[env-trinity] Record Searchlight Editorial: Steal north state's water? There are subtler methods

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Sat Dec 1 14:31:33 PST 2012


Editorial: Steal north state's water? There are subtler methods
Posted December 1, 2012 at midnight

Steal the north state's water? Thirsty Southern Californians might just purchase it. Unfortunately, the result might not be so different.

In a fascinating report released Thursday on how to promote markets to help solve California's perennial and growing water scarcity, the Public Policy Institute of California encouraged a number of measures to streamline the purchase and sale of water among users.

The basic concept behind "California's Water Market, By the Numbers" is sensible. Just as prices help balance supply and demand of other goods — from garden tools to golden rings — buying and selling water on a more open market would help ensure that the most valuable uses will meet their needs. Markets would favor high-value crops, cities and industry while phasing out marginal crops or land that doesn't justify the cost of the water. It is Economics 101, and some water trading already happens in California, especially in drought years.

Why isn't there more? Well, here's the PPIC report's top suggestion: "Address infrastructure weaknesses in the Delta, which have already limited the market's ability to furnish dry-year water supplies, and which have begun to limit the availability of wet-year water supplies to replenish groundwater banks."

"Address infrastructure weaknesses in the Delta" — that is what Gov. Jerry Brown is doing with his push to build a pair of giant tunnels to divert Sacramento River water around the Delta, with its collapsing fisheries and crumbling levees, and send that water to points south.

The peripheral tunnels are, rightly, feared as a southern play for northern water. But if they're built, the pressure on northern supplies might not come from court orders or political squeezes. The right price can coax water rights from willing sellers — from landowners who might net a better income selling water than from the hard and risky work of raising crops.

And while it'd be hard to criticize them individually, the results — if repeated at a large scale — could be the widespread fallowing of land and erosion of the north state's farm economy. It's conceivable that, even as our rivers flow full, their water could be tied up elsewhere, leaving us effectively as dry as the desert cities that face building moratoriums for lack of water hookups.

Water markets are a promising tool, but they deserve skepticism. Los Angeles, after all, paid cash money for the Owens Valley's water. We all know how that ended.
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