@ColoradoStateU, et al., researchers score a $4.9 million grant from @USDA in order to create an economic model of how water rights should be allocated in the long term

Prior appropriation example via Oregon.gov

Here’s the release from The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Julia Trowbridge):

With the “Arid West” experiencing climate change and a growing population, it’s time to look at water rights. Colorado State University professors are joining up with researchers across universities and disciplines in Colorado, Nevada and Arizona to do just that.

In partnership with the University of Nevada Reno, Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the Desert Research Institute, CSU researchers received a $4.9 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture in order to create an economic model of how water rights should be allocated in the long term.

This topic has come up due to changes in population growth and climate change, especially in sustaining and increasing agricultural productivity, according to the research proposal.

The research centers around the concept of water rights. Water rights refer to a business’s right to irrigate water. Dale Manning, an agricultural and resource economics professor at CSU, said the longer the business has had the water right, the more secure the business’s water supply claim is. This is important because people with more secure rights get priority access to water resources.

“What happens is, if you’re a senior water right and can’t get the water you’ve historically used, you can tell all the people who are more junior to you, who started diverting water after you, to stop diverting,” Manning said.

The research project focuses on the water basins that the researchers are around: the South Platte river basin, the Verde River basin and the Walker river basin. Although the economic models are being designed around these basins, the research team wants these models to be tailored to any area that relies on surface water, Manning said.

Agriculture diverts the most water in the west, and it diverts anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of the water supply each year, said Christopher Goemans, an agricultural and resource economics professor at CSU. With the expansion of population, agricultural, municipal and industrial areas are forced to compete for the water resources available.

“Any institution that we come up with is tricky because you want to have reliability built into the system so that if I’m a city or a group of cities … I know what my rights are to certain amounts of water,” Goemans said. “But at the same time, we also want fluidity, no pun intended, in the system because as conditions change, whether on the demand or the supply, we want the system to be adaptable to those conditions.”

The demand for water changes in relation to population changes in an area. Manning said through potential options like conservation and reservoirs, the research team is looking into how in the future the amount of water needed can be best maintained.

“Having those different options is actually good, we aren’t limited to one thing to adapt,” Goemans said. “It’s not only building infrastructure, it’s not only telling people to use less, but it’s a combination of all that.”

The side of demand not only involves economic thought, but also social sciences and hydrology engineers. This is where the importance of interdisciplinary work comes in, Manning said.

“You can’t really do this without doing interdisciplinary work,” Manning said. “We don’t model hydrology, but somebody on this project will, and that’ll help us create the supply side of our economic model.”

The research group aims to make a long-lasting impact on how water resources are allocated in the future. With the increased uncertainty of the supply of water, they want to create a reliable yet fluid system for the balance between agricultural, municipal and industrial water needs.

“It’s not just academics and it’s not just one state,” Goemans said. “There’s this huge outreach component. We’re working with local water authorities and each of the states to try to make sure (the research) is as useful for them as possible.”

Collegian reporter Julia Trowbridge can be reached at news@collegian.com or on twitter @chapin_jules.

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