Water: The Only Market the Government Screws Up Worse than Oil

Arizona Watch makes a great observation about water use here in the desert.  All-too-often, the anti-growth folks use the water issue to try to make us feel like Phoenix is heading toward some parched apocalypse.  Arizona Watch makes the following point:

Scott Patterson's "Swimming in the desert," is dangerously miss-informed. To
advance his anti-growth agenda, he predicts future water shortages in Arizona
due to urban population growth. Urban growth is not to blame.

Nearly 70% of Arizona's water is used for agricultural purposes. What's more,
the cost of water for agricultural use is significantly lower than for
industrial or household use. The problem is not that people live in this desert,
it's that people inefficiently grow crops in this desert, and the inefficiency
is encouraged by price controls on water. If water costs for agriculture were
not subsidized, then market pricing would ensure a plentiful supply of water for
generations to come.

Read the whole thing for the cites to the actual statistics.  I cannot understand why water can't be sold at a market rate.  If you subsidize water prices, and more people then come to the desert than the water supplies can support, is it the fault of the individuals who show up, or is it the fault of the government that can't seem to allow markets to operate when it comes to water?  This is yet another example of the government creating a problem with regulation, blaming the adverse results on the free market, and using the ensuing mess to justify more regulation.

Farmers in particular are getting paid by you and me, in the form of subsidized water, to try to grow wet-country crops out here in the desert.  This water subsidy is on top of the huge farm subsidies Arizona farmers get, including over $100 million a year in cotton subsidies alone.  The government is paying farmers to dump tons of water on cotton plants in the desert that grow perfectly well without irrigation in many other states. 

Postscript:  Farmers really have done an amazing job lobbying for themselves in this country.  They are particularly succesful here in Arizona, where the largest farms are owned by Indian tribes, that have the added lobbying strength of protected-group status.  The other night I was serving out my painful 7 hours or so in drivers ed. class when it was mentioned that us urban dwellers will get a huge fine for not having our 4 year old strapped down in a car seat, but rural pickup truck drivers in Arizona can legally have a 6-month-old rolling around in the back of a bouncing pickup truck without any restraint and be perfectly legal.  Why the difference?  Because the farmers wanted it that way.


  1. Chad S.:

    I could not agree with you more. I live in NE Colorado. Agriculture is big business here. After the Kansas / Nebraska / Colorado law suit for violation of the water-pact, this should have been our hint about being further in trouble than before. Government steps in again to save us from ourselves, establishing more bureaucrats that further leach our system. Farmers are and are not the issue. I pay seven cents a gallon for my residential water rate. Here they just now started to pay per acre of irrigation, only to fund the new bureaucrats.
    I once worked for a partnership of weathy farmers for 5 years and have to say, seeing their farm was all in the name of profit, they sap our water source, lowball the community businesses, stage wages hikes against an immigrant work force. They did this all so proudly, claiming it is in our favor maintaining low food prices. When the waters gone so are they with there millions reaped from the land they raped, not so to them; claiming they owned the land, land has no ownership, only stewardship. "This land was here before you or I were, will be here when you and I are not".
    I get so angry when I see the abuses of the wealthy farmer many of whom escape the confines law when it comes to immigrant workers, robbing wholesome Americans of decent wages so their bottom lines improved, standing in line at the FSA office for their welfare subsidy check. Boy how I wish we could have it as easy as the wealthy farmer does. Make millions, have immigrant workers do all the labor, rape the land of resources, and claim it is good for the economy. Who’s economy, theirs and the government they have working for them!

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