Tag: "surface water"

Wyoming Congresswoman to Wrangle Federal Overreach

Rep. Cynthia Lummis, a Republican from Wyoming and the new chair of the Interior Subcommittee of the House Oversight Reform Committee, says she is determined to provide strict oversight of President Barack Obama’s energy and environment policies and scale back what she believes is federal overreach.

With oversight of the EPA, the Interior Department, the Energy Department, and the Agricultural Department, amid an increasing number of executive actions and accusations of departmental mismanagement and misconduct, Lummis has plenty of work ahead.

Wyoming Water

Lummis argues the administration went too far in attempting to control water use under the Clean Water Act. In response, she co-sponsored H.R.5078, the Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014, a bill intended to limit the EPA’s reach under the Clean Water Act. Regarding this bill, Loomis said in a press statement,

In Wyoming, water is our single most precious natural resource, which we guard jealously and without which our communities and economies could not survive. The agency is stretching the law to the point of breaking it, claiming jurisdiction over every pond, ditch, and stream in Wyoming no matter how small or isolated.… This legislation gives state and local governments a long overdue seat at the table and ensures Congress has final say over what water is and is not subject to the Clean Water Act.

The Democrat-controlled Senate did not vote on the bill in 2014. With Republicans in control of both the House and Senate in 2015, the bill is likely to pass this year. Whether President Obama would sign the bill or veto it is an open question.

Advocating Spending Cuts

Lummis has also set her sights on reining in government spending. She drafted a bill requiring federal workforce downsizing through attrition, to save an estimated $35 billion over five years. “We’ve racked up over $18 trillion in debt simply because Washington has no idea when to stop spending,” Lummis said. Her bill, the Federal Workforce Reduction Through Attrition Act, would limit hiring of new employees as older ones retire, reducing the number of federal employees without forcing anyone one out of a job.

She also plans investigations into alleged corruption, bullying of whistleblowers, and general impropriety in the Chemical Safety Board and EPA.

Bonner Cohen, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, says Lummis’s oversight could be just the breath of fresh air federal agencies need. “The Obama administration has been bypassing Congress and imposing far-reaching regulations, with Capitol Hill either unable or unwilling to do anything about it. Rep. Lummis will now have a friendly Senate to work with to rein in the administrative regulatory state,” he said.

If members of Congress, as well as state and local governments, want to avoid being relegated to being little more than decorative potted plants, they should follow the example set by Rep. Lummis and aggressively oppose further usurpation of their power by Washington bureaucrats.

Antarctic May Be Thicker than Previously Thought

Underwater vehicles have been used to better map the sea-ice of the Antarctic and have come up with some interesting findings:

  • Maps of sea-ice draft for ten floes mean draft range from 1.4 to 5.5 m and up to 16 m.
  • On average, 76 percent of the ice volume is deformed ice.
  • Floes are much thicker and more deformed than previous reports.

The large packs of floating ice (ice-floes) are about 20 meters or 66 feet across. The thick ice in the near-coastal and interior pack may be under-represented in existing original assessments of Antarctic sea ice. Therefore, Antarctic sea-ice may be thicker than previously thought.

Western Water Market Needed

Outdated laws and lack of a water market in western United States, continues to cause problems and increases the chance for dire consequences.

Droughts continue to cause more damage to farmers and the regional economy. As the population rapidly increases in these already dry western states, the water laws must be reformed, at least for now, to allow for:

  • Short-term leases of water.
  • Basic market institutions.
  • Risk-migration tools such as dry-year options.
  • Basic controls such as regulating how much water can be pumped.

Opening up water markets will improve the efficiency of water supply and demand and provide water at the most appropriate price to everyone. Such a system will be better prepared for droughts and other consequences to the increasing water shortage in the west.

Rate of Global Warming is Slowing and Nobody Knows Why

Despite hype to the contrary, the world has seen a slowdown in the rate of warming over the past few years. The change is causing many scientific organizations to adjust their climate change projections. Late last year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reduced its projected warming from a range of 0.4 to 1.0 degrees Celsius to 0.3 to 0.7 degrees Celsius between 2016 and 2035. More importantly, nobody seems to know why the warming has slowed.

The leading theory is that the increased heat has been partially absorbed by the ocean. A group at the Scripps Institute suggested the extra heat is being absorbed by the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean. Other scientists suggest that the deeper, colder parts of the ocean are absorbing the heat. Another theory is that active volcanoes are suppressing global warming by spewing ash and gas that reflect the sun’s heat back into space. Some have suggested particulate matter from coal power plants in developing countries spewed into the atmosphere may be reflecting sunlight thereby reducing heat. Others think that an exceptionally active solar cycle may be influencing temperatures.

The scientific method has always been a five-step process involving a question, a research hypothesis, experimentation and data analysis. While most scientists now believe humans play a significant role in global warming, the exact level is up for debate. And past projections have been off sometimes significantly. In one of the first predictions, Dr. James Hansen told Congress in 1988 that the world would warm 1.0 degree Celsius every 20 years until 2050. We now know that figure was 2-3 times too high.

Where does this leave policy makers and citizens? Policy makers should continue to develop free-market oriented solutions to global warming. Some folks favored a carbon tax, but its lack of success in Europe has pushed many towards carbon capture instead. Other potential solutions are worthy of consideration.

At the same time, scientists should emphasize that all predictions are estimates. The earth and its atmosphere are complicated places; we still have a lot to learn on climate change. Everybody should remember that science is not religion; actual facts are needed before a conclusion can be made. There is one thing that we can be certain of today: nobody can predict with 100% accuracy what any aspect of earth, including its climate, will be like in 2050.

Water Policing vs. Water Pricing in California

California is in significant drought, with a water crisis that has caused acres of crops to die or go unplanted, as water reservoirs continue to be depleted. According to one NASA water scientist, “If this drought continues, we’re going to be in a terrible situation within the next 12-24 months.”

The water crisis has caused municipalities to take action, sending “water police” out to monitor water usage and charging violators for excessive watering and other violations. Neighbors have begun to report one another to city authorities for using their sprinklers too often.

Water usage in California is suffering from the “tragedy of the commons.” In fact, water use in the state has increased by 1 percent this year, despite the worsening drought.

Why are Californians unwilling to curb their water use?

  • The authors explain that the state has incredibly low water prices: it costs less than 0.7 cents per gallon in San Diego and Los Angeles.
  • McKenzie himself writes that he pays just 0.2 cents per gallon for water in Irvine, California, meaning that he can purchase over 2,000 gallons of water for the same price as a single gallon of gas.

McKenzie and Shelton write that because water is so cheap, few Californians see it as a precious resource. They encourage raising the price of water in the state:

  • According to economists, raising the price of water by 10 percent will lead to a drop in consumption of 2 percent to 4 percent.
  • In order to reduce consumption in California by 20 percent, rates will have to rise by 50 percent.
  • By raising the price, consumers will give greater thought to their water usage and find ways to be more efficient.

To prevent the price hike from hurting the poor, a progressive pricing structure (in which the price of water rises as use increases) should kick in after a consumer has reached a minimal level of water usage.

NCPA Senior Fellow Richard McKenzie and Kathryn Shelton of the America’s Future Foundation

Water Desalination Efforts Can Really Benefit Texas

Water issues are becoming a growing problem for many places around the United States, especially in Texas. Droughts and a population boom are continuing to put more pressure on the state’s water supply. On top of that, the process of fracking (very popular in Texas) uses lots of water that is turned into waste water. The process of desalination can turn waste water, brackish water and even sea water into water that can be used as drinking water, irrigation and other uses.

An article by William McKenzie of the George Bush Institute in the Dallas Morning News highlights the desalination efforts in Texas, with a focus on the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Plant in El Paso.

He includes some recommendations for Texas:

  • The Texas Water Development Board can hire more geologists to research brackish water.
  • Communities can work on efforts to recycle brackish water.
  • Private/Public desalination plant partnerships, like in California, can provide enough water to millions of residents.

Adaptation Strategies for Climate Change

Although negligibly, climate change is happening, and addressing the issue in the short-term may prevent drastic future effects. When determining how to actually address climate change, two main strategies exist: mitigation and adaptation. While these two may appear similar, a nuanced difference distinguishes the two. Mitigation addresses the causes of climate change, while adaptation addresses the effects of climate change. Even though adaptation is a form of mitigation, it attempts to mitigate the harmful effects, not the causes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), adaptation strategies can be either protective (guarding against the negative impacts of climate change) or opportunistic (taking advantage of any beneficial effects of climate change).

While an exact range is not agreed upon, most studies predict that the global mean in temperature has and will continue to rise. Some predict marginal gains, while others predict a drastic spike. Nevertheless, most agree that climate change is happening, and the evidence clearly reveals a trend in increasing temperatures. However, even though a consensus exists with regards to the veracity of climate change, no consensus exists on its causes. If the exact causes are unknown, nations spending money on mitigation strategies are taking shots in the dark at trying to stop climate change. Thus, nations may find adaptation measures more economically sensible than mitigation, as these strategies are a guaranteed way of protecting society.

As adaptation clearly appears the appropriate method of addressing climate change, many different strategies have been proposed to protect various sectors and industries. However, while the strategies may differ, the process of planning effective adaptation strategies tends to follow a similar, cyclical pattern for most nations. Here are the most common and effective six steps, according to the National Research Council:

  1. Identify current and future climate changes relevant to the system.
  2. Assess the vulnerabilities and risks to the system.
  3. Develop an adaptation strategy using risk-based prioritization schemes.
  4. Identify opportunities for co-benefits and synergies across sectors.
  5. Implement adaptation options.
  6. Monitor and reevaluate implemented adaptation options.

With this established methodology for discovering and implementing adaptation strategies, the EPA has given various examples of policies for each sector.

Agriculture and Food Supply
  • Breed crop varieties that are more tolerant of heat, drought, and water logging from heavy rainfall or flooding
  • Protect livestock from higher summer temperatures by providing more shade and improving air flow in barns
  • Promote shore protection techniques and open space preserves that allow beaches and coastal wetlands to gradually move inland as sea levels may rise.
  • Identify and improve evacuation routes and evacuation plans for low-lying areas, to prepare for increased storm surge and flooding.
  • Protect and increase migration corridors to allow species to migrate as the climate changes.
  • Promote land and wildlife management practices that enhance ecosystem resilience.
  • Increase energy efficiency to help offset increases in energy consumption.
  • Harden energy production facilities to withstand increased flood, wind, lightning, and other storm-related stresses.
  • Removing invasive species.
  • Promoting biodiversity and landscape diversity.
  • Collaborating across borders to create habitat linkages.
  • Managing wildfire risk through controlled burns and thinning.
Human Health
  • Implement early warning systems and emergency response plans to prepare for changes in the frequency, duration, and intensity of extreme weather events.
  • Plant trees and expand green spaces in urban settings to moderate heat increases.
  • Developing plans to help elderly populations deal with more extreme weather.
  • Relocating communities where in-place adaptation is not feasible.
  • Considering how the private sector can support and promote adaptation.
  • Understanding the specific needs of sensitive populations.
  • Raising the level of critical infrastructure.
  • Changing construction and design standards of transportation infrastructure, such as bridges, levees, roads, railways, and airports.
  • Abandoning or rebuilding important infrastructure in less vulnerable areas.
Water Resources
  • Improve water use efficiency and build additional water storage capacity.
  • Protect and restore stream and river banks to ensure good water quality and safe guard water quantity

Often times, an effective strategy takes the dual-mandate approach, implementing adaptation and mitigation processes. However, with mitigation looking less effective each day, going all in on necessary adaptation strategies seems to be more appropriate. While mitigation strategies may buy a little more time in the long-run, adaptation strategies must take precedence as they will have definitive positive impacts. Rather than implementing new regulations to curb carbon emissions or regulate business, the federal government should work to prioritize the protection of these industries.

Tanner Davis is a research associate at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

EPA Advancing on Numerous Fronts

The Environmental Protection Agency has been all over the new recently with a flurry of activity. Joining the President’s strategy of going forward with their agenda and without Congress, the EPA is taking bold steps while receiving some harsh criticism.

The latest action by the EPA directs bold new standards/regulations on carbon emissions. According to the EPA, by 2030:

  • Cut carbon emission from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels, which is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year.
  • Cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent as a co-benefit.
  • Avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days — providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits.
  • Shrink electricity bills roughly 8 percent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system.

While the EPA clearly states some benefits to the new carbon emissions regulations, greater consequences could result from such carelessly calculated action. Electricity rates could skyrocket and the entire economy suffer.

According to the Heritage Foundation there will be serious economic damage:

  • Cumulative gross domestic product (GDP) losses are nearly $7 trillion by 2029 (in infla­tion-adjusted 2008 dollars), according to The Heritage Foundation/Global Insight model (described in Appendix A).
  • Single-year GDP losses exceed $600 billion (in inflation-adjusted 2008 dollars).
  • Annual job losses exceed 800,000 for several years.
  • Some industries will see job losses that exceed 50 percent.

Further action by the EPA has modified the Clean Water Act and directly affects the definition of water ways and the productive aspects of agriculture. EPA also modified the Reasonable and Prudent Alternative (RPA).

The EPA ruling on carbon emission gives the opponents of the Keystone XL Pipeline greater hope that they will succeed in their fight on the pipeline front.

“Going it alone” is a reckless decision for the entire Obama administration. Already reinforcing greater partisan divisions in Washington, completely ignoring entire branches of our government will only lead to greater problems for our entire country.

Diminishing Returns to Dam Building and Other Supply Solutions

Megadam Projects not Successful” highlights what many in Texas and elsewhere will see as an inconvenient, but critical, truth: there are diminishing returns to structural solutions to water scarcity problems. One reason that it is inconvenient is that there is a lot of money in dam building, and another is that water planners and municipal purveyors are not used to the demand-side approaches to make sure that demand will not exceed supply even in a worst-case-scenario drought.

Sole reliance on supply-side solutions to meet that mandate means the environmentally and fiscally costly construction of some projects that will sit idle most of the time. There are two alternatives that become more and more economically efficient as additional water supply projects come on line:

  • Provision for permanent and temporary market-based re-allocations of existing water rights, which means true private ownership of water consumption rights. Water price differences, or lacking those, water use value differences, will signal which way true markets would move water. It would not be a mass-movement because the prices are changed by the re-allocations, sometimes significantly by small reductions in sellers’ water use. For example, a relatively small re-allocation of irrigation water can slightly increase the value of agricultural water while massively decreasing the cost of municipal water.
  • For water supplies like municipal utilities and irrigation companies, provision of some discounted interruptible service. The option to buy a mix of non-interruptible and discounted interruptible service has been long-time standard fare in industries like natural gas that are much less vulnerable to the double whammy of simultaneous increase in demand and decrease in supply that comes with drought.

But gas providers and users are spending their own money, whereas government-run water purveyors spend someone else’s money. So, as water projects come online it eventually becomes cheaper to provide discounts for service that is interrupted in specified drought conditions than to have a nearly-always idle water project on standby for a rare situation.

Real Water Markets: Another Leadership Imperative

Political and economic freedom plus the rule of law and free enterprise yields the prosperity that we enjoy, and its absence explains why most of the world lags so far behind us. Its absence also explains why some sectors of our economy lag so far behind the rest. We use our resources more wisely than most of the rest of the world because market-determined prices guide most of our resource use decisions.

Changing market prices are a powerful information and incentive system. That system has an impressive track record because every price is the result of a serious, continuous, money-where-your-mouth-is indirect conversation about priorities and costs. It involves the entire population, so it harnesses much more information than the central planning alternative, which is just guesswork by a handful of over-extended public officials spending someone else’s money. Central planning has an awful track record, not just for economic inefficiency and poverty, but for creeping tyranny.

Market-determined prices will address Texas’ water management challenges more effectively than our current system of limited markets and central planning. Willing buyer — willing seller exchange of privately-owned water rights will tell us what each basin’s lowest value water uses are worth. Until we know what price existing users would sell water for, we cannot tell which potential water projects are wise investments. Price differences between water basins tell us if inter-basin transfers make economic sense, and tell us what restrictions on inter-basin transfers cost. The same price information is an essential element of water conservation planning.

Texas surface water law allows water rights’ exchanges, but transfers are over- regulated. For example, water rights holders cannot change water uses without state permission. Water rights are just revocable permission to use state water; a factor that undermines exchange, investment in water-related infrastructure, and promotes wasteful use-it-or-lose-it usage. Let’s hope for the wisdom and leadership to fix that before our drought and recent referendum push us to waste billions of dollars and the environmental disaster of unnecessarily flooding thousands of acres under new reservoirs.

Texas groundwater law has not even come that far. Many groundwater basins have long since reached the point where recharge can no longer keep up with unlimited pumping, which means that efficient use requires quantified pumping rights and a price system. Only the Edwards Aquifer area of South Central Texas has quantified pumping rights, but even there, water users cannot trade directly. Much of the Edwards Aquifer permitted pumping is locked into historic and mostly low water uses. Those are very expensive restrictions. How expensive? Only a system of market-determined prices can reveal the true amount.

The legal infrastructure needed to foster market-determined surface- and ground- water prices will have to incorporate numerous geologic, hydrologic, and historic use details that are beyond the scope of this commentary. But nothing about issues like third-party claims, drought management, and environmental values preclude the government from severely curtailing its costly micro-management of water use. Getting there is just a matter of leadership; selling the correct, limited government policies to a general public interested in freedom-based new ideas.