On the use of the word “decoupling”

I’ve been using the word “decoupling” to describe what is happening in the relationship between water use and population/economic growth. The phenomenon is common, and I blog about it a lot – water use going down even as population and agricultural productivity go up. Now comes Robert Stavins, a prominent environmental economist, to argue that …

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Is Flint a reverse “environmental Kuznets curve”?

One of the most important findings of environmental economics in recent decades is what is called the “environmental Kuznets curve”, a finding that as a community’s affluence rises, environmental “bads” – think air and water pollution, for example – decline. Could what has happened in Flint, Michigan, be evidence that this phenomenon is bi-directional – …

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Despite drought, California agriculture adds 30,000 jobs

It’s increasingly clear that the lessons we’re learning from California’s drought are not those we expected. Far from the doom of so much of the rhetoric, Californians are adapting to scarcity with remarkable aplomb. The latest data point, from Phillip Reese and Dale Kasler of the Sacramento Bee, may be the most interesting yet: California’s …

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Poverty, income inequality, and US water infrastructure

Brett Walton wrote a smart piece about the relationship between poverty, income inequality, and decaying US water infrastructure: Affordable water requires an all-in effort that cuts across the political spectrum, a mix of redirected spending priorities, tax policy, social programs, and engineering assessments at the local, state, and federal levels. The urgency, experts assert, will …

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Water insecurity: think poverty, not climate

I’ve recently become acquainted with interesting research by Texas A&M geographer Wendy Jepson, who has studied household water insecurity along the U.S.-Mexico border. There’s a tendency to look for a technological fix (“Look at this cool new filter we invented!”), but Jepson found this less than effective (“HWS” is “household water security”): We evaluated the efficacy …

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Flawed rate structures cost California water utilities half a billion dollars

Tara Lohan at Water Deeply had a great interview last week with Tom Ash of Southern California’s Inland Empire Water Agencies about the problem of water revenue in a time of conservation and drought: Tom Ash: What I learned is that it doesn’t matter where in the world – China, Chile, Spain, France, Italy, Israel …

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On Bard and the language of water “markets” and “incentives”

The Pacific Institute and others have published a useful new study on “Incentive-based Instruments for Freshwater Management” which raises some interesting issues about the language we use to describe water policy instruments. Deep in Abrahm Lustgarten’s excellent new piece about water markets in the West is this description of the arrangement by which the Metropolitan …

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The decline in California’s cotton acreage

In his keynote at last week’s Law of the Colorado River conference in Las Vegas, Metropolitan Water District General Manager Jeff Kightlinger pointed out something that’s not gotten a lot of attention in discussions of California’s drought – the extraordinary decline in that state’s acreage of cotton. Cotton’s gotten a bad rap in irrigation circles, because …

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Pushback on the export of Palo Verde alfalfa

In freshman college physics, a common conceit to simplify the study of velocity and momentum is the air table (think air hockey), which allows you to reduce the friction on a moving object to negligible levels. “Imagine,” the professor explains, “a frictionless plane.” And then sketches out on the chalkboard the equations for velocity and …

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The struggle with municipal water rates in response to conservation

The downside to the remarkable water conservation I’ve been writing about (see yesterday’s Albuquerque numbers, for example) is revenue. Water utilities sell water. If people use less water, water utilities make less money. One option is to shift to more fixed-costs pricing, charging a flat rate for service, but then you lose the behavioral incentive …

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