Stuff I Wrote Elsewhere: Drying Up the Butte

From this morning’s newspaper, an essay on what happens when yours truly tries to take on the duties of Middle Rio Grande Water Czar (sub/ad req). The column’s based on time I spent with Jesse Roach and Vince Tidwell at Sandia Labs, who have been developing a user-friendly water system model for decision makers to tweak and twiddle scenarios for our water future. Once they showed me how the model works, they sent me home with a copy, which I managed to use to completely screw things up:

The low-flow toilet thing is what really threw me.

Given the chance to be “water Czar” for the Middle Rio Grande Valley for the next 35 years, that was the first thing I tried: blanketing Albuquerque with low-flow toilets and other indoor water conservation technologies.

Within two decades, Elephant Butte Reservoir was dry and New Mexico was defaulting on its obligations under the Rio Grande Compact to deliver water to Texas.

(The headline: “Journal Science Writer Dries Up The Butte”)

The piece draws, both explicitly and in its theme, from Elinor Ostrom’s work, in particular her notion of the need for an “authoritative image” of the factual situation surrounding the common pool resource under discussion – in this case, the groundwater and surface water of the Middle Rio Grande in New Mexico.

The model offers the potential to provide that as we go forward, which is one of the reasons I wanted to do the piece. Plus, it was fun to get paid to play computer games.

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