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OpenMarket: Water

  • Western Water and California Drought, Part 2: No Need for Malthusian Despair

    September 9, 2014 8:28 AM

    Well, some good news—it’s raining in Los Angeles.

    Western droughts combined with questionable water access policies spawn water crises that unfortunately are not unique to the American west and California in particular.

    Rather, water access issues are globally contentious. A Wall Street Journal book review on the “unhappy descent” of Turkey’s Meander River invoked common laments that: 

    In North America, so much water is taken out of the Colorado that it no longer reaches the sea. Nor does the Rio Grande. Or the River Jordan. Or China’s Yellow River.

    Access to water in times of plenty and in times of drought is a fundamental infrastructure concern worldwide. Further, the issues surrounding innovation and research in water policy are elements of broader science and manufacturing policy.

    Aggravations abound—and so do penalties. One Oregon man catching rainwater on his own property received 30 days in jail for breaking a 1925 law prohibiting personal reservoirs. But when scarcity looms and emotions run high, strange things happen.

    In addition to novelties like rainwater theft prosecution, water policy can be fundamentally perverse and distortionary: water supply systems may not cover their debts, operations and capital replacement needs, and as governmental monopolies, they sometimes “are used as cash cows to support more labor-intensive functions of local government, such as fire and police,” as G. Tracy Meehan has noted.

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