17 Apr 2014

Biased nexes, damned dams and abusive infrastructure

Each of these elements can be mismanaged due to missing information.

Some people want to manage the "nexus" of energy and water, but those sectors overlap and affect other sectors, such as environment, food, transportation, urban setting, and so on.

A failure to include other relevant interactions will result in surprise outcomes when management targets an optimal nexus of water and energy.

Those outcomes will turn into outright failure and destruction if interest groups are allowed to manipulate nexus targets to meet their narrow interests (e.g., corn ethanol was supposed to deliver green energy, but the carbon footprint and water consumption/pollution were high; places that integrated sustainable water demand into ethanol production left off food impacts, etc.) The main problem here is that interest groups can propose management goals and rules that favor them and -- because the nexus has higher priority -- harm other sectors.

I suggest separately managing water and energy while tracking the impacts on all other sectors. None should receive precedence.

Dams can be mismanaged in the same way if they target water storage or energy generation without considering other sectors such as environmental flows, small-scale irrigators, floods, etc. Dams can be useful but we need to manage all their costs, cash and non-cash.

All infrastructure, in fact, falls into this category when it comes to understanding costs and benefits. Roads, dams, ports, and canals have permanent and durable impacts on neighboring communities. Those impacts should be gathered into the "infra-shed" (abusing the notion of a watershed), so that benefits and costs are listed, calculated and allocated among locals. The worst projects are those with great distances between those who pay (e.g., US taxpayers) and those who benefit (CVP or CAP farmers).

Bottom Line: All politics are local, and so are costs and benefits. Locals should pay for the local benefits they receive.