30 May 2014

Friday party!

Now THIS is how to do music in a public space (I filmed it on Istaklal Caddesi, Istanbul)



Here's another guy playing the dulcimer for longer...

Living life in the shadow of death

We all know we will die. Some people fear death with terror. Others see death as the final punctuation on a life best lived.

My friend Connie is dying of cancer. She's blogging about the process of death for herself, for her friends, and for people who may need to spend a little more time on their mortality and less time on their netflix queue.*

This recent post mentions an article I sent to her, which I recommend to you. My mother died when I was 18.
Cancer is a hungry thing. Apparently the cancer alone consumes plenty of calories. But with my appetite back and all the great food that people provided over the past 5 months my weight is back up to a good level. So as I head into this time when the tumors are growing again, my health other than the cancer is relatively good especially considering what my body went through with the surgery.

I do find, though, that important nutrients are not as readily available to other parts of my body even though I am eating healthy foods. My fingernails are a mess. I stopped taking vitamins and supplements after the surgery – my digestive system just couldn’t handle them – but I am going to start taking calcium again.

********

Our cats have consistently approved of every Hospice Nurse that has come to see me over the past 4 months.

********

My friend David Zetland sent me this very interesting essay about death, and how the way we die is changing.

One take-away from this article – if you have not already completed an Advanced Directive regarding how you wish to be cared for if you are unable to communicate your preferences, it would be good to put that on your to-do list.

********

David is a world renowned water economist and he is also one of several friends who were approximately the same age my son is now when they lost one or both parents.

The assistance and perspectives provided by this group of friends have been invaluable.

********

Long ago I bought a ring with two gems in it, an amethyst and a blue topaz. Because turquoise blue goes well with just about every article of clothing in my wardrobe, I wore the ring often.

One day I realized that every time I put the ring on, I was having the thought, “It is important to not get too attached to ‘things’.” – because I could easily have been very attached to that ring.

And that morning as I put the ring on I thought, “Heck with that! I like this ring a lot. I am going to wear it every day!”

That evening, at a party, I realized that the amethyst was missing from the ring. With many party-goers searching the floor, the amethyst was found. It was broken.

What a huge lesson about attachment!

********

Yes, that was indeed me that you saw dancing on the lawn to reggae bands in San Lorenzo Park last Saturday. A friend asked if I would like to go to the Rejuvenation Festival with him, and on the spur of the moment I said yes.

We danced until I was too weak to dance any more.

That night my leg muscles hurt. I slept for a very, very long time.

The next day my leg muscles still hurt.

The day after that my leg muscles still hurt.

It was worth it.

It is just wonderful to still be having so much fun 5 months after the doctors said I had 4 to 6 months left to live.

********

Lately I notice that my son saves ‘the last of’ things for me. The last of the strawberries, the last of the eggs for tomorrow’s breakfast.

I don’t always get the last word, though.
Bottom Line: I try to live my life as Connie describes so that -- when death comes -- I leave without regrets.
* Interesting: She began blogging to explore how she and a friend worked to overcome depression, especially in the wake of Aaron Swartz's suicide. She found out she had cancer six months later.

29 May 2014

Like the new masthead image?

I took it "in the dunes" outside Riyadh. It was as hot, dry and dusty as it looks.

Plagiarism or creative writing? A review of Grammarly

I taught economics to a group of third year students at Simon Fraser University this spring. Perhaps 80 percent of them spoke English as a second language (most were from China), and very few of them had experience writing in English, as the Economics department put most weight on math skills.

I went against that trend in asking students to read and write about Economics in two briefings (here's the PDF for the first) and a blog post (remember these?).

I had given the same assignments to my 2009 UC Berkeley class (blog archive), but I had not thought about plagiarism as an issue because I had skimmed through most of their briefings (I failed one student for a ridiculous copy/paste from a sociology paper).

I was going to do the same this time and asked students to print three copies of their briefings so we could distribute them to other students for peer grading (see this post). Then it occurred to us that we could use online submission to make the process easier (and maybe save a few trees). That step gave us a new possibility of checking the briefings for plagiarism. (We were not interested in grading or correcting them, as that was for peers.)

By curious coincidence (not!), I got an offer to try out the grammarly service, which helps students and professors check writing for grammar and plagiarism issues.*

In my short use of the service, I did not pay much attention to the grammar function, although I can see how it would be better than Word, which tends to vary between terse and useless.**

I did spend a lot of time with the plagiarism function and found it to be VERY useful, especially as nearly 40 percent of my students plagiarized material for their first briefing. Most of them made the mistake of copy/pasting without "marking others words," but some were brazen enough to copy entire paragraphs without attribution.

Most of them lost half their points on that assignment (their midterm and final grades tended to be lower, so I think there was some self-selection), and few of them did it again on later briefings and blog posts. (I was really shocked when some did!)

Bottom Line: Grammarly makes it easy to check lots of material for obscure sources on the internet. I recommend it to anyone who needs to grade a lot of essays for original content. It's also handy for grammar feedback (you can print a PDF report), but I wouldn't assign grades for grammar.

* Grammarly offered to pay me to review their service (this post), but they've been totally hands off on what I say. They did implement one of my suggestions on how to improve the interface. The service costs $30/month, but many of my students enrolled in the 7-day free trial to double check their work after a bunch got caught plagiarizing (see above).

** My grammar and spelling is terrible, so I don't mind some highlighting. I find more mistakes by rereading my work, but some people cannot do that at an "objective distance."

28 May 2014

Speed blogging

  1. UC Davis researchers say drought (and lower water deliveries) will reduce agricultural jobs by 6,000 or so. This (simulated) result is (1) far lower than their wildly wrong estimates from the 2009 drought and (2) tiny in the big picture of jobs in California. The bigger impact will be felt by big farmers, who are lobbying furiously to deplete groundwater and environmental flows

  2. Penny wise, pound foolish: Australia's government axes its national water commission

  3. The 1997 UN Convention on the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses goes live in August. That's a good sign for people worried about transboundary water grabs (China more than the US or Europe), since there's no global government

  4. Fleck asks why changing water flows more "controversial" than, say, changing energy flows. I answer ("monopolies") there

  5. A bridge that's designed to be submerged can save soil, water and travel time

  6. Whoops! Household chemicals go down the drain, into sludge, onto fields, and into your food

Remember the big picture

A colleague here read Living with Water Scarcity over the weekend. He was exactly the kind of reader I'm looking for: a thoughtful expert in his own work who wants to know how water policies should work but don't.

He asked several questions that reminded me of why I wrote the book. They all touched on the difference between the piece of the water puzzle we see (or are told to see) and how that piece fits into the larger picture. Some examples might be:*
  1. Shouldn't we subsidize irrigation if we want food security?
  2. Shouldn't we minimize the price of water so the poor can afford it?
  3. Why pay attention to water issues when climate change is going to have a huge impact?
Each of these questions carry implied weights in terms of the distribution of costs and benefits and differences between present and future impacts from various policies. Most people are capable of listing those tradeoffs, and many have opinions about their relative weights, but it takes a lot of thinking, I believe, before you can separate, relate and structure all those ideas into a decent concept of how various water flows interact and affect us, individually and socially. In any case, that's what I claim to put forward in my book -- a decent concept of how the pieces fit together.

Bottom Line: Remember to look for other impacts from your favorite (change in) policy.

* Larger picture:
  1. Subsidies that increase water use don't usually deliver the food you want to your table when you need it. Trade for food now. Store water and food for use later.
  2. Minimal prices may reduce network reliability or size, which tends to hurt the poor even more. The rich tend to use the most water, so they gain disproportionately from subsidies.
  3. Climate change impacts will arrive through variations in the water cycle, making efficient water management even more important.

27 May 2014

Meme me up Scotty!

Mulroy needs to think a little MORE different

RM sent Pat Mulroy's "think different" views on water in the US.* I left this reply:
Wow. She's all over the place, and -- unfortunately -- not coming to any conclusion ("sustainability is a journey, but it is not a journey that we can travel alone"?). It's nice to see Pat talking a *little* more about sustainability, but she still hasn't stepped out of her bubble. I'll offer one insight for perspective: Israel and Singapore both run their water systems as single utilities where everyone pays money and benefits from water flows. Tax subsidies in one area are not very controversial because the benefits of those subsidies often go back to payers or -- at a minimum -- their neighbors. The Colorado Basin (or US) does NOT run a unitary system. Detroit is not sharing water with Vegas. That's why Pat spent most of her career trying to take more water and money for Vegas, and that's why Vegas is still (1) unsustainable and (2) a bad neighbor.

My only hope is that Pat spends more time in different communities and less time opining on how we need a grand strategy or -- god forbid -- trying to implement one, nationwide.

Oh, and she also needs to remember that people in Israel and Singapore use about 30 gallons/capita/day -- about 15 percent the 220+gcd people use in Vegas. I think that's a good place to start talking sustainability.

* She just retired as water czarina of Las Vegas, which robs me of a straw woman for how NOT to do things (she appears in 49 posts!). Any nominees for unsustainable water managers?

I do appreciate the vast majority of managers who run a tight ship, fiscally and environmentally. It's perhaps unfortunate that we don't recognize integrity and competence more often. Do we need to in water? I'm not sure we do it very often for competitive businesses (their reward is profit), and we certainly do it too much for the 1%, but managers of monopolies should get some recognition for emphasizing their customers and social mission over their personal beliefs or bank accounts.

26 May 2014

Monday funnies

An alternative ending to Titanic?

Anything but water

  1. I've piled up a number of papers that may interest you (all links go to PDFs):
    • Energy consumers respond more strongly to information on energy use than higher prices. Attention!
    • Methane emissions during fracking mean that source of natural gas produces more CO2 than oil
    • The GAO suggests capturing these emissions to reduce GHGs and increase government royalties

  2. It's good to be born in the US if you're born rich. If not, it's better to be born in Canada or the Netherlands

  3. The Canadians, OTOH, routinely mistake jobs for benefits. They're not because jobs are costs (imagine 20 people trying to get you a coffee at Starbucks -- just before it goes out of business). The typical clip to the right is from Toronto real estate developers making fat profits off political connections. They rarely mention the COSTS of their developments (congestion, pollution, missed opportunities for better development). If you want jobs-costs (energetically) explained to you, then watch this 3 minute video

  4. Kids need to take risks to learn to take care of themselves

  5. Race to the bottom: Australia is reversing its climate policies, science and carbon tax. North Carolina outlaws climate change. I wonder where people will suffer the most?

  6. This look inside modern dairies may lead you to buy your own cow (wow -- a good use for your lawn?)
H/T to RM and JX

24 May 2014

Flashback: 19-25 May 2013

A year later and still worth reading...

23 May 2014

Friday party!

Fail Win!

Speed blogging

  1. I gave a talk last week "Squaring the circle: Saving money and water for residential customers in Riyadh" (PDF slides and 66 min MP3). I should have spent more time on the idea of paying people to NOT use water priced at SAR 0.10/m3 ($ 0.03/m3 or $0.08/CCF) that costs $3/m3 to produce, but that discussion implies water rights that have not been formalized. Perhaps they should be, when the situation is so lopsided. Related: Remove subsidies (that often go to the rich) to help the poor

  2. There will be a forum on May 22, 2014 on local ground water monitoring, surface water supplies, and the challenges and opportunities to sustain our water resources in Butte County, California. These should be happening EVERYWHERE in the US and world. On a related note, Water Values has added blogging (local leadership and infrastructure) to its podcasts

  3. Amazing photos of an (interrupted) trip down the Grand Canyon. Related: How to remove California dams without decreasing system performance by Sarah Null, who no longer says O'Shaughnessy (Hetch Hetchy) should go. Also see this paper on "trading dams" as a means of improving ecosystem flows without reducing hydropower production.

  4. Greenhouse innovations in dry dry dry Spain

  5. A typical post on investment opportunities in water (technology) that will make money... as long as we refuse to reform the outdated institutions driving waste and inefficiency today (hint: read my book :)

  6. A retired nuclear engineer writes:
    Your comments on the use of water by Thermoelectric power plants should note that post-1972 EPA regs state that all cooling water discharged to lakes or rivers must be cooled close to ambient temperatures
    So why do people talk about thermal pollution in the US? Is it only water behind dams that comes at the wrong temperature?

22 May 2014

Ecosystem restoration: Are you on or off the bus?

As a comment on this article about water releases into the San Joaquin River, RM writes:
Ah, this will create chaos in the valley. One group wants to defund the San Joaquin Restoration program so they can gain access to water and the BOR then turns around and uses the same water plus more for the Exchange Contractors which will limit access for those other farmers. Now – will DiFi stick her nose into this mess?
CM responded:
Not sure I get the reference about the group that wants to "defund" the Restoration Program - the program has no funds currently and that is not the fault of any of the ag groups. The program - out of its own Settlement - was supposed to complete 10 physical projects in the river on or before 12/31/13. Not one of the projects has even been started and the total cost of the 10 is $580 million. The program doesn't have the funding at all. The fact that NRDC continues to release large amounts of water into the river with none of the physical projects completed is crazy. From 3/1/13 to 2/1/14 they released over 180 TAF into the river that has not had one improvement that they themselves deemed "necessary" for the success of the program (keep in mind "success" means the return of 500 fish). The water picture would be much different had they not done so. RM needs an update on his understanding of the program.

There is no joy in taking water from Friant [CM is an Exchange Contractor]. It only illustrates how badly the system has been impacted by mismanagement and over regulation. All hydrologic conditions are better than they were in 1977, except all allocations are much worse. An excessive amount of water flowed out to the ocean for no beneficial purpose during this time of drought - a real shame. There is no good reason that we should be having to call on Friant.

...I would add that the lack of funding for the Restoration Program is no one's fault. The program was sold to Feinstein as a $250 million dollar project by NRDC. At the time of the Settlement in 2006, she felt she would be able to use earmarks to secure the necessary funding. But, the Settlement had to be implemented with legislation and that took longer than expected and was not finalized until 2009. Between 2006 and 2009, the 2008 financial crisis occurred. This not only eliminated earmarks, but also gave rise to the PAYGO process. These two issues effectively eliminated the funding streams that Feinstein had hoped to capture. Once the Bureau took over and began carefully analyzing all that needed to be done to meet the restoration goals, the total finished project cost ballooned to $2.2 billion (that is an estimate from the Bureau from a couple of years ago, so it is surely higher now). The bottom line is that there is no where near the funding to complete the restoration as planned in the Settlement and there isn't even funding to complete the initial physical projects that I mentioned earlier.

While the funding and timelines are all out of sync, NRDC still chooses to ignore those realities and stick with the releases into the river. They truck fish around the unimproved river and take pictures of them below the dam. Friant has not really complained much about the releases because until the river is completed the releases are fairly moderate. They have also been allowed to take a credit in the San Luis Reservoir for river releases that have been consumed in the Mendota Pool. The program floundering along hasn't been too big of an issue until now when supplies have become constrained. More Friant users are now seeing how bad it is to release water for the restoration program when it could have been kept in storage. There are a growing number of Friant Districts that are starting to push for a reevaluation of the program.

ESA regs in the Delta are taking a big toll on exports and the system as well - but that is another post altogether. This figure tells the story:
DZ's Bottom Line: Half-measures are worse than none at all. Set priorities, then make sure there's enough water to meet them. Co-equal goals mean double failure.
Addendum from here:
East San Joaquin Valley farmers, facing a zero water allocation this summer, are asking a judge to stop unprecedented water releases that started last week at Millerton Lake. The Friant Water Authority, representing 15,000 east-side growers, says federal leaders are not following a long-established water-rights pecking order in releasing Millerton water, which would help save thousands of acres of east-side orchards. The water is instead headed to a group of west Valley farmers who hold rights dating back to the 1800s. The lawsuit filed Tuesday says a Northern California water supply is available to help the west-side growers, but it is going to junior water-rights holders -- wildlife refuges and the State Water Project.
None Much less of this would be happening if California had a water market like the one in the Murray Darling River Basin in Australia

21 May 2014

How does your water bill and use compare to others?

I've been working with Laci Videmsky, the brains and brawn* behind the New California Water Atlas, since the launch of their water rights "page" a year ago because I support their effort to get as much data as possible in front of citizens, reporters, wonks and water managers.**

We quickly decided that the best way to get people involved was by giving them an opportunity to contribute -- and see -- data that was relevant to them.

For pragmatic reasons (water quality is too hard to measure cheaply and quickly), we decided it would be easiest if people could enter the price they pay for the water they use (as well as the number of people using that water). Then people could see how much they were paying and using (per day per person) and compare their numbers with people around the State.

If you want to go do that now, then get a recent bill and go here. It takes a minute or two.

The website also has some CPUC data on water tariffs for investor-owned utilities. The Atlas will add functions for people (or agencies) to enter tariffs in the future.*** The combination of use, headcount and tariffs will make it MUCH easier to understand the incentives customers face (see my paper on water tariffs in 100+ countries [pdf] for an example).

The best part this new project is that will make it easy for people to get a deeper understanding of how water prices vary from place to place, using data that will be far more disbursed and current than the data coming from expensive and infrequent surveys. These surveys take a lot of work and they provide a lot of information, but they only come out every year or two.**** Most people want "immediate" data, and the Atlas will move us in that direction.

Bottom Line: California is in a grievous drought, but we know more about traffic delays than our water prices and use. Go contribute your data -- and tell everyone to do the same. We cannot have enough information when it comes to making water decisions.

* Not exactly true. He's had support from RRI and many advisers and volunteer coders.

** Some of you may recall my attempt to get the water data hub off the ground. The site (now a zombie) failed for lack of interest from the big data providers (World Bank, UN-Water, et al.)

*** Laci gave this clarification in a launch email:
If you have a water bill that you are willing to contribute, the site awaits you! Please share with friends, colleagues, family, and so on. If you know folks at water agencies who may be willing to contribute data to the "agency" side of the site, we would appreciate introductions. And, if you have ideas for corporate sponsors, please send them our way. In the future, we will be adding a "submit a photo of your bill" function. We are considering the pros and cons of offering rewards/incentives to increase inputting of bill data. While it is naturally the case that such a crowd-sourced survey is biased, we believe that the true value of this project will come from its ability to inspire and encourage conversations about the availability of and access to water data in our state.
**** Recent surveys on prices include Walton (2014) on 30 US cities, Gaur et al. (2013) on California [misnamed PDF], and Donnelly and Christian-Smith on California (2013). Read these to understand more about tariff structures and trends.

H/T to RM

Anything but water

  1. What it's like to own a Tesla (funny and insightful, but bikes > cars)

  2. Canada's government gives $34 billion in subsidies to oil and gas companies. This article goes deeper into the lobbying and corruption of power and money that drives subsidies to profitable (and undeserving) industries

  3. This hysterical, painful video explains how traffic engineers destroy neighborhoods. The guy who made it discusses "strong (economically and socially sustainable) cities." One of the best I've heard this year. On that note, also watch this TED talk on "Why mayors should rule the world," which explores the impact of incentives on good policy

  4. How to travel with less stress (hint: take your time)

  5. Good insights on MERS, camels, global disease control and the Middle East. Related: The "liberation" of Saudi women, some photos and thoughts on life in Riyadh, and women's view of life in the Middle East

  6. Psychology: How food shapes community values, the psychology of numbers (two is female*), and how scientists' goal of preventing a 2C rise in temperatures made action harder

* ...which provides a great way to remember Type I vs Type II errors (II is false negative, as in you're not pregnant)

H/T to CD

20 May 2014

Some theories are more than skin deep

Climate change IS happening now

Just another day in paradise
[This post spells out some unwritten thoughts behind my post yesterday, which may have given the wrong impression of my thinking on the impacts of climate change.]

There's been a long-running debate over (1) whether global warming is happening, (2) whether that's leading to climate change, (3) when climate change will lead to "novel" weather, (4) how damaging that weather will be, and (5) what we should do about it.

Most of the debate has focussed on (5), since changes in habits are costly for individuals who prefer business as usual and VERY costly for businesses that would lose money from a shift in habits (using less oil, for example). In contrast, the science in (1) and (2) is settled.

What's interesting to me, is that the models behind (3) and (4) may have been too optimistic, in terms of predicted intensity and frequency of impacts.

Three years ago (if not earlier), I claimed that we need to reform our institutions to adapt to the impacts of climate change arriving in greater fluctuations in the water cycle, to defend ourselves against "death by a thousand cuts, but I have not seen very much action in that regard. Some companies are changing their business models, and some investors are divesting from fossil fuels. Many insurance companies are raising prices, but few governments are changing policies.

My guess is that the smart money is now looking VERY hard at how current events will translate into future options, especially when the vast majority of people are sleep walking into greater danger. For me personally, that means moving to Amsterdam, which both a pretty place and one of best-defended cities in the world. The contrast with Riyadh, a city in the desert that depends on water from 500km away and 24/7 air conditioning when temperatures are above 40C (104F) for months, is stark.

Bottom Line: Don't wait for climate change. It's happening now. If you think that's wrong, then compare the benefits of action from the costs of inaction.

19 May 2014

Monday funnies

John Oliver held a REPRESENTATIVE scientific debate on climate change. If it's real, then Although there is some debate on the impacts of climate change (which I think are showing up NOW), we should be prepared to see some pretty strange stuff:

Last Call at the Oasis -- The Review

I watched this movie (IMDB and trailer) yesterday.* It covers "the end of abundance" in the US. Jessica Yu directed it based on Alex Prud'homme's book The Ripple Effect, which I haven't read.

The start of the film discusses water scarcity and then it moves to water quality problems. The film has excellent production values (helpful graphics and good video clips). The intercutting of news and facts with interviews with experts (Erin Brockovich, Jay Famiglietti, Peter Gleick, Robert Glennon, Tyrone Hayes, Paul Rozin, Sissy Sathre and Aaron Wolf) was really well done.

Pat Mulroy makes an appearance, with her familiar claim that "Vegas is gonna grow and we're gonna need water. Whaddya gonna do? Keep people from drinking?" I continue to cringe at her hopeless growth antics.

The best (original) part of the movie was a segment on how to name and market recycled water so that people would accept "toilet to tap" as a reasonable alternative to running out of water or relying on desalination. Here's a clip of Jack Black endorsing "Porcelain Springs" bottled water.

The worst scariest part of the movie involves water pollution in the midwest, where agribusiness is poisoning groundwater (the movie discusses atrazine, but there are many more chemicals). Another GREAT idea (born of Brockovich's frustration with mounting requests for help) is a crowdsourced "health map" for the US, which helps people see -- and add -- pins for issues in their area. If government won't do it, then citizens have to.

I have two criticisms (or suggestions) on how the movie could have been better. The first is that the movie -- by focussing on the US -- appears to support a view that these problems are unique to the US.** Yes, there is a segment on how "Australia today is the US in the future," but I think several points would have been strengthened by noting that US problems also show up in other parts of the world (often in scarier forms).

From this point, I'd also add that the movie is weak at diagnosing the source of problems and suggesting solutions. I would have blamed incentives and institutions over evil corporations, poor regulators, and psychological barriers. Both of my books focus on solutions so readers can see how different actions may address their concerns. The movie ended with a stay in touch link, but I would have ended with some examples of how higher prices to water users or polluters could reduce problems.

Bottom Line: I give this movie FOUR STARS. Watch it to learn about the problems. Read Living with Water Scarcity to learn how to solve them.

* I got a press release in 2011 but couldn't get a screener from the producers, so this review may be a few years late!

** I sent this article on crazy flooding in Bosnia/Serbia to a colleague in Hungary, who said those floods are the new normal. He was surprised to see the floods covered in a Florida paper, but I was not. Flooding is the new normal in Florida and many other places where the frequency of climate-change-compatible events is rising.

17 May 2014

Flashback: 12-18 May 2013

A year later and still worth reading...

16 May 2014

Friday party!

Speed blogging

(Sorry, I have a lot of material stacked up for you. Enjoy!)
  1. Water and Hydraulic Fracturing and Responsible Investing in Canada (live webcast) on 29 May

  2. Participate in the OECD Survey “Stakeholder Engagement for Effective Water Governance” before 5 June

  3. The evolution of clean water laws under the influence of citizen-watchdogs, a comparison of water governance at national versus regional levels in the EU, the LACK of progress for women who get water at wells closer to their home (waiting time is close to walking time), and an examination of unnatural (engineer-caused) disasters on the Mississippi

  4. Bureaucratic overload: California's Dept of Water Resources doesn't even know how many agencies supply water. WTF?

  5. The US government studies dams as a source of new, green power. No sign of studies to reduce demand for energy or decommission worthless dams. Fail
H/T to GD, DL and RM

15 May 2014

Teaching is connecting but it's not easy

I got this email from one of my SFU students:
I gained a lot useful knowledge from this class. At first I would thought this class was more of a theory-based class. I would learn a lot of models like I did in Econ 301 and 305. On the contrary, this is a very practical class, many stuff I learned can actually apply to real life and remind me what something has happened or is happening around me, just that I never paid attention to it. Moreover, through the process of doing briefing, blog post and homework 3 and 4, I also gained new knowledge about environment issues.
...and this from someone who was watching my lectures on YouTube:*
Sir, Thank your for uploading those lecture videos. Otherwise I would never know that economics can be easy if u think right direction. I am from Bangladesh.
I also got my student evaluations recently. My small class [pdf] ranked me 4th best professor. My larger class (82 students, of whom 40 showed up on average) was divided [pdf]. Some loved the challenge (see quotation); others thought it unfair. It's not easy forcing students to face new ideas and methods of learning.

Check out all my teaching materials (homeworks, exams, lectures, etc.) here.

* Or perhaps these 2009 lectures from UC Berkeley, which have subtitles in 50 languages

Fact check: drought versus shortage

This lie caught my eye:
With Texas facing one of the most severe droughts in history - one that's rapidly depleting the state’s reservoirs and underground aquifers.
Here's the corrected version:
With Texas facing one of the most severe droughts in history, continued use of water is rapidly depleting the state’s reservoirs and underground aquifers.
Droughts are natural. Shortages are manmade.

We'll now continue with our regularly scheduled broadcast.

14 May 2014

Momentum meets change

Change isn't always easy, but it will work out if you give people time...

Another water auction

Damian Park made this demand curve from bids for water from this recent auction of water [pdf description]. Madera Irrigation District had some to sell and buyers were paying HUGE price (winning bids in Buena Vista's Feb market were $1100/af).


Bottom Line: Prices go up when demand is high and supply limited. Farmers would be better off with more markets and auctions, so paperwork should be minimized. (Regulations should ensure that farmers are not selling "community" water.)

13 May 2014

Anything but water

  1. This sweet, funny video encourages you to "look up from your phone" and talk to the people next to you. It's a direct response to the unsocial side of social networks that I discussed in Why I quit Facebook, I'm back on Facebook and Coping with social networks

  2. I highly recommend this discussion of coal, politics, poverty and corruption in West Virginia

  3. The Economist deconstructs Putin's strategy of using disinformation and Russian nationalism to dominate his people. Given his pride, I agree that the best strategy may be to ridicule Putin as a foolish power junkie. Maybe he will stop ruining people's lives if people call him a thuggish idiot who builds castles in the sand. Hey Putin! You're an idiot! (Related: A Russian analyzes Putin as a Soviet zombie and how (private) returns to (anti-social) aggression)

  4. Politicians throw climate science under the bus to advance short term gains (Saudi Arabia vetoed a Dutch attempt to include emissions by income level. Gasoline costs €0.05/liter ($0.27/gallon) here

  5. Culture clash: "A tense taxi journey across the Saudi desert makes an American author consider the folly of nationality"

  6. Peak Time Rebates for using less energy are just as silly as "use it or lose it" water property rights

10 May 2014

Flashback: 5-11 May 2013

A year later and still worth reading...

9 May 2014

Friday party!

The only thing better than a girl on felt is a guy with mad trick shots:



Their lawns or your drinking water?

A few months ago, I praised Davis's new water tariffs for moving closer (even hitting) my target of matching fixed revenues to fixed costs (and thus variable revenues to variable costs). I even cited them in Living with Water Scarcity.

But opposition to these new prices has emerged recently:
The new water rate structure, called consumption-based,fixed rate (CBFR), is extremely unfair to residents of single-family homes, who will pay much more per gallon of water than other users.[1]

With CBFR, the cost per gallon of water is largely determined by summer water use.[2] This shifts the costs to single-family residents who must irrigate to keep trees healthy and keep Davis green. Maintaining a healthy tree canopy and other urban greenery also removes large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.[3]

If CBFR is not repealed, by 2018 the average homeowner and single-family tenant will be paying almost 40% more than apartment landlords for each gallon of water.[1] Shifting the cost of this expensive new water project onto single-family homeowners and renters is not fair.[4] If a given single-family home uses twice as much water as units without yards, such a unit should pay only twice as much. Under the CBFR system, it will pay substantially more than that.[2]
The first time I read this, I spit my beer tea, but then I saw the benefit of this opposition: an opportunity to debunk some water superstitions that are held by people in -- and outside -- Davis, California. These points match the [numbers] above:
  1. "The cost per gallon" they are talking about is the average cost per gallon, which is found by taking fixed and variable costs and dividing by use. The new system raises more revenue from fixed charges than before because it's designed to cover fixed costs, which are probably around 80 percent of total costs. This is an intentional move to stabilize utility finances.
  2. Charges are based on summer (peak) use because (a) peak use determines system capacity, which is expensive to provide (bigger pumps, etc.) and (b) summer is when more drinking water is used wasted outdoors. Increasing water scarcity means that summer use (on outdoor landscaping) needs to be reduced.
  3. This is laughable because (a) pumping and treating water produces FAR MORE carbon than "green lawns" remove and (b) the "correct" landscaping does not need to be irrigated.
  4. This is either a typo or a deception. Renters will BENEFIT from the new charges, since they do not have lawns. Those protesting the new tariffs are, by my reckoning, far wealthier in terms of their water choices.
Bottom Line: We will see special interest protests in favor of "carbon eating" lawns in many places where drinking water is too scarce to dump outside. It's time to live with water scarcity instead of pretending that poorer citizens are going to subsidize habits from a past of abundance.

H/Ts to ND and RM
Addendum: This op/ed appeared in the Davis Enterprise after I wrote this post, and I've left more comments/responses there.

8 May 2014

Anything but water

  1. Funny, informative video rant on US healthcare costs. I agree that single payer would be better. I'd repeat that "price inelasticity" is driven by employer-provision of health insurance club membership

  2. Want to see how crazy tax regulations get? Try to understand how to tax a burrito in San Francisco

  3. Amazing! (not!): Grad students get really smart -- and done -- when their funding stops

  4. Oil and gas companies will lose $10 trillion if we stop burning carbon. The last time such a "taking" occurred was when slaves were freed taken during the US civil war. Three percent of the US population died then (750,000 out of a non-slave population of 27.5 million people). That's the equivalent of about 9.5 million people today. I'm not sure that 100 people would die over carbon, which (following the article's logic) means that the oil/gas companies will NOT lose their assets. Time to adapt to a world of +5 degrees

  5. But forget burning oil. Let's spill it and create jobs, says a pipeline company

  6. Slightly depressed? Watch this machine eat a car and imagine how the car feels!
Hattips to CD, RM and HZ

7 May 2014

Speed blogging

  1. In my rush across three continents, I forgot to post these talks:
    The first one (Water Values) is a great overview of the book. There's even a transcript!

  2. This post explores the importance of aquifer "heterogeneity" (irregularity) on governance; this one explains how Amsterdam uses sand dunes to filter its drinking water; and this one gives an update on the link between higher irrigation efficiency ("more crop per drop") and HIGHER water use

  3. I'm still shocked to see this announcement that "heavy water users" in Beijing will be charged CNY160/m3 for water (that's $26/m3 folks!). Perhaps it's related to the announcement of more desalination (which costs $1-2/m3) projects?

  4. Related: a mine in South Africa is converting mine tailings water (about as dirty as you can get) into drinking water. Canadian firms in the oil sands claim it's "too expensive" to drain/reclaim the land they've damaged. The South Africans have shown them up, and it seems that Alberta's regulator is starting to lose patience. About time. (This 2011 post details the oil firms attempts to avoid financial liability for their pollution)
Hattips to RM and JW

6 May 2014

No As for effort

"I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions they have reached perhaps with great difficulty, conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." -- Leo Tolstoy

A few first impressions of Riyadh

I went shopping at the mall tonight (Monday), leaving the KAPSARC compound for the first time since arriving Friday. We went on the shuttle, which is easier/cheaper than a taxi (there does not seem to be much public transportation). It's WAY too hot (35 degrees) to walk anywhere.

Riyadh is 1,000 km2, and we are far from the center:
From the 1940s, Riyadh "mushroomed" from a relatively narrow, spatially isolated town into a spacious metropolis... Following the example of American cities, new settlements and entire neighborhoods were created in grid-like squares of a chess board created and connected by high-performance main roads to the inner areas.
The compound itself is MASSIVE and mostly under construction (it seems the construction workers are leaving google reviews of KAPSARC). We have excellent living quarters.

The largest female-only university in the world is next door. They have a monorail and very tall walls.

There seems to be some internet censorship targeted at "skin" (I had clicked on "great photos of so-and-so" on a regular news site.) Locals use twitter far more than the internet as a means of sharing ideas. I have no idea what they are saying, so I sent this tweet to see if I get any responses:
We have a reliable supply of potable water from our wells. The water shortages reported as late as 2012 seem to have gone away in recent years, but some neighborhoods depend on water delivered in tanker trucks.

The compound has a very beautiful mosque that's named after the king.


The layout echoes the US in several ways (weights are in pounds and letter-sized paper in a metric country). I found this intersection to be less-than-optimal for pedestrians. First, it has stop signs instead of a roundabout (stopping without cars in sight is strange). Second, the pedestrian crossing passes through the landscaping. I tend to cross "overland" anyways.


Addendum: (1) No replies to my tweet so far. I need more Arabic cred. (2) I tried to tell housekeeping to stop (straightening my toothbrush, etc.), but they are relentless(ly underemployed), so I left dirty dishes in the sink (I never do that), and now they're clean. Can I get tax credits as a job creator?

5 May 2014

Monday funnies

A Japanese father takes many funny photos of his four year-old daughter:

Takes two to screw (customers)

DG sent me this short video report on privatizing water utilities in Spain. It seems that municipalities are selling "public" water systems* to private investors.

Customers worry that privatization will lead to higher charges and lower quality service.

That outcome will NOT happen if investors use better management to reduce costs and improve services (a win-win outcome), but it WILL happen if municipalities allow investors to raise rates and lower service quality.

Why would the municipality do that? Because the municipality, which "cannot afford to pay for maintenance" needs to find someone who will pay for upgrades. What's the cost of borrowing money from the bankers? Future repayments. And larger future repayments mean more money for the municipality or more system investment.**

This logic CAN result in terrible outcomes if promised future cash flows result from higher prices, lower service and a lack of investment, but it will NOT if the city writes a tight contract and maintains strong regulations on performance.

The report concludes that "large corporations are in the lead when it comes to the fight for water," but that's not true. Companies cannot buy systems that are not for sale. The summary should be "politicians who want money now can get it by raising prices to customers or selling their systems to companies that will raise prices in the future." There's no magic trick or evil corporate conspiracy here. There's only the need to pay the costs of past financial mistakes. That money can come from citizens or bankers, but it has to come from somewhere.

Bottom Line: Politicians can sell municipal utilities to investors as a means of improving service and smoothing cash flows over a few decades, or they can sell for short term cash without regard for their citizen-customers. City hall decides whether citizens are served or screwed.

* "Public" has two meanings. Owned by the public (municipal) and serving the public (equal access).

** A corrupt government would cash out (this happened in Stockton awhile back); a decent one would make sure the money is invested. Pay attention to that ratio to find out which matters more.

3 May 2014

Flashback: 28 Apr -- 4 May 2013

A year later and still worth reading...

2 May 2014

Friday party!

Watermelon man.



Speed blogging

  1. Portland's water managers drain a massive reservoir after someone pees in it. I reckon they care more about their reputation (risk aversion) than customers' money. They've learned nothing since 2011

  2. OTPR points out that "local control" often means "don't bother us while we ruin our water supplies." I left this comment:
    There's some truth to the benefits of local control versus delegation to a regional or state authority. Let’s be generous and say local = watershed or aquifer. In that case, local control would be best EXCEPT if locals have a short-term view AND either ecosystems (public goods) will be negatively impacted by poor management OR non-locals will be obliged to bail out locals who ruin their water. Those conditions are pretty common in Calif., so now we see the nature of the problem — and solutions. Regional or state take-over to protect public goods and/or and end to bailouts.
  3. There's a water cap and trade webinar on 13 June (contact s.midgley@oieau.fr to register). To read more about the project (and access background materials on markets in Europe, Chile and the US), go here

  4. Steve Maxwell's 2014 Water Market Review (of companies dealing with water, not water-the-commodity) is available for free download. Its 28 pages have LOTS of industry insights

  5. A "Turkish Peace River" will flow to Northern Cyprus via an 80km undersea pipeline. This $450 million failure-in-the-making is unlikely to bring peace (the water is NOT to be shared with the Greek side of the island), economic growth (much of it will be used for "food security" irrigation), or environmental benefits (it's diverting 10 percent of a mainland river)

1 May 2014

Dealing with drought -- three ways to fail

BB sent this summary of UC Davis's "Living with Drought" conference (I got my PhD there), and this bit got my attention:
Everyone seemed to agree that solutions to living with drought are best found together, across disciplines.

“We’re not going to get anywhere if we don’t tackle this in an interdisciplinary manner,” said panelist Glen MacDonald of UCLA. “It’s going to have to be all of us working together and talking together.”

An audience member praised the speakers for their ideas on reaching across disciplines and planning wisely. “But how can I communicate this to my neighbor who keeps their sprinkler on when it’s raining?” she asked.

Better education” was the panelists’ response: “All of the devices in the world won’t matter if we can’t keep out neighbors informed of the right thing to do,” said Steve Macaulay, former chief deputy director of the state Department of Water Resources.

In another panel, Frank Loge, director of the UC Davis Center for Water-Energy Efficiency, noted that effective messaging to consumers about the amount of water they are using results in an immediate 5 percent reduction in water use, and can be as much as 20 percent.
OMG, this is so FAIL, but typical of academics.

Their "solutions" are:
  1. More interdisciplinary work
  2. Better education ("keeping neighbors informed of the right thing")
  3. Effective messaging of how much water is used
Let's deconstruct destruct those ideas:
  1. Give us more funding
  2. Teach people to think like you, because you know the real value of water
  3. Send love letters that tell people how much they care
I'm amazed that nobody sees that water, as a commodity, is nothing special.
  1. We don't have interdisciplinary work on managing a "drought" of beer.
  2. We don't "educate" people to drive less or more
  3. We don't send love letters to people, telling them how many minutes they watch TV
Why is that? Because we allow prices to balance supply and demand of beer, we acknowledge that people will drive at their convenience (and cost in time and money), and we don't need to inform people if they are watching too little or too much TV.

Adults (and kids!) are perfectly capable of finding the right balance among their time, money and other choices. That balance will ALSO be right for society if the prices consumers see reflect the costs of their activities (i.e., pollution, scarcity, congestion, etc.)

We can use this same metric and method when it comes to managing scarce water... by raising prices in drought to reflect scarcity. That's what this article says:
California water rates are set to reflect the price of delivering the water, not the water itself. This fails to give consumers any impression of how scarce the stuff is... "If you go down to a bar and Corona costs 12 cents a bottle, you're gonna run out of Corona. And that's the problem with water: It's just too damn cheap to care about."
Oh, wait. That's me being quoted ;)

Bottom Line: People will use less water if it's expensive. Is that a violation of human rights in California? No, it's a violation of lawn rights. Homeowners dump half their drinking water on lawns because it's cheap.