Schwarzenegger Calls for 2016 Water Infrastructure Bond“California is short of water, but it’s flooded with headlines about the drought,” former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said kicking off USC’s Schwarzenegger Institute and the Public Policy Institute of California program on the state’s drought. The goal of the program was to look at the truth behind the headlines and find some answers to deal with the drought.

Many solutions were suggested but one that seemed to dominate during the long afternoon program was the expectation that market forces would compel the moves necessary to deal with the drought.

Tim Quinn, Executive Director of the Association of California Water Agencies, responding to the headlines that said farmers use 80 percent of the water and almonds are somehow the villains because it takes a gallon of water to grow one almond, said, “Let’s not have this silly numbers debate.”

Quinn said if water was priced at its market level farmers and consumers would make prudent decisions. He pointed out that when he worked for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California he never paid more for water than $125 an acre foot. Now the MWD wanted to buy water for $700 an acre foot but farmers won’t sell because their water supplies dried up.

What is water’s true value?

Danny Curtin, a member of the California Water Commission and Director of the California Conference of Carpenters, suggested the $700 price was low. After all, he said, taking up a pint of bottled water to illustrate his argument, if the bottled water sold for a dollar a piece, given the number of pints in an acre foot then the value of an acre foot of water would be $2.6 million dollars.

Talk about your conservation incentive!

When one considers water pricing that way Curtin said desalination, at $3,000 an acre foot, is not so unreasonable.

There are many solutions to the water crisis that numerous panelists brought up in what was called an “All the Above Strategy”: Conservation, storage, improved infrastructure, fines, better data to understand the problem and reducing the nearly 4,000 entities around the state that deal with water issues in parochial ways.

The issue of multiple water agencies recalled for me my service on the California Performance Review Commission – Gov. Schwarzenegger’s “Blow Up the Boxes” effort — that ultimately went nowhere. The most contentious debate before the commission was among local water agencies and state units that oversee water. Can you call fights over water “turf wars?” That’s what the commission experienced at a high volume – turf wars over who controls the water.

At the Schwarzenegger Institute/PPIC conference it was the idea of market forces that came up time and time again as driving behavioral change and efficient use of water.

Dan Sumner, UC Davis professor of agricultural issues, said that as the price of water goes up innovation would come. Innovation will be driven by business interests coming in to solve the problem. He warned that any government attempt to take profit out of business involvement in looking for solutions could kill innovation.

Schwarzenegger called for a large 2016 bond on the ballot to build water infrastructure, especially for water storage. Schwarzenegger said the recently passed $7 billion Proposition 1 water bond does not provide nearly enough money to do the job. Given current governor Jerry Brown’s war against more debt, the proposal from the former governor would likely be dammed up.

A webcast of the entire conference can be found here.

Follow Joel Fox on Twitter @1JoelFox1

Tags assigned to this article:
desalinationdroughtJerry BrownSchwarzeneggerwater

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