In early December, brokers on Wall Street began trading water futures as if the resource were gold or oil. This has led to more debate about the policy role of things like water markets, water banks or storage accounts.
In the past week or so the New York Times, LA Times and Arizona Republic had insightful pieces on the push by moneyed interests to create water markets along the Colorado River and elsewhere in the West. The piece in the New York Times highlighted the efforts by Water Asset Management to start creating “pools within pools” in Lake Powell that serve as a bank that can be tapped when a thirsty entity comes along in desperate need of water.
Some describe this as a means of merely helping to meet demand in an over-taxed water system. Others justify this as an effort to upend water management practices in the west in order to give deep-pocketed, powerful interests the upper hand for accessing water it currently can’t get and building new shopping malls, subdivisions and office parks in the desert.
Water Asset Management has water rights and farms in Nevada near Winnemucca. The concern is that entities like WAM want to create markets on the Colorado River and elsewhere so they can hang onto water until it can be offloaded for profits.
In other words, WAM and others want to validate speculation – which is illegal in Nevada – and hope to do so in the name of fancy buzzwords like water markets, storage accounts or banks. This will come at a cost to the longstanding principles of beneficial use (use it or lose it) and priority (first in time, first in line) as well.
The founder of WAM is Disque Deane Jr, a former Vice President of Vidler Water Company. Many of you will remember that Vidler purchased ranches/water rights in Lincoln and White Pine Counties to create a sprawling network of pipelines and monopolize water along with the SNWA as the Vegas pipeline fight was developing. The speculative nature of those deals raised eyebrows back in the early 2000s. But that didn’t seem to bother state officials or anyone else at the time expect for GBWN’s predecessors – go figure.
A few years ago, WAM and its henchmen presented to the Nevada Legislature, imploring the state to build a massive network of pipelines in order to meet the needs of “markets.”
Then WAM followed up by proposing to “store” billions of gallons worth of floodwaters from the Humboldt River underground. That amount of water only exists in farmers’ dreams. Counties from across Nevada protested those applications – which have gone nowhere.
The hucksters won’t slow down anytime soon — which is why we must be prepared.
The devil will be in the details as it relates to upcoming negotiations on the Colorado River that will determine future management of the notoriously litigious waterway. The same can be said about proposals in the upcoming Nevada legislative sessions that will deal with these issues as well.
Professionals and government officials who work in water have told me that proposals like these could be a fast track for speculation, sprawl development and large-scale transfers of water that takes the resource from rural places to metropolitan locales. Some of the biggest advocates for the Las Vegas Pipeline were institutions like Bank of America. It’s no surprise Wall Street wants our water. But it’s just jarring how insidious it can be.