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On May 9, 2016 the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) announced new emergency water conservation regulations applicable to urban water suppliers throughout the state.
Mark Lubell included in NPR segment on California Water Conservation
Water policy wonks pride themselves on even-handed analysis of the costs and benefits of water policy, as driven by the rational and logical decisions of involved actors. But the psychology of water policy and politics is much more fun. And psychology is heavily involved in real water policy decisions, and should be considered as an important part of the picture.
The recent toxic drinking water event in Toledo, Ohio drives home this point. Of course one of the interesting aspects is the cooperation problem of controlling non-point source pollution from urban and ag sources, and the associated phosphorous that contributes to the algae blooms. Psychology and cooperation are deeply intertwined; a lot of my work engages those issues.
The recent California drought is a time machine. It represents a regularly recurring event in California’s Mediterranean climate, which cycles back and forth between dry and wet years so frequently that a “normal” year is actually the exception. Hence, we have witnessed many droughts in the past, and we will see them again in the future. This prediction holds even if the models are wrong in forecasting that climate change will load the “climate dice” in favor of more frequent and longer duration droughts in the future. Of course most readers know this already—the recurring climate and hydrological patterns of California are big news headlines with nice info-graphics (and countless blogs, tweets, etc) in 2013-2014.
The following Los Angeles Times headlines illustrate the severity of drought in California:
For over 20 years, Pat Mulroy has been the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, with responsibility for securing the water supplies for the Las Vegas metropolitan region. Over that time, she earned a reputation as a savvy and tough character in water politics, where she has been involved in many of the biggest issues at the local, state, regional, and federal levels. She is retiring from her position on Thursday, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal posted an interesting exit interview. There are some real gems in this interview, which I think are worth further elaboration.
Interesting news today about the Army Corps of Engineers' decision to declare that many of the levees in the Sacramento region fail to meet maintenance standards. As a result, the Army Corp may decertify the levees as meeting the 100-year flood protection standards, forcing many homeowners in the area to purchase expensive flood insurance ($1200 per year!) and limiting federal funding for rebuilding in the wake of a flood. Not only does this case have important implications for Sacramento, which has one of the highest flood risks in the country, but it also illustrates a number of recurring issues in the bureaucratic politics of risk with respect to flood management.
Jay Famiglietti of UC Irvine just posted a blog at National Geographic's Water Currents, calling for greater investment in hydrological science in order to better understand current and future water supplies and demand. Much of Jay's recommendations focuses on better data availability and computer models for hydrological processes. He also acknowledges a need for technology transfer to decision-makers and communication to the general public. I absolutey agree with all of these points. But it is not enough to solve the water problems in the US or globally.
Well, I'm stuck on a 7 hour layover at the Houston airport, en route back to California after giving talks on water governance at both Duke and University of Michigan. Both of these were very fun visits. So, after reviewing an interesting paper on IRWM in Southern California, I was browsing Aquafornia and came upon a story for this really interesting survey conducted by Probolsky Associates, I think paid for by the Southern California Water Committee.
I hereby call for a ban on using "Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over" to describe California (or any other) water politics. Instead, I suggest we use the phrase "whiskey is for drinking, water is for cooperation".
Now why would I possibly suggest discontinuing the use of such a colorful quote, from such a colorful historical figure as Mark Twain?
First, Mark Twain didn't say it. Or at least nobody can confirm that he said it. So really the quote is an urban legend that everybody seems to believe. For historical accuracy alone, it shouldn't be used.