Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, unregulated groundwater.

This piece in the NYTimes gets at the ferocity with which growers in CA resist groundwater management, by the state or by mutual agreement.

If he lived in almost any other state in the arid Southwest, Mr. Watte could be required to report his withdrawals of groundwater or even reduce them. But to California’s farmers and developers, that is anathema. “I don’t want the government to come in and dictate to us, ‘This is all the water you can use on your own land,’ ” said Mr. Watte, 57. “We would resist that to our dying day.”

Wow. Mr. Watte is loosely linking governmental regulation of a commons to collective death of himself and his farming peers? If pressed, he probably wouldn’t admit that emotional connection, but speculating wildly, I bet he feels something close to that. Man. That makes policy discussions really difficult. On one side you’ve got a nerd saying “You’ll notice that in adjudicated basins, growers take approximately 83.4% of annual safe yield…” and on the other you’ve got people feeling, “They are coming and we will die.”

The strangest part to me is that I think this fervent resistance to groundwater monitoring and regulation is completely path dependent. It is coincidence that California doesn’t monitor groundwater; I don’t think it was ever a policy decision or anything. It just didn’t come up until growers believed they had a right to pump whatever they wanted and tell no one ever, falling groundwater levels be damned. Now I find it bizarre that they are so deeply vested in the right to unmonitored groundwater pumping. I bet that if they’d happened to come up in a system with monitored and regulated groundwater (like 48 of 50 states), they’d never once miss that right. As irrefutable proof, I point out that Google searches for “free our groundwater” and “deregulate groundwater” return no hits.  No one in regulated groundwater systems lobbies for the right to pump at will.  People don’t articulate that right when they don’t have it.  Look: nothing, in an otherwise long list.

We’re here now, and a big battle over regulating groundwater is on the horizon. Good to know how deep feelings run. But even though I want to respect people’s views in general, frankly, I think the opposition to monitored and regulated groundwater has become passionately and arbitrarily wed to a privilege that will end up hurting them most (if aquifers get sucked dry).  I’ll have to think about good ways to move people out of that position.







Oh those big city New York reporters.  In a story about groundwater, why did they run the picture where the grower stands in front of the wellhead?    No one wants to see picturesque farmers striding about with shovels.  People want to see irrigation equipment.

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