Friday, July 20, 2012

Drought: Texas sized

Texas is running out of water.  Some people are getting upset.

How They Do Drought in Texas
The Daily Impact, 9 July 2012 (hat tip: NC)

Like the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia, the Ogallala contains fossil water, deposited by glaciers tens of thousands of years ago. That means there’s only so much of it. In a wet year — and there aren’t going to be many more wet years in North Texas — the Ogallala water levels might gain a fraction of an inch in replenishment. Prior to the onset of this drought, Texas Panhandle farmers were habitually drawing it down by about a foot a year.
Then it got really dry and the farmers more than doubled down on irrigation, dropping the surface of the aquifer under the Panhandle by 2.5 – 3 feet. One well recorded a 25-foot drop.

But wait, it gets worse. According to the Texas Tribune, last year, in the worst of the drought so far, West Texas farmers continued to irrigate crops that were already dead with precious Ogallala water. They didn’t do it because they wanted to; they did it because they had to irrigate through the entire growing season in order to collect federally subsidized (and regulated) crop insurance.

The High Plains Underground Water Conservation District understands the First Law of Consumption (as propounded in Brace for Impact): if you only have so much stuff in a container, and you’re taking it out as fast as you can, pretty soon you won’t have any stuff left. So it has proposed placing a cap on water withdrawals from the Ogallala, putting meters on wells, that sort of thing. Doing, in other words, one of the main things we invented government to do — protecting the Commons for the common good.
They note that the Texas Supreme Court has sided with the land owner in a case involving regulating the amount of well water draw down from private property:  Edwards Aquifer v. Day & McDaniel

The authors of the article are getting upset. They seem to be under the perception that centralized control will alleviate the problem.

My problem with the reasoning of the problem, is that they are not addressing the real problem. The real problem is likely not the individual farmers, but the large urban metro areas that pipe in enormous amounts of water to sustain their economy. Even when the farmers activities do draw down the water supply, it is this enormous growing world urban population that they are feeding. Preventing the "taking" is simply a way to keep the government from shoving all the costs of  "common" solution onto one group - mainly the landowners.  If it is worth the time of the greater common people to come up with a solution, the costs of the solution should not be buried under regulatory restrictions.

Texas drought (see here for source)


Anonymous said...

And now the 'Third World' gets to repeat the mistakes of the 'First':

Newly discovered water source in Namibia

Scientists say the water is up to 10,000 years old and could supply the NORTH of the country for 400 years at CURRENT rates of consumption. (But why would you limit yourself? Why not sell it to a neighboring country, or bottle that glacial water, or just enjoy your own pool?)

russell1200 said...

Anon: I saw the headline on that, but didn't follow up. That is the old German Southwest Africa. The Germans killed about 80% of the rebelling population in the late 19th cnetury by driving them out into the desert.

I saw that it has the second lowest population density in the world - basically because it is a big desert. They can certainly use a break, it is a very dry country. But the usage is based on todays very low usage, so you are likely correct.