28 Feb 2014

Friday party!

This Norwegian homage to Russian homophobes is a win*

* The Daily show got angry on the issue...

H/T to CD

Speed blogging

  1. The Straight Dope on why Fahrenheit is so screwy and why you CAN swim just after eating (with one exception)

  2. A California irrigation district ends its flat rate, all-you-can-use irrigation pricing. Another sign of the end of abundance

  3. The IPCC report in Haiku!

  4. Hjorth and Madani wrote this and this [pdfs] on sustainable water management. Their main point is that existing management paradigms do not include sustainability and other disciplinary views. Bruce and Madani explore collaborative policy making [pdf]

  5. This op/ed on selling "excess" environmental water to California farmers and then using the money to help the environment is interesting, except for its mixed signals (not really for the environment and perhaps formerly belonging to farmers)

  6. A special AWRA issue with many opinions on the future of water resources in the US
H/Ts to CM and RM

27 Feb 2014

Markets for environmental water

Sari Sommarstrom writes:
I saw your reference to the Scott River Water Trust regarding the PERC article on us.

Yes, you came to Scott Valley to talk about AIA, but the reason it didn’t work here was not that we "didn't like such a transparent mechanism." Our water rights (under 3 decrees) and tributary priorities for where we need the water to help coho juveniles does not really allow for AIA – it's not just a mainstem issue.

But we’ve set our own water market values that vary by year and water year type, with incentive pricing added for adjacent diversions:

2013 Pricing per acre-foot depends on the Number of Contiguous Lessors (#CL)

#CLV. DryDryNormalWet
1 $65 $60 $55 $50
2 $70 $65 $60 $55
3 $75 $70 $65 $60
4 $80 $75 $70 $65
5 $85 $80 $75 $70
6 $90 $85 $80 $75

It's working pretty well, as seen here:

In 2011, it was a wet water year and price went down to $50/a-ft and less water was needed.

With 2014 being very dry, we may need another type of incentive bonus to get the little water available sooner than later.

Terrifying mismangement

Some aggies sent around this article (California's Drought in Two Terrifying Charts), which shows low rainfall and low water in storage.

I wrote this back:
Storage is SUPPOSED to carry over water from one year to another, in drought and surplus, but storage is low going into the drought (or more drought), which indicates that demand is too high, on an ongoing (or average) basis.

More like shot in the foot than terrifying...

Oh, and we were warned, eh?
Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt: And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land; And the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following; for it shall be very grievous. Genesis 41:27-29
According to this, California can't even make it three years...

I'm all annoyed that everyone is screwed, but I'd prefer to turn this tragedy into a change in management to reduce harm, instead of pretending that we didn't fuck up and that it's not going to happen again.
Bottom Line: California needs to manage demand to match the water it has (The Economist agrees).

25 Feb 2014

Bleg: Funding for MSc students?

DG sent me this email:
I've just been accepted to pursue my masters degree in Water Conflict Management at the UNESCO-IHE based in Delft, Netherlands...

So Mr. Zetland, the reason for this email is that I am having trouble. UNESCO-IHE is everything I've hoped for to continue my education however the problem is that all of the scholarships/fellowships available, except for one, is directed towards developing country students or United States citizens are not eligible for application. The one that I can apply for through the 'Rotarian foundation' does not want to support me locally due to the fact that I do not want to continue living in my home town after my graduate degree.

Does the international community think that citizens from developed industrial nations are all wealthy and affluent?? I assure you that I am not and my parents are not as well and have to work an additional two restaurant jobs just to pay the bills. Tuition and room and board are quite high.

Can you suggest any sources of (grant) money to pursue my education?
Please leave your financial aid suggestions (for Americans or other citizens of "rich" countries) in the comments. I know that I'd give this can do guy the benefit of the doubt for the first year, but I don't control grant money :-\

Anything but water

So much good stuff!
  1. Insightful Bitcoin spoof on the dodgy dollar
  2. The rise of the libertarians (frightens media), anti-immigrant US regulations, and the very-real threat to white collar jobs (time for some serious tax transfers)
  3. We don't learn how we're taught
  4. Very logical: We can't geoengineer our way out of global warming
  5. Oh shit: Natural gas may NOT be climate-friendly
  6. Backwards: Canada's government is not making money on fracking -- industry is.
H/T to MS

24 Feb 2014

Monday funnies

Yeah, sure, Canada won the hockey gold, but that's not ALL that's happening!

FYI, we see raccoons. No wolfs... yet.

Whose floods?

Large sections of England have been flooded, due to "biblical" rain, storms and waves, but some people have noticed an interesting pattern to the damage, in which the Jubilee River (a man-made canal) diverts water around some cities,* thereby inundating other cities.

This stiff-upper-lip analysis puts a finger on the problem:*

Bottom Line: For Queen and country For Queen and toffs; country be damned.

* Eton is a posh boys school. The queen has a castle in Windsor.

H/Ts to MB and NN

21 Feb 2014

Friday party!

These words should be sampled all over the dance floor (turn off the annoying annotations)

H/T to CD

Ukraine and water, corruption and death

The headlines are grim. A fascist is killing "his" people for opposing his theft, incompetence and cruelty:

I had a World Bank consulting job in Kiev in April 2013. I said their ideas on water regulation would harm the people (they were trying to spend less money on deteriorating systems).

They did not "renew" my contract, and I'm glad, because I do not associate with thugs. I knew they were, even when I was there...

Bottom Line: The Ukrainians deserve their freedom, like we all do, so give your support.

19 Feb 2014

Yep. We've got that drought covered

We stopped for a glass of wine at the airport in southern California...

Me: How many glasses do you pour from a bottle?
Waitress: Depends. You can pour 4-6 at home
M: No. How much wine in your pour?
W: We pour 5.5 ounces
M: Oh, and how many ounces in a bottle?
W: 750ml*
M: [facepalm]

Me: Can I get a glass of water?
Waiter: Yes. Do you want San Pellegrino or Fiji? With Lemon?
M: No. I just want tap water
W: Oh sorry. There's a drought so we push the bottles
M: I don't think San Pellegrino is going to solve this drought

* There are 25.4 oz in 750ml, i.e., 4.6 glasses. 5 or 6 pours from a bottle is a rip off.

Bargaining for change?

I was offered a position on the editorial board of the Future of Food Journal (meaning I work for free, refereeing their papers). I was interested because the journal (1) publishes young researchers, (2) is interdisciplinary, and (3) is open access, but I wanted more than nothing for my contribution, so I made this offer:
I will serve on the board with one requirement: authors of future published articles will summarize their articles for the general public in a blog post. This requirement will take about 2-4 hours, at most, but it must be obligatory (editorial board policy), as academics -- even young scholars -- often pursue de minimus effort when it comes to non-research activities.

Please let me know if the journal will implement this policy, which will be beneficial to scholars as well as the public. Old-school scholars may be skeptical of the value of blog communications, but they are still thinking of paradigms dating from the 19th century.
After throwing down THAT gauntlet, I got this:
Our editorial board welcomed your suggestion. We will implement this policy in our blog site. All future authors will be asked to summarize their research papers into blog posts.

...except that I now have a paper to referee :-\

18 Feb 2014

Drought? What drought?

I took this photo while visiting the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (the building behind the sculpture).

Now I know why water managers think water is abundant. So, no worries, right?

Speed blogging

  1. The SW US drought is in the news, but droughts are not new. More disturbing, the lack of action/reform or progress since the last drought (2008-9) depresses me. One silver lining is that I can refer you to old posts that are just as relevant today:

  2. Robert Pyke deconstructs Bay-Delta propaganda [pdf] and concludes: "The BDCP is more about water quality and safeguarding the power of the Metropolitan Water District and its board’s pensions than it is about safeguarding water supplies"

  3. I've been talking a lot to the public and reporters on the drought:

  4. OTPR debunks California farmers' claims that we'll starve if they don't get water

  5. Fleck on overdrafting groundwater. Emergency today means tragedy tomorrow

17 Feb 2014

Monday funnies

I found this while working on my book cover, which puns on "glass half full"

Optimist: The glass is half full

Pessimist: The glass is half-empty

Realist: Yep. That's a glass, alright

Idealist: One day, cold fusion from a glass of water will provide unlimited energy and end war

Capitalist: If I bottled this and gave it a New Agey sounding name, I could make a fortune

Communist: This drink belongs to every single one of us in equal measure

Conspiracist: The government is floridating the water for mind controlling purposes

Sexist: This glass isn't gonna fill itself, honeybuns...

Nihilist: The glass does not exist, and neither do I

Opportunist: There's a funny t-shirt in here somewhere

Ugly Californication

I've been following water policy ever since my dissertation on conflict and cooperation in water management in Southern California, but I ran across some new ideas on my recent visit to talk to water managers about "supply augmentation" via WaterSavr (a compound that reduces reservoir evaporation).

These observations can flow in any order, as they have numerous reciprocating links:
  • Managers are deathly afraid of adding anything to water, as regulators at Fish and Game and the regional Water Resources Control Boards are very fast to condemn and punish, often cheered by environmentalists. The cliche is that they've let "the perfect become the enemy of the good," but they're now at the point where it's better to continue a disastrous tradition than try something new.[1] One water quality guy was so concerned about protecting fish from contamination that he forgot that no water means no fish to protect.[2]

  • Water managers are far LESS worried about this drought than average people I spoke to. The managers say there's enough water (they are good at their job), but those statements contradict the state of drought emergency and elephant in the room: what if the drought of 2012-14 runs for 3-4 more years? There's no reason why it shouldn't. Cycles, supercycles and climate change are more likely to reinforce drought than abundance. Texas is in drought now, but it's still suffering from the last one.

  • Population growth puts California in a vulnerable position. It's easier to reduce use by killing lawns than it is to stop use inside houses. Lower per capita use is a triumph in some ways, but it means that there's very little wiggle room if supplies fall.[3] For some, this means desalination should be used for urban water supplies, but California is decades behind Israeli-style desalination independence (that may not be a mistake). In the meantime, untracked groundwater mining depletes storage and robs neighbors of water. Those actions are surely greedy, myopic and stupid, but that doesn't mean they do not attract sympathy and waste money.

  • Some Southern California water managers have "no sympathy" for others in the state that did not spend billions on storage and reliability, but that fuck you attitude will backfire if the north stops exporting water from the Delta (I support that move). It's also a bad way to think of neighbors (the Dutch are better on this!)

  • Amidst those social failures, I have friends who are innovating in amazing ways to improve water policy, use and function, but they are having a hard time getting attention from managers who know best and have no reason to look for change.
Bottom Line: The sun is shining, cars are jamming, and people are drinking, but California is dying. Governance failure, regulatory lockup, and mutual antagonism remind me more of a developing country than the future of humanity.[4] That's why I'm reversing my parent's migration and returning to Europe in May.

  1. Environmentalists, e.g., blocked the power transmission lines that would bring solar power in deserts to people in coastal cities.
  2. This is in the context of WaterSavr, which is EPA- and Nevada Fish and Game-certified as safe for fish (and shown to be so), but it's the general principle I'm talking about here.
  3. Monterey faces this wall, as regulators have redirected its river water supply to the environment. That's why I support their desalination plant.
  4. A subsidized farmer said this in the last drought, but he wanted more water for himself. I was going to say California is like Mexico, but that may be unfair to Mexico in terms of relative trends. Argentina seems to be a relevant twin to the Golden State.
H/Ts to CF, SK, DL, DV and Morris-the-scientist

14 Feb 2014

Friday party!

This (from Burning Man) is really fun...

Happy Valentine's Day!

Natural gas IS methane!

I don't know about you, but I'm a little stunned to find out that all the "methane releases" people are talking about with fracking are basically the same as leaks of the natural gas they are trying to find (as opposed to cow-related methane causing explosions). They are, in other words, the same as oil spills near wells, tankers or refineries, because natural gas is mainly methane.

I kept thinking that methane in tap water (flaming tap water!) happened because sometimes there was methane near the natural gas well. Now I hear (from my GF) that it's always there. Doh!

Well, that's quite interesting to me, because now we are talking about more efficient production as the same as less-leaky production. That should clarify the importance which companies should give to leaks, but perhaps it also highlights their willingness (probably based on cost-benefit tradeoffs) to "spill a little" in the extraction process.

Did you make that connection? If so, what are the implications for methane pollution from fracking, which is about 20x the pollution from conventional natural gas production?

Credit for this enlightenment -- and a H/T for cow farts -- to Cornelia :)

13 Feb 2014

Collateral damage from water transfers

Jim Brobeck, Water Policy Analyst at AquAlliance sent me this insightful comment:
Jay Lund, David Zetland and Robert Glennon are well known water policy analysts who consider water transfers to be a primary strategy for wise water supply management. The source of transferable water is river entitlement that agricultural irrigation districts control. The district farmers either fallow land to make water available or pump groundwater to replace the marketed river allocation. The latter method is called “groundwater substitution”. When author Glennon visited Chico he was asked if he included groundwater substitution water marketing in his recommendations for conserving water. He emphatically said such a strategy is “Bogus!” Jay Lund responded to the same question by saying that groundwater and surface water are connected and that water pumped from the ground depletes the surface flow. The Sacramento River is a losing stream all the way to Red Bluff during irrigation season.

In 2013 Glenn Colusa Irrigation District (GCID) sold 5000 acre/feet of Sacramento River water to San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority (SLDMWA) and pumped replacement water from the regional shared Tuscan aquifer. The wells were created with State taxpayer water bond money as “aquifer performance test” infrastructure exempt from detailed environmental review. The Aquifer Performance Test was accomplished one year and showed recharge water came from the foothills to the east located in Butte and Tehama counties.

In 2014 GCID has issued a Notice of Preparation of an Exemption to pump for two months from the “test” wells into the main canal to water trees located in Glenn and Colusa counties on land with depleted aquifer levels. The relentless demand for groundwater from an irrigation district with infrastructure designed to distribute river water is creating political and environmental conflict.

USBR and SLDMWA are in the 3rd year of preparation of an EIR/EIS to transfer up to 600,000 A/F of Sacramento Valley water through the Delta. A large portion of the proposed marketed water would be produced with groundwater substitution. Supporters of the “market” strategy for water supply must be clear about the types of water sales that would contribute to a sustainable resource. Groundwater substitution using aquifer systems that are approaching imbalance will deplete streamflow, impact groundwater dependent ecosystems (oak groves, springs and riparian zones), threaten land subsidence and inspire political discord.
After seeing this text, I asked Jim:
But isn't the problem in definition of "origin"? People who draw groundwater from a well that's close to a river may not impinge legally on surface water that's physically connected. You're right that hydrology is connected globally when you allow for enough time, but those connections do not matter in the short run, when it may be useful to transfer water.
He sent this reply:
Time scales are relative to age of observer and duration of residency.

I have participated in the Butte County Water Advisory Committee for about 10 years. We have a Basin Management Objectives (BMO) monitoring program in place that sets "alert stages" based on historic water levels. Over this short time span I have watched key monitoring well levels decline year after year. There has been no enforcement of BMO non-compliance.

One of my colleagues farmed here with his family since the early 20th century. Their hand dug well has long since dried out and been replaced with deep wells. When he was a boy they would take their share of spring run salmon by wading in the creek with a pitchfork. The adult fish were swimming toward their foothill cool pools to wait out the summer and spawn in the fall. The farm could water their livestock in the creek year around. Now that stream, and many others, are dry most of the year. Spawning habitat is long gone and rearing habitat only exists near the confluence of the stream and the Sacramento River.

Big Chico Creek, a modest tributary, goes underground several miles away from the confluence during the summer orchard irrigation season. Production wells exist less than a mile from the creek. The water returns to the creek (even without precipitation) in October when the orchard pumps power down.

Irrigation districts that are starting to use the aquifer as a backstop to their river entitlements claim that their production quantities are minor in the grand scheme of existing use. At the same time there is a creeping increase in groundwater irrigated orchard use added to the ever-increasing "existing" use. Does the annual increase in GW extractions constitute a "change of use"? Cumulative impacts are not being effectively analyzed.
[DZ's] Bottom Line: The short run means different things to different people, so it's important to agree on "short run impacts" before transferring water out of its watershed.

12 Feb 2014

Want to help me grade student blog posts?

I'm teaching resource economics to 80 mostly 3rd year students at Simon Fraser University.

For one of their assignments, they need to write a blog post. I will be posting those 80 posts over 45 days or so on this blog.

Most of their grade is "getting it done" but I'm going to give more/less points to the top/bottom five posts.

I'm looking for help from a few people who can nominate their top/bottom 5-10 choices.

If you're interested, then please email me. I'd expect that you read most posts and keep a list of those that are good, and not-so-good. I'll use those lists to grade the students.

Illegal water use data?

Water supplies are tight, so people may be stretching (or breaking) laws and regulations on how much water they can use. That's what prompted this email to me:
I am trying to find a report (from any state) that outlines water use that's not permitted. Of course we have permitted information and a general idea of exempt uses from well logs or claims, but is there someone who has studied water use outside these parameters, e.g., illegal surface water use, groundwater use past the allowable exemptions, or other consumptive uses?
I sent this to the ERE list and got these replies:

AB wrote:
If the studies aren't out there, perhaps there are methodologies (some better than others) that can be used in your research. Some of these methodologies have been used in the air medium. For example, there are methodological approaches which consider point and area source air emissions and air quality concentrations accounting for meteorological and terrain factors as well as injections and withdrawals by geogenic, biogenic, pyrogenic, permitted anthropogenic sources. On the anthropogenic side differences in, for example, emissions from all of these "sources" would be those from emission sources that are too small to permitted, emissions due to shutdowns, start ups, and malfunctions, and illegal emissions.
RM wrote:
I thought Reclamation did a place of use study for the CVP within the last 10 years that might have generated information.
and Sarah Wheeler wrote:
We have irrigator survey data going back decades in the MDB, and one can see that farmers sometimes made changes, or not, after selling surface rights [PDF]. However, we have never done an individual study on this. I am currently trying to do an analysis of the degree of substitutatability between farmers who sold their surface water entitlements and turned to using groundwater instead in the MDB (which isn't really illegal at this stage but will increasingly become more monitored). But this study will be a while off
Email Sarah if you want her paper (in press) on the effects of on farm behavior from selling surface water rights.

Does anyone else have data on water use? I want this stuff to show up on the water data hub, but that project's on the back burner for lack of interest in/funding by agencies that should be supporting disclosure. (I'm helping the New California Water Atlas add this functionality.)

11 Feb 2014

Advertising does not help YOU

Blame regulators for oil sands tailings ponds?

Update (20 Mar 2016): Canada's pipeline regulator seems to work for industry.
I've long known of the lagoons holding tailwater from oil (tar) sands processing next to Alberta's Athabasca River, and I've often wondered why those lagoons are not recovered and drained, so as to lower the risk of accidental spills (like this or this).

I also think that these lagoons -- a visible reminder of the pollution from oil production and killer of innocent birds -- really turn people against the oil sands (its production pollutes but probably less than production in the Niger Delta) and projects that touch on them, such as the Keystone XL (which is a good idea).

So I wanted to find out why those ponds are still there, instead of being drained.

Over the past few months, I been emailing with a guy from the Oil Sands Research and Information Network (OSRIN) in Alberta.

From him, I learned was that lagoons are part of the oil sands production process, which means they will be there until their project shuts down (50-100 years?).[1]

Then I learned from Florian Bollen that Memsys Clearwater can clean the dirtiest water for about $2/barrel (42 gal/160 liters).[2] Given that it takes 3.1 barrels of water to mine a barrel of oil from the sands (and 0.4 bbl water for in situ recovery) [pdf], this figure implies that producers could clean ALL the water it pollutes at a cost of about $6/bbl of oil. That's expensive when oil costs $35/bbl but not when it's at $100/bbl. Since the cost of tar sands production is $40/bbl, $6 is not a deal-breaker. 

So, what's keeping oil producers from cleaning up the toxic water that's killing birds, damaging their reputation, polluting the Athabasca watershed, and -- as I explained last week -- putting out large quantities of unmeasured (and unregulated?) air and climate pollutants?

According to Ben Sparrow of Saltworks Technologies, provincial regulation prevents firms from releasing reclaimed/recycled water into the environment. That's why the ponds cannot be drained now (if ever).[3]
"By the way," he added. "Our technology can clean that tailing water for $2/m^3, but that's not going to happen because there are 12 billion cubic meters of water in those ponds."

"Why not just get started?" I asked

"Because $24 billion is a lot of money!"
Really? I don't expect that an industry making $49 billion per year would be able to pay those cleanup costs right away, but I bet they could get the job done in, say, 10 years. That's only $2.4 billion a year to transform the industry into the "ethical" image it promotes.

Bottom Line: Alberta's regulators have only to change the rules, to allow firms to clean and discharge (certified) pristine reclaimed water back into the environment. Such a change will help the industry clean up the water it wants to clean up as part of its ethical practices.[4]

  1. They could not estimate a cost of cleaning because (quoting from an email):
    • "We don't know the criteria for cleanup so you can't come to a definitive cost
    • There are many treatment options, each with its own cost
    • The cost to treat new tailings may be different than legacy tailings, if only because you have to rehandle the legacy ones
    • Each pond at each site has its own chemistry and therefore treatment requirements so there would not be a single number"
    More interesting, they do not have a cost because they have never drained and remediated a pond! The only instance, which got a lot of publicity, was when "Suncor reclaimed Pond 1 (previously Tar Island Dyke and now called Wapisiw Lookout), but that operation did not include treating and releasing tailings water (that was directed to other ponds)."
  2. Florian is a board member of Memsys; their products clean tailing water via multiple stage desalting (the real money in filters is for cleaning industrial water, not making drinking water from salt water). I serve with Florian on the Board of the Aquiva Foundation, a charity that installs Memsys gear to help communities get drinking water.
  3. Oil companies must post bonds against the cost of reclaiming/retiring their sites. I don't know if they have to post bonds against pollution damages during operations. Somehow, I think that loophole may not be an accident.
  4. Or perhaps the regulator works for the industry, which prefers to leave the tailings ponds in place ($24 billion is a lot of money!) because tailings ponds -- like death and taxes -- are forever.

10 Feb 2014

Monday funnies

Prompted by an observation by John Lawrence, Robert Pyke had the attached graphic drawn up on the theory that a picture is worth a thousand words. Then RP sent it to me to share with you!

If you think you've seen something similar, then perhaps it's the postmodern hydrological cycle.

If you want to know more about those almond trees, then read this or this... or this or this (there are LOTS of subsidies to California farmers).

Speed blogging

  1. Do you know what's in your building's water tank? Yuck

  2. Mexico City tries to tip the balance by requiring that restaurants serve safe (=filtered) tap water. That move may ween customers off of bottled water and soda. Next step: public, end-of-pipe water quality testing

  3. These academics explain how farmers on the Ogallala expanded their production until they were vulnerable to drought [pdf], i.e., they went to the margin; farmers off the aquifer stuck with drought-tolerant (and thus less risky) crops

  4. Janice Beecher explains that utility performance depends less on private vs public than on regulation and governance [pdf]

  5. Who are the "winners" from climate change? Financial speculators
H/Ts to BB and DL

7 Feb 2014

Friday Party!

Because fuck it.

Anything but water

  1. Alberta's government has squandered its oil royalties. The province uses them for current spending (instead of investing them for a post-oil world), which explains why the provincial government is in such a hurry to get more oil out of the ground (income for government services!) and why the government is lax on environmental regulations

  2. The differences between Dutch and American attitudes (and laws) explain why it's ok to kill cyclists in the US

  3. Illuminating podcast on Jeffrey Sachs, and how his myopia of human choice results in failed development schemes (remember that Sachs was behind the failed privatizations in Eastern Europe)

  4. US hypocrisy: 96 Percent of Dems Who Support Minimum Wage Hike Don’t Pay Their Interns. The US government employs 15 percent of workers, far less than in many European countries, where government jobs may NOT correlate with governance and performance (Norway and Denmark, sure, but Czech and Russia?!)

  5. Whoops! 10 Corporations Control Almost Everything You (Americans) Buy

Now THAT's a market!

(via PB) Buena Vista Water Storage District received "sky high" bids for its 12,000af of water.

I took bid data (thanks Lois!) and made this chart of supply and demand*

As you can see, demand was STRONG (there were bids for 63,000 af but only 12,000 af on offer).

This auction is useful for two reasons: (1) It shows that farmers are willing to pay a lot when water is scarce (no need to go to DC to take water from the environment) and (2) markets for water can work, when they are allowed. I hope that the sale closes and everyone gets water/paid.

If I were running this auction, I would allow multiple bids (so nobody was surprised at price or who won) AND set a single price based on the highest rejected bid (here, $1,100/af), which would reduce "shading" by buyers hoping to pay less for water. This (discriminatory) auction tends to lead to regret by buyers who bid more than $1,100 (more here [PDF]).

Bottom Line: Let markets allocate (economic) water when California is in shortage. you want water to go to its best uses (drought or not).

* Bids still need to be confirmed as eligible. That fact does not matter if we take thee as serious, which they probably are. The bid indicate where demand sits.

6 Feb 2014

Markets > Politicians

BB sent the following summary of California water management:
Congressman Tom McClintock: Farmers before smelt – 1.6 million acre feet of water was flushed into the Pacific last year to preserve smelt, water that the farmers on the Westside should have had this year to grow their crops. The farm business is far more important to California’s economy than smelt. We should build the Auburn Dam!


Congressman John Garamendi: Congress (i.e. the Republican House) is overriding 30 years of water planning and allocation in California to benefit the southern San Joaquin Valley counties at the expense of Northern California water users – and not putting up one dime of money to help with the problem. Essentially it is a forced reallocation by Congress of water that heretofore was a 10th Amendment state domain.

Ringside: Jerry Brown is freaking out.
Bottom Line: Water markets would make it easier for human users to redirect water to where it has value, reducing the "need" to take water from Nature that should be left to flow. Hopefully, Governor Brown will turn to markets before warring Congress-critters tear California apart.

Who do water managers work for?

I've been contacting a lot of water managers in Southern California, to see if they'd like to use Watersavr, a product for reducing evaporation in reservoirs.*

What I've heard has amazed me:
Thank you for your query. I was able to connect with various program leaders this morning.

They said they are aware of the product and have been monitoring its development.

However, we are not the point where they are interested in it for our use.

Feel free to check back in with me if you return to the area.
Why, I wonder are water managers with reservoirs 37 percent full, who pay $1,032/af for water, not interested in a product that will save water at a cost of $150/af? Not even interested in talking about it or testing it?

Bottom Line: Water managers choose how to address water scarcity. Sometimes they choose what's easy for themselves; in other times, they work hard to make sure that customers do not suffer from shortage. They claim there's nothing to worry about, but others disagree. Why not just check out the idea?

* I'm acting as a salesman for the product, mostly because it addresses an obvious non-partisan problem: evaporation.

5 Feb 2014

Canadian bananas

This speech by the Mayor of Burnaby (next to Vancouver) highlights how national and provincial politicians allow corporate bosses to export resources without regard to local rights or impacts. Reminds me of some US states.

Will Canada recover from the suffocation of science?

The Canadians have a warm, fuzzy reputation compared to the Americans, but they are on a conspicuously dangerous path when it comes to science. The (conservative) Harper government has used its majority in parliament to defund as much science as possible. Science is particularly relevant when it comes to understanding the impacts of policies and affects of activities in the oil and gas sectors.

I asked Ralph Pentland (author of Down the Drain) this question:
Can you tell me why Harper is killing science funding? Does he think that oil needs to work in an information vacuum?
He replied:
Yes, basically. The war on knowledge, the gutting of environmental legislation and the intimidation of non-profits (by threatening to cut off their tax exempt status) are all part of the same strategy to facilitate reckless resource extraction and transport.
I asked for more:
Why do you think that "nice Canadians" allow this to happen? Anti-science, pro-energy (like Americans)? Maybe the country has a reputation for resource wealth without inhabitants who cherish it? (My girlfriend says Canadians are just as incompetent/greedy as Americans, except they have more to waste.)
Don't worry. I got this one!
He explained:
It only takes 38% of Canadians to elect a majority government; 31% to elect a minority. The current government is fundamentally reshaping Canada with about 28% support.

I spent 30 years in government, and know government at the highest level can only deal with one issue at a time. Sometimes that issue has been national unity; sometimes trade with the U.S; sometimes a fiscal crisis. At the moment that one issue is getting bitumen out of the ground and moving it to market as fast as possible.

Something is different this time. In the past Cabinet and Provinces were always able to moderate the one issue focus at the top. But now, for the first time in our history we have one-man government. And that one man is getting much of his advice from a single stakeholder (CAPP, the Canadian Institute of Petroleum Producers).

No matter how well meaning the PM may or may not be, I am quite sure that neither he nor the electorate understand that the headlong rush to cannibalize non-renewable resources without considering externalities is doing irreparable harm to the long-term health and wealth of Canadians (Chapters 7 and 8 of Down the Drain).
Bottom Line: Without science you do not know where you've been, where you are or where you're going. That's fine if you're blind and bound but reckless if you hope to choose your best options in life. I fear for Canadians.

4 Feb 2014

Are you a young researcher on food and water?

Then submit a paper to a new journal for young researchers: Future of Food: Journal on Food, Agriculture and Society for their "Water for Food" special issue that's coming out in May 2014.

Disclosure: I am on their editorial board (=unpaid referee :)

Death, taxes and tailings ponds

Breaking news on Alberta's Tar Sands:
Despite taking into account emissions from industry-related activities, researchers from the University of Toronto found estimates in environmental impact statements submitted to regulators were insufficient to explain existing contamination levels in northern Alberta.
The short story is that industry-reported numbers did not include evaporation pollution from tailings ponds. That omission is significant because the regulator relies on industry for its estimates/regulation of pollution.

This monumental screw up has been in place for 30+ years of holding waste water in tailings ponds.

It's my impression that the industry sees tailings ponds -- like death and taxes -- as inevitable and permanent, but I think they may have got the cost-benefit wrong.

Now, it's up to the regulator to decide if that's in fact true -- assuming the regulator is in charge.

(More, in a detailed post, next week)

California drought update

First, Governor Brown said*
State agencies, led by the Department of Water Resources, will execute a statewide water conservation campaign to make all Californians aware of the drought and encourage personal actions to reduce water usage. This campaign will be built on the existing Save Our Water campaign and will coordinate with local water agencies. This campaign will call on Californians to reduce their water usage by 20 percent.
That website is devoted to residential water use, so I take this to mean the same as the 20x2020 campaign, i.e., it says nothing about agricultural irrigation, which accounts for 80 percent of the water people use.**

Second, the aggies are in trouble because State Water Project deliveries are now pegged at 0 percent. That has make markets for water attractive for buyers and sellers. One district is already offering water at $600/af, or about 3-20 times as much as farmers are used to paying. One columnist complains of "champagne prices," but that's what you get with markets, supply and demand.

Third (addendum), some water managers are talking criminal penalties for people who violate conservation regulations. Seems like a recipe for abuse of customers by water cops, corruption and wasted resources (remember that San Diego's water cops cost $75k+ each). How about raising prices?

Bottom Line: Markets are responding to the drought, even if the politicians are floundering.

* He also ordered more firefighters to be on duty. The State was successful in hiring more firefighters. Woo hoo. It's always easier to buy than sell.

** It's pathetic predictable that nothing has happened on ag water since I wrote that in 2009.

H/Ts to CM and RM

Speed blogging

  1. This list of 170+ scientific ideas ready for retirement is pretty cool. One of them -- non-stationarity (mentioned twice) -- applies directly to water. The scientists say that the idea of stationarity (a recurring pattern in natural cycles) is often misleading. It would be better to think in terms of eddies and swirls in water, air and climate patterns that sometimes resemble each other but often veer in to unexpected chaos on their way to new "patterns." What's the advice for water wonks? Make sure institutions are flexible enough to handle those changes, i.e., be good at adaptation

  2. An illuminating post on water logging and canal cleaning in Pakistan, where the British installed overly grand canal systems into the desert

  3. Arizona v. California & the Colorado River Compact: Fifty Years Ago, Fifty Years Ahead should clarify their legal complications

  4. "Drought-hit California unable to supply state water" (=water projects cannot deliver on contracts) reminds me of my bumper sticker:

    The (man-made) shortage is already causing conflict between senior (Exchange Contractors) and junior (Westlands) rights holders, with the Bureau of Reclamation threatening to seize the latter's water to meet the delivery guarantees of the former. Other farmer, meanwhile, are looking into growing cactus, which may be more realistic than assuming everyone will get their "rights" delivered

  5. Using markets to improve environmental water quality in Northern California. (I went up there to talk about all-in-auctions, but they didn't like such a transparent mechanism; glad to see SOMETHING got done :) This post also discusses water quality trading (I looked up some programs; they take 10 years to get going, mostly because standards need to be agreed from scratch.)

  6. Here's my 45 min lecture on the economics of fisheries
H/Ts to BK, RM and MV

3 Feb 2014

Monday funnies!

Cheech and Chong are the next pin up boys...

Super America?

Although I am pleased to see teams from two legal marijuana states in the Super Bowl, I agree that this video [link fixed!] evokes a higher image of the real Americans,* the natives who were here before the Americas were taken from them by Europeans. The only crime worse than murder is genocide, and I'd prefer that (North, Central and South) Americans did more to acknowledge its presence and remediate its facts.**

* I see how "Redskins" may have been acceptable, even complimentary, 50+ years ago, but the people who bore that name no longer think so.

** I asked an expert in First Nations water quality why the Canadian federal government did not provide (or protect) clean water water for the First Nations, as it had agreed to do. She said that the responsibility was delegated to provinces that had not directed resources to meeting those minimums. The First Nations have, in other words, fallen through one of the largest cracks in Canadian history. It's a pity that government failure continues to harm them. Terry Anderson suggests that dignity will return with sovereignty, but I can see why a bunch of white guys wouldn't like that.

H/T to RM