Quick comments on a bunch of different stories. Only interesting to people who are following the news closely.

This is a horrible tease.  “Lessons From Oil Industry May Help Address Groundwater Crisis”, it says, and my eyes dilated and my breath quickened.  Does the oil industry have something to teach us about extending yields by sustainable extraction methods?  Did they find a distribution regime that, surprisingly, satisfied all the users?  What can the oil industry teach us?!!  Fucking nothing.  There are no lessons in that piece.  It tells us what we all already know about groundwater (that it is being mined faster than replenished), alluded to something called “unitization“, and doesn’t tell us what it is.  Besides that, there’s nothing in that article that water people don’t already talk about.  I don’t appreciate being lead on.

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Wait, wait, WHAT?  This review of the new tv series V says:

It quickly emerged that the space lizards, handsome in their human disguises, wanted to take our water and then use it to wash us tasty earthlings down.

Why don’t I remember that?! The lizards wanted to take our water?!! I just barely remember the original series. In fact, all I remember is a face coming off. How did they want to take the water? Which water? What about area-of-origin rights?

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Seriously, this is so whiny that I’m embarrassed they’re representing me.  It is such a blatant cry for Other People’s Money.  There are multiple causes for the Delta’s collapse.  One of them is plausibly ammonias from Sacramento’s wastewater.  We will probably have to fix several of the causes at the same time.  Given that one of the causes is our shit, and that everyone in the state is under expensive burdens just like ours, seems like Sacramento should suck it up and pay to clean our discharged wastewater.

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Felt seesawing emotions about this op-ed.  Rebecca Solnit!  She’s great!  But then she says “cotton, rice, alfalfa”, and I thought ‘oh no.  You too, Ms. Solnit?’  Her main point veered off, so I didn’t have to lose faith in her entirely.  Because I think she is so very awesome, I will arbitrarily ask even more of her.  I would very much like it if people who want us to stop using water in some particular way would acknowledge the rest of what they mean.  Growers aren’t irrigating cotton, rice and alfalfa for their masturbatory pleasure.  They are doing it because those crops achieve something.  Rice is bought and eaten by humans.  Alfalfa grown with subsidized water leads to artificially cheap milk and meat, and people are now accustomed to those prices.  The follow-through for “stop irrigating alfalfa” is pay more for (and eat less) beef and dairy.  Which, you know, I’m all for.  I guess I’m mostly objecting to the implication that one could remove those practices without seeing ripple effects.

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From Carl Pope’s piece in the Huffington Post:

Instead of recognizing that  we first need to use every drop of water that falls near us and only then rely on long-distance transport and surface storage, the governor’s proposal continues excessive reliance on outmoded water-storage solutions, lowers the emphasis on protection provided by existing law for the health of California’s waterways, does almost nothing to enhance local self-reliance on water supplies, and fails to guarantee commonsense reforms of water policy.  [my emphasis]

I dunno, dude. The bond measure includes a billion dollars for Integrated Regional Water Management (which is DWR’s program emphasizing local supplies). Were you hoping for more than a billion dollars?

His next paragraph was interesting:

We’re still going to try to force a huge portion of the state’s water supply through the unstable and fragile bottleneck of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where a single engineering flaw, natural disaster, or malicious attack could bring the entire state to its knees for years.

Does he have a different route in mind?  I am so curious.  Upstream of Sacramento somewhere?  Connected to the restored San Joaquin River?  This is visionary new thinking!!  Where, besides through the Delta, would one move Shasta and Oroville water to south of the Delta?  An eastern route, pumped over the Sierras and connecting to the LA Aquaduct?

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Dan Bacher’sAn anonymous tweeter’s slams against environmental groups that support the water bill are annoying.  According to his twitter feed, he likes his environmental groups “homegrown, representative of community, not Big AG”.  You know, the groups he is slamming have a long history of advocacy against agricultural water waste and subsidies.  The other term for “homegrown” and representative of community” is NIMBYism, and that has its own pernicious aspects.  Slighting someone else’s environmentalism because they don’t have the same vision of the Delta (or California as a whole) is an asshole move.

(Apologies to Mr. Bacher, who I’m told is likely not the tweeter behind StopPeripheralCanal.  I don’t know why I thought he was.)

8 Comments

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8 responses to “Quick comments on a bunch of different stories. Only interesting to people who are following the news closely.

  1. Mr. Kurtz

    Unitization or “pooling” in the oil world, is the practice of determining the size and shape of a hydrocarbon deposit (an irregular blob of varying thickness and hydrocarbon content), then allocating the ownership of that blob among the several owners not on the basis of surface ownership but on the basis of blob ownership. This could be done in the age of slide rules, and is a doddle with computers. Then wells can be drilled where they are most efficient, and the ownership of the resource is still shared equitably. This practice began long ago, and has been a sensible way to operate. Managing groundwater this way would be fine in an aquifer that was not being replenished, but would become more problematic in one that fluctuates. There could also be some substantial expense with surface conveyance if the wells were located far from a water owners’ farm.

  2. Unitization of aquifers is an interesting idea on paper, but my sense is that it would be a real bear in practice. First of all you need to collect a lot of data about the aquifer, which requires a sugar-daddy willing to pay for data collection. That’s fine when you’re talking about a resource that’s worth real money (i.e. oil), but water just isn’t worth it. And when you look at what it takes to actually measure water levels and groundwater withdrawals in most places — well it’s a real uphill battle. Gary Libecap proposed unitization as a possible market allocation of water rights in a paper called “The Problem of Water”, but the idea I find most intriguing is the “water deeds” proposal made by Vernon Smith back in the 70s. But again, you need some very good data to properly allocate the deeds. I have searched extensively for an acceptable solution to the problem of property rights in water (or lack thereof) and still haven’t come up with a solution I find acceptably workable – it’s just a uniquely frustrating resource problem.

  3. dfb

    Chris Brooks, your comment reminds me of a fortune cookie I got last week: “We will not know the worth of water until the well is dry.”

    Water is money; we just do not allow it to be traded as a commodity to limit speculators from driving up the price. :-)

  4. Mr. Kurtz

    What’s wrong with “speculators driving up the price of water”? We let markets determine the cost of food, housing, energy, and other vital things (and in fact when we try to monkey with the workings of the market in those areas we get waste and environmental damage).
    There is a modest amount of water that any civilized government should ensure is available to all citizens at low or no cost. A vast body of water law is in place to protect the rights and define the responsibilities of water rights holders. Once those criteria have been met, I think market forces are a great way to encourage conservation and ensure that the resource is put to the highest and best use. There are some legal and practical issues to pound out, because of the unique nature of water. But auction based systems are transparent and very flexible.

  5. I’m all for using markets to allocate water. The problem is that it requires clearly defined property rights. That appears feasible at least with surface water. But as evidenced by the Farm Bureau’s stance on groundwater management in CA, there are some seriously entrenched interests that prefer the current poorly-defined property rights in groundwater. Make any effort to actually quantify those rights and prepare for all the screams of “my rights are being taken away!”. What sort of groundwater rights have actually been adjudicated in CA? Probably not very many ag rights, I’m guessing.

  6. Todd Jarvis

    I am the person profiled in the paper. At no time have I promoted the idea of unitization of groundwater as my own, but rather have been exploring how it could be implemented beyond just mentioning it as an option for groundwater management as other legal and economic scholars have done. Gary Libecap is cited in my work, but he is not the first person who has mentioned the concept. The legal literature and international water law literature frequently mentions it as a potential method for groundwater governance.

    Many miss the value of considering unitization beyond the traditional economic arguments. The oil industry developed the concept to minimize damage to the storage characteristics of the oil reservoirs. The same damage occurs in aquifers, and I presented a unique case study of such damage. Surprisingly, we don’t hear much about the damage of storativity issue in the groundwater hydrology literature, but the petroleum engineering literature has been discussing it for decades.

    Surprisingly, the unitization concepts are currently being used in settings beyond allocation of non-renewable grondwater and right under our very noses by the Southern Nevada Water Authority in the transboundary aquifer shared by Utah and Nevada. Careful examination of the Mississippi versus the City of Memphis, TN lawsuit reveal interesting comparisons to unitization. In my work, I also mention that unitization would be a valuable technique for governance of managed recharge such as that proposed in northeastern Oregon which once implemented will become on of the largest aquifer storage and recovery projects in the US. One of the more interesting applications of unitization of groundwater can be found in Kumamato, Japan where farmers are paid not to develop groundwater to maintain spring flows important for the spirituality of the community. The concept is just in its infancy in groundwater management, and so far, does not seem to be such a *bear*. As with the oil industry approach to unitization, the data needs are not extensive to implement, and are quite adaptable to new information – I think some people refer to this as *adapative management*.

    There was no intention to tease anybody. The article mentioned that unitization was a proposed means for dealing with peak water (you can look this concept up to see the parallels with peak oil – it is not new). The information was presented at domestic and international conferences, at their invitation.

    You could have gone to the conferences to learn more, or what the heck, given me a call, before being offended. In fact, you should have.

  7. I support the anti-fundamentalist position of On the public record. It is good to be consistent, and it seems that here, the same rules apply to the left and right.

    Will the (anti-progressive) NIMBY folks like Bacher and Restore the Delta see that being principled isn’t the same thing as being rational. I mean, Sarah Palin is principled, too.

  8. onthepublicrecord

    Mr. Jarvis, thanks for coming by and telling us more about unitization. I hope to go to one of your talks (although I don’t have any scheduled) and learn more about this.

    I wasn’t offended at anything. I was making a joke, you see, in comparing a talk on a technical subject to a sexual come-on. I was, however, mildly bothered that the article that did a decent job conveying a fair amount of material from the managed to leave the key solution technique undefined. If I wanted to learn how unitization would help CA groundwater, I wouldn’t have found out how in that article. I assume your talk did cover it, but the very topic that would have made the title of the article true didn’t make it through the write-up.

    I liked your riff on my About-me page. Good one.