How Much Water Went Into Growing the Food We Eat?

The rains bypassed sunny California in January and February 2020, encouraging talk of another drought. California’s last drought was only declared over a year ago, after two wet winters in a row filled the states reservoirs. To cope with the last drought, instead of building more reservoirs and taking other measures to increase the supply of water, California’s policymakers imposed permanent rationing.

This predictable response ignores obvious solutions. Millions of acre feet of storm runoff can not only be stored in new reservoirs, but in underground aquifers with massive unused capacity. Additional millions of acre feet can be recovered by treating and reusing wastewater, and by joining the rest of the developed nations living in arid climates who have turned to large scale desalination.

All of this, however, would require a change in philosophy from one of micromanagement of demand to one that emphasizes increasing supply. To understand why a focus on increasing supply is vastly preferable to reducing demand, it helps to know just how much water California’s urban residents consume compared to other users.

As a matter of fact, the average California household purchases a relatively trivial amount of water from their utility, when compared to how much water they purchase in the form of the food they eat. For this reason, reducing residential water consumption will not make much of a difference when it comes to mitigating the effects of a prolonged drought.

To illustrate this point, it is necessary to determine just how much water […] Read More

Resource Development vs. Rationing

California’s decision to “decouple” the amount of revenue their regulated public energy utilities receive from the amount of energy they deliver is hailed by environmentalists as a breakthrough. But the consequences of this decision to enforce artificial scarcity are not fully appreciated. It might be argued that this policy of “decoupling” the amount of money you collect from the amount of value you produce is a dangerous tampering with the natural laws of supply and demand, and is orchestrated by special interests who benefit while the consumer is victimized. Now the NRDC, in a report released last month entitled “Making Every Drop Work: Increasing Water Efficiency in California’s Commercial, Industrial, and Institutional (CII) Sector,” wants to do the same thing to California’s water supply.

Here are two of the recommendations the NRDC makes that make chills run down my spine:

(1) Prioritize water conservation above increasing supply. The State of California should codify the requirement that efficiency improvements precede supply side resources—as it did in the energy sector—to motivate investment in water efficiency and recycling by agencies who might otherwise be awaiting development of traditional water supplies.

(2) Decouple water agencies’ sales from revenue. Water agencies should not need to rely on water sales to assure their fiscal stability. Water agencies should instead adopt a structure that allows them to recover additional money from customers if sales are significantly below projections. This revenue adjustment […] Read More