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Water Problem: 'The Dry Years'

February 12, 1989

The Times editorial call ("Water Warfare," Jan. 28) for a Little Hoover-type commission of respected citizens to advise on state water issues presents a constructive option.

Water availability could soon limit state growth and development. Economics and drought force us to focus on the problem of a static supply of water statewide combined with steady population increases, business expansion and urban-suburban growth. The irreversible yearly increases in demand for water signify that a crunch is inevitable.

Water historically has been overmanaged by a small circle of special interests, wherein all parties were allocated water based upon their own limited parochial interests and the only interested parties excluded from the deal were the state's voters. The work of the proposed governors committee could culminate in a statewide ballot proposition or a bill for the state Legislature that protects the public interest.

What The Times describes as a "close-knit fraternity" that controls the "war-weary water world" could indeed "benefit from a little sunshine and common sense."

The strength of western-style economics remains that an unfettered free market that optimizes the use and allocation of scarce, albeit well-fought over resources, benefits everyone.

Increased emphasis on water "marketing" resolves the problem of allocation of scarce water resoures. The market, mediated by price flexibility, not special interests who use political levers, will determine how water gets portioned out in California.

Instead of state politics-sponsored subsidies, let's allow price to determine matters far too complex to be managed by humans. State agriculture that is nurtured by the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta pays only $2 to $4 per acre foot, while urban-suburban consumers pay $250 to $300 per acre foot for water. It defies common sense to claim that farm operators, who pay subsidized rates, won't waste large quantities of water occasionally. What will be the new equilibrium water prices, which will benefit all Californians and favor no special interests?

Suburban voters will soon lose patience if their taps run dry and are faced with draconian water conservation measures. Whether we are led to this truth by rational legislative measures or irrational referendum-style politics, emphasis on water marketing is crucial for a healthy state economy. Because the build-up of economic pressures is steady and irreversible, I am convinced that this solution is inevitable.

R. WILLIAM ROBINSON

Director, Upper San Gabriel

Valley Municipal Water District

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