Free Markets

In a Land of Scarce Water, Prices Should Be the Guide

The West needs markets in water, not allocations based on political considerations.

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This week, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages federal water resources throughout the West, announced a water shortage at Lake Mead, the country's largest reservoir, and resulting cuts in allocations to Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico. The announcement came even as parts of the West see massive monsoon rainfall resulting in washed-out roads and loss of life. It's a testament to the extremes of life in the region, where water can be both a scarce resource and sometimes available in dangerous excess. That unpredictability makes a mockery of centralized management schemes for the wet stuff—but flexible rules and water markets offer a way to reduce both risk and waste of the valuable resource.

"Monsoon 2021 rainfall measured at Tucson International Airport set one of several records set this season with 5.88 inches of rain through July 25," the Arizona Department of Water Resources announced at the end of July. "At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, meanwhile, National Weather Service officials reported 1.67 inches for the month as of July 25, making 2021 the wettest July since 2013 and the 17th wettest on record."

Unfortunately, that's not enough all by itself.

"Fending off drought – especially the kind of long-running drought the Southwest has experienced – takes deep winter snowpack in the region's mountainous watersheds. After more than two decades of dry conditions, it would take several consecutive years of deep snowpack to release from drought's grip," the department added.

The extremes of life in the West were apparent near my home in Arizona's Verde Valley, which early in the summer was hemmed by wildfires that choked the air with smoke during the day and lit the sky with flame at night. The bone-dry conditions of 2020 turned brush into tinder for lightning strikes and stray sparks. But within weeks, torrential rains flooded roads and swept away a local teenager.

As the Arizona Department of Water Resources noted, these conditions have persisted for decades. There comes a time when you have to accept alternating dust and flood as normal and treat old assumptions about water abundance as out of step.

Fortunately, there are established practices for allocating scarce resources in a decentralized way. 

"What we have advocated for at PERC is the expanded use of water markets," Reed Watson, then-executive director of the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) told Reason in 2016. "Can we define water rights in the state, just define them in such a way that they're tradeable so that people can buy and sell water freely?" 

Watson spoke specifically about California because, well, it's California and the state draws lots of attention. Not all western states treat water the same way, but most recognize "appropriative rights" to water based on historical usage. That's helpful, since those rights can often be transferred independent of the land on which the water is located. So, water markets are developing, but they're compromised by political decision-making and regulatory barriers.

"You have to have markets that actually work, that allow competing users to resolve their competition amicably and efficiently rather than through political allocation of water," PERC's Watson added.

Case in point is the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announcement of an unprecedented "Tier 1" 18 percent reduction in water allocation to Arizona, 7 percent reduction to Nevada, and 5 percent reduction to Mexico based on "the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead, 2019 Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan and Minute 323 to the 1944 Water Treaty with Mexico." That's political allocation in a nutshell. On the bright side, it incentivizes creative solutions where options still exist.

"The Tier 1 declaration gives states and local communities reason to remove barriers to transferring water," observes Robert Glennon, law professor and water rights expert at the University of Arizona. "Market forces are playing an increasingly critical role in water management in the West. Many new demands for water are coming from voluntary transfers between willing sellers and desperate buyers."

That said, Glennon doesn't advocate a completely free market for water, since he fears that farmers, who consume the lion's share of the region's water, wouldn't be able to compete with urban users. He supports "a process to ensure that transfers are consistent with the public interest," though it's unclear how to keep that from degenerating into the political allocation of water against which Watson warned. He also may confuse "public interest" with sentimentality over inefficient use of a scarce resource.

Still, Glennon co-authored a piece for the Brookings Institution in 2014 advocating that "sensible water policy should allow someone who needs water to pay someone else to forgo her use of water or to invest in water conservation and, in return, to obtain access to the saved water." To that end, "state and local governments should facilitate these transactions by establishing essential market institutions, such as water banks, that can serve as brokers, clearinghouses, and facilitators of trade."

Clearing away red tape that prevents efficient use of water is also important in a region where the stuff is scarce. Greywater Action, an organization that advocates for allowing the reuse of water from sinks, showers, washing, and the like for irrigation and toilets notes that western states have taken the lead in easing regulatory barriers over the past two decades. "Many barriers still exist for legal greywater systems around the country, but the tendency is toward better, friendlier codes," the organization adds.

Harvesting rainwater is also becoming more common as people embrace the practice—and as the law gets out of the way.

"Colorado's longtime ban on residential rain barrels has come to an end," Colorado State University celebrated in 2016. "Now most homeowners in the state are allowed to collect precipitation for later outdoor use."

Colorado still strictly limits households to two rain barrels, but other states are more relaxed.

"In the state of Arizona, it is legal to collect any rainwater that falls on your property for future use," the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center notes. The center offers a guide advising on how to do just that.

Still, graywater and rain barrels are only going to chip away at the problem so long as federal agencies allocate massive amounts of water based on political considerations. In a land where water is scarce, its use will be most efficiently determined by the prices that users are willing to pay in an open market.

NEXT: Brickbat: School Daze

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  2. Desired demand exceeds reliable supply. So yes, create a market. Not sure folks can make a big enough wave for this to happen; maybe the idea of a western water market will eventually evaporate.

    1. You’re all wet if you think anything can stem the tide of regulations. This drought is more likely to cause a flood of new restrictions and rules.

      1. Maybe folks could brainstorm leading to a flood of ideas that the affected could soak up. And not just a trickle of watered down notions that could barely wet their palate but something worthy of being considered a watershed moment.

        1. You know, according to noted celebrity expert David Byrne, there is water at the bottom of the ocean…

          1. Under the rocks and stones….

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    3. The demand has exceeded the supply for a while. The article doesn’t get in to it, but the Colorado River Compact overallocated the river from the beginning. The 16M acre foot/yr allocations were set up based on an limited time span of water measurements during an rare wet period in its history. That’s a big reason there’s so many freaking dams on the river, they need that many just to cover the annual demand. On top of that, California is required to get 4.5 million acre feet a year from the river, regardless of the annual streamflow; Mexico is supposed to get 1.5 million, and the remainder split amongst the upper and lower basin states. The problem is that the annual streamflow averages about 12-14M acre feet/yr, not 16M.

      It’s too late to reset everything now, but ideally, for environmental and legal reasons the western states should be formed based on their watersheds, not cardinal point surveys, which is what John Wesley Powell proposed after his explorations. Water law also needs to be changed from prior appropriation to riparian rights. That’s what’s caused most of the water conflict headaches out here the last 140 years or so; prior appropriation is a relic of the placer mining days in California and should be wholly discarded. It would be a lot easier to manage water allocations in droughts if this took place.

      1. It’s too late to reset everything now, but ideally, for environmental and legal reasons the western states should be formed based on their watersheds, not cardinal point surveys

        ^

    4. So…… like a “wet market”, then?

      Ewwwwww….

  3. California, Oregon and Washington have a coastline. There should be desalinization plants along the coast to relieve pressure on the water reserves.

    Not huge facilities, but smaller facilities that are less expensive to build and have a smaller footprint. Same with nuclear power plants. Instead of a few huge facilities, but rather numerous smaller facilities.

    1. There is a limit to how small you want to go. One for the sake of efficiency and continuity of operation but also to minimize ecologic impact from the saline discharge – which really needs to be quite deep/far from shore.

    2. There should be desalinization plants along the coast to relieve pressure on the water reserves.

      WHAT?! And cause sea levels to drop MORE?!

    3. There should be desalinization plants along the coast to relieve pressure on the water reserves.

      Tell that to the Sierra Club Democrats.

      In all seriousness, water issues in the West are horribly complex, and there are definitely a myriad of entities that deserve blame for the periods of scarcity. Very similar to the perpetual electricity shortages with no plans to build any new power plants, there aren’t any serious plans to expand the amount of reservoirs that we have either.

      Which suggests that our state leaders are delighted to talk about solutions, but are really just fine with how things are.

      1. a myriad of entities that deserve blame

        Individuals who move to a desert because the land prices are so low then demand subsidies from all for their ‘right’ to water.

        It is a desert and they should move to where the water is. Preferably above 200ft MSL if you choose to believe the consensus.

        1. That was similar to Sam Kinison’s food solution for the Ethiopians.

          “AH!-AAAAAHHH!”

    4. We built one here. The lawsuits from the environmentalists drive the price way up, but it is a reliable backup for urban water supplies on drought years.

      Two things to remember, though. First, most of the water in California (I don’t know about Az) is used by agriculture. Urban reductions and supply hardly affect it at all. In no small part because Desal is not inexpensive, and coastal farming is not a thing like it was 50 years ago, so desal isn’t as good a solution for farmers.

      Second, the lawsuits will get even worse since Sacramento put in new laws. Coastal power plants that used seawater cooling all have to close or change because they are afraid the intake will suck up fish. Desalination plants, by design, have to intake se water.

      It’s funny to hear the propaganda about it though. “Millions and millions of baby fish” getting killed, technically true, but the same thing happens every time a whale takes mouthful of krill. “Ten thousand baby shrimp slaughtered in an instant” by that behemoth leviathon.

      1. First, most of the water in California (I don’t know about Az) is used by agriculture. Urban reductions and supply hardly affect it at all.

        Which made it extra silly a few years back when we were told we needed to reduce total water consumption by 25% by asking people to reduce their residential use. When in fact, if all residential use ceased altogether – i.e., we all stop drinking, flushing toilets, bathing, etc. – we couldn’t save more than 20%, because that’s all we use. The rest goes to farms.

        And to head off any sentimentalism about farmers, when you’re talking about farms in CA, you’re talking about Del Monte and S&W, not Aunty Em and Uncle Henry.

        1. Exactly. It’s this way in all the western states, too–roughly 70% or more is used for agricultural purposes. Most of this is driven by the Reclamation Act, which isn’t even functioning for its original purpose anymore, which was to provide subsistence living for small farmers who were overloading the cities. After World War II in particular, that law’s been abused by Big Ag to take advantage of subsidized water from the USBR projects.

        2. My favorite bit of the performative restriction was always when they’d declare an “emergency” they would tell us we had to reduce by 10%.

          Now, I lived alone. Had low usage and very little lawn or plants that needed water (I’d water my one avocado tree, by hand, in dry winters, and had drip on my rose bushes, otherwise it was a 2′ x 6′ swath of grass next to my walkway on sprinklers) and generally am not wasteful, so I was always in the lowest “sewer” tier because it’s measured by total water use.

          So, someone like me gets to reduce 10% from genuinely well managed water use. WHenever they’d start beating the “restrictions are coming” drum, me and my neighbors pretty much always started watering the lawn daily and keeping the drip on our backyard fruit trees. We had to increase our usage 10% for a few months so we didn’t get penalized.

          And 70% of the state’s water is growing almonds and lettuce in the central valley so we don’t make a dent. Government making things worse by the “we have to do something” even when they don’t have a real solution.

          1. I guess you’d remember the old California conservation slogan:
            ” If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” 🙂

            1. I remember that from fourth grade (1976-77). Those aren’t very pretty—or fragrant—memories.

            2. I’d heard that came from NY. Mayor Koch, maybe?

      2. “Baby Fish! Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo…”

    5. Desalination is unnecessary in our region, stupidly expensive, and consume huge quantities of energy. Much simpler is wastewater reuse. Sewage plants release tens of millions of gallons of water daily into our rivers. To meet the emission requirements, that water is significantly cleaner that the river its going into. Just send the wastewater system outfall into the potable water inlet, and we set up a recycle system that not only uses less water, but also reduces water treatment requirements.

  4. Wastewater can be recycled for agriculture. Farmers can use water saving irrigation methods such as micro drip technology. They can plant more resistant strains of crops.

    There is no water infrastructure plan because it is not a priority here.

    1. It is amazing how much flood irrigation is still used in Arizona.

    2. Maybe all the ranching and farming of water intensive crops in places like Arizona is a bad idea.

      Fuck the farmers, let them compete for resources in the open market rather than being babied by governments and maybe we can have actual environmentalism based on producers instead of the performative kind politicians and celebrities seem to love so much.

      1. If that would kill the corporate ag oligarchies in the West, I’d be all for it. But the only ones something like that would actually hurt are the few remaining small farmers and ranchers, while the ag corps would get exceptions carved out for themselves.

        There’s no such thing as an open market in water allocation in the West and there never will be. 7 decades of exponential population growth combined with a drought period that’s going on 20 years now, plus existing water laws in conjunction with state lines that don’t fit within the existing watersheds, are all going to prevent that from ever happening.

        1. If that would kill the corporate ag oligarchies in the West, I’d be all for it.

          + + +

          There’s no such thing as an open market in water allocation in the West and there never will be.

          This. State governments in the west arose around controlling water and land acquisition.

          1. Yep. Glad to see someone else is familiar with that history as well.

  5. Colorado still strictly limits households to two rain barrels, but [in] “Arizona, it is legal to collect any rainwater that falls on your property”

    “Colorado still strictly limits households to two solar panels, but [in] Arizona, it is legal to collect any sunlight that falls on your property”

    “Colorado still strictly limits households to two bird feeders, but [in] Arizona, it is legal to collect any bird droppings that fall on your property”

    1. Those resources belong to the state and it is only due to the magnanimity of the Illustrious Leaders of the Great State of Colorado that you are allowed to use any of them.

      1. Colorado banned high capacity rain barrels?

    2. This is one of the dumber rules I’ve heard of. If you’re using water for gardening or growing your own food, this takes pressure off of the water system.

      With a rain barrel hooked into a gutter, 1 inch of rainfall on a 1000 sqft roof provides over 600 gallons.

      1. That law was specifically because of the legal doctrine applicable to the Colorado River and property owners there – called prior appropriations doctrine. The rain that fell on land upstream was deemed to already be owned by land owners downstream until they received all the water they were entitled to by that appropriation.

      2. This is one of the dumber rules I’ve heard of. If you’re using water for gardening or growing your own food, this takes pressure off of the water system.

        Again, this has to do with existing prior appropriation laws. That’s the reason rain barrels were forbidden for so long in the first place, because it took water out of the watershed that might have been reserved for senior water rights holders. The state determined that the two-barrel number was sufficient to limit degradation to the rest of the allocation delivery requirements, although I’m not sure how they figured that.

  6. “In a land where water is scarce, its use will be most efficiently determined by the prices that users are willing to pay in an open market.”

    An open market isn’t going to make water any less scarce. For that we need either more water or fewer people. An open market will simply ensure that the wealthy will be first in line for what water there is.

    1. Never-mind 71% of the surface of the earth is water covered. I’m sure with enough Gov-Gun-Forces we can *pretend* it’s a scarcity.

      1. But only a small fraction of that 71% is drinkable.

        1. And your pretend global warming will make MORE of it drinkable via evaporation.. No matter what B.S. you want to peddle; It’s just endless excuses to stuff Gov-Gun-Forces in places they don’t belong because that’s what Power-Mad Nazi mentality people do.

      2. Water water everywhere and all the boards did shrink
        Water water everywhere nor any drop to drink

        1. It’s Alfred Lord Tennis-Ball’s Son!

    2. The farmers have four choices then:
      1. Raise prices
      2. Change production methods to use less water
      3. Change products to things it makes sense to grow in that climate
      4. Mad Max apocalypse where we all rove the desert fighting for water and guzzoline

      1. Raising prices isn’t going to increase the amount of water. Changing production methods may be an answer if the cost is not prohibitive. Growing nopal cactus may also be a realistic answer but my impression is the demand for it is fairly low.

        1. Yeah, farmers have been implementing water-saving measures for several decades, such as drip irrigation. Very few actually do the “open the sluicegate and flood the field” method anymore for the precise reason that it’s so wasteful. Doesn’t mean much when the Colorado River ends up delivering just 9-10M acre feet for the year, and the reservoir system on the river is already drawn down as it is.

    3. A market may lead to demands (people and businesses) leaving the area for greener and wetter pastures if they are priced out of said market.

      1. ^ Indeed, government intervention has distorted the market.

        1. Isn’t an undistorted market something of a fantasy? Perhaps the government could help by consolidating these mostly empty water starved desert states into one entity. You only need a glance at a map to show they are entirely artificial government creations with their square shapes and straight edge borders. Letting mother nature and the region’s physical geography determine the borders would make it easier to work with what nature has provided rather than against it.

          1. Isn’t an undistorted market something of a fantasy?

            Yes. Just like a life free of suffering and violence. Nevertheless, that does not mean that you should therefore advocate for suffering and violence everywhere you go, in the name of keeping it real.

    4. An open market isn’t going to make water any less scarce.

      Actually it exactly would.

      The way things work in CA, water rights are distributed by seniority, based on prior appropriations. Agricultural users are notorious for using more water than they need precisely in order to maintain their seniority over a certain volume of water to ensure that they have it year over year.

      What this means in practice is that at the height of the recent 4-year drought Delta farmers were pumping millions of acre-feet of water straight into the Bay rather than leave it for others to use because they needed to maintain their seniority rights to the water.

      So, in fact, an open market in water would, most assuredly, lead water to be less scarce.

      1. “So, in fact, an open market in water would, most assuredly, lead water to be less scarce.”

        It might lead to less wastage. It won’t make it rain more.

        1. It might lead to less wastage.

          Which would make more water available for people.

          1. Doesn’t that depend on the intentions of the owner? Imagine, if you will, a callous New York sophisticate who buys enormous amounts of water only to turn it into a piece of conceptual art. Not the most likely scenario but stranger things have happened.

            1. Doesn’t that depend on the intentions of the owner?

              No. If they’re not wasting it for the sake of wasting it, then more of it is available for people and their purposes.

              By the same token, there is a difference between spending money and setting money on fire, even though both result in you having less money at the moment.

              To reiterate: not wasting a resource for the sake of wasting it makes that resource less scarce; wasting a resource for the sake of wasting it makes that resource more scarce.

              Shouldn’t be that hard of a concept to wrap your mind around.

              1. “If they’re not wasting it for the sake of wasting it”

                That is a tricky concept to wrap one’s mind around. An owner may feel that turning his water into a work of conceptual art is the best use for it. Another may feel that adding chemicals to turn it into a sweet fizzy concoction is the best use. We will all have different ideas on what constitutes waste and what doesn’t. There’s no reason to believe that the wealthiest among us are best suited to make that determination.

                1. An owner may feel that turning his water into a work of conceptual art is the best use for it. Another may feel that adding chemicals to turn it into a sweet fizzy concoction is the best use.

                  What does the guy who’s pumping it into the ocean to preserve his seniority rights feel?

                  1. He feels entitled. The property owner feels entitled to dispose of his property the way he chooses. No different from our callous New York sophisticate, or his slick coke sniffing fellow New Yorker over on Wall Street using vast amounts of desert water as a pawn in one of his byzantine investment schemes.

                  2. He is doing what is in his best interests, as we all do.

                2. Trueman, unless you have an art installation the size of Six Flags, you aren’t going to be going into the megagallon per day level, which is what we are talking about here. Even if you are, pricing will encourage you to put in a recycle system so you only have to pay for evaporation instead of the whole capacity.

                  1. It’s what they call a thought experiment,

                    1. No, it’s not.

  7. Only Gov-Gun-Forces can turn a flood into a drought and a cold-spell into a global warming crisis and a flu into a conquering of the USA.

    There is no limit of intentional ignorance in the Greedy and Power-Mad.

    1. This a stupid comment. Everyone knows that floods are a poor way to get and replenish water supplies. Far to much is lost to runoff. Slow steady rain is the best. By the way part of the problem is the loss of snowpack and that is from global warming.

      1. That was exacerbated by the reallocating of water resources in that region. The mountains no longer get the moisture from lake evaporation to help generate snowfall.

        During the time of the Siberian traps eruptions there was no snowpack anywhere.

      2. By the way part of the problem is the loss of snowpack and that is from global warming.

        And part of the problem is leaky pipes, but the main problem is the near-total lack of rainfall, which isn’t going to change in our lifetimes.

        1. Eh, the lack of rainfall doesn’t help, but that’s not where most of the streamflow comes from. The vast majority is provided by the annual snowpack.

          1. The vast majority is provided by the annual snowpack.

            Sure, but that’s more of a natural storage system. If it continues to rain, but the climate warms enough that we don’t get any snow pack, we can still build more reservoirs. If it continues to not rain, warming or no we will run out of water eventually.

            1. Global warming will actually help the situation. One inescapable part of climate is that warmer temperatures increase evaporation (in fact, water vapor increase is a substantial part of all climate models, with the increased vapor providing more radiation absorption than the greenhouse gases themselves). To make it simple, what goes up must come down. As global temperatures increase, we should see a substantial increase in rainfall.

      3. In 2021. [WE] must pray to the Gov-Gods; Do the Gov-God Snow Dance for only melted snow has ?real? water and only Gov-Gods grant snow-fall…

        Good grief “climate” religion is pathetic.

        Of course if everyone had water there wouldn’t be a ‘climate’ crisis in fairy-land; and where would all the useless lefty urban imbeciles feed their Power-Mad Narcissistic monster?

        That’d be completely unacceptable; so [WE] must use Gov-Gun-Forces to control water allocation and make a ‘climate’ crisis drought — for only a “Gov-God-Made” drought can be “Gov-God” fixed!!!!!

        Otherwise everyone !!-JUST MIGHT-!!! accept nature is going to do what nature does and wouldn’t have a need for Gov-Gun-Forces.

  8. The biggest issue re pricing water in that watershed would be the distribution infrastructure. The water doesn’t move itself from one place to another and the minute anyone spends a ton of money building that infrastructure there is the expectation that it won’t all be useless tomorrow because water prices change.

    1. Then move to where the water is.

      1. Yes of course. Because nothing screams more loudly – let’s build a city here

        1. Why must this be a city? In addition to water they also want congestion, pollution, high crime and high taxes? Strange.

  9. What we are beginning to see that water is a far more important resource and one we too often take for granted. I like the idea of a water market but I don’t think a totally free market is the answer. Water is essential and so we must make provisions to see it is available where necessary. A totally free market is simply a way for the richest to buy and horde water. What is needed is a cap and trade system. Individual or businesses need to be able to trade portions of their water allocation. This would stimulate saving and innovations. It is also the system to have the smallest government foot print.

    1. It is also the system to have the smallest government foot print.

      Actually, the totally free market has the smallest government footprint. Get up off of your damn knees.

      1. Yes, but as I noted I don’t think you can have a total free market where water is concerned. Cap and trade is the best bet for a system with small government foot print. Cap and trade uses market force for regulation as an alternative to government regulation.

    2. I like the idea of a water market but I don’t think a totally free market is the answer.

      A totally free market is the answer, the question regards to what extent it’s possible. The CA water distribution system that makes large-scale agriculture practical at all in the state is largely a creation of the state government, and is managed by the state government.

      So the water being provided by Lake Mead, Lake Shasta, and by the California Aqueduct is being sourced by the government in the first place. The government doesn’t typically respond very well to market signals, and thus you wind up with distribution methods that cause the least number of headaches for government, rather than ones that serve everyone in the best, most efficient way.

      Which is why I don’t disagree with your ‘cap-and-trade’ idea in the sense that it does introduce market forces where they are currently absent, but it also preserves a fundamentally unjust system of state-granted privilege that is considerably less ideal than an actually open market.

      1. My concern is that water is an essential item and if you rely strictly on price you may well force some to go without. It will be easy enough for large farms with capital to simply purchase all the available water and force smaller competitors out of the market. The large farm can then recoup their cost with higher prices on their produce.

        I would allocate based on acres under cultivation, then allow users to sell part of their allocation by being more water efficient.

        1. It will be easy enough for large farms with capital to simply purchase all the available water and force smaller competitors out of the market.

          Those AgCorp farms already control most of it, anyway, due to their ownership of the prior appropriation water rights, and have been driving out small farmers for decades thanks to mechanized agriculture. Most small farmers in the West these days don’t even grow that much, because they can make more money leasing their water rights to urban areas.

          Going to a riparian rights system would end up being more fair.

        2. My concern is that water is an essential item and if you rely strictly on price you may well force some to go without

          So is food, yet starvation is virtually non-existent in this country. I don’t think it’s realistic to imagine people being priced out of water, especially when a price-based system would lead to less waste and more price competition.

          It will be easy enough for large farms with capital to simply purchase all the available water and force smaller competitors out of the market.

          As Red Rocks points out, the large farms already control the water. We’re already at the tail-end of that cycle, which started about 150 years ago. A price system would break that control.

          I would allocate based on acres under cultivation, then allow users to sell part of their allocation by being more water efficient.

          That will never fly because different crops need different amounts of water.

          That’s another benevolent consequence of a price-based system for water – we may find that it actually isn’t a terribly good use of resources to grow almonds, rice, and cotton in California.

          1. Different crops are precisely the reason to consider cap and trade. If you grow high water use crops you will need to buy supplemental water, this increases the price of your crop and will force down demand. Making you consider growing less or a different crop. The other thing I like about cap and trade is that it allows the environmentally concerned a way to participate other than legislation and regulation. Environmental groups can compete to buy the water, increase price and make heavy water used consider ways to reduce water use.

            1. A price system would also do all of those things, but without granting the privileges to certain a priori rights-holders.

              Environmental groups can compete to buy the water, increase price and make heavy water used consider ways to reduce water use.

              How is this fundamentally different from a rich person who buys up the water and hordes it to increase the price? How does this reduce your concerns about poor people not being able to afford water?

              1. Good question. My concern is that rich people or businesses could use water as speculative market. Horde it, drive up prices and then sell for a large profit. I am assuming that the Environmentalist want to retain the water in natural systems. Perhaps set a goal to maintain a increase percentage in the reservoir system thereby making it accessible to natural systems like streams or wet lands fed off the reservoir.

            2. lol… So at the end of all your blathering the truth comes out…

              It’s A-Okay (good) if “Environmental groups” horde water and skyrocket prices running food/farming right off the table???

              And how is the “Environmental groups” going to get the money to horde water? *Steal* it from the farmers?

    3. Mod has a point. You can’t have a totally free market of an essential resource when one group can outbid the others by orders of magnitude. It would be relatively easy for large corporations to outbid smaller farms and drive them out of business.

      Remember the Ballad of Ira Hayes?

  10. The Cain and Abel story was a water rights dispute between a rancher and a farmer.

    1. A story as old as civilization. Literally.

    2. I’ve never understood the key verse of Genesis 4:7

      1. Must be some biblical folks here that are abel to help with it.

      2. There is no Genesis 4:7. Foxtrot only had 6 songs on it. However, the 6th song (Supper’s Ready) had 7 parts. So technically Genesis 4:7 is either “The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man” or “As Sure as Eggs Is Eggs (Aching Men’s Feet)”.

        1. Excellent.

        2. Another great Genesis fan! I had almost every album but the first From Genesis to Revelation. I stopped collecting after Mike Rutherford headed the group in the Nineties.

          1. Genesis fans unite! True ones, anyway – the last album I acknowledge is Three Sides Live, but I mostly ignore the Phil Collins era altogether. From Genesis to Revelation is juvenalia, but I like a few songs on it.

    3. The Cain and Abel story is a desert legend. FTFY.

      1. It’s a desert legend regarding the old-as-civilization conflicts between farmers and ranchers over land and water. One of the very few, and therefore very important, details of the story is that Cain is a farmer while Abel is a shepherd. The God of the Hebrews preferred shepherds.

        1. And yet sheep fatten up and thrive on crops provided by agriculture and ultimately cannot sustain themselves on grassland treated as “the commons” until they become a desert.

          This JHVH-1 had some screwy priorities.

  11. Ironically, where I live, there wasn’t ever “scarce water” until after the National Gov-Gun-Forces came in and started *stealing* all of it with their conserve/allocation water programs.

    1. ” there wasn’t ever “scarce water” until ”

      Question, during the period you remember when there wasn’t scarce water, was there a dramatic increase in the population? I was quite surprised to learn that Phoenix, of all places, was now the number 4 city in the country. Not much of a place, I grant you, I’ve heard it described as little more than a giant agglomeration of interconnected parking lots.

      1. Well there are 20M illegal trespassers and still piling in by the day.
        But no; we’re speaking of the difference between one year and the exact year a new ‘policy’ was created.

      2. was there a dramatic increase in the population

        Just of farmers and ranchers buying cheap land and demanding water. Your denigration of Phoenix can be remedied by actually going there and looking around. The Sonoran desert, the mountain islands, views, and climate are beautiful if one looks elsewhere than their screen. cities are cities – a giant agglomeration of interconnected buildings.

        It’s the farmers and ranchers buying cheap land in a desert to grow plants that don’t belong in a desert that are the problem. Stop subsidizing them.

        1. I went to Phoenix once. It was 112 degrees in March. The scenery was nice, but it was hard to see it with the dust storms blasting down the streets, tumbleweeds blowing through town, and some nut shooting people on the freeway.

  12. There is an YUUUUUGE problem with simply letting price someone is willing to pay dictate who gats how much. Think about it. Consider Bill Gates.. he nowowns some one third of all ag land in the US.. by simply buying one chunk at a time. WHY? No one really nows, maybe not even he. I will mention one other word here: Blackrock. They have identified several real estate markets they have decided to control. They eagerly outbid anyone else just to get the lands and homes. Teir goal? They are not saying, but it is evident they are rapidly owning a large percentage of the residential market.
    Now supposing some outfit like BlackRock were to turn their greedy little eyeballs to WATER…… with their resources, they could dominate this resource. Buy up so much water right in a region no one else would get enough… no matter HOW rich they were. Then simply wait… until land valuds drop through the bottom of the ry riverbed and they can then scoop up all the land they want to. which will likley be simply all, or close enough tto it.
    Next thing we’ll have a market on the air we are suppposed to be breathing. Oh well… if enough more millions get the shot, there soon enough won’t BE enough people to be needing all that water anyway. Problem solved. But not in a very good way.

    1. There’s an even bigger problem with letting the government portion it out.

      When prices and access are set by the market, there’s an incentive to save and an incentive to produce more of scarce (expensive) things.

      When the government controls access and sets the rates, there’s an incentive to lobby the government.

  13. No shot. But I own my water rights, water sources and portions of the recharge areas.

  14. Water, from a libertarian point of view, is an interestingly “common” resource. Reading the comments ought to make anyone understand it just ain’t so simple.

    I wonder, in the multi trillion dollar green infrastructure plan they currently haggle over, how many desalination plants will be built. Hundreds? Water pipelines? Irrigation district upgrades? With that kind of money, we could solve this problem once and for all.

    But, sigh, that’s not really what they want, is it?

    The globosocialists want scarcity: in energy, water, health care, and housing. This debate becomes boring while they’re in charge.

    1. The Gov-Gods said no. Did you forget already the first think Biden did was shut-down fuel pipelines?

    2. Greens object to sustainable technologies like desalination and nuclear power over environmental concerns. Really they don’t want to enable technologies that support more people, because they were the ones cheering for Thanos to wipe out half the Earth’s population.

  15. Couldn’t help but notice that California’s allotment from Lake Meade wasn’t cut at all despite the fact they already draw most of the water. What makes this more irritating is that they waste more water than any of the other states. Go to western Los Angeles, Palm Springs or Riverside. You see lush green yards in the middle of a desert. Now go to Phoenix, Las Vegas or Tucson. Not so much. The golf course across the street from me is irrigated with treated sewage water but all the homes have desert landscaping that needs minimal water if any water at all. Why should people who are smart about their water use be penalized so spendthrift California can have a lawn in the desert?

  16. It would be helpful if the author pointed to examples of harmful allocations due to “politics”.

    1. Almond growers getting theirs first when others do without or with less. No one needs more than one bag of almonds.

      1. Ah, but you need one can a week of Blue Diamomd Almonds! It says so right on the TV ad.

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  18. And water isn’t even scarce. The Earth is covered with water, and it continually cycles through the atmosphere. It would just take a little obvious foresight to establish desalination plants and pipelines.

  19. water is not a scarcity, potable drinking water is a scarcity.
    should be used conciously.
    https://aboe.in/best-glucometers-in-india/

  20. in calif, first in time is first in right. we grow monsoon crops and use VERY inefficient crops with water that costs very little per acre foot compared to residential rates. there is little

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