For every action, there is an equal and opposite government program. —unknown
Olympian springs of fresh water — every day, the sun, the sea and evaporation combine to make 45,000 gallons of rainwater for each man, woman and child on Earth….Even in the United States, where we use water with profligacy, the oceans are making more fresh water for each of us in a month than we’ll use in a decade.
But allocation and pricing of that bounty do matter. On boring days when the swimming pool looks inviting, water’s total utility is high and “marginal utility” low compared to diamonds, as the old lesson in economics illustrates.
Western and California landscapes and waterscapes are natural wonders; but so too is the remarkable manmade infrastructure; western environments are some of the most artificial on earth (sorry, resident greens).
The most recent was the late 2013 reauthorization of the Reclamation States Emergency Drought Relief Act, on which I testified in the House of Representatives.
But they gravely distract from the infrastructure and regulatory liberalization actually needed for adaptable, plentiful water in arid regions.
Politics has trouble with tradeoffs: Why brackish groundwater desalination instead of seawater desalination, or smaller scale solar still-type projects, or why not countless alternative water investments and strategies?
Rather than agendas like the National Research Council’s recommendations and the National Labs “roadmap,” I advocate greater separation of water and state./>/>
California, western and national water resources and environmental amenities should be better integrated into the property-rights, wealth-creating sector, an evolution long-since derailed not just here, but elsewhere like in electromagnetic spectrum, electricity and transportation grids to great national detriment.
First, better pricing of existing supplies can make shortages vanish. You might not want to fill that pool with diamonds.
Second, improving water infrastructure can reduce the waste that now depletes some 17 percent of the annual supply, as noted in a Competitive Enterprise Institute report by Bonner Cohen.
Third, better transport and infrastructure, including pipelines and canals, better reservoir storage, trucking, and crude oil carriers can secure supply and lessen artificial drought more cheaply than expensive politically pushed alternatives like desalination.
Keystone pipelines for water. Plural, not singular.
All these can supplement direct sourcing alternatives including drilling, gray and wastewater treatment and reclamation; stormwater harvesting and surface storage and, OK, you got me: even desalination where it’s economically rational.
Political funding fosters needless conflict over coping with environmental harm associated with the sourcing and externalities of the politicized projects themselves.
When linking infrastructure research and deployment to human needs, private investors can test low-probability projects, letting the rare success offset multiple failures. Markets must be good at killing bad projects.
Politicized infrastructure policies can be highly contradictory: We hear a lot about a federal “infrastructure bank,” and are endlessly regaled about the urgency of bolstering critical infrastructure—but these sentiments are demonstrated to be phony by onerous environmental and permitting regulations that aggravate drought out West.
It’s vital to step back and explore dismantling regulatory silos that artificially separate our great network industries like water, rail, electricity, energy transportation and telecommunications./>/>
Policies that leave antique 19th and 20th century infrastructure regulation intact account for sub-par infrastructure. (Water’s sister industry, telecommunications, suffers from the Federal Communications Commission’s “net neutrality” regulatory conceit.)
As a free society becomes wealthier, cross-industry creation of infrastructure becomes easier, not harder. The vastly poorer America of 100 years ago built overlapping, redundant tangled infrastructure; So if we experience water crisis today, it’s purely because of man-made policies, not genuine drought.
Sweeping regulatory liberalization wouldn’t hurt either, fostering a private sector flush with research and investment cash.
We need competitive markets to discover, not merely the value of relative sourcing alternatives, but to discover the true value of water itself.
They were asking the wrong person. Politicians who believe it and yet preside over pools in the desert must consider the full implications of that question and ask themselves; What makes abundant water — the most critical of critical infrastructures — possible.
More pools in the desert? If the price is right, that makes all the difference.