Three Cheers for Command and Control

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James Hanley

James Hanley is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.

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  1. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    says:

    So what is your idea for reducing water consumption by 20 percent?Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      Drink, wash, and do laundry in beer.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Saul Degraw
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      I suspect it has to do with farming.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Saul Degraw
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      Well, there’s always some form of open markets. Do away with the existing diversion rights scheme — all of “first in time, first in right”, riparian, and weirder things in between — and make everyone bid for water. At the probable price where supply and demand meet, the cities and their lawns will have all of the water they want; marginal farmers will be out of business. Last I knew, California agriculture still took four times the surface diversions as cities, and made a much smaller contribution to state GDP with it. As I understand California agriculture, “marginal” probably means rice and cotton.

      I said it in a comment thread on another topic: rural interests in the West who complain that the urban areas have declared war have no idea what a real “war on rural interests” would look like.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Michael Cain
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        Michael, from the articles I’ve read one of the lowest margin and highest water using crops Cali grows is alphalpha.. grass… for dairy cows… they’re spending a huge amount of their water to grow grass to feed to cows so they can milk them.. instead of importing the milk in from somewhere else. The mind reels.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Michael Cain
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        Alfalfa, not alphalphaReport

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Michael Cain
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        They are top cows.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain
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        @north

        Why is that boggling? Agriculture is big business in California and in some or many cases, California can provide a huge majority of a particular crop to the United States and sometimes the world. For example, California provides 80 percent of the world’s Almonds and 10 percent of our water goes to Almond trees.

        What is the solution? The cows and diary farms existed before the drought. Should the government mandate the selling of cows until the drought is over?

        People do not think like white-paper policy wonks despite what a certain class of technocrat wants.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Michael Cain
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        says:

        Saul,
        U.S. produce prices have risen, with fresh-fruit costs forecast to increase as much as 6 percent this year, the USDA said. California’s winter-wheat output will fall 41 percent from last year, with durum output down 18 percent, the USDA said in a June 24 report. The agency predicted in May that the spring potato crop would fall 8 percent.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Michael Cain
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        @saul-degraw
        Stop giving away the water to agriculture. If water is worth $X to the cities then charge agriculture $X. If the agriculture withers or changes shape or nature so be it. Giving the water away was fine when noone needed it. Now that they need it though giving the water to agriculture is a massive rural subsidy and massive corporate welfare. I am astonished you would be in favor of it.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain
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        @north

        I see your point but I don’t see how we are supposed to get there. This seems like one of those solutions that technocratic types love but find it very hard to convince politicians or the electorate to enact. And I have very little patience for white paper politics.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Michael Cain
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        Well Saul, if the drought persists in California and water prices continue to elevate in the urban areas then eventually some enterprising politician is going to campaign on it. There are a lot more voters in urban regions than agricultural regions. If it comes down to a slug fest electorally the urban interests will win out.

        Granted the drought may end or some clever fellow may come up with another way of providing more water and granted the entrenched interests will resist it but if the problem persists long enough the urban interests should be expected to win out.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Cain
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        I have very little patience for white paper politics.

        How do you think good policy ideas begin, @saul-degraw? One way or another ideas need to get circulated so people begin to hear about them.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Saul Degraw
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      Charge farmers for their water. Done. Problem solved.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to North
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        I had no idea you cared nothing for property rights. Whenever those rights become inconvenient for the state, it should just take them (apparently without compensation). Noted.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to North
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        What on earth are you talking about? Farmers do not own water diverted from the Colorado river. They don’t own the damns, the pump stations or the rivers. What property rights are you referring to? The massive subsidies? Can one own a subsidy like property?Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to North
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        Before treating everything like a generic good subject to broad-brush microeconomic theory, read up on your subject. Access to water (1) isn’t referring exclusively to the Colorado; (2) is a legal right, not a subsidy.

        Money quote: “These post-1914 appropriative rights are governed by the aforementioned hierarchy of priorities developed by the 49ers. In times of shortage the most recent (“junior”) right holder must be the first to discontinue such use; each right’s priority dates to the time the permit application was filed with the State Board. Although pre- and post-1914 appropriative rights are similar, post-1914 rights are subject to a much greater degree of scrutiny and regulation by the Board.”

        In other words, farmers DO own that water, are generally not subject to state board regulation, and the property value of their farmland reflects the value of their right to water.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to North
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        @north This seems to be a pretty critical point, either way. If the law treats water on a property as property, then that complicates your plan greatly. It also complicates the subsidy argument. It does seem to me that taking it would bring up fifth amendment issues.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to North
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        I think that’s an excellent point. I concede that there is an enormous edifice of regulation and ownership built up around the subject. Do you think that the arrangements reached in 1914 are set in amber? Perhaps conditions in the state have changed somewhat in the intervening time? Will those senior rights holders ever have their control over the state’s water challenged? Do I think that those rights will endure if water scarcity becomes a full blown crisis? To that latter question I’d guess no; there are too many voters in non agricultural California. Do I think they should? Frankly, I’m not very sympathetic.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to North
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        @north The thing is, if it is as they say and it’s their property, I don’t think it’s a (lowercase-D) democratic question but rather a legal/constitutional one. It’s going to cost a lot of money to unfreeze it from the amber. Eminent domain as a best-case scenario, with the people on the other side of the table fighting for their livelihood. I’m not sure the cities are actually in a position of power here, regardless of their numbers.Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to North
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        @will-truman This seems to me like people “owning” their future Social Security payouts or Cliven Bundy “owning” grazing lands. The same laws and legislative processes that gave those rights or property can just as easily take away. That’s where the smaller legislative power may come into play. It’s quite possible that this could be handled by a Consittutional amendment, which only requires a 50%+1 vote.Report

      • Avatar Francis in reply to North
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        Mo:

        If your state eliminated the private ownership of land and instead issued 99-year leases to every landowner, and did so via constitutional amendment, would that constitute a taking of private property under the federal constitution?

        North: Who is going to charge the farmers? Under what authority? How does that charge overcome California constitutional limitations on levying taxes, fees and assessments?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to North
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        Mo, The way it’s being explained, this isn’t just about owning rights to the water, but about owning the water itself. An ownership more comparable to owning land (the ownership of which is, like the ownership of water on a land, is secured by the government) than having grazing rights on neighboring land that is owned by somebody else (or something else, in this case the government). Bundy’s claim of ownership seemed weaker than what is being described here.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to North
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        If your state eliminated the private ownership of land and instead issued 99-year leases to every landowner, and did so via constitutional amendment, would that constitute a taking of private property under the federal constitution?

        What happened when Texas revamped their water rights scheme in the 1960s? Surface water was declared property of the state and riparian rights were converted to some form of prior appropriation right setting the amount and the seniority. Certainly some parties lost some access — riparian rights guarantee you’ll get at least some water, but prior appropriation with seniority doesn’t. Did it get challenged as a taking? If so, what was the outcome?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to North
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        Definitely, the more we know about precedents, the better.Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to North
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        @francis The fact that these rights are granted by a 1914 law indicate that this is not ownership in a common law sense and it indicated that rights are distributed by the State Board, which administrates appropriative permits. @francis If New York City passed a law tomorrow allowing any and all comers to provide cars for hire, would the current holders of taxi medallions be able to claim a taking under the Constitution?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to North
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        In addition to the Texas water rights revision, in 1967 the Oregon Beach Bill declared the entire coast up to 16 vertical feet above the high tide mark public land. So there is more precedent for changing property rights legislatively.

        Eminent domain could be used as well. Yes, it would be expensive and time-consuming, but the tool exists. Part of the resolution could–should–be to ease agriculture’s change by helping them afford transition to more efficient irrigation (that won’t work for all crops, of course).

        The current system is not set in stone, although it obviously is difficult to change, and as cities continue to grow and droughts continue to happen (or rather, as normal weather continues to happen–the dry times really should not be called droughts), pressure for change will grow.

        The question is what shape that change will take. Even though a pure free market in water is not going to be possible, we should be looking for ways to structure it so that pricing can come into play, from making it easier to sell water in bulk to installing smart meters and using variable pricing with real-time end-user information.

        Pricing is the simple answer I was hinting at. It doesn’t require full on markets, even, although the more we can market water the better. Getting there, the implementation, is not easy. But the current system is an ideal demonstration of what happens when we don’t use sufficiently use pricing as a tool in our policy approach toward using very scarce resources.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to North
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        @james-hanley
        @francis hinted at the problem with pricing, in that water providers can not charge more than the cost of moving the water. If that is the case, then they would have to somehow justify a price increase based on increased costs for operations, or they’d have to change the law.Report

  2. Avatar Francis
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    Jim:

    You’re deeply familiar with the various propositions governing the ability of local agencies to raise taxes and levy fees? You know the ins and outs of water pricing? The minimum requirements of water conservation plans? CEQA?

    If you don’t know these things (and only a few thousand Californians do) please strike the word “easily” from your post, or I might have to start explaining these things … at length. And brother would that be tedious.Report

  3. Avatar greginak
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    The city is going in one direction and the state in another. Seems more in the d’oh category, on the cities part, then anything else.

    I’m guessing the way to cut usage is to increase costs.Report

    • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) in reply to greginak
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      Maybe counterintuitively, I agree with raising costs.
      Because the main consumers of water aren’t thirsty people, or people showering too much, or flushing the toilet after going Number One.

      If water rates doubled, it wouldn’t be the poor people rioting in the streets.Report

      • Avatar Dand in reply to LWA (Liberal With Attitude)
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        In the last few weeks I’ve seen some liberals upset that Detroit has decided to start charging for water(I think that’s what’s happening if it’s something else correct me). Granted Detroit doesn’t have a water shortage but still.Report

      • Avatar ian351c in reply to LWA (Liberal With Attitude)
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        @dand It’s not so much that there’s a shortage or that they’ve started charging (they are a regular utility and charge for water as you’d expect). It’s that they are now starting to turn off water to those who don’t pay their bills. They have been lax in this respect for some time (unlike the power and natural gas utilities) and so the change is upsetting some people.Report

      • Well first you’d have to make farmers pay for their water instead of just giving it to them.
        But then that’d severely devastate the lower margin agriculture in CA and they’d have to specialize in high margin or water sipping crops and we’d have to import our strawberries and other water greedy produce from somewhere else. Quelle horror!Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to LWA (Liberal With Attitude)
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        1. Charging for water would violate the state constitution.
        2. Charging (certain) farmers for water would violate century-old property rights in those farms

        Also, I love reading about how CA agriculture is some sort of provincial CA preference. Helps me figure out who the low-information commenters are.Report

      • CA is one of the US’s primary breadbaskets. We grow strawberries, lettuce and any number of other things using water diverted from rivers and pumped from aquifers generally on the Federal and State dime to grow that produce in the desert. We import hordes of immigrants to work under sweltering conditions on tiny wages to harvest that produce. Instead of this we could simply cut the subsidies and pay to buy the produce from the third world instead. Those farms that have ownership rights to surface water flows etc should keep them. No doubt there are some crops that are high enough margin or that sip small enough amounts of water that many forms of agriculture would continue in CA.
        I see no reason to wreck the watersheds, intensify immigration problems, impoverish urban dwellers, drain taxpayer funds and subsidize agribusiness just so that we can say our desert produce is made in the USA.Report

  4. Avatar greginak
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    says:

    On a side note: grass lawns in arid climates are as dumb as ….ummm….something else that is really dumb. Get rid of them all and plant things that fit the area.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to greginak
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      says:

      Oh, but then the spoiled little suburbanites would have to actually live without a green lawn.Report

      • Avatar Citizen in reply to Kim
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        Brown is the new green.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Kim
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        Oh please, you can have a green yard in an arid environment. It just might not be grass providing the green.Report

      • Avatar Citizen in reply to Kim
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        Sprayed green fertilizer?Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Kim
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        @citizen

        Well, either drought tolerant grasses (which are a thing, although during a drought, they become dormant & brown), or certain succulents, which don’t always tolerate being walked on.

        There are other drought tolerant plants that can be walked on & will stay green, but they tend to cost more per sq ft than grass & don’t handle mowing well.Report

      • Avatar Lyle in reply to Kim
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        Agreed with Mad Rocket scientists. In Ca just go up in the Sierra foothills and you will find such grasses green in winter, brown in summer. Essentially the idea is very simple, plant native plants. For example where I live I have grass that is native, so it does not get watered. During dry times it just turns brown. (One recent year it never turned green all year, so it did not need mowing). Then when a rainy stretch happens it turns green grows and goes to seed. When it gets dry again it just turns brown waiting for the next rainy spell.Report

      • Avatar patrick in reply to Kim
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        The spoiled suburbanites are xeriscaping.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Kim
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        Back in the drought of the late 80’s and early 90’s, entrepreneurs in Santa Barbara developed a biodegradable spray paint that was the color of green grass. It lasted about a month and then had to be re-applied — a seemingly perfect business model! I wonder what happened to them and their product.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kim
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        Xeriscaping seems to do a good job of replacing the parts of a lawn that I am least interested. I mostly want grass. The good news is that I don’t care if it’s brown, or if it’s turf for that matter.Report

    • Avatar Lyle in reply to greginak
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      Actually I saw something that would help the environment and solve the urban water use problem, replace landscaping with solar pavement, in particular in sunny areas. You sort of kill 2 birds with one stone with this.Report

  5. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    I also agree with raising costs but I would also outlaw HOAs and curtail/destroy the ability of municipalities to dictate that lawns should be green. I don’t think there is any problem with Santa Cruz attempting water rationing though. They are making a noble effort.

    I do think cities should shut off park fountains as a public example.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Saul Degraw
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      outlaw HOAs

      I think everything other people voluntarily do that I don’t like should be outlawed.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley
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        Yup. Because apparently you think that people can’t be dumb enough to actually vote for $500 per day fines if the grass is brown.

        They voted for it, they’re stuck with it.

        I recommend not living in a HOA. Too easy to fuck with.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to James Hanley
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        The people didn’t vote for it. Their representatives did, and didn’t include a baseline from which the 20% reduction is to be calculated nor a mechanism by which it is to be enforced. The nuts and bolts will get worked out at the local district level. And that’s why you get things like the story in the OP: cities and water districts are independent of one another and have different missions and don’t always play nice together.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley
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        Burt,
        That’s the other side — the drought reduction side (which I mostly support). I’m saying that they voted (just like all the HOAs in the state) for the 500/day fine for brown lawns.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to James Hanley
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        These little inconsistencies could be gotten rid of if we reduce the number of elected bodies but increase the functions done by the ones that exist. Cities and counties should control their own water supply rather than have the city and water district as separate entities.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to James Hanley
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        My big point, @kim , is that California’s governmental system is hugely fragmented and Balkanized. So stuff like this is going to happen until and unless the Legislature or the courts step in to play referee.Report

  6. Avatar Road Scholar
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    I wondered if this story would show up here. Figured it would be an Off-the-cuff piece. Whatever.

    Anyway… stupid as hell. I have little patience for municipalities that act like glorified homeowner’s associations. The $500/day fine from the state may be a bit heavy-handed, and the report-your-neighbors thing suffers from perverse incentives, but it may very well be the only option available given the entrenched system of water rights as it exists. I suspect you would suggest using pricing to change behavior and I would agree, but the state isn’t the one sending out water bills. That’s a municipal, or perhaps county function, and this particular town apparently has its collective head up its ass.

    BTW, the sensible solution here also happens to be the Georgist answer, but you’ve already said you disagree with Georgism so I’m not sure what to make that.Report

  7. Avatar Kim
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    James,
    it sounds like what you’re really howling at is the Governor’s inability to render null and void the fines set by munis the way he has rendered null and void the fines set by HOAs.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird
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    Astroturf. It may have some problems when it comes to animals defecating on it but we can make dogs illegal if it comes to that.Report

  9. Avatar Francis
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    Oh dear.

    On charging farmers for water / revoking water rights: Do you know anyone who’s both poor and owns something valuable? An inheritance perhaps? The State should take it away and auction it off. Highest and best use, and all that. And all that public space? Sell that too. Imagine how much money NYC could make parceling off slices of Central Park.

    Here cometh the lesson: 1. Water rights in California are a property right, set forth right there in the Constitution, Art. X. Why it is that people (oddly enough, frequently libertarians) are so eager to strip away constitutionally established water rights remains a mystery to me. Usually, taking private property for public purposes requires just compensation. Fifth Amendment, you know. And if you want to argue that a farmer’s use of water is not beneficial, feel free to head on over to the State Water Resources Control Board and file a waste petition.

    Water rights in California are mind-bogglingly complex. There are riparian rights, appropriative rights, pueblo rights, rights in groundwater both adjudicated and not. Water for both ag and municipal use is delivered by massive infrastructure including the All-American Canal, the Colorado River Aqueduct, the State Water Project, the (federal) Central Valley Project and smaller systems (such as the Los Angeles Aqueduct made famous in Chinatown).

    Please feel free to take cheap shots, though. I love it when people look like idiots.

    2. Most often when people complain about farmers vs Southern California municipal use, they’re talking about one specific water district, the Imperial Irrigation District (IID). The farmers of IID have very senior water rights to about 3 million acre feet annually of Colorado River water, which makes them a very tempting target to the assholes in San Diego County who are too cheap to develop a proper recycled water system. But the farmers don’t own the water rights, the government does. And while the State of California could condemn those water rights, San Diego County could not. We generally frown on sub-units of government trying to condemn each other’s property. And if the State tried to transfer IID’s water rights to another agency, the other water users on the Colorado River might start invoking various doctrines, Supreme Court cases, treaties, statutes and regulations that collectively make up what’s called the Law of the River. The last round of transfers, known as the Quantification Settlement Agreement, took only about 15 years to litigate.

    3. Growing alfalfa is a bad idea? It makes for cheap beef. And you know, I don’t think that you are working hard enough or challenging yourself enough. Please find a higher paying job. (After all, if you’re going to tell me what to do with my life, I get to do the same.)

    4. There is one view of government which says that it should take care of rich people first and everyone else can go pound sand. Liberals frequently accuse libertarians of holding this view. When you argue that water rights should be auctioned off (annually? once? something in between?) this give ammunition to this argument. Not all highways are tolled. Public museums don’t charge whatever the market will bear. Childless people are taxed to pay for public schools. Municipal parks are free. etc. In other words, when we Californians act collectively, sometimes we act to protect values other than moving public goods to those willing to pay the most. We act to protect historic property rights. We act to protect long-standing communities. We act to create a liveable environment for a wide range of Californians living across a really big state. We act to grow enormous quantities of food at very low costs.

    On governance: Water is delivered by private water companies (regulated by the PUC), limited purpose public agencies and municipalities (in this context, cities and counties). Each form of governance has its costs and benefits. Because they run a profit, private water companies can have easier access to capital markets. Conversely, their water is more expensive. PUC regulation (to prevent gouging — there’s no better example of a pure monopoly than a retail water provider) adds another layer of complexity. Municipalities frequently used their water agencies as hidden profit centers, reducing property taxes (highly visible) for increased rates (less visible). They also would conveniently forget to maintain the infrastructure fund, instead moving that money into the general fund. Special districts address all those problems in theory. But except for a few high-profile districts (like IID) where voters pay attention, there is a massive incumbency problems for most districts, leading to some truly staggering cases of corruption.

    On pricing: Many of you may have heard of Prop. 13, the landmark law that makes raising property taxes in California much harder. Less well known is Prop. 218, which creates somewhat similar procedures for raising fees and assessments. Water agencies have as their mission to deliver safe, affordable and reliable water supply sufficient to meet present and anticipated demand. So using price to drive down demand is, to put it very simply, tricky. One issue is that the land use planners have historically believed that it’s their purview to determine what a city/ county is supposed to look like, and water planners are just supposed to deliver the water that’s needed. (This is changing, but it’s a generational thing.) You can change an entire rate structure, but that takes time and has its own process. You can levy an additional assessment, but you need to have a demand management program in place. And on and on and on.

    Or, you can take cheap shots at those silly Californians. Ho ho ho.Report

    • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to Francis
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      “Do you know anyone who’s both poor and owns something valuable?”

      Authors, musicians, and most other artists.

      Of course, you can’t pick up the thing they own and carry it, you can’t put a fence around it and prevent people from touching it, so there are a lot of people who’ll tell you that the valuable thing they own probably doesn’t exist and certainly isn’t valuable.Report

    • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Francis
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      Endorsed, generally. Though as a northern Californian I would have included some shots at so-Cal to balance out the discussion.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Francis
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      So far I am not sure I’ve heard a libertarian make the farmers argument here. North has, and Michael Cain might have, but they are both left-leaners. I did speculate that Hanley might be, but he hasn’t clarified yet.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Will Truman
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        It’s certainly beyond me. I can think of a half-dozen different ways to define what the “property” in question is, each leading to a rather different case. For example, is the property the water in its entirely while it flows across land you own? Or is the property the right to divert some of the flowing water at specific times and in specific amounts from specific locations for a specific purpose? The former is the pure riparian rights model (although most states using that still impose restrictions); the latter the model for prior appropriation states (again, with added restrictions in practice). And there are a variety of possibilities in between.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Will Truman
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        Agreed, I am not a libertarian.Report

    • Avatar LWA in reply to Francis
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      My takeaway from this most excellent lesson, is not just that its complex- its that viewing water through the lens of “everything is a toaster so let the market decide” is certainly possible, just maybe not desirable.

      It gets back to the point I often make, that rather than starting with rights, then proceeding with how best to enforce and defend them, its better to start with outcomes, which include a large array of things like rights, dignity, community, and so on, then fashioning a set of agreed upon rules for how best to get those outcomes.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to LWA
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        The extremely vague phrase “agreed upon rules” is doing a ton of work here.

        Say you’re a farmer who recently purchased land for your farm. You paid a lot of money to buy farmland with guaranteed water rights.

        Now people say we need to reduce water use state-wide and to do so we need you to move from free/all-you-beneficially-use water to something less. Because of whatever the heck “dignity, community, and so on” are. What rules for achieving that outcome do you agree to?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to LWA
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        I’m not sure how gearing towards specific outcomes isn’t a negation of the notion of process.Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to LWA
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        Isn’t “property”, specifically water-as-property, nothing more than an agreed upon set of rules?Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Francis
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      My comment above about markets and pricing was not intended to imply that implementing that would be easy. I’m from Colorado, and while our water law is complex, it’s nothing compared to California (eg, we have no riparian rights complicating things). However, there are precedents for making changes. Back in the 1960s the State of Texas declared that surface water belonged to the state, merged riparian and prior appropriation rights into a single system, and forced everyone to file their claims anew. When there is insufficient water to meet all rights claimed, water resource agencies decide who gets, and who doesn’t. In recent drought years, for example, the Lower Colorado River Authority — the other Colorado River, not the famous one — has favored cities and industry over agriculture.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to Francis
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      As a native Californian (and currently part time resident), I think the state deserves even more ridicule than it gets. This state is nucking futs.

      Your defense of the current state of affairs, though extremely informative and well written, is Exhibit A.

      Your comment is basically a summary of the Rube Goldberg complexity and absurdity of the conceit of politics and master planning of scarce goods and conflicting zero sum interests. It represents a path taken. In ten years it will probably be twice as complicated. In twenty years, it will double again and probably be even more ineffective than ever at solving the problems of water scarcity. Indeed it will continue to generate more conflict, more shortages, more mis allocated resources, and more inefficiency. However it will keep politicians and regulators gainfully employed with plenty of power and a great double retirement pension.

      Economics is a problem solving system of valuable use in proper situations with proper institutional controls. I am in no way arguing for unbridled markets. But the path taken here is simply absurd.Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        This property that we call water, begins as clouds, which rain on land, which then forms streams, rivers and lakes and ultimately sinks into an aquifer or runs to the sea.

        Can you imagine any process by which water vapor becomes property which is then distributed, that isn’t complex, byzantine and nucking futs?Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        Yeah, those damn “master planners” of the nineteenth century. ::shakes fist::

        Water all through the west was apportioned in various ways that made more sense during westward expansion than they do when land is heavily settled. The problem is, of course, worst in California because there are so many more people, so much more agriculture, and because this is the second major drought in the last few decades. Also, most states don’t have major cities settled in regions that never supply enough water to support those cities’ populations.

        California, as a nation-sized economy playing an odd role inside our national system, has a number of issues that are fairly attributed to current politicians. This isn’t one of those things, and is not going to be solved by hand-waving libertarian solutions or by comparing it to the former category of issues.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        I love the way people throw around “libertarian” as though it’s an insult.

        “You JERK, you’re just interested in minimal government interference with personal liberty! You’re such an ASSHOLE for wanting that!”Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        Jim,
        you are the company you keep, I suppose.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        @jim-heffman

        What’s the non-hand-waving libertarian solution here?

        I’m not insulting the belief system (though I obviously don’t share it) but rather its outcome of “just charge for water” or, apparently, “I know how to solve this, but you wouldn’t like it so I’m not telling”. I find it interesting that the response is to restate the belief system without addressing the problem at hand.Report

      • Avatar Citizen in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        I hedge with Rodger on this one.
        Option A- 1,000,000 ways to game a scarce resource through political/legal systems.

        Option B- Find ways of making a scarce commodity less scarce.

        If the hand-waving libertarian solution is to recognize that water should cost what water costs, this is me waving my hand.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        Yes, I can imagine a non screwed up system. Thanks for asking. The incredible thing is that you can’t and that you then use your lack of imagination to assume nucking futs is the new standard for institutional solutions. Kind of explains Obamacare too, doesn’t it?

        But here is the thing, we don’t need my imagination to assume the solution. Properly developed market institutions are not a solution, per se, they are part of a problem solving system. They are a process to resolve disputes and contradictory goals and needs with scarce resources. They do so via a system of property rights, incentives using things like profits and losses to help allocate scarce resources and get countless people to try to use resources more efficiently and to solve problems for each other.

        Let me restate my point… Markets are not a solution they are part of the constantly evolving solution finding process. Is this really that hard for progressives to grasp? Seriously, are you guys missing a gene for grasping complex adaptive systems?Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        @citizen

        Water falls from the skies, flows into (and then down) a river. It is then pulled from that river by a farmer, who has a long-standing property right allowing him to do so. Explain how to apply the hand-waving phrase “recognize that water should cost what water costs” to this circumstance.

        I’m also not clear that you understand the issues, since the “gaming” of the resource was done long ago. I couldn’t decide that I want free-water rights now and politic my way into that outcome.

        If you want to say the current system is unsustainable in the face of population growth/climate change, that it is unfair, or that it is complex; fine. If you want to talk intelligently about fixing it, though, you have to actually understand more than a default theory that the market fixes all.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        Nevermore,

        I clearly and explicitly did not offer a libertarian or laissez faire solution. I stated that markets and prices can be part of the solution, and need to play a more prominent role in the problem solving process. I am offering properly functioning water markets as an important part of the never ending challenge of optimizing the use of scarce resources.

        Get the difference?Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        How is the current system of water rights and laws and agreements, NOT, as you put it, “process to resolve disputes and contradictory goals and needs with scarce resources.”

        How is it not doing so “via a system of property rights, incentives using things like profits and losses to help allocate scarce resources and get countless people to try to use resources more efficiently and to solve problems for each other.”?

        Serious question.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        @rodger
        California water rights aren’t really amenable to this, in part because drops of water (or even acre feet of water) aren’t widgets that can be counted/shipped/inventoried at anything like 100% accuracy. And water itself is specifically not allowed to be sold (water bills in CA are purely to cover infrastructure/transit costs).

        One issue with the current situation is that there are farmers who have the right to plug into rivers and divert as much water as they can beneficially use for free, and that right is SENIOR to the right of communities downstream to take from the river to supply their water districts. The only protection the rest of us have is that those farmers can’t just take all of it and resell what they don’t want. Explain to me how to solve this issue with market incentives.

        Also, re: Obamacare. Don’t blame the complexity on progressives. Progressive versions of healthcare reform tend to be very simple (e.g. Medicare for all). Political realities, however, required incremental improvements to an already crazy system. So democrats in DC rolled up their sleeves and did the work. Not sure how this illustrates your point.Report

      • Avatar Citizen in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        @ nevermoor
        “If you want to talk intelligently about fixing it, though, you have to actually understand more than a default theory that the market fixes all.”

        What are we trying to fix? What are the root causes of the problem?Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        @citizen

        We’re trying to fix the problem that there isn’t enough water to go around. The root causes of that problem are population growth and a particularly-severe drought (which, because of climate change, could well become less particular in its severity).

        In discussing solutions, the problem is that simple cure-alls don’t work. The root causes of that problem are that water is not a normal good, and that rights to it are already broadly allocated.

        Now how about my question?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        Are we allowed to suggest that the dude be allowed to not water his lawn and not be fined for not watering it?

        Or is that anarchist bullshit?Report

      • Avatar Francis in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        “properly functioning water markets”

        No such thing. Very high barriers to entry and exit. Natural monopoly at the retail end. Shipping costs are astronomical and required dedicated government-owned and -used infrastructure. (Production costs are zero, though.) Voters will not tolerate market failure or denial of access to market.

        But if you want to buy 50,000 acre feet from some rice farmer (who has the legal right to sell it out of his watershed) and take delivery at, say, Lake Oroville, you are welcome to negotiate with the all the agencies whom you will need to carry your water all the way to Southern California and try to sell it to the City of Long Beach.

        Best of luck to you.

        (Quasi-market activities, more accurately defined as inter-governmental transfers, do occur on a regular basis.)Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        But if you want to buy 50,000 acre feet from some rice farmer (who has the legal right to sell it out of his watershed)…

        I don’t know California water law well enough, but in Colorado the situation is more complicated than that. Here, diversion rights are for a specific purpose and all of the water is overcommitted (that is, if the rice farmer doesn’t take his water, there’s a prioritized list of other people who get it). Delivering water to a city is a different use and the diversion for that use would be junior to all the other existing claims on the 50,000 acre-feet. When a city here wants access to water currently being used for ag, the city has to buy up the rights from all of the rights holders above them on the list.

        This can be a significant problem. One of the reasons that Shell gave up its oil shale experimental lease in NW Colorado is because the cost of buying the rights to enough water to run a commercial operation was going to be very expensive.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        @jaybird as I said before, the Legislature will have to step in and referee this, or if it fails to do so, the courts.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        “Are we allowed to suggest that the dude be allowed to not water his lawn and not be fined for not watering it?
        Or is that anarchist bullshit?”

        That sounds like cats and dogs living together, mass-hysteria type stuff.Report

      • Avatar Citizen in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        @nevermoor
        “Explain how to apply the hand-waving phrase “recognize that water should cost what water costs” to this circumstance.”

        Well gee whiz, I would never be able to extrapolate how a free market could deliver a product that was in demand were costs are relatively defined.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        @citizen

        I take from your failure to engage in the issue I presented, except by implied analogy to non-analogous principles, that you have nothing concrete to offer.Report

      • Avatar Citizen in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        @nevermoor
        Let me know how that issue gets resolved without cost as a factor of the solution.Report

      • Avatar Francis in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        Michael: I’m mostly being snarky. Both federal CVP water and SWP water have all sorts of area-of-use restrictions and a long list of junior rights holders who will have a cow if the water is sold south. But the State is (slowly) moving in the direction of allowing certain rights holders to sell certain amounts of water without losing their rights.

        There are plenty of farmers who hold appropriative rights directly. MWD (Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, aka Met, the water wholesaler for Southern California) historically has bought water from rice farmers in years where the rice price was low. But MWD is the largest operator on the SWP so it largely can get its way on finding space in the California Aqueduct and assigning a low carriage water penalty.

        (Water evaporates as you move it. The difference between what you put in and what you take out is carriage water. When you are sharing a communal aqueduct, you have to allocate shares of carriage water. If you are Roger Numbnuts, private entrepreneur, your ability to negotiate for low carriage water penalty in the California Aqueduct is non-existent. Your water is going to ‘sit on top’, incur the most evaporative losses and be levied a large carriage water penalty.)

        Another major issue is moving water across the Delta. The Delta is the big (enormous) slough that’s due east of the San Francisco Bay. Before the State Water Project (SWP) was built, the Delta was tidal and water moved east and west. Part of the SWP was supposed to be the Peripheral Canal, a semi-isolated aqueduct designed to move water in a big semicircle around the Delta. It never got built, in large part due to a (legitimate) belief that Southern California voters would suck ever more water south. So these days water is stored behind big dams in Northern California and then dumped into existing rivers that are tributary to the Sacramento River, which terminates (more or less) at the northern side of Delta. Then some of the largest pumps in the world at the southern side of the Delta suck out the equivalent amount (more or less) of water that was dumped in and put this water into the California Aqueduct. This pumping causes very significant environmental impacts to water quality and fisheries. Essentially an east-west tidal swamp is now a slow-moving north-to-south river. The pumping even makes one river flow backwards.

        The SWP pumps are now subject to an enormously complex set of operating procedures, driven both by the needs of ag and muni uses south of the Delta and the federal and state Endangered Species Acts. There’s been a lot of litigation on this issue and frankly neither state nor federal regulators in all the affected agencies have covered themselves in glory. (That’s another story.)

        So even if Roger N can find a willing seller and negotiate a reasonable carriage loss and find a willing buyer, he may not be able to get his water across the Delta and into the Aqueduct. Too much other water queued up.

        The existing system is facing collapse. Ever increasing environmental flow demands are driving the southern California users crazy. The Delta was carved up into islands of varying sizes. The levees which keep out the Delta are well past their lifespan and there is not the billions of dollars needed to rebuild all of them. Asparagus farming in the peat soil on the islands continues to lower the ground level ever farther below sea level. (Netherlands in miniature.) One good earthquake could collapse a key levee, pulling a tidal wave of water east and collapsing a whole series of levees like dominoes. As a result sea water would reach all the way to the pumps. The SWP would have to be shut down for an unknown period of time until the salinity line moved back west. This would be bad.

        The Peripheral Canal is dead. Sea level rise plus ongoing subsidence in the areas where it was to be built make it far too uncertain of a project. The only realistic alternative, beside waiting for disaster to strike, is to build huge pipelines straight across the Delta. This will be a project of immense complexity and cost. But securing the water supply of everyone south of San Francisco is pretty much worth any cost.

        (Or we can just pretend that we can create a ‘market’ in water rights that will make everything work out.)Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        @francis
        I didn’t read it as snark; it’s an immensely complex subject and I don’t know nearly as much as I should about it. Feel free to smack me upside the head when I demonstrate my ignorance. As I said in another comment, Colorado is straightforward compared to California (although even Colorado water law is enough to drive Easterners crazy). We have some advantages: our urban areas are generally upstream of the ag interests, Denver Water got into the diversion and storage game early so has a lot of very senior water rights, and our inter-basin transfers cover very short distances compared to California. Even the nine interstate water compacts we have to deal with are mostly a matter of meeting schedules for in-bed flows.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        Roger, you do realize that changing the nucking futs you’re complaining about will require confiscating existing property rights. But if you’re OK with that, welcome to the other side, comrade.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        @francis
        you are welcome to negotiate with the all the agencies whom you will need to carry your water all the way to Southern California and try to sell it to the City of Long Beach.

        This could be amenable to a common carrier type rule.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        Sounds like what we need is Wet Neutrality legislation.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        When I state that markets need to be a greater part of the solution, why do some of those on the left have to pretend they are responding to me by creating idiotic extremist straw man arguments that explicitly contradicts what I actually wrote?

        Seriously guys. It gets really old and doesn’t speak much for the quality of your arguments.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        @roger

        If you want your solution to be taken seriously, propose a serious solution. So far it sounds like we started with “just price water and the market will solve it” and now we are to “just sort-of include pricing in some places, because I generally think pricing helps” which may be part of a solution, but is entirely dependent upon the unstated portions of the solution.

        If you want to say “we cannot afford to let pre-twentieth-century rights allocation limit the State’s ability to control and charge for water, and are prepared to bear the costs of stripping those rights (both in direct payments and litigation) via increased taxes, and are prepared to bear the costs of infrastructure improvements to allow accurate monitoring of all users’ consumption, and are willing to strip rate-setting rights from municipalities in favor of more central planning by the state, and have a plan to price water in such a way that all types of use (agriculture, household, commercial, etc.) have an incentive to reduce usage while at the same time household users are never priced out of the market, then it would be interesting to hear how you want to pull that off (or if you have a different set of assumptions that gets you to where a “market” has any meaning whatsoever, it would be interesting to hear those).

        But just saying: I didn’t mean an unfettered market, I meant “markets need to be a greater part of the solution” is a dogmatic statement of principles that doesn’t clearly apply, or have much bearing at all on the solution.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        Nevermore,

        So until I lay out a comprehensive strategy, you will continue to misrepresent what I say? Glad to know the rules.

        Consider my dialogue with you closed.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        @roger

        Take your ball and go home if you want, but I’m puzzled by your reaction.

        You wrote these things, not a single one of which acknowledges any of the inherent complexities of water:

        “Economics is a problem solving system of valuable use in proper situations with proper institutional controls.”

        “I can imagine a non screwed up system. Thanks for asking. The incredible thing is that you can’t” [Note: imagined system never spelled out/outlined/otherwise described]

        “Markets are not a solution they are part of the constantly evolving solution finding process. Is this really that hard for progressives to grasp? Seriously, are you guys missing a gene for grasping complex adaptive systems?”

        “I stated that markets and prices can be part of the solution, and need to play a more prominent role in the problem solving process. I am offering properly functioning water markets as an important part of the never ending challenge of optimizing the use of scarce resources.”

        Why is it unfair for me to describe that as “just sort-of include pricing in some places, because I generally think pricing helps”? Is there any good where you don’t think the statements quoted above apply? If not, these are statements of principle rather than serious solutions to this problem.

        If it is unfair for me to describe your comments that way, why not either explain the solution you imagine or explain how to apply pricing to improve this particular complex messy system dealing with a life-critical good.Report

    • Avatar Lyle in reply to Francis
      Ignored
      says:

      Of course the real question is why dairy in Ca at all? Why not move it back to Wi where it used to be (more expensive since you need to keep the cows inside in the winter). Another crop is rice, move it to south la and east tx, or to the Yucatan.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Lyle
        Ignored
        says:

        Because CA really wants to feed the nation. Some say it’s to help the state make money, but personally, I think it’s a scheme to discourage the rest of us from going all Max Zorin on the whole state.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Lyle
        Ignored
        says:

        Years ago, there were limits to how far milk could be shipped, so there were dairy herds everywhere. And now, if you have 500 acres in the Central Valley, adequate cheap water, and a few million dollars worth of investment in dairy equipment, what else are you going to do?Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Francis
      Ignored
      says:

      @francis

      And all that public space? Sell that too. Imagine how much money NYC could make parceling off slices of Central Park.

      Why do you lead off with a strawman? Nobody suggested anything like this, so it’s a rather leading introduction, right? Before you get to your real argument, make your opponents look bad by linking them to scary ideas no one has suggested. That a few paragraphs later you say “feel free to take cheap shots” just makes it richer. Pot, meet kettle.

      There is one view of government which says that it should take care of rich people first and everyone else can go pound sand. Liberals frequently accuse libertarians of holding this view.

      The less well-informed sort of liberal, yes.

      When you argue that water rights should be auctioned off (annually? once? something in between?) this give ammunition to this argument.

      Who said they should simply be auctioned off?

      Here’s my take, Francis. For all the sneering at others’ lack of understanding here, you have your own lacks of understanding as well. Using pricing to incentivize more cautious water use does not require full on markets or wholesale auctions.

      Variable unit pricing in particular is a means of encouraging usage reductions without preventing fixed-income grandma from taking a shower. Smart metering can help with this by providing consumers with real time price information.

      There are possibilities, and your sneering is rather unfortunate given that you are also missing elements of the puzzle. This is unfortunate, because with your detailed knowledge, you’re in a good position to help identify the specific problems we need to address, rather than just pointing at them and saying we can’t do anything because the system is presently this particular way. Yes, California’s laws and constitution currently say X, Y, and Z, but that does not conclude the conversation–although it critically informs it–when what we are talking about is change to that system.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        “Using pricing to incentivize more cautious water use does not require full on markets or wholesale auctions. ”

        The assumption of this statement is that water is being used in a way that can respond quickly to pricing changes.

        If the only way I can reduce my water use is through better efficiency, I’d have to burn my house to the ground and rebuild it with better pipes. Which means that the price of water won’t affect my usage one iota until the cost exceed several hundred thousand dollars. I’ve already got the newest appliances I can find; I suppose I could do the shower-to-toilet or shower-fills-the-jerrican thing, but neither of those will be a significant savings.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @jim-heffman

        If people are carelessly using water to maintain lawns (i.e. not altering sprinkler system settings to reflect the reduction in available water), then they are, by definition, not being cautious.

        As someone up-thread commented, something like 70% of urban water usage is for grounds maintenance.

        On a side note, I don’t know if this is a law in CA, but I know in some places out west, things like rain barrels & grey water cisterns are illegal diversions of water that (somehow) others have a right to. I would reckon, however, that since all the big CA cities are on the coast, at the bottom of the water flow, such systems should be encouraged.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @mad-rocket-scientist

        What if people, particularly those who have lived through a less-serious drought in the last couple decades along with many potential droughts, have already “alter[ed] sprinkler system settings to reflect the reduction in available water” and further reduction would kill their yards (at a cost of thousands to replace once the drought lifts). After all, Californians have been working to reduce their water consumption for a long time.

        What is the economically-rational individual supposed to do?Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @nevermoor

        Sensibly? Kill the damn yard & invest in drought tolerant plants so the next time you have a dry spell (you get them every couple of years, if I recall correctly) you aren’t stressing over the heat death of the lawn.

        Or has “too big to fail” gotten down to the size of yards already?Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        I don’t personally disagree with you that it might be nice for people to use only drought-tolerant plants in all landscaping. How do you propose to achieve this? The fine-based structure derided in the original post? A law simply banning the use of non-native grasses? A law making it illegal to consume more than X water per person?

        How does that change if (like me) you live in Northern California and reasonably expect that your region will only very rarely experience times where rainfall is insufficient to meet local demands? Should I abandon my lawn so that someone in Palm Springs can keep theirs (assume that I lack the power to direct the behavior of anyone in Palm Springs)? What if I really like having my own patch of grass, and use it daily?

        Or is thinking about any of this definitionally nonsense?Report

      • Avatar Lyle in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Re Nevermore’s comment. Simple ban any landscape watering with anything but a hand held hose. In particular ban sprinkler systems, making maintenance of lawns far more expensive, as either you or someone you hire will have to walk the hose around the grass. Or even go to saying you must use sprinkling cans. It is easy to police sprinkler systems, look for the connection and lock and tag it off.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @lyle

        Does your answer change if you learn that adequately watering a lawn with modern sprinkler systems uses substantially less water than a hose? Or is your proposed law simply a way to punish people for doing something you don’t like?

        I don’t know your politics generally, but I suspect there are few people here who would really sign off on a law requiring a less-efficient use of water simply because it is more time consuming (and therefore might push people into not watering at all).Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        I’d have to burn my house to the ground

        I’m sure you could find people to help with that.Report

      • Avatar Lyle in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Essentially the tatic I suggest is what is done in Tx during droughts, you may water with a sprinkler or system 1 day a week. (from 8 pm to 10 am only), and other days may water only with a hand held hose.
        Yes the point is to raise the cost of watering, at least to 7.50 per hour (or whatever the minimum wage is). If a hand held hose can do about 300 gallons per hour, then you have raised the cost per gallon by 2.5 cents or if water rates are what they are where I live in Tx from $2.00 per thousand to about $25/thousand gallons effective price.

        Here is a list of water restrictions from Mckinney, Tx a Dallas suburb, that limit sprinklers to 1 day every two weeks from automated systems. The do allow drip systems for shrubs also: http://mckinneytexas.org/index.aspx?NID=511
        These are stage 3 restrictions, stage two which exists in other cities are once a week.

        Or the city near where I live which goes up to a stage 5 which says you may not water period in stage 4 and 5. http://www.kerrville.org/index.aspx?NID=512

        For lower stages twice a week. Note that from stage 1 on it also restricts the hours to 6am to 10 am and 8 to midnight until at stage for sprinklers are not to be used.

        It would be interesting to map Ca drought conditions to the equivalent stages in Tx.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        What if people, particularly those who have lived through a less-serious drought in the last couple decades along with many potential droughts, have already “alter[ed] sprinkler system settings to reflect the reduction in available water” and further reduction would kill their yards (at a cost of thousands to replace once the drought lifts). After all, Californians have been working to reduce their water consumption for a long time.

        I'd imagine those who've actually made those changes will find they need to do much less to adapt because they've already adapted.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @lyle

        Why not just charge people for water on a sliding scale and let them water or not water however they see fit? I know that the majority of water I use goes into the garden, so it’s the obvious choice when I’m faced with a serious water shortage. I don’t need a sprinkler inspector or anything like that.Report

      • Avatar Francis in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Most people are charged on a sliding scale. (To be technical, rising blocks. Step function, not linear.) The water agencies that still use straight per-unit pricing tend to be the much smaller agencies that can’t afford the loss of income associated with substantial decreases in water.

        (You can get around that problem by having a monthly connection fee. But if you do that, then you get people complaining that they can’t afford to pay for water. So then you create another layer of complexity where you have a service charge plus a poverty exemption. And you have to force people to prove that they are poor, or everyone will claim it. So you’ve now created a highly-intrusive bureaucracy that needs to monitor ratepayers’ income. So you abandon the connection fee idea, deliver zero-cost domestic use and have a very expensive first block. Now you’ve pissed off every single middle class voter who has a yard.

        Creating water pricing that sends desired conservation signals and covers all your costs across a wide range of uses and is compassionate in the delivery of water to the very poor is A Hard Problem, and many agencies are quite small.)Report

      • Avatar Lyle in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Re Troublesome Frog: The issue is that doing that advantages the rich over the poor. Plus that is not the way the system is designed to work, it is much easier to just ban things from the governments point of view. Now for a major expense you could move to separate inside and outside meters, and charge more for outside usage.
        Note that some regulations exempt drip systems, which allows shrubs to grow, but again costs more to install. (If you look at the newer vineyards in Ca its all drip irrigation)Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @francis

        I’m not seeing why a tiered rate system would require connection fees or a poverty exemption. Just make the first marginal units of water incredibly cheap (or free) and then ramp the price up quickly after basic water needs for a reasonably efficient household are covered. Adjust tiers and rates until you get the usage you’re looking for.

        @lyle

        The issue is that doing that advantages the rich over the poor.

        I’d have a problem with that if we were talking about allowing the rich to, say, educate their kids, and not allowing the poor to. But we’re talking about a small number of people having the ability to waste water on a lawn while the rest of us don’t. Are we really massively worse off if a handful of people decide to spend hundreds of extra dollars per month watering their lawn while the rest of us don’t? Is that handful of holdouts who are willing to bear the pain really an important enough issue?

        It seems to me that solving that minuscule problem by adding regulation, investigation, and enforcement is a little bit crazy, especially when a fine for having a lawn and an incredibly high price tier for the marginal unit of water that typically goes onto a lawn are basically the same thing. It’s just that one of them is a simple bit of billing work using mechanisms that already exist and the other requires the water police poking around in your backyard and neighbors reporting on you.

        This sounds a lot like all of the busybodies who want to micromanage how food stamps are spent. “I told you to buy rice, damn it! Not tortillas! You’ll fill your pantry with rice and I don’t care if you eat it or not!”

        Plus that is not the way the system is designed to work, it is much easier to just ban things from the governments point of view.

        I’m not seeing it. Most places meter water and send you a bill already. Just adjust the pricing tables. I don’t see how it’s “easy” to have water use investigators deciding whether you’re using a hose or a watering can or if you’re watering your garden during the day, dealing with people appealing the rulings, and dealing with the follow up rules that you have to make once people start finding loopholes in the first set of rules.

        If you want people to use less water, give them an incentive to use less water and let them decide for themselves how to allocate what’s left to them. There’s really no need to micromanage something as simple as water consumption.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Ditto what Troublesome Frog said. Sufficient units of water to meet needs should be priced affordably for the not so well off.

        At the bottom end, we have people who are generally already welfare qualified, so we provide a safety net for them. We do it with heating fuel in the cold states, so it’s clearly doable.

        Then we ramp up marginal unit prices in an increasingly steep curve. Then we monitor to see how much water is being used, and to see how many people are using how many units, and we adjust marginal prices until usage is where we need it to be.

        It’s never quite that simple in real life, of course. We need some reasonable constraints on bureaucratic autonomy on price decisions, and there’ll be political pushback when people can’t fill their pools or water their lawns*, but that’s the general outlines of an approach that reduces water usage without having to ban particular activities or set neighbor spying on neighbor. The trick is revising water structures, rules, and infrastructure to get us there. That’s a generational or multi-generational task.Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Francis
      Ignored
      says:

      Do you know anyone who’s both poor and owns something valuable?

      Depending on what you mean by “vaulable,” no I don’t. The idea of owning something valuable and being “poor” by any useful definition seems logically inconsistent. I mean, poor people can value their kids very highly, but I don’t think that’s what you’re talking about here. This sounds more like an argument that people who own very valuable assets but don’t have a lot of cash flow are in the same boat as people who have jack squat. I’m not on board with that.

      I’ll step back and say that if we do something that drastically alters the value of farms whose value stems from water rights, full compensation should be offered. But the fact that our system is byzantine and politically entrenched doesn’t seem like a great argument for keeping it in place.

      The complexity of the water problem seems to stem from two places: One is that it’s politically complicated and historically thorny. The second is simple physics. You can’t move a farm’s worth of water from an arbitrary seller to an arbitrary buyer via FedEx. There are existing sources, paths, and sinks for water and any system you come up with has to deal with that. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the first set of problems are entirely artificial and self-inflicted, and if you can come up with a good solution that acknowledges the second problem, we should be willing to tear up whatever historical legal baggage we have in order to implement it.Report

  10. Avatar Michelle
    Ignored
    says:

    Thanks for giving me yet another reason to be thankful that we no longer live in Southern California.Report

  11. Avatar Francis
    Ignored
    says:

    Various responses:

    Water has interesting characteristics: it is heavy, very inexpensive for its mass, liquid, more-or-less continuously renewed by nature, and absolutely vital for life. This makes creating and defining property rights in it complicated. Different sovereigns have tried different approaches. So a state that inherited Spanish water law and layered on Western common law before moving to a code system is necessarily going to have a complex system.

    As much as visionaries would like otherwise, democracies tend to move incrementally. A sweeping reinvention of the existing water rights system would be opposed by everyone, for fear of the unknown. And since a multi-trillion dollar economy is based on the existing system, I would have thought that most people would respect that concern. We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto.

    That said, I dearly hope that the Leg finally gets around to regulating groundwater at a State level. The judicial system of adjudicating groundwater is just too slow. Pumpers get to do far too much damage to the communally-owned resource of groundwater storage space before litigation stops them.

    Ag exists in California because it’s profitable! The Central Valley and Imperial/Coachella Valley have some of the best farmland anywhere on the planet! As far as I’m concerned, ag is a higher and better use of California’s water than most municipal water, and I live in Los Angeles County.

    We are in a multi-year drought. Demand exceeds supply. Demand may need to be decreased permanently; it’s too soon to tell. There is one huge infrastructure fix — building the Cross-Delta pipelines. There is also hundreds of millions to billions of dollars worth spending on less-dramatic projects, like municipal demand reduction (ripping out lawn), fixing leaky pipes (although that really depends on whether the lost water is going into a groundwater basin that you can pump back out of), cleaning up contaminated groundwater basins, and massive increases in groundwater recharge projects, via both recycling and capturing high flows in excess of environmental demand that would otherwise flow out to the sea.

    (People who sneer about Toilet-to-Tap need to get over themselves. We’re all drinking Napolean’s pee, just cycled a few times.)

    (Desal is very expensive and likely to remain so. Other projects can deliver far more water at far lower cost.)

    Watch and learn. The Southeast, especially Georgia and Florida, is far more vulnerable to fluctuations in water supply than most people know. And while regional climate change models aren’t too reliable yet, it is widely anticipated that the future holds much greater variability in rainfall.

    The system is complex for lots of reasons: historic water rights is only a small part of the puzzle. The larger issue that California is essentially a nation unto itself that supports a massive population in the desert (LA County is over 10 million) and one of the finest agricultural programs on the globe, ranging from the mundane (alfalfa) to the valuable (dates, wine, nuts, olives, etc.), all the while moving truly staggering quantities of water in man-made infrastructure.

    (I don’t apologize for the adjectives. California’s water infrastructure is one of the Modern Wonders of the World.)

    Providing safe, affordable and reliable water is hard. Doing so for 38 million people is staggering.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Francis
      Ignored
      says:

      +1 to this. I’m not as deeply educated or experienced as @francis , and only a bit of a dilettante in water law thanks to some theoretically-concluded litigation I got to peripherally work in. But even that exposed me to the staggering complexity of California’s water infrastructure and it’s a never-ending source of amazement to me that it exists at all.Report

      • Avatar Dave in reply to Burt Likko
        Ignored
        says:

        @burt-likko @francis

        This is exactly why I don’t get involved in discussions about markets at the 30,000 foot plus level. The ability of a market to function (or even exist) depends on too many concrete facts to make abstract discussions counterproductive.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Francis
      Ignored
      says:

      I appreciate the elaboration on the matter and agree it’s complex. I also agree with your admiration for the CA water infrastructure which is impressive. That said your basic points are that some people have some privileges they acquired through years and years of history and an immensely complicated system of laws and that you (and many like you) have an ascetic preference for rural/agriculture to be subsidized at the expense of urban water users.
      To the former, if the droughts and shortages continue then the state probably cannot afford to indulge those historic privileges and they should be painstakingly revisited and reevaluated. To the latter I can only shrug unsympathetically. There’s no denying the richness of CA’s agricultural land. It should be used for the uses that it is best suited for without massive water subsidies. Alfalfa is a massively water hungry plant (and a lot of what they grow in CA they export to Asia of all things), so no I remain unsympathetic*.

      *That said waste reduction and water recycling in urban areas is obviously necessary as well.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to North
        Ignored
        says:

        You should be aware that using the word subsidy is the same as assuming your conclusions. It’s about as appropriate as: “some people have ownership rights to houses they acquired. . . if the droughts and shortages continue then the state probably cannot afford to indulge those historic privileges and they should be painstakingly revisited and reevaluated.”

        A subsidy is money or legal advantage given by the state to some entity/group of entities. If water rights were subsides, it would be simple to unwind them and require more water-efficient farming. Instead, however, those farms have pretty darn solid legal rights to the water that predate the state’s efforts to regulate its water. There’s no way you can “painstakingly revisit and reevaluate” them without either (1) a legal settlement with each individual farmer; or (2) tons of eminent domain litigation. Wishing away that fact makes any solution you propose an inherent non-starter. The existence of that fact explains why California water districts pay you to remove your lawn or upgrade your toilets. Because those are things they actually have control over.Report

      • Avatar Francis in reply to North
        Ignored
        says:

        North:

        You obviously don’t know a damn thing about the legal issues and are spouting off your own personal preferences. ” What property rights are you referring to?” As to the Colorado, we’re talking about the usufructory right established in the Seven States Agreement and an enormous body of laws, rules and regulations, treaties and Supreme Court decisions known as Law of the River (which you would have known if you had bothered to read my comments).

        (Usufructory right: the right to use, to the detriment of others. When IID uses its allocated share, that water is not available to others.)

        Or you could, you know, actually educate yourself. Google California State Water Project, Central Valley Project, Colorado Law of the River. It shouldn’t take you much more than 3-5 years to get up to speed on the basics.

        For the most part, farmers receiving state water have virtually no subsidies. They pay their fair share of the infrastructure cost associated with delivering their water to them. It’s farmers who receive federal water who get the largest subsidies. BuRec has been slowly moving to raising rates, but that community has significant political power.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to North
        Ignored
        says:

        All this amounts to hand waving that the system was established this way so it’ll stay this way. I’d certainly never suggest that it’s going to be easy to change but I have not yet seen any argument from you that the system should be the way it is now beyond an ascetic fondness for desert farming and a disdain for urban areas. That’s fine, but in CA especially invocations of CA constitutional rights are pretty feeble. You do recall how easy it is to change the CA constitution yes?Report

    • Avatar Citizen in reply to Francis
      Ignored
      says:

      “(Desal is very expensive and likely to remain so. Other projects can deliver far more water at far lower cost.)”

      Reports I see are showing costs at $3 per cubic meter with future RO efficiencies pushing it to $1.

      The Carlsbad plant is projected at production of 50 million gallons a day.

      “After twelve years of planning and over six years in the state’s permitting process, the Carlsbad Desalination Project has received final approvals from every required regulatory and permitting agency in the state, including the California Coastal Commission, State Lands Commission and Regional Water Quality Control Board.”

      Six years in the state permitting process? Dammit!

      When the higher ups ask my thoughts I typically indicate desal is the way to go. No dependency on rivers or rainfall, the oceans are likely to be around awhile (admitted misguided hope).

      Corpus Christi is looking at one capable of 20 million/day. I would rather not see the plant built near Laguna Madre or Oso Bay. Briefly reviewing what a 10 foot surge does to those areas is remarkable. They could move it further inland and still be close to the windmill farms.

      The Mary Rhodes Pipeline is finally underway that ones been kicked around since ’92?

      And even with those rosey glasses-glitter britches outlook, I still reserve the real possibility of hooking my home gutter system into a cistern in the same manner my grandfathers did. Watching the coastal grass turn brown and wave in the summer winds wondering if the Rio Grande is making it to the gulf this july.Report

  12. Avatar KatherineMW
    Ignored
    says:

    Fining people for having a brown lawn during a drought is preposterous.

    Let me expand that: Fining people for the aesthetics of their house and yard at any time is preposterous.

    Raising water prices (with subsidies for low-income people so that you’re not making them choose between being able to shower and being able to pay the rent) is a reasonable way of encouraging people to use less water. However, mandatory restrictions may also be necessary – California, of all places, has no shortage of very wealthy people with large green lawns, swimming pools, etc., who would not be inclined to reduce their water use just because the cost had gone up.

    My hometown used to ban watering your lawn (or at least watering it with sprinklers?) every summer, but they enlarged the reservoir recently so it stopped being necessary. Doing so meant we didn’t have to worry about running out of water, and what water we did have was being used more for necessary purposes and less for unneeded ones. You seem to be confusing “common sense” with “totalitarianism”.Report

  13. Avatar aaron david
    Ignored
    says:

    I think I have the solution, and it should allow us to keep the water for farmers, the lawns green, and possibly part the Salton Sea.

    The simply go to naval showers.

    This might cause our great cities to get a little funkier, but I am sure that the liberal metropolis’ of our great state can make the sacrifices necessary. As for our inland cities, well, everyone thinks Fresno stinks already.

    I am only half joking.Report

  14. Avatar Francis
    Ignored
    says:

    Dear Mr. Hanley:

    Different readers bring different levels of understanding to the issue of California water. I have found that providing analogies can be useful. Most people intuitively understand that Central Park is owned by the City of New York and that the City cannot simply privatize it. The park is held in trust for the benefit of its citizens. Certain water rights in California, like those held by IID, are analogous.

    In Penn Central the US Supreme Court held that certain regulatory actions may amount to a taking. The key element of that case, as applied to California water rights, is in my eyes the extent to which the regulatory action interferes with distinct investment-backed expectations. The existing water rights system in California supports billions of dollars in infrastructure.

    Does this mean that no changes can be made? Certainly not. Groundwater can and should be brought into a regulatory framework. The exemption for pre-1914 appropriative rights from filing an application to appropriate should be eliminated. The exercise of riparian rights should similarly move within the jurisdiction of the State Water Resources Control Board (which should be a much larger and better-run agency). But a wholesale abolition of the existing system to be replaced by a water rights auction sounds to me like a loser both electorally and constitutionally.

    In any event, the deeper issues aren’t legal, but social. Should water flow first in the direction of the most money? Many people believe the answer is no, that urban users should not be allowed to outbid farmers, at least not for pools and yards. So far, this view predominates.

    Is water subsidized? That question isn’t really answerable in any meaningful sense. The federal government has built water supply reservoirs, the cost of which is not being fully borne by the users thereof. But the federal government also grossly overbuilt the Interstate Highway System in the midwest. Tallying the allocation of the costs and benefits of all the actions of the federal government over the last 60 years is, in my view, a huge waste of time.

    Are there inefficiencies in the system? god yes. Some cities don’t even meter. State law should require that. Cities should be encouraged to install dual meters, so people can see, and pay for, different rates for internal use vs external use. The paperwork required for short-term leases (‘changes in points of diversion’ to be technical) should be reduced.

    But large-scale long-term leases and sales have macro effects. Fallowing farmland shrinks both on-farm and secondary employment and reduces the tax base of the community. Scandals in the quality of imported food should remind people that home-grown food is a national security issue. While we freely allow farmers to decide what to grow and to whom to sell it, we should nevertheless be mindful of converting prime farmland to houses. So laws that make long-term transfers from ag to urban harder are probably a good idea.

    Given the presence of libertarians at this blog, at the end of the day the key point worth remembering is that water in the quantities we’re talking about here cannot be a market good. The reason that I sneer at discussions about water “markets” is that far too often the proponents are trying to hide desired social policies — preference for low rates for urban users, and growth of urban areas at the expense of agriculture — in the purported neutral language of capitalism.Report

    • Avatar Francis in reply to Francis
      Ignored
      says:

      Too good to omit.

      The City of Galt has one of the highest percentages of unmetered connections in the state, at around 90%.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Francis
      Ignored
      says:

      @Francis,

      In Penn Central the US Supreme Court held that certain regulatory actions may amount to a taking.

      Yes. Not that you have amy reason tp have known it, but I actually spent a considerable time studying takings law (until I got bored with con law and changed my focus of study). Lucas and Dolan would be on point as well. But there are some other precedents, was my only point. However I do suspect any plan could/would be ruled a takings. Hence above I also suggested eminent domain would brpe appropriate. And as much as I despise the current agricultural reliance on water that costs more to deliver than ag pays, we’ve put them in a situation to become reliant on that system, so at the least it’s appropriate to help them with transition costs.

      Does this mean that no changes can be made? Certainly not.

      Bingo. Now we’re on the same page, at least to some extent (god only knows if we’d ever agree on specific changes).

      But a wholesale abolition of the existing system to be replaced by a water rights auction …

      Can we pause for a moment while you identify who made such a suggestion? Or was there just an assumption that someone was making this suggestion?

      Many people believe the answer is no, that urban users should not be allowed to outbid farmers, at least not for pools and yards. So far, this view predominates.

      I’m dubious we’d be able to set up a system where individuals would bid that way. And it’s an odd assumption that if we did that many people would outbid ag for pools and green lawns. By definition that would mean pools and yards have a higher economic value than agriculture. I’m skeptical of that, myself (maybe hotels and the Beverly Hills crowd, but probably not the folks in my in-laws’ neighborhood), but if it were true, I’d wonder why they advocated a lower value use for a scarce resource.

      Is water subsidized? That question isn’t really answerable in any meaningful sense.

      Well, yes it is. It’s fairly straightforward, in fact. The fact that the federal government has subsidized a lot of other things as well doesn’t actually make the question unanswerable.

      Are there inefficiencies in the system? god yes. Some cities don’t even meter

      We do have areas of agreement. And I like the idea of dual metering, which I hadn’t thought of, with both being part of a smart meter system, which enables us to use pricing. It’d take an age and a half to get that fully implemented, which is why we really should get started on it.

      And your argument above about it being difficult for munipialities to effectively use pricing to reduse usage ignores substantial empirical evidence, from London’s city access pricing for cars to peak pricing on toll bridges to variable price street parking. This isn’t just theory, but is established practice.

      farmland shrinks both on-farm and secondary employment and reduces the tax base of the community.

      Taxbases that have been inflated through too-cheap water. It will be a tough transition, but that’s a bad argument for not making the change. It’s the Detroit argument for continuing tariffs on imported cars. And Detroit/Flint have been devestated as competition increased, but that doesn’t mean the trade restrictions were the right path.

      Scandals in the quality of imported food should remind people that home-grown food is a national security issue.

      No. Just no. National security can be used to justify anything, so every use of the claim deserves hard scrutiny. I’ve had more than enough of that talk from conservatives, so I really hope we can contain it in that crowd and they haven’t infected liberals with the national security disease.

      While we freely allow farmers to decide what to grow and to whom to sell it, we should nevertheless be mindful of converting prime farmland to houses.

      Yes, that’s problematic, but there are other regulatory means for dealing with that. Do you remember the planned 30k (iirc) community south of Bakersfield, at the bottom of the Grapevine. This was back in the ’90s. Water availibility was one of the issues, but not the only one. To the best of my knowledge it was never permitted. At least as of last summer it hadn’t broken ground yet.

      Given the presence of libertarians at this blog,

      Stupid fuckers. If they’d just go away we’d have an end to stupid comments here.

      The reason that I sneer at discussions about water “markets” is that far too often the proponents are trying to hide desired social policies — preference for low rates for urban users, and growth of urban areas at the expense of agriculture — in the purported neutral language of capitalism.

      So you just assumed that I was talking about full on unrestrained wholly privatized water markets with the ulterior motive of promoting urban growth and death to farms because…why? I’m hoping the answer is something other than libertarianism and operating just on stereotypes.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        @james-hanley ,

        Agree on 1 and 2. I’ll let Francis answer the auction stuff. I agree with you it’s an unworkable system. I’d personally add undesirable, but that’s quibbling.

        On subsidies, I don’t think it’s quite that simple. I’m not aware of an argument that non-farm uses get meaningful (or any) federal subsidies. And my understanding of the state system is that it charges enough in rates to cover transit/processing/infrastructure costs. As for the federal subsidies to farm agriculture, here’s the counterpoint. Reads a lot like spin to me, and I do NOT think it’s a property right in the way that water access rights are. But there it is anyway.

        Smart meters are great (and are in the process of coming in) but I don’t think you need two of ’em. I suspect it would be nigh-on trivial to identify outdoor watering using smart-meter data if you really wanted to separate rates. It’s the maximum-capacity use for lots of consecutive minutes. Not metering residential seems insane, and I had no idea until this thread how much of that there was in places like Sacramento. I think it’s a harder problem in rural settings where water doesn’t just enter through a neat little pipe. And, unless I’m missing something, you’d have to strip people of their unlimited use rights before the price per gallon could be non-zero.

        That said, the rest of this response seems very wrong to me. Your examples (London’s city access pricing for cars to peak pricing on toll bridges to variable price street parking) are situations where people have a number of responses to the incentive. In London, people have a world-class transit system and the ability to shift their car use to off-peak times. In SF, people can park further away, use public transit, or park in a garage. Here, the alternatives are less clear. There’s no substitute for water that analogizes to transit, and water is much more essential to daily life than driving (particularly in large urban areas like London and SF). I’m not saying that price is completely irrelevant (Sacto should meter its water use!), I’m just saying your examples don’t really analogize. And it’s not clear that pricing can change much behavior without also being draconian. After all, majority-unmetered Sacramento uses less per-capita than Fresno.

        Agree wrt national security. US-based agribusiness is plenty capable of effing up the food supply too.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Holy crap, Sacramento has mostly unmetered water connections? My mind is blown. I would have expected any city around here that has roads to have water meters. It’s not like we haven’t had major droughts before.

        My wife and I were kids during the 1987-1992 California drought and maintain most of our water habits from those childhood days. I’m stunned that any municipality could have lived through that and not started metering water.Report

      • Avatar Francis in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        James:

        A wide range of views have been presented on this thread. I’ve been trying to respond to both the more moderate ones and the more extreme ones.

        I think you’re actually being too respectful of the 5th Amendment. I think that the State could be far more aggressive in making waste determinations based solely on inefficient ag practices. While it’s been a few years since I’ve checked, the State Water Board has historically been pretty deferential to ag practices, checking only the most egregious. I think it’s entirely within the State’s power to lower the threshold for the commission of waste without triggering a regulatory taking.

        The principal bar against doing so is political. No one wants the State to be overly intrusive. After all, if certain ag practices are wasteful, then the residents of certain very flowery cities (like Pasadena) might find themselves facing a waste petition too.

        As to the distribution between ag and urban, a lot of people fundamentally disagree that it is an economic issue. Especially where rights are held by a local government in trust, many people take the position that the government has no power to sell or lease those rights. Because there are so many different conveyance systems and so many different rights being exercised within the context of each system, I find it difficult to make sweeping judgments. I prefer the approach that the State is already taking, which is to allow rights-holders to enter into leases without risk of losing priority and to adopt (somewhat clumsy) common carrier laws allowing lessees access to existing infrastructure. The paperwork for completing these transactions is still quite burdensome; reducing that burden is probably the easiest way to facilitate short-term leases.

        Are highways subsidies? Is the Hoover Dam a subsidy? The placement of military bases? Railroad land grants? Flood insurance? What components of the tax code favor urban living over rural? Yes, you can look at the construction cost of (for example) Friant Dam and compare it to amounts received from the farmers and see a huge difference. But the allocation of the cost of any dam between ‘flood control’ (public benefit) and ‘irrigation’ (private benefit) is essentially mythical. So, sure, you can accuse farmers of receiving federal subsidized water. But that’s all of our faults collectively for electing a Congress willing to make that subsidy. I’m not sure I see the principle which states that CVP subsidies (to the extent that they are subsidies) should be unwound first. (Note that the federal component — the CVP — is only part of the whole story. Colorado River rights and State Water Project rights have a very different subsidy analysis.)

        I agree that water providers can do much more to use cost as a tool to reduce demand. My point was that there is virtually always substantial public opposition to doing so, and a very complex legal environment as well. And each water service provider gets to go through the process in its own way. (According to the website for the Association of California Water Agencies [ACWA], its 440 member agencies serve 90% of the water delivered in California. The remaining 10% is served, I expect, by private water companies, mutual water companies and public agencies too lazy to join ACWA.)

        Once prime farmland is covered by houses, it’s very difficult to turn back into farmland. Given the uncertainties of climate change, I have no problem with the State having a policy of protecting prime farmland.

        Actually, I have fond memories of the Tejon Pass new town project. I actually did some work on it back in 2001. Google tells me that as of 2012 Kern County was still unable to identify in the relevant planning document an adequate water supply for the project.Report

  15. Avatar Murali
    Ignored
    says:

    Wait, you guys don’t price your water??? I thought water pricing was a standard policy response!Report

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