Reader Dan – On Water

Reader Dan adds to the water war posts.


According to a University of Arizona researcher, ”society is losing $2.4 billion per year because the Colorado River’s water” no longer flows all the way to the Gulf of California.

It’s the first dollar estimate of the benefits society would get from the natural functioning of a healthy Colorado River delta.

Functioning ecosystems provide benefits, known as ecosystem services, to humans. However, so much Colorado River water has been dammed or diverted for human uses that the river’s delta no longer works the way it used to.

“The day-to-day functioning of ecosystems provides benefits,” said Karl W. Flessa, a professor in UA’s department of geosciences. “What I’ve done is estimate what’s the value to society if you just leave the water in the river. Human populations are losing that value when the water is diverted for other purposes.”

Flessa argues that the price water users pay should reflect the cost to society.

“The price we pay for Colorado River water should include the cost of lost ecosystem services,” Flessa said. “Included in the price of water should be mitigation costs for the environmental consequences of diverting water.”

The additional amount users should pay for the water could be used for ecosystem restoration in the delta, he said.

Other researchers have calculated the monetary value of services provided to society by various ecosystems, including natural floodplains, natural estuaries, deserts, ocean shelf and croplands.
Flessa applied those figures to the land area of the Colorado River delta to get the dollar value of ecosystem services provided by the region before all the dams and water diversions. He then figured out what ecosystem services are provided by the current land use types in the delta region. The difference between the two figures is the benefit lost to society: 6 cents per 100 gallons of water diverted, or $2.4 billion annually.

He cautions that his analysis is limited to the environmental impacts of the changes. “I don’t want to say this is a net loss. We have the cities like Phoenix and Tucson. We also have the market value of the crops raised.”

The author does not advocate methods of including costs in prices, but it does bring up the notion of how economics and markets might include costs in the new world of water in the southwest and west coast that are not the usual thoughts. Can neo-classical economics help in this matter other than saying private markets only, which will not happen. This math is beyond my level of understanding.
Also he does not mention that the delta is in Mexican territory, so the loss of the delta resources is theirs as well. My guess is the price of water using transportation like oil would become more than high enough to begin serious desalination, and thus encourage the Great Lakes area and Canada from forming their own union around water wars with the rest of the country. The costs to trade on the lakes would be enormous as well if the lakes drop much further from (minus the 12 inch to 18 inch) levels of other years. They may look like they live next to a big swimming pool, but be very careful about answers. They are as tough as Texans!