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Keeping it Together in
Destabilized Times:
Looking Past the Near Term
John D. Wiener
US Committee on Irrigation and Drainage
Conference on Sustainability of Irrigation Districts
Reno, NV; 4-7 June 2009
Notes: This builds on USCID 2008 and other posted
Handouts are posted there as well.
This is POSTING set: references and discussion
added in “speaker’s notes”
Previously Argued: (posted, can send, or talk…)
• Urbanization will continue to move water
from irrigation – acres/A’ may increase, too!
• Cumulative impacts of water transfers are not
adequately known or studied
• Agricultural impacts of transfers are complex,
locally different, and may be locally severe
• Current conditions create a race to transfer
before scarcity and true costs are recognized
• U.S. agriculture faces unappreciated threats
from substitution of inputs for soil quality
The following is a Drive-by…
• The argument coming is based on information
• Will post this presentation and can e-mail or
make CD (after adding a few more references)
• Spend time on what to do, rather than describing
the problems
• So, drive-by of some illustrations that would be
used here if an extra half-hour… questions are
welcome today or whenever convenient!
• Don’t try to read this stuff this fast!
Conclusions (1)
• Better ag-urban water transfers are possible
– Using 3 forms IN COMBINATION (handout)
– PARTICIPATION of all interests is needed
– Better COST COMPARISONS of alternatives are
needed, short-term
– GOALS and VALUES needed, long-term
– PARTNERSHIPS – not just talk
• BUT, Better water transfers ARE NOT ENOUGH
– Threats to marginal conventional agriculture
– Short-term prices over-influenced by distorted
markets, under-influenced by externalities, future
– Sustainability needs land and water and institutions
Conclusions (2)
• Cumulative costs/impacts of transfers matter
– Loss of agricultural capacity is LONG-TERM
– Loss of agricultural capacity is NOT VALUED
• literally, in economic evaluation
• metaphorically, in policy
– Biological issues – almost unknown now, future
impacts even less known
– Opportunity Costs – the loss of chance to make
better use of land and water –
– Irreversibility of semi-arid land use change?
• The next frontier – Seeing a better future
Conclusions (3) Bits and Pieces…
• Need useful participation of the full range of interests
affected by water transfers – compensation and security
of interests. They’ll show up, somehow…
• Politics is the likely alternative to a market – good idea?
Who gets to decide? What scale? Outcome so far?
• “Keep things as they are” is not on the menu
• SO, WHOSE RULES WILL CONTROL? Property rights? Plan
and public involvement , cooperation and creation of
value … Sustainability starts with economic, legal stability
as Steve Knell already said, yesterday!
• No such thing as “NO PLANNING” – someone plans! But,
who plans for whom and for what?
Self-defense organization benefits everyone
except brokers and “developers”
• Better for Farmers who want farming to be
attractive for families and the future
• Better for Cities that have citizens with a lot of
interests beyond their water bill alone
• Better for Counties than “ranchettes” that are
financial vampires and biological problems as
the only way for farmers to recapitalize
• Better for Future capacity to produce food and
fiber near urban areas, sustainably –
Housing Density Change
1960 - 2050
(Tom Dickinson, C.U. Center for American West, and IBS
Social Sciences Data Analysis Center)
Prime Farmland in Colorado
Only 2.5% of Colorado’s land WAS prime (all of it
irrigated)... …but the precise location of this land is unknown.
There is
that people
prefer good
land and
valuable land
to dull and
dry spots, for
(except some
Colorado Dept of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA),
Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA)
Magnitude of Ag Land Conversion
(1987-97) – 12 years ago!
2.5% of Colorado’s land was converted from ag to other
uses over a 10-year period (1.4 million acres)
But, rate of
is widely
to have been
from 1997
to the 2008
slump slowed
it some
Colorado Dept of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service(USDA),
Natural Resources Conservation Service(USDA)
Conversion of Best Farm Land
– Near Loveland, in Weld
County, CO
One square mile
Slide by Tom Dickinson, IBS and Geography, Source: National Agriculture
Imagery Program (NAIP),USDA-FSA Aerial Photography Field Office
Housing Density Change
In Colorado
Housing Density Change
1960 - 2050
(C.U. Center for American West, Tom Dickinson)
2000 - 2020
David M. Theobald. “Targeting Conservation Action
through Assessment of Protection and Exurban Threat.”
Conservation Biology, 17(6):1624-1637. Dec. 2003
The green area includes land
unintentionally wetted by
irrigation return flows and
conveyance loss -- it may
now be important habitat –
the “natural” is long gone.
Data source: Landsat Enhanced Thematic Mapper, 2005.
Map by Thomas W. Dickinson, Institute of Behavioral Science,
University of Colorado at Boulder
Environmental Limits? (scarcity!)
• Endangered Species Act – What’s next?
– lack of information on private land
• Minimalist Minimum Stream Flow Vs Climate
Change? (Trout Unlimited studies: Dry Legacy 1 and 2)
• Wetlands-related limits? Invasives?
• Changes to land and water already extensive
• Re-Redistribution of water?
– (Water Resources Impact May 2008)
• Almost no cumulative impact study: stay blind
until you get sued into response? If you’re alert
you buy cheap before the rules change!
Meanwhile, HIGH SOIL EROSION – Is this
sustainable? No.
• 90% of US cropland is losing soil faster than it can be restored;
75% of range needs help… Loss 17 times faster than soil
formation, average
• ~ 1/3 of US topsoil was lost 30 years ago (Pimentel 1980)
• HALF of Iowa’s topsoil is gone – and still losing average 30
t/ha/yr (soil formation rate 0.5 to 1 t/ha/yr)
• 40% of Palouse topsoils were gone, 1995
• Costs to US, 2001: ~$37.6B/yr (but more with full ecosystem
valuation or replacement of services costing)
• $20B/yr for fertilizer replacement for lost nutrients (eroded
soils take NPK away, as well as biological active fractions etc)
• And then there’s the incredible costs of pesticides, with 1000fold increase in organophosphates (Pimentel 2005)
U.S. Nitrogen Use
1,000 nutrient tons
We’re using an awful lot of this stuff (as water quality people know…) -- MORE
THAN HALF IMPORTED NOW – Potash also – Very energy-intensive stuff!
Major Predictions – Strongest Agreed
Climate Change Effects on Western Water
• Temperatures up – including winter, nights
– Longer between freeze dates
• Higher evapotranspiration
• Snow sublimation increases
• Timing of snow melt earlier
• Volume and timing of available supply changes
• Biological and vegetation changes –
– predation, pollination, migration (e.g Beetle!)
– succession, competition, invasive species
• And, intensity of precipitation increases more!
Climate Change Vs Western Irrigation
• USGCRP Sectoral Assessments (Water, Ag.):
– Small changes with big water consequences in West, but nationally, moderate
effects, no “crisis” (Gleick 2000, Reilly 2001) (1950s Problem?)
• USGCRP: Central Great Plains (Ojima et al 2002)
– With less water, irrigation hurt, with more water, irrigation loses to dryland
• USGCRP: Great Basin/Rocky Mtns. (Wagner et al. 2003)
– Ag declines in all scenarios
• Recent Integrated Assessments (2004, 2005):
– Current management in trouble
– Ag. Loses water, all scenarios, even “best case” (references, interpretive memo
available) -- changes in comparative advantage of irrigation versus dryland
• IPCC Fourth Assessment, 2007 – <>
• US Climate Change Science Program, see CCSP website”
• Climate Change in Colorado <> and Citizens’ Guide <>
Changes in
extreme events
are very serious
for agriculture
and future
Intensity of Precipitation, Erosion
• Soil and Water Conservation Society, 2003: Increased
precipitation intensity could undo all the progress in
reducing soil erosion since creation of SCS!
• CCSP SAP 3.3 (2008,p. 4) : “Extreme precipitation
episodes (heavy downpours) have become more
frequent… and now account for a larger percentage of
total… intense precipitation… (the heaviest 1%...) in the
continental U.S. increased by 20% over the past century
while total precipitation increased by 7%...”
Timing and cumulative effect
• “More frequent extreme events occurring
over a shorter period reduce the time
available for recovery and adaptation. In
addition, extreme events often occur in
clusters. The cumulative effect of compound
or back-to-back extremes can have far larger
impacts than the same events spread out over
a longer period…”
• Note: This applies to financial as well as
ecological well-being
A few points on economics
• Efficiency is definable on a distribution of resources; it is an
adjective, not a noun.
• Econ 101: Edgeworth-Bowley Box…(econ trivia…) “It’s all
relative…” as far as what is an efficient use of resources
• Econ 102: Clark, 1973: Economics of Extinction – Perfectly
rational to kill ‘em all, cut ‘em all and erode it all, currently..
• Econ 201: Positive discount rate: reduce the future from far
ahead to present value: it is trivial;
– Just doesn’t work for century or two out
– Not much good even decades ahead if all else is seriously
uncertain…Energy, Ag inputs, Markets
• Econ 301: Evaluation is definable within a general equilibrium,
but not transferable to a different equilibrium with reallocated
resources and price structures… Norgaard & Howarth 1992, etc
• Benefit-Cost Analysis is NOT adequate for the long term!
• We can’t just “do the math”!
Sustainability Science Frameworks
• Ostrom, 2007 – Diagnostic Framework for Going
Beyond Panaceas.
– great! 33 sets of things to consider
– should be used! By researchers and allies…
– But… with strangers? Not in a café… or a meeting...
• Turner et al, 2003 – Framework for vulnerability
analysis in sustainability science
– also great… 14 kinds of issues
– Also hard to take to strangers…
• Want something “shareable”!
Slow down, now… end of drive-by
• But still, too fast to cover all gracefully
• Happy to share this, and welcome all
comments – address and website on the
hand-outs, and extended abstract.
• NOTE: Public interest is a generic sort of idea,
not same as California “public trust doctrine”!
• On all those issues in water transfers: See
Arkansas Basin Roundtable Water Transfers
Guidelines Committee Report – Colorado
Water Conservation Board website, and mine
The simplest way to think about this?
Two Constants and What Could Be Done
• A way to think about this mess…
• Constant 1: Urban ability and will to pay -- for water AND ALSO
for amenity, environment, open space, ag. preservation….
• Constant 2: Soil formation is very slow; climate is faster!
• Suppose you owned all the pieces? What could you do to
maximize the outcomes?
– Answer tells what you want to maximize (pie flavor)
– Answer tell how much you might get (pie size)
– Problem: you don’t own it all. So, how to organize so as to get the biggest
and best possible pie, for owners and others affected?
• We use markets, mostly… Can they work better?
The Human Race is a Team Sport
• Our great-great-grandkids won’t know names,
only results; what will we do?
• Review irrigation history – teams with a long view
• These are created oases sustained by teams
• Advice from Economists: Internalize externalities
– bring in all the interests, whether or not bought
and sold, whether or not easily valued – be a team
• Fragmentation is for victimization; organization is
the way we create stability (or screw it up,
Three Times to Consider
• Near term – conventional economic analysis
– some idea about prices, relative values; BCA OK
• Mid term – 20-50 -? years? – the life span of
bonded indebtedness, much of the water
infrastructure, the sunk capital... Some econ.
• Far term – the time scales for “sustainability”
– some physical processes; CO2, soil formation…
– beyond the discount rate… preferences, values
– predictability limited to some constants
– predictability for human activity very small
Modifying* Bebbington’s Five Capitals – a
way to “think long”
Natural capital (resource base, quality)
Built capital (infrastructure, investments)
Financial capital (internal and external)
Human capital (individual capacities, local
knowledge, craft knowledge)
• Social capital (organizational and collective
capacities) – let’s be brave and add
legal/institutional issues – including those that
affect public capacity to act
* probably well out of his intentions…
Still not simple…but, “work back?”
• Far term: No regrets defense of the core values
what is most important!
• For social and organizational capital?
– knowledge (including local ecological/traditional)
– technologies of production and clean-up
– social continuity to maintain cumulation and to
prevent loss
• For human capital? not much applicable –
– Keynes’ long run, but… family skills and crafts
Work backward
• For Built capital? Not much must last to the far
term – BUT, chemical pollution will…
• and land allocations can be long-lived –
– corridors for infrastructure
– some water infrastructure is long-lived
• Financial capital? Waay out speculations…
(that whole sustainability literature!) – Positive
discount rate: no help with far term. Can’t
assume “mobility of capital” (see notes)
Work backward
• Some relief if we work backwards?
• Far term: No regrets defense of the core!
• For Natural capital? Four goals:
– Traditional conservation of biodiversity
– Connectivity conservation for restoration after shocks
– Adaptation capacity conservation for long term trend
– And, soil capacity conservation: Good topsoil is the
closest thing to a free lunch (but we have to redefine
the opportunity cost!)
cumulative impact mess? (ESA, TMDL)
5 Capitals – Mid Term
• Human: New farming and
new markets needed
• Social: Limit consolidation, use the QOL base
• Built: Transportation (RR
due back now!) and local
people transit
• Financial: Urban pool and
economies of scale
• Natural: Soil focus, new $
from conserved area
• $ from Water/New Use to
re-capitalize with LT
Plans: “Right-sizing”,
flexibility, diversify
• Govt roles necessary,
good, long overdue
• Transport and tax base
stability; service goals
• Partnership: Purchasing
Districts, Insurance, etc
• Buy those beneficial
externalities! (urban:
“nonconforming use”)
5 Capitals: Near term
• Human: services,
• Social: rural viability
service thresholds, QOL,
tax base and govt.
capacity, lacking
alternative economy
• Built: Water distrib,
town infrastr., housing
• Financial: draining!
• Natural: severe soil,
habitat issues, RRD
• Keep farmers working,
grow new ones
• Keep towns functioning
conservation upgrade,
AMENITY and QOL values
NEW idea
• Financial: Revolving Fund
(CW, DW) model
urban relocations
• Natural: avoid revegetation nightmare/cost!
“Amenities” Create Value
People pay to be near them
People’s property has more value
Tax bases have more value
Businesses invest where there are amenity
values for the owners and employers
• Positive externalities such as environmental
services deserve public support which is an
investment in avoiding costs and losses
• And, an investment for the future – which is
capitalized (some) into present value
Whose Urban Interests Count Now?
• Simplicity, Reliability, Cost, “Invisibility”: Water
System Management Values
– Traditional is understood and predictable
– New kinds of deals would require much more
intensive collaboration – NOT SECRET!
• Management Preference for Permanence (please
see handout – principles page)
– “We sell a tap forever”
– Life of facilities and financing not a factor
– Partnerships and long-term planning? Too new!
– No incentive to match benefits and costs
Whose urban interests might count?
• Urban constituents are ratepayers BUT ALSO taxpayers paying bonded debt
• Supporters of open space, agricultural preservation,
and rural areas
• Consumers and Purchasers of food, amenity
• Voters for conservation etc – See Trust for Public Land
“Conservation Vote”
– Even in No Plan, No Foresight Colorado: 110
elections, $3.8 Billion
• Recreators and Users of rural places
• Members of a lot of groups… mixed bag!
• Any one ask them? Not sure… polls…
Why Would a County Care?
• Because counties may decide to defend
themselves from “ranchettes” drain on financial
viability (Costs>>revenues)
• Because agriculture may decide to seek common
self-defense instead of being permanently
paralyzed, and wants county viability and
services for its purposes
• Because rural towns want to survive and use
regional cooperation for self-defense
Making Markets Work for YOU
• What you keep is not the result of the maximum
yield – it is the result of the maximum difference
between costs and revenues. What is the real
farming goal? How must we change the rules?
• Scarcity increases value: good farm land is getting
more scarce, quickly – especially land that can
grow without expensive imported high-energy
inputs that run-off into other expensive
• How do you hang on to your best land and water
through the next 10-15-20 screwy years?
Re-design a district? Why?
• Match wanting to farm with best soils, best water delivery
• Match access, smart growth, residential value, and design with most
desirable places for those uses -• Patterns of farming and other land uses are important for all
• Find overlaps of interest: recreation, scenery, conservation, habitat,
access and limited access
• MEET MARKETS! Organics and direct sales keep growing, and all those
new people are potential customers (see references)
• What can the city and the farmers do together to minimize losses and
long-term burdens, and to create and capture value to support
flexibility in farming, compatible land use and development to provide
capital, and to sustain the amenity, open space and other values?
• How do we support thoughtful discussion of getting to goals, and using
the group to support individuals, and increase value?
• Need legislative change? Best time to start is real soon!
The red fields here are
the fallow AND also
the not-irrigated in
2003 – that’s a large
amount of land!
Vegetables were
scattered around –
Are there more?
Would there be
more if there was
more money?
Here’s the grass/pasture
in 2003 – why there?
Any pattern other than
history or accident?
Here’s one view of
the irrigation in use
in 2003… from CDSS
The missing link: landowners
• To create and capture value, need to create
certainty – what will happen in this place?
• Commitments to each other: Can you do it?
• Probably some form of transferable development
rights: Everyone gets a piece of the pie, and the
pie gets bigger because of certainty.
• “Development” is careful, controlled, valuable.
• LOTS of planning, lots of argument… not easy –
BUT within the normal scope of city activities to
support such processes.
• The big money plans – can you?
First off: To Do List
• Look at all you have: land, soils, water, environmental value, scenery,
quiet, air quality… And WHAT YOU WANT!
• Location: what are you near, not near and want? Who else might care?
What have you got to trade?
• What resources can you call on?
– Some state, federal agencies
– Engineers, planners, designers, many kinds (careful terms!)
– Real estate brokers, “developers” etc. (Very careful terms!)
– The city that wants your water? Got staff pros? They might!
• COMMIT TO THINK AND PLAN FIRST (buy aspirin in bulk)
OWN, to get around the individual vs group problem
• Likely THREE organizations: Land Enterprise/Protective Development
Assn.; Special District Local Govt; Landowners Corporation for
Transferable Development Rights to share benefits fairly (and yes, this
will be nightmare and a hassle, but shorter than losing it all!)
Given the goals…there are ways!
• Landowners (many) organization – TDR, crosseasements, districting to create security of value
• Use all the assets, create value!
• Development that supports real agriculture
• Value created from security of high level of
amenities, environmental value and productivity
• Local Government benefits from smart land use
and improved tax base, services, investment
• Citizens get more of what they want!
• “New Ruralism” parallel to “new urbanism”
3 Times, 5 Capitals
• Irreversibilities as sorter within vulnerability –
what are the worst risks? What are priorities?
• Consider long-term impacts of short-term
support activities –
– Risks and hazards orientation necessary but not
– Transition toward resilience to problems – can’t know
enough to bet on a single kind of future
– “Far out” – a grandchild’s maturity – help see the
core values and work back; do NOT be intimidated by
efforts to push you out of this. Ditch-builders saw far!