18 January 2013

Crisis? What crisis?

In the world of political hyperbole, we have to deal with fake wars and cliffs, but I am most annoyed by the overuse of "crisis", so I asked people on my mailing list (subscribe here) for some help:
If we're constantly talking about a "water crisis" (a phrase I hate), then why are we not SOLVING that crisis, especially when it seems rather obvious, to me, that most of it is due to a failure to rein in demand. Is it as simple as the beneficiaries of the crisis blocking change? Tell me.
I got some great responses, i.e., MM wrote:
Ah, crises…water is not alone! In a time when we have enormous amounts of available information (and mis/disinformation) on almost every possible topic, and where we have little time/inclination to personally try to separate the wheat from the chaff for more than a few topics, the competition for public/political attention and resources has led experts/would-be opinion leaders in almost any field you can choose to identify the major issues in their fields as ‘crises’. The word ‘crisis’ has become loud static in my life... As a philosopher friend once told me, “When I have too much ‘noise’ in my life, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the ‘urgent’ from the ‘important’.”
And MV wrote:
I would call it a people crisis, as any crisis is not caused by water but by people.
What do YOU think?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

David:

The reason local water agencies do not develop effective water conservation programs is because they don't want to lose the revenue that comes with water sales. Unlike energy utilities in California, the local water agencies and big wholesalers like MWD and SD County Water Authorities don't have a state agency that controls their water rates like the CPUC does those of California energy utilities. In 1981, the CPUC "decoupled" energy utilities energy rates from their sales. They do that by setting rates based on biannual general rate cases, where rates are set based on what it costs the utilities to operate. If they sell less energy than projected in those proceedings, they get to increase their rates to reach their approved rate of return. If they sell more, they are required to reduce their rates to the GRC approved revenues.

Since water agencies set their own rates, any water they don't sell means a reduction in their revenues. Since most water agencies subsidize a large number of contractors who are buddies with the politicians who appoint the water agency board members, they want to keep that revenue stream going to those contractors. Therefore, actually creating water conservation programs that saved measurable amounts of water is not in their best interest, even if it was in the best interest of their customers.

Until this paradigm changes, I don't see local water agencies getting serious about water conservation. San Diego has one of the highest concentration of water thirsty golf courses on earth. Until those golf courses state drying up, nobody will believe that we really are in a drought.

Don W.

David Zetland said...

@Don -- good point, but there's another solution: setting prices so fixed revenues cover fixed costs and variable revenues (the price of water) covers variable costs. Then the utilities have no incentive to sell more or less AND customers still have a reason to use less (a problem with decoupling), esp. if variable prices are set HIGHER than costs in times of scarcity (now, but also the last two years).