Saturday, December 15, 2012

Update on ADWR NIA Reallocation Process

Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) has posted the comments received on their proposed process for reallocation of the 96,000 acre-feet of Non-Indian Ag (NIA) water in the CAP system.  Several of the comments echo my points (with additional elaboration) on some of the failings of the proposed process.  Unfortunately, no one else suggested that a market mechanism for allocation would be appropriate.  Of course all the other comments were from actual stakeholders who might want to be granted rights to some of this water.  I acknowledge that a market is probably not in their self-interest.  I think it's not inconceivable, though, that some of the industrial users (mining companies) might be willing to get behind the idea, as they would be likely to come out ahead of many of the municipal users - at least in the short-term.  But in strict dollar terms they are probably better off with an administrative allocation process. 

The one idea that no one seemed to get behind was the proposal by CAP to impose a reliability charge with this water to establish a fund that would attempt to firm up this somewhat unreliable supply.  That was certain to be a tough sell.  Seems like most users would rather deal with supply reliability issues on their own.  I'll try to update again when ADWR posts the responses to the comments received, but it will likely take a while.

Friday, November 30, 2012

A few updates

If you check out the list of other blogs to the right you'll notice I did a bit of updating.  Gone are Waterblogged and On the Public Record (very sad to see this one go).  They just don't update that often anymore - and OtPR may be gone for good, I fear.  But I added something new - Agua-zona - a new blog by Juliet McKenna, who works for a consulting firm here in Tucson.  She's sharp and should bring a lot of good info to her blog.  Check it out when you have a chance.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

I have so much to be thankful for this year.  I hope you do too.
Happy thanksgiving.

Friday, November 2, 2012

ADWR Water Allocation Process

One month ago, the Arizona Dept. of Water Resources (ADWR) held a public meeting to announce that they were beginning the process to allocate (or reallocate) approximately 96,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water delivered via the Central Arizona Project (CAP).  This is water that was made available by the big Arizona Water Settlement that was crafted almost 10 years ago, but under the language of the act was not available for reallocation until 2014.

As you might expect from the state agency responsible for management of the state's water they have proposed a tightly controlled administrative process for deciding who should get the water and how much they should be entitled to.  Oh, and there are also some costs associated with this water.  But as is typically the case, the cost for this water only covers the "costs" of administering the process, then when the recipient takes the water they will pay the "costs" for delivery.  There are no "opportunity costs" or "scarcity costs" included.  Now admittedly these costs are greater than what has been paid by those who currently possess allocations of Arizona's Colorado River water, but that is all water under the bridge, so to speak.  And what the entities who manage to "win" an allocation of this water will get is something slightly less than a continuously assured supply of renewable water.

Because this is water that was relinquished by agricultural contractors it holds a priority within the CAP system that is lower than the standard municipal and industrial allocation.  What this means is that when there is a shortage on the Colorado River that impacts Arizona's supplies this water may be unavailable for delivery.  ADWR has analyzed the expected reliability of this water and believes that up to 2/3 of this water should be continuously available, depending on the assumptions you use (a summary of their analysis can be found if you click the "presentation" link on the process page).

So far that's all well and good.  Where I have a problem is the whole process they have proposed for determining who is "worthy" of receiving an allocation of this water.  This is what administrative agencies always try to do and they never seem to get it right, especially in situations where you are dealing with a scarce resource.  People try to game the system, assumptions have to be made about where future demand will reside, and there just tends to be a whole range of normative "calculations" that need to be made to justify the actions of the agency.

I am planning to draft up some comments recommending that they at least try to allocate some of this water via a market-clearing auction (CAP staff proposed something similar as part of the ADD Water process that you can find here - click the link for "ADD Water Program Proposal").  I have no hope that it can all be auctioned off (there are too many bureaucratic hurdles in the way) but it just seems to me that given the year-to-year variability that might be present in at least some of the water available and the well-known superiority of market mechanisms to allocate scarce resources, an auction has to be the best way to ensure that this water is allocated in an equitable and efficient manner.  It's a long shot, but someone has to take the first shot.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cato Article - Downsizing the Federal Govt. - BuRec

There's definitely some Cato Institute stuff that's just too far out there for me, but when they take on federal control of water resources in the West and advocate for more use of markets to allocate a scarce resource, they can probably reel me in.  I enjoyed this article, mostly for its advocacy of water markets.  I think it's easy to find examples of where the federal government has screwed up in their long-standing management of Western water and they do a good job of chronicling those in the article.  But they largely overlook much of the good that has resulted from those efforts - the Colorado being a prime example of both the good and bad of what the Bureau has done. 

We would not have the infrastructure that is needed to weather extremes of climate, like we have been experiencing the last couple of decades in the Colorado basin were it not for the extensive infrastructure built by the Bureau and that infrastructure could not have been built by any smaller unit of government.  We also could probably be figuring out better ways to manage the water of the basin if it weren't for ongoing federal control of the basin and all that infrastructure.  But the Southwest that we currently have - good and bad - clearly wouldn't be around today if not for what the Bureau did with the Colorado.

And the article clearly does a much better job of chronicling what's wrong than of proposing workable solutions.  That's think-tank work for you.  But still a pretty good article if you swing toward the free-market side on water management.

hat-tip to Marginal Revolution for the link that eventually led me to this article.

Friday, September 28, 2012

USA Today - Water Rate Study

This week USA Today posted a story about rising water rates throughout the US.  The increases (on a percentage basis) are very large in some cities.  It would also be interesting to see what those changes were on an absolute basis - if your water bill is $20 to start with then raising it to $40 is a 100% increase, but still a pretty small price to pay for having water come out of a pipe in your house whenever you want it.  This is a pretty gross generalization, but it looks to me like the systems with the largest cost increases are concentrated in older eastern cities where they have probably been hit with large bills for major system upgrades to old water system infrastructure or in rapidly growing western cities that might be paying, or preparing to pay, for expensive new supplies to meet surging demands (I'm looking at you San Diego or possibly Atlanta on both counts).

The article does a pretty good job of describing the paradox of conservation with utilities - when you conserve the fixed costs of running the utility are spread over fewer units so the cost per unit increases.  This is especially prevalent in water utilities that often recover a significant portion of fixed costs with variable revenue sources.

I had a thought while reading the discussion of how many utilities are facing high costs from past borrowing to pay for infrastructure upgrades, system expansions, costs of compliance with new regulations, etc.  Did some of them possibly overestimate the revenue they would take in in future years when they had to payback those bonds, either by assuming continued expansion of their connections or that rates of household consumption would level off rather than declining?  I don't doubt that many of the upgrades that were done were necessary, but maybe they would have scheduled the work over a different time frame if they had more reasonable expectations for future revenue streams.  Or tried a bit harder to find ways to curb costs for the needed work.

Thanks to Val Little at WaterCASA for tipping me off to this story.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Latest Installment in the Painted Hills Follies

Let's see if we can figure out what's wrong with this article.  In paragraph 4 it says:
The county approved development plans for the 284 acres of scenic Painted Hills property just west of the city limits, but the supervisors didn't want the site developed, so they asked the city to deny water service to the property.
So the county asks the city to save them from a bad decision - see the county voters approved bond funds that would enable the county to buy this parcel of land and preserve it as open space.  But when the owners wouldn't sell to the county, the county decided they could wait them out.  But somebody else came in and offered more money for the parcel, expecting to develop it.

The city instituted a new policy that was used to deny water for the development, but ran into other problems when the developer sought a different remedy.  They are currently in negotiations with the property owner to do a swap that will provide them with a develop-able parcel of land elsewhere and permit preservation of the Painted Hills parcel.  You can find info on the city's water policy referenced here and here.

But back to the current article.  At the end of the article are a couple of really nice comments from the County Administrator, Chuck Huckleberry:
Huckelberry wants the board to ask the city to change its water service policy to provide service to properties like Marrs'.
"The presently adopted Tucson Water policy does not support rational regional planning for water service," Huckelberry said in the memo.
Guess it really pays to stay on the good side of our county administrator.  If I can paraphrase something a former president said recently - it takes some real brass to encourage the city to use their new policy to prevent development in one location then come back and say that said policy prevents rational regional planning when it stands in the way of a particular development you do want to see go forward.  Is it any wonder people in this town have so little respect for our local governments?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Here It Is!

If you remember waaaay back in April, I posted about a new law that had just been passed by the Arizona legislature that would make it very difficult to establish in-stream flow rights in Arizona.  At that point the bill was on its way to the governor's desk, where it would shortly be signed into law.

Well on Aug. 3 that new law went into effect and pretty soon Arizona Dept. of Water Resources had posted their guidance on implementing the law and a link to download the new in-stream flow application form.  They can be found here.

Now you might think this would be pretty much a tempest in a teapot, after all the opportunities to appropriate surface water in Arizona are effectively pretty limited at present.  And experience has shown that the most effective means of protecting in-stream flows around here are by having the most senior rights on the downstream end of the river system (see SRP).

But what this means is that our state government does not believe in the value of maintaining environmental flows in rivers (case in point) and wishes to protect existing "uses" of water from the threat of "non-users" or should I say "non-economic-benefit-providing users".  And by economic benefit I of course mean the kind of economic benefits that flow to highly favored entities among our state legislature.

Friday, August 3, 2012

New Website from Nature Conservancy

I received an email earlier this week announcing a new website that has been set up by the Nature Conservancy, called the Great Rivers Partnership.  Here's what it is about according to their email:
We’re excited to announce the launch of the The Nature Conservancy’s Great Rivers website, a place where anyone whose life or livelihood is enriched by rivers can learn how we can all work together to protect these waterways.  The Nature Conservancy’s Great River Partnership convenes scientists, industry leaders, government and non government agencies, and others to exchange resources and find shared, pragmatic solutions that will support sustainable management and development of whole river systems.
As you well know, when a large river is healthy a diverse community of plants, animals, people and their industries can thrive. Everything that happens in and around a river system affects us all and the positive benefits are many. These waterways ensure power to large cities, drinking water to millions and transportation of crucial goods. They support vital ecosystems that fuel fisheries, enrich the soil and provide natural flood management.
 Sounds like some good ideas we can all support.  I'm a strong supporter of the model for conservation that the Nature Conservancy follows and I'm hopeful this website will prove to be a great resource for ideas that support that model.  Check it out when you have a chance.

Oh and there's a video you can check out too:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Is ADWR Impotent or Just Arizona Water Law?

From today's AZ Daily Star, a piece by Tony Davis about Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) recent decision to approve the water supply for a very large new development in the Sierra Vista area.  For a little background on water issues in this part of Southeast Arizona check out my previous posts here and here.

Before I take a look at what this decision means I have to point out one erroneous statement from the article.  In the 3rd paragraph where it says "the department's decision gave a clear signal that it doesn't agree with the BLM's position opposing this pumping ..." that is not exactly a correct interpretation of what ADWR was saying (just based on what was reported here because ADWR doesn't have the decision posted to their website as of this afternoon, when I last checked).  As stated under the reasons cited for the ruling, ADWR simply doesn't have the authority to consider the effect of federal reserved rights on an application for a designation of adequate water supply where the application involves pumping groundwater and the federal reserved rights at issue are for surface water.  Arizona law doesn't recognize the connection between surface water and groundwater, except under very narrow circumstances.  And the criteria that ADWR can consider in evaluating the application are pretty clearly spelled out in the administrative code.  I've never noticed anything in there about compliance with federal law as it pertains to federal reserved water rights.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Putting on the promoter cap

It's that time again.  Time for me to extoll the virtues of Watershed Management Group and put out the call for donations for our summer fundraising campaign.  Full disclosure up front - I am the current vice-chair of the board of directors for WMG.  I don't make any money doing this, but I derive great personal satisfaction from watching their success.

If you haven't heard my spiel before, WMG is a fabulous non-profit based here in Tucson, Arizona that does work, currently throughout Arizona, in Southern California, in Sonora, Mexico, and in India and more recently in Burkina Faso.  Several of those locations are places where we have only begun working within the last two years, largely because of the strength of the individual donors who support the organization.  WMG has been growing by leaps and bounds because there are many people who support the great work they do, but also because there is such a huge need out there for growth of community-based programs to give people the tools they need to become better stewards of their resources.

That need continues to grow and hopefully WMG will be able to continue to grow to satisfy that need.  But they can only do it through the support of like-minded people.  And I'm certain there are at least a few of those people who read this blog.  And if you decide you like what the organization does and think there is a need for them to take on work in your community, send me a note or contact them through their website to see if there is an opportunity to expand there.  Or you can participate in one of their great training programs and learn how to do this sort of work yourself and teach others the same skills.

Check out this link for info on how to support WMG.  And if you are able to make a contribution this week a generous match from one of our donors will double your support.  Please do what you can.  Thanks.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

RIP Elinor Ostrom, 1933-2012

The resource management/economics/political science community said farewell to one of the true innovative thinkers of the past century today.  Elinor Ostrom, Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Nobel Prize winner in economics (the first woman to do so), and co-founder and Senior Research Fellow at the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, passed away this morning in Bloomington, IN.

What is the interest of a hydrogeologist and attorney in a political scientist with a strong economics pedigree?  Well, the ground-breaking work that brought Dr. Ostrom into my realm of professional knowledge and a big part of what earned her a Nobel Prize was her work on defining the role of informal, local institutions in overcoming the Tragedy of the Commons.  One of her foundational research projects was on the importance of such institutions to effective governance of groundwater basins that functioned as common pool resources, but were managed through local informal institutions that prevented the theoretical negative outcome predicted by ToC.  This important observational work (Dr. Ostrom was well-known for taking theory and supporting/refuting it through actual field observations) has informed many of my views on the preferred methods of governance for groundwater systems.  My own career owes a huge debt to her work.

Her brilliance will live on in her work and the countless academics and practitioners who have followed in her footsteps.  Farewell.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Colorado Considers Adopting Public Trust Doctrine?

I came across this link courtesy of Aquadoc's Weekly Round-up of water news.  Seems a few people in Colorado are dissatisfied with their current system of reasonably secure property rights in the use of the state's water.  They are placing initiatives on the ballot later this year that would formally adopt a strong public trust doctrine.  The texts of the proposed initiatives can be found here and here.  Essentially what this would do is still allow you to have your water rights - whether derived from prior appropriation or whatever.  But those rights would always be subject to rights of the state to protect the water on behalf of the people.  So if someone decides that a world-class trout fishery is more important to the state than a valley full of farmers, the state could step in (theoretically) and tell the farmers to stop diverting water for irrigation so that the trout stream can thrive.  This is a concept that exists in many places but only rarely has it been found to trump existing property rights.  In this case, the wording of the initiative states pretty clearly that the public trust is superior to private property rights.  I don't see this going very far.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

For the Water Wonks - A comprehensive study of residential water demand in Tucson

Those who work in municipal water departments or follow trends in domestic water use have been noting for several years that household water use has been trending downwards, for much of the past 20 years.  The chart below shows percentage change in water usage per service connection for three different types of users in the Tucson Water system from 1997 to 2007.

During a multi-year study designed to establish a roadmap for developing sustainable water policies for the region, one of the recommendations was to take a hard look at data on residential water use and try to determine why this trend was occurring.

Just this past week, staff from Tucson Water and Pima County Flood Control released the results of that study in a data-intensive report that is available here (link will download the pdf file).  This is an incredibly important report for future water planning efforts in this region.  It's also applicable to many other regions, because the trend described above is not unique to Tucson - it's showing up all over the place.

I highly recommend checking out the report if this sort of thing appeals to you.

Friday, April 13, 2012

New legislative road block to in-stream flow rights in Arizona

This little beauty apparently just popped up this week as a strike everything amendment to one of the bills in the legislature that was intended to look at creating a new water right in Arizona - to harvested rainwater.  The rainwater harvesting legislation first popped up last year - I wrote about it here at the time.

This new incarnation of the bill is intended to make it much more difficult to establish in-stream flow water rights in Arizona - something that's already challenging enough.  For some helpful background on the issue, check out this summary that was just posted on the website of Montgomery & Assoc., a consulting firm here in Tucson.  Looking at the legislative history of the bill, it started out as a bill to establish a pilot program to demonstrate feasibility of augmenting groundwater supplies by harvesting rainwater and directing it to recharge basins.  Then about a month ago the striker was introduced with the new language setting what appears to be an outrageously high bar to get a permit application considered.  In the past an applicant had to submit one year of flow data, then had 4 years to submit additional data supporting the flow claimed in the permit.  This new bill requires submitting 5 years of data up-front along with a demonstration of the amount of water needed for the claimed use and a showing that there is adequate flows to accomplish the use.  That last part is quite difficult to show because you are establishing a junior right on a stream that is going to be over-allocated from the get-go.  But collecting 5 years of data before you even apply for anything will also be really difficult.

As the piece on the M&A website notes, there have been some issues with previously approved in-stream flow permits, but this change doesn't really do much to address those issues - it just creates a nearly insurmountable road-block to future applications.  I think this is a bad idea for the future of environmental water uses in Arizona and hope the governor will see the benefit of vetoing this legislation, so that a better solution to the concerns with these types of water permits can be address with different legislation.  If you agree I encourage you to contact the Governor's office, at (800) 253-0883 and tell her to veto SB 1236.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Rule of Capture Wins again in Texas

Another loss for the prospect of sensible groundwater regulation in Texas.

Article on the value of property rights and markets to deal with uncertainty in water management

I came across a link to this article on the PropertyProf Blog - a great source of scholarly research and other fun stuff dealing with property law.  This one comes from Jonathan Adler, professor at Case Western Reserve Law School and also a contributor to the Percolator blog from the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) - a great resource for finding solutions to environmental problems that incorporate private property concepts.

The article is titled Water Rights, Markets, and Changing Ecological Conditions.  Here's a link to the SSRN page that it can be downloaded from.  In it he tries to lay out the reasoning to support increased reliance on private property rights and market mechanisms to deal with uncertainty in water management resulting from factors like climate change.  Should be well worth reading.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Attack of Return of the Son of Painted Hills

Just when we thought it was safe to venture into the desert west of downtown Tucson --- the Dallas Police and Firefighters Pension fund has found a new ally to support their plans to develop "pristine" desert in the shadow of downtown Tucson and at the doorstep of the mighty Tucson Mountains Association.  They have gone to our friends in the state house up in Phoenix for a quick legislative fix to their problem of Tucson Water not wanting to supply the wet stuff to the houses they wish to build.  This was a big deal around these parts back in 2010 - I posted on it a couple of times back then.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

So What's the Hold-up?

From today's Arizona Daily Star, an article about the Vail (AZ) Water Company facing the prospect of refunding to it's customers the money it has been collecting for over 10 years to pay for a means of taking their allocation of CAP water.  Vail is about as far away from the CAP canal as you can get while still being technically within the Tucson area.  This makes it a challenge to get that water to their customers.  But in recent years the City of Tucson (and their water company) has been pursuing wheeling agreements that allow other water utilities to take their CAP water by having Tucson Water deliver it through the city's pipes to a point where the other utility can access it without having to build large delivery infrastructure of their own.  They have done this recently with Oro Valley and are working on doing something similar with Metro Water.

So why doesn't Vail do something similar, or at least why haven't they done so to comply with the agreement they made with the Corporation Commission?  A couple of ideas come to mind.  While the idea of doing wheeling agreements with Tucson Water has been discussed for several years, it's only within the last 2 or 3 years that the idea has begun to be looked at really seriously.  Earlier, utilities like Metro and Oro Valley were considering plans to take the CAP water themselves, possibly by building a treatment plant and pipes to deliver it themselves.  The cost of doing so was simply prohibitive.  I'm sure Vail at least thought about doing something similar at one time.  But they are a pretty small utility - only about 3,900 connections - so the cost of building that kind of infrastructure (at least 20 miles from the nearest point where they could tap into the CAP) would be pretty high per customer. 

The article suggests that wheeling had been considered previously, but Tucson Water wasn't that interested.  There is likely some truth to that.  Tucson Water had a reputation for many years of not wanting to play nice with others - deserved or not.  I also think that for a small company like Vail Water the cost of pumping groundwater is much less than they would have to pay for CAP water, so the prospect of coming into compliance and having to hit their customers with a big rate increase wasn't real attractive.  It's also likely that Tucson Water will have to upgrade some of their infrastructure in the vicinity of Vail to accommodate the extra water and Vail Water would have to pick up most, if not all, of the tab for that.  So even a wheeling agreement is not cheap - Vail may have just been counting the beans and deciding to continue pumping from their wells.

So solutions are not easy to come by in this situation.  But I do know for sure that a solution is extremely important in this case.  Because in the near vicinity of the rapidly growing community of Vail is one of the gems of riparian habitat remaining in Pima County - Cienega Creek.  This is a phenomenal spot where shallow groundwater surfaces to create a small flowing stream flanked by towering cottonwood, willow, alder, and ash trees and an amazing diversity of wildlife.  And the more development in the area that is supported by drilling wells to tap groundwater, the more likely it is that Cienega Creek will someday stop flowing.  So I really hope they can finalize a wheeling agreement, because Vail has a renewable resource it could use, Tucson is willing to work with them to get it to their neighborhood, and riparian areas in Pima County are few and getting fewer.  And once they're lost, they are really hard to get back.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Upcoming Conference in Tucson on Green Infrastructure and Low-Impact Development in arid environments

Not sure if I'll be able to make it to this one - a shame really, since it's so close to home.
But it looks like a great event, so if you're from Tucson or would like to come visit to attend the 2012 Arid LID Conference, March 27-29, check out the link for all the info you need.  The agenda includes several really interesting presentations, but the best part is there's lots of opportunities for hands-on learning.
Be sure to check it out.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Failed Promise of Indian Water Settlements, Part II

Taking advantage of a sick day to finally get around to this thread again.

So you may remember from my previous post that it was the Arizona Water Settlements Act (passed in 2004, became law in 2007) that resolved a couple of the most significant Indian water rights claims in Arizona, as well as settling several other pressing issues in allocation of Central Arizona Project (CAP) water and costs associated with the project.  The legislation enacting those settlements allocated both water and money to help the tribes involved purchase their new water from CAP and put the water to use on their reservations, mostly in irrigation projects.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Water Marketing - Who Wins, Who Loses?

I just wanted to post a link to this commentary (that came to me by way of Aquafornia) about water marketing in California.  It makes the point that opening up markets can create unequal opportunities, when one one part of the supply chain is (functionally) controlled by a monopoly (the federal government).  Something that could be very prevalent throughout the West, where the Bureau of Reclamation controls access to much of the big water that goes to agriculture and might find its way into markets in the coming years.

This is also my way of introducing the upcoming Water Rights Trading Summit being hosted by American Water Intelligence and WestWater Research, in Scottsdale, AZ, in early Feb.

Should be an interesting conference.  And I'm hoping to re-connect with some contacts I haven't seen in a while at the conference.

Anniversary of a Tragedy

It was exactly one year ago that I posted something completely uncharacteristic for this blog.  It was an event that had a tremendous impact on me, but I'm still not sure it had the kind of impact it should have had on society-at-large.  This idea is well articulated in this piece by Jeff Biggers, posted on Salon today.

I don't want to initiate an ongoing discussion on this blog about these events, but didn't want to let the anniversary pass without at least mentioning it.  It's one of those events in our lives we should try to never forget because the lessons to be learned from them are just too important.  The most important of which is to be part of a community, know your neighbors, be nosy sometimes, and take care of each other.  Fear and suspicion are enemies of these ideas - they need to be fought.

I'm hoping to pick up the thread of my recent discussion of Indian water rights soon, so bear with me.