Understanding Megadrought: Water Efficiency in a Warming World

August 16, 2021

Peter Gleick, MacArthur Award winning water expert with the Pacific Institute, on more efficient use of water in the emerging mega drought.

I’ll be posting more from my series of interviews with drought and heat experts through this week.

4 Responses to “Understanding Megadrought: Water Efficiency in a Warming World”

  1. jimbills Says:

    Thanks, and yep.

    We need to have a two-pronged approach: 1) subsidize better irrigation technologies for farmers, while at the same time 2) limit the amount of water drawn by agriculture in some way.

    I know you’re not a Jevons fan, but it has been shown in the past that applying just the new efficiencies can lead to greater total water usage:
    https://chicagopolicyreview.org/2015/06/25/the-unintended-consequences-of-subsidized-irrigation-conservation/

    “Although this rebound effect is not explicitly quantified, as in the work of Lin and Pfeiffer, water rights administrators in similarly constrained basins should note the negated conservation that accompanies cost share or subsidized programs. Without a clear definition of water rights—the right to apply a baseline amount versus the right to deplete an aquifer amount—farmers are apt to reinvest water and cost savings to increase their yields or switch to “thirstier” crops. Such findings could pave the way for currently unpopular ideas like water taxes or extraction quotas, especially in places like California, where long-term droughts have become commonplace.”

    But – if both approaches were done – we could limit the dramatic effects we’re seeing in the Colorado with the drought and climate change. I’m skeptical we will, at least not for a while, as everything comes down political will – and that trends dramatically towards individual profit instead of the public good.


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