May 8, 2015

California Regulators: Falling Down on the Job of "managing private profit"

Can any ThreeSourcer believe that California regulators have been passing up opportunities to control a for-profit industry in California since around 1987? I was truly amazed to learn this. Perhaps the old codger who used to do it died before training his successor. But California environmentalists are on the case:

According to Adam Scow, California director of Food and Water Watch, the governor and state agencies could in theory disregard the legislature and act on the California constitution which bars "waste or unreasonable use" of the state's water supply.

"We need to start managing and protecting groundwater as a public resource," Scow said. "In a drought, bottling public water for private profit qualifies as wasteful and unreasonable."

Because... DROUGHT! "Endless drought" in fact.

Nestlé itself insists its water use is efficient and has minimal impact on the environment - something the activists reject out of hand.

"While California is facing record drought conditions, it is unconscionable that Nestlé would continue to bottle the state's precious water, export it and sell it for profit," says the petition, which is sponsored by the political activist organisation the Courage Campaign.

But surely not as unconscionable as drawing a Mohammad cartoon. Right?

Please people. A little perspective is in order. Bottled water is measured in ounces and gallons. Irrigation and municipal water is measured in cubic feet per second and acre feet!

Nestlé and its competitors point out that bottled water accounts for a tiny fraction of California's overall use, particularly when compared with the state's vast agricultural infrastructure. Almond farming alone sucks down 10% of the state's water, at a rate of roughly one gallon per almond.

(...)

One key question will be how much water Nestlé is taking to create what one industry group delightfully calls "the quintessential hydrating beverage". The company claims 700m gallons a year, or about what it takes to keep two golf courses green.

Fore!

California Environment Food and Wine Government Posted by JohnGalt at May 8, 2015 3:08 PM

And my Facebook friends have posted (as Dave Berry would say, I'm not making this up) "Ban Almonds!"

One hates to see suffering, but the Hayekian in me welcomes this as a graphic illustration of Fatal Conceit -- let the pointy heads price a commodity instead of the market, and expect shortages or gluts.

Everybody's water price is subsidized in California. The created huge water subsidies for agriculture because Adam Smith, then they had to subsdies municipal usage because the discrepancy was alarming.

"Why didn't they just lower the..." Son, you've never faced an Ag lobby.

Searching for the great piece I read on this topic, I encountered this guy who started growing almonds because he saw that subsidized cotton in the valley wasn't a long term plan.

As for the gallon-per-almond metric?

Boy, that sounds wasteful. It's a figure designed to outrage, and it does the trick.

But looking at the societal value of producing food only by gallons of water used is silly, if not absurd. My fellow growers of other crops calculate that it takes about 168 gallons of water to produce a single watermelon. And 50 gallons for a cantaloupe. That head of broccoli that you feel good about serving to your child? Thirty-five gallons. A single ear of corn requires roughly 40 gallons.

If only there were some way to let all the users of a commodity find its most valuable use among competing demands. If only somebody could come up with such a scheme.

Posted by: jk at May 9, 2015 3:24 PM

Thus explaining why ag water is measured in acre feet instead of gallons. For example:

1 almond = .000003 acre feet of water
1 watermelon = .0005 acre feet

Everything else listed is between those two figures. Units matter. It's like saying a typical diet soda has just 4 Calories, when in scientific terms (thermal calories) it is actually a whopping 4,000 calories. (And a Carls Jr. 1/2 pound guacamole bacon thickburger is 1.21 million calories.)

Posted by: johngalt at May 11, 2015 12:26 PM

Reading the comment-linked article, CA farmers are paying $1000 per acre foot for federally supplied water. Since there are 325,853 gallons in an acre foot that is 0.3 cents per gallon. Talk about "producer subsidy!" The hipsters' have to pay 650 times that for their Ethos Water!

I'm not sure which is "worse" - the government giveaway to "Big H2O" or the rapacious profit-gouging by private corporation Starbucks!

Posted by: johngalt at May 11, 2015 12:43 PM | What do you think? [3]