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LQD - Water rights in California and Australia

by Zwackus 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.

-snip-

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?

-snip-

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.

-snip-

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.


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The article talks up the market-based solution devised in Australia.  While in theory I'm pretty skeptical of market-based solutions to environmental problems, in theory I could imagine how it would work.  Markets, when they function, can encourage actors to reduce expensive imputs, and encouraging end-users to be more water efficient was the whole point of the system.

However, I find it rather amazing that a few speculators didn't just swoop in and buy all the water, then set monopoly prices.  Australia's water market must be pretty heavily regulated.

by Zwackus on Sat Mar 29th, 2014 at 09:26:27 PM EST
It's actually raining here in northern CA this weekend. The state goes a long way to hide the consequences of the drought to the urban public, although I don't know how long that will last.

I think Australia will depopulate faster in percentage terms than the American southwest over the next 50-100 years. Australia is a desert. You can't run a modern urban society off of a desert. I drove around New South Wales in 2008 including up to the Murray river in Mildura, and most of what I saw was this for endless miles, in cloudless 40C+ heat. It reminded me of the southern portions of California's central valley, only over a much larger area. A lot of it looked like it had already been left fallow for years. Man's folly and audacity rolled into one if I ever saw it.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sat Mar 29th, 2014 at 11:58:31 PM EST
See this item in the Newsroom.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 3rd, 2014 at 02:50:04 AM EST
California Drought Threatens to Destabilize Agriculture Markets

The state of California is deep into the third year of a record drought. An excellent map from the University of Nebraska shows that nearly 91% of the state is undergoing "severe to exceptional" drought. Seventeen communities scattered across the state are expected to run out of water by mid-May. Last year was California's driest since it became a state in 1850. This year looks to be the driest in over 400 years, according to climatologists at the University of California Berkeley.

Scientists say more is in store. Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory believes a 20-year drought cycle began in 2000. Scott Stine, a professor of environmental studies at Cal State East Bay, told the San Jose Mercury News, "We continue to run California as if the longest drought we are ever going to encounter is about seven years. We're living in a dream world."

So what's the big deal? As they say, this time it's different. The ongoing California drought provides a disturbing glimpse of future water shortages and their impact on agricultural production and food security.



"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Apr 3rd, 2014 at 11:45:04 PM EST
Instead of focusing on how to evolve the state's agriculture to more sustainable forms (and more adapted to the climate), the conclusion is sort of predictable: help Big Ag in <insert US state> or the world's hungry masses get it...
by Bernard on Mon Apr 14th, 2014 at 09:37:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Epic California Drought and Groundwater: Where Do We Go From Here?  National Geographic

What has GRACE shown us about California?

Our earlier study showed that between October 2003 and March 2010, the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Basins lost about 30 cubic kilometers of freshwater, nearly the equivalent of the full volume of Lake Mead. Of this, we determined that about two-thirds was due to groundwater depletion in the Central Valley.

During the drought of 2006-2010, state and federal surface water allocations were drastically reduced, forcing farmers to tap groundwater reserves far more heavily than in `normal,' wetter years.  The resulting volume of depleted groundwater was so great that it was registered by a satellite `scale' that orbits about 400 km above Earth's surface.

Our new report is an update to this previous work, and it points to one critical question for California. One of the key numbers to emerge from the report is that the combined Sacramento and San Joaquin River Basins have already lost 10 cubic kilometers of freshwater each year in 2012 and 2013. To put that number in perspective, it is roughly the amount of water used by the entire population of California, for household, municipal, and industrial use (that is, for nearly everything else besides agriculture and environment).  It is also the steepest decline in total water availability that our team has witnessed in the 12 years that we have been monitoring California water resources with the GRACE mission.


At least state officials in California are not denying the possible effects of climate change on this situation - unlike Tony Abbot in Australia. The challenge for California is what to do about ground water pumping for agriculture - Ten cubic kilometers per year of fossil water to nourish California's farming industry.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Apr 4th, 2014 at 12:06:04 AM EST
That.. is amenable to technological fixes. As a proof of concept, lets consider the utterly brute force approach: "Fission and desalination":
 Reverse osmosis runs 3-5 kwh/m3, so that works out to..
30000000000 kwh/year? So..
30000000000 kwh/1650000kw*24h*365*0.9 =
3 EPRs running a 90% duty cycle would cover it and spare. If you think manufacturing that much osmosis membrane is unreasonable, add another reactor and the entire thing works using distillation. Water apocalypse averted - This is a small infrastructure program, but as such things go california has done bigger.
by Thomas on Wed Apr 16th, 2014 at 05:29:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
.. is not a small. Gah.
by Thomas on Wed Apr 16th, 2014 at 05:30:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
California's annual energy consumption was  250,384 million KW-hrs in 2010, or 250.384 TeraWatt-hours/year. We require 10 cubic KM of fresh water per year, or 10x109 cubic meters. At 5 KW-Hr per cubic meter that would be 50x1012 Watt-hrs or 50 TeraWatt-hours/year, ~ 20% of present annual consumption, if my math is correct.

The levelized cost of wind power in 2010 dollars was $90/megawatt-hr. 50TW-Hrs would cost $4.5 billion/year. Note that intermittentcy is not a problem for desalinization unless underestimated. Overestimated, the system could load balance the western grid. In 2012 the value of California agricultural production was $45 billion, so getting the irrigation water from desalinization instead of ground water would add about 10% to the cost. And average wind speed is only going to increase.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2014 at 10:08:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
An additional advantage to irrigating from desalinized water is that it would stop accumulation of trace elements such as selenium in agricultural soil from ground water. The percentage increased cost estimated above is low, because it is based on the total California agricultural production, while the proposed system only serves the San Joaquin Valley and adjacent areas.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2014 at 10:15:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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