6/23/2004

Wasting Water for Fun and Profit

As the full effects of summer begin to take shape, the streams, lakes, vegetation and wildlife of Utah will become more parched. For several years now drought has plagued this state. There will be numerous cries from the state Natural Resource division and government leaders to conserve water. Two years ago, Governor Leavitt (now ex-governor) declared a drought emergency according to an article titled "Governor to declare drought emergency" Conditions have actually worsened since then. Web sites have emerged Division of Water Resources Governor's Water Conservation Team to help educate citizens of the state on water conservation.
Allow me to educate readers on the hypocrisy of the government of Utah to encourage water conservation.
The problem begins with the Utah Division of Water Rights and trickles downhill (pun intended) from there. Utah law reads, all waters in Utah are public property. Public property despite the fact that in order to own and use water, rights must be purchased and a title to those rights recorded with the recorders office. Further reading states, a water right is a right to the use of water based upon 1) quantity, 2) source 3) priority date, 4) nature of use, 5) point of diversion and 6) physically putting water to beneficial use. In other words the state reserves the right to take ownership away, unless as previously stated, one can prove physically putting water to beneficial use.
I own enough water rights to supply 128 homes a year with water. But I am literally forced to pour it on the ground to keep my investment or have it taken away without any compensation. Good economics (water rights have appreciated along with real estate in Utah) has forced myself and others to do the same thing, with hopes of capitalizing on our investment.
When you visit the conservation website, there’s a link to report water abuse take a minute to remind the state that forcing citizens to use water when they don’t need to is not conservation.
Should there come a requirement for citizens of the state to give up washing their cars and watering their lawns come by our place, and enjoy our sprinklers. There’s plenty of water to waste for everyone.

5 comments:

Dr. Tufte said...

Fresh water in one of those things over which there are very poorly defined property rights. The problem is not limited to Utah (see this site http://www.perc.org/publications/water.php?s=2).

In this case, the State claims ownership (on behalf of the public), which is fine. It then sells the property rights to new owners, which is also fine. However, it then stipulates how the property can be used after it is sold. Um ... that's not what you do when you sell something to someone else. And, there are many people (not just in Utah) who view this sort of situation as a violation the "takings clause" of the Fifth Amendment.

Another common problem with water usage (particularly in the west) is that water is often drastically underpriced for agricultural purposes. This is great for the farmers, but it encourages overuse. Clearly, it's also hypocritical for these parties to encourage activities to mitigate the drought when they are helping to create shortages.

Cedar Girl said...

Commenting on “Wasting Water for Fun and Profit”

Tiblin’s article on the moral dilemma of wasting water or losing it to the State was quite interesting. I was unaware of the stipulations involved with the use of water. I thought that if you had water rights, you owned the water. Appharently, this is not the case if the state can take away your water at any time. It was interesting to note that Tiblin knew of the externalities of his actions and had remorse for the State’s current drought situation and yet still decided to waste water. Tiblin I’ve got to say I don’t blame you a bit. Individuals are utility maximizers. We are all self-interested and make choices that benefit ourselves the most. With this said, law makers should have predicted that individuals with water rights will do whatever they can in order to keep their water. If they have to, they’ll waste it just as long as the water isn’t taken away from them. It would be wonderful if people always did what was best for society,(conserve water for example) but water law makers should know that that is not the way society works. I think Tiblin has a good action plan of linking to the state’s website and reminding law enforcers that, “forcing citizens to use water when they don’t need to is not conservatism”. Hopefully, by doing this citizens (along with law makers) will be able to come up with an incentive-compatible contract through which we will find some common ground where both society and water right owners will be mutually benefited. One suggestion would be to give water right owners full custody of water for a prescribed amount of time without the stipulation that it can be taken away if they don’t use it. By doing this, water right owners will be more conservative with their water because they will know that the water will not be taken away from them if they do not use it all. Thanks for the interesting read Tiblin.
Cedar Girl

pretzel said...

Interesting. It seems to me that, if you want people to use less of something, that you would not create incentives to make them want to use more of it. The law is a very frustrating thing to me sometimes. I don't think I will ever fully understand why certain laws are in place.

I know people who would happily trade your inadvertent wasting of water for a guilt-free addition of a sprinklers system to their brand new lawn.

If we're talking economics here, I agree with Dr. Tufte. First of all, there should not be laws that encourage shortages. Secondly, why is water so underpriced for agricultural purposes in the West? Common economic theory proves that, if the prices are down, that the demand goes up. If the prices go up, then the demand goes down. Water is a necessity but I don't think it as much when used agriculturally. I think raising the price of water for agricultural purposes would provide at least enough incentive to not overuse a precious commodity (which water is in time of drought).

Jordan said...

Dr. Tufte said:

"Another common problem with water usage (particularly in the west) is that water is often drastically underpriced for agricultural purposes. This is great for the farmers, but it encourages overuse."

I never knew this! It's a little counterintuitive, as Pretzel also said. If they wanted to fix the drought situation, this should have been the first policy looked at.

Dr. Tufte said...

Ummm ... yeah ... but in D.C., all you have to say if "farm lobby" and you can get what you want.