Sat Mar 29th, 2014 at 01:47:14 AM EST
An interesting Op-Ed in the LA Times argued for comprehensive water-rights reform, based on the Australian model. It seemed like something the good readers here at ET would find interesting.
The Water Revolution California Needs
This year's drought has thrown California into a sudden tizzy, a crisis of snowpack measurements, fish-versus-people arguments and controversial cuts in water deliveries. But in reality, crisis is the permanent state of water affairs in the Golden State -- by design, because our institutions keep it that way.
Even with the gargantuan re-engineering of nature, there is never enough water. How could there be, when according to the calculations of fishing and environmental advocates, the state has granted more than five times as many water rights claims as there is water in our main rivers, even in a good year? When our Gold Rush-era laws all but compel water-rights holders to use as much water as they can, as fast as possible, lest they lose their entitlements?
Instead, California ought to learn from the experience of Australia, the driest continent on Earth, with a broadly similar economy, climate and, until recently, a similarly balkanized and economically irrational water management system. Faced with a 12-year-long drought, which brought fatal brush fires to its cities and devastation to its agricultural communities, Australia's state and federal governments agreed in 2007 to manage their water "in the national interest rather than on jurisdictional or sectoral based views," in the words of the federal environment minister.
So far, Australia's new water market has performed as economists predicted: Even in the worst year of the drought, with delivery cuts of two-thirds, the value of agricultural production remained 70% of normal, according to Mike Young, professor at the University of Adelaide. Initially, water prices soared, but they have since fallen back as farmers and urban users have learned to do more with less. Australia's cities, already relatively frugal, cut their use by 35% to 50%. Fear of hoarding by outside investors and market manipulation proved overblown, but California ought to take these potential pitfalls into account in designing its own water markets.