source ref: ebookwas.html
- 32 -
Looking at statistics for the nation as a whole may appear to be somewhat misleading. However, since the 17 western states dominate the consumptive use, consuming 84 percent, the statistics for the nation are strongly influenced by the West, where agriculture is the primary consumer of water.
In any overview of the water resources of the semiarid West, the lower Colorado River basin and southern California stand out as the most critical areas for water. Another look at the depletion map, Figure 1.6, indicates that the water supply is more than 100 percent depleted in these areas. This is substantiated by the overdraft of groundwater shown in Figure 1.9.
The Colorado River is the principal long-term source of water for much of this area. Stockton and Jacoby, utilizing tree-ring data, reconstructed Colorado River streamflow back to 1512. Using this record they estimated the mean annual flow at 13.5 million acre-feet. This is approximately 2 million acre-feet less than anticipated when the water rights were divided in the 1922 Colorado River Compact. Unfortunately, the 1922 Compact was based on records of flow during a series of unusually wet years from 1906 to 1920. The availability of water from the Colorado is further complicated by a number of Indian claims upon the river which are as yet unresolved.
A synthesized record of the flow of the Colorado River below all major diversions, in Figure 1.13, portrays the outflow of the river into the Gulf of California. The downward trend of the residual flow, which is caused by an increasing use of water from the Colorado River, is evident. Usage by Mexico as well as by the United States is reflected in the residuals. (Under the terms of a treaty between the United States and Mexico in 1944, supplemented by various "minutes" and negotiations, Mexico is allotted an annual quantity of 1.5 million acre-feet.)
Diversions from the Colorado began considerably before 1900. However, prior to that year, annual net diversions generally were less than 1.0 million acre-feet. The residual flows during 1935-39 were unusually low, largely because of the initial filling of Lake Mead. Low flows from 1960 to 1978 reflect nearly complete use of the river. In 1979 and 1980, major floods in the Lower Colorado River basin downstream from the principal reservoirs resulted in larger outflows.
- 33 -
Clearly all the water in the Colorado is currently utilized. The consumptive use within the basin is compared with entitlements from the river in Figure 1.14. The large consumptive use in Arizona is made up in part by groundwater mining.
The water in the Colorado is also plagued by an increasing load of dissolved salts. This load comes from a number of natural sources and from sources which are the result of man's actions. Approximately one third of the total salt load is the result of irrigation. Another 10 percent or so comes from Flaming Gorge Reservoir and from Lake Mead, where salts are being leached from geologic deposits inundated by the reservoirs. Figure 1.15 attempts to summarize both the concentration of dissolved solids as well as the total salt load.
- 34 -
Water is in short supply in the Lower Colorado River basin. Population statistics indicate a growth in urbanization both in Arizona and southern California. If urban growth is to continue, there will undoubtedly be pressure to shift water away from agricultural use.
- 35 -
Salt Load in the Colorado River, 1941-1978 Averages
A number of alternatives have been discussed for increasing the water supply. These are categorized for the purpose of discussion into: (1) increased surface storage; (2) increased groundwater development; (3) more efficiency of water utilization; and (4) large-scale interbasin transfers of water.
Surface storage is the traditional method of providing additional available water. Additional reservoir sites exist in some parts of the western states. Langbein has reviewed historic trends in reservoir development in the U.S. Table 1.2, taken
- 36 -
from Langbein, shows the reservoir capacity currently available in a number of the major river basins of the country. Langbein has suggested that a unit capacity of approximately 400 acre-feet of storage per square mile of drainage area represents a potential limit for reservoir development; the Colorado has a potential unit capacity of 400 acre-feet per square mile.
Langbein also plotted the historic trend of reservoir capacity; this plot is shown in Figure 1.16. The growth in capacity for all purposes and for withdrawal has flattened out since 1960. The question is whether this reduction in reservoir construction will continue, or if it is simply an aberration in long-term growth curve.
- 37 -
Our assessment is that surface reservoirs will continue to be increasingly difficult to develop. Recent legislation such as the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) makes it easier for environmental groups to voice their interests. Every major new reservoir project seems likely to receive some resistance from opposing groups. Major conflicts will, in many instances, be settled politically. In arid regions such as the lower Colorado River basin, where water is particularly critical, additional reservoirs may evaporate as much or more water as is made available, thereby further concentrating the dissolved salts. Increasing surface storage in the lower Colorado is a losing proposition.
Groundwater is already heavily utilized, as has been pointed out, much of its development resulting in mining of water. The increased costs of pumping imposed by increased energy costs have reduced groundwater pumping, especially in areas such as Arizona.
The one area with apparent potential for a major increase in groundwater development is Nebraska. Table 1.3 is a compilation of the water in storage in the Ogallala Aquifer, the result of an ongoing U.S. Geological Survey study of the system. Approximately two thirds of the water in storage is in Nebraska, an enormous reserve of groundwater. Only in Texas and New Mexico has more than 10 percent of the water initially in storage been depleted. The depletion statistics may be somewhat misleading, since it is economically impractical to remove all the water initially in storage; perhaps 50 to 70 percent is a reasonable estimate of what might be removed under favorable economic conditions.
These data indicate that only a small percentage of the water in the Ogallala has been removed. Obviously an enormous quantity of groundwater is still present for development in Nebraska.
A number of measures have been suggested to effect better utilization of water available. Among these, increased irrigation efficiency, weather modification, reuse of wastewater, conjunctive use of groundwater, desalination, and increased use of saline water have been considered.
Increased efficiency of irrigation has obvious advantages. But a major nagging question is: what happens to the salts in the system when one increases the efficiency? A study of a reach of the Arkansas suggested that following an initial two-to-three-year period after increasing irrigation efficiency, groundwater in the shallow aquifer along the Arkansas River would become more saline. This increase in salinity of the groundwater would increase the salinity of the flow in the river.
Pillsbury, in an article in Scientific American entitled "The Salinity of Rivers", argues that salt buildup is a major problem for all irrigation projects. His thesis is that sufficient water must be applied to continually remove salt from the soils. Salt buildup seems to pose some limit on possibilities for increasing irrigation efficiency.
- 39 -
In such systems as the South Platte, or the Arkansas in Colorado, or the lower Colorado, most of the water goes to support beneficial transpiration. It seems questionable that increased efficiency can materially add to the useful supply.
Weather modification has received considerable attention. The data, although not totally conclusive, suggest that cloud seeding could increase precipitation locally, with a 10 percent increase in supply possible. The question remains as to what happens downwind-does cloud seeding reduce rainfall? This issue remains to be settled. However, it appears that some local increase in available supply is possible from weather modification.
- 40 -
Reuse of wastewater is another possible source of water. Reuse is already practiced in a number of places. In irrigation, reuse occurs through return flow, which replenishes the streamflow. Municipal wastes have been purchased in such areas as Phoenix, Arizona, for utilization in irrigation. The city of Irvine, California, reuses all of its wastewater, mostly for municipal irrigation.
Major metropolitan areas along the coast continue to discharge some wastes to the sea. Some of this water could be reused beneficially. However, the costs of cleaning it up may be such as to preclude it for use in agricultural irrigation.
The shallow aquifers in the earth provide an enormous fresh water reservoir. Many of these are already utilized extensively as active storage reservoirs. The conjunctive water use developments along the Platte, the Arkansas, the Rio Grande, and the Snake rivers are classic examples of utilization of the groundwater system as a storage reservoir.
In certain areas such as the southern San Joaquin Valley in California, groundwater reservoirs can be utilized to store water in periods of abundance. Already a number of such developments are well established elsewhere in California, particularly in Orange County and the Santa Clara Valley.
The groundwater aquifer has obvious advantages for storage as only small surface areas are affected, evapotranspiration is greatly reduced, and in many places the aquifer serves as an excellent filter for the water. On the other hand, aquifer storage has the disadvantage that it is sometimes expensive to recharge groundwater, especially if one has to utilize wells. How much impact conjunctive use will have in the overall water management in the West is difficult to forecast at this time.
The cost of desalinating water makes it too expensive, in most instances, for agriculture. However, the use of desalination for municipal and industrial use may reduce the competition for water currently utilized in agriculture. Saline water can also be utilized for industrial purposes such as cooling, and for special purposes such as slurrying coal. There is abundant saline groundwater over much of the West, and use of these resources could reduce the competition for water.
How effective more efficient water utilization measures will be in making water available is anyone's guess. If collectively they could make available 10 percent of the water currently used in agriculture, this would approximately equal all of the other consumptive uses. Ten percent may be an achievable goal.
Large-scale interbasin transfers, particularly to the lower Colorado River basin, have been proposed as a source of water for some time. The major interbasin transfers are shown in Figure 1.17. The two really significant transfers occur in the Colorado basin and in California. By far the largest of these transfers occurs in California.
Traditionally, the states have primacy with respect to utilization of water. Large-scale interbasin transfers cannot take place without a change in state primacy. As water is perceived to be a critical commodity, state primacy will be harder and harder to change. We are pessimistic that this policy can be changed significantly to allow further large interbasin transfers between states. In fact the magnitude of the transfers in California has only been possible, in our judgment, because they occurred within a single state. Interbasin transfer continues to be a sensitive issue even in California, as witnessed by the 1982 referendum over the Peripheral Canal.
It seems problematical that major quantities of water are available for interbasin transfer. For example, Whittlesey and Gibbs, who reviewed the utilization of water in the Columbia for hydropower, concluded that water for irrigation in central Washington costs the general public $150 per acre per year in increased energy costs. This cost comes from lost hydropower downstream and from large quantities of energy to supply supplemental irrigation water which is provided irrigators at very low rates. Under such circumstances it seems highly unlikely that Washington would allow additional water to be diverted for irrigation within the state, and certainly it would fight a major interbasin transfer to another state. Similar situations exist in other western states which, at first glance, appear to have "surplus" fresh water.
It is increasingly difficult to effect major structural changes which would provide large quantities of water to those areas where water is in critical supply-southern California, Arizona, and the High Plains of Texas and New Mexico. Outside California, large interbasin transfers must face the issue of state primacy, a particularly difficult issue to overcome.
- 42 -
- 43 -
One must turn to other measures to utilize more effectively the water that is currently available. Increased efficiency, weather modification, reuse, and conjunctive use, while perhaps not dramatic, have the potential to make better utilization of the available water supply. If collectively these measures could make available 10 percent of the water currently consumed by agriculture, that quantity would approximately equal the total of all other consumption in the West.
On the average, the quantity of water in transport in the hydrologic cycle remains unchanged. Except for the fact that we are mining groundwater, no less water is available than heretofore. The fact that we are approaching the limit of the water which can be developed means that there is, and will continue to be, ever-increasing competition for that water. Increased competition implies a higher value for the commodity. While as a society we rarely make large-scale water decisions purely on economic grounds, higher value also implies a higher price. Thus, in the context of increased competition, we have a shortage, at least of inexpensive water.
A number of areas in the West depend heavily upon groundwater for their supply. The areas of largest overdraft of groundwater are Arizona and the High Plains of Texas and New Mexico. Much of this water is a one-time supply, obtained by a "mining" operation. Although that is not necessarily bad, the supply is finite, and at some point, perhaps in the distant future, will be gone. Arizona has recently moved to strengthen its groundwater law to protect the resource.
The drought of the mid-70s in California motivated farmers to drill many new wells to tide themselves through a period of shortage. Now that the wells are drilled, they continue to be pumped, demonstrating that additional supplies of surface water do not always ease the overdraft of groundwater. In many instances, new supplies bring more land into production. To the extent that we are mining groundwater, we are running out of water.
The one bright spot in the water picture in the West is Nebraska, where a huge supply of groundwater is present in the aquifer. The figures on the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska suggest that this is probably the largest virtually untapped supply of water present in the 17 western states.
There can be little doubt that we are entering an era of continually increasing competition for water. In the Southwest, where water shortage threatens most critically, increasing urbanization and increasing energy development both compete
- 44 -
with agriculture, now the largest water consumer. Steve Reynolds, State Engineer of New Mexico, aptly states the current water situation when he says, "Water flows uphill toward money." To what extent agriculture in the West can accommodate the competition is the issue.
I see no significant weakness in Bredehoeft's lucid and concise discussion except that his projections are based upon relatively short hydrologic records. More specifically, paleoclimatic data indicate that worldwide climate changes occurred around the turn of the century-measurements such as Bredehoeft has used, which are confined to the 20th century, are likely to be biased by these changes.
I have used tree-ring widths as proxy climate records (substitutes for instrumented data) to estimate the magnitude of this bias. The ring widths of approximately 1000 trees from sites throughout the West were calibrated with the 20th-century instrumented climatic record throughout the United States. The
- 45 -
calibration equation was then applied to past ring-width growth to estimate past variations in climate. The estimates of climate were then verified with independent instrumented data,  available prior to the time period used for calibration. Finally, optimal reconstructions were selected based upon the best calibration and verification statistics.
When these procedures are applied to California precipitation (Figure 1.18), pre-20th century precipitation is reconstructed to be below the 20th century mean; when a line is drawn through the plot, long periods of extended drought are evident.
Figure 1.19a shows another analysis in which the means for 1901-1970 temperature and annual precipitation in 11 North American regions were compared to the reconstructed means for 1602-1900. The 20th century was slightly cooler than the 17th-19th centuries for five regions in the West, and warmer for the remaining regions. It was 19 percent wetter in California (Region 2), above average in four additional southwestern regions, and dryer elsewhere.
Thus one can see that when expectations for precipitation are based solely on this century they would overestimate the long-term expectations for moisture because of recent anomalous trends in precipitation, particularly in California. Similarly, temperature projections would underestimate conditions west of the Rockies and overestimate them east of the Rockies.
Figure 1.19b shows the standard deviations of the reconstructions in the West for the 20th century, compared to the standard deviations for three prior centuries. They indicate a lower variability in 20th-century climate, especially in the amount of precipitation.
In addition, reconstructions of surface pressure suggest that coastal storms became more southerly displaced around the turn of the century, bringing higher moisture into California and the Southwest during winter. These storms appear to have traveled on the average in a northeast direction through the Great Lakes. The resulting southerly air flow brought less moisture and warmer temperatures to the eastern portions of the country. Prior to the 20th century storms apparently entered the country more often over the Pacific Northwest, passed over the Rockies, and traveled eastward or southeastward, bringing colder temperatures and more moisture to the East. However, this pattern was more variable, more severe storms were reported in the East, and plains droughts occurred that were as severe, if not more severe, than those in the 1930s.
- 46 -
- 47 -
- 48 -
Stockton and Boggess point out that the consequences of a dry and warm climatic change would be greatest in many areas of the arid Southwest, especially in the Lower Colorado, Missouri Arkansas-White-Red, and Texas Gulf, where groundwater is already extensively used.
Two primary future climatic projections have been made by climatologists today. The most popular is that the climate is likely to warm, due to the burning of fossil fuel and an increase of atmospheric CO/d/s-22/s+2/u. The second is that the climate was anomalous for the first half of the 20th century and that it is now likely to revert to the state of prior centuries. In either projection, climate in the semiarid West is likely to be drier, perhaps warmer, and more variable. This would indicate that the existing projections of water resources for the West based on the 20th-century hydrologic record are in all likelihood overestimates of what the water resources may be in the future.
The research reported here was supported in part by NSF Grant ATM75-22378 Climate Variability, Climate Dynamics Program and by the California Department of Water Resources, Agreement No. B53367.
Mr. Bredehoeft presents a rather gloomy picture of the water supplies in the West. Although much of what he says is correct, some of it tends to be a little misleading.
I do not fully agree that the water supply of the West is nearly fully utilized. Some river basins like the Colorado could be said to be fully utilized. However, an example of underdeveloped water supply is the Columbia River at The Dalles, with an average flow of over 140 million acre-feet per year; and the Willamette River at Portland averages over 23 million acre-feet per year. I could name at least ten other rivers that discharge between 3 and 15 million acre-feet per year.
While it is true that not all of these vast water supplies can be utilized and storage projects are very difficult to construct, many worthwhile storage projects have yet to be constructed. The problem with most of these rivers is that they are far from the heavy demand areas of California and the Southwest.
Runoff Predictions. A most difficult problem, and yet a paramount need, is accurate prediction of streamflows for the next six months, year, two years, and five years. Much has been written about the hydrologic cycle, the correlation of precipitation and runoff with sunspots, wind patterns, volcanic activity, effect of air pollution on weather, and effect on weather of atomic explosions. Nevertheless, the ability to predict precipitation and hence runoff with any degree of accuracy has not been demonstrated. The theory has been that the key lies in history; hence, studies of tree ring data, runoff records, stochastic analysis with the aid of computers-and we are still a long way from an acceptable solution.
Irrigation. Somewhere between 30 and 75 percent of water diverted for irrigation is a direct depletion and is consumed by evapotranspiration. The remainder either percolates into the ground and becomes part of the groundwater resource or returns to the stream and becomes available for reuse. Return flow usually is of poorer quality than the source. Many significant groundwater resources have been the result of or enhanced by irrigation. (Examples: Columbia basin in central Washington, Snake Plain aquifer in south-central Idaho, and the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys in California).
Groundwater. Groundwater pumping from an aquifer that is being mined is a depletion of that resource, whatever its use. There may be some reuse or secondary use of the water pumped;
- 50 -
but unless it is reinjected, groundwater that is being mined is not a renewable resource. When it is used up, it is gone. In contrast, streams provide a renewable supply which comes every year, with some fluctuations depending on the weather.
Some things can be done to enhance or prolong the life of groundwater resources. These may include (1) artificial recharge: this may be feasible if there is an available resource; (2) limitation or restriction of groundwater pumping; and (3) efficient use of available supplies.
Competition for Water. Severe competition for limited water supplies in some areas may make it necessary to choose between irrigation, streamflows for fish, or domestic needs. Abundant and cheap water supplies enhance the quality of life in the West, but in the future some locations may not be able to enjoy them. Most countries do not have the luxury of abundant, high quality water supplies to the extent that we do in the United States and Canada. In the past cities have had to restrict the watering of lawns or filling of swimming pools to ensure adequate supplies for drinking, washing, and fire protection.
Many of those vying for control of water supplies have a single-track approach. Some typical comments have been:
"My need is paramount."
"Irrigation provides food; do you want to watch the fish swim upstream or would you rather eat?"
"Fish have been nearly eliminated by diversions and pollution for nearly 100 years; this has to be rectified now!"
"Recreation needs are increasing by leaps and bounds; water-based recreation must be given a high priority."
"Water is needed for power production. Power is the basis for our high standard of living. It means jobs!"
Narrow, unyielding approaches make it all the more difficult to find solutions to water supply problems facing the West. The competition is becoming keener every year. Cool heads and clear vision are needed to make good decisions that will influence the quality of the western lifestyle for years to come.
For irrigated agriculture, water must be available not only physically but institutionally. Laws, customs, politics, and groups determine whether irrigated agriculture is favored or disfavored in the competitive arena of water management. The fourfold thesis of this paper is: (1) water reallocation and management is gradually replacing water development in the western U.S.; (2) irrigated agriculture's favored legal-political position is declining, but only marginally; (3) change in the relative position of agriculture is likely to continue to be incremental, but more innovative change caused by unexpected events is possible; and (4) in the face of uncertainty, more flexible water management institutions to promote conservation and water transfers, while protecting equities, are advisable.
Two institutions spurred the growth of irrigated agriculture by delivering cheap water: the prior appropriation doctrine of water law and the federal reclamation program of the Bureau of Reclamation. As the water available for agriculture declines, the prior appropriation system of water rights can be expected to (1) aid the farmer who desires to profit from the sale of his water rights to other users; (2) compensate the farmer whose land and water is condemned against his wishes; (3) require the farmer to waste less water; (4) allow the farmer with junior rights to be displaced by senior rights, such as Indian water rights; and (5) provide a cause of action for the farmer whose water rights are impaired by one or more late-comer appropriators.
Irrigated acreage in the West has doubled since World War II, expanding increasingly away from the southern arid tier to the central and northern high plains states. The reclamation ethic appears to have crested, however, and the federal influence in water policy seems to be waning as the water management role of the states is waxing. Unexpected events, such as an unparalleled oil crisis or expanded famine, could alter current trends. Whatever the future holds, more flexible water management institutions are advisable for the welfare of all the water use sectors.
Agricultural growth in the West was spurred by legal-political institutions that delivered cheap water. Chief among those institutions were the prior appropriation doctrine and the federal reclamation program.
Early settlers had little incentive to commit capital and labor to construct water diversion and distribution systems if there were any risk of other users moving in upstream and leaving them high and dry. Therefore, western states developed the doctrine of "first in time, first in right". This law of prior appropriation allowed the first user on a stream to obtain a priority over all other subsequent users, and so on down the line. Prior appropriation facilitated western expansion and agricultural development because water could be parcelled out to a large number of irrigators, and priority dates signalled the extent of risk in situations of drought.
Even when existing streams were fully appropriated, agriculture continued to expand by augmenting supplies through the federal program to reclaim the arid and semiarid West. The 1902 National Reclamation Act codified the goal of making the deserts bloom, ushering in the developmental era of heavily subsidized, and increasingly centralized, large-scale irrigation projects. The Act, its amendments, and individual project authorizations provided the legal structure for long-term, interest-free financing based on "ability to pay", and further institutionalized the notion that unappropriated and undeveloped water was itself free, its only cost being the capital cost of constructing works and the subsequent operation and maintenance cost. The government's powers of eminent domain, navigation, and commerce were available for these projects constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation. The Bureau intercepted most major waterways in the West with a series of dams and diversions. Interbasin transfer projects were commonplace. The reclamation program spurred the creation of water districts (mostly public, special districts) as entities responsible for repayment, operation, and maintenance functions. Contract obligations were deferred in projects experiencing hardships. Areas with the most political power in Congress were generally benefitted first. In the post-World War I period, the public works ethos mitigated hard economic times and was further
- 53 -
institutionalized. Law was viewed as an instrument to harness the unruly forces of nature through public resolve, sweat, and engineering. Public hydroelectric power production was promoted as a major means of subsidizing irrigation water development.
Indian tribes were largely neglected by this reclamation process. In 1908, the United States Supreme Court held that water rights had been reserved to Indian tribes for their future use incidental to the creation of reservations. These so-called reserved water rights, unlike state-created appropriation rights, are not dependent upon use, and thus may be claimed at any time and are not lost by nonuse. For the most part, Indian water rights remain unquantified, pending court determination and/or Congressional action. However, tribes are becoming increasingly assertive in claiming large quantities of water. Were such claims to be honored, some present irrigationists would be affected, especially along streams such as the San Juan in New Mexico, which may already be over-committed.
With water demand pressing close upon water supply all over the West, and with few good prospects for increasing supply, there seems little alternative to a reallocation of existing supplies among new and established users. Since irrigated agriculture consumes between 80 and 90 percent of total water supplies in most western states, and since the value of water for crop production is ordinarily lower than for alternative uses such as energy, some agriculture is in the position of being bought out.
The relative position of agriculture with respect to water supply will now be explored from the perspective of legal and institutional history.
Water law in the West often comes in layers, ranging from the macro to the micro. If an international drainage is involved (like the Colorado, Rio Grande, and Columbia Rivers), a treaty normally governs the division of water between nations. If the water flows between states, an interstate compact (or possible litigation) apportions it. Within a particular state, the water laws (statutes, court rulings, and administrative decisions) define how individual property rights in water are created, exercised,
- 54 -
and protected, except to the extent that superior federal or Indian rights are involved (e.g., navigation servitude, "reserved" water rights, and federal eminent domain). Generally speaking, the international, national, and interstate laws make the broad allocations which determine "state entitlements"-the amounts of water which, when added to the water local to a state, are available for use within that particular state.
Agriculture can be affected by laws at all these levels, as a few references to the Colorado River Basin will illustrate. The U.S.-Mexican Water Treaty of 1944 contained no express provision for water quality. Highly saline irrigation drainage from the United States' side precipitated conflict in 1961, leading to U.S.-Mexican agreements and a United States salinity control program which together affect irrigation water management in the states of the Colorado River Basin. Two interstate compacts-the Colorado River Compact of 1922, and the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact of 1948-together control allocations between the upper and lower parts of the basin and between the seven states of the basin, subject to unresolved claims relating to federal and Indian "reserved" water rights. Because the flow of the river was overestimated in 1922, the upper basin's legal obligation to deliver water to the lower basin means that the upper basin has 1 to 2.25 MAF less each year than originally planned. That kind of shortfall raises the level of competition between agriculture and other uses.
The 1922 Colorado River Compact contains a pro-agricultural bias, declaring domestic and agricultural use to be superior to the generation of electricity. Both the 1922 and 1948 compacts preserve Indian water right claims which, when quantified, could displace or devalue the agricultural water rights of non-Indians. Federal authorization of the Central Arizona Project (CAP) conditions agricultural water delivery on reducing pumping, practicing conservation, and not irrigating new acreage. When the CAP comes on line several years from now, some California irrigation (which has been based on flow destined ultimately for Arizona) could be cut back.
With most of the federal reclamation projects in the western U.S. completed or authorized, state water laws provide the layer of legal rules that now most influence water availability for irrigation. Each state has its own water law system, although similarities exist across state lines. The state water law systems decide who gets how much for what uses. While mining predated irrigation in some of the western states, on the whole
- 55 -
irrigated agriculture has dominated the acquisition of water under the water right systems of the West since the early days of those systems. The water laws of the western states variously were initially designed or later shaped to promote, not limit, irrigation development.
Under the "riparian doctrine" which has prevailed from the outset in the humid eastern states, the right to use water from natural water courses is held by the owners of land adjacent to the water. The western states for the most part rejected the riparian approach, adopting the "prior appropriation doctrine" which allowed water to be diverted away from riparian land. (See map of surface water rights systems, Figure 2.1.)
The appropriation doctrine rests on two fundamental principles: (1) priority in time, and (2) beneficial use. The priority principle-first in time, first in right-allocates available water in times of shortage to those who first began their use of water from the source. Persons with the earliest priority may have their rights completely satisfied, while persons with the latest rights may receive no water at all.
This "first in time" rule is offset by three large exceptions. First, in most states, certain preferred users receive their full appropriation regardless of their priority. Preference is normally given to domestic and municipal uses and often to uses for agricultural purposes. Some states also provide a judicial mechanism through which preferred users may condemn the water rights of less preferred users. Second, appropriators may agree among themselves that during times of shortage the burden of the reduction in supply will be shared by a system of rotation or some other way. Third, sharing of shortage is often found in large projects where a number of irrigators share in the project's priority.
The term "beneficial use" is not subject to precise definition, but it generally includes two related, but somewhat different, concepts: social utility and engineering efficiency. That is, a use is beneficial if it involves some socially accepted purpose and if it makes a reasonably efficient use of water.
In the past most consumptive uses, particularly irrigation, have been considered beneficial. The types of uses socially accepted as beneficial uses have been increasing. Gradually, "instream" uses, such as the preservation of minimum flows to preserve fish, wildlife, and recreation values, which do not involve the "appropriation" of water, are becoming recognized as
- 56 -
- 57 -
beneficial uses. New energy-related uses, such as dewatering mines and slurrying coals, are being regarded as beneficial by most affected states, increasing the basis for competition and the justification for public regulation involving the exercise of broad administrative discretion in assessing trade-offs and balancing interests. Thus, beneficial use is a dynamic, not static, principle.
A person who wishes to divert water for a beneficial use must apply for a permit to a designated state agency. The typical scheme is generalized in Figure 2.2. Public notice is given and a hearing is offered to other right holders-sometimes to affected members of the public also-who object to the proposed diversion. The date of application usually determines the priority of the use.
The state will generally issue the permit if it determines that the proposed use will not interfere with existing uses ("nonimpairment"), that unappropriated water is available, and that the project is not otherwise contrary to the public interest.
Upon completion of the diversion and application of the water to a beneficial use, an appropriator must file proof of appropriation which, upon verification, is followed by the issuance of a certificate of a perfected right. This right extends only to the amount of water actually diverted and applied to a beneficial use, even if a larger quantity was originally intended. Under most irrigation uses of surface water, a significant portion of water applied returns to the watercourse as "return flow."
A purchaser of appropriation rights who merely continues the same use as his predecessor need only comply with local recording laws to perfect the right. An application for a new permit must be filed, however, if either a purchaser or the same owner intend to change the nature of the use, which may mean a change in the point of diversion or in the purpose or place of use. State approval helps to guarantee that the proposed change will not interfere to a greater extent than did the prior use with the existing rights of others, and that the new use is in the public interest.
The application process for proposed changes is similar to that followed for the initiation of new rights. Approval depends on a determination that other rights will not be impaired and that unappropriated water is available (in the event that the change of use is more consumptive than the prior use). Some states will not permit a transfer in the place of use if it involves the transport of water outside the watershed of origin or outside the state. And some states will not authorize a change in the type of
- 58 -
- 59 -
use where the prior use is preferred over that use which is to replace it.
With the prior appropriation doctrine thus described, the question arises: What relationship might exist between this prior appropriation system and diminished water for agriculture? The simple answer is that the system in most instances will (1) aid the farmer who desires to retire by selling his land and water profitably to nonfarmers; (2) compensate the farmer whose land and water is condemned against his wishes; (3) possibly reduce, under changing notions of conservation and "reasonableness," the amount of water the farmer has been diverting or consuming; (4) subordinate the farmer with junior rights to newly asserted senior rights, such as Indian water rights; and (5) provide a cause of action for the farmer whose water rights are impaired by one or more late-comer appropriators.
These results will occur in the following ways. Appropriative rights are quantified and, in most areas, marketable. (See Chapter 18.) Individual farmers and farming interests themselves will reduce the water available for agriculture by selling out at attractive prices to nonagricultural users, such as cities and energy companies. Appropriative rights are property rights; if they are condemned by a public agency or authorized utility, compensation must be paid. For the farmer who continues to exercise his appropriative right, he may find that changing legislative, judicial, or administrative notions of "reasonable use" and "public interest" require that he be more efficient in his water use, that is, use less water on the same acreage. In some cases, he may be allowed to use the water saved on expanded acreage, in which case no overall reduction in agricultural water occurs. If the farmer's priority date is later than that of an unexercised Indian water right, the initiation of the Indian water use can reduce or eliminate the farmer's supply. To the extent that he is the senior appropriator in time, however, competing junior uses cannot lawfully impair his right, although problems of proof and costs of enforcement place practical limits on this protection.
Because irrigated agriculture enjoys 80 to 90 percent of the water consumption market in the West pursuant to these vested property rights, it is in a position generally superior to other water competitors. Agriculture acquired permanent rights in the water, with the aid of public subsidy, in the formative days of settlement and water rights administration. Within limits, those rights are subject selectively to superior claims and to
- 60 -
redefinition in the public interest. For the most part, however, irrigated agriculture will bargain from a position of strength in the competitive arenas of water scarcity, even though not all individuals or interests in the agricultural community are benefitted or protected in the process.
Present indicators are that much of the decline in agricultural water supply in the West will result from dwindling groundwater resources in such overdraft areas as the multistate Ogallala Aquifer, central Arizona, and the San Joaquin Valley of California. Overdraft conditions have been permitted or countenanced by the groundwater legal systems of the affected states. Most groundwater basins are hydrologically connected to surface flows and ought not, from a management perspective, to be regarded apart from surface flows.
There are four principal legal systems governing groundwater acquisition in the western states: absolute ownership, reasonable use, correlative rights, and prior appropriation. We do not offer here exposition of the various state groundwater systems. (See Figure 2.3 for a map showing the diversity of approaches in the West.)
Some states have drawn geographic lines between those areas which are critical and those which are not. The definition of a "critical area" or "capacity use area" is generally an area in which the annual rate of withdrawal exceeds the average annual recharge (the common definition of groundwater mining) or threatens to do so.
The distinction between critical and noncritical areas may determine whether a proposed well is subject to regulation at all, or the degree of scrutiny the permit application will receive. In some cases, critical areas are subject to governance by local groundwater management districts. Also, critical areas may be controlled by express statutory prohibitions. Sometimes special protection or preference is given to groundwater service areas which are more expansive than just the land overlying the aquifer itself.
Many of the observations made earlier about the role the prior appropriation doctrine plays under declining water conditions apply to groundwater systems as well. Groundwater rights likewise are property rights; generally they are transferable and enforceable against impairment. To the extent that groundwater becomes more regulated, with more controls on the depletion of critical aquifers, it is probable that less water will be available to
- 61 -
- 62 -
overlying agriculture. It is likely, however, that the decline in groundwater for agriculture will be more attributable to rising pumping costs than to legal regulation.
The reclamation era of large-scale water resource development was dominated by the federal government. The sources of federal influence were the geographic scope of its jurisdiction, its financial resources, and its technical expertise residing in federal agencies. The development of numerous water projects up and down whole river basins spilled across state lines. Control naturally gravitated towards the federal level because the geographical reach of state boundaries was too limited. Moreover, water resource development projects were expensive, and required access to the federal treasury which is much less restricted than the coffers of the states. In addition, the manpower and technical expertise requirements of major water projects led to federal responsibility for large-scale construction. The Bureau of Reclamation, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Soil Conservation Service had a continuing critical mass of engineers and water planners that no state could hope to maintain.
In what observers have termed classic distributive politics, federal agencies orchestrated blends of local and state interests in providing basic support for individual projects. Different project features lured different interests. Farmers were attracted by irrigation water, urban interests were promised water supplies and flood control, recreation groups appreciated lakes created by impoundments, and businessmen and bankers desired water project-generated economic growth. Agriculture was important in this coalition of interests because its demands could justify the development of large quantities of water. The rewards for agriculture's backing were long-term contracts for federal water at very reasonable rates, and agencies were generous to farmers in matters of eligibility. For instance, the 160-acre limitation was loosely applied by the Bureau of Reclamation. The role of the states in water development policy was to deliver a unified state congressional delegation in support of projects within state boundaries and the favorable testimony of governors and state agency officials. Mainly the federal piper called the tune in the 1950s and 1960s.
- 63 -
The 1970s witnessed the decline of federal construction agencies and the challenge to federal dominance of water policy. Because of the facts and forces already described, traditional water development patterns were severely disrupted. The number of new starts in water development projects declined, and the share of water agencies in the federal budget grew smaller. The Soil Conservation Service, the constituency of which was mainly agricultural, was brought to task for channelizations that destroyed fish and wildlife habitat. The Bureau of Reclamation, which once was the largest agency in the Department of the Interior, and in 1950 commanded 61 percent of the Department's budget, fell upon even more difficult times. Plans for large-scale construction, such as the two dams proposed for the Grand Canyon, were repeatedly defeated on economic and environmental grounds. In a symbolic act, meant to signal the end of the Bureau's mission of large-scale construction, the Carter Administration stripped the Agency of its name, and for a period of three years it was called the Water and Power Resources Service.
The failure of the Carter Administration to achieve its aims in water resources has been popularly recognized as a defeat for environmentalists, while the decline of the federal government's influence in water has received less notice. An important dimension of the water conflict lurked behind the headlines of the time-a struggle between the states and the federal government over their respective influence and roles in water allocation. Carter's "hit list," which zero-budgeted thirty-two projects, was a direct challenge to the states' growing determination to set their own priorities regarding water resources. The negative reaction from Congress and state houses was marked.
The second line of attack for water reform was a federal agency review of water policy which involved little state and local participation. The Carter Administration's issue and options documents which resulted from the agency review were coldly received by the states, especially the option of federal intrusion into water rights granted by individual states. In the end, most of the projects on the original hit list went forward, and a considerably watered down version of the new national water policy was adopted and then was implemented only partially. The new Secretary of Interior in the Reagan Administration dismantled the water policy machinery, including the Water Resources Council, and made it clear that he recognized water resources as primarily a matter of state rather than federal concern.
- 64 -
The lesson from these events is clear. Since the federal government can no longer afford to award large numbers of federally funded and constructed water development projects as prizes, its influence over water management is considerably weakened.
The events of the Carter years pointing toward an increase of state influence vis-a-vis the federal government have been reinforced by other forces. One such influence has come from the courts, which in the late 1970s landed some judicial blows on the notion of federal dominance. First the Court said that federal reserved water rights were more restricted than previously imagined. The attempt by the U.S. Department of Justice to expand the reserved water rights of national forests to protect instream water for fish and wildlife was rejected by the Supreme Court on the grounds that such federal claims infringed on the historic role of states in water allocation. Further, in a California case, the Supreme Court held that the federal government must follow the rules and regulations of the State in the operation of a project even though the project was federal.
Considerable constitutional power to affect water management is still lodged in the federal government, however, as the U.S. Supreme Court reminded us on the last day of its term in 1982 in Sporhase v. Nebraska (No. 81-613; July 2, 1982). This case held that the interstate movement of groundwater, as an article of commerce, cannot be restricted by states engaged in economic protectionism. The decision buttresses the free market and federal regulation (those estranged bedfellows of old), and undercuts states' rights. It is not likely, however, that the equitable and distributional values asserted by states will evaporate simply because there has been a judicial pronouncement. It would not be surprising to find the western states seeking federal legislation (congressional exercise of the commerce power) legitimating to the degree possible the states' efforts to control and manage water resources.
The capability of states to manage water resources has grown in the last couple of decades. The focus and reliance upon federal agencies during the reclamation era worked to stunt and distort the growth of state water planning agencies and policy-making structures. Up until the mid-1960s, the number of professional planners was quite small and there was little attempt at state water planning independent of federal plans. The picture is enormously changed in the 1980s. While legislative authorization for
- 65 -
addressing water resource planning is far from sufficient evidence of state capability, the presence of such mandates facilitates forceful state action. As Figure 2.4 illustrates, the types of legislative mandates given to states vary enormously, yet the map shows that most states provide for comprehensive water quantity planning, and in many cases this is combined with management, and/or water quality planning and/or management. While undoubtedly these structures were developed partly in response to the availability of federal grants-in-aid, agencies now represent a considerable pool of expertise and influence that is likely to survive, at least in part, even if federal monies are withdrawn.
The independent actions of individual states in relation to water resources both contribute to and are evidence of growing state influence. These actions are sometimes not consistent, indicating considerable differences in the priorities of different states. For instance, in 1977 the Montana legislature declared "the use of water for slurry to export coal from Montana is not a beneficial use." On the other hand, South Dakota determined to sell a share of the state's Missouri River water out of Oahe reservoir to an interstate coal-slurry pipeline company on terms that provided low-cost water to several towns along the pipeline route. Numbers of other states similarly are acting on the allocation, use, and preservation of state water resources. In 1982 the Governor of Wyoming proposed to the legislature that the state appropriate $100 million per year for six years to develop the state's water resources. In 1980 Arizona adopted a comprehensive new groundwater code aimed at bringing the state's depleted aquifers into a "safe-yield" situation by the year 2020.
Land irrigated for agriculture in the West has roughly doubled since World War II, and the addition of 25 million acres in the West has contributed heavily to American agriculture's 70 percent increase in crop production during the post-war years. A healthy chunk of this expansion has come from high production farming on arid lands, perhaps as much as 13 million acres, that are unsuitable for commercial agriculture without irrigation. The focus of growth in the initial phase, 1945-1954, was in the arid southern tier of states extending from Texas and Oklahoma
- 66 -
- 67 -
to California. Subsequently, increases in irrigated acreage have come from central and northern high plains states. Among the most important factors underlying this growth has been an abundance of relatively inexpensive water. While the accomplishments of the National Reclamation Act of 1902 that made the Great American Desert bloom have been striking, there are many signs, noted above, that the reclamation ethic has crested.
The decline of federal influence in water allocation has a mixed bag of consequences for irrigated agriculture. Clearly the closing of the option of developing large-scale additional supplies at the same time as demands are growing generates pressures upon the largest of the users of existing supplies. At the same time it is possible to question the extent to which agriculture ever controlled the flow of benefits from federal water projects. In the interests of gaining broad support, federal agencies regularly served numbers of other interests including urban users, energy, industry, and fish and wildlife at the expense of agriculture. A retrospective study of the Central Arizona Project indicates that in the thirty-three year history of negotiations, farmers were forced to make a number of compromises to save the project. The current project design will afford farmers far fewer benefits and more costs than if they could have continued to pump groundwater.
The change of emphasis at the federal level in the management of existing projects has important implications for agriculture. While the Carter and Reagan Administrations have differed enormously in their approaches to water resources, both have emphasized the principle that users should pay more nearly full costs. Irrigation interests are likely to be charged considerably more for water when long-term contracts for water at existing federal installations fall due. Whether or not the federal government will use the leverage it has for other purposes remains to be seen. With the support of the Reagan Administration, Congress has modified the 160 acre limitation to the point where it poses little or no problem to most agriculturalists. In the case of the Central Arizona Project the federal government appears to be making good on its trust obligations by influencing allocations to benefit Indian tribes. The future of federal support of Indian water rights is not at all clear, however. The Reagan Administration has favored negotiation rather than litigation in securing Indian water rights. The reserved water rights position of many tribes is legally very strong, and even without active federal government backing may fare well in the courts. Indian
- 68 -
victories in water allocation mean all junior users, including irrigated agriculture, stand to lose.
The shift of influence in water allocation towards the states raises the issue of the relative influence of agriculture in federal and state arenas. On the face of it, the structure of Congress would appear more favorable to agriculture than state legislatures. Rural farming states have the same number of votes in the Senate as do more urban and more populous states, while both bodies at the state level are apportioned on the principle of one man-one vote. Further, the influx of people into urban areas in many agricultural states, and the depopulation of the hinterlands, especially in the West, has resulted largely in urban populations. In Arizona, for instance, seventy-five percent of the population lives either in Phoenix or Tucson. Yet the preferences of legislative bodies are often different from what one might expect. In practice, the U.S. Senate has been more oriented toward urban interests than the House, because practically every Senator has at least one large urban area in his or her state. Further, the court ruling requiring apportionment of state legislatures on the basis of population has had less impact on the traditional rural bias of state legislatures than one might suppose. In many state legislatures agriculture has had influence far in excess of what the number of rural districts would suggest because urban areas lack cohesion and rural legislators often have skill, seniority, and command of formal positions.
The attitudes of state voters is likely to be important in determining how state governments will treat agriculture. While public opinion surveys on questions of water allocation are infrequent, those that have been reported should be reassuring to agricultural interests. A survey of voters in the four corners states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado found more than 90 percent of respondents in favor of allocating more or the same amount of water to irrigated agriculture in the future. This support was strong even among urban residents.
Customers in the Salt River Project area were asked in another survey if as a conservation measure they favored or opposed raising the cost of water to farmers growing food and fiber. Eighty-three percent of respondents opposed such action, compared with 64 percent opposition to similar price increases for residential users and 54 percent opposition for business and industrial users. While such data cannot be construed as a reliable indicator of what urban users would do if they really had to choose between their own interests and those of agriculture in
- 69 -
water matters, those surveyed do testify to the reservoir of positive attitudes toward agriculture.
The policies pursued by some states in water allocation evidence similar basic concern for the welfare of agriculture. Henry Caulfield has written of the predilection of Colorado water leaders toward the development by the state and private entities of unappropriated water and surplus water from wet years to serve the energy industry and growing populations. This is viewed as much preferable to cutting back agriculture's share. The Arizona groundwater reform act does envision the reduction of agricultural consumption of water to a level of "conservation use" to be set by the State Department of Water Resources. At the same time, "grandfathered water rights" favor all existing water users at the expense of future users who are likely to be residential and industrial.
To summarize, the rise of states in the changing pattern of political influences is affecting irrigated agriculture, but there is much to suggest that the position of agriculture remains strong. State houses are likely to be as sympathetic to agriculturalists as were federal agencies that dominated water politics in the reclamation era. Particular pressures will be brought to bear upon agriculture because it historically has used large amounts of water and paid little, and demands of new water users must somehow be satisfied. At the same time it is reasonable to expect that state governments will do what they can to cushion the impact of water reallocation upon agriculture in the name of perpetuating the agricultural economy and preserving the rural lifestyle.
The discussion up to this point has assumed an incremental future. In a world where dominant events are often unforeseen, however, it is risky not to consider the unexpected. It is possible to imagine in passing a number of events that would thrust water once more into the national arena commanding federal attention. It is also possible to imagine that the devolution of power over water allocation from the federal government to the states might be more rapid than we anticipate.
Because water is so crucial an element in energy, agriculture, and economic productivity, it may be that a crisis in any of those
- 70 -
sectors would quickly put water on the national agenda. If our oil supplies were threatened again, more seriously than the Iranian oil embargo, as by a revolution in Saudi Arabia, unparalleled pressures would be brought to make the U.S. energy-independent. The federal government undoubtedly would have to take the lead in directing such domestic energy development. The record of private enterprise on synfuels in the past, even with healthy subsidies, does not warrant the expectation that the response of the private sector alone would be adequate. The energy industry by now is clearly skeptical of risking capital in synfuels development, as Exxon did in the oil shale boom. The federal government might well react to an energy crisis by causing large amounts of water to be shifted from agriculture to energy. It might be that states could bargain to protect agriculture, and the time necessary to get energy projects under way could be long enough that agriculture could outlast the crisis. Nonetheless, rapid federal energy development in a crisis situation bodes ill for farmers' retention of water.
On the other hand, an enlarged famine caused by crop failures abroad, in conjunction with the growing importance of agriculture in U.S. balance of payments, could help U.S. farmers. Expanding food crises could boost federal assistance to farms and raise farm prices. The already favorable public attitude toward irrigated agriculture in the West could be amplified. New federal projects that benefit agriculture might be authorized and funded. The authorization and funding of a large number of new projects, for agriculture as well as other purposes, could be spurred by an economic crisis prompting a New Deal type of public works response employing lots of people.
Other changes could be ushered in by a rapid rise in the interstate movement of water. As water comes to be treated more like any other commodity, and becomes more overtly commercialized, many private water rights could become transferable to the highest bidder across state lines, and interstate water compacts could be undercut. It is even possible that agribusinesses engaged in high-value production might be buyers in an interstate water market, although farmers as a whole more often would be sellers. Could equity considerations be protected in such a "free market" environment? Possibly, through either: (1) an Act of Congress and/or (2) state ownership (purchase/condemnation) of water rights to prevent uncontrolled operation of the private market. Would this not pose an identity crisis of significant proportions in the irrigated West? In order
- 71 -
to protect lower-value uses and the natural resource base of each state, a movement could arise to either "federalize" or "socialize" more of the water-alternatives foreign to the current political imagery of western states (although western settlement was partially subsidized by free land and water in the past). Agriculture's historical water rights granted by state governments could be profoundly altered by the emergence of an interstate water market.
Two scenarios in which states become more powerful more quickly than we envision here have been offered in a paper by Henry Caulfield. In the first, power and money is transferred from the federal government via "new" federalism. In the second, states seize the initiative on their own. The second scenario assumes states can determine their own values concerning water, and that they have or can develop the financial and technical capability. Under such conditions we would expect agriculture to fare reasonably well, as we have predicted, although we would not expect states to be equally favorable to farmers.
The support for continued agricultural use of large amounts of cheap water is high among state residents, even those in urban areas. Further, irrigated agriculture bargains in state arenas from a position of strength. State water law grants vested property rights to users with long-term, established records. Agriculture acquired permanent rights in water in the formative days of settlement, and those rights are subject to only limited redefinition in the public interest.
It is in the long-term interests of agriculture as well as other sectors to develop more flexible water institutions that facilitate conservation and water transfers. The lesson to be learned from the decline in supply solutions for water shortage is that water must be managed for reallocation to higher-value uses and waste needs to be reduced. Barring unexpected events, this will mean some reduction in irrigated agriculture in the arid regions. To a large extent this shift will probably be accomplished through the sale of water rights in the market. Transactions that move water out of irrigated agriculture will cause some negative externalities, such as social and environmental disruption. There may be ways to soften such impacts, however. Rural people may band together through water districts, corporations, or other
- 72 -
arrangements to direct the flow of water to purposes consistent with rural values and the need for rural employment. State governments may decide to enter markets themselves, buying water rights for equity, aesthetic, or fish and wildlife purposes.
The use of water that remains to agriculture, that is not sold or leased, will become more regulated. The Arizona Groundwater Act of 1980 devised a flexible groundwater right that is to diminish in quantity over time as conservation technology develops and conservation requirements under the law tighten. The concept of beneficial use, as we have indicated, can be used flexibly, and it is likely that in some states water uses tolerated in the past will be disallowed in the future as not in the public interest.
The lesson to be learned from the marginal decline in the influence of agriculture vis-a-vis other water users is that accommodation rather than outright opposition to modifications in water institutions is advisable for agriculture. Because irrigated agriculture is the largest water user, it is the obvious focus of policies aimed at stretching supplies. While agriculture's legal and political position remains strong, it nonetheless represents only a small percentage of the population in most states. In the final analysis, irrigated agriculture is likely to fare better if it is not perceived to be in direct conflict with other users.
There can be little disagreement with the fourfold thesis of this paper. (1) Even as one of the largest reclamation projects ever developed, the Central Arizona Project, nears completion, western water development inexorably is being replaced by water reallocation and management. (2) The relative position of agriculture is declining, though in different degrees among the western states. (3) In an overall sense, this change is gradual; but in specific areas it is and will be traumatic. (4) Depending upon how one defines the term, flexible water management to promote conservation and water transfer is, indeed, advisable. Whether it must be effected through "institutions," as opposed to incentives, legal requirements, or the free market, will be subject to debate.
Laws and public policy respond to the times. As more people compete for scarce resources, one of two things happens. If the free market is allowed to operate, the price of the commodity goes up, resulting in some measure of conservation. Alternatively, if the price goes too high, or if the owners of the resource are too politically weak, or if, for other reasons, policy makers deem it necessary or expedient to regulate the resource by exercise of police power, a nonmarket political redistribution of the resource may result. Such a result is inevitable if the regulation is stringent and pervasive enough to amount to a "taking" of the resource. Reallocation of the scarce water resources in the West is occurring through both operation of the market and newly-imposed regulation and management schemes.
What may most influence the allocation of our scarce water resource is the Indian water claim. This emerging problem calls for more discussion, because it could dwarf the difficulties heretofore encountered by competing non-Indian claims. In Arizona, for example, application of the "practicable irrigable" acreage test of Arizona v. California, 373 U.S. 546, 600 (1963), would result in allocation of the entire dependable water supply of the State to just one-third of the Indian tribes, leaving two-thirds of the tribes and all non-Indian Arizonans with nothing. No solution to this problem is yet evident. Congress has been unwilling to initiate any process for quantification of Indian claims, and the Tribes have been unwilling to cooperate in such quantification through the courts-especially in state-court McCarren Act proceedings. With the stakes as high as they are, it is quite possible that changes brought about by resolution of
- 75 -
Indian water claims will not be incremental and could be traumatic.
Even if it is assumed that Indian tribes which cannot use the large amounts of water claimed can and will sell part of their entitlement to non-Indians, recent expansion of Tribal "sovereignty" by the Supreme Court casts doubt on the extent to which non-Indians will do business with the Tribes. Since there is no practical way of resolving legal disputes with Indians (because of Tribal immunity in state and federal courts), it is doubtful that many entrepreneurs will place their operations and fortunes at risk on agreements to use Indian water.
Indian reserved water claims are, in short, much more significant than suggested in this paper.
In the section on state groundwater laws, several statements deserve comment. First, it is not necessarily true that most groundwater basins are hydrologically connected to surface flows. In Arizona, for example, most groundwater aquifers have no hydrological connection to surface flows. It is likewise incorrect to assume that, from a management perspective, surface flows ought to be treated with "flows" of groundwater.
Second, at least according to a recent pronouncement of the Arizona Supreme Court, it is not necessarily true, as the authors state, that "groundwater rights likewise are property rights . . . transferable and enforceable against impairment." Both the State Supreme Court and the Federal District Court in Arizona have now held that there is no constitutionally-protected property right in groundwater in one's land-that the doctrine of reasonable and beneficial use gives the landowner only a right to use, which can be regulated and taken by the state. This recent interpretation and the Supreme Court's validation of the comprehensive 1980 Groundwater Management Act also cast doubt on the authors' prediction that, in Arizona at least, ". . . the decline in groundwater for agriculture will be more attributable to rising pumping costs than to legal regulation."
These corrections are not meant to take issue with the validity of the paper's observations, only to point out that recent legislative and court actions in Arizona have changed the facts. Even though the doctrine of reasonable and beneficial use gives a landowner only the right to use, the authors are correct that that right has been characterized as a constitutionally protected property right. As to the statement that reductions would occur through increased pumping costs, the minority report to the State Commission which developed the Arizona law agreed with
- 76 -
the authors-that the natural market forces of price and increased pumping costs (due to lower water depths and higher gas and electric charges) had in fact reduced and would continue to reduce agricultural pumping without the necessity of a regulatory law designed to accomplish the same objective.
Two additions to the short discussion of the Arizona Groundwater Act are suggested. First, though "grandfathered rights" favor existing water users, the transformation of a prior common law right into a new state-regulated statutory right has diminished the value of the "right" considerably. Second, after 2006, the Act authorizes the State to purchase and retire agricultural lands if, in addition to other conservation measures, that action is necessary to achieve a balance between water consumption and supply in management areas.
Finally, it is difficult to argue with the last paragraph of the paper. However, that conclusion also reveals the difficulty of the challenge to agriculture. When "vested property rights" were, in the view of many in agriculture, eliminated by competitors in the State of Arizona, it is a significant challenge indeed for agriculture to portray its uses of water as not being in conflict with other users.
In conclusion, the paper substantially contributes to an understanding of the water problems facing agriculture. Its value would be enhanced by more discussion of two points. First, the changes already brought about and those predicted may pale in comparison to the accommodations which would be necessitated by full-scale application of the "practicable irrigable" test for federal reserved water claims on Indian reservations. Second, competition for water among non-Indians has already resulted in at least one state redefining the legal status of a right to use groundwater, with the result that agriculture's "vested property right" became a noncompensable state-regulated ability to use. Depending on how Indian claims are resolved, and on political conditions in other states, future changes in western agricultural water rights and uses could be dramatic.
Ordinarily the job of a discussant is an easy one, but this assignment has suddenly turned into a difficult task. Usually the discussant's plan of action is to challenge the premises of the paper, meet them head on, and engage in close combat. In this instance the search for the fatal flaw failed. The first reading disclosed only tiny chinks in the opponent's armor, and hope failed as the conclusion finally revealed the awful truth: I agree with practically everything said by the authors.
- 78 -
The authors end with predictions and forecasts, and even the unexpected and unanticipated is explored. Any prediction can be attacked as unrealistic. Yet my crystal ball seems no more free from cloudy spots, cracks, and distortions than theirs, and since I have lived long enough to see many of my own doom-sayings exposed as wrong, naive, and even foolish, I hesitate to claim any superiority as a seer. The most I will attempt is to throw a few more straws into the wind and see which direction they point-always remembering that a straw has two ends.
Some seem to fall crosswise. The paper identifies reserved Indian water rights as threats to present agriculture, but the sad fact is that while Indians have the best water rights in the West, they have the least water. On most reservations, substantial projects would be needed to translate the dry paper water rights into wet water in the ditches, and in my opinion there is small chance of obtaining federal funding for works that would take water from present users. The best hopes seem to be for joint water from present users. The best hopes seem to be for joint on-and-off reservation benefits similar to the on-going Central Utah Project, the proposed Yamkima scheme, and the still viable Papago settlement.
It is also possible that the era of federal agricultural subsidy may not be entirely over. Ogalalla aquifer underlying parts of seven high plains states has been overdrawn in Texas since the 1940s. Only two states on the fringes of the aquifer have recognized that irrigation use of this water is a mining process, and that when the water is exhausted (or fallen too deep) the overlying farmland must revert from irrigated crops back to dryland wheat or cattle grazing. Colorado and New Mexico have at least restricted pumping to ensure that farms could be amortized and that too-quick exhaustion would not bring bankruptcy before payout. Yet now that the "water mines" are nearing exhaustion, cries of help are heard, and the United States is investigating the possibilities of a massive rescue attempt by bringing water from the Missouri River and possibly the Sabine River. Initial guesses as to costs are tremendous, but so also can be the presures from seven Congressional delegations.
The authors see possibilities of another energy crisis that might lead to quick conversion of water from farms to fuel. A third crisis, however, may convince us that we have a long-term energy problem that requires a long-term solution. In that case, urban and rural support for the notion that new energy demands must be satisfied by finding new supplies of water can probably be counted on to continue. "Let them find their own water, not
- 79 -
take ours" could lead to more federal dams to store and make available the small amounts of unappropriated water left in many areas. Even in Montana, where unappropriated water still flows in the Missouri River and its principal tributary, the Yellowstone, the state's water reservation process sets aside all free flows and on-stream dam sites for future agriculture, leaving only expensive off-stream storage for energy.
Future federal rescue and energy projects would be enormously expensive subsidies to agriculture. Recognition of this has led to some tension in the states between throwing roadblocks in the path of energy and improving procedures for orderly market transactions. If states are to react responsibly to the need for an efficient economic transition from agricultural use to energy, they must enact better laws. The present systems designed to protect agriculture and prevent transfers still allow cash to talk and spotty unplanned transfers to appear. Current procedures protect priorities of other water users, but not farming neighborhoods and lifestyles. Wyoming made a start with a requirement for something like an economic impact statement to support a petition to approve a transfer, and still better devices could be employed. The states should find ways to internalize the effects of large transfers of farm water on local communities, districts, and economics. There is a need to institutionalize the water right, to make it more easily transferable. The states should find ways to encourage marginal water to move to industrial and municipal use; currently these users seek the earliest and best water rights. Another need is to find ways to encourage conservation to cut back present agricultural demand.
Most discussion of water management is either on a high moral plane or calls for tough regulation and imposition of expensive practices. There should be better incentives; the water user should reap where he has sowed, and he should not be asked or forced to spend his time and money for his neighbor's benefit.
The authors pose a possible interstate market in water rights, inspired by the recent Sporhase case that struck down Nebraska's curbs on the export of water from the state. Yet Sporhase itself called attention to another recent case, New England Power Company v. New Hampshire, which opens the door to Congressional reversal of Supreme Court decisions that prevent state interference with interstate commerce. Currently the Senate is struggling with a coal slurry pipeline bill (S.1844) that would do just that: permit states to impose conditions on energy companies exporting water as a transportation medium. Yet this brings in
- 80 -
another countervailing consideration. Midwestern Congressmen see the slurry pipeline (which would take water from the Missouri River) as the tip of an iceberg that threatens to sink navigation. An Iowa Congressman has introduced a bill (H.R.5278) that would prohibit a state from diverting water from an interstate basin unless all states in the basin agree-a move applauded by some from the Great Lakes states who fear an only slightly more remote threat. Since such legislation would undoubtedly mean the death of any more upstream interbasin diversions, the western states would be solid against it. A fair prediction on the outcome is that things will remain the same.
As the authors try to foresee the unforeseeable, they instance two scenarios by Henry Caulfield for state development of water. One is the "New Federalism" approach that would divide federal water development money among the states. The other is state capability to do a large part of it alone. As for the latter, California (with its rejection of the "Peripheral Canal") may have run out of patience with rescue projects, Arizona may have run out of water, Nevada out of land, and most of the others out of money. Perhaps the federal block grant is a possibility. If the states do go for a supply-side solution that creates a bigger pie for all, rather than cutting a slice for energy out of agriculture's share, will the problem and the conflict merely be escalated to a new level? If agricultural interests are as strong in the states as the authors suggest, it should be interesting to watch how big a slice of the new "energy water" they will try to take for themselves.
The growing scarcity of water in the West already has curbed the expansion of irrigated agriculture and promises to impose further constraints in the coming decades. Nevertheless, declines in irrigated acreage will be limited to the most water-scarce areas and will tend to be modest in scale. Since irrigation now accounts for about nine out of every ten gallons of water consumed in the West, large percentage increases in consumption for other uses can be accommodated with small relative reductions in agricultural uses. Opportunities for conserving water and increasing output per unit of water will further limit the negative impacts on irrigated agriculture. There are areas where water supplies are sufficient to support an expansion of irrigation. For the West as a whole, the Second National Water Assessment projects increases of 10 percent in irrigated acreage and 6 percent in water consumed for irrigation from 1975-2000.
Some of the adjustments which have only marginal impacts on overall western water use and development may have major impacts within specific locations. The point is illustrated by examining the potential impacts of energy development on the character and beauty of the Yampa River.
Full appropriation of water supplies presents a major challenge to the institutions allocating western water. If these institutions permit flexibility of use in response to changing demand and supply conditions, water will not be a barrier to either agricultural or nonagricultural development in the West.
The West is undergoing a major transformation with respect to water. In the past, increasing water demands stemming from the rapid growth of population and economic and recreational activities within the region have been met largely through development of new supplies. This strategy is becoming increasingly costly. Projects under consideration in California, for
- 82 -
example, suggest it will cost several hundred dollars per acre-foot to increase water supplies for offstream use, and implementation of these projects would require diverting water from valuable instream uses. Groundwater also has become increasingly expensive due to rising pumping distances and energy prices. Furthermore, the opportunities for expanding groundwater use are limited, especially in the areas with the best agricultural potential; current use already results in the mining of more than 22 million acre-feet per year from western aquifers.
The transition to conditions of water scarcity has been under way for several decades in some areas of the West. In the 1950s western water supplies were sufficient to support a rapid growth of use. Total water withdrawals for all but hydroelectric generation rose 56 percent or 4.6 percent per annum from 1950-60. In contrast, withdrawals rose only 15 percent or 1.4 percent per annum from 1970-80. Much of this recent growth occurred in the northern plains states of Kansas, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota, where withdrawals nearly doubled over the last decade. In the rest of the West water withdrawals rose only 0.9 percent per annum in this period.
Irrigation spurred by the availability of inexpensive water and energy was the dominant factor in the expansion of western water use. Currently about five of every six gallons withdrawn and nine of every ten gallons consumed go for the irrigation of nearly 50 million acres in the seventeen western states. But as both the largest and a relative low-value user, irrigation is the sector most directly affected by the changing water situation. Some of the impacts of the transition already are becoming evident. Nonagricultural water consumption in the West grew twice as fast as irrigation use from 1960-80. In areas where water has become particularly scarce and expensive, water for irrigation has started to level off or even decline. In Arizona, for example, total water consumption declined by about 6 percent from 1970-80, even though consumption for nonagricultural uses rose by 67 percent. Only in the northern plains did the growth of water consumption for irrigation exceed the growth for other uses during the last decade.
The early expansion of irrigation relied almost exclusively on diverting surface waters. Since the mid-1950s, however, groundwater has accounted for virtually all of the net increase in irrigation water withdrawals. Total surface water withdrawals for irrigation have not increased significantly from the level of 88 million acre-feet (maf) reached in 1955. Groundwater
- 83 -
withdrawals, on the other hand, rose from 11 maf in 1945, to 31 in 1955, and to 56 in 1975. Nearly 40 percent of total irrigation withdrawals now come from groundwater. As a result the aquifers in some of the principal irrigated areas are being depleted, and millions of acres now depend on a diminishing supply of water. The overall growth of groundwater use already has slowed markedly, and in some areas has become negative.
Demand for western water continues to grow as new investment and people are attracted by the region's mineral, energy and amenity resources. But as supplies fail to grow apace, the competition for water intensifies. In areas of scarcity, irrigated agriculture will increasingly be the sector that others look to for water to meet their growing demands. Water is transportable, but the costs are high in relation to its value in agriculture. Consequently, irrigators in a given area must rely largely on water currently available either naturally or through water importation structures already in place. And as water demands in other sectors grow, irrigators will be confronted with increasingly attractive opportunities for transferring their water to other uses.
The Second National Water Assessment provides a useful starting point for examining the implications of future development forces on the allocation of western waters. The Assessment provides water use estimates under average and dry year conditions for a base year 1975 and projections for 1985 and 2000 based on a consistent set of assumptions regarding national growth and change. Principal assumptions underlying the Assessment's National Future projections include:
· National population will grow at slightly less than 1 percent per year and will reach zero growth early in the next century. There will be 268 million people by the year 2000.
· Gross National Product will increase at about 4 percent per year.
- 84 -
· Attainment of water quality goals and higher water costs will improve water use efficiency.
· Agricultural production and marketing will reflect 1971-73 trends in per capita consumption and export levels.
· Fish and wildlife and recreation needs will continue as they have in the past 10 years.
Table 3.1 indicates projected changes in population, employment, cropland harvested, and irrigated farmland from 1975-2000 for each of the seventeen western states. These numbers, which have been converted from subregional data in the Assessment to state boundaries, contain some real surprises. In contrast to recent experience, western population and employment are projected to lag behind national growth. Higher than average population growth is projected for the southwestern states of Arizona, California, and Nevada, but population is projected to actually decline over the rest of the century in five northern states. In Wyoming, one of the fastest growing states in the 1970s, both population and employment are projected to decline by more than 10 percent. It is hard to imagine what might cause such a drastic change in regional growth trends (perhaps a complete collapse of energy markets); as noted below, some of these assumptions raise questions about the usefulness of the Assessment's water use projections.
The projected changes in western irrigation are more in line with past trends and expectations even though, as discussed later, the Assessment likely understates the level of irrigated acreage. The 10 percent increase in irrigated acreage from 1975-2000 suggests a continuation of the decline in the rate of growth of western irrigation that has been under way for several decades. Irrigated acreage is projected to decline in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas, all of which are faced with major problems of groundwater depletion.
Table 3.2 presents the projections (derived by converting the Assessment data to a state basis) of water consumption for irrigation and other uses. Western water consumption from 1975-2000 is projected to increase only 6 percent for irrigation, compared to 88 percent growth for all other uses. In view of irrigation's dominance as a user of western water, total consumption increases only 13 percent in the West, less than half of the national average.
- 85 -
- 86 -
- 87 -
The relations between water scarcity and growth implied in the data and projections of the Second National Water Assessment can be examined for water resource regions and subregions, the geographical areas for which water supply data are provided. These regions and subregions are defined according to drainage basins which do not conform to political boundaries. Regions 9 to 18 and their 53 subregions are used as a proxy for the seventeen western states in the subsequent analysis.
Water scarcity (measured as the ratio of total water use in the 1975 base year to average year streamflow) is negatively correlated (at a 95 percent confidence level) with the Assessment's projections of the growth of irrigated acreage by water resource subregion. Nevertheless, the Assessment's projections of population, employment, and total earnings by subregion are positively correlated (at a 90 percent confidence level or better) with this water scarcity measure. These results suggest that the features that attracted people in the past and contributed to the pressures on water supplies will continue to give these areas faster than average overall growth in spite of the pressures on their water supplies. The water to support the fast overall growth of these subregions, however, will come at least in part from a slower than average or in some cases negative growth of irrigated agriculture.
In examining the implications of water scarcity on water use by function, it is nearly as instructive, and conceptually much simpler, to differentiate between just two areas-a water-scarce area and the rest of the West-rather than to consider 53 different subregions. A water-scarce area of twenty subregions (identified in Figure 3.1 and in the note to Table 3.3) has been selected for this purpose. In all twenty of these subregions, 1975 water use exceeded average year streamflows. Most of these subregions also have relatively high ratios of groundwater mining to consumption; mining is 10 percent or more of consumption in sixteen of the subregions, and 25 percent or more in twelve of them.
Estimates of instream use have an important impact on the perception of water scarcity. In thirty-three of the western subregions, the instream flows needed to maintain fish and wildlife populations are more than half of the Assessment's estimates of total water use in 1975. The benefits that accrue from instream flows are difficult to measure, and there is no consensus as to how much water should be allocated to these uses. This does not mean, however, that instream benefits are insignificant.
- 88 -
- 89 -
- 90 -
On the other hand, provision of many instream benefits need not be competitive with offstream uses. For example, the better recreational areas in the West often are in the upper reaches of the streams. Streamflows can be maintained in these areas for withdrawal downstream where the better agricultural lands are often located. Thus, adding instream uses measured at the outflow point of a subregion and offstream consumption may overstate a region's water use. Nevertheless, even when instream uses are ignored-which few people would advocate-water problems remain. Offstream consumption alone is equal to, or greater than, average streamflow in seven of the water-scarce subregions. And 1975 water consumption exceeded dry year streamflow (the natural flow that will be equaled or exceeded 80 percent of the time) in all the water-scarce subregions identified in Figure 3.1.
Projections from the Second National Water Assessment suggest that while total water consumption will be essentially constant within the water-scarce region over the last quarter of the century, the allocation of water among types of users will shift. According to the projections, a decline of nearly 6 percent in consumption for irrigation is expected to slightly more than offset the 56 percent increase in consumption for all other uses (see Table 3.3). But even after this reallocation of supplies, irrigation will remain the dominant water user, accounting for 87 percent of consumption in the year 2000.
In contrast to the outlook in the twenty water-scarce subregions, there are opportunities for expanding both total and irrigation water consumption in the rest of the West for at least another decade. Indeed, the Second National Water Assessment projects that water consumption in the remaining thirty-three subregions will increase 22 percent for irrigation and 36 percent for other purposes between 1975 and 1985. Only a very minor further expansion of water consumption for irrigation is projected for after 1985, but consumption for all other uses is projected to increase 50 percent over the last fifteen years of the century. The twenty-five year projections for these thirty-three subregions suggest total water consumption will rise by one-third and consumption for purposes other than irrigation will more than double.
The Second National Water Assessment is the only recent attempt to systematically examine the nation's water use and supplies. But, as alluded to above and as considered in some
- 91 -
detail below, there are good reasons for questioning some aspects of these projections.
Although nonagricultural demands on western waters have been relatively minor in the past, development of the West's vast energy resources, especially coal and oil shale, may alter that. While water consumption projections of the Second National Water Assessment include an allowance for steam electric production, petroleum refining, and fuels mining, there was concern that the Assessment had not taken adequate account of all likely energy developments and associated water requirements. This concern led to a supplementary study by Aerospace Corporation, which accepts all the Assessment's water supply data and all the demand projections except those relating to energy. From four federally generated energy development scenarios, the maximum feasible limits for energy development are determined along with associated water requirements, assuming standard size plants and no special provisions to adopt water-conserving technologies. Although these estimates are higher than any likely levels, they provide an upper bound to the demands energy development is likely to place on western waters.
In comparison to the Assessment projections presented in Table 3.3, the high projections of water for energy development in the Aerospace report increase nonirrigation water consumption levels by 7 percent as of 1985 and 39 percent as of 2000. These estimates represent a 1 percent increase in total western water use by 1985 and a 6 percent increase by 2000. Although the percentage changes for the West are modest, the impacts would be localized, and within the affected regions major new demands on water supplies are implied. Where demand already exceeds renewable supplies, any increase requires either compensating reductions among other users or additional groundwater mining.
The twenty water-scarce subregions account for about 47 percent of the consumption of water for energy projected for the turn of the century in the Aerospace report. In the absence of compensating adjustments by other users, this would increase energy uses to about 8 percent of this area's total water consumption. Water for energy would become particularly important in seven of these subregions, where energy uses would account for an average of 19 percent of total projected water consumption. If these energy projections are realized, irrigation
- 92 -
certainly would be adversely affected. The Second Assessment had already projected that irrigated acreage in these seven subregions would decline from 16 percent of the West's total as of 1975 to 10 percent in 2000. The percentage might drop further if the higher energy water use levels are realized.
The Aerospace projections suggest that energy uses could become an even more important component of water consumption in some of the subregions where water currently does not pose such constraints to development. In nine of the other thirty-three western subregions, the combined energy uses of water account for an average of 35 percent of total projected offstream water use in 2000. In general, however, these nine subregions do not rank among the more important irrigated areas; they are projected to account for only 6 percent of the water consumption and 4 percent of the land for irrigation in the West by 2000.
The data and projections presented above as the Assessment view are the product of the federal attempt to develop nationally consistent information on current and projected water use. They are known as the National Future (NF) estimates. But for some of the regions and some of the socioeconomic and water use variables, an alternate set of information is also presented in the Assessment. A study team representing state and regional perspectives was formed for each of the 21 water resources regions, and these teams developed State-Regional Future (SRF) estimates for their respective regions. The SRF projections are not comprehensive, nor are they based on a consistent set of assumptions as to the national growth. Yet, as the Assessment points out, they do reflect a more localized and perhaps more accurate view of regional and subregional conditions.
There are some striking differences between some of the NF and SRF projections of population growth and water use that raise questions about the accuracy of the National Future estimates. The SRF projections suggest a national population (including the Caribbean area) of nearly 284 million by 2000, nearly 6 percent more than the NF projection. While the NF figure is closer to and actually slightly above the Census Bureau's mean estimates of total population in 2000, the regional distribution of the NF projection is questionable. Virtually the entire difference between the alternative population projections in the Assessment is attributable to the lower NF projections for the western water resource regions. Despite the fact that
- 93 -
population in the seventeen western states grew at more than twice the national average from 1974-79, the NF data project lower than average population growth for the West as a whole from 1975-2000 (see Table 3.1). This inexplicable result suggests that the NF data may understate the future demands for western water.
The NF estimates of irrigated acreage in the West are also much lower than the SRF estimates in both the 1975 base year (40.6 versus 46.2 million acres) and in 2000 (44.9 versus 61.3 million acres). While there is considerable uncertainty as to the amount of land under irrigation, it is likely that the NF data grossly understate irrigated acreage in the base as well as in future years. For instance, the National Resources Inventory estimate of 50.2 million acres irrigated in the West in 1977 is 24 percent above the 1975 NF estimate and 9 percent above the 2000 NF estimate. The impact on water use estimates of understating irrigation levels is unknown. But again there is a possibility that the NF projections understate the competition for western water resources.
In view of the differences noted above between the base year levels of irrigation and the projected changes in western population and irrigation, it is not surprising that the NF and SRF estimates of water use also differ. The SRF estimates of total water consumption in water resource regions 9-18 are lower in the base year (84.7 versus 88.5 billion gallons per day) but considerably higher by the year 2000 (120.7 versus 100.7 billion gallons per day) than the NF projections. In both years, water consumed in irrigation accounts for more than 90 percent of the differences between the two sets of data.
Despite the reservations about the projections of the Second National Water Assessment, these data do indicate the broad changes in water scarcity likely to emerge from the increasing competition for western water and the implications of these changes on major categories of water users. These data, however, are not sufficiently detailed to provide much insight into local water problems or the nature of the competition for water. Indeed, there may be serious conflicts over the use of a region's or subregion's waters not revealed by the Assessment's aggregate supply and consumption data. Changes which have only
- 94 -
marginal impacts on the overall level of western irrigation may have dramatic impacts on local areas, even within regions and subregions where water does not appear in the Assessment as being particularly scarce. These points are illustrated in the following discussion of the Yampa River, a tributary of the Green River which in turn is a tributary of the Colorado River.
The Yampa River is celebrated for its beauty and is a prime sports fishery. It also contains abundant resources of coal and is being considered for possible energy development.
To assess the effect of energy and fuel production on the Yampa River flows at Maybell, Colorado (USGS gauging station 2510), scenarios were assumed for 1990.
A. 2,000 Mw thermal electric power plant using 6.7 million tons of coal per year; the remainder of the 24 million tons per year of coal mined shipped out of the basin by unit train.
B. 2,000 Mw thermal electric power plant; 250 million standard cubic feet per day coal (SCFD) gasification plant using 6.94 million tons of coal per year; the remainder of the 24 million tons per year of coal mined is shipped out of the basin by unit train.
Details of these two energy development scenarios are presented in Table 3.4. For assessing the water consumed in these two scenarios, a "base case" plant and a "complete" plant are considered for both the power plant and the coal gasification plant. The "base case" represents a situation in which no restrictions are placed on waste discharges to the environment; the "complete" plant, a situation where zero wastewater discharges are allowed. As shown in Table 3.4, the two energy development scenarios, plus the "base" and "complete" plant options for both the thermal power plant and the gasification plant, result in six possible combinations of water consumption. For these six combinations, the water consumption rates for the year 1990 range from a low of 59.4 cubic feet per second (cfs) (43 thousand acre-feet per year) to a high of 101.3 cfs (73.3 thousand acre-feet per year).
The effect of this consumptive use of water on the flow of the Yampa River at Maybell is depicted in Table 3.5. For comparison, energy scenario B with "complete" plants for both the thermal power and coal gasification facilities was assumed (scenario B4 in Table 3.4). This consumptive use of water is compared with the mean annual flow, the mean monthly flows, and various measures of the low flow in the Yampa River at Maybell, Colorado. It is clear from Table 3.5 that energy development
- 95 -
- 96 -
- 97 -
could not occur in the Yampa River Basin without surface or groundwater storage, or supplemental supplies from another subbasin. There simply is not enough water for energy and fuel production purposes during the low flow periods. Moreover, tradeoffs with other uses of river waters might have to be made during parts of the year, especially the seven-month period from August through February. Apparently, from this rough analysis of streamflows in the Yampa, the fisheries might be in serious jeopardy if energy development occurs, or hydraulic works might have to be undertaken that many think would adversely alter the character of the basin.
The only way to understand the full implications of energy development is to look at the details of specific situations. Unfortunately, such analyses are seldom part of studies assessing the energy potential of a region. Such studies should have high priority.
While the West is not running out of water, it is running out of readily available, inexpensive water. Although some additions to the usable water supplies of the region may be developed either through streamflow augmentation or exploration and development of groundwater, the end may be coming of any large-scale schemes for further diversions of water into the region, or even any sizable shifts of water from one basin to another within the region. Thus, for practical purposes it would seem that the region must accept the limited nature of its water supplies and should move strongly to adapt itself to that condition.
The limited nature of water supplies, however, does not absolutely preclude development within the region. Barriers to urban residential or other development are more a matter of social than of physical limitations. Such barriers may be the institutions that prevent the transfer of water from agricultural uses into other, more highly valued, uses; or they may be social insistence on artificially low prices for municipal water. Instead of promoting rigid constraints on water use patterns, political effort within the region should be directed toward increasing the flexibility of current water use practices among all users. Generally speaking, there is considerable opportunity for modification if regional institutions permit and encourage it.
- 98 -
For example, in planning new electrical generation facilities in the San Juan portion of the Colorado River that lies in New Mexico, utilities have available several options regarding the use of cooling water, even though the New Mexico State Engineer has projected a fully appropriated condition for the San Juan Basin without the addition of any new generating facilities. First, technological adjustments could be made in the cooling water required. Second, existing privately held water rights in the basin could be purchased, and with approval of existing authorities this water could be transferred into industrial use from its current predominant use in agriculture. Third, cooling water might be drawn from deep groundwater stocks rather than from currently used surface water supplies. These and other options illustrate the range of possibilities for flexible water use within the region.
One general institution that contributes to flexibility is the existence, where permitted, of an economic market for water rights. Such a market, if it works properly, signals all water users, in the form of the price that a water right may command, that (a) water is available, and (b) that competing demands for its use can be measured. With the information provided by the price signal, current and prospective water users can make informed decisions on water use options. In addition, as the price of water rights increases, there is a strong incentive to conserve water.
The economic returns to water used in irrigation tend to be lower than in most other uses. Accordingly, where demand exceeds supply, and institutions permit water to be transferred among sectors, water tends to be bid away from irrigation. Nonetheless, these forces will not necessarily result in large transfers of water out of irrigation. Since irrigation is the dominant offstream use of western water, large percentage increases in other water consumption can be accommodated with relatively small percentage reductions in irrigation use. Furthermore, many new demands can be met without transferring water away from agriculture. Deep or brackish groundwaters generally considered unsuitable for irrigation are available in some areas, and some primary sites for energy development still have untapped surface waters. Thus, even if the Assessment has understated nonirrigation water demands, water transfers among sectors will have only marginal effects on the total quantity of water consumed for irrigation.
- 99 -
Regional irrigation trends initiated several decades ago in response to competition for water will continue. Some decline in irrigated acreage within the area from the southern High Plains to Arizona and Nevada is likely, as nonagricultural users bid water away from irrigation and farmers reduce pumping in response to declining groundwater tables and high energy costs. These declines will be more than offset by continued expansion of irrigation in areas where relatively low cost water is still available. The Nebraska Sandhills area will be one of the few areas in the West that will experience a significant further expansion of irrigated acreage.
The overall rate of growth of irrigated acreage in the West will continue to fall over the next several decades, but is not likely to turn negative during this century. Net expansion will depend in large part on agricultural prices. A modest 5 to 6 percent expansion (roughly 3 million acres) of irrigated acreage seems likely if real crop prices remain at roughly their 1975-80 average. A 25 percent increase in real crop prices might stimulate a net expansion of about 15 percent (nearly 8 million acres). In either case, however, the competition for increasingly scarce water supplies should bring the expansion of irrigated land to a halt early in the next century.
Principal changes in irrigation will be qualitative rather than quantitative in the coming decades. The quantity of water consumed for agriculture is likely to peak before irrigated acreage peaks. No peak in irrigated production is likely for the foreseeable future, however. As water costs rise, technologies and management practices that conserve water become more profitable. Since much of the irrigation in the West developed under and continues to be based on very low-cost water, the opportunities for substituting capital, labor, and management skills for water are great, and will be utilized with increasing frequency as water becomes scarce. The potential for such substitutions is illustrated in the High Plains Development Study which concluded that high energy costs would encourage a rapid improvement in irrigation efficiency. Average water use in the Texas High Plains is projected to decline from 1.38 acre-feet per acre in 1977 to 0.68 in 1990. Crop yields, however, are expected to continue to rise throughout the period and beyond.
Major constraints on western development over the rest of this century are likely to stem from institutional factors affecting water supply. As noted above, nonirrigation demands for water can be accommodated with only marginal effects on the overall
- 100 -
level of irrigation. But it is by no means certain that water will be transferred to higher value uses on a timely basis, or that farmers will have incentives to make the investments and management changes required for more efficient water use. The institutions, including the legal system, affecting water use were developed when water was plentiful in relation to demand. Often these institutions, which vary widely among states, restrict transfers to alternative uses and discourage conservation measures. To the extent that the competition for water is relegated to the courts and state regulatory agencies rather than the market place, overall western development is likely to suffer. Although such restrictions tend to favor agriculture since irrigators commonly own the most senior water rights, continued development of western irrigation depends on incentives for improving water use efficiency, not on locking water into low-value uses.
The views expressed in this paper reflect the opinions of the author and not the opinions of the Electric Power Research Institute or its members.
In this discussion, my comments are divided into two sections. The first follows the outline of the Frederick-Kneese paper from the perspective of the adequacy of the methodologies used, with particular emphasis on water and energy. The second section discusses some of the implications of how pricing structures of electricity affect water use.
In their "Overview" and "Past Changes in Water Use", past trends in water use are shown to be the history of the expansion of irrigation. Growth in irrigation relied on surface water until the mid-1950s, when groundwater took over as the major source of supply. The authors should have pointed out that it was low-cost energy that made it possible to lift groundwater inexpensively.
In the authors' description of the projections of the Second National Water Assessment study, the following points should be noted:
1) Although assumptions of population growth are questioned and superficially related to the collapse of energy markets, other than referring to higher water costs and improved efficiency of uses, there apparently is no underlying pricing structure used to make the projections.
2) Frederick and Kneese relate water scarcity to the Assessment's projections of water availability, and projections of population, employment, and total earnings. Negative and positive correlations respectively suggest a methodology was used to make Assessment projections that is naive and devoid of economic dynamics and price structures.
3) Limitations of the Assessment are reviewed by the authors, and the supplemental study by Aerospace Corporation to cover the energy use of water is recounted. Though the authors point out that no special provision is made for including the possible effects of adopting water-conserving technologies,
- 103 -
they do little to convince the reader that a better methodology was used by the Aerospace Corporation than by the Assessment study. They also point out that National Future estimates likely understate the competition for water resources, and are different from those made by the State-Regional Future study.
Under the heading of "Conclusions", the authors say that expansion in irrigated acreage in the West will depend in large part on agricultural prices, but do not relate it to energy prices in any general way. Institutional factors are given the major credit for limiting the use of water. This is the usual conclusion from resource studies in which the dynamics of supply-demand interaction are ignored. The current situation in energy speaks loudly for further demand constraint as pricing structures change.
The remainder of the Frederick-Kneese paper presents a case study of the Upper Colorado River Basin and its tributaries, a case that has been over-studied with little variation in the conclusions drawn. The Southwest Region Under Stress Project conducted by the authors' employer, Resources for the Future (RFF), justifies the use of the Colorado River as a case study as the authors are knowledgeable about the region. The RFF study uses a scenario approach to project energy development. The "speculative nature" of this approach is emphasized in that it ignores the price of electricity. The only factors said to affect water consumption in generating stations are the technology, quality of coal, and utilization rate; these in turn are said to be dependent on cost of water and other inputs. Pricing structures on the output or demand side are assumed away by the usual implicit assumption of the fundamental right to electricity and food.
Again, institutional changes are emphasized as necessary in the concluding section of the paper. One such change recommended by the authors is an "economic market" for water rights. Supply and demand for water rights would set their price and exchange among users. But the authors do not indicate how such a market would adjust for the inevitable uncertainty in streamflows and consequent shortages of electricity. The cost of electricity outages to the society and the economy are not considered in a water rights market. The lack of a holistic approach to institutional development can be just as detrimental to water
- 104 -
allocation as the partial analyses used for making forecasts of water consumption.
One must question the methodologies being used for planning water resource use. In most cases the methods are so unclear that one must ask: what is the methodology for long-range forecasting for water and/or energy Do forecasts reflect only conventional wisdom and the subjective preferences of the experts and institutions doing the planning, rather than the dynamics of interactive components in society and the economy Does longrange planning for water, rooted in long-range forecasting of energy demand, rest on shaky ground? Under foreseeable conditions, especially changing costs, associated prices, and rate structures, demands are very likely to depart from patterns of the past.
Since I have emphasized that resource studies and long-range planning studies for water must be necessarily rooted in some expected schedule of prices for outputs and inputs, it is only appropriate that I also point out the impacts on water use of different pricing structures for electricity.
Prices for electricity are influenced not only by prices of petroleum, but also by utility regulation and rate structures. The unfortunate aspect of average-cost pricing, imposed by a 100-year-old regulatory environment, is that consumers do not experience the full cost of new sources of energy and hence of electricity. At a later time when prices must inevitably rise, many users of electricity are stuck with equipment and facilities required on the basis of former conditions. This can only lead to even more inefficient use of water. The water resource planner can no longer ignore the consequences of faulty regulation of the electric utility business.
Clearly, electricity conservation and peak-load pricing affect the amount of water and its pattern of use in irrigation. Declining block-pricing structures for electricity formerly created an incentive for groundwater overdrafting, because it was cheaper per unit to lift larger quantities of water. New inverted blockrate structures will remove that incentive, and should help to reduce the problem of overdraft.
Another innovative pricing structure being studied by energy economists and likely to be adopted by the electric utility industry is "responsive" pricing. As the term implies, electricity is priced essentially instantaneously as it is produced at its marginal cost. The communication and computer technology is already
- 105 -
available to implement this for large users such as water districts, industrial firms, and municipal institutions. This time-of-use pricing structure would have a profound impact on water use in agriculture, as well as in industry and public institutions. The proper pricing of electricity for the major share of users would allow the simplest of rates to be used for residential customers. The confusion being caused by the proliferation of rates for residential customers is unfortunate and unnecessary, leading to further mistrust of electric utilities and the misallocation of energy and water.
The uncertainties of supply of electricity, given any pricing structure, must still be dealt with. The institution of a simple buy-back scheme could eliminate the consequences of shortage in an economic manner. The buy-back scheme could be similar to the one used by airlines to buy back seating when there is overbooking of a flight. A similar institution in the water area would complement the Frederick-Kneese suggestion of a water rights market.
This paper does a good job of assessing the inadequacies of the U.S. Water Resources Council's report, The Nation's Water Resources 1975-2000: The Second National Water Assessment. However, many factors of supply and competition are not considered in either this paper or the Second National Assessment. Some of these are reviewed briefly here.
Groundwater availability is a serious problem, and groundwater quality is fast becoming equally serious. Technologic solutions are adequate for the short run, but when considered in a 25-50 year time frame, are probably worse than no solutions. As Frederick and Kneese point out, about 40 percent of western irrigation water is presently derived from groundwater, and five out of every six gallons withdrawn from the ground is used for irrigation. Further, of 56 million acre-feet withdrawn (estimated) in 1975, 22 million are overdrafted in excess of safe yield (mined). The authors further point out that, in half of the western watershed subregions, fully 50 percent or more of the consumption is derived from overdrafted groundwater.
Groundwater law and the public institutional framework are archaic throughout the West, and in many cases are based upon wholly faulty assumptions and models of groundwater dynamics.
- 106 -
Thus, even in the most progressive states, water developers are encouraged to recover water with high energy costs from deep aquifers with poor water quality that will ultimately damage both surface soils and aquifers. In most cases the damage is irreparable. Particularly damaging is saline seep, which is an agricultural artifact of dryland farming techniques used in northern plains states. It renders unproductive tens of thousands of acres of agricultural land annually, at a rate far exceeding strip-mining, highway construction, and urban sprawl combined in those areas.
Salt loading and destruction of soil structure and ultimate productivity is a concomitant of use of sodic saline water for agriculture. We are often told of the great advantages to be gained by development of salt-tolerant food crops and forage. While it is certainly possible to increase productivity even while utilizing water of declining quality, such technology has a very discrete and finite limit, beyond which sodic loading will render the site essentially nonproductive. The progressive character of such actions means that we must ultimately pay the cost for myopia.
Groundwater pollution is another area of grave concern. Many of our assumptions about future groundwater supplies for all uses assume that known high-quality groundwater reservoirs will remain usable. We are learning, however, that the publicized horrors of Love Canal are but a small localized example of a much more pervasive nationwide problem. As cataloged by the Environmental Protection Agency, landfill and other sources of contamination have set serious limits on the period of time for which we may reasonably expect to recover groundwater from many significant and important local aquifers. Thus, even though we may not exceed safe yield pumping, we may have a limited lifetime for aquifers before we begin recycling our own wastes into domestic supplies or agricultural soils. Our projections of water supplies assume that supplies presently potable will remain so, despite saline intrusion, aquifer mixing, contamination through mineral extraction, industrial surface and groundwater pollution, and leachate contamination. The non-reversibility of such contamination seems to have escaped most analysts.
Groundwater overdraft is also a serious problem not clearly addressed. While we may estimate safe yield and overdraft rather precisely, in fact we know very little about site details. It is actually very difficult to estimate overdraft. Since agriculture itself, particularly salt-tolerant agriculture, and other land uses
- 107 -
all tend to impede surface water infiltration through the root zone into the groundwater reservoirs, most observed overdraft is not a linear function of rate of withdrawal. Other things being constant, overdraft tends to increase with a fixed withdrawal rate, particularly where new lands are being brought into production and being urbanized. Thus, linear projections probably underestimate the true situation for the year 2000.
Energy costs are an increasingly important factor in water costs. Analysis of competition for western water requires careful attention to the economic pricing and institutional factors governing costs of water and electricity. As more and more water is delivered at costs of several hundred dollars per acre-foot, as in the California Water Project, many forms of agriculture are unable to afford additional water. What this has meant in California is that only large-scale corporate farms occupying large acreages of previously marginal land of questionable long-term productivity, and growing specialized high cash-yield crops, can afford to compete with urban and industrial water needs in a quasi-open market. As Frederick and Kneese point out rather inadequately, the cost of electricity is an increasingly important factor in groundwater costs. But several other energy cost factors are equally important. The cost of energy is increasingly important in all water supply systems, particularly those utilizing offstream storage, large storage reservoirs of any sort, or extensive conveyance structures. There is also feedback between the rising cost of electricity and cost of water for irrigation. As irrigation costs increase and food costs follow, it becomes economically feasible and desirable to store and transport higher cost food commodities. This means that an increasing fuel resource is utilized in food production and distribution, thus increasing competition for fuels for electricity production. Finally, there is critical social disruption caused by increasing supplies of high-cost agricultural water. This is well illustrated in the San Joaquin Valley of California, where high-cost federal and state projects deliver water to new sites for large, highly capitalized and mechanized farms. These large-scale operations, using expensive water on sites with drainage problems, salt loading, or poor soils, can temporarily compete with small family farms that have long-established food production systems often using gravity-feed streamflow irrigation sources or other low-cost riparian rights. The economic competition damages a diverse, efficient, long-productive food growing system in favor of a short-lived, high energy-dependent, unstable system. Thus pricing and delivery
- 108 -
institutions destroy a long-term resource base for short-term production gains. Regional autonomy also declines as large-scale water delivery systems increase. Ultimately, rising energy costs will preclude continued production on the energy-dependent sites, but the low-energy-demand sites will meanwhile have been lost to urbanization, or their gravity water rights sold for other purposes.
Long term climatic change is a final factor that must be considered in a thorough evaluation of water resource demands. As pointed out by Harold Fritts in Chapter 1, the "historic" record of climate, including runoff and precipitation, leads to considerable overestimation of future resources. Study of tree-ring or other paleoclimatic records suggests that our concepts of drought used in present planning are rather naive. The unusual 20th century moderate climate cannot be expected to persist.