Local water authorities quell criticism by maintaining that water is free. Their considerable bills reflect the cost of storing our water in dams and the upkeep of channels to bring it to us. They are our waterlords, like any innkeeper toting up our usages.
A lumbering bureaucracy oversees water, magically carving liquid into tangible billable categories. Permanent water has till recently been inextricably linked to the land it irrigates. Temporary water has always been bought and sold at short notice. Now permanent water may be sold from its land. Beware the buyer who believes her land purchase comes with water. The waterlord will come looking for the formidable costs of potential storage and transport of the flown asset.
Bureaucrats divide water into high and low reliability. They link these divisions to the complex concept of ‘spill’. I have not yet met anyone who can explain ‘spill’ to me. My wife, who worked in water for years, understands completely. She has tried to explain it to me many times. After about thirty seconds, my thoughts drift off. I see her earnest expressions and know her intonations but her words circle. Knowing and understanding these issues is crucial to dabbling in the water market, even for managing farm resources and allocations.
Water is a commodity that is bought and sold, like the stock market or real estate. Prices for water fluctuate widely. In the drought, water costs bankrupted many. Last year prices bottomed but are currently back up.
Water is political. The present government is disregarding the fact that over 75% of water users have less than 100 mgs of water. The master of the house wines and dines the top 5% of water users. Water may be free but its accommodation isn’t.