Thursday, February 12, 2009

Interesting E-mail on Water and Politics in California

I appreciate a thoughtful memo. This email was more interesting than 98% of the stuff that I receive. I can't tell if Wayne is aware that I co-wrote the paper that he comments on below but I appreciate his honesty. An economist would say that the introduction of water markets and flexible pricing for water would go a long way to address his concerns. Farmers of California --- get ready to sell your water endowments to the urbanites! The price of California strawberries is about to go up.


To Matthew Kahn, UCLA

From Wayne Lusvardi, Pasadena, CA
wlusvardi@yahoo.com

Re Help the Environment, Stay in the City

FYI

THE REAL GREEN PARADOX: STAYING IN CITY REDUCES C02, BUT IMPORTING CITY WATER IS UNSUSTAINABLE
by Wayne Lusvardi

Harvard economist Edward L. Glaeser asserts that people living in cities, especially in the moderate weather of California, may emit relatively less carbon than those in suburbs (see: *Help the Environment, Stay in the City,* DCExaminer.com, Feb 11 - http://www.dcexaminer.com/opinion/Help-the-environment-stay-in-the-city-39422222.html#comments. Glaeser calls this the Green-Brown Paradox.

Glaeser estimates the amount of carbon dioxide that an average household would emit from home heating, driving, electricity, and public transportation in cities versus suburbs. His major finding is that cities, especially in a moderate climate such as Southern California, emit relatively less carbon dioxide than suburbs.

However, steering new development into coastal cities in Southern California also results in unsustainable use of water resources. Cities may emit less carbon (Green) but this forces a reliance on imported water supplies (Blue) instead of more sustainable local groundwater supplies in non-coastal areas. The real paradox is not Green vs. Brown as Glaeser asserts but Green vs. Blue.

Glaeser fails to mention new legislation in California, Senate Bill 375, will divert new development to cities as opposed to the suburbs purportedly to reduce carbon footprints and urban sprawl and promote
*smart growth.*

Under this legislation, water will no longer be gold in California. Rather, cliches about reducing global warming and producing green power will be Californiaʼs new foolʼs gold. Los Angeles is now facing the grim reality of an 85 percent cut in imported water deliveries from Northern California through the California Aqueduct due to a court order to protect the tiny Delta Smelt fish. California should consider how embracing popular cliches about environmental protection, such as Glaeser's, has resulted in what might be called the perfect drought, which stems more from political than natural causes.

SB 375 requires regional planning agencies to put into place sustainable growth plans. It will require that new housing development be shifted from the urban fringe, where groundwater resources are more abundant, such as San Bernardino County, to highly dense urban areas near public transit and light rail lines, such as Los Angeles and Pasadena, where local water sources are patchy and often polluted. The environmental intent of SB 375 is to reduce auto commuter trips, air pollution and gasoline consumption.

However, the legislation will unintentionally result in more reliance on imported water supplies from the Sacramento Delta, Mono Lake and the Colorado River for thirsty cities along Californiaʼs coastline instead of diverting development to inland areas that have more sustainable groundwater resources.

This can be clearly seen by viewing the U.S. Geological Survey map of Groundwater Basins in California. The populous coastal areas of the state have spotty groundwater resources, while the inland areas have the most abundant water basins to sustain new development - see: http://capp.water.usgs.gov/aquiferBasics/calcobag.html

SB 375 makes no sense from even a global warming perspective. Higher temperatures are generated in dense urban areas with more buildings and pavement, and less vegetation. Conversely, suburban and urban fringe areas with less hardscape and more vegetation are generally cooler. This is called the Urban Heat Island Effect. Concentrating housing development in already highly dense urban areas will only worsen the urban heat island effect and thus increase spot global warming.

Moreover, by virtue of shifting to reliance on imported water supplies, California will need to buy more imported coal-fired and natural gas-generated electricity to pump that water to urban centers located far from the sources of water. Glaeser doesn't factor in the increased energy demand from imported water into his carbon footprint equation. Nor does he consider that most of the electricity for Southern California is imported from outside the state, creating an alleged carbon footprint in sparsely populated rural areas of the Southwestern United States.

Fortunately, the new law doesnʼt yet mandate local governments to comply with the plans. No real changes are expected until regional planning agencies adopt the sustainable-communities growth policies called for in the law three years from now. However, if cities choose not to comply now, that will allow state regulators to divert state transportation tax funds to compliant cities. That SB 375 is a license for greedy coastal cities in Democratic strongholds along the coast to capture the taxes of inland cities in Republican territory is never mentioned in the media. Environmentalism serves as a cover for politics by other means.

Laws like SB 375 continue dependence on costly imported wholesale water, say at $500 per acre foot (a football field of water one foot high, which is enough to sustain two families per year) compared with cheap local groundwater at roughly $50 per acre foot. Imported water results in a ten-fold "drain" on local economies. That is why water is metaphorically colored gold in the Golden State of California.

That this piece of legislation was passed by green Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, endorsed by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and signed by every state legislator representing Los Angeles, and without dissent from local water agencies and even air-quality resource boards, is indicative of how environmental policy is based on powerful political-cultural imagery beyond science and common sense. Incredibly, the implementation of SB 375 will even be granted certain breaks for transit-oriented development under the California Environmental Quality Act.

California is shifting from valuing water as gold to a Foolʼs Gold Rush to reduce global warming and generate green power. Paraphrasing a Latin proverb, (political) hay is more acceptable to a donkey than gold.

Glaeser asserts that there is a paradox is between fewer carbon emissions per average person in cities versus more carbon emissions in suburbs. But the real Green paradox is the trade off between carbon emissions and unsustainable imported water in coastal cities in California.

Note: Wayne Lusvardi worked for The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California for 20-years. The views expressed are his own.

4 comments :

Neil said...

If there are abundant ground water supplies in San Bernardino county, why can't water be diverted to LA from there, as well as potential settlers? The heating effect is interesting though. Would solar panels cool cities?

randall crane said...

I appreciate that the energy costs of water transfers have to be accounted for, and heat island effects, but the memo's conclusions don't necessarily follow.

I too am also unsure of the environmental benefits of fringe versus urban development, and clearly some costs are probably ignored in the SB 375 pitch, but before we can conclude the numbers don't add up, we'd need at least ballpark numbers. For example, you still need to pump ground water -- which is more finite than snowpack water sources -- and it often needs to be cleaned up at substantial expense, plus the memo ignores the hoped for reduction in car use by discouraging fringe growth.

Still, the Glaeser/Kahn numbers should be rerun to see what difference water distribution costs might make.

The Pasadena Pundit said...

Reply to Neal: *If there are abundant ground water supplies in San Bernardino county, why can't water be diverted to LA from there, as well as potential settlers?*

Reply: Grabbing water from San Bernardino which has a surplus of groundwater relative to its population would require elimination of water rights and laws. There is no water program or *water czar* of groundwater in California (see William Blomquist, Dividing the Waters: Governing Groundwater in Southern California, 1992). There still is *home rule* over groundwater. But imported water for shortfalls or droughts is another issue. Los Angeles can't just repeat history and invade San Bernardino with shot guns as they did in Mono Lake and buy up the land and take the water. But San Bernardino has signaled they are interested in selling surplus water. But that can't be done because wholesale water is socialized and you can't sell water without going through the interchange agency of the Metro Water District of So. Cal. There are some limited water trades approved by government water agencies (DWR), but there is no water market per se. Today, farmers north of the Sacramento Delta are willing to sell excess ag water to So Cal, but there is no way to ship it through the Sacramento Delta due to the blockade by enviros through the courts over the Delta smelt fish issue.
Wayne Lusvardi, Pasadena

The Pasadena Pundit said...

Reply to Randall Crane:
My comment on Daniel Glaeser's "Help the Environment, Stay in the City" was NOT an attempt to nuance ALL the variables for an urban/suburban model of C02 usage. It was merely an attempt to point out that there are OTHER trade offs to consider, such as greater dependence on imported water.

If anyone desired to be so ambitious as to try to model urban versus suburban C02 use, they would also have to factor in carbon sinks. If we can hypothesize that greater water resources in the suburbs and inland areas equates with greater vegetation and forests, then there are possibly more carbon sinks in the suburbs and inland areas. An urban vs. suburban C02 usage model may not be quantifiable and may have to be taken on faith.

The historical thrust of water policy in So Cal by the L.A. DWP has been to concentrate jobs around the urban center of Los Angeles by assuring a supply of available imported water to bedroom communities around it. The problem with this is that it institutionalizes unsustainability and greater dependence on imported water supplies.

See my article in LA Business Journal reprinted at Aquafornia blog *Water policies channeling resources in wrong direction,* here
http://aquafornia.com/archives/5663