24.3.15

THINGS AREN'T DIFFICULT ENOUGH YET.

Here's the latest from the Los Angeles Times about California's self-inflicted water emergency.
Just because California is not exhausting its water supply "doesn't mean we're not in a crisis," said Leon Szeptycki, executive director of the Water in the West program at Stanford University, who called the state's snowpack, at 12% of average, "both bad for this year but also a troubling sign for the future."

State officials said stricter conservation measures, including watering restrictions for cities and big cuts in water deliveries to San Joaquin Valley farmers, will help reduce the drain on reservoirs.

Madelyn Glickfeld, director of the UCLA Water Resources Group at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, said the drought is so serious that stricter conservation measures are urgently needed. "But I'm confident California's government will not let this get to the point where water is not coming out of peoples' faucets."
Repeat, as repeat I must: prices function to allocate demand.  Perhaps it is time for something stronger.  Government failure and the California drought.
Thus in a semi-arid region like California there’s a large rice industry, represented in Sacramento by an active trade association. Think of this rule through the lens of permissionless innovation — these farmers have to ask permission before they can make temporary transfers, Board approval is not guaranteed, and they are barred from making permanent transfers of their use rights. One justification for this rule is the economic viability of small farming communities, which the water bureaucrats believe would suffer if farmers sold their water rights and exited the industry. This narrow view of economic viability, assuming away the dynamism that means that residents of those communities could create more valuable lives for themselves and others if they use their resources and talents differently, is a depressing but not surprising piece of bureaucratic hubris.
The advantage of a price system is that it might be possible to use Californian farm-land for something other than rice paddies or dairy farms without returning to those days of life that was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
What California and the nation needs is a long-term transition away from industrial agriculture toward sustainable local agriculture in which farmers grow and manage food only for those living within a small radius around them. The trend has already begun. Demand for locally grown foods is greater than ever as Americans realize the insanity of growing all our food in one small corner of the world and expending energy destructively to move it around. The idea of food as a profit-generating commodity is becoming obsolete, mostly because the planet cannot afford such a disconnected system.

Hand in hand with a renewable energy industry whose pillars are solar and wind power, a localized food system can help California transition away from unsustainably feeding much of the nation while generating green energy jobs to replace the lost farming jobs. The problem of the drought is inextricably linked to food production and climate change, so the solution must tackle these issues head on. There is no other way.
Actually, there is, and the author stumbled across it whilst laying out her case.
The truth is that California’s Central Valley, which is where the vast majority of the state’s farming businesses are located, is a desert. That desert is irrigated with enough precious water to artificially sustain the growing of one-third of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, a $40 billion industry.

Think about it. A third of all produce in the United States is grown in a desert in a state that has almost no water left. That produce is trucked from the West Coast all over the country in fossil-fuel-consuming vehicles, thereby contributing to the very mechanism of climate change that is likely to be driving California’s historic drought.

“It is not a place that agriculture, at the scale and at the scope that exists now, should exist,” Redman explained.
Get the incentives right, what's the problem? "In the meantime, our prized water heritage is being used to water lettuce, alfalfa and cantaloupes. But we have to eat, don’t we?"  Yes, and some of those crops can be raised on fields that get more rainfall.  And the best cheeses in the country still come from Wisconsin.  "New York came in second among the states, with seven gold medals. California had six, Vermont had five, Idaho, four; Oregon, three."  Put another way, those Californian water allocations and dairy subsidies are producing mediocre cheese.  Turf 'em out, I say.

Unfortunately, worldwide, there is too much wishful thinking about water.
The Dublin rally was the latest mass mobilization in a protracted fight to head off a top-down push to directly charge residents for water use, to satisfy European Union and International Monetary Fund demands.

Beyond declaring that they "won't pay," protesters also seek to take proactive steps to prevent the government from privatizing Ireland's water bureau, Irish Water

Addressing the crowd, Communications Workers Union representative Steve Fitzpatrick called for water to be protected as a public good in the constitution. The union is proposing an amendment which would read, "The Government shall be collectively responsible for the protection, management and maintenance of the public water system."

Many emphasized that the fight to defend water rights—and public goods—spans the globe.
Am I being too pedantic, invoking non-rivalrous and non-exclusive?

But note the teaching point: in the absence of incentives to conserve, a place as blessed with natural rainfall as Ireland can run out of water.

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