David Zetland has written a very informative, accessible and necessary book which explains the reality of water scarcity and the imperative of applying sound economics and local control to what was previously the exclusive preserve of engineers and politicians. In fact, it is a book that every water engineer and local politician should read to their benefit and that of their customers and citizens. --G. Tracy Mehan, III (former Assistant Administrator for water, US Environmental Protection Agency)
This is not a text for those seeking a rehash of the standard "water wars" catechism. Zetland outlines a fresh, creative approach to allocating a valuable resource in regions with competing demands. Importantly, his vision does not entail an expensive and sluggish command-and-control bureaucracy coddling whatever class of water users happen to enjoy momentary political favor. Protecting our environment, growing our food, and supplying our cities has always required the ingenuity of a free people. It is time we realized that in managing our water. --Philip Bowles (President, Bowles Farming Company)
There is no scarcity of books describing the challenges the United States and nations across the globe face in managing water to meet today's needs and future demands. The good news is that effective solutions exist. The better news is that David Zetland has written a book that presents solutions to these water challenges that protect public health, ensure ecological vitality, and support economic growth. He delivers the rational way forward in a style and language that the public as well as public officials --- and if we are lucky, politicians! --- can understand and act on. --Michael Deane (Executive Director, National Association of Water Companies)
Bold, provocative and refreshing -- Zetland brings common sense to the water scarcity discussion. --Spreck Rosekrans (Senior Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund)
Disruptive and provocative, Zetland is the Ben Franklin of water. He hurls common sense against professional aristocrats to ensure our priceless liquid asset belongs, democratically, to 7 billion amateurs like you and me. --James Workman (Author, Heart of Dryness
From the Author
From the Acknowledgements:
I began my PhD at UC Davis in 2002 with the intention of studying the economics of developing countries, a field that concentrates on government failure, corruption and weak institutions. After an ill-fated attempt to study the cultivation of coca (for cocaine) in Peru, I turned to water in California. I got interested in this topic when my adviser Richard Howitt told me about conflict among members of a water cooperative (the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, or MWD). I was intrigued. Why would members of a cooperative fight instead of cooperate? In my quest for an answer to this question, I went from one "why?" to another "why?" until I had a narrative of events, decisions, and policies that began more than 100 years before the modern conflict. It took me about three years to assemble this narrative into a PhD dissertation, but that process also helped me understand how to apply institutional analysis to the water sector. The major theme of that study and the central theme here) is how institutions that fail to change with circumstances will not work very well.
I began blogging as a graduate student because I was interested in communicating with non-economists. My aguanomics blog initially focused on problems like those at MWD, but I soon expanded to other problems, places, and institutions, looking for old patterns and new lessons. Some problems could be solved with easy economics (charging higher prices to reduce landscape irrigation); others adopted solutions from my work with MWD (auctions for farmers like auctions at MWD); but some were totally different and difficult to understand. These problems related to human rights, the environment, water quality, aquifer depletion, bottled water, and so on.
In the course of thinking about these problems, suggesting answers and responding to readers, I tried to integrate insights from engineering, politics, religion, ecology, business and sociology. I made mistakes, borrowed good ideas, and flip-flopped my opinions -- always searching for better answers.
This book distills that experience, but it also reflects my opinions on how the world is and should be. It's not perfect, but hopefully it will give you what it gave me -- a decent answer to a small but powerful question: why?