Congressman Tom McClintock gave a speech recently explaining some self-evident truths about water.
“Water – particularly in California – has become such a complicated tangle of competing interests and ideological agendas that I think we have lost sight of some self-evident truths.
“Self-Evident Truth #1: More water is better than less water. Can we agree on this first point? I know I’m stating the obvious – but I keep hearing, that, “no, conservation is the key to the future because conservation lessens demand.” That may be true, but ultimately conservation is the management of shortage and abundance is better.
“Some say that in many cases conservation is the least expensive way of adding supply. But that’s the point: it doesn’t ADD supply. And IF conservation is the least expensive way of managing shortage, it doesn’t need to be mandated, does it?
“The point at which conservation becomes economically preferable is the point when a water user decides he can save money doing it. The more expensive the water, the more expensive is the alternative he’s willing to employ.
Which brings us to Self-Evident Truth #2: Cheaper water is better than more expensive water. If we agree on this, then it naturally follows that before we employ more expensive sources of water like desalination and recycling, we should first be sure we’ve exhausted the less expensive alternatives, like surface water storage.
“Self-Evident Truth #3: Water is unevenly distributed over both time and distance. So if we want to have plenty of water in dry periods we have to store it in wet ones, and if we want to have plenty of water in dry regions we have to move it from wet ones. That is why we build dams and aqueducts and canals.
“Which brings us to Self-Evident Truth #4: that we don’t need to build dams, aqueducts and reservoirs if our goal is to let our water run into the ocean. Water tends to run downhill very well on its own and doesn’t need our help to do so. The reason that we build dams, aqueducts, and reservoirs is so that the water DOESN’T run into the ocean, but rather is retained and distributed where it will do the most good.
“We can tell where it does the most good by its relative value, which brings us to Self-Evident Truth #5: Water is valuable, which allows the market to assign a price to it that can account for its scarcity, availability, storage, transportation, demand and substitution costs, including conservation.
“Do I have everybody so far?
“If so, then an important question arises: if these truths are valid and self-evident, then why aren’t we proceeding with a water policy that is in concert with them?
“During my time chairing the Water and Power Sub-committee, I have heard only two reasons to ignore these truths.
“The first is environmental. It is argued that dams and reservoirs, pumps and aqueducts are detrimental to the environment – that they destroy sensitive habitats and drive the species that depend on them to extinction.
“These are, of course, valid concerns. But the question they raise is one of rational balance. I submit to you that it does not constitute rational balance not only to oppose all new dams, but to insist on tearing down existing ones. That movement long ago crossed the boundary between self-evident truth and self-delusional ideological extremism.”