21 October 2013

Water management via ABCDE and F

Chris Perry has a useful mnemonic for managing water that I rewrote for TEoA 2.0:
  • Account for the available resources (read these posts)
  • Bargain through the political process to determine allocations and priorities
  • Codify priorities and allocations into rules
  • Delegate implementation to appropriate agencies
  • Engineer the infrastructure necessary to deliver the water
  • Feedback to correct errors and adapt to changing conditions
Under feedback, I'd include means of reallocating water (e.g., water markets, public trust takings, etc.), since administrative measures are not as accurate as user signals of supply and demand.*

Chris tells me that his framework has been used:
  1. As a basis for discussion of "Governance" at an FAO "Expert Consultation" earlier this year
  2. As a means to assess where irrigation is going in SE Asia, in a joint study funded by the World Bank/FAO/ADB in China, Indonesia, Thailand,, Malaysia and Vietnam
  3. As the basis for WaterAid's Water Security Framework [pdf]
...and he explains its role thusly:
My take is that it is a successful way to help ensure the discussion about water resources management is multi-discplinary and not dominated by the succession of new "languages" (engineering efficiency; economic pricing; institutional reform, livelihoods; sustainability; green growth; etc) that have so dominated the issue of water resources management over the years
Want more detail? Read his paper on ABCDE+F [pdf]

Bottom Line: Don't put the cart before the horse! You cannot allocate water without knowing how much is there; once allocated, you cannot reallocate it without the institutions and infrastructure for managing and moving water.

* Unlike command-and-control types who think that they know where water should go, I am a fan of market reallocation (we're talking bulk water here, not retail water that utilities sell), and that's why I came up with all-in-auctions.

Addendum: Chris sent this comment in response to our emails on similar/conflicting "solutions" that do not get at more basic problems:
Yes, people talk past each other and that, really, is the point of ABCDE.

In a real discipline (think, say, medicine) you CANNOT just turn up with some new solution without referencing your proposal to (a) what particular aspect of medicine does the new solution apply to (surgery, pain relief, eyesight, breathing…); (b) what is known and practised already in that specialist area, and (c) relating how the new technique will fit with every other affected element.

For example, a transplant surgeon recently installed a new adult kidney into a small baby because that was the only matching organ available. This involved shifting bits of the baby's other internal organs around to make a space and installing the kidney on the "other" side from normal. Before doing that he had to understand or find out from other experts what all the implications might be of this approach.

In water we just let these waves of "newspeak" take over the agenda for years on end WITHOUT obliging them to go through the consultation steps noted above on the known history and approaches and the impact in relation to other disciplines. A key indicator of that is that each wave comes with a new language (sustainable; livelihoods; demand management…) that the others have to learn to join the debate. Its exclusionary… and in fact one observable fact is that people who "really" manage water resources (California Department of Water Resources; Murray Darling basin; Dutch National Agency (??), India's Central Water Commission, etc etc etc) just tend to ignore each suggestion that emanates from the latest conference because it would take to long to explain reality.

I am not sure you have done this with all-in-auctions. Twenty years ago I had debates with Mark Rosegrant about water markets, and my line was that just as soon as he could deliver defined and enforced water rights in the countries we were interested in (India, Pakistan, Egypt…) then I would be fully up for helping make them tradable. So far, I did not hear back. And when you add the consumptive/non-consumptive dimension and third party impacts, I am not expecting to hear any time soon. The economic theory is great. Reality, though, is a challenge. Just think through the ABCDE+F of your all-in auctions.
In answer to his last question, I said:
On AiA and markets, I agree. That's why I say -- in the paper and always - that it's good to use them on a small scale, where rights are clear, infrastructure is in place, etc. BUT water is not reallocated among the community of users. Only AFTER small AiAs are working is it feasible to link them up -- but that implies that ABC, etc. is processed in.

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