According to the US National Intelligence Office, by 2030 (that’s not that far away) the world is projected to be urban, dangerous, and not dominated by American interests. United States, European, and Japanese global incomes (currently at 56% of the world's income) will fall to less than ½ while China, India, Russia and Brazil will grab increased income opportunities. Where income is generated is where the power is generated as well.
Further, the report goes on to indicate that of the projected 8.3 billion people, sixty percent will live in urban areas. By comparison, in 1950, only 30% of the world lived in urban areas. Urban areas, especially those bounded by geographical restraints like water and international boundaries, have entrenched criminal networks, insider power struggles, and sanitation and health issues. Who wants to live there? Instead the areas away from the urban areas will grow, as cheaper housing and land will bring residents and manufacturing. This will put further pressure on the areas that are still available to grow crops to produce. In addition, all those folks are going to consume water. Demand is expected to increase by 40%.
Ag is highly dependent upon access to water and fertilizer, which is an energy intensive resource. How does the American Ag sector ensure access to energy to create fertilizer and not limit access to water by diverting water for urban use or regulating ourselves out of access to the water?
Consider the low river levels on the Mississippi. Near historic low river levels could shut down 20,000 jobs. Barge companies will float 15 instead of 25 at a time and not carry as much weight. This is not just coal and grain products, it includes cement, steel, chemicals, petroleum and heating oil The potential fix is to let water levels from the Missouri rise. The extra release, however, would put upriver states like the Dakotas and Montana in a low water situation impacting irrigation and water reserves. Further, motor transport carriers and railways consider the federal government’s involvement in ensuring the flow of barge traffic a subsidy that make it hard for them to compete with barge traffic. They apparently forget about the federal dollars invested in their own infrastructure when making this argument. A manual called the Missouri River Master Manual dictates what the Corps of Engineers can and will do. That manual has no provisions for the Missouri Engineers to consider the Mississippi’s needs or fate. Any third grader can identify that the Missouri’s water levels affect the Mississippi. The lack of planning on how the two rivers work together is appalling.
Not having workable regulations is as bad as not having any plan at all. Making ad hoc decisions on who has access to water in a time of stress is going to lead to picking winners and losers based on politics, votes, and immediate needs, without contemplating the long term impact of such decisions.
Take Iowa for example. While this summer’s drought did not result in wide spread shortages, evidence suggests it did test the limits of wells in some areas. The current system to resolve disputes between landowners who feel someone has appropriated their access to the well water is contained in one Department of Natural Resources technical bulletin. It largely relies on cooperation between the parties in the initial stages. Other states with less abundant water supplies already have doctrines on who gets the priority of use on the water. The general default is human consumption first, followed by Ag, and then industrial use.
Fortunately, our congress has shown its remarkable ability to set aside differences and provide long term planning frame work for a number of issues such as estate tax planning, income tax levels, farm program regulations oh…. wait... that’s right... they don’t do any of that. I doubt a change in their operating style is forth coming.