As the drought worsens, let’s not be stupid
By Jay Evensen
The summer of thirst has begun.
Maybe you won’t find yourself short of drinking water — we can hope so, anyway — but everything around you won’t be so lucky. Your lawn, your dirty car and the little things you like to keep nice and shiny will start blending into the brown, dusty landscape of the raw and parched desert in which we live.
“We are a special kind of stupid,” was how California Rep. Tom McClintock described Westerners, and perhaps the federal government, at a recent webinar of the Republican members of the House Committee on Natural Resources.
That’s a little harsh, especially coming from a member of Congress. But it was similar, in spirit, to what journalist and author Steven Greenhut told me by phone this week. Greenhut, a free-market advocate, has written a book titled, “Winning the Water Wars: California Can Meet its Water Needs by Promoting Abundance Rather than Managing Scarcity.”
“It seems something as important as this needs long-term planning,” he said, speaking mainly of California. But Utah could strategize better, too.
Because he is a believer in the free market, Greenhut agrees with something I’ve repeated often through the years. The best way to allocate scarce water is to make it more a creature of supply and demand. When the oil producing nations dry up the supply of gasoline, the cost goes up and we use less, he said. But when water becomes scarce, it tends to cost the same as always. We just try to browbeat people into using less, or we levy fines . . .
After all, no one has to police how much gasoline people use as that supply becomes scarce.
“The price of water should reflect the price of providing the water,” Greenhut said. “Raise it when it’s in short supply and lower it when it’s in abundance.”