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🗣️ "Water Scarcity, Economy & Equity"

Talking Under Water

Photo by Alexander Schimmeck / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Katie Johns
Guest: Scott Slater | President and CEO | Cadiz, Inc.
Category: 🗣️ Opinion

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[15:33] “The two components of scarcity are on […] the supply side and then secondly on the demand side. […] [For example] the Colorado River was overestimated in terms of supply, and then you lay over that the impacts of climate change. […] On top of those challenges on the supply side, there's been a shift in values, which impacts how we think about how much water is available.”

[16:36] “Particularly in California, […] there has been for at least now 50 years […] a socially backed effort to try to claw back water away from consumptive users, being municipalities, urban uses, and agriculture and to leave it where it sits, so that it can serve in habitat needs, in watershed needs, fisheries, flora, fauna. And we mostly think about that as a demand piece, but really it's keeping the same quantity of water that might have been pulled and taken for consumptive use, it's keeping that in the river. And now that water is designated just for […] instream uses.”

[17:32] “So less water is available, there is a change in when it's available […] and demand […] on a whole is constant and increasing. […] The city of Los Angeles […] has done a dramatic improvement in the amount of water each person uses on a per capita basis. The overall demand that's required to meet people's needs is reduced. But yet, we have more people. And we had shifts in our agricultural patterns in terms of how water is being used and how often. And a good example of that would be the shift from row crops to high value orchards […] [that have a] constant demand as opposed to seasonal cropping and farming. So in short, […] we have been successful in using less water to meet our needs, but yet there's emerging greater demands and a time when there's decreased supply.”

[23:35] “There's a great quote […] [saying], “the value of land without water is zero.” […] Just try to think of something that you have available around you that didn't require water in the development of that. Water finds its way into every product that we see on the face of the earth.”

[24:23] “Even more challenging, then the scarcity is the absence of reliability, the wild fluctuations from year to year. You could have a smaller amount of supply if you knew you had it every year and it was predictable. That would be better than having a system in which it's the roulette wheel. […] As we move forward trying to address that, […] water supply resiliency becomes important. […] In most of the western states now, you cannot have a certain size of development, unless you can prove the reliability of your water for somewhere between 20 and 99 years.”

[25:36] “When water as a commodity is evaluated into the context of what you're doing, not every crop can afford the increase in prices. So some farming gets priced out. So somebody who's perhaps in onions […] or carrots cannot afford [water], because the margin the utility of the land for that purpose doesn't compare with pistachios or almonds. […] So the scarcity and the price do affect crop choices, they affect what people are going to do with the water. And that's businesses, it's agriculture and it's pretty much across the board, including […] ratepayers [at home].”

[26:44] “My favorite problem to present in law school classes is something I call the conservation conundrum. […] The way that water infrastructure developed in the United States is, it's principally we paid for on a pay-go basis, which means there's some embedded costs associated with infrastructure and it is repaid off of volumetric sales. […] I'll use an example. […] So Santa Barbara has a certain number of fixed costs. And in order for them to cover that their commodity price for the water has to be sufficient in the number of sales to pay for those fixed costs. And when I'm in a condition of scarcity, […] I'm selling less water. So the income stream that I'm anticipating doesn't arise. So what do I have to do? For each drop, I'm conserving the water rate needs to go up in order to cover those fixed costs. […] The absence of reliability in the absence of supply is a […] multibillion dollar problem in California alone.

[28:47] “There's […] a conflation […] between efficient use and rationing. Both are a form of conservation and both are required. […] Where the original […] pressure was in the west was to be much more efficient in our use and distribution of water, so that you could accomplish the same and with less water. […] There are many things that we've done to become more efficient. […] On the other side of that, though, there's been the notion […] about resistance to too much water […] [that] says, you should deal with shortage by rationing. So if we don't want to make an enormous investment in being resilient, […] how we will address shortage in our community is [by telling] everybody to ration. […] The communities that are hurt worse by that are the disadvantaged communities. […] When you only have so much of your disposable income available and you're making choices between what you can afford, a 50% spike or a 30% spike in your water bill really hurts.”

[31:52] “The second component is that […] we have a need for water on a reliable, sustainable basis, in communities that don't have access to it and a part of that problem is location, location, location. We recognize that there's a human right to water and that water has a critical importance in all lives. And yet, if I moved to the middle of the Sahara Desert, and I want to build a house, it doesn't mean that the world owes [me] the plumbing to be able to survive in that environment. […] The pure remoteness of where people are, has created a challenge for us to figure out how to get them water. And in those unfortunate circumstances where people haven't been as strong of stewards, […] they've contaminated what they've had, and now they're left with large cleanup problems, typically the result of careless industry.”

Rating: 💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 42 min | 🗓️ 06/18/2021
✅ Time saved: 40 min