12 Jan 2015

Rain doesn't fix long term problems

It's been raining in Southern California, and I suspect -- per my 2007 post -- that many policy makers and managers have eased off in their efforts to cope with drought. Even worse, there may not be voter support for action from voters who are now distracted by New Years Resolutions, terrorists, etc.

But there are two good reasons for continuing to press ahead, after witnessing these last three dry years (the same advice holds for anywhere in the world).

First, current precipitation (go here to plot the current water year against historic data) needs to make up for a few years of under-average precipitation. The dirt is going to absorb a lot (less runoff), reservoirs need to refill, and groundwater is unlikely to return to levels of three years ago.

Second, California and other western states really do need to focus on reforming outdated institutions for managing water, i.e.,
  • Deciding on the split between environmental and economic flows
  • Improving the design and function of water markets
  • Monitoring and regulating groundwater
  • Pricing urban water for costs AND scarcity (that latter price should be zero when water's abundant)

On these points, I'm not exactly optimistic (see the rush to buy SUVs while gas is cheaper), but that's not my job. My job is to be right... as far as giving advice is concerned :)

Bottom Line: California and other places facing occasional water scarcity need to push ahead with reforms focussed on long term economic, social and environmental sustainability.