The Abundance Choice (part 15) – Our Fight for More Water

There are plenty of ways to ration water, and California’s state legislature is pursuing all of them. Restrict agricultural water allocations until millions of acres of California’s irrigated farmland is taken out of production. Ban outdoor watering entirely in urban areas. Monitor residential indoor water use and lower it to 40 gallons per day per resident, with heavy fines to urban water agencies that cannot enforce those restrictions. But this is a lose-lose proposition, wreaking economic havoc and diminishing the quality of life for all Californians.

The initiative we came up with and attempted to qualify for the November 2022 ballot acknowledged the importance of conservation, but focused on supply. Passage of this initiative would have eliminated water scarcity in California. Looking to the next two year election cycle, the latest possible filing date for a new attempt to place an initiative on the November 2024 ballot is September 2023. A smarter approach would be to file an initiative around March 2023 in order to be gathering signatures from late spring through early fall in 2023. That would avoid competition with other political campaigns that promise to overwhelm 2024, and it would allow signature gatherers to approach voters who are likely to be enduring a second consecutive summer with the most severe restrictions on water use they have ever experienced.

The sad reality however is these plans are worthless without either access to millions of dollars in donations, or a volunteer movement with unprecedented scale and unity. But building a […] Read More

How Much Water Went Into Growing the Food We Eat?

The rains bypassed sunny California in January and February 2020, encouraging talk of another drought. California’s last drought was only declared over a year ago, after two wet winters in a row filled the states reservoirs. To cope with the last drought, instead of building more reservoirs and taking other measures to increase the supply of water, California’s policymakers imposed permanent rationing.

This predictable response ignores obvious solutions. Millions of acre feet of storm runoff can not only be stored in new reservoirs, but in underground aquifers with massive unused capacity. Additional millions of acre feet can be recovered by treating and reusing wastewater, and by joining the rest of the developed nations living in arid climates who have turned to large scale desalination.

All of this, however, would require a change in philosophy from one of micromanagement of demand to one that emphasizes increasing supply. To understand why a focus on increasing supply is vastly preferable to reducing demand, it helps to know just how much water California’s urban residents consume compared to other users.

As a matter of fact, the average California household purchases a relatively trivial amount of water from their utility, when compared to how much water they purchase in the form of the food they eat. For this reason, reducing residential water consumption will not make much of a difference when it comes to mitigating the effects of a prolonged drought.

To illustrate this point, it is necessary to determine just how much water […] Read More

Towards a Grand Bargain on California Water Policy

When it comes to water policy in California, perhaps the people are more savvy than the special interests. Because the people, or more precisely, the voters, by huge majorities, have approved nine water bonds in the past 25 years, totaling $27.1 billion. It is likely they’re going to approve another one this November for another $8.9 billion.

The message from the people is clear. We want a reliable supply of water, and we’re willing to pay for it. But the special interests – or whatever you want to call the collection of politicians, unelected bureaucrats with immense power, and other stakeholders who actually decide how all this money is going to be spent – cannot agree on policy. A recent article in the Sacramento Bee entitled “Why San Francisco is joining Valley farmers in a fight over precious California water,” says it all. “Precious California water.” But what if water were so abundant in California, it would no longer be necessary to fight over it?

As it is, despite what by this time next year is likely to be $36 billion in water bonds approved by voters for water investments since 1996, the state is nowhere close to solving the challenge of water scarcity. As explained in the Sacramento Bee, at the same time as California’s legislature has just passed long overdue restrictions on unsustainable groundwater withdrawals, the political appointees on the State Water Resources Control Board are about to enact sweeping new restrictions on how much water agricultural […] Read More