At Water Deeply, Lester Snow writes:
Nonetheless, California must create a real and transparent water market that enables transfers between willing sellers and buyers. This is absolutely essential to the state achieving the necessary resilience to withstand long periods of drought.
This is assertion and nothing more. Here is a way the state can achieve the necessary resilience to withstand long periods of drought with no market.
We could assign three kinds of water rights: instream flows, a headright for every person and a farmed acreage right.
There could be three levels for dry, average and wet years. Each person could get 40 gppd in dry years and 60 gppd in wet years. We could designate a core 4.5 million acres to get 3.5af/year in dry years and extend that to 6.5 million acres that get 3.5af/year in wet years. If there is water available after demands for instream flows, urban headrights, and irrigated acreage are met, it could be auctioned.
On May 15th, we have Snowpack Day! and figure out what year we are in. We ban permanent crops in basins with declining groundwater levels. Once groundwater levels stabilize, permanent crops can be planted again. In all years, we give support/money/tax credits to farmers that grow a variety of crops, mentor new farmers, market crops nearby before marketing them to further locales.
This is flexible and resilient. It adapts year-by-year. It provides for basic needs of Californians. It might generate money in wet years. It doesn’t create false expectations of water that get capitalized into land costs.
Contrast that with what we are seeing now, in a janky-ass broke-down water rights system with some water marketing overlaid. We see a brittle system of overinvestment in tree nuts, made possible by unsustainable emergency purchases of very expensive water. We see land boom-and-bust cycles, and a crash coming soon. We see farmers taking on unmanageable costs to keep farming. We see the already wealthy becoming much wealthy and the already poor living even harder. The little water market that exists (because moving water is very difficult) only amplifies the brittle traits.
The solution isn’t EVEN MOAR MARKET. If resilience is the goal, the solution is to design a system that builds resilience with the resources we will have.