Dealing with drought — three ways to fail

David Zetland at Aguanomics writes a note on California’s drought and policies on water use and distribution…price is key.

Dealing with drought — three ways to fail
BB sent this summary of UC Davis’s “Living with Drought” conference (I got my PhD there), and this bit got my attention:

Everyone seemed to agree that solutions to living with drought are best found together, across disciplines.
“We’re not going to get anywhere if we don’t tackle this in an interdisciplinarymanner,” said panelist Glen MacDonald of UCLA. “It’s going to have to be all of us working together and talking together.”
An audience member praised the speakers for their ideas on reaching across disciplines and planning wisely. “But how can I communicate this to my neighbor who keeps their sprinkler on when it’s raining?” she asked.
Better education” was the panelists’ response: “All of the devices in the world won’t matter if we can’t keep out neighbors informed of the right thing to do,” said Steve Macaulay, former chief deputy director of the state Department of Water Resources.
In another panel, Frank Loge, director of the UC Davis Center for Water-Energy Efficiency, noted that effective messaging to consumers about the amount of water they are using results in an immediate 5 percent reduction in water use, and can be as much as 20 percent.

OMG, this is so FAIL, but typical of academics.
Their “solutions” are:

  1. More interdisciplinary work
  2. Better education (“keeping neighbors informed of the right thing”)
  3. Effective messaging of how much water is used

Let’s deconstruct destruct those ideas:

  1. Give us more funding
  2. Teach people to think like you, because you know the real value of water
  3. Send love letters that tell people how much they care

I’m amazed that nobody sees that water, as a commodity, is nothing special.

  1. We don’t have interdisciplinary work on managing a “drought” of beer.
  2. We don’t “educate” people to drive less or more
  3. We don’t send love letters to people, telling them how many minutes they watch TV

Why is that? Because we allow prices to balance supply and demand of beer, we acknowledge that people will drive at their convenience (and cost in time and money), and we don’t need to inform people if they are watching too little or too much TV.
Adults (and kids!) are perfectly capable of finding the right balance among their time, money and other choices. That balance will ALSO be right for society if the prices consumers see reflect the costs of their activities (i.e., pollution, scarcity, congestion, etc.)
We can use this same metric and method when it comes to managing scarce water… by raising prices in drought to reflect scarcity. That’s what this article says:

California water rates are set to reflect the price of delivering the water, not the water itself. This fails to give consumers any impression of how scarce the stuff is… “If you go down to a bar and Corona costs 12 cents a bottle, you’re gonna run out of Corona. And that’s the problem with water: It’s just too damn cheap to care about.”

Oh, wait. That’s me being quoted 😉
Bottom Line: People will use less water if it’s expensive. Is that a violation of human rights in California? No, it’s a violation of lawn rights. Homeowners dump half their drinking water on lawns because it’s cheap.