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Climate Change and Water:

This week the National Research Council released a report on the potential consequences of sea-level rise on the United States. Today's NYT notes that this is only the latest study to highlight the threat of sea-level rise due to global warming. If global warming causes the seas to rise, low-lying developing countries are not the only places at risk.

While sea-level rise tends to get the most attention, the potential impact of climate change on fresh water supplies is likely to be a greater problem in the United States. Dealing with increased sea-level could be costly, particularly in places like southern Florida, but it would be manageable. The disruption of water resources, on the other hand, could have profound consequences in much of the nation. Water supplies are already stretched, prompting political conflict in the west and southeast, and existing water management institutions are proving incapable of addressing current water allocation problems. Even modest changes in the distribution of water supplies due to climate change could push water institutions past their breaking point.

I discuss the threat climate change poses to water resources, and a recommended institutional response, in this draft paper, forthcoming in a Hamline Law Review symposium on water resources. Here is the abstract:

Demographic changes and existing water use patterns have placed tremendous pressures upon water supplies, particularly in the West. Global climate change will exacerbate pressures on water resources. The gradual warming of the atmosphere is certain to change the distribution and availability of water supplies, with potentially severe consequences for freshwater supplies. While climate change will have a significant impact on water resources through changes in the timing and volume of precipitation, altered evaporation rates, and the like, the precise nature, magnitude, timing, and distribution of such climate-induced changes are unknown. This uncertainty complicates the task of water managers who are already faced with escalating demands. This article argues that climate change, and its projected effects on water use and supply, calls for a fundamental reexamination of water institutions. In particular, this article suggests that market-based institutions are well suited to address the additional pressures on water supplies due to climate change. Many aspects of water markets, including their flexibility, decentralized nature, and ability to create and harness economic incentives, make them particularly well suited to address the uncertain water forecast. A gradual shift toward water marketing and market pricing will improve the management of water supplies, ensure more efficient allocation of available water supplies and encourage cost-effective conservation measures.
The basic point of the article is that insofar as climate change will disrupt existing water supplies in somewhat uncertain and unpredictable ways, we need water institutions that are flexible and adaptive, and that encourage greater efficiency in water use and allocation. In this way, climate change strengthens the already-strong case for water markets. Market-driven transfer and pricing of water resources will not eliminate the consequences of warming-induced changes in water supplies, but they will make these changes more manageable.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. The "Progressive" Case for Water Markets:
  2. Climate Change and Water:
JRL:
I have explained time and time again that global warming, were it to ever happen, would cause sea levels to decrease, not rise. Let me go find a previous post to copy over . . .

/goes off to google self
3.12.2008 11:59am
John (mail):
"Unknown" seems to be the key word in this report. Let me suggest that before we had human induced global warming the future was also unknown. Prudent management of water supplies has far less to do with global warming than it has to do with, shall we say, prudence.
3.12.2008 12:07pm
Truth Seeker:
With 2/3 of the planet covered with water, at some point inexpensive desalination will become available. At that point I'll be glad to see all the little water czars scurrying off to find something else to control.
3.12.2008 12:17pm
Truth Seeker:
With 2/3 of the planet covered with water, at some point inexpensive desalination will become available. At that point I'll be glad to see all the little water czars scurrying off to find something else to control.
3.12.2008 12:17pm
Brian Mac:
Is there anything that the invisible hand can't handle?
3.12.2008 12:27pm
CaseyL (mail):
Market forces can no more rationally allocate fresh water supplies than they have historically able to rationally allocate any other natural resource. In all such previous cases, the market functioned linearly: supply v. demand.

There wasn't, and still isn't, any built-in mechanism for gauging ancillary effects, such as: long-term effects of diverting water from aquifers and lakes into a desert biome for recreational/agricultural uses; long term effects of large-scale desalinization; synergistic effects of population growth in areas where water was scarse to begin with. Just a few examples, off the top of my head.

Until "market forces" can factor long-term consequences into their equations, it's a bad idea to entrust them with humanity's need for fresh water in a climate-change era.
3.12.2008 12:33pm
Houston Lawyer:
Is there a part of the country where water use is expensive to a residential consumer? I'm not talking about getting a big bill for watering your lawn 24/7 in August, I'm talking about for every day household use. It seems that we only worry about water conservation during a drought and then rely on prosecution for those who break the rules.
3.12.2008 12:39pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Why isn't water piped from where it's plentiful to where it is scarce? Not merely the aqueducts from reservoir to city (and is NYC's Water Tunnel #3 ever going to be finished?) but serious movement of water cross-country the way oil, gas (and electrons?) are moved.

I guess it needn't be potable when transported, just relatively fresh, where it can be added to the existing reservoirs and then treated.

How (literally) wide a pipe would be needed to make a serious dent in the shortfall in places like SoCal? Is there enough surplus in the northwest that the pipeline wouldn't have to cross the continental divide or other major mountain ranges and watershed boundaries?

Water is only mildly corrosive, and leakages aren't environmentally dangerous, so I guess this would be easier than some other projects.
3.12.2008 12:41pm
Anonymouseducator (mail) (www):
Arizona needs more golf courses.
3.12.2008 12:41pm
Tek Jansen:
David Chesler: A lot of water in southern California is from the Colorado River and from northern California. Both require long pipelines with large, costly methods to pump water across mountain ranges.
3.12.2008 12:49pm
CEB:
As I've mentioned in discussions of gas prices, given that people are willing to regularly pay around $15/gallon for water (in 20 oz. bottles from convenience stores), I have a hell of a time making any sense of the economics of water.
3.12.2008 1:00pm
Smokey:
This is just another report on 'potential consequences.' And you can bet that we taxpayers paid out a bundle of money for this arm-waving "what if" scenario.

Why do we almost never see such a report on "what if" global warming is well within its normal and expected range [which it is]? Note that annual federal spending on global warming research is now about $5 billion. Scientists desiring grants need only mention global warming in their grant applications to see the waters part.

The sea level rise over the past century is well within normal historical parameters. Nothing unusual is happening - as can be seen by this noaa animation.

And we still know little about what goes on under the surface of the ocean, as can be seen by this recent discovery.

Here's another chart showing sea level anomalies [AMO is the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation; PDO is the Pacific Decadal Oscillation].

Those truly worried about "climate change" may ride their bicycles to the post office, and mail a check to the UN/IPCC. Al Gore might even give you an "attaboy," if you purchase some of the carbon credits that he sells.

Question for CaseyL: If, as you claim, market forces can not rationally allocate water supplies, then what is your proposed alternative? The federal government? With its irrational distorting of the market into ethanol - which requires 1,700 gallons of fresh water, and 7/10th of a gallon of fossil fuel - to produce one gallon of ethanol? [source: the Economist, 2 02-08]

The market isn't perfect. But it is light years ahead of the government in allocating resources.
3.12.2008 1:02pm
Brian Mac:
"This is just another report on 'potential consequences.'"

Sadly, scientists, rather than prophets, tend to author these reports.
3.12.2008 1:08pm
Temp Guest (mail):
Two axioms: (1) Things change; (2) Human beings -- including particularly meteorologists and climatologists -- have a really poor track record of predicting how they will change.

Two deductions: (1) Humnan being s should be prepared to deal with change. (2) Human beings should not attempt detailed predictions of what changes will occur and make extreme investments (and incur the associated extreme opportunity costs) based on these predictions
3.12.2008 1:16pm
wfjag:
JRL:

We all know that "climate change" is the new euphanism for AGW. It's a good disguise. The "global climate" is a dynamic system composed of dynamic sub-systems, and imbedded in superordinate systems like the solar system, which are also dynamic -- ego, the climate is always changing. Who can argue with that? That heads off ugly questions of proof about human effects, whether "green house gases" have any appreciable effects, and whether the models the Chicken Littles use to frighten people, in fact, are worth a damn.

Have you reviewed the recent articles that (again) show that the computer models used by the IPCC and other AGW (ooops, I mean "climate change") advocates use fundamentally flawed assumptions? Recently the assumption in the models that the atmosphere is "infinitely thick" has been debunked. [For the non-math inclined, this is a simplifying assumption that can be traced to climate models developed as far back as the 1920s and incorporated into climate models since then, because prior to the development of current computers, the equations used in the models were too complex to solve.]

For a layperson's explanation, read "Researcher: Basic Greenhouse Equations 'Totally Wrong'" Michael Asher (Blog) - March 6, 2008 11:02 AM on www.dailytech.com. If you want to see the full article, see Ferenc M. Miskolczi, "Greenhouse effect in semi-transparent planetary atmospheres", VOL. 111 IDŐJÁRÁS NO. 1 (January–March 2007) [Quarterly Journal of the Hungarian Meteorological Service Vol. 111, No. 1, January–March 2007, pp. 1–40].

Fortunately, the article was published in English and is available on-line at http://met.hu/doc/idojaras/vol111001_01.pdf

To summarize the article, a problem major global warming models is they assume that the atmosphere is “infinitely thick”. When 100 km (65 mi) is used as the thickness of the Earth’s atmosphere – which is reasonably accurate – the “global warming” predictions disappear. By making this change, Miskolczi was able to make very accurate predictions (as compared with measurements), for both Earth and Mars.

Miskolczi is an atmospheric physicist and was a researcher for NASA. NASA refused to publish his findings and he resigned, which is why they were published in Hungary.

Another example of being right isn't enough.

Professor -- while I am generally sympathetic to resorting to market based solutions to problems, I still submit that: (1)you have to prove that there is, in fact, a problem; (2) which, in fact, your solution addresses before engaging in major changes; and (3) that you have correctly identified the problem that warrants a solution in the first place; (4) much less the solution you propose.
3.12.2008 1:29pm
Colin (mail):
Good advice, Temp Guest. Have you sold your stocks and canceled your health, home, and disability insurance policies yet?
3.12.2008 1:36pm
ruralcounsel (mail) (www):
CaseyL says:

Market forces can no more rationally allocate fresh water supplies than they have historically able to rationally allocate any other natural resource. In all such previous cases, the market functioned linearly: supply v. demand.

There wasn't, and still isn't, any built-in mechanism for gauging ancillary effects, such as: long-term effects of diverting water from aquifers and lakes into a desert biome for recreational/agricultural uses; long term effects of large-scale desalinization; synergistic effects of population growth in areas where water was scarse to begin with. Just a few examples, off the top of my head.

Until "market forces" can factor long-term consequences into their equations, it's a bad idea to entrust them with humanity's need for fresh water in a climate-change era.


I would argue that market forces, when allowed to actually function, have done an excellant job of rational allocation of natural resources. Certainly they have proved themselves far better at it than other options. Now that doesn't mean that certain results aren't bad for certain individuals ... but that doesn't imply irrationality. A rational world doesn't treat all people alike.

So explain to me how any of these "ancillary effects" impact market forces any differently than any other regulatory approach?

Long term consequences imply high risk, high uncertainty. No human mechanism handles that well. Market forces are at least able to discount for uncertainty, if the uncertainty is properly recognized. Collectivist tendencies tend to favor the appointed collectors, and the appointors ... so hardly benefit "humanity". Market forces are remarkably egalitarian, unlike regulatory approaches that inevitably favor the powerful and predatory. In the sense that market forces also favor the powerful, at least it's out in the open ... not hidden behind a false veil of mock-concern for the public good and psuedo due process. Never forget that market forces generally prevail at some level ... though it may just be at what price can your political/regulatory system be bought. At which point we get thieves and liars running the system instead of business and consumers.

And what, pray tell, is a "climate change era" compared to something that is constructively nonexistant, a "non-climate change era"? The climate is ALWAYS changing; we live on a dynamic planet. Frankly, my understanding is that we humans thrive as a species because we are adaptable to such change.

BTW, supply and demand doesn't necessarily imply linear; monotonic perhaps, but rarely linear.

But these are just my personal disatisfactions with coercive collectivist utopian mush.
3.12.2008 1:42pm
Brian Mac:
"Quarterly Journal of the Hungarian Meteorological Service"

The natural fall-back option when NASA refuses to publish your work, I guess.
3.12.2008 1:43pm
CDU (mail) (www):
The basic point of the article is that insofar as climate change will disrupt existing water supplies in somewhat uncertain and unpredictable ways, we need water institutions that are flexible and adaptive, and that encourage greater efficiency in water use and allocation.
It's fashionable to tie into global climate change at the moment, but you don't even need any climate change to justify overhauling the way water gets allocated and used in the western U.S. All you have to do is look at what happened in the past. Compared to paleoclimate data for the past thousand years, the past century has been an unusually wet period. Even the "major" droughts that the west has experienced in the last century, including the one that's been going on for the past several years, are pretty small compared to past drought events. Past droughts have been far more severe and lasted considerably longer than recent ones.

Even if there is no climate change, and the next thousand years are exactly like the past thousand, the water hungry cities of the west are still going to end up screwed sooner or later unless we find a way to allocate water more effectively.
3.12.2008 1:48pm
Mac (mail):
(link) Anonymouseducator wrote:

Arizona needs more golf courses.

And, don't forget water parks as the one that was approved by voters in Mesa and the lake in Tempe.

Jonathon,
Most of the the SW is no where near the ocean, so I don't understand how rising ocean levels are going to bother us at all.
As for water being scarce, there is a saying out here that is well over 100 years old.

"Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.

Also, re the doomsday scenarios, we, in Prescott, Az area are 125% ahead of "normal" precipitation for the year (2008) and we froze our collective butts off this winter and have a heavy snowpack to show for it.
3.12.2008 2:00pm
CaseyL (mail):
I would argue that market forces, when allowed to actually function, have done an excellant job of rational allocation of natural resources. Certainly they have proved themselves far better at it than other options. Now that doesn't mean that certain results aren't bad for certain individuals ... but that doesn't imply irrationality. A rational world doesn't treat all people alike.


No they haven't, actually. Unless you define "excellent job" as "leaving one used-up area and finding another that hasn't been used up yet."

The aquifers under the MidWest are about 1/4 full, having been emptied by generations of irrigation, well drilling, and pulling water out of rivers and lakes. When a river or lake dries up, the Market simply finds another river or lake to drain, but takes no notice of the aquifer,, which has fed those rivers and lakes, itself being emptied.

Fish stocks vanish in one area; The Market simply leaves and goes fishing in another. One food-fish species is wiped out? No problem: there's always another species to go after. The Market assumes there will always be another species after the last one is used up.

In Washington, seals compete with humans for certain fish. In the northern area of the Columbia, seals used to feed on smelt. But now smelt are being commercially fished (since the salmon runs have been all but wiped out, by The Market), so there's not enough left for the seals. So the seals have been coming down the Columbia and eating the ancient sturgeon that hang out in the deeper, colder waters. The "solution" being proposed is, of course, to somehow scare off or kill the seals. Never ever does it occur to anyone that a better answer might be to limit human fishing so the seals can go abck to their original food stock.

So let's say we kill off the seals, anyway - Only Humans Matter, after all! - and we still fish teh smelt to extinction. No problem, right? Just go find another fish stock! Because there will always be another fish stock, and we can always get rid of whatever else is feeding off it.

The Market is an idiot, becuase it depends on there always being More Where That Came From.
3.12.2008 2:00pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Of course Jonathon neglects to mention that if the market controlled water resources very few people would live west of Missouri, and certainly the mountain west would be completely empty, except for a few pockets where fresh water is plentiful. It is not "the market" that built the dams in most of the country. The market can hardly allocate water from the upper Missouri and Ohio valley while still maintaining enough flow in the Mississippi for navigation of Ocean going ships which ply the river as far as mile 220 Above Head of Passes (if he doesn't know what that means, he shouldn't even be commenting on this). Not to mention flood control, hurricane protection and the water needed for diversions to rebuild wetlands destroyed over the last hundred years by all those things above and oil exploration.
3.12.2008 2:02pm
Lonely Capitalist (mail):
If rising sea levels become a problem, would it not be feasible to pump water to the middle of Antarctica or Greenland?
3.12.2008 2:09pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
When the sea levels rise, there is more surface area and the water, due to the hypothetical AGW, is warmer. Thus, more evaporation. Where does that stuff go?
I live near a large lake. (Michigan). When it freezes over, which it has done, the lake effect snow slows down considerably.
Is there any link outside of the need to induce panic to insist that warming means drought instead of more precip?
3.12.2008 2:17pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
The aquifers under the MidWest are about 1/4 full, having been emptied by generations of irrigation, well drilling, and pulling water out of rivers and lakes. When a river or lake dries up, the Market simply finds another river or lake to drain, but takes no notice of the aquifer,, which has fed those rivers and lakes, itself being emptied.

What do they do with the water they take out? (I guess some used for irrigation gets evaporated and carried further east than otherwise, but that most gets returned to the earth as various forms of sewage.)
3.12.2008 2:22pm
CDU (mail) (www):
Is there any link outside of the need to induce panic to insist that warming means drought instead of more precip?
Keeping in mind the caveat that regional scale changes like precipitation are one of the areas where current global climate models are least accurate, the current thinking is that precipitation will tend more towards the extremes. Wet regions will get wetter and dry regions will get even dryer.
3.12.2008 2:24pm
Francis (mail):
Prof. Adler, under the California Constitution a water right is a "use" right, and the scope of the right is limited by beneficial use.

All non-appropriated water is subject to appropriation. The State Water Resources Control Board determines the scope of post-1914 appropriations. There are also riparian rights, overlying rights, pre-1914 appropriative rights, pueblo rights and even adjudicated rights, bringing the judiciary into the picture.

Both the federal and state governments move massive amounts of water, through the Central Valley Projects and State Water Projects prospectively. The federal government is also involved in managing the Colorado River.

A proposal for Imperial County farmers to sell pre-1914 Colorado River rights to San Diego essentially reopened the entire Law of the River. That fight still isn't over as the Legislature is trying to find billions of dollars to mitigate the impact on the Salton Sea.

A challenge to Bu.Rec.'s delivery of San Joaquin River water to Kern County farmers without complying with federal and state law (the endangered species acts mostly) was in litigation for 15 years and the settlement is now collapsing.

A federal court judge has reduced the amount of State Water Project water that can be moved south of the Delta by about 30%.

As there is relatively little cheap water remaining to be appropriated in California, creating a "water market" essentially means that urban users buy farmers' rights.

But this idea raises a stack of questions. Can the State Water Board prevent the transfer as being not a beneficial use (meaning that the water goes to a junior appropriator, who may also be a farmer)? Can a county or a city through its zoning power keep land in ag., providing strong disincentives to a farmer selling off water rights? Farmers grow commercial stuff with water; urban users mostly put it on landscaping; does the state have an economic interest in maintaining one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world?

There is no "market" for water in California. We're not selling flour in the supermarket. Reallocating the use of water presents an extraordinarily complex set of legal, political and engineering problems. But talking about markets as a resource-allocation solution is hip and trendy, so it pops up on a regular basis.

Mostly I find the thinking underlying the concept to be pretty shallow.
3.12.2008 2:32pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
What do they do with the water they take out?

Since the recharge areas for the aquifers are not in the areas where the water is used, the water ends up as as runoff or as evapotranspiration and (in the case of the vast majority of the Midwest), the runoff eventually ends up in the Gulf of Mexico, where of course it mixes with the saltwater of the Gulf and cannot be recovered (at least not efficiently or cheaply, or pumped thousands of miles and sometimes thousands of feet uphill--e.g. western Kansas is about 4000 feet above sea level).
3.12.2008 2:35pm
Mac (mail):
Staying more on point, you don't need "climate change" to understand that there is a crisis in the making in the SW. The population is leaving the NE and coming here. I'm not sure where the water is going to come from. I do know the the regulation to date in parts of the state of AZ has not done much to improve the situation, and in fact, has exacerbated it.

There is something called the Salt River Project. This provides water for Phoenix pretty much by declaring that all groundwater anywhere north of Phoenix belongs to Phoenix. I am not sure as to the source of this law, but I am sure it was set in stone at sometime in Arizona's making.

We have 2 lakes in Prescott that we use to collect runoff and to recharge the aquifer.

Sorry J.F. Thomas, but we are trying.

The Salt River Project has been making noises that that water really belongs to Phoenix, too. We have high water prices and Phoenix has low water prices. Phoenix also has multiple golf courses, expanses of grass and recreational lakes and now, it appears, a water park is going to be built in Mesa. There is no motivation for Phoenix to conserve as they get all the water they want and the price is cheap. This is due to government regulation and not market forces.

If market forces were at work, Phx. would be paying the going rate and conserving a scarce resource instead of wantonly wasting it. We, in Prescott, have laws that require all new construction to have high dessert landscaping and a drip irrigation system. Recently, we passed a rule that anyone using spray irrigation must do so only between 8 pm and 8 am to prevent water loss via evaporation. Phoenix has no such concern and in fact, apartments and hotels, such as the Biltmore, seem to prefer to water at high noon from what I have actually observed.

In Prescott, all new construction for quite awhile now must have water saving features in the home i.e. low flow shower heads, hot water pumps, etc. The majority of us go to great lengths to conserve water. Partly due to the high price, (my bill for 2 people and minimal watering has gone from $50.00 a month to closer to $70.00 a month in the last few months as water rates were raised), and also because you can't live in the high dessert and not be aware of the need to conserve water.

When we lived in Phoenix, I never heard anyone worry about conserving water and they haven't changed one bit. So much for the beauty of "government regulation" over market forces.

The government has kept prices for this resource artificially low in what is now the 5th largest city in the US and it shows. I can hardly wait for the government to "manage" all the water out here.
3.12.2008 2:37pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
If rising sea levels become a problem, would it not be feasible to pump water to the middle of Antarctica or Greenland?

And who do you propose will pay for this?
3.12.2008 2:38pm
Mac (mail):
Oh, and by the way, in case you haven't already guessed it, the majority of voters are in what we here call the "Great State of Phoenix".
3.12.2008 2:41pm
Piano_JAM (mail):
In order for me to take a shower, the county takes water from the Chattahoochee, pipes it to my house, it drops on my head, then off my body, down the drain, back into a different pipe, treated, then put back in the Chattahoochee. How did I use water????????

this is just politicians looking for a problem to 'solve'.
3.12.2008 2:43pm
Mac (mail):
Piano_JAM,

The problem with your analogy is that, in the SW, we have ever greater numbers of people taking those showers.
3.12.2008 2:47pm
ruralcounsel (mail) (www):
CaseyL says:

No they haven't, actually. Unless you define "excellent job" as "leaving one used-up area and finding another that hasn't been used up yet."


Actually, that's exactly how I would define excellant job. Had it been cheaper to get the water elsewhere, it would have been done, because there would have been a profit incentive. You shouldn't blame the market for catering to what people want ... because your argument is really with human nature, not the market forces.

If people valued your various aquifers, fish species and the like, they'd be willing to pay a premium to protect them, providing they knew about the risks. Most of your examples seem to involve consequences which were only realized in the retrospective view. Government wouldn't have done anything differently. Humans, even government officials, respond to the pressures of the here and now, not some hypothetical future. And we adapt ... I doubt any of us feel particularly remorseful that one of our ancestors killed the last wooly mammoth in order not to starve to death.

And please enlighten me how some other collectivist approach has succeded in doing anything differently?
3.12.2008 3:16pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
In order for me to take a shower, the county takes water from the Chattahoochee, pipes it to my house, it drops on my head, then off my body, down the drain, back into a different pipe, treated, then put back in the Chattahoochee. How did I use water????????

First of all, if Lakes Allatoona and Lanier weren't there, there wouldn't be any water for you to drop on your head for most of the year (at least not enough for the 3 million plus people living in Atlanta). Consequently, the Federal government operates dams and reservoirs to keep the water flowing year round. Secondly, the water has to be treated before it gets to you, not only after you use it.

Also, do you think all those pipes, pumps, valves and treatment plants just operate for free? You may not "use" water in the sense that it is destroyed, but delivering it to you is quite expensive.
3.12.2008 3:20pm
Francis (mail):
(kinda) successful federal collectivist approaches (short short list):

Clean Water Act
Clean Air Act
Endangered Species Act
CERCLA

Each of these acts has, with varying success, eliminated the ability of US persons to abuse a particular commons.
3.12.2008 3:22pm
Randy R. (mail):
Chesler: "Why isn't water piped from where it's plentiful to where it is scarce? Not merely the aqueducts from reservoir to city (and is NYC's Water Tunnel #3 ever going to be finished?) but serious movement of water cross-country the way oil, gas (and electrons?) are moved. "

Why should we move the water? Wouldn't it be cheaper, easier and better to just move the people?

Coming from a place like Buffalo, that is a city that has plenty of fresh water, being situated right by Lake Erie. Ditto Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Toledo and so on. People moved out of those cities (excepting Chicago) and moved south because it was warmer. Fine, no problem there. But now they find out that water is scarce, and they want federal tax dollars (meaning contributions from people who live in Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo and Toledo) to underwrite their lifestyle.

Sorry. If water is so precious to you, move to where it is. Don't want to? Then don't complain. But there is no right to have people from around the country subsidize your ridiculous notion that you can have golf courses in the middle of the desert. If it puts a crimp on the lifestyles of those who live in LA, then perhaps the city is too big anyway.
3.12.2008 3:22pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
And please enlighten me how some other collectivist approach has succeded in doing anything differently?

Well you are just being ridiculous. I doubt that any modern city would exist without a "collectivist" approach to water delivery, water and wastewater treatment. At least not one without frequent outbreaks of waterborne diseases.

You people really have no clue how the real world works, where the water comes from when you turn on the faucet or where it goes when you flush the toilet. It's all magic, isn't it? And of course it would be so much cleaner, cheaper and allocated better if it was completely subject to market forces.
3.12.2008 3:28pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
If people valued your various aquifers, fish species and the like, they'd be willing to pay a premium to protect them, providing they knew about the risks.

I guess you have never heard of the "tragedy of the commons". Our midwestern aquifers are a perfect example.
3.12.2008 3:33pm
ruralcounsel (mail) (www):
Francis:

(kinda) successful federal collectivist approaches (short short list):

Clean Water Act
Clean Air Act
Endangered Species Act
CERCLA



Very arguable. The ESA is largely a bad joke, and has been used to threaten innocent property owners, and force land sales to the like of The Nature Conservancy. RICO anyone? Has it really been proved to save any species?

The others, I'd hazard an opinion, are not so collectivist. No more than setting speed limits infringes on who holds the title to your car. They don't influence allocation of resources, they regulate adulteration of resources. Nothing in the CAA limits how much air you can breath. Nothing in the CWA impacts how much water you can drink. CERCLA has dumped money into old toxic waste sites ... how many has it really cleaned up? RCRA arguably has prevented new ones from being made.

Everything the environmental acts purport to do, could probably have been done faster, better, cheaper ... by market forces, if the tort system had been able/willing to make the pollutors accept the true costs of their behaviors. Tragedy of the commons ... is just as severe a problem with governmental control, because government rarely controls the right problem, and because government is likely to be a large part of the problem. Know how many Superfund sites belong to the government? Lots. If the government controlled all the resources, they'd just exempt themselves from the regulations. Regulatory schemes only work because the mechanism of production is in the hands of the private sector. Get it? In only functions in an adversarial system!
3.12.2008 3:48pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Nothing in the CAA limits how much air you can breath. Nothing in the CWA impacts how much water you can drink.

They regulate how much air or water you can pollute.

Everything the environmental acts purport to do, could probably have been done faster, better, cheaper ... by market forces, if the tort system had been able/willing to make the pollutors accept the true costs of their behaviors.

So why didn't it? Why did it take government action to clean up our air, water and soil? How would allowing the tort system to take care of it--which theoretically available in the '50s and '60s when we were destroying our rivers and lakes--now when it demonstrably failed in the past?
3.12.2008 3:58pm
ruralcounsel (mail) (www):
The tort system was a part of the GOVERNMENTAL legal system. That's why it still hasn't gotten up to speed.
3.12.2008 4:05pm
Smokey:
Brian Mac commenting on the...

Quarterly Journal of the Hungarian Meteorological Service, says:
"The natural fall-back option when NASA refuses to publish your work, I guess."
Easy snark, but maybe Brian is unaware that the discredited James Hansen is the NASA director in charge of GISS. Thus, Hansen is in a position to heavily influence what gets published by NASA -- and more importantly, what never sees the light of day.

Hansen claims that even though he has taken a quarter million dollars from the Heinz Foundation, that largess hasn't influenced him [he endorsed John Kerry - AKA: Mrs Teresa Heinz - on the same day he got their money].

Even more questionable is the fact that Hansen refuses to publicly archive his taxpayer-funded data or methodology! That is absolutely contrary to the Scientific Method -- which totally relies on skeptical scientists to find flaws in any scientific hypothesis via the peer-review process. How can one find flaws, when the claimant refuses to provide the methods and data he used to arrive at his hypothesis??

In fact, Hansen is a charlatan. He is a public employee, paid by taxpayers for his work product. The fact that he feels forced to hide his data and methodology can mean but one thing: Hansen's data and methodology contains key information that Hansen knows he must deliberately hide, in order to retain any remaining credibility.

Finally, for more background on Dr. Ference Miskolczi's interesting peer-reviewed paper [including links to the paper], The Reference Frame has additional information.
3.12.2008 4:18pm
ruralcounsel (mail) (www):

Well you are just being ridiculous. I doubt that any modern city would exist without a "collectivist" approach to water delivery, water and wastewater treatment. At least not one without frequent outbreaks of waterborne diseases.

You people really have no clue how the real world works, where the water comes from when you turn on the faucet or where it goes when you flush the toilet. It's all magic, isn't it? And of course it would be so much cleaner, cheaper and allocated better if it was completely subject to market forces.


My water comes from a private company. My sewage flushes to a septic system on my land. My compostable garbage goes to feed the chickens, and gets recycled to me as eggs. My electricity comes from a private utility. My telephone, from a private utility. My propane, from a private fuel supplier. My wood pile from the woods surrounding my home. What were you saying about the real world?

Why do environmentalists always think they have a lock on how the world works, when so many of them don't even hold a technical degree or ever served in the military overseas?

Modern cities are structured they way they are more as function of technological history and evolution and the high costs of switching over. Not because of any inherent superiority of governmental collectivist approaches. Nevertheless, the people who choose to live in the cities shouldn't burden me with the solutions to their problems.

So why aren't you advocating collectivist food production? Transportation? Housing? Medical care? Higher education? Surely they would all be better, by your accounting. The neat efficiency of command and control ... all the way to your bunk in the labor camp and your place in line for the "showers".
3.12.2008 4:21pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
The absurdity is that we don't really know if the oceans are going to rise or not, or if they are, how much. We keep hearing Al Gore's 20 foot rise, but haven't seen it start yet. The continents are apparently moving faster than the seas are rising right now. So, we don't know if NOLO will go under water in this century, or even in this millennium. We are assured that when the seas starting rising, they will go up fast, maybe. Somehow, I can't get overly worried, sitting almost a mile above sea level right now.

The assumption is that AGW will cause the intermountain west to dry out even more. And maybe it might. On the other hand,, maybe not. Warmer climate should result in more evaporation, and thus more moisture being sucked out of the oceans and dumped inland. And more water sucked out of the Great Basin and dumped on the Rockies. Maybe.

Having part of FL, LA, and NYC go under water may seem bad to some, but AGW is also likely to open up huge expanses of Canada and Russia (esp. Siberia) to farming. If water becomes a (bigger) issue in Phoenix, it will also get hotter there, and you can get the same heat that you have now in PHX, LAS, etc. further north - closer to where the water comes from.

Back to the 20 foot rise of the ocean that is now apparently locked in concrete. Twenty feet in a year would be devastating. Twenty feet in twenty years would be bad. But twenty feet over a century or so, which is probably a higher rate than we are seeing right now, is not that much of a problem. It would be far, far, cheaper to just build new buildings on higher ground than to go through all the carbon neutral stuff that has been proposed. And, ditto, likely, with inland water.
3.12.2008 4:21pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
The tort system was a part of the GOVERNMENTAL legal system.

Umm I see, you want to privatize the legal system too. I think you are on the wrong thread. EV had one yesterday about nouns and modifiers that contradict themselves.
3.12.2008 4:24pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Thanks to JF's collectivist approach, domestic water, as well as agricultural water, does not cost what it should. The people living in the wet East Coast, eastern Mid-West, and parts of the South have subsidized us in the West for a long, long, time, through Bureau of Reclamation and Corps of Engineers building dams and diversion projects. Thanks.

But that doesn't mean that the market would not work, esp. now that there are so many people in the drier parts of the country. Phoenix, LA, and even Denver could afford to build their own dams and diversion projects. Maybe it would do better at a state level. Nevertheless, there are enough people now with an interest in drinking water to subsidize their own water projects. Maybe this is collectivist, but at a lower level of collectivism.
3.12.2008 4:30pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
My water comes from a private company. My sewage flushes to a septic system on my land. My compostable garbage goes to feed the chickens, and gets recycled to me as eggs. My electricity comes from a private utility. My telephone, from a private utility.

Septic systems are impractical in non-rural areas, and don't even work properly in many soil conditions. I wouldn't eat your eggs. Your electricity and telephone are most likely only available because of government subsidies, both current and in the past. I don't know where your water comes from, but you can thank the government for it being clean and available, especially if it comes from a surface source. And the government does build most of our roads, our public universities are the envy of the world and even our private ones are heavily subsidized by the government. As for collectivist food production--come on now.
3.12.2008 4:35pm
Mac (mail):

The people living in the wet East Coast, eastern Mid-West, and parts of the South have subsidized us in the West for a long, long, time, through Bureau of Reclamation and Corps of Engineers building dams and diversion projects. Thanks.

Bruce Hayden,

Are you suggesting that folks in the West haven't done the same for the East? I would think we have, over time. I don't know for sure, but, I would think so. If the East is subsidizing the West, perhaps it is a fair trade for the Feds owning so much of our land and taking it out of the taxable base. 87% of AZ is owned by the State of Az., the BLM or the Feds. The majority of the land in the East is developed and taxed. We don't have that luxury.

Just some thoughts.
3.12.2008 4:45pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
But twenty feet over a century or so, which is probably a higher rate than we are seeing right now

About ten times higher. Even the worst areas of coastal Louisiana (where sea level rise is compounded by subsidence) is only sinking at 3--5 feet a century (2--3 feet from sea level rise and the rest from subsidence)
3.12.2008 4:46pm
Smokey:
Regarding the "tragedy of the commons," and the market: the central problem is that the 'commons' are not privately owned.

For example, if a watershed was owned by a public company [and some are], that owner would take care to protect its investment. [Weyerhaeuser, for instance, owns tracts of timber forests. The company plans decades ahead to have harvestable timber, by continual re-planting.]

It's when government distorts the market, or simply allows clear cutting on federal land, that there is no incentive to protect the investment.

If the 'commons' were sold to a publicly traded company, it would probably charge enough in fees or admission to cover its costs and turn a profit. The company directors would take care that the commons were maintained, since they presumably want their jobs. We wouldn't see nearly the amount of litter we encounter at 'public' beaches, parks, etc. And the former 'commons' would pay property taxes, and the company would pay income taxes, unlike publicly owned resources, which require taxes. Win-win for everyone.

Water resources could be treated the same way [absent water politics, of course]. Rather than demanding government subsidized cheap water in Arizona or Nevada, private companies could certainly provide as much water as anyone wanted -- at a price reflecting the difficulty of providing it. And the end user would pay, instead of all taxpayers in the country.

There is not much that the government does that the free market couldn't do better, cheaper and faster.
3.12.2008 4:48pm
Randy R. (mail):
"Has it really been proved to save any species? "

the ESA has in fact been responsible for bringing back several hundred species from the brink of extinction, most notably our nation's mascot, the bald eagle. Although there have been quite a few failures (ie, species that have gone extinct or are effectively extinct in the wild), there would be many more failures if it didn't exist.
3.12.2008 4:56pm
Ad Bellum.:
ruralcounsel wrote, at 3:21 pm:

Why do environmentalists always think they have a lock on how the world works, when so many of them don't even hold a technical degree or ever served in the military overseas?


Depending on how we understand what it means to understand how the world works, whether someone has a technical degree is debatable. But serving in the military overseas? Since when does that give you insight into "how the world works?" I was a military brat and knew and know many people who served in the military overseas, including my own father. I assure you, such service per se gives you no special insight into the world.

Not that that speaks to the larger point, but still. I found the claim odd.
3.12.2008 5:07pm
Ad Bellum Redux:
And, of course, I meant that it's debatable whether having a technical degree entails understanding of the world. I guess it's not debatable whether you have a technical degree. That's just B.S.

Ahem. My apologies.
3.12.2008 5:10pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
private companies could certainly provide as much water as anyone wanted -- at a price reflecting the difficulty of providing it.

And how exactly would this work? Are private companies going to build the Glenn Canyon or Hoover Dam? And by what right does a private company dam a river? Who owns or how does one market the water flowing through our rivers. Does someone in Montana or Alberta have greater claim to water flowing out of a Glacier in Glacier National Park--brought to you by Verizon--than a shipping company bringing coffee into the port of New Orleans who needs that very same water to make it to the dock and unload his holds?
3.12.2008 5:12pm
ruralcounsel (mail) (www):
Ad Bellum Redux wrote

Depending on how we understand what it means to understand how the world works, whether someone has a technical degree is debatable. But serving in the military overseas?

1) Since the reference was to technical knowledge ... "You people really have no clue how the real world works, where the water comes from when you turn on the faucet or where it goes when you flush the toilet. It's all magic, isn't it?" I think most engineers and scientists have a hell of a lot better idea of the answer to those questions than your typical environmentalist.
2) the overseas military service ... yes it does seem a bit like a non sequiter, but I think a coherent relationship could be made to having seen how a lot of the grittier parts of the world function (or rather, disfunction) under various forms of government is a rather valuable lesson in politics. Most tourists don't see much of that side, but soldiers and marines often get to see the "nasty, brutish &short" part of the world. I ddn't think it would be that hard to follow. Sorry.
3.12.2008 5:30pm
AnonLawStudent:

Are private companies going to build the Glenn Canyon or Hoover Dam? And by what right does a private company dam a river?


For someone who castigates others for "hav[ing] no clue how the real world works" this poster sure doesn't. Private companies certainly would "build the Glenn Canyon or Hoover Dam." The land purchases necessary for the pool would be lower and the resulting energy output higher than the privately financed dams in the very flat southeast. Moreover, for power generation, all the water that goes in eventually comes out.
3.12.2008 5:37pm
ruralcounsel (mail) (www):
Randy R:

the ESA has in fact been responsible for bringing back several hundred species from the brink of extinction, most notably our nation's mascot, the bald eagle. Although there have been quite a few failures (ie, species that have gone extinct or are effectively extinct in the wild), there would be many more failures if it didn't exist


And the factual basis for this claim is? I thought the tree huggers all thought the bald eagle recovered because of the DDT ban, not the ESA.

Several hundred species ... are we talking real species here, or just local variants and sub-sub-species ... you get my drift, I'm sure. Remember the endangered snail darter ... that turned out to be all over the place? Or at least, that's how I recollect it.
3.12.2008 5:39pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'The market isn't perfect. But it is light years ahead of the government in allocating resources.'

Not true for helium, Smokey.
3.12.2008 5:43pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
The land purchases necessary for the pool would be lower and the resulting energy output higher than the privately financed dams in the very flat southeast. Moreover, for power generation, all the water that goes in eventually comes out.

Do you really think Alabama Power built that dam without using eminent domain power?

Moreover, for power generation, all the water that goes in eventually comes out.

This is completely untrue, especially in the southwest, and especially in the sandstone canyons behind the Glenn Canyon Dam.
3.12.2008 5:48pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Oh yeah, and not all of the southeast is flat.
3.12.2008 5:49pm
Smokey:
Um-m-m... helium?

I thought helium is extracted primarily from natural gas in Texas, which is mainly owned by public corporations. Please correct me if I'm wrong, or if I misunderstood.
3.12.2008 5:50pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I thought helium is extracted primarily from natural gas in Texas, which is mainly owned by public corporations. Please correct me if I'm wrong, or if I misunderstood.

He was being facetious. The military has had a strategic Helium reserve since WWI. It's one of those legacy programs the government just can't shed.
3.12.2008 6:00pm
ruralcounsel (mail) (www):
JFT:

Septic systems are impractical in non-rural areas, and don't even work properly in many soil conditions. I wouldn't eat your eggs. Your electricity and telephone are most likely only available because of government subsidies, both current and in the past. I don't know where your water comes from, but you can thank the government for it being clean and available, especially if it comes from a surface source. And the government does build most of our roads, our public universities are the envy of the world and even our private ones are heavily subsidized by the government. As for collectivist food production--come on now.


Government subsidized things like rural power because it wanted and got something in return for it, not out of the goodness of their hearts. Same for almost anything the government subsidizes ... it's either to get a benefit, claim control, or favoritism/pork.

Government doesn't build roads around here. They may throw some tax dollars at them (reluctantly), for repair and upkeep once they assumed control of them, but I doubt that any new public roads have been built in Vermont since the Interstate system went in ... and you'll recall that was for military reasons. Eisenhower was impressed with the Autobahn.

Seems to me the lake my water comes out of was pretty clean before the government showed up. Course, most folks water came from rain water/cisterns (well water is a bit too brackish here) up until 30 years ago or so. I'm sure gov't regulations have a lot to do with the lake's cleanliness, but that hardly addresses the question of what approach would have worked better.

As regards education, think you're barking up the wrong tree. Most of the original colleges in the colonies were private. Most of them have endowments now that mean they could do what they want. That the federal government, through student loan programs, and state governments, through land grant universities, have chosen to also enter and compete in the whole process doesn't argue for their necessity. Or efficiency. The argument that "this is the way it is, and it couldn't have worked out any other way" just doesn't hunt.

Sure, collectivist food production. What, running out of arguments? Let me help you ... without gov't subsidies of agricultural research, we wouldn't have GMO crops, high productivity and efficiency, better agricultural practices, and large fractions of the world would be starving to death.

Of course, the interference of the Dept of Ag has done more to industrialize and corrupt American agriculture, create unsustainable economic practices, and bankrupt family farmers, than if they'd just stayed out of it. The price of cheaper food.

BTW I wouldn't let you eat my eggs either. They're way better than anything you can buy in a store!
3.12.2008 6:09pm
ruralcounsel (mail) (www):
I was going back and looking at earlier posts, and came across this ...

JFT's

Of course Jonathon neglects to mention that if the market controlled water resources very few people would live west of Missouri, and certainly the mountain west would be completely empty, except for a few pockets where fresh water is plentiful. It is not "the market" that built the dams in most of the country.


Seems to me that JFT is arguing that with market forces in charge, the west would be a lot like ... like the way he seems to want it, which is empty of people! That all these wasteful water projects were all government created/subsidized.

So I'm confused ... does he want the government to create all these water resources to attract populations into areas where they impact the "commons" in bad ways, or doesn't he?

Aside: As to the claim that the market didn't build most of the dams in the US, I suspect if one is selective enough in only looking at really big dams, that may be true. But you'd have to be really careful where you make the cutoff. There are so many small privately owned dams in this country, particularly in the eastern half....
3.12.2008 6:26pm
ruralcounsel (mail) (www):
I had these two P.J.O'Rourke quotes that seemed pertinent to the discussion, so I figured I'd share ...

Government subsidies can be critically analyzed according to a simple principle: You are smarter than the government, so when the government pays you to do something you wouldn't do on your own, it is almost always paying you to do something stupid.
O'Rourke, P.J. (1994), All the trouble in the world. The lighter side of famine, pestilence, destruction and death. Sydney (Picador), 198


When government does, occasionally, work, it works in an elitist fashion. That is, government is most easily manipulated by people who have money and power already. This is why government benefits usually go to people who don't need benefits from government. Government may make some environmental improvements, but these will be improvements for rich bird-watchers. And no one in government will remember that when poor people go bird-watching they do it at Kentucky Fried Chicken.
O'Rourke, P.J. (1994), All the trouble in the world. The lighter side of famine, pestilence, destruction and death. Sydney (Picador), 199
3.12.2008 6:43pm
SenatorX (mail):
Well I just watched Waterworld and as horrible as the future is, clearly market forces had the answer : GILLS!
3.12.2008 6:55pm
AnonLawStudent:
I'm glad to see other posters have started the usual process of correcting JFT's "facts." Point-by-point:

Do you really think Alabama Power built that dam without using eminent domain power?

I never claimed that it didn't. With the exception of doctrinaire libertarians, utilities intended for public consumption are generally considered a legitimate use of eminent domain. Moreover, the Supreme Court specifically held as much in a case generated by the project which would ultimately result in Lake Martin.

Moreover, for power generation, all the water that goes in eventually comes out.
This is completely untrue, especially in the southwest, and especially in the sandstone canyons behind the Glenn Canyon Dam.

According to wikipedia, Lake Powell stores 24,322,000 acre-feet when full. Even the Glenn Canyon Institute, which advocates removal of the Glenn Canyon Dam, acknowledges that loss due to seepage is only about 200,000 acre-feet per year. This amounts to 0.82% of storage; I would argue that 0.82% constitutes rounding error. Moreover, it isn't "lost" in the sense that seepage "losses" are gains to natural subsurface storage. Nor, I might add, is a baseline reference loss provided, i.e., seepage loss in the unimpounded river.

Oh yeah, and not all of the southeast is flat.

For purposes of hydroelectric generation, it certainly is flat. Logan Martin is only 465 feet above MSL at normal maximum pool. This provides the turbines with only 69 feet of head. Source: Alabama Power Co. For comparison, Lake Powell is 3,700 feet above MSL at full pool, and has a rated head of 510 feet. Source: Wikipedia; Bureau of Reclamation. In contrast, Norris Dam - one of the largest in the TVA system - is only 265 feet high. Source: TVA. (I couldn't find the rated head of Norris, but we can safely assume that it is significantly less than 265 feet.)

For the engineer that you claim to be - when you aren't claiming to have a law degree or pontificating about the way the military works - you certainly play fast and loose with "facts." I certainly wouldn't want to be around a project that you engineered. Or does "engineer" mean something besides an ABET accredited degree + PE or EIT?
3.12.2008 7:13pm
Francis (mail):
AnonLS: for dams in the West and Southwest, add evaporation losses.
3.12.2008 7:34pm
AnonLawStudent:
Francis,

Again, from the Glenn Canyon Institute, evaporation losses from Lake Powell are about 670,000 acre-feet per year - about 2.5% of storage. Again, no baseline reference is provided, but I will admit that total losses in serial-impoundment projects could be significant. I'm not sure how evaporation losses in the West compare with other parts of the country because of the differences in topography: western lakes tend to be relatively deep compared to their surface area, as distinguished from the shallower reservoirs in the East. / END DAM-FACTS TANGENT. Original point: contrary to JFT, major civil engineering projects, including dams, would be undertaken even without government subsidies.
3.12.2008 7:59pm
Steve2:

In order for me to take a shower, the county takes water from the Chattahoochee, pipes it to my house, it drops on my head, then off my body, down the drain, back into a different pipe, treated, then put back in the Chattahoochee. How did I use water????????


Sewage treatment's got limits to both what it can remove from water and how much of that it can take out. Among the things it does a really good job of taking out are large solid objects (if you flush jewelry down the toilet, it'll get filtered out before the water comes out of the sewage plant) and biodegradable organic matter (flush a bottle of honey down the toilet, it'll mostly get converted out before the water comes out of the sewage plant). It does those well because your typical sewage plant consists of two things: filters and sludge. Sludge is made out of microbes that consume the organic matter in what comes into the treatment plant.

On the other hand, it does a pretty poor job of removing some other things: salts and heavy metals primarily (and non-biodegradable organics - if the sludge can't eat it, the sludge won't eat it - that are too small for the screens and filters to take out and that don't get flocculated out). So, the cycle of "take from river, use, treat, put back in river" works for a number of trips, but after enough iterations the water starts becoming unusable for certain purposes. It's more of an issue for some of the longer Western rivers than short Eastern rivers, but it can happen. The most-likely-best known case of that would be when the U.S. built the Yuma desalination plant on the Colorado River - constant use and re-use of the river's water through the U.S. was causing the salinity by the time it reached Mexico to exceed the maximum levels that we were allowed to give them under a treaty we'd both signed, so back in the 70s the U.S. built an (unsuccessful) desalination plant on the lower Colorado to try and get the river's salinity below the treaty-permitted levels.

And, of course, that's assuming your sewers are working ideally: separate storm and sanitary, with enough capacity to handle quantity surges, and a plant where the sludge hasn't died, etc. One of the things that got Atlanta in trouble with its downstream neighbors and the EPA was having combined sanitary/storm sewers. Which meant every time there was a storm, everything that went into the storm sewers mixed with everything that went down the shower drain and the toilets, and since the combination would be more water than the sewage plant could handle a bunch would take the plant-bypass pipes straight into the Chattahoochee untreated. That was a design problem. If your plant gets too much organic matter in all at once, it can exceed the sludge's ability to digest it all, and some comes out the back end even after treatment (granted, well-engineered plants have ways of dealing with that sort of thing). And so on.

That's to say nothing of places which are piping in their water or getting it from aquifers, and more or less have to pour their treated water back into the ground. If anybody else wants to use it, or even for them to re-use it, that water's got to trickle through the ground to some soil it can be taken out of, and that can take awhile. In similar "any given piece of water can only be in one place, used by one entity for one purpose, at any point in time" things, there's the issue of rivers having a finite amount of water in them, and if a certain amount of people are pumping the water out to themselves in North Carolina, there's not water left for everyone in South Carolina, and does the Supreme Court ever actually get any other kind of case for Original Jurisdiction, or is it all inter-state water disputes?

Long post short: water is re-usable, but that re-use is lossy and for limited iterations without intervention via rain.

If the rulers of that region of the world weren't more eager to unify in hatred of and violence towards Israel and the U.S., there wouldn't be any oil coming out of the Middle East since all the oilfields would've been set afire years ago during a war over water.
3.12.2008 8:57pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
CDU.
Ref wet and dry and hot and cold.
IIRC, the Sahara was wet and verdant not quite ten thousand years ago, a period which would have included the Holocene Maximum.
I imagine prevailing winds would change, and there would be more atmospheric water for them to carry. Why wet would go to wet and dry to dry is not clear.
3.12.2008 9:20pm
Randy R. (mail):
Is the ESA a success? Try here esasuccess.org and click reports.
The Naitonal Geographic Society states "The longer an animal or plant species is protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the more likely it is to recover, a new study says. The finding contradicts recent criticism that the act has returned too few species to full health."

sheesh. I found these in about 30 seconds. Why is it that no one else can look this stuff up?
3.12.2008 9:45pm
Jonathan H. Adler (mail) (www):
Randy R. --

The claims of ESA "success" are overstated, if not completely fanciful. In fact, the ESA is an abject failure. I discussed the ESA's record in this op-ed, as well as in this VC post. If you want greter detail, try Part II.E of this paper. The bottom line is that a) more endangered species have gone extinct under the ESA's "protection" than have been recovered; and b) in 35 years there has not a single example of an endangered species that has been recovered due to the enforcement of the ESA's primary regulatory authorities (section 9) on private land.

JHA
3.13.2008 12:58am
Jonathan H. Adler (mail) (www):
Many of the objections raised in the comments are directly addressed in my paper. That said, quite a few commenters have raised issues that are worth further discussion and response. I will address these comments in a follow-up post in the coming days.

JHA
3.13.2008 1:00am
Kazinski:
Global Warming is making my basketball team have the worst season in franchise history. We can't wait any longer before taking action, it is almost baseball season.
3.13.2008 3:23am
ruralcounsel (mail) (www):
JFT says:

Nothing in the CAA limits how much air you can breath. Nothing in the CWA impacts how much water you can drink.

They regulate how much air or water you can pollute.


Actually, they don't often even do that. They typically regulate to what concentration you can pollute them to. Once everyone realized that the "solution to pollution was dilution", the rules were changed to put total emission limits. And if you look at how certain industries are cherry-picked for regulation, you quickly see how political the process has become. A hazardous waste incinerator is highly regulated under CAA, but an industrial boiler has not been. Even when the industrial boiler has been fueled with things like waste (e.g. tire-derived fuels or TDF).
Most CAA and CWA regulation has been handed over to state environmental departments, provided their regs meet the "floor" of federal regulation. Want to guess how well a state regulates their biggest employers?


Everything the environmental acts purport to do, could probably have been done faster, better, cheaper ... by market forces, if the tort system had been able/willing to make the pollutors accept the true costs of their behaviors.

So why didn't it? Why did it take government action to clean up our air, water and soil? How would allowing the tort system to take care of it--which theoretically available in the '50s and '60s when we were destroying our rivers and lakes--now when it demonstrably failed in the past?


There are lots of reasons why they didn't. (1) Many of the environmental issues just were not well known or appreciated, by private or public entities. Most of the worst private pollutors were bankrupt or nonexistant by the time the damage was realized. (2) Legal requirements of proof of causation make it very difficult to assign liability, particularly when there may be a choice from many pollutors. Read the briefs from the toxic torts cases, like the famous one from Woburn MA. (3) the problem of the commons is real, but often exacerbated by government collectivism, not improved. Another post addressed this well already.

And no, I wasn't advocating a privatized legal system (though it is an interesting concept). I was merely pointing out that collectivist/government monopoly approaches have failed more often than markets.

You haven't answered the question ... how would a collectivist government approach done any better, except with 20/20 hindsight? Take a look at the waste disposal practices of the U.S. government during this same period ... every military base, nuclear fuel or weapons making facility ... and you'll see that the same problems exist. The government didn't wake up one day and say "ah, now we know what to make industry do" ... it responded to political pressure from voters ... in essence a type of market force.

Even the EPA accepts the power of market forces in controlling pollution in many cases ... the cap-and-trade programs for SOX, for instance.

Market forces will win out, regardless. The Soviet Union was a prime example. The black market eventually outstripped the legit market. The issue is really whether they will operate in a market undistorted by government stupidity and corruption, or in one without.

I would prefer to live in a free-er society without a Water Bureaucracy, and chose where and how to live limited by my own ability to afford it or not, rather than have someone else try to make those decisions for me.
3.13.2008 9:43am
occidental tourist (mail):
I am impressed with the nerve this post has triggered. I was quite surprised to see 79 comments less than a day after with all the oggling of harvard girls, and spitzer girls and the normal grind of the legal mill.

I don't normally jump out and post a comment without having read every one, but for CaseyL I'm going to make an exception:


The Market is an idiot, becuase it depends on there always being More Where That Came From.


This is the most blockheaded line of thinking relative to markets in natural resources that I can imagine. You are basically harping on the tragedy of the commons in hunter-gatherer economics. In the sense of just acquistion from nature one might argue that this is a market of sorts but it lacks a stable property component that any participant in exploiting the resources has a personal interest in protecting the resource long term.

Forgetting that there is not necessarily anything per se wrong with boom and bust natural resource management, e.g. clearcuts emulate natural fire and wind disturbances, various fisheries have historically displayed wide abundance without regard to fishing pressure, the vaunted buffalo commons was subject to grazing pressure and wetlands incursions that would make anything human management has ever accomplished pale in comparison (remember the white man called these high grazing plains "the badlands" when they got there, not after columbus had screwed them up);
government intervention in these markets has accepted the propertyless or collectivist approach enculturated in our approach to these resources instead of establishing markets on the supply as well as demand side.

Limited use in some fisheries of quotas having the nature of property have proven quite suitable but fisheries managers are largely like the Bureau of Indian Affairs, keep the fishermen in gruesome feudal collectives fighting with each other for the few spoils the government slops over the side.

A significant exception has been fugacious subsurface mineral resources (oil and gas), where the idea that a unit of these had economic value attended the resource exploitation from its very origina. Thus our economic culture recognized the need to create a regime that allocated parts of this value in relation to the surface estate.

Western water law with is napoleanic code underpinnings comes closer to this kind of regime but government interference and environementalist meddlers have made the property in water quite hollow in the west -- not as a consequence of drought or plenty but as a consequence of putting the governments (and the cities) first in line upsetting settled expections.

The east is ripe for water law that recognizes that those running the water collectors (landowners) should own the water they collect. This is an extension of the existing riparian groundwater regime in a relatively logical way.

Instead the reglatory path has been to dispossess owners of any natural resource value that the citizens covet - wetlands, open space, etc.

I am abivalent about Jon's use of the hysteria surrounding effects of climate change, how ever poorly predicted and causally attributed, as a vehicle for advancing the importance of recognizing market instruments that are available for allocation of water.

Of course the remaining problem is government subsidies like those for ethanol that have untold unintended (maybe) consequences on other markets (I also include non-compensated Bureau or reclamation operations and ag subsidies. Conversely, I have less problem than many libertarians with grazing and water permits that are associated with private property and were the basis for its purchase and value not being readily separable from those base estates. If environmentalists want to buy base estates and then not use the associated water and forage, fine, but the treadworn bullshit about how grazing rights are to cheap and that environmentalists should be able to retire them for the same rate doesn't wash - with potable or nonpotable water.

Same applies to the nonsense they spout about mineral policy claiming that land is being sold for 5 bucks an acre to evil mining companies. These are patenting fees that are strictly administrative and probably excessive because the mining company pays in addition for all the exploration and any associated government environmental work, which is legion and driving our mining industry offshore with its retentive anti-exploitative quality. Then they have to exploit the resources under the "we say jump and you say how high"prerogatives of CWA, ESA, CAA etc. as administered by a bunch of green nutcakes who can't even get it right in the theoretically exploitation friendly Bush administration, and then put the whole thing back together again at the pleasure of the same government regulators and give the government the land back. There ain't no free lunch in the mining business.

OF course I would generally agree that the best thing we could do is privatize these lands and get the federal government out of the business of owning most of the land in the intermountain west. In fact I, unlike Randy Barnett who thinks that reparations at this late date would upset settled expectations, think that we ought to give some plurality of the federal estate to the (actual) descendants of slaves who never got their 40 acres.

Brian
3.13.2008 10:01am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Not facetious at all about the helium, J.T.

It used to be managed and managed well by the government, but since it wasn't broke, Reagan fixed it by turning the West Texas resource over to the oil companies.

Since the value of helium is negligible compared to the profits being derived from the oil, the private companies are wasting the helium.

Since helium is a non-renewable resource and will be vital for certain developing technologies, this is a disaster in the making.

Physicists get this. Oil men don't.

Knee-jerk free-marketers can do a lot of damage.
3.13.2008 3:21pm
occidental tourist (mail):
Harry -

if you have any reference to what you mean by 'wasting' helium I'll reserve judgment in this eccentric resource sector until I have further contemplated these sources. Last I looked, the price of helium was going up as commercial used including industrial research were consuming greater quantities.

I'm not inclined to simply take the representation of physicists over oil men, but if there is future value to helium and it is indeed being wasted I think somebody, oil men or not, who understands this would communicate it to capital markets and they would respond. Is the value physicists place on helium too attenuated. Or is the market response slow or guarded in a way that frustrates them?

I trust scientists less and less in these political questions as I have seen endless exaggeration on their part which goes unchallenged. Good example is Ken Miller, an interesting and engaging catholic biology professor at Brown who is the darling of the skeptical community for his testimony opposing the teaching of creation science in the Dover v. Fitzmiller case. I went to a lecture of his at Brown where he was spinning the kneejerk "Bush is anti-science" line. So he puts up a graph of government spending on research which shows it at higher levels under Bush than under Clinton while complaining about Bush underfunding research. So when I asked him about it he said, well my area of science is getting less!

This is supposedly the best that science has to offer discussing policy. I'll take a policy wonk anyday.

Brian
3.14.2008 9:24am
Sagar:
A bit late to the show here, but IF the atmosphere warms up, its capacity to hold water vapor will also increase, thus leading to more evaporation. Whether that extra evaporation will remove the exact same amount of water that supposedly will be added to the oceans from the melting of polar ice, I don't know. But this rush to finding global warming related problems without considering all the implications is something we don't need to alarm the public. Hope Prof. Adler will take this into consideration when he addresses this topic in the future.

The real problem with growing population in the West and the need for more and more potable water ... that definitely needs solutions.
3.14.2008 3:45pm