The Value of Water in Alternative Uses

Where are the fountains?

As has become my December tradition, I’m in a Las Vegas hotel room preparing for this year’s meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association/finishing up grading my University of New Mexico Water Resources students’ final papers for the just-finished semester.

This year’s class – our introductory course for graduate students in our Masters of Water Resource program – focused on “The Value of Water in Alternative Uses”. That’s the title of a 1950s-era study attempting to put valuation numbers on New Mexico’s transbasin diversion of Colorado River water, which was then in the just-being-cooked-up stage. We used the paper as a jumping off point for a lot of discussion about how we use water, and how we might use it differently, and how we decided about such things.

Our students did some terrific work exploring the questions in ways that really stretched all of us:

  • what are the benefits of adding more urban trees, especially in poor neighborhoods
  • how could we better use stormwater to benefit the communities it flows through
  • how can we put more water back into rivers for fish and the environment

(Note: If you like to think about such things, we’re accepting applications for fall 2020!)

One of the things we’ll be talking about in the CRWUA panel I’m moderating Thursday is the question of how we incorporate values and interests and communities that have traditionally been left out of water management decision making. That question was at the heart of the work our students did this year to such good effect.

We’re saddled with institutions (and by this I mean both the more traditional sense of agencies and actors, but also the “institutionalists'” sense of the underlying rules themselves) developed around other dominant values that aren’t so good at incorporating new or evolving ones.

The UNM water students did a great job of thinking and talking about what sort of new institutions we might need to incorporate the values they wanted to think about. It’ll be interesting to see how this year’s CRWUA feels when I approach it with that in mind.

Maybe that’s what my next book should be about.


One Comment

  1. Those are great questions. (There are “poor neighborhoods?) Where can the answers be seen?

    Hidebound water buffaloes are an issue for sure.

    It seems to me that some overarching authority that has the overall interest of the region as their goal is necessary. Bearing in mind that the region is involved in massive change and much is unsustainable.

    The uncontrollable wildfires in Australia right now are instructive.

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