Now and then, I like to share some links I've been saving up, especially ones that relate to topics I've blogged about before.
To start with, here is some musical accompaniment:
Places in Europe near ancient Roman roads tend to be more prosperous today, apparently. Is this due to path dependance of economic development, or proximity to rivers/resources/etc.?
In Canada, the Ottawa River was historically an important transportation route (last year, I was in Ottawa for a weekend). The map in that article is sort of a Sankey diagram since it changes the width of the line to show the river flow along its watershed.
This site has new maps added regularly of random things (e.g. number of cows) in Canada and the US. This article looks at the orientations of streets (i.e. how consistent of a grid there is) in multiple cities.
I've only looked at a couple of the articles so far, but this magazine issue is a conversation about charter/start-up cities, a topic I find quite interesting.
Did you know that global deforestation is significantly slowing down? Here is an article about those statistics. It discusses the Kuznets curve, which I've mentioned before. On a similar note, this article suggests ways in which economic growth doesn't necessarily mean further intensification of non-renewable resource consumption.
This is an interesting review of Elinor Ostrom's book Governing the Commons (her work was cited in this book I reviewed). It's about organically-formed local institutions to avoid the tragedy of the commons; it includes discussion of the governance of groundwater and irrigation districts. Here are a couple of excerpts from the review:
All in all, it seems that organically grown institutions are a lot like Hayek's free markets. They are information-processing machines. They aggregate countless details, too small and numerous for any central planner to take into account, and generate a set of efficient governance rules.
I like the idea of treating the creation of an institution (i.e. the rules governing the usage of the basin) as an infrastructure project, similar to a dam.
This messy process of developing governance for groundwater resources can be seen in action in a recent New York Times' article about the Sulphur Springs Valley in Arizona. I wanted to share several paragraphs from this article to convey a sense of the situation:
Part of the reason groundwater mining in the valley hadn’t forced a reckoning earlier, he said, was that water was ubiquitous to the point of being invisible. Local farmers were never required to put meters on their wells, he pointed out, which meant that nobody knew exactly how much water was being pumped, much less how much was left. “Long term, people say we should search for a solution,” he said, “but they don’t want to be the ones to suffer.”
Seated at his desk, Searle reached and opened a glass cabinet, lifting out arrowheads and a stone ax blade that he dug out of his ranch over the last 50 years. “You know, we weren’t the first ones here in this valley, and we weren’t the first ones struggling with water,” he said. His face turned pensive, and he spoke for a time about the ancient Hohokam and Tohono O’odham tribes, which traversed this part of the Sonoran Desert for thousands of years without digging deep wells. “But the mining industry isn’t a long-term industry,” he continued. “Name me a long-term mining community. Ajo, Pearce — those are ghost towns. Pecos was like this: a natural resource mined until the town fell apart around it. If we die, it’ll be a slow one. If the whole county dries up, it’ll be just a blip on the radar.”
Most groundwater rights in Arizona are still based on the frontier legal doctrine of “reasonable use,” which holds that a landowner retains the right to pump as much water as he or she pleases, so long as it’s put to a “reasonable use” such as farming. In 1980, Arizona became the first state to pass groundwater reform, effectively deeming groundwater a public rather than a private resource. But in the years since, few regulatory safeguards have extended beyond the boundaries of Tucson and Phoenix. Outside those places, little has changed since statehood in 1912: A farmer needed only to file an Intent to Drill notice and pay a $150 permitting fee and was then free to pump as much as desired. For valley farmers, growing high-water crops like alfalfa and nuts, this often meant about 2,000 gallons, roughly the capacity of a tanker truck, every minute, 24 hours a day, with only intermittent breaks for several months. In 2017 alone, one farm pumped 22 billion gallons, nearly double the volume of bottled water sold in the United States annually.
For the next year, the farmers met monthly for four hours, ironing out a proposal for a “withdrawal fee” on agricultural wells — the word “tax,” Seitz says, was carefully avoided — plus a freeze on large-scale irrigation and a limit on high-water-use crops. In effect, they would create a management zone, protecting the aquifer, and by extension their own farms, from deep water exploration by new and corporate competitors. They had only just begun to finalize the proposal in the early spring of 2015 when word of the closed-door meetings began to spread. Many felt any restriction on water would devalue property and, worse, deal yet another blow to the declining self-rule of rural culture. Townspeople arrived at committee members’ homes at all hours, accusing them of theft.
As someone working in the water industry, I don't think the situation will get to the point depicted in Paolo Bacigalupi's novel The Water Knife (which I enjoyed reading). For the small quantities of water needed by households, water delivery is feasible (albeit an added expense that families would prefer to avoid as the Times' article shows); for agriculture, they'll have to start accounting for the real cost of water (rather than treating it as something that can be pulled out of the ground in unlimited quantities) just like any other input. A lot of industry is already moving toward such a perspective.