30 Jun 2014

Want to help translate Living with Water Scarcity?

I'd like to expand the audience for my book by issuing editions in other languages.

Some people on my mailing list have already agreed to help, but I am still looking for more people and more languages.

For each language I need:
  • A main translator
  • A few proof readers for all or part of the translated version
  • An author of an original preface to the translated edition
The PDF of my book only sells for US$5, so there's not too much money available as compensation.

I am proposing the following division of the $5 price:
  • 50 percent to the main translator
  • 10 percent to the proofreader(s)
  • 10 percent to the author of the preface
  • 30 percent to me (also covers administrative costs)
The translator and preface-writer will get front cover recognition. Proofreaders will be acknowledged inside the book.

I'm not sure how long translation will take you. The book has 30,000 words.

We've got a good start for Spanish, but need more help with Arabic, Chinese, French and Portuguese.

So, let me know if you want to help with those languages or others (Hindi? Greek? Swahili?)

Monday funnies

Very cute:

Anything but water

  1. I agree with Lord Stern, who says climate change will cost a lot more than people think (or models predict)

  2. Technology will not save us if politicians cannot invest in the long view

  3. Economists (and others) have an abysmal record of predicting economic slumps. Don't waste your time or money on forecasts!

  4. Econtalk with Bill Easterly on the Tyranny of Experts [in "how to develop"] who fail to see the big picture. Erneso Sirolli chimes in with his agreement, and I left this comment:
    The truth in Sirolli's views is so hard for bureaucrats, technocrats, and "leaders" to see because it does not aggregate or collapse into a "few simple rules." Development is chaotic. It takes many paths at different speeds in all directions. It involves physical, emotional and intellectual changes. Development, like the many ways we interact with people, is complex. Our interactions are varied, rich and positive. Development can be the same way IF we stop trying to simplify it. Try talking to someone with two words. That's the same as trying to develop within a framework that "experts" design so politicians can understand.
  5. Former NSA director Michael Hayden has HUGE balls to say something like this:
    SPIEGEL: General Hayden, let's speak about the future of the Internet. Are you concerned?

    Hayden: I am very concerned. This may be the single greatest, most destructive effect from the last 10 months of what Mr. Snowden has revealed. The Internet was begun in the United States and it is based on American technology, but it's a global activity. We in the United States feel it reflects free people, free ideas and free trade. There are countries that do not want the Internet as we know it. Russia, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia. The Snowden revelations will now allow them to argue that we Americans want to keep a single, unitary Internet, because it just helps us spy. My fear is that the disclosures [Not NSA spying!!] may have set a motion in progress that ends up really threatening the Internet as we know it.

Governance at the World Cup

Everyone knows that FIFA is corrupt, but its rules also need to be reformed if "the beautiful game" is not going to turn into a mish-mash of lawyers, actors and cry-babies.

Robben's dive at the end of yesterday's NL-MX match definitely got the Dutch a free penalty kick and maybe won them the game (a 1-1 game would have gone to extra time, etc.)

It was pretty pathetic:

That bad call (Robben claims he was really fouled) gave the Dutch a sour 2-1 win, but that win resulted in record-crazy at Museumplein (central Amsterdam):

It would have been sweeter is the Dutch had won fair and square.

Bottom Line: FIFA should require video-confirmation of controversial calls that result in penalty shots.

27 Jun 2014

Friday party!

Although you're unlikely to need this (via RM) at a Dutch party (the cops here are helpful), you may want to save it for American events:

Party on!

The "Carbon not Market" in China

I taught a fourth-year class at Simon Fraser University where I allowed students to pick a "natural resource" topic that they would study, present and write on. I learned a lot from my students (who enjoyed the experience [pdf]) and asked each to write a blog post on an interesting dimension of the area they studied.

Here's a edited post from NZ:

Global warming is a hot topic in China, and the world's largest emitter wants to reduce carbon emissions. Six local carbon trading schemes have been launched in China since June 2013, but is China’s carbon market really a “market”?

In China’s cap and trade carbon market, local governments set the cap based on information provided by companies and most permits are given to companies for free. These controls (or distortions) are further reinforced by a 10 percent limit on daily price movements. Trade among the six regional markets is not yet allowed, so prices vary by location.

China’s carbon markets were very popular in the beginning, but they have cooled in a year. Trading volumes are low and institutions underdeveloped. Laws and regulations still need to be written. Too few experts work on carbon regulations or trading.

Perhaps the problems can be traced to free permits and controlled prices. A market needs prices to be driven by demand and supply, not the government.

Bottom Line: China's carbon "market" is more propaganda than solution.

26 Jun 2014

Death does not follow your schedule

I've traveled a lot, sometimes rationalizing that it's better to travel now in case I should die before traveling at the "right time" later.

This post from my (dying) friend Connie puts that idea in context:
A recent issue of the Santa Cruz Good Times featured a very good article by Sven Davis titled “The End Is Coming – Look Busy!

Sven goes through the process of preparing some of the paperwork that helps get one’s affairs in order such as a will, a durable power of attorney, a healthcare directive. He discusses the considerations that go into preparing the forms and his own thought processes in making the choices that he does.

It is well worth reading.

In keeping with that theme, the “Local Talk” column, which records the answers to a question asked of various people in the community, featured the question:

“If you found out that you had one year to live, what would you do?”

So many people replied with answers varying on two themes: “I would travel” and “I would spend time with friends and family”.

Based on my own experience – in which I was told that I had 4 to 6 months to live – I can say this: When the doctor tells you that you have a year (or whatever period of time) to live, it does not mean that during that year everything will be fine and then at the end of the year you will suddenly keel over.

The reality will be more like this: “You have one year to live and during that time
  • you will have surgery the recovery from which will keep you bedridden for months, or
  • you will experience debilitating pain every day, or
  • you will have to take drugs (e.g. chemo, or morphine) which will have debilitating side effects, or
  • …some combination of the above three scenarios

In addition, if you are told that you have one year to live and you have not yet taken care of all the things that Sven Davis outlines in his article, you may want or need to spend a significant amount of your limited time just getting your affairs in order.

So if what you want to do before you die is travel – DO IT NOW.

Because by the time the doctor says you have a year to live, it may well be too late to travel.

And as to spending time with family and friends, one of the big surprises that awaits is that some of your family and friends may not want to spend time with you.

Some people are very caring and open in explaining their reasons – often due to having previously lost loved ones to prolonged illness. Other people will simply go silent. But if you are told that you have a terminal illness, some of your friends and family will most likely depart your life before you do.

And if one the people who steps away happens to be, for example, someone you’ve named as your Agent on your Advanced Healthcare Directive then you’ve got some re-thinking to do.

There is good news though. Other people who have previously been distant acquaintances will be open to stepping closer, and new friendships will blossom in unexpected ways.

But if what you want to do before you die is spend time with friends and family – DO IT NOW.

Acknowledge success but work on failure

I often point out how politicians and water managers fail when it comes to making and implementing policies.

Do not take my criticism as disrespect for ALL politicians and managers. Many are quietly and competently working for us.

I don't know the real ratio of fail:success for politicians, managers or policies, as nobody collects or quantifies those data. I'd guess that the failure:success ratio is probably 1:9.

When I began writing this post, I thought of asking you to name your favorite managers and politicians, but such a listing would neither help people in other jurisdictions nor give an objective standard of performance.

Instead, perhaps you can suggest how some politicians or managers have designed or implemented policies that can be reproduced elsewhere.

Moving along, let's remember that the greatest harm comes from policies or practices that:
  1. Cost too much money than better alternatives;
  2. Divert behavior from the "right" to the "wrong" road;
  3. Direct water to a less socially valuable use; and/or
  4. Result in direct and visible failure.
Note that the last outcome is the one we see most often, even though the other failures are either more costly in aggregate or precursors for later failure.

As an example, consider the billion dollar "third straw" project in Las Vegas, a pipe that will allow Vegas to take water from Lake Mead when it's nearly empty. That expensive project does nothing to reduce demand or increase supply. It is literally a cynical, "race to the bottom" means of keeping Vegas grass green for a few more years, until the water level drops below its intake.

This, and other examples of impending or unfolding failures are easier for people who ask the "and then what?" will be the implication of any given policy.

Consider these examples (one for each of the practices listed above):
  1. San Diego is building a desalination plant for $1 billion to "meet demand" that could be reduced by a slight increase in water prices;
  2. Farmers are given subsidies to install "high efficiency" irrigation equipment while they continue to unsustainably overdraft groundwater;
  3. States allocate water to favored locals instead of either marketing the water within the state or allowing cross-border trading; and
  4. Water utilities with revenue equal to less than 50 percent of their costs cut back on safety and maintenance spending.
Bottom Line: Lots of managers deserve an A for success. Those who are getting Bs (or worse) need to be encouraged to work harder at meeting the needs of their communities.

25 Jun 2014

Accounting for energy used to move and treat water

I made this schematic while in Saudi Arabia, to help my colleagues understand the flow of water through a system (from source to sink, even if that sink is a source) and thus how and where energy would be used in the system. This figure could be used to present aggregated data from numerous parts of the system (many of them running in parallel) to help managers and regulators understand the energy consumption of a system.

Here's the PDF

A few notes:
  • Leakages of water also mean leakages of energy, but they are missed if they are unbilled
  • This diagram does not include energy used by customers (e.g., heating water), which is significant
  • Energy usage varies with standards for treatment or sources of water. Vancouver gets gravity-delivered snowmelt while Riyadh depends on desalinated water piped from 500km away
  • Water and energy accounting does not lead to good management, but managers can use this information to improve efficiency

Please tell me if this is useful to you or missing any significant features.

Speed blogging

  1. A scientist comes up with a simple (cheap) way to "sniff" sewers for leaks

  2. My guest post on oil sands and pipelines for Water Canada: "Ethical Water: Canada Must Protect the Environment, Jobs, and Taxpayers"

  3. Good move: Kiribati bans fishing to turn its waters into a marine sanctuary (and tourist attraction). Better news: Obama declares the largest marine reserve in the world (~2 mil km2)

  4. California's drought may bring $7 broccoli as a reflection of the "true cost of water," but it's also the result of a Farm Bill that prevents midwestern farmers from competing with California farmers. Congress Fail #24

  5. After a backlash from voters protecting their lawn subsidies, the City of Davis appears [lots of confusing statements] to be reverting to a disastrous combination of 87% of revenues from variable charges and a big "stabilization" fund. (Investors want the fund in case people use less water and revenues dive.) Average cost per customer will rise under this formula (due to the risk premium), but probably not water conservation. Fail.*
H/T to ND
* Also see yesterday's post and addendum

24 Jun 2014

Stabilizing water utility finances in Germany

Siegfried Gendries (German blog) wrote this on the balance between fiscal stability and conservation incentives (my post on implementing the same idea in Davis, California*):

The water industry in Germany is facing more and more challenges due to decreasing water consumption from both, the household sector and the commercial and industrial sector. Since the majority of the water supplier charge an high degree of volumetric price elements, the turnover in the industry is decreasing nearly simultaneously. Due to the inverse cost structure in the asset heavy industry this leads to significant problems for the water companies. As an answer, the regional water company RWW Rheinisch-Westfälische Wasserwerksgesellschaft, a subsidiary of RWE, developed and introduced a new pricing system which is based on a weighted consideration of fixed and volumetric price elements in order to stabilize the turnover and therefore not at least the cost coverage.

The water price and water saving challenge
In the eighties of the last century the water demand projections of scientific institutes targeted on 250 liters per capita and more. Therefore the water testament plants and pipes constructed afterwards especially in the Eastern regions of the former GDR considered these numbers. Also the industrial and commercial water consumption patterns were estimated at a significantly higher level than today's reality. Regarding households, the assumptions failed by more than 50 %. Today the numbers are at 121 liters and less (incl. commercial and mid/small industries). The Eastern regions of Germany are below 90 liters per capita at present.

Under these circumstances it would be nightmare to assume that the water supply in Germany could be stabilized on the satisfactory level. Since with each cubic meter consumed less, the cost coverage failed by 60 percent and more. The usual reflex are price increases. This can't be recognized as a sustainable solution due to the more intensified focus of anti trust authorities on one hand and price elasticity effects of those consumers which have the opportunity to react on the other hand. The latter one must result in a price spiral.

Reasons for water demand decreases
The consumption levels are recognized by four effects:
  1. Autonomic effect: technological changes lead to less water consumption (incl. energy nexus),
  2. Ecological behavioral effect: people want to save water since there is water stress in some regions in the world or due to their ecological attitudes
  3. Economical behavioral effect: people want to save money by saving water (a target which is supported by the volumetric price)
  4. Demographic changes: the population in many regions in Germany is decreasing, which lead to less consumer.
With regard to a price adjustment process we analyzed the impacts of the four effects. The first one explains 60% reduction in our supply region, the two behavioral aspects 20% and the demographic change 20%. Therefore it can be stated, that the room for influencing the water consumption behavior in order to reduce the economical impact is quite small. That means on the other hand a price increase will not have the impact as usually assumed.

New water price system to stabilize service and quality levels by ensuring cost coverage
As a water company with nine small and larger water works, 2,900 km pipes and mains serving 800,000 people and 10,000 commercial and industrial customer RWW had to find a solution to react on a 1.5% y/y water demand decrease. Although the price structure was already 20% fix and 80% variable, we had to find a economic solution accepted by both, the customers and the shareholders.

One problem had to be solved at first: the structural difference between costs and prices. The objective was to rise the fixed price element on a 50% level and to reduce the variable price element at 50% as a countermove. Although it seemed to be easy at the first view, it was impossible to adhere at the usual water meter as the base for charging, since the group of one-family houses would have been burden unacceptable. In order to reduce the viable unfairness the „size of the meter“ was replaced by the number of „housing units“.

The next challenge was to avoid the unfairness deriving from the fact that a linear price system would multiply the fixed prices depending on the number of units in a house. Households in multifamily-house would have been discriminated against those in smaller houses. The solution was a regressive fixed price algorithm per housing unit.

In order to stabilize the total turnover and to avoid profit by the introduction, we reduced the volumetric price from 1.62 Euro per cubic meter to 1.21 by 40%. Therefore the price system change became neutral for the totality of the customers.

With regard to the communication strategy we anchored the fix price element at the water supply system in order to convince people that they are paying for pipes and water works. Consequently we called that element "system price," therefor we consequently named the tariff the "System Price Model for Drinking Water."

Two years after introduction there is an increasing interest in the German water sector to introduce a comparable price system for water. Meanwhile two companies changed their water prices according to system price model and six water companies are in preparation of the same step advised by RWW.
* Addendum: Wow. There's an amazingly weird discussion of "wet fixed costs" justifying higher water charges (and lower fixed charges) in Davis. I left this response:
Fixed costs include current spending and debt repayment that does NOT change with daily volumes of delivered water. They average 80 percent at most utilities. Taking 87 percent of revenues from water sales is ASKING for financial instability. It also does nothing extra to reduce use, versus CFPR.

@Matt — you’re proposing that people pay for 87% of their driving with gas, with the other 13% coming from the cost of buying the new car. This is silly.
On the one hand, I think it's really annoying to have to fight with these funny interpretations. On the other, it's great to get a public debate on how water pricing works.

23 Jun 2014

Webinar Wednesday on water management

Mike Young, an Australian water expert, will be presenting "Lessons the US can learn from Australia's Water Management experience" (with an emphasis on Texas).

It's at 2pm, PT.

Get sign up information here.

Monday funnies

via Reddit:

The maid asked for a raise, and the wife was upset.

She asked, "Now, Helen, why do you think you deserve a pay increase?"

Helen: "There are three reasons. The first is that I iron better than you."

Wife: "Who said that?"

Helen: "Your husband."

Wife: "Oh."

Helen: "The second reason is that I am a better cook than you."

Wife: "Who said that?"

Helen: "Your husband."

Wife: "Oh."

Helen: "The third reason is that I am better at sex than you."

Wife: "Did my husband say that as well?"

Helen: "No, the gardener did."

Wife: "So, how much do you want?"

Anything but water

  1. Read this UN Report on "Inclusive Wealth" if you want an alternative to GDP (my critique) that considers human capital, environmental stocks, and income inequality. The table on the right illustrates how GDP misses important factors

  2. Eleven maps explaining the US energy system -- and a great article on how countries have removed (and failed to remove) energy subsidies. The current transfer from citizens to energy consumers (usually the richer citizens) is worth $500+ billion per year

  3. Europe's football teams would fall apart without immigrants. Would the Front Nationale win if France didn't even qualify for the World Cup?

  4. How to write philosophy -- and write in general, how to write a GREAT grant proposal, and how to REALLY use a dictionary

  5. An ad man explains where economists get human behavior wrong. Very insightful:
    Business and academia are fundamentally different. In academia you have to be right, in business you've just got to be less stupid, less wrong than your competitors. And so the approach we have to progress is fundamentally different.
H/T to MG

20 Jun 2014

Friday party!

Watch this great video on why you shouldn't text and drive:

China's winding windy road

I taught a fourth-year class at Simon Fraser University where I allowed students to pick a "natural resource" topic that they would study, present and write on. I learned a lot from my students (who enjoyed the experience [pdf]) and asked each to write a blog post on an interesting dimension of the area they studied.

Here's a edited post from RC:

With the rapid economic growth in China, environmental issues have become serious problems, and policy makers are paying more attention to them. Billions of dollars have been invested in wind power to reduce reliance on coal (more than 80 percent of the electricity in China is from coal-fired plants).* However, the result is worse than expected, due to poor government management.

With the development of wind power, China did not upgrade the transmission system at the same time, the capacity of transmission lines could not catch up the electricity production. It is like there are limited roads, but too many cars. The lack of transmission capacity means that many wind farms are all cost and no benefit.

[RC sent this video of a windfarm in China]

China will spend $88 billion [!] to address this problem on the Ultra High Voltage Electricity Transmissions project, which will transmit electricity from generating areas in the north and northwest to populations in the southeast. Some economists argue that the project is inefficient because it would be cheaper to bring more coal to power-hungry areas, but transmission capacity is necessary to put existing investments into use and allow for growth in future generating capacity.

Besides transmission, China is also turning to offshore wind power. This source is attractive because China's eastern regions have abundant offshore wind resources, good grid connections, and high electricity demand. Is offshore wind power a good idea? It's very expensive to install, but it's also clean. China has two successful offshore wind farms, but it needs more experience in planning, construction, maintenance, and cost control if it's going to avoid unnecessary pain.

Bottom Line: China is learning how to use wind power. Success will require more time than money.

* Here's the Straight Dope on wind power in the US, which is getting thrashed by cheap natural gas and changing subsidy laws...

19 Jun 2014

Deconstructing work cliches

Sometimes the marketing people need to pay more attention to operations...

Anything but water

Fire her husband for her photos?
  1. Everyone should read "What I’ve learned in my first year as a college dropout" -- especially the bit about living life AND going back to learn more...

  2. It's hard to estimate the value of ecosystem services, but they are massively important (oxygen, anyone?). Costanza et al. have a new paper out on the topic [pdf], which estimates that "ecoservices contribute more than twice as much to human well-being as global GDP." Related: The EPA has an interactive "EnviroAtlas"

  3. Angering the Saudis (tri-fecta version): a gambling model poses nude -- with tattoos!

  4. We need more of this: "Minnesota dumps 1,175 obsolete, silly laws"

  5. Time for a carbon tax? "Americans by 2 to 1 Would Pay More to Curb Climate Change"

18 Jun 2014

With friends like this

Russia and China made an energy deal a month ago. I think this captures their potential relationship:

One simple fix for California's drought

(via DA) I read that the Pacific Institute and NRDC have proposed "five simple fixes for California's drought." Putting aside the incorrect wording (the truth is that Nature makes a drought, but Man makes a shortage), I offered the following comment:
This typical, top-down list of to dos will accomplish nothing, as it requires (1) farmers to spend $100 to save $5 of water and/or (2) homeowners to spend hours on a leak that costs them $2.25 per year.

As usual, the INCENTIVE to reduce water usage is totally missing from this list of recommendations. Higher prices for water users will incentivize them to use less water (whether that means shorter showers or fixing leaks). For farmers, the same holds: Charge them more, or -- better -- give them the chance to sell water (recent auctions saw prices 50x normal, at $2000/af) and you will see many acre feet transferred to the urban sector.

Asking them to install efficient irrigation systems and THEN let the extra water flow in rivers? Hopeless. They will irrigate with 100% of their water, efficient or not.
Bottom Line: Drought reduces the supply of water. The obvious response is to reduce demand. The fastest way to reduce demand is to raise prices.  Don't tell them what to do. Tell them water is scarce and let them find ways of using less. They are more creative than people writing op/eds on websites.

The list of shame: bad water policies

Here -- for your future reference -- are a few popular policies and their drawbacks. I'd prefer to see less of these and more of the policies that are more likely to deliver targeted benefits.

A national water strategy is usually inappropriate because it's at the wrong governance scale. The largest useful scale for governance is a watershed or catchment, which may cross national or political boundaries. When in doubt, make strategies and take actions according to local water conditions, aggregating with neighbors where necessary.

Increasing block rates are confusing, unfair and worse for conservation than just raising prices on all units of water.

The discussions around a human right to water often imply that laws, once made, will be implemented. But that won't happen if corruption (the real culprit) must be addressed first.

The energy-water nexus is simultaneously too narrow (add food-climate-transport-etc. to the nexus) and too broad (few people can understand the energy or water system, let alone how they interact). It would be better to manage each sector separately (e.g., dealing with water stress, from all causes) instead of linking them up to make management hopeless.

Water footprints are a good way for consultants to make money, but meaningless for sustainability. A carbon footprint is meaningful, as your carbon emissions have a global impact, but the same water footprint has different impacts in different places (e.g., cows raised on rainfed grass versus irrigated hay). Sustainable water management (="can continue indefinitely") will result in an "appropriate" footprint.

Subsidies for efficiency may result in equipment upgrades, but they do not limit total use and cost money. Higher prices will tackle both AND generate revenue.

Do you have any BAD policies to add to this list?

17 Jun 2014

Way too awesome

If you like football (or samurai), then watch this:

Can you trust an oil company's word on oil spills?

I taught a fourth-year class at Simon Fraser University where I allowed students to pick a "natural resource" topic that they would study, present and write on. I learned a lot from my students (who enjoyed the experience [pdf]) and asked each to write a blog post on an interesting dimension of the area they studied.

Here's an edited post from VG:

Imagine you live next to the proposed route of a pipeline project. Would you worry?

Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline Project will transport oil products from Alberta to British Columbia so they can be exported to Asia via tankers.

There is always a possibility of an oil spill. Meanwhile, Enbridge has numerous records in the failure of its pipeline. According to the Polaris Institute, Enbridge had over 800 oil spills between 1999 to 2010. It was estimated that more than 6.8 million gallons of oil was released into the environment. This number does include the 2010 Michigan oil spill.

These statistics are troubling when Enbridge projects only twenty-five spills in the pipeline's fifty-year lifespan.

Moreover, Enbridge believes that tankers transport spills would happen only once per 250 years. This estimate is far lower than that of the tanker transport team at Simon Fraser University, which guesses that oil spills would occur every ten years.

But what if Enbridge is right? Regulators who listen to the academics may require too many safety precautions. This problem could be prevented by a market incentive (e.g., a penalty of $10,000 per barrel of oil spilled) that would force Enbridge put its money where its mouth is.

How much would $10,000/bbl cost? Enbridge's Michigan oil spill discharged about one million gallons of diluted-bitumen into the Kalamazoo River. That spill (caused by poor maintenance and exacerbated by ridiculous operational failures) did "irreparable harm" to the ecosystem (closing the river for two years), but it only cost Enbridge $3.6 million in fines. (Embridge spent $765 million in clean up costs, of which $300 million was reimbursed from insurers [pdf].)

Using the $10,000/bbl rate, Enbridge's fine would have been approximately $240 million. That amount (insured or not) would have focused minds at Enbridge. Operators, for example, would not have kept pumping oil through the 2m gash in the pipeline -- and into the river -- if the cost was 100x the benefit.

Bottom Line: Enbridge is underestimating its probability of an oil spill as well as underpaying when spills occur. Higher penalties would help Enbridge "care" about pipeline safety and avoiding spills.

16 Jun 2014

Monday funnies

Totally appropriate (via MV):

Feeling the pain?

LA sent this article, entitled "Why so many Americans don't care about the drought," to which I left the following comment:
The effects of the drought are being mitigated by groundwater mining and diversion of water from the environment. The impacts of those actions will be felt in the future.

As an interesting parallel, consider how the Iraq War was funded by borrowing and fought by "volunteers." Most Americans did not feel its effects, unlike the Vietnam War's immediate impact in tax increases and dead (drafted) neighbors.
Bottom Line: The costs will arrive, but they will wear us down slowly.

Speed blogging

  1. A good post on developments in desalination technology, which is more often being applied to industrial and agricultural tailwater

  2. Increasing block rates do NOT reduce consumption over time

  3. Fascinating: The World Bank and Chinese government use remote sensing to allocate water rights. Sustainability, productivity and incomes are UP!

  4. The Handbook of Land and Water Grabs in Africa: Foreign direct investment and food and water security is out in paperback. Get it for 20 percent off ($44) with code "ECD14" (Our chapter on water and land grabs is here [pdf])

  5. MGC sends this great do-it-yourself story from India:
    I have a drinking water borewell (75m deep) fixed with 1 HP centrifugal pump which lifts around 500 litres per hour (very low yield), as there is practically no area to recharge, as every surface is cemented / asphalted. Last year this well water began to recede in quantity and in quality too (as the pumped water turned yellowish, perhaps due to salts). I used my rooftop (around 12m x 8m) for tapping and filtering rain water directly to the borewell. After I recharged the rainwater, my borewell performance has improved, and now yields around 750 liters per hour and the water color has turned normal.

    I suggest that consumers in India and elsewhere to replace recycling/reuse (which is expensive or taboo) with recharging their wells. The cost of recharge is less than 10 percent of the cost of a new well but the benefits are immense.

13 Jun 2014

Friday party!

Amazing dancers

So what's the difference between my two books?

Some of you may have read End of Abundance and wondered if you should read Living with Water Scarcity.

Others of you may want to decide between them.*

To help you out, I've put together a side-by-side comparison of the two books [pdf]

Please tell me what you think if the comparison, especially if I've missed a useful category.
* Some of you don't know if you want to read either one, but that's hard for me to understand :)

Anything but water

  1. Morbid but accurate:
    Churchill said he needed just one American soldier to ensure Europe's defence, “preferably dead”.
  2. An interesting counterpoint to "business's only task is to maximize profits to shareholders" notes that shareholders have second priority, after the corporation, i.e., make the corporation strong -- with employees, government, and customers -- over the long run. A short run emphasis on profits that weakens long run viability is NOT good for the corporation -- or society

  3. The Ming Dynasty's narcissistic isolationism weakened China. The same can happen to the US

  4. Governments spend (lose) $2 trillion per year subsidizing energy use. That's not just bad for local and global pollution, it's bad for "development" (health, education, etc.) Rich countries gave $125 billion in assistance in 2013. Perhaps they should end aid to countries that subsidize energy (e.g., Egypt), so that they only help those who are helping themselves

  5. Policy guideline: The "yoga theorem" says that a policy's cost rises with its inflexibility, e.g., regulating carbon emissions at energy plants versus taxing carbon

12 Jun 2014

Who has the right to leaked water?

SM sent this question a few months ago:
My thesis is about conjunctive water use and the hydrologic externalities that arise from a change in water use (e.g., increased irrigation efficiency or canal lining).

I am focusing in the canal seepage/lining scenario.

My question is, in the Prior Appropriation Doctrine,* where is the balance between the "diverted use" and the "consumptive use" statute?

I am aware of the right to recapture, but I am also aware of the "do no harm" ethic in changing a water right. I am also aware that there is not a requirement to submit a "change" in a water right when switching to efficient irrigation methods.

Every time I present my issue of who receives benefits and who receives costs in canal seepage/lining, the same controversy comes up in questions:
"Who cares if they line that canal if its their water?" or
"They can't line their canal because the water has been historically allocated to the groundwater irrigators."

It all comes down to consumptive v.s. diverted use rights.

Of course in the case of an externality, the basis of how to internalize it completely depends on who owns (has a right to) the good. This stumps me because of the darn laws.

So... is there a clear answer on who gets the water? Does it depend on the laws? Do some laws need to change?
In response, I sent this post on accounting for water flows and this example of how canal lining can harm "leak beneficiaries." In addition, I said that the specification of rights drives the discussion of harm, adding that "do no harm" tends to apply to riparian rights while prior appropriation ASSUMES no harm from the use of quantified rights. Accounting problems will arise if some rights are based on de facto return flows. (In my book, I write in favor of "assumed 100 percent consumption" as a way of (1) protecting environmental flows and (2) encouraging more in-situ "efficiency" without harming neighbors.) I also added that these accounting problems fall into an "emergent externality" category as water scarcity and stress increases.

Do you have any ideas, arguments or examples to add to this discussion?
* SM adds:
The Prior Appropriation Doctrine is a frustrating thing but still only the tip of the iceberg in water law. These emerging externalities come at the hands of both climate change and population growth and are certain to continue. The diverted use basis of Prior Appropriations might end up causing more harm than good when a few people raise there benefits to the detrimental costs to large numbers of people. Won't it be nice when the costs and benefits of these can be quantified? It would certainly help in analyzing situations.

* From your references, the best thought I noticed was how complicated it would be to implement a consumptive use-based system. Coming up with even semi-feasible ideas would be a gargantuan project involving several disciplines, and teamwork effort to figure out the best way to do that. Certainly a lot of soil physicists would be involved. Maybe some day...

Learn a little about Saudi Arabia

Here's the YouTube video (27 min) with my impressions of Saudi Arabia:

Nuclear energy in China: the known unknowns

I taught a fourth-year class at Simon Fraser University where I allowed students to pick a "natural resource" topic that they would study, present and write on. I learned a lot from my students (who enjoyed the experience [pdf]) and asked each to write a blog post on an interesting dimension of the area they studied.

Here's a lightly edited post from SC:

Currently, China accounts for half of the world’s proposed nuclear power plant constructions, fueled not only by Chinese every expanding economy, but by the pursuit for her own moment in the sun. This demand for nuclear power far outstrips China’s ability to supply qualified technicians. No doubt the recent meltdown in Fukushima sounded the alarm among the Chinese government.

The problem is the standards. Forty-one reactors in China are either under construction or already operational, but with less than 1% of the nuclear power experts in the world, China finds herself in the perfect “nuclear” storm. These same reactors fall short of the internationally recognized standards for flood and earthquake resistance, and availability of domestic supplies for fuel. Substandard plants greatly increase the nuclear accident rate in China. With a further thirty new reactors slated for 2020, China’s own Research Council has recently warned of a growing shortage of technical experts that could compromise safety. It has been estimated that 5,000 nuclear experts will be required before this date, currently there is only four universities with nuclear programs producing the 200-300 experts annually; leaving a 3,800 to 3,200 deficit by 2020. This is to presume that none of the other already existing plants are not absorbing the new grads. As the nuclear power plant technology in China is imported from several countries like France, Russia, Canada and the US, there is a wide variety of power plant design and modules. For the Chinese inspectors and technical schools this poses a serious problem, since many of the local experts may have been trained on a specific reactor, and a new design is a world away.

The only thing more alarming than this has been the government’s lack of public transparency; when the Fukushima disaster struck the world’s attention only a few years ago, nuclear opponents in China sighed a breath of fresh air, but with the recent push for energy growth this proved short lived.

If China is not able to secure adequate regulation and oversight of their nuclear facilities a new disaster is ripe for the making. Enhancing transparency of nuclear power and establish a proper regulatory body can compel Chinese nuclear authorities to foster an environment of safety for the development of nuclear power.

Bottom Line: China's massive expansion in nuclear power will stretch overworked experts, risking disaster.

11 Jun 2014

Should you have kids?

Answer: Not if you have unanswered mail in your inbox.


How to present your ideas to people

A KAPSARC colleague gave a short, insightful talk on how to give a short, insightful talk to a diverse but curious audience. This post is based on his slides:

What does a good talk do?
  • It exposes others to ideas outside their expertise
  • It is stimulating, educational and fun. People should look at you, not the clock
  • It shares your ideas and invites feedback on them
Here's a checklist for preparing a good talk:
  1. Use the official template (or a simple one of your own)
  2. Use NINE slides, i.e. title slide plus EIGHT more
  3. Minimize word counts, use larger fonts, and make sure clearly labeled figures and tables can be read from a distance
  4. Cite your sources (especially if want to use them later or tell people where to find more)Focus on one topic so the audience can follow your idea from start to finish
  5. Explain terminology, acronyms, theories, etc. so anyone with reasonable technical knowledge can understand
  6. A novice on the topic should learn something new; an expert should see a new angle
  7. Clearly explain and highlight the 1-2 key messages you want people to take away
  8. Rehearse to make sure your presentation will take only 10-15 minutes. Subsequent time for questions will help you and your audience

10 Jun 2014

Curious about Saudi Arabia?

I'm doing a Google+ Hangout at 16:00 UTC (18:00 Amsterdam; 9:00 California) this Thursday, 12 June.

Join me there live or post questions here or via email in advance if you want to hear more about...
  • Water, tankers and groundwater
  • Migrant workers and citizens
  • Women and men
  • Religion and laws
  • War, peace and terrorism
  • Oil, prices and carbon
  • Monarchy and democracy
  • Expat wages and lifestyle
  • etc.
I promise I'll let the cat out of the bag!

Speed blogging

  1. Just to clarify: GHG emissions force "global warming" which changes "weather" which modifies "climate" -- in that order. On a related note, Canada may not "win" from global warming (weather disruptions will be VERY costly), but nobody will know because the Harper government is cutting science spending left and right.* In the meantime, Canada's "tradition" of placing no limits on use of "safe" water is threatened by stress on quantity and quality

  2. On a positive note, Calgary's CAWST (Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology) provides training, materials, etc. to local communities, worldwide, to improve their conditions

  3. The Indian government's next five year plan [pdf] includes an expansion of the successful move to reduce energy (pumping) subsidies to farmers, i.e.,
    5.16 There is a great need for significant changes in the way we price both water and electric power required to pump up groundwater. It may not be possible to levy a charge on the use of ground water for agriculture but the power used for pumping ground water can and should be economically priced. At the very least, State governments should levy a cess on all power for agricultural use and earmark the excess to fund ground water recharge programmes in the same aquifer.
    5.17 Another step that helps improve both the power situation and revive groundwater is the separation of agricultural feeders, which enables villages to get 24 X 7 three-phased power for domestic uses, schools, hospitals and village industries while farm pump-sets, which require much more power, obtain eight hours or more of quality power on a pre-announced schedule. The programme of feeder separation has to be carried through across the country. Gujarat has achieved very good results...
    The rest of that chapter (Sustainable Management of Natural Resources) is interesting, if aspirational. Read this report [pdf] on some groundwater governance victories

  4. Watch 12 archived guest lectures from Sri Vedachelam's Cornell course on "Water Resource Infrastructure: Assessment, Management, & Planning" here!

* This is no joke. Read this article on barriers to information from the Canadian government. Then consider these answers from a survey of government scientists:
  • 90% feel that they cannot speak freely to the media about their work.
  • 48% had seen information withheld, causing the public or government to be misled or misinformed.
  • 86 % could not report actions that might harm the public without fear of censure.
  • 43% had been asked to exclude or alter information in government documents for non-scientific reasons.
  • 50% had seen public health or safety compromised by political interference in science.
  • 37% had been blocked from answering media requests in the past 5 years.

H/Ts to KD, DL, CM and MV

9 Jun 2014

Monday funnies

PhD comics continues to deliver*

* Subscribe here -- or send a gift to your favorite PhD student

The UN's new laundry list for water and development

This all-things-for-all-people set of "targets" is unintentionally funny:
Proposed goals and targets on Sustainable Development for the Post2015 agenda now available


The priority target has been suggested as the eradication of poverty, the biggest global challenge facing the world today.[1] The draft contains 17 proposed goals to be attained by 2030, including secure water and sanitation for all for a sustainable world. This goal focuses on the provision of universal access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation [2]; improved water quality through reduced pollution; improved water efficiency in all sectors [3]; integrated water resource management, including transboundary cooperation; sustainable extraction of freshwater supplies; reducing the mortality and economic losses caused by natural and human-induced disasters and the provision of adequate facilities and infrastructure in supplying safe drinking water and sanitation.

The new goals reflect a flexible global vision [4], recognising that each country faces specific challenges to achieve sustainable development, and underscoring the special challenges facing the most vulnerable countries, in particular, African countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States, as well as the specific challenges facing the middle-income countries [5].
Just a few reactions:
  1. Since forever
  2. You can have safe OR affordable, but not both, unless "affordable" means "cost of safe" instead of "cheap"
  3. How do you know it's efficient? less use doesn't mean more efficient
  4. Like a global local vision?
  5. What about corrupt countries?
Bottom Line: The UN's top-down perspective (and endless newsletters) should not replace bottom up empowerment that allows local people to repair the problems they face. Good governance (low corruption) is sufficient to pursue this path; outside money is helpful but not necessary.

6 Jun 2014

Friday party!

This (via CN) is a great spoof on DJs who Drop the Bass. OTOH, it's pretty amazing when they do a good job with that :)

Anything but water

Send leftover change to your PayPal acct
  1. Is there a wonk bubble? No -- wonks are raising the quality of public debates and replacing academic outlets such as journals. Next in line: seminars and conferences (I just skipped a conference because I don't want to spend 6 hours -- and $100 -- on trains for a few talks) except for their social dimension of informal exchange. Speaking of virtual, the Mormons go big online -- and get believers through the relaxed interface of chats

  2. Speaking of wonks, I recommend fivethirtyeight.com for data-driven blogging, e.g., the importance of "cap" to cap and trade and tracing FIFA corruption

  3. Forget migrants stealing your job -- worry about the kids. Better yet, get off your butt and provide value

  4. Tienanmen was 25 years ago (many of my Chinese students did not know anything about it), but the forces that underlie it are strengthening again. The Party is trying to reform while holding onto power, but NGOs put citizens ahead of corrupt bureaucrats

  5. I finished three seasons of "Yes Minister," a genius BBC program that ran in the early 80s. The show's scathing portrayal of bureaucratic obfuscation and political opportunism is still relevant (and ridiculous). You can watch the videos here or here. Bring your dry humour

5 Jun 2014

Speed blogging

  1. Three Dutch agricultural professors warn (rightly) of the potential harm of exporting "virtual water" for cash while leaving locals dry. (I wrote about land and water grabs [pdf], but this also applies to California agriculture)

  2. Ten cool fountains (sample to right). I saw the 300m Jeddah jet recently. Magical

  3. The International Conference on Data, Information and Knowledge for Water Governance in the Networked Society (9&10 Jun in Spain) will be streamed live here. Recordings will be available here after 16 Jun

  4. An update on non-urban (e.g., ag) water metering and challenges in Australia

  5. The CEO Water Mandate defines "water scarcity" (physical, quantified), "water stress" (social, qualified) and "water risk" (political, uncertain) in this PDF. I tend to say "water scarcity" for BOTH scarcity and stress, as the economics are similar, but I'll be clearer in the future
H/T to BG

4 Jun 2014

Is natural gas the next ethanol?

Corn ethanol was a "win-win" alternative fuel that would allow Americans to drive as before, using less carbon, while supporting American farmers.

It turned into (and still is) an ecological disaster* that mostly helped agribusiness (e.g., ADM and Cargill) more than Farmer John down the road.

Many people see the natural revolution (or the "shale gale") as a win-win that will allow Americans to use energy as before, emitting less carbon, while supporting American energy companies (not nasty terrorists).

I worry that this optimism is misplaced for the following reasons:**
  • An increase in supply of cheap natural gas means an reduction in the price of energy -- and thus an increase in its consumption, which will displace conservation and alternative energy sources.
  • Sloppy production and movement of natural gas means more leaks of methane, which is 20-35x worse for global warming than CO2. Natural gas produces about half the CO2 output as coal, per MWh of electricity produced, which means that a 4 percent rate of leakage in the supply chain (25x4% = 100%) would double the carbon impact from natural gas. EDF comissioned a 16-partner study to look into methane emissions and estimates a 2.6-5.6 percent leakage rate. That's bad enough, but don't forget that methane is routinely vented (released) and flared (burnt, reducing emissions) at oil producing sites.
  • Finally, there's the strong possibility that drillers and investors, eager to flip fracking leases into cash will (1) produce too fast (releasing extra methane) or overstate their reserves (leading to a financial crunch for suckers who buy late).
Bottom Line: A carbon tax is technology-neutral. It would NOT have supported the ethanol fiasco and would dampen the negative impacts of the natural gas revolution. It's a pity that we're ignoring these virtues in favor of picking winners in the (losing) race to a low-carbon future.
* Ethanol requires energy to grow and process the corn, but industrial corn production depletes aquifers, uses lots of fertilizers and pesticides, and pollutes ground and surface waters. The displacement of other crops increased risk in the food production system. The use of previously-fallowed land increased ecological stress. The demand for corn for ethanol has raised the cost of living for poor people dependent on corn.

** I only "worry" in the sense of government policies and interventions that turn out to be totally misguided.

Addendum: I thought of this post a few days ago. The New York Times covers similar points today.

2 Jun 2014

Monday funnies

Gender bender

Bonus: a similar video from a year ago

Risk, preferences and policy

This exchange happened on Facebook:
OP: On your bike, always wear your helmet.

DZ: Sorry to disagree, but helmets (1) cause drivers AND bike riders to take more risks (Pelzman effect), (2) lower ridership (e.g., bike share w mandatory helmets is less spopular), (3) work only when you lunge forward (per US specs set decades ago) not sideways, (4) are no substitute for (a) separated bike paths or (b) good judgment, and (5) reduce "herd protection" (helmet laws reduce the number of bike accidents BUT reduce the number of riders even further, i.e., more accidents/rider b/c riders are more vulnerable).

OP: The literature you refer to David looks at socially optimal equilibrium and whether governments should mandate helmets and seat belts. Those results hold under some assumption on risk preference. I do not believe that literature also considers accident caused by others (who might be wearing helmet or driving cars).

If you look at the individual level, the story is very different. I would have taken the same risk not wearing a helmet. I've been so used at wearing a helmet that the risk I take are not conditional on wearing a helmet. I would probably be at the hospital right now if it was not of my helmet.

Friend 2: Thanks for debunking the anti-helmet rhetoric. It can hurt your head--literally.

DZ: There's no debunking here -- the stats are in the studies. You all are just infra marginal. When in doubt make your best choice over some academic's conclusions, but don't make laws based on your personal choice!