND water), there's the more interesting (to me) claim that "my green lawn" is for the public good.

That rhetoric has been coming up a lot in my conversations with reporters in the past week. Bruce Yandle called it "baptists and bootleggers" (i.e., Baptists want to ban Sunday alcohol sales in stores "in the name of God." Bootleggers agree -- because they prefer less competition.)

In the water business, these images come up all the time
  • The Nature Conservancy and Central Valley farmers both backing the Peripheral Canal. What if the PC only delivered water but didn't "fix" Delta ecology? (Oh, and what if TNC didn't get any restoration contracts?)
  • Homeowners who claim they need cheap water for landscaping irrigation to "save the community" from wildfires -- when it really saves their lifestyle.
  • Activists claiming that water flows will maintain jobs -- when the flows will obviously benefit land owners by far more.
  • Your example?
Bottom Line: Always pay attention to who is claiming what benefit -- and who is benefiting while remaining quiet. In other words, follow the money!


  1. I would be very careful in defining a private lawn as a public good - sure, there's some amenity value to it that the community might enjoy, but I would suppose it's so marginal, that it is almost negligible. High-ish water prices are not causing a situation of under-supply of green lawns. As you say, it is essentially a question of subsidizing a lifestyle - free riding to obtain a private gain.

  2. WaterSource/WaterBank22 Jun 2009, 16:53:00

    You are right ! Always follow the money !

    Like almost everything, water is a matter of supply and demand...

    Nothing better than changing the rules to get the price up for available supply.

    No surprise that suppliers are enjoying the benefit of a reduced supply ... great time & excuse to raise prices !

    Thinking of terms of a highly flexible supply Source for the future for life's uncertainties is never important until tomorrow's crisis arrives ... then it is always would've, could've and should've ... but a day late and a dollar short.


  3. Now that people are installing sod from turfgrass farms instead of growing lawns from seeds, those lawns are creating desperately needed farm jobs!


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