What Happens When You Densely Populate a Desert

Things aren’t looking good for California. Not surprisingly for a desert water is in short supply. Unlike most deserts California happens to be very densely populated, which has lead to a major crisis:

Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.

Assuming this estimate is accurate California is in for some very bad times. So what’s to be done? Let’s ask the statist that wrote this article:

Several steps need be taken right now. First, immediate mandatory water rationing should be authorized across all of the state’s water sectors, from domestic and municipal through agricultural and industrial. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is already considering water rationing by the summer unless conditions improve. There is no need for the rest of the state to hesitate. The public is ready. A recent Field Poll showed that 94% of Californians surveyed believe that the drought is serious, and that one-third support mandatory rationing.

Second, the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 should be accelerated. The law requires the formation of numerous, regional groundwater sustainability agencies by 2017. Then each agency must adopt a plan by 2022 and “achieve sustainability” 20 years after that. At that pace, it will be nearly 30 years before we even know what is working. By then, there may be no groundwater left to sustain.

Third, the state needs a task force of thought leaders that starts, right now, brainstorming to lay the groundwork for long-term water management strategies. Although several state task forces have been formed in response to the drought, none is focused on solving the long-term needs of a drought-prone, perennially water-stressed California.

Not surprisingly the statist’s answer is stupid. Rationing, making new agencies, and establishing a task force isn’t going to accomplish jack shit. The problem is that California, at least the southern portion of the state, is a desert. Since the state decided to declare a monopoly on water rights in the region it ignored the very real fact that deserts are not the greatest places to pack a lot of people and agriculture into. Now California is densely populated and a major agricultural state. The only thing surprising about this fiasco is that it didn’t enter a critical level like this sooner.

So I return to the original question, what’s to be done. Fixing this problem isn’t feasible with central planning so the only viable answer is to remove the state from water rights and management and allow the market to do its thing. I would predict doing this would increase the cost of water in California dramatically and therefore encourage people and agriculture to move elsewhere. This is likely the only long-term solution for California’s water shortage but people don’t want to hear it because they prefer the fairytale that statism has been telling them, which is any economic rules can be nullified so long as enough people vote hard enough.