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Bloggers discuss water institutions, fracking, and drought lessons

In this week’s installment, bloggers discuss the institutional frameworks and rules behind water management in the Colorado Basin and California, while others examine the tradeoffs of expanded fracking and lessons learned from the California drought.


Institutions and Water Management

So how are we going to build these western water markets?
John Fleck of JFleck at Inkstain looks at a recent report from the Brookings Institution and Stanford on how markets can help address water shortages in the Western U.S.  Fleck agrees with the main proposals in the report, but suggests that the real challenge may building enough “institutional capacity” to actually implement such policies.  He points to California’s tepid groundwater legislation and New Mexico’s difficult getting water rule changes through its legislature as evidence that political systems are ill-equipped to deal with even widely-recognized water problems.  Ultimately, addressing these institutional barriers will be a crucial prerequisite for broader reform.

Phoenix, Lake Mead and “the anticommons”
Fleck points to Phoenix as an example of “the anticommons,” in which the actors involved in collectively managing a resource defeat efforts to improve that management.  Phoenix currently uses considerably less than its full apportionment of Colorado River water.  However, it cannot participate in the “Intentionally Created Surplus” program that allows water customers to store unused water in Lake Mead, because the program is only available to direct contractors.  In this case that means the Central Arizona Project, which provides water to Phoenix.  The city is exploring the possibility of giving its surplus back the CAP in the hopes that it will store the water in Lake Mead, and is also considering sending the water downstream to Tuscon to store underground.

Modernizing drought water allocations
California WaterBlog summarizes a recent report offering suggestions for how the State Water Resources Control Board could improve its drought allocation process. The report breaks the process into two steps.  First, modernize the system for curtailments with more comprehensive data, including natural flow forecasts and recording agricultural discharge and diversions.  Second, account for environmental and public health and safety needs by explicitly defining these considerations


Water and fracking: The opportunities, challenges and risks in West Virginia
Writing for the Hydrowonk Blog, Jeff Simonetti examines the costs and benefits of natural gas fracking in West Virginia.  The state is considering bids for fracking operations under the Ohio River, in part to make up for lost revenue from the decline of coal operations.  While fracking contracts would provide a sizeable revenue stream, environmentalists have expressed concerns about fracking in the Ohio River watershed, as it is a major source of drinking water and flows into the Mississippi River.  Simonetti argues that the West Virginia case has several broader lessons: the decline of coal means that states currently generating revenue from natural gas should prepare for an eventual downturn as well; government must hold drillers accountable for proper drilling techniques that can mitigate environmental concerns; and the economic benefits of fracking should not be dismissed out of hand.

Lessons from drought

Drought Watch: California as a testing ground
Ellen Hanak of the Public Policy Institute of California recaps a presentation she gave at the World Bank on lessons learned from the California drought.  She made four major points: urban areas should diversify their water supplies; conservation is good but can reduce the amount of water for downstream users; groundwater management is crucial but difficult to implement; and better utilizing existing infrastructure can help regions cope with drought.


Written by Stratecon Staff