31 May 2013

Friday party!

This* is funny and sad:**

* The production values videos by this producer are good; I think they may be an example of how new visual media will arrive -- 4 minutes, ads sometimes, with a point.

** Speaking of missed communications, here's some good advice (for guys and gals) on how to have good relationships

Speed blogging

  1. Rebuilding after Sandy requires that people consider the cost of rebuilding AND paying for insurance to reflect risk. They are unhappy, but reality bites.

  2. Very cool: Farmers can soon use their smart phone to test for soil moisture -- and data can provide regional maps. Related: crowdsourcing power plant data for calculating carbon outputs.

  3. Women, water and political rights in India

  4. "They came for the water, but were they misinformed?" Nice article on the problems with -- and solutions to -- water scarcity in the US.

  5. The EPA is looking at the value importance of water in the US economy. The technical papers use interesting methods. I wonder what EPA will do with this project?
H/Ts to JF, DL, BT and JV

$657 per Californian

It seems that the Delta tunnels and restoration will cost $25 billion. That's $657 per Californian. Do you think they support that project? Would they if farmers (75%) and urban dwellers (25%) paid for the water? Maybe.


30 May 2013

Math (and life) can be hard but don't make it worse

This funny/cruel comic highlights our problem with overwork and high expectations.

For example, read this post on burning out by a young academic -- and reflect on why we -- all of us -- are here. The comments -- not just mine -- offer some useful context from others.

Complex systems

I've lived in the Netherlands for a few years, and I appreciate their skills in managing complex systems (infrastructure, water, events, etc.) at a much higher level than their American equivalents. Why is this? Because the Dutch have been living within a small space for hundreds of years, and they need to "rearrange the legos" all the time to make the best use of their scarce resources. Americans, in contrast, have sloppier methods because there has always been more land, water, trees, buffalo, etc. to make up for waste.

The EU fails in the same way when it tries to lay down a single regulation or centralize management of many values and constraints within the Brussels vision of Europe. This method fails not just because it's at the wrong scale (in defiance of subsidiarity), but also because Eurocrats do not have Dutch skills and experience in multidisciplinary integration. Should the Dutch run the EU? Of course not. They know themselves much better than their neighbors in Ireland, Poland, Greece, etc.

Note the important implications of over-centralized, command and control. Orders are more likely to be inefficient (since they are one-sized fits all), more confusing (since the chain-of-command is longer), and harder to correct (since information flows will be slow and distorted). How did the Romans run a larger empire with more success than Brussels? Subsidiarity and simple rules on commerce, taxes, etc.

29 May 2013

Anything but water

  1. This article attacks the Facebook social experience.* I agree that FB reveals our self-image in ways that others may not like or understand -- that's why it's "socially autistic" compared to conversations -- or even emails. How is blogging different? It's a personal opinion, but one presented with the idea that a reader will be there to discuss and understand. That's a MUCH clearer communication channel.

  2. Sunstein reviews Hirschman, one of the genius economists:
    In seeking to prove Hamlet wrong, Hirschman was suggesting that doubt could be a source not of paralysis and death but of creativity and self-renewal... Hirschman celebrates skepticism about his own theories and ideas, and he captures not only the insight but also the pleasure, even the joy, that can come from learning that one had it wrong.

    He insisted that human history provides “stories, intricate and often nonrepeatable,” which “look more like tricks history has up its sleeve than like social-scientific regularities, not to speak of laws.” ... Hirschman was delighted by paradoxes, unintended consequences (especially good ones), the telling detail, inventories of actual practices (rather than big theories), surprises, and improvisation. In his view, “history is nothing if not farfetched.
  3. Silly food ideas: printing food and (real, non-human) soylent green. Both have a larger production cost than real, unprocessed food, such as we see with this sample of breakfasts around the world :)

  4. Various corrupt governments are trying to reform kill the World Bank's Doing Business report. That's a terrible idea, as the report clarifies the impact of institutions (as a whole) and puts pressures on non-performing governments. Email here if you want to support it.

  5. Speaking of business, read this horror story (ongoing) of how Ranbaxy, an Indian drug company, ignored regulations on production quality and drug effectiveness (people have died), this great example of how an entrepreneur broke a cartel, and Silicon Valley's unrealistic attitude [$] towards government, politics and people. Related: our social evolution away from morality and self-reliance means that government is both more necessary and more dangerous.
H/T to BB
* Addendum: This reply to the FB piece clarifies the political views there (more progressive than libertarian).

28 May 2013

Tuesday funnies

What would we do without photoshop?

Two reviews, one post

I skimmed through two edited volumes on water and economics.

Investing in Water for a Green Economy (Young and Esau, eds.) has some "macro descriptions" of how water fits into an economy, some VERY basic water economics, and some farflung case studies. I don't think it's either thorough or clearly directed at "green economy," which seems to be a buzzword. THREE STARS.

In contrast, Water Trading and Global Water Scarcity (Maestu, ed.) succeeds with a narrower focus. The book starts with some water market case studies, then looks at problems in making markets work, suggestions of how to overcome those problems, and ends with some "optimal" scenarios of markets that would meet their (academic) potential. This book will give readers (who don't mind the academic and varying tone) a nice understanding of the policy issues. FIVE STARS.

27 May 2013

Speed blogging

  1. Check out this presentation [pdf] on projects to reduce non-revenue water in Vietnam and Malaysia. Interesting details on the scale of losses (40%), payback (under 3 years) and keeping on top of leaks (slide 21).

  2. Lots of information: GW-MATE assisted the World Bank with groundwater management and protection, not only for water resource projects, but also in urban water-supply, irrigation infrastructure operations, and groundwater storage for climate change adaptation strategies.

  3. Recommended primer: "The Evolution of Water Law Through 4,000 Years," which says, e.g.,
    These laws reveal a process of communal management, although the actual provisions of the various codes were limited to liability for flooding a neighbor’s fields. The ancient Hindu Ar-thashastra... are similarly limited, providing that the water belonged to the king but authorizing private uses on payment of a tax so long as...
    Also read "Shaping Water Policy: What Does Economics Have to Offer?"

  4. Dutch advice to Colombians on reforming their institutions of water management.

  5. The fight for North Dakota's fracking-water market: some sellers are trying to protect their profits against other sellers. Reliability is going to suffer because groundwater will be depleted where there are too many pumping stations because the price will drop to the cost of pumping, which does NOT include the scarcity value of water!
H/T to DL

25 May 2013

Flashback: 20-26 May

A year later and still worth reading...

Can we end hydraulic mining? My op/ed explaining why California faces water shortages. Applies elsewhere.

The US is to NL as MX is to the US, i.e., it's all relative.

Water pricing and metering -- a lesson from Aguanomics 101

24 May 2013

Friday party!

Yes, this is why I love living here.

H/T to TD

Anything but water

  1. A month ago, The Economist called for an end to affirmative action. I agree, as I prefer policies that help the poor over those directed at skin tint or ancestry. Read these articles on post-racial society in the US to see why... or just listen to Carlin:

  2. How the Swedes are changing their health care system, and a podcast on the value of subsidies for medical care/insurance in the US (Oregon). My quibble with that discussion of a study that found no health impacts but significant reductions in anxiety for those with coverage is that their discussion of an equivalent benefit via income subsidies (doubling people's income to make them equally happy) missed the obvious solution: mandate insurance for everyone and give subsidies to the poor. That's how the Dutch do it, and it's cheap and effective.

  3. Enlightening/frightening details of how corruption works in Congo's mining sector.

  4. Over 900 people died in the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh when a building full of garment workers collapsed. How to stop future disasters? Some called for clothing makers to withdraw from Bangladesh, but that would leave millions without jobs; others called for government intervention and better working standards, but the local government is corrupt and incompetent. I'd prefer that clothing buyers require factories to carry insurance against disasters, because insurance companies with skin in the game would make sure that conditions were safe -- or they'd charge for greater risk. Combine a policy with public reporting of premiums, and you've got a good monitoring and reporting system.

  5. Compensation to who? "A plan to build a convention centre in Alabama using money given by BP to restore the coast of the Gulf of Mexico has angered environmentalists, raising concerns over how funds to improve the environment are spent."

23 May 2013

The struggle for freedom, security and happiness

Sometimes it just seems like the reactionary forces are really coming from all sides:
These examples are from today but they represent a timeless tradition of rulers and elites trying to hold onto power. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they are overthrown, but they always cause harm by limiting freedom among the 99%, wasting resources in the course of limiting that freedom, and creating massive damage when resistance turns to revolution (e.g., Syrian civil war, etc., ad nauseum).

Why is it that we see more of "absolute power corrupts absolutely" than enlightened leadership? Can we do more to shift from one equilibrium to the other?

Economists (and other social scientists) have worked on this problem for many years. In some ways (e.g., "homo economicus") we have given up. In others (e.g., property rights, coalition building, etc.) we have improved conditions.

This is a big topic, but I figure that all solutions begin with a balance between willingness to help neighbors and a sense of one's own security. These solutions are harder to implement when neighbors are more different/disbursed and personal wants/fears are greater. Thus, it would be useful to make it easier to connect with neighbors and reduce personal uncertainty.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?

22 May 2013

The nexus of distractions

I've called it the nexus of bullshit, but I think that the greater danger of trying to manage the water-energy-food-climate-etc nexus is that a focus on one relationship will distract from other, important relationships while a focus on all relationships leads to paralysis.

I think it's easier and more effective for water managers to concentrate on balancing water supply and demand, no matter where it comes from.

Your thoughts?

Speed blogging

  1. Some California communities do not have drinkable water due to agricultural pollution. Should people leave those areas, drink bottled water or expect pipes to bring them water?

  2. Stratfor (=US Dept Defense) says that the Colorado River allocations need to be renegotiated rather than repaired one piece-by-piece. This is obvious, but it's interesting that the defense guys are now paying attention. Maybe that will lead to some action?

  3. California farmers and environmentalists are jointly managing water flows for rice, fish and birds near the Yolo Bypass. UK farmers are happy to take cash to reduce their impacts on water quality.

  4. How droughts are "declared" and why scientists are now turning the dial to 11

  5. The Nature Conservancy wants to expand the use of water markets to transfer water from farmers to cities. Good.
H/Ts to DL, RR and GT

21 May 2013

Aguanomics 101

Although every post on this blog offers valuable insights (and thicker, shinier hair!), I started tagging posts that cover the basics of aguanomics with "AG101."

By "basic aguanomics," I mean the concepts, ideas and solutions that will help us manage water for social and private uses, indefinitely.

Go ahead and browse through some of those posts (I need to go back into the archives to find more), but -- more important -- tell me AG101 topics that you'd like to see addressed. Then I can write a new post -- if one doesn't already exist!

Corruption in theory and practice

Corruption is "the abuse of public office for private gain." That means that the salesman who gives discounts for sex or offers bribes to bureaucrats to get contracts is not corrupt. He is, respectively, a thief and an opportunist.

But corruption -- to me -- is not just about public officials taking money to do the wrong thing. I also include public officials who knowingly implement policies that match their beliefs (religious, racial, social, etc.) instead of policies that create the greatest benefit to society.* They are not getting a direct cash benefit as much as an indirect personal satisfaction at forcing others to their will.**

So we get to ask if the US Government's Minerals Management Service was corrupt in one (accepting sex and drugs from energy companies, including BP, before Deep Water Horizon) or both ways (also thinking that energy companies need more space to get 'er done). I already blamed Deepwater on the regulators, but now I have two reasons to.

How do you think of corruption?

* For example, IRS officials chasing Tea Partiers. (My solution to that abuse of power, btw, is to simplify the tax code so the IRS has no discretion.)

** For example:
Public officials have their own biases and motivations. Most officials try to do the right thing, but no one can deny that at some times and places, official judgments can be distorted by the pressures imposed by powerful interests. And even if they are well-motivated, officials are human and hardly immune to the kinds of behavioral biases that affect ordinary people.

18 May 2013

17 May 2013

Friday party!

How do you identify hipsters? This is pretty accurate:

Fracking pollution, property rights and payments

Grant McDermott wrote a nice comment on fracking, and I left this reply:*
  • There is GOING to be some pollution. The question is how much.
  • It would be useful to compare lifecycle pollution from fracking to other energy sources.
  • The precautionary principle is too strong, but it would be good to have a strong penalty -- and fast process to administer it -- for pollution (or lack thereof -- in PA and NY).
  • This (social) discussion should not compare peer review (which has problems) vs populism (ditto), but property rights vs regulation.
  • Grant discusses regulation versus common law remedies. Regulation will crowd out common law and it's often myopic and/or biased. Common law can work and it would not take too long to find victims. I reckon that Deepwater would not have happened with an (open ended) common law liability. (The TX fertilizer plant that exploded "only" had $1 million in insurance but did $100 million in damages.)
I've said some other things on fracking, regulation and the cost of cleanliness here.**

* Grant and I talked during a hangout yesterday: 64 min on YouTube or mp3. He has written more on these topics, i.e.,
** The other day, I claimed that Canadian tarsands producers could keep the environment clear (except accidents) for about $5 per barrel produced. Yes, that's $5 less profits, but probably worth it if the result is "ethical oil." According to the wiki-brain, Canada has 170 billion recoverable barrels. Profits/barrel were $22 in 2007 (when prices were in the $60-70 range), so there's scope for spending on cleaner production. Would $5/barrel cover it?*** (Semi-related: Oil company share prices and behavior are not pricing in a low-carbon future. Government failure or market failure?)

***I spoke to a guy from Shell on Wednesday who claimed that Shell could reduce carbon emissions at Alberta's tar sands by 40% at a cost of $1 per barrel. My figure is based on the cost of desalination ($1/m3), noting that it takes about 5 bbl of water to produce 1bbl of shale oil. Since 5bbl is 0.8 m3, that translates to $0.80/bbl of oil, given "salt water" as an input. If the water's 6x more polluted, it would cost $4.80/bbl.

16 May 2013

Water and fracking hangout TODAY

Here's a link to the event on Google+ at 16:00 (NL)/ 10:00 (EDT) / 7:00 (PDT).  

I'll post a link to YouTube (live streaming) when we go on.

The archived video and MP3 will be posted here tomorrow.

Religion, water and policy

A few months back, I pointed out that "religious ideology can lead to terrible results (e.g., Christians who welcome catastrophic climate change as a sign of end-times, i.e., this or this)" in my weekly newsletter. One reader asked me to "name the specific denomination or kind of Christians who believe this rot rather than using such a broad brush. It certainly does not describe mine."

That's a good point, so let's start with first principles:
  1. I don't care what belief you have or how you manifest that belief when it comes to your individual choices of what private goods to consume, e.g., pork, beef, holy water, trips to some sacred place, etc.
  2. I don't care what belief you have as long as you pay "your fair share" towards public and club goods such as roads, environment, etc. That means pay your taxes and no deductions for religions (or charitable contributions, etc.)
  3. I DO care when you vote or act to deplete community (common pool) goods because your religion says that adverse impacts towards infidels or future generations is either irrelevant or condoned.
Under these rules, I allow everyone to do what they want, unless it affects me through deprivation of funding or resources.

The same can be said, btw, for people who behave as homo economicus (me first, screw you) or who have lobbyists to steal from the majority to give to the minority. Those people are just as anti-social.

Did I miss anything? (I included BOTH politics and religion :)

Bottom Line: I don't care what you believe; I care what you do. "My god says so" is no excuse for anti-social behavior.

15 May 2013

Is it worth the time?

Nice cost-benefit matrix.

My favorite time saver is my short commute :)

Speed blogging

  1. My Copenhagen talk on non-revenue water and the link between poor water management and poor macroeconomic management (MP3 and PDF slides). Check out the figure for the relationship between cheap water and unemployment (they are correlated; causality comes from a deeper institutional base).

  2. "This paper [pdf] presents the legal and institutional reforms in Brazil’s water resources sector since 1997... the implementation process still faces many challenges." Also read about Implementing IWRM for the Sao Francisco River Basin [pdf] and an update on Belo Monte dam.

  3. Aquadoc chokes on Mulroy's claim that she (and Vegas) are cooperative regarding regional water management.

  4. Cool video (8 min) showing how meters are made from raw materials in the US and MX.

  5. Nice piece on Boston's water. Funny/ironic that the author supports public control (to avoid private profiteers) when public control led to cost overruns (public profiteers?).
H/Ts to DL, TM, MT

14 May 2013

A year abroad -- for water managers?

It's common to hear about "capacity building" for managers in countries where services are not as good as expected. Most of this capacity building involves one week training in the home country or abroad. It's not clear that it does any good.

It's common to hear that students who take a "gap year" before university or that professors who take a sabattical come back with new contacts, ideas and perspective on where they were, who they are, and what they're going to do.

I think it may make sense for water managers to take just such a year but with a twist: they swap places with a partner manager. That means that a German manager may swap places with a Spanish manager, or an Egyptian with a Yemeni, or a Texan with a Washingtonian.

Ignoring the logistical issues on language, living and family, such a system would make it easier for both managers to get to know more about their own system as well as their adopted system. It would bring different perspectives to visitors as well as the hosts who welcomed them. It would, of course, improve the exchange of information as well as mutual sympathy. Note that such exchanges are common within companies, including investor-owned water companies.

There are only two barriers that I can see: the cost of running the program and the disruption to work rhythms that would occur. Both of these barriers would fall if the parties to the deal (managers and their utilities) decided that the educational gains would be worth it.

What do you think?

13 May 2013

Monday funnies

More tragic than funny, this hypocrisy...

Sustainable is not a fad

...at least when it comes to the financial and operational sustainability of water systems.

That's what I learned when HM emailed this:
In your article on SSRN you concentrate on cost coverage efficiency and equity.*

In an expert meeting of WHO in 1989 the conclusion was that the minimum water rates should be such that financial liquidity needs are fully covered; the reason being that government subsidies are not reliable in the long run, while the financial system is not a suitable provider of liquidity because water supply and sanitation utilities are awkward debtors, especially in developing countries.

This point seems to have disappeared entirely from the discussion.

WHO/CWS/89.5 was prepared by a large group of very experienced consultants with hardly any damage by bureaucrats and politicians

WHO/CWS/90.10 Handbook of Financial principles and methods was prepared by World Health Organization. In successive stages the expert opinion on the importance of liquidity maintenance was diluted by politicians and bureaucrats.
I am on the one hand pleased to be giving "good advice" that conforms with best practices of over 20 years ago. On the other, I am sad that we've not made much progress in those 20 years.

Read the earlier report and tell me if the "shoe box" fits.

Bottom Line: Bad ideas don't die easily, but good economics are available to kill them.

* That paper uses an idea I had in a debate (Does full cost pricing help the poor?), which I attributed to a flash of brilliance:
Policies that reduce the price of water below the full cost of service are likely to increase unsustainable water consumption, causing stress on supplies; dependence on outside sources of financing and the political interference that comes with it; service interruptions due to underfunding of operating and capital costs; and inequality due to limits on service to outlying, informal and newly settled areas
Perhaps it was just a flash of obvious, but it does not seem so obvious to a lot of people in the water business bureaucracy. (My 2008 PhD dissertation falls into the same category as it was an update on another economist's 1955 dissertation. He was probably updating someone else.)

11 May 2013

Flashback: 6-12 May 2012

A year later and still worth reading...

Economics 1, Groupon 0 -- down by 45 percent since last year.

Donate to support clean water research? Here's Ning's update:
I raised $2389, a bit over my initial target of $2000. It helped me start the project. I tested different media for Biosand filter to improve its turbidity and bacterial removal rates, and utilized silver for continuous disinfection. So far so good. Now I'm going to Malawi to investigate existing Biosand filters that Safe Water International (the non-profit that I work with) installed before and test my disinfection unit with silver, as well as to gain a first-hand experience of living in rural African communities.

Water Chat -- Don Gaydon What did he get up to? (see below)

Do the right thing -- Is do what you want a good environmental policy?
Addendum: I’m afraid I don’t have a lot to update – water has been abundant in the Riverina region over the last 3 years (La Nina years, following a decade of drought) and the whole matter of adapting to water scarcity in irrigated cropping has slipped off the agenda. It will return to forefront in coming years I’m sure as we cycle back into drought, but for now there’s a general feeling amongst farmers of “climate change is crap… the ‘good ol’ days’ have returned”. I myself am now working primarily in South Asia on rice-based systems and adaptation to reduced water, however am still attempting to promote my previous work on Australian irrigation water management whenever I can.

10 May 2013

Friday party!

Nice trip -- 500 days on a motorcycle around N and S America

Anything but water

  1. An example of the distortions in the tax system (Apple Inc)

  2. I had a nice talk with Michael Strong of Radical Social Entrepreneurs (etc.) on institutions, education and start-up cities (55 min on YouTube or mp3). Check out all past chats (and download MP3s) here.

  3. 10 signs of intellectual honesty (we go for that here).

  4. Want people to use less energy to save the planet? Don't tell them about green labels! Tell them they can save money with efficiency.

  5. Dear UNICEF: Stop killing children with your bureaucratic sloth. Try this instead:
    The idea of giving money to the poor without asking for anything in return startled some. “They told us the men would use the money to get drunk, and the women to buy jewellery and saris,” said Dewala. “But it’s a middle-class prejudice that the poor don’t know how to use money sensibly. The study showed that a regular income allows people to act responsibly. They know their priorities. When something is rare, people measure its value. (Anyway, in tribal villages, people distil their own liquor.) The main advantage is regularity. It makes it possible to organise, save and borrow. The principle is that a small amount of money generates a great deal of energy in a village.

9 May 2013

Leaders versus bosses

I apply this to politicians ("Napoleon was a leader because he was in the front of his army"). Not only do "leaders" today strike from a distance; they don't even get hurt when everything goes wrong. That's a bad incentive if you want good decisions...

Life, power and progress in Ukraine

I spent about ten days in Ukraine on a job for the World Bank. During my time there, I got to thinking about development -- or the lack thereof.

Countries, of course, do not develop. Development occurs when people cooperate to protect or create public goods (such as environmental goods or security) and secure private goods (such as land or food). They do not develop (or regress) when public goods are ransacked or ignored or private goods seized.

Ukraine is not doing too well in this area:
[Ukrainian President] Yanukovych’s idea of Ukraine’s sovereignty is based not on a sense of nationhood but on a firm belief that “Ukraine can only be pillaged by the Ukrainians”. Over the years Ukrainian officials have done a fine job. The most blatant example is in public procurement.
The World Bank, indeed, has a study of procurement that notes (p. 16) that:
Construction costs in Ukraine are between 25-30% higher than in Germany, despite lower labour costs. This does not necessarily point to issues with procurement processes but rather abuse of the systems involved.
Those abuses are often a sign of deeper and more widespread problems that leaves most of the population with few good choices. In the worst cases, both guys and gals rent their bodies -- the guys as thugs and the girls as prostitutes -- but most Ukrainians work hard for little and depend on their extended networks for moral, financial and logistical support.

The bad outcomes -- and the root causes are discussed in magazines I found there (they are free in Kyiv but paywalled on the internet).*
Although it's true that poor people are easier to control (they chase food before corruption), it's also true that there's significant resistance against the powerful who plunder their country (duplicating the Russian system, even in the way that life in Moscow resembles life in Kyiv).

Femen protesters (photo) are getting a lot of attention (obviously) but also having an impact against a system that likes to ignore problems and hope that people remember their hunger (remember that the Soviet-era Ukrainian government did not report the nuclear accident at Chernobyl for days -- until it was forced to).

Although it seems like Ukraine is falling apart under the incompetent kleptocracy of Yanukovych, results from the private sector (and parts of the public sector) are encouraging. Only the future will tell whether the country goes towards a Russian-style dictatorship or a Polish-style democracy that serves its (growing) middle class.

Bottom Line: Sustainable development comes from inside a country. Outsiders can do little except support freedom and condemn corruption.

* I'm hoping that the discussions are as direct and logical in Ukrainian-language magazines and papers, but that's no sure thing. The government is attacking free media.

8 May 2013

Nuff said

Different paths to 20 by 2020

There are a LOT of initiatives to reduce x  (water, carbon, whatever) by 20 percent by 2020. Most of them are simultaneously ambitious ("unprecedented effort") at the same time as they are weak ("we intend to make good progress next year"), but what's interesting to me is how the path has a big impact on the eventual savings.*

Compare, for example, two paths to a 20 percent reduction:

The red path has no reduction for the first years, but then drops down to 80, a reduction of 20 percent by 2020. The blue path falls in the first years and then stays at 80 until 2020.

Against a baseline of do nothing by 2020, the cumulative "use of the resource" is down by 3 percent for the red line and 15 percent for the blue line.

So, the path does make a difference.**

Bottom Line: The next time someone says "next year," be sure to call them first on their potential laziness and second on the negative impact of that delay on cumulative resource use.

* I said four years ago that California could reduce (urban, agricultural) water use by 20 percent in a year by, respectively, raising urban water prices and using markets for allocating sustainable diversions of irrigation water. Neither reform has happened, and there's no sign of a reduction in demand. Call me when you want real change.

** Thanks to my lovely GF for this insight.

7 May 2013

Want to save California with your tech ideas?

...then check out this contest.

(I personally think that more decentralization, less government, and more local governance would work wonders. Is that a technology?)

Yes, charge for water

From a look at the hysterical comments, it seems that a bunch of activists have their panties in knots over the statements by Nestle's Peter Brabeck.[1]

In this video (from 1:55), he discusses whether "we should privatise water supply for the population" and says [paraphrasing] that "water should not be given free (as a human right). It should be priced as a good like food... so that we respect its value. We should take other measures to get water to people without access."

Note that he does not talk about environmental water, nor does he discuss water for irrigation, but his comments do not rule out treating the former as a public good and the latter as a private good.[2] His comments also do nothing to exclude helping poor people get access to water via income tranfers, coupons, smart cards, etc.[3]

Bottom Line: People use more water when it's free; water systems cannot run on zero revenue. Price water and people will use less of it and their water systems can run sustainably.[4]

[1] I'll wager that 95+ percent of these activists now pay to receive clean water. On this topic, RA emailed:
So there's a European Citizen Initiative on declaring
  1. Guaranteed water and sanitation for all in Europe.
  2. No liberalisation of water services.
  3. Universal (global) access to water and sanitation.
So far I have seen big important environmental groups backing this, though I don't see it having any impact whatsoever on more people getting better quality water. At the moment to me this looks like an empty promise without any enforcing behind it. They have enough votes to get it to the European Parliament for a hearing. What do you think?
In addition to what I said above, I think that it's a mistake to run water/sewage as a right, since "positive rights" come with costs. Read my paper for more.

[2] A new, "privately financed" irrigation system in Peru relied on land gifts from the government, and its waters are going to big farmers. I wonder how many subsidies those farmers will end up collecting?

[3] That said, Nestle is definitely interested in making profits. At a crecent conference, one junior exec was proud that Nestle Waters is so popular in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (where tap water is available one day in five). I asked "what would happen if Riyadh got reliable tap water?" He stuttered for about 10 seconds (this was on a panel) before blurting: "We think it's important for hospitals to have access to our clean bottled water... because we care." Right.

[4] Oh, and don't say "you care" in German. That language sounds sinister. Try French or Italian. People will trust you -- even if you're killing puppies.

H/T to DL

6 May 2013

Monday funny

Or tragedy?

But don't worry, your computer is SAFE from real threats.

Speed blogging

Good reason to wash your hands :)
  1. Kaveh Madani argues [pdf] that it may be a bad idea to apply oversimplified game theory to climate change. (I agreed in this recent paper). I discovered long ago that game theorists have no idea of how to negotiate over climate change. I interpreted that result to mean that climate change negotiations were not going to go anywhere, but maybe it's better to say that we are using the wrong negotiators.

  2. Measuring the real cost of water from McKinsey should be entitled "save water and save other costs."

  3. (Not the Onion): The World Bank has launched its "Handwashing with Soap Toolkit" with lots of buzzwords: "modules, the theory of change, sustainability, resources, monitoring, Scaling Up, and interpersonal communication strategies." Even better "users of the toolkit can access narrated instructional presentations, research briefs, working papers and other tools informed by handwashing projects supported by WSP and implemented through government partners and local organizations." Wow, I didn't know that you need a PhD to wash your hands! Seriously: I know that it's difficult to get people to use soap when they never have, but I wonder if it wouldn't be more effective to get football players to wash their hands before they leave the pitch for halftime snacks or after they leave the locker room (toilet). Anyone?

  4. Kahn says raise prices... "She implies that it is a bad thing that water prices are rising... You can't oppose free market prices and then bemoan "crisis". If you like to play the game that way, you can move to North Korea." (Too bad he doesn't allow comments. What's he afraid of?)

  5. Crises are less of a problem when water providers face competition. Read about informal water sellers in Chennai (India)

  6. Is it a good idea for Oregon to sell its water? I think so... after it charges instate users for their supply and after it decides how much it wants to keep in its ground- and surface waters.
H/Ts to RD, TJ, TS, GT and MV

4 May 2013

Flashback: 29 Apr - 5 May 2012

A year later and still worth reading...

Die water footprinting, die! Not dead yet, but I don't know any water wonks who use it.

Poll results -- World Water WTF -- as in the reason I am not fussed about missing big conferences with vague agendas (except to meet again next year, in another exotic location).

The trouble with engineers is that they are not all good engineers (you can say the same about economists, of course :)

3 May 2013

Friday party!

Colbert makes fun of economists whose work underpins ideological ill-logical policies:

FYI, I don't see a problem with spending. I see a problem with government that's big, corrupt, and cruel.

TEoA 2.0

I gave a talk on the second version of The End of Abundance (new subtitle "common sense solutions to water scarcity") at Ignite last week.

Ignite talks auto-advance slides every 15 seconds for five minutes (pdf slides). A seven minute Q & A followed. Tell me what you think about the talk (YouTube or mp3) -- and the outline of the book.

Also email me if you want to be in the "draft reading" group.

If you want to know when the book is available, then sign up here.

2 May 2013


Maybe you will watch it a few times?

Speed blogging

  1. Aquazona linked to the "water we need" video from the Central Arizona Project. The video starts off ok, but then (conveniently) forgets to discuss cross subsidies, non-sustainability and failure to limit demand. (It spent lots of time on the 4% of water used for groundwater recharge, a project that will grow in importance as overdevelopment continues to deplete groundwater.) I predict that this video will look as quaint as the "doctors smoke Camels" videos in 30 years.

  2. This interactive map of California Water Rights is part of a larger project (I'm talking to them) on improving access to water data.

  3. A nice profile of Aquafornia's "Maven," Chris Austin,  who's been able to turn her wonk passions into an informative source of original and annotated water news.

  4. This infographic of EU water scarcity fails the basic smell test (water scarcity in the Netherlands but NOT in Spain?) -- probably because it reports national averages. Water scarcity is LOCAL -- and needs to be locally managed!

  5. The dark side of Israeli apartheid:
    Despite being outside the state of Israel, 90 percent of the Jordan Valley is under full Israeli civil and military control as part of Area C, a zone that covers 60 percent of the West Bank. Palestinian communities here, among the poorest and most vulnerable in oPt, desperately need access to water, electricity, sanitation and other basic infrastructure. But despite the needs, development organizations that try to improve living conditions in Area C say they find their ability to make any lasting impact hampered by Israeli restrictions and bureaucracy.
H/T to ZD

1 May 2013

Spring. Finally.

I changed the color scheme and header image on the blog. You like?

(I may want to change the background pattern. Send me one if you think it's better.)

Oh, and it's also nice to report that Aguanomics customer numbers are right around 1,700 each for RSS readers,* newsletter subscribers, and copies of End of Abundance in print.

That's really great but make sure that you...
  1. Recommend this blog, the newsletter or the book to people you know
  2. Tell me what I can do to improve anything.
  3. Send me new material, questions or guest posts.
* Google is killing Reader on 1 July (profit killer). I don't use it, but many of you do. Please recommend replacements.

Publishing goes the way of pornography

There are ten articles on academic publishing in Nature that discuss the struggle between open- and closed-access, online journal scams, the profit model, and so on.

The struggle is important because more papers are going into more expensive journals, making it difficult for academics (let alone the public!) to find research worth reading.

Publications are important as a means of sharing research results. They are peer-reviewed to make sure that those results are interesting and clearly given. They are published in journals to make it easier for others to find them (brand name) and make them nicer to read (formatting), but the journal's most important function is coordinating the process of transforming a working paper into a peer-reviewed article.* In that process, journal editors choose which papers to send for peer review by referees and then which papers to publish as articles. Journals then have market power (a monopoly over access to THAT paper) that is sometimes abused in setting subscription prices far above costs (e.g., $35,000 per year).**

High prices make it hard to get readers, and that's a problem because most academics want their work to be read -- and cited -- by other academics.

The rise of open access journals was supposed to address that problem, by allowing authors to pay for the cost of publishing so that readers could get articles for free, but that model is getting a bad reputation due to counterfeit journals that take money to publish anything. It's also causing problems because there are more and more journals (legitimate or not) willing to publish articles. Now readers are facing the opposite problem of a few expensive journals: too many free articles in too many journals; few can track, let alone read and cite them.

Now we get to the pornography. That industry had a pay-to-enjoy (etc.) model for many years, selling magazines, DVDs, and online subscriptions for big profits, but the rise of "amateur porn" has disrupted their cash flows. Anyone with a camera can now upload photos or videos for everyone else to see. The world of porn is full of me-too "publications" of varying quality, and the world of academic publications is going that way.

What's needed is a good editing function, so that readers (of any content) can find what they want. That's not going to happen by putting all the porn on one site or all the journal articles on one site; there are too many sites and there's no way to aggregate them, except via some gogglized form of indexing that sums citations across all publications everywhere.*** Here's a great overview on the future of scholarly citation.

Here's my google profile. What's interesting is that my "top" work is my dissertation, which is not published in a journal but as a working paper.

Do I care about the format or paywall? No. I care about readers -- just like other academics. If I could include my blog and book in these counts, then I'd have a much better quantification of my impact. That's not just important for my ego -- it's the yardstick that's used to compare output of one academic to another, for grant money, promotions, etc. More important, an impact that added downloads, impressions, likes, etc. could also be used to quantify my non-academic impact, which is more important to me and of increasing importance for academics interested in communicating with the public.

These global digital metrics will replace the old system of counting references in paper-based academic journals. They will also make it easier to discuss -- and refine -- the contribution of academics to the creation, dissemination and use of knowledge in society. That will matter for deans and grantmaking organizations, but it will also matter for citizens who are interested in what academics are producing with tax dollars and access to useful ideas. This process will not be easy for either the public or academics, since "town and gown" don't usually mix, but it's necessary (due to the disruption to publishing caused by the internet) and useful (due to the need to improve the quality and application of academic thought).

Bottom Line: Academic publication, like pornography, is becoming more democratic and open. This process will be messy, but it will benefit those who use ideas and those who create good ideas.

* In "An auction market for journal articles," Jens and I suggest a way to improve matching and valuation of academic work. This idea would also work in a world with open access journals, but not (as yet) with non-academic outlets.

** I'm a fan of competition and allowing companies to make a profit, but the journal "market" is complicated by free labor from editors, reviewers and authors, subscription payment by libraries that provides free reading for university staff, and public funding for research that's then put behind a paywall.

*** Google indexing is already getting manipulated by "for profit citation spammers." Wow.

H/T to JP