21 Aug 2009

Another Nail in the Coffin

... of the idea that water conservation technology (e.g., drip irrigation) will reduce overall water use. Read all about it in "Water conservation in irrigation can increase water use" (via RH).

The folks at the Pacific Institute should read this paper. Then they should re-read this post and this post. Then they should sit down and rethink the whole "technology -- regardless of cost or flows -- will fix the water shortages" leitmotif.

Bottom Line: Farmer want to make money. If they save water in one place, they will use it in another -- as long as they still make money. If you want them to use less water make it more expensive (price) or worth more elsewhere (markets). Got that? Thanks.


  1. You're right. However, raising costs with no offsetting gain for those paying the increased cost will (duh) meet a lot of resistance. In the case of residential users, for whom water costs will always be a small percentage of their cost of living, this is no big deal. For farmers and other industrial users, it is. So I would suggest replacing the word "or" with the word "and" in your last full sentence. Then tatoo it on the back of the hands of every water manager and environmental advocate.

  2. Maybe the subsidy will stimulate the growth of subsidized crops!

  3. @MK -- I'm all in favor of "and" :)

    @Anon -- which subsidy?

  4. This has been predicted by studies for some time. See this post from Wayne Bossert, a water manager in Kansas - http://nwksgmd4.blogspot.com/2009/08/cant-help-but-shake-my-head.html
    What I'm waiting for is a study that provides some guidance for implementing conservation measures that will actually result in less water being pumped/diverted without increases in CU. I know it's possible but can it be done without major disruption to existing water rights.

  5. @CB -- less pumping, same CU? Isn't that drip? Or do you mean fallowing?

  6. @DZ -- my point is that the studies I have seen predict (theoretically) that consumptive use may increase with increased efficiency. Consumptive use is easy to predict, but not so easy to directly measure. So a study needs to be conducted to determine a) what real effect do certain efficiency measures have on actual consumptive use, and b) what practices can ensure that both total and consumptive use decrease by implementing on-farm efficiency - while maintaining or improving yields/incomes for farmers. It's one thing to say - don't rush into efficiency improvements because this theory predicts there may be unintended consequences. It's another to be able to say - this type of efficiency improvement will result in this effect on consumptive use, which can be mitigated by implementing certain practices.

  7. And on top of that, increased efficiency can also increase salt buildup in soils. That's a terminal disease for irrigated agriculture and the societies that depend on it. Because salt buildup happens gradually, often over generations, we short-attention-span humans often don't take it seriously until too late.

  8. @CB -- I agree, but I think that those studies have been done. Try this.

  9. @CB, Check out Jevons paradox regarding the impacts of increasing efficiency and total consumption.


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