Water Policy Experts Available to Discuss Drought Response

School of Public Policy researchers comment on Gov. Brown's historic declaration of mandatory water restrictions

water faucetRIVERSIDE, Calif. – Gov. Jerry Brown announced historic, mandatory water restrictions on April 1 to address California’s prolonged drought. The announcement came as state officials reported data showing the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is lower than any year since 1950, when record keeping began.

These water policy experts at the University of California, Riverside are available to discuss the drought and Gov. Brown’s declaration of mandatory water restrictions.

Kurt Schwabe, associate professor of environmental economics and policy
Office: (951) 827-2361
Email: kurt.schwabe@ucr.edu
http://envisci.ucr.edu/faculty/schwabe.html

“What makes this drought somewhat rare and dangerous is the absence of, or reductions in, the buffers we typically rely upon to deal with drought – snowpack in the Sierras and groundwater in the Central Valley. Given these are in such poor condition, we really don’t have much of a buffer for the future.  In Southern California, based on current water rates, we have about three years of storage left, at most.  So, more stringent restrictions are necessary. But, it’s important that we don’t go blindly into investing in reduction strategies. We need common sense and a critical eye towards what works and what doesn’t.  There are a lot of strategies that might not get the return the governor’s expecting.  So, how the 25percent reduction strategy is implemented is extremely important.”

Ken Baerenklau, associate professor of environmental economics and policy
Office: (951) 827-2628
Email: ken.baerenklau@ucr.edu
http://envisci.ucr.edu/faculty/baerenklau.html

“My initial reaction is that Brown tried asking for voluntary conservation but came up short, so it was probably inevitable that a more heavy-handed approach would be pursued. Personally I think we should be doing more to reduce consumption—recent restrictions have been on things like washing a car without a shutoff nozzle, washing down sidewalks, or allowing irrigation water to run off a property. These things help but seem relatively minor given the magnitude of the drought.

“As an economist, I’m interested to see how much flexibility is afforded to the agencies that will be tasked with achieving the 25 percent reduction; and how much flexibility they will pass on to their customers. There is value in flexibility—when customers can make their own choices about how much to conserve, subject to a requirement that an aggregate level of conservation is achieved, costs tend to be lower. This is the principle upon which emissions trading (“cap and trade”) is based. But we’re not set up very well to do this for water, so I expect we will see agencies pursuing mandatory restrictions. One hope for flexibility is if agencies with conservation rate structures (like the “budget-based rates” that we have studied) are allowed and choose to use their rate structures to achieve the 25 percent reduction. This affords flexibility to customers but it can create inequities if low-income (or even low-usage) households can’t avoid large water bills. Any rate structure can promote conservation through higher prices, but some will accomplish it with smaller equity effects than others, and budget-based rates seem to be good at this.”

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