In this installment, bloggers look at river management, give updates on conservation efforts in Texas, revisit the history of water policy, consider taxes and subsidies, and recap a conference at the UNM School of Law.
The Newest Colorado River Management Widget: The “System Conservation Program”
In an expansive post, John Fleck examines the Colorado River Pilot System Water Conservation Program, in which the four major municipal water agencies that draw from the river pool collectively fund water conservation projects. Fleck frames this effort as an attempt to overcome one of the fundamental challenges of managing water in the basin: nobody is in charge, and individual conservation efforts fall victim to the “tragedy of the commons.” This new program, while small, could represent an important step forward in forging the relationships among the various governing bodies necessary for basin-wide management.
Rivers Need a Thorough Health Exam
National Geographic’s Sandra Postel highlights the “State of the World’s Rivers” database produced by International Waters. The database tracks river health in terms of fragmentation, biodiversity, and water quality. Postel argues that keeping track of river health is crucial in light of the global propensity to build dams without understanding their impact on river health.
Overview of the Klamath-Trinity Flow Augmentation Release Decision
Lucy Allen of the EPIC blog breaks down the decision in San Louis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority v. Jewell. The case challenged the Bureau of Reclamation’s releases of water from reservoirs on the Trinity River in order to protect salmon populations in the Lower Klamath River. The Federal District Court for Eastern California ruled that while the releases were not prohibited, they were also not specifically authorized. The suit was originally filed in 2013, but releases BOR authorized in late August of this year were also wrapped up in the ruling when the judge declined to issue a temporary injunction.
Judge’s Corner: Watching over our river
The Texas Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) has made several major decisions recently, Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape explains. First, it approved the new 40,000 AF Lane City Reservoir, which should provide a firm yield of 90,000 AF. In addition, the LCRA submitted a Water Management Plan to state authorities. Pape believes the plan is sound, in part because a new coalition of lower river stakeholders has led to increased input, but there is still room for improvement.
Foster: Water Solutions Sought Across the West
John Foster argues that drought conditions may force Texans to reconsider their inclination to avoid taking ideas from California. He points to the Carlsbad Desalination Project as an example for Texas to follow. Texas voters have approved $2 billion for funding water projects, at least 10% of which must serve rural areas.
Water Policy History
Good Intentions Gone Awry on the Colorado River
Allen Best recaps a presentation by Brad Udall, water policy expert and son of Congressman Morris Udall, one of the main proponents of the Central Arizona Project. The younger Udall argues that the development of the Colorado River exceeds its capacity, and as a result, the Colorado River Compact will have to be redrawn. Udall calls the flawed system the result of well-intentioned policymakers working with incomplete information, which could describe the current state of affairs as well.
A Tribute to California’s ‘First Lady of Water’
Writing for the California WaterBlog, Tina Cannon Leahy profiles Pauline Davis, a longtime Assembly member who was a major force in state water policy from the 1950s to ‘70s. Leahy celebrates Davis’s groundbreaking work in the male-dominated mid-century legislature, including a pair of major legislative victories: the 1959 Davis-Grunsky Act, which funded local water projects; and the 1961 Davis-Dolwig Act, which required environmental considerations in State Water Project planning.
Property Tax Post: Are Property Taxes Exacerbating Western States’ Water Woes?
A proposal from the Utah Foundation, a policy think tank, calls for rolling back property taxes that help subsidize water in order to drive up prices and encourage conservation. This post supports putting this option on the table, but also notes that it has flaws. Most notably, the move would be regressive, for making water more expensive would be more of a burden on low-income people, who would also be less likely to reap the benefits of lower property taxes. There are also possible alternatives, like lowering taxes for people who adopt water-saving measures, or changing the structure of block fees.
Wayne Lusvardi continues his Cal Watchdog series on water pricing in California with two more installments:
In Fact-checking Water Price Subsidies, Lusvardi challenges economist David Zetland’s claim that agricultural water is subsidized, costing $20 per acre/foot while urban water costs closer to $1000 for the same amount. Lusvardi argues that this cheaper water is the result of not of subsidies but of long-term contracts, which are necessary to compensate for the large capital expenses farming entails, while the more expensive water is sold in auctions. He also contends that “all-in auctions,” in which bidders must pay regardless of whether they have the winning bid, would lead to the collapse of the agricultural sector.
Part 4, “Water Subsidies are Ancient History,” continues on the theme of subsidies. Lusvardi argues that in addition to there not being any water subsidies for farmers, globalization has eliminated crop subsidies. Further, high land values cancel out the economic advantage of cheap water for farmers. Finally, he points to the Salt River Project, which provides cheap water by offsetting some of the cost with the hydroelectricity it generates. Since urban users benefit from this cheap water as well, he argues, electricity ratepayers are not underwriting agricultural water use.
Western Water Law and Policy: Ready for Resilience?
Law professor Reed Benson discusses the recent “Water Resilience in a Time of Uncertainty” conference at the UNM School of Law. Benson spoke on the question of whether water law supports resilience. At the moment, Benson argues, the water regime in many states, including New Mexico, is focused on maintaining the status quo, which favors putting water to use and avoiding restrictions on that use. What is needed is a shift toward long-term management that views water as a public good.
Change, Stasis and (or?) Resilience in New Mexico Water Policy
John Fleck reflects on Reed Benson’s post and his own experience at the “Water Resilience in a Time of Uncertainty” conference. While Fleck has previously argued that resilience efforts have been hampered by a lack of “social capital,” or the networks necessary for effective collective action, attending the conference has made him rethink this claim. Instead, the problem might be that there is social capital in place, but it is aligned behind the status quo.
Written by Stratecon Staff