TGIF! Weekly Water News Summary, 30 August – 5 September 2014

September 5, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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Yes, I am back this week. Don’t want to read what I’ve been up to? Neither do I. Just click here, scroll down to the first red text you see and go from there. Jobs are at ‘Positions Open’.

After telling you that I would miss this week’s TGIF post because of a trip to HondurasLas_Palmas_Damit seems I will have to renege on that promise.

I did make it to Honduras and was up in the mountains checking out a dam we (Ann Campana Judge Foundation) built in Las Palmas. The leak is fixed and the reservoir, in the background (shadows) in this picture, is holding the water (about 25 cubic meters or 6500 gallons) just fine.  The two men in the foreground are standing on the dam, and the rectangular protrusion in front of them is the sediment trap/filter.

Bibiloteca_SignOn Tuesday we (friend Rolando López and I)  headed to Monte Vista to help dedicate a library and kindergarten we also helped build. Click here for a description of the events.

For the last few days we were supposed to be way out in the boondocks, in Mapulaca near the El Salvador border checking out another water project. But lack of a reliable 4×4 (‘cuatro por cuatro’) truck to tackle the terrain kept us safely in San Pedro Sula, the financial hub (c. 70% of the GDP goes through the SPS area) of Honduras and (allegedly) the most dangerous city in the world, in the country with the highest murder rate in the world.

But I’m safe here – seriously. I’ve made 25-30 trips down here since 2001 with nary a problem. If you do stupid things, bad things will happen – just like in other places. Honduras is a gorgeous country with wonderful people.

Click here to visit the week water news summary. Enjoy!

There are certain people who.benefit enormously from a lack of information and inefficiency – and those people have lawyers.’ - Peter Gleick, quoted in the Guardian.

Another timely report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS): Pesticide 6a00d8341bf80a53ef01a3fd3b90fc970b-200wi
Use and Water Quality: Are the Laws Complementary or in Conflict?
 by Claudia Copeland (August 2014).

Download CRS_Pesticide_Use_and_Water_Quality_Laws


This report provides background on the emerging conflict over interpretation and implementation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA). For the more than 30 years since they were enacted, there had been little apparent conflict between them. But their relationship has recently been challenged in several arenas, including the federal courts and regulatory proceedings of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In this report, a brief discussion of the two laws is followed by a review of the major litigation of interest. EPA’s efforts to clarify its policy in this area are discussed, including a regulation issued in 2006 that was subsequently vacated by a federal court, as well as possible options for EPA and Congress to address the issues further.

FIFRA governs the labeling, distribution, sale, and use of pesticides, including insecticides and herbicides. Its objective is to protect human health and the environment from unreasonable adverse effects of pesticides. It establishes a nationally uniform labeling system requiring the registration of all pesticides sold in the United States, and requiring users to comply with the national label. The CWA creates a comprehensive regulatory scheme to control the discharge of pollutants into the nation’s waters; the discharge of pollutants without a permit violates the act.

Several federal court cases testing the relationship between FIFRA and the CWA have drawn attention since 2001. In two cases concerning pesticide applications by agriculture and natural resources managers, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that CWA permits are required for at least some discharges of FIFRA-regulated pesticides over, into, or near U.S. waters. It held in a third case that no permit was required for the specific pesticide in question. In 2010, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a CWA discharge permit for mosquito control activities was not required before April 2011.

Several of the rulings alarmed a range of stakeholders who fear that requiring CWA permits for pesticide application activities would present significant costs, operational difficulties, and delays. Pressed to clarify its long-standing principle that CWA permits are not required for using FIFRA-approved products, EPA in 2006 issued a rule to formalize that principle in regulations. Environmental activists strongly opposed EPA’s actions, arguing that FIFRA does not protect water quality from harmful pollutant discharges, as the CWA is intended to do. Other stakeholders, such as pesticide applicators, endorsed the rule. The rule was challenged, and in 2009 a federal court vacated the regulation. The federal government asked the court to stay the order vacating the exemption for two years, to provide time for working with states to develop a general permit for pesticide applications covered by the decision. The court denied the request for rehearing and granted the requested delay, which was extended until October 31, 2011, when EPA issued the permit. Under the final permit, pesticide applicators were covered automatically for discharges before January 12, 2012. However, despite the agency’s efforts to minimize regulatory burdens and cost, the permit is controversial.

Some believe that the controversy will only be resolved by congressional action to clarify the intersecting scope of the Clean Water Act and FIFRA. In the 113th Congress, the House has passed legislation intended to nullify the 2009 federal court ruling (H.R. 935), and other related bills also have been introduced (S. 175, and S. 802). Similar legislation was included in House farm bill legislation (H.R. 2642), but not in the enacted 2014 farm bill (P.L. 113-79).


As usual, thanks again to Jan Schoonmaker for sending this my way.

“A rising tide raises all yachts.” - Marcus J.  Borg, The Heart of Christianity, p. 141

TGIF! Weekly Water News Summary, 23 – 29 August 2014

August 29, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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I won’t be doing ‘TGIF’ next week. I will be in Honduras all week and won’t have much Bansky
opportunity to post to the blog or do any Tweeting.

I’ll be back blogging and Tweeting on a regular basis the week of 8 September.

All job Tweets are can be found at #JobWaWi and previous ‘TGIF’ posts are at #WaWiNews.

Scroll down to ‘Positions Open’ to see jobs.

Today’s art is by UK street artist banksy.

Enjoy! Back in two weeks.

For my USA readers – have a happy Labor Day weekend!

“A wall is a very big weapon. It’s one of the nastiest things you can hit someone with.” - Banksy

Narvaez, Beutler and Wright Win AWRA Election

August 28, 2014 | Posted by cmccrehin
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2014 Elec Winners

L to R: Martha Corrozi Narvaez, Lisa Beutler and Wayne S. Wright

AWRA is pleased to announce that Martha Corrozi Narvaez was voted president-elect by members during the recent national election. She will be joined by newly elected Board of Directors members Lisa Beutler and Wayne S. Wright.

“I would like to welcome Martha as the incoming president-elect for AWRA, and Lisa and Wayne to the AWRA Board,” said John C. Tracy, current AWRA president-elect, “and thank all of them for their willingness to help lead our organization.  I look forward to working with them in the coming year, and I am glad they are willing to offer their talents, time and effort to help advance AWRA’s mission as we start our next 50 years in serving the water resources community.”

Tracy photo

John C. Tracy, current President-Elect

Narvaez, Wright and Beutler will assume their new offices on January 1, 2015. At that time, Tracy will become AWRA president and current president C. Mark Dunning will become past-president.

“I am both excited and honored to be elected AWRA’s President-elect,” Narvaez replied when asked about her reaction to the election results. “AWRA plays such an important role in the water resources community and I am honored to part of the leadership of such a dynamic group of people working to advance the science and management as well as increase our knowledge of our water resources.”

“Many thanks to all the AWRA members for this opportunity, ” was the response of newly elected Board member Beutler, “Given global climate change, aging infrastructure and a divisive political environment, AWRA’s contributions to the Water Resources profession during the next 3 years will be vital.  I’m both excited and honored to serve.”

Wright summed up his reaction this way, “My reaction was exuberant! I am honored, elated, excited, willing, able and ready to serve on the Board of Directors for AWRA. AWRA has helped me so much over my career – I look forward to helping the awesome membership of AWRA address the water resource issues facing us now and into the future.”

The following officers and directors will begin their terms of service on January 1, 2015:

President – John C. Tracy, University of Idaho, Boise, ID
President-Elect – Martha Corrozi Narvaez, University of Delaware
Director – Lisa Beutler, MWH Global, Inc., Sacramento, California
Director – Wayne S. Wright, GeoEngineers, Inc., Seattle, Washington

Continuing their remaining terms as AWRA Board members for 2015 are:

Past-President – C. Mark Dunning, CDM Smith, Fairfax, VA
Secretary-Treasurer – David R. Watt, St. Johns River Water Management District, Palatka, FL
Director – Rafael E. Frias III, Black & Veatch, Sunrise, FL
Director – Noel Gollehon, USDA-NRCS, Beltsville, MD
Director –Brenda O. Bateman, Oregon Water Resources Department, Salem, OR
Director – L. Donald Duke, Florida Gulf Coast University, Ft. Myers, FL

Read last year’s interview with John Tracy where he discusses his goals as an AWRA officer: Tracy Will Work to Enhance AWRA Internationally During Tenure as Officer

For more information on AWRA’s Officers and Board of Directors, including bios., click here.

Next week read an interview with Narvaez, as she discusses her goals for her tenure as an officer of AWRA…

AWRA President Interviewed for Vital Voices

August 26, 2014 | Posted by cmccrehin
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Press release from Marstel Day:

Water at the Forefront of New Climate Change Paradigm


Clean and plentiful water is one of our most critical and most imperiled natural resources, serving as the lifeblood for both people and wildlife.


“Climate change has ushered in a ‘new normal’ that includes extreme weather events, sea level rise and water shortages,” says Dr. Mark Dunning, President of the American Water Resources Association, in a just released interview with Rebecca R. Rubin, President and CEO of Marstel-Day.

As part of Marstel-Day’s ongoing series, Vital Voices of the Environment with Rebecca R. Rubin, Dr. Dunning explains how climate change has created daunting challenges in the way in which water resources are managed.

Click here to view the interview on YouTube.

“Clean and plentiful water is one of our most critical and most imperiled natural resources, serving as the lifeblood for both people and wildlife,” said Rubin. “Climate change has confronted us with an unprecedented array of water resource threats that will affect everything from what we eat to where we live.”

A distinguished voice in the water resources community, Mark Dunning has more than 30 years of experience with the Army Corps of Engineers, where he served as Chief of Future Directions in the Civil Works Directorate. There, he led development and implementation of the agency’s civil works strategic plan, that first established integrated resource management (IWRM) as an agency priority.

Dunning today serves as President of the American Water Resources Association, an organization dedicated to the advancement of water resources management, research and education.

In the interview, Dunning describes the central water resources challenges he anticipates for the future, and explains how IWRM is a critical part of addressing these threats.

Marstel-Day’s Vital Voices of the Environment with Rebecca R. Rubin series spotlights critical thinkers, each of whom offers unique insight on the key issues we face now and for the environmental future of our planet.

Working across the globe, Marstel-Day is a socially-responsible environmental company that helps clients address complex land, water, climate and energy challenges. It has been recognized for six consecutive years as one of the Inc. 5000 fastest-growing companies. Visit http://www.marstel-day.

The UN Watercourses Convention Entry into Force – Worth the Wait?

August 24, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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One week ago today,  on 17 August 2014, the UN Watercourses Convention entered into force. It took 35 nations (see blue areas in the graphic below) 17 years to ratify the Convention. Worth the wait? Let’s see – I’ve got three resources for you. Four, actually – check the UNWC online user’s guide.


1) Entry into Force of the UN Watercourses Convention: Why Should It Matter?

Here’s a recent paper that addresses the question posed in the title of this post. It’s titled, Entry into Force of the UN Watercourses Convention: Why Should It Matter? by Salman M.A. Salman, International Journal of Water Resources Development, DOI: 10.1080/07900627.2014.952072

Download UN_Watercourse_Convention_Salman


The United Nations Watercourses Convention entered into force on 17 August 2014, following a long and complex journey that dates back to 1970 when the UN referred the matter to its legal arm, the International Law Commission. This article follows the Convention through that long and turbulent road, examines its main provisions and analyses the reasons for the delay of its entry into force. It concludes by answering the question of why entry into force of the Convention should indeed matter.

Salman addresses the issue of why only 35 states (over 100 voted for it in the UN General Assembly in 1997) have ratified the UNWC, including none of the American nations and some well-known riparians/hegemons (China, Egypt, and Turkey).  He concludes that it was worth the wait and will matter.

2) Everything You Need to Know about the UN Watercourses Convention

Here is an appropriately-titled publication from the World Wildlife FundEverything You Need to Know about the UN Watercourses Conventionby Flavia Loures, Alistair Rieu-Clarke and Marie-Laure Vercambre (June 2014).



In 1997, more than one hundred nations joined together to adopt the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UNWC)—a flexible and overarching global legal framework that establishes basic standards and rules for cooperation Untitledbetween watercourse states on the use, management, and protection of international watercourses. As of June 2014, the convention counted 35 contracting states and enters into force on August 17, 2014.

Since the convention’s adoption, water pollution and overuse have worsened in many places, and the world’s poorest people are already facing shrinking supplies. The scale of the freshwater challenge is enormous, especially with climate change making water availability more unpredictable and causing more frequent, widespread droughts and floods. Securing the water we need to meet growing human needs, safeguard fragile ecosystems, and maintain economic prosperity is actually one of the most serious and urgent tasks confronting the world in the 21st century.

In order to succeed in providing water security for all, we will depend not only on water bodies located entirely within one state’s territory, but also on freshwater systems that mark or cross international boundaries. Transboundary waters, which are physically shared between two or more countries, constitute the majority of the world’s water supplies. These rivers, lakes and aquifers are some of the most important and vulnerable freshwater resources on the planet. The states concerned have a
responsibility to protect them, and to work together to manage them in a sustainable and integrated manner. However, transboundary water cooperation raises major practical and political issues.

In the past, nations have addressed those issues by adopting and implementing treaties that govern interstate cooperation on specific international rivers, lakes, and aquifers. As a result, there are many different watercourse agreements, but most of the world’s transboundary water resources still lack sufficient legal protection. In the majority of basins, either no management agreements are in place, existing agreements are inadequate, or not all states within the basin are parties to existing agreements. Without adequate protection, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for watercourse states to cope cooperatively with existing and future threats from human pressure and environmental change.

A notable window of opportunity currently exists in order to strengthen the treaty architecture relating to transboundary waters. Not only is the UNWC entering into force, but the 1992 United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes has been amended to allow all member states to become party to it. Together the UNWC and ECEWC offer an important package of norms by which to strengthen existing treaty arrangements at a basin and sub-basin level, and to foster the equitable and sustainable sharing of transboundary watercourses across the world. Therefore, the UNWC and the UNECE Water Convention (ECEWC) are more relevant than ever. Their widespread ratification and implementation are necessary to ensure that states properly utilize and protect those precious water supplies—now and in the future.

We join other stakeholders in pressing governments, multilateral organizations, and the international community at large to take immediate and effective action to achieve this.

I agree: I want to see more ratifications.

3) International Water Law Project

Professor Gabriel Eckstein, a friend and Texas A & M law professor who runs the International Water Law Project blog and website, has a number of posts by colleagues from different parts of the world offering their views on the relevance of the  UNWC to their areas. Go here to see the list and access the articles.

So does the UNWC cover aquifers (groundwater)? Well, yes and no. Gabriel has a great blog post about this very issue. Here is what he said:

For an aquifer to fall within the scope of the UNWC, it must be a part of a “system of surface waters and groundwaters.” Use of the “system” criterion in the definition implies an interrelationship between multiple and interlinked water bodies. This assessment is supported and complemented by the subsequent definitional language that emphasizes the “physical relationship” and “unitary whole” of the system, and the “common” characterization of a terminus. Hence, solitary transboundary aquifers – such as independent fossil aquifers and rain-fed aquifers – are presumptively excluded from the scope of the UNWC.

But what about a domestic aquifer that is connected to a transnational stream? Hmmm….This could get interesting. Read more of what Gabriel says, plus the comments to his post.

In summary, the UNWC does apply to groundwater resources. However, the Convention’s definitions narrow its relevance to domestic and transboundary aquifers that are hydraulically linked to a transboundary river or lake and that flow into a common terminus. They may also apply to transboundary aquifers that are hydraulically linked to an internal water body, so long as the interrelated surface and subsurface waters flow into a common terminus. All other aquifers are excluded from the Convention’s regime (for a more detailed analysis, see here).

Gabriel concludes:

The coming into force of the UNWC is a significant milestone in the evolution of international water law. While the Convention’s applicability to certain of the world’s groundwater resources may be limited, its growing acceptance and implementation signifies the global community’s broadening commitment to manage and utilize transboundary freshwater resources through peaceful and cooperative means. It also recognizes and affirms transboundary groundwater resources as a legitimate topic of international law.

4) My Ten Cents

This should be more like ‘my tenth of a cent’. Commenting on a legal document like this is not within my purview. But the UNWC is indeed a worthwhile document. It establishes an international framework for transboundary (surface) freshwater management and governance. Aquifers are ‘sort of’ included, although certain types – for example, transnational aquifers not connected to surface water sources – are likely excluded. That’s not good.


1) More nations need to ratify it. There are 193 nations in the UNGA and the UNWC garners 35 in 17 years? That stinks, and I wonder how many UNGA members will abide by the UNWC tenets. Maybe the involvement of the ICJ is an issue (with the USA, at least). But the fact that it got done at all is pretty remarkable. The writers deserve a lot of credit. Not easy, I know.

2) Groundwater needs to get ‘straightened out’. Transnational aquifers could be flash points in the future as surface waters desiccate, so this needs to be addressed promptly.

3) Does it matter now? Yes, it got done. Will it matter in the future? Unsure. If I were a betting man I would not bet for it. I’d need to see some more nations ratify it – how about the original 100+ – before I think it will make a difference.

4) Oh, yeah – I do support it.

Done – for now.

“If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.” ? Winston Churchill

TGIF! Weekly Water News Summary, 16 – 22 August 2014

August 22, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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The truth will out. This graphic explains why I REALLY use Twitter (click to enlarge). Thanks to phdcomics.


Click here for the weekly water news summary. Lots of jobs – scroll to ’Positions Open.


“Cell phones are getting thinner and smarter – not so with people.” - Jim Estill

Who listens to young farmers, especially when it comes to Western water issues? Not I, that’s for sure! Here is something that might change your mind; it changed mine. Read on, gentle reader!

1328113715_Bates SFI try to read most of the reports I post here but generally fail miserably at that task. However, when Sarah Bates, Senior Fellow at the Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Policy (CNREP) at the University of Montana, recently sent me the following report, Sustaining Farming in the Arid West: Stories of Young Farmers, Water and ResilienceI read it immediately. Sarah is one of the best thinkers and writers on Western land and water issues and I have been a fan of hers since Overtapped Oasis: Reform or Revolution for Western Water that she co-authored with Marc Reisner in 1990. When she sends me something I read it, usually right away.

The report is by the National Young Farmers Coalition, a group I’d never heard of. It’s a different kind of report. Not a bunch of the usual ‘experts’ pontificating on water or bombarding us with figures and models. It’s the story of people on the front lines of the ‘drought war’ in the arid West. They tell us an important story.

Sarah included a message from Kate Greenberg of the NYFC:

Farmers and ranchers in the arid West know that water isUntitledessential. Despite over a decade of increasingly dry times, producers are constantly churning up new solutions for our collective drought toolkit.

The National Young Farmers Coalition released a report today [14 August 2014] highlighting innovative farmers who are adapting to this record drought. Sustaining Farming in the Arid West: Stories of Young Farmers, Water and Resilience, demonstrates how Western farmers are saving water, stewarding the land and enhancing productivity in increasingly dry times.

Here it is:

Download NYFC-Sustaining-Farming-in-the-Arid-West

Here is the press release:

DURANGO, CO – The National Young Farmers Coalition released a report today highlighting innovative farmers who are adapting to record drought in the arid Southwest. Sustaining Farming in the Arid West: Stories of Young Farmers, Water and Resilience demonstrates how Western farmers are saving water, stewarding the land and enhancing productivity in increasingly dry times.

“All too often, water is taken off the land for growing cities at the expense of agriculture, the health of the land and the economic vitality of rural communities,” says Kate Greenberg, Western Organizer for the National Young Farmers Coalition. “Irrigated agriculture is central to our communities in the Southwest. We need to keep it productive, vibrant and viable for today and the generations ahead while responding to existing and future pressures on our limited water supply. We all have a shared responsibility to protect this critical resource, and these farmers are helping lead the way.”

Highlights from the report, which profiles farmers from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, include:

  • Marana, AZ: Jason Walker, cotton-turn-grain farmer. Walker irrigates through a combination of wells and surface water provided by the Central Arizona Project, which delivers water from the Colorado River. Spurred by drought, Walker laser-leveled 175 acres of his 2,850-acre operation, a practice noted to be 20-30% more water efficient. Walker is lining ditches, reducing run-off and utilizing conservation tillage to save water, retain topsoil, and enhance his grain crops and what remains of his cotton crop. As Walker says, “It’s absolutely our responsibility to conserve our finite resources. Farming takes everyone. We are all in this together and we have to protect the opportunity for the future.”

  • Bosque Farms, NM: Mike De Smet, organic, raw dairy farmer. In response to drought, De Smet laser-leveled all his fields and transitioned to no- and minimum-till planting to support the productivity of his herd and save water. Mike says, “We have changed our entire operation due to the lack of water. Our planting dates have changed, double cropping wheat and corn have stopped, and we are planting shorter maturity date varieties.” By enhancing his irrigation efficiency and stewardship, Mike expects to grow his herd to full capacity—around 100 head—in the next five years while simultaneously saving water.
  • San Luis Valley, CO: Brendon Rockey, certified seed and specialty potato grower. When drought hit hard seven years ago, Rockey replaced his barley rotation with a cover crop. Not only did this reduce that years’ water use, but also reduced the water needs of the following potato harvest as the cover crop retained moisture in the soil throughout the year. His healthy soil also enhanced the effectiveness of his center pivot irrigation. In the last seven years, Rockey’s pumping costs from the shallow aquifer have decreased—his cumulative annual consumptive use cut nearly in half—while his crop quality increased. What income he lost from his barley crop he more than makes up for in reduced input expenses due to enhanced nutrient availability in healthy soil. His neighbors now come to him for advice on maintaining a productive business through drought. As Rockey says, “Farmers need to become biologists again,” as supporting life in the soil builds resilience.


The Colorado River is one of the most dammed, diverted and in-demand rivers in the world. From its headwaters in the Rockies to its dry Delta, the Colorado travels through seven states, two countries and brings water to over 36 million people. In addition, it provides irrigation for nearly one fifth of our nation’s produce, including 80% of winter vegetables. Now entering its 14th year of drought, residents of the Colorado River Basin face challenging questions of what kind of West we want and can sustain.

The agriculture industry is the largest user of water in the West, consuming over 70% of surface water. As precipitation patterns shift, climate trends lean toward hotter, drier times, and cities continue to grow, many are looking to farmland for new supplies of water.

But taking agriculture out of the West is not the answer. Alternatives to what is known as “buy-and-dry,” or buying water from agriculture, which leaves the land unproductive, exist. These alternatives promote a vibrant agricultural economy and land that is being made better for the next generation of farmers and ranchers who grow our food.

It is a Herculean achievement that farmers and ranchers are able to save water while enhancing productivity in a period of unprecedented drought. As stewards making a life and a living off the land, these producers are exploring solutions to some of the most daunting challenges facing the Colorado River Basin and the West as a whole. It is time we work together as farmers and ranchers lead in the innovation and stewardship of the Wests’ most valuable resources.

You’ll enjoy this one.

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.” - Aldo LeopoldA Sand County Almanac

TGIF! Weekly Water News Summary, 9 – 15 August 2014

August 15, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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SATELLITEThere was a huge tailings pond breach at the Mount Polley gold/copper mine in British Columbia on 4 August. An estimated 10 million cubic meters (2.64 billion gallons) of water and 4.5 million cubic meters of sediment were released.

I’ve got a bunch of Tweets under the ‘Canada’ category if you’re interested.

Above is a satellite photo showing the extent of the breach. Below is a photo of the breach itself. Here is a video.

And the California legislature finallyBu8nuZHIAAEclF- passed a $7.5B water bond. The voters will have their say this November.

Enjoy the news…not all of it good.

Click here to access the weekly summary.

“You do not achieve noble ends with ignoble means.” - Gandhi

More thoughts on pricing water

August 12, 2014 | Posted by cmccrehin
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AWRA webinar Pricing Drinking Water for Conservation & Fiscal StabilityIn response to the large volume of questions following the AWRA webinar “Pricing Drinking Water for Conservation & Fiscal Stability,” presenter David Zetland agreed to answer several additional questions.

The questions and his answers follow:

In the complex web of CA water regulation, and many water utilities, who actually makes the decisions on how water pricing is set? You mentioned LA, San Diego, Santa Cruz, and Metro Water District – who makes the decision? Is it the city council? Does it have to be voted on? or does it differ from municipality to municipality? Generally speaking, the municipal city council sets prices when they run a water utility and the public utilities commission sets prices for investor-owned operations. There are many variations that will depend on local laws, state regulations, and other governance factors. This book examines “special districts” in the US, which include utilities, flood control districts, etc. Remember that there are “countless” (~3,000) bodies managing water in California and over 50,000 in the US (drinking water only).

What do you think about pricing water at long run marginal cost and using general funds derived from taxes to cope with the high fixed costs? So you’re suggesting that taxpayers cover fixed costs and users pay long run marginal cost (LRMC). These ideas are mutually exclusive, I think. After outright grant funding, taxpayer funding is the oldest way of paying for water services (many places in England and Wales still pay for water via property taxes). Taxes were replaced by charges linked to house size or charges linked to metered use.* The system of charges often depends on politics (i.e., social funding versus user fees) that I discuss in a paper I need to revise. Pricing based on LRMC, on the other hand, really means charging for the cost of acquiring new water. Economists define LRMC to include fixed costs, since ALL costs are marginal if you make the long run long enough. So you’re faced with backwards- or forwards-facing choices. Payment by taxes means users can use as much water as they want from expensive systems that others pay for. Payment linked to LRMC incentivizes conservation, since the charges reflect to (usually much higher) cost of getting more water. LRMC is better from that standpoint of efficiency (and it’s done in Israel, as I will explain later this week), but it’s politically unpalatable because revenues will be much greater than actual costs and — more relevant — it interferes with the “cheap water” rhetoric that politicians and real estate developers love. Addendum: This post explains why LRMC must also consider risk (variability), which implies higher prices now and a smaller chance of needing to spend $$ on new supplies sooner.

Can a scarcity charge be assessed in periods of abundance so that scarcity is negated in the future? Coupled with weather, it seems that the lack of a scarcity charge, or low cost, can encourage overuse and contribute to scarcity. For an answer to this question and two others, see David’s blog post at:

Access the webinar archive.



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