Wall Street Journal Experts: To Save Water, Stop Subsidizing It
To Save Water, Stop Subsidizing It
9:15 am ET
May 23, 2014
TODD MYERS: As a child growing up in California, my dad sat me down and gave me insight on drought that rings true to this day. He said, “Son, California is the land of surf and sun. We don’t flush for number 1.” Those words still echo in my ears.
The underlying lesson of that adage is that water should be used for its best use and not wasted when it isn’t needed. As with so many resource problems, public policy makes the situation worse. This isn’t unique to the U.S. The Ethiopian famine that spawned Live Aid was exacerbated by drought, but was primarily a consequence of horrible governance.
The problem is that the current system undervalues water, subsidizing its overuse. This is politically popular, especially among those who enjoy long showers. The system makes it difficult to determine whether the best use of water is another five minutes in the shower or irrigation for parched farmland.
Unfortunately, due to the severe complexity of water rights rules, regulations and subsidies, there are few short-term answers. Worse, those who see the drought as a tool to push a climate agenda divert attention from the larger problem of resource misallocation–the political equivalent of “Look! A squirrel!”
Complex regulatory schemes, as we have now for water, are exceedingly difficult to unravel even when the need to do so becomes obvious. A more market-based approach, however, that allocates water based on need, would go a long way to making the best use of the water that does exist, even in times of drought.
Todd Myers (@WAPolicyGreen) is environmental director at the Washington Policy Center in Seattle and author of “Eco-Fads: How the Rise of Trendy Environmentalism is Harming the Environment.” He also serves on the Washington State Salmon Recovery Council.