16 Mar 2010

Water chat with Tom Rooney

Tom Rooney has been trading water in markets for over 20 years. In that time, many things have changed, and brokerage has become faster and more automated as products have become simpler and more-homogenous (see tomorrow's water chat with Mike Young for more on how he affected the process). Tom's company -- Waterfind -- has put tremendous effort into codifying the 40,000 rules that affect water trades (at the irrigation district-, state- and country-level) and writing software that makes markets work.

(Just for definitions, note that two types of water are traded in Australia. Permanent rights for an allocation of water that can be separated from land, and temporary rights for deliveries of water ("wet water") that are allocated as a percentage of the permanent right. The ratios of these two types, their prices and volumes vary with markets, regulations and water supplies. Most trades are for megaliters. One ML is 1,000,000 liters, or about 0.8 acre-feet.)

I talked to Tom Rooney on two occasions -- when he was on the road, talking to farmers and others in the business (see photo) and at Waterfind's Adelaide office.

In our first chat [18 min, 6 MB MP3], we had very little time to get into details, and Tom just makes some introductory remarks. In his presentation, I learned about the gaming that occurs around export caps (restrictions that limit exports to 4, 7 or 10 percent of available water or rights), the roles of government as buyer (for environmental water) and regulator, and how prices have changed with seasonal conditions and the change in rules to allow carry-over. One very interesting aspect was the way that government demand (and changes in those demands) has lead to wild swings in "free market" water prices. (Also note the interesting problem of crowding out -- no environmental organizations will buy water if the government will do it with tax money.)

In our second chat [49 min, 17 MB MP3], I played the roles of farmer (seller), regulator and environmentalist. (Then Tom turned the tables and interviewed me :)

For more background, watch/read this piece and check out their 2008/2009 water year annual report [link coming]. In this last piece, you can see trading prices and volumes, the inverse relationship between the price of permanent water rights and temporary water deliveries,* and much more detail.

Bottom Line: Tom Rooney has been in this game from the start. He's not just a broker -- he's helping the market evolve and work better. His clients pay five percent fees, but they get 95 percent of value that was not there a few years ago.

* As delivery allocations on rights (as a percentage) fall, the value of the rights falls, but the value of delivered ("wet") water rises.

1 comment:

Eric said...

Great article. Too bad the audio quality is not good. when I play the audio, the sound seems to cut in and out making it difficult to hear what Tom is saying.

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