So a few days ago I was eating at a Chipotle in Lubbock, TX when I overheard three Texas Tech students discussing water management and the California drought. Of course I couldn’t miss this opportunity to educate others, especially Texans, of the awful condition of the Golden State. I ended the discussion with a warning to watch and learn from California’s mistakes to ensure Texas remains great and free.
But what are California’s mistakes? Due to time constraints we’ll narrow the long list to just water-related issues. With the looming threat of steep fines for taking a shower that the government deems too long, California’s drought is an opportunity for Californians, as well as the rest of the country, to step back and review some of the contributing factors to this dire predicament.
California has failed to make significant improvements to its water infrastructure since the early 1970’s. You see, new canals and desalination plants cost money, and in a state that spends $25 Billion each year on illegal immigrants there’s not much left for lessor priorities like water. So while many are demonizing the agricultural industry or green-lawn’ed residents, I feel the blame for the embarrassing financial mismanagement of the state lies squarely with the voters at large. No better example exists than California’s voter-approved high-speed rail project. Forbes contributor Thomas Del Beccaro recently offered humorous commentary on “The Great California Train Shortage”. The 20 million gallons of water lost in a main break near UCLA last summer demonstrates that cash-strapped-induced neglect of water infrastructure extends to cities and municipalities. In a state that has seen a dozen droughts since 1850 yet prides itself in its wine, cheese, oranges, etc, etc…voters who pass high-speed rail and elect sanctuary politicians like Gov. Jerry Brown and a long list of state democrats are at the root of the problem.
Making things worse are environmentalists and judges putting the Delta Smelt, an endangered 3-inch fish, over the human demand for fresh water. Hundreds of billions of gallons of fresh water is forced to drain into the ocean instead of being diverted for human use. While we know the disregard smelly hippies have for showers, maybe the remaining Californians will re-evaluate the sacrifices environmentalists have made to protect the Delta Smelt.
But while better infrastructure and wiser priorities would certainly help alleviate the suffering from drought, the underlying fact exists that fresh water is currently a limited resource and there are no guarantees that drought may force tough decisions to be made as to the use of water. The question is if allowing a centralized government to pick winners and losers and dictate the allocation of such a critical resource is the only, or best, solution. Writer and economist Robert P. Murphy suggests a crazy alternative:
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a social system that allowed humans to decide in a decentralized manner how much of a resource they wanted to use? But wait, because of the scarcity, there would need to be some type of information feedback mechanism, so that people only used the resource when it was really important to them, and they economized more stringently during a time of reduced availability. Furthermore, we couldn’t just survey people, because then they might lie. If only there were a way for them to signify their desire to consume more of the resource, that would force them to be honest about it and would help foster social cooperation.
Of course he’s referring to a free-market economy in which supply and demand drive price instead of government fiat. Scarcity and sustained demand mixed with competition creates an environment that encourages innovation. While Californians may be unable to exercise control over the weather and the scarce nature of water, if they so choose, they can certainly realign their priorities and seek free-market solutions to greatly alleviate the pain.