Trading Water: Could Markets Be One Solution to California’s Water Woes?

Drought-stricken California is taking unprecedented measures to address its water challenges.

In April, the governor issued the first mandatory statewide water use restrictions in California history, after snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains—which provide 60 percent of the state’s water—fell to the lowest levels ever recorded. San Diego County is building the largest seawater desalination plant in the Western hemisphere, while Orange County plans to turn more wastewater into drinking water.

The solutions are significant because the drought has been exceptionally severe. It currently affects over 99 percent of the state and approximately 37 million people. In 2014, the state agriculture industry lost roughly $2.2 billion to drought, and some California communities even ran out of water.

One solution California may consider is whether more efficient, user-friendly water markets would help water users adapt more quickly to drought conditions, and better cope with long-term water scarcity stemming from climate change and increased water demand.

California has active water markets, but buying and selling water (and water rights) there is not as simple as in Australia, where it is said to be “almost as easy to sell water from your water bank account as it is to transfer money from a normal bank account.” The Australian model could be useful for California because Australia recently emerged from a decade-long drought, during which it pioneered water policies that attracted interest from water-scarce countries around the world.

Why is water trading easier in Australia? One reason is that Australia’s water rights system has been made relatively simple and predictable. It is designed so that rights holders can generally expect to receive a certain percentage of their water every year, based on the type of water right they hold. This makes water rights’ value easier to determine; the water rights transfer process is also less onerous.

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‘The first chapter’: Magna Carta and British socialism’s struggle for freedom in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain

The Shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, recently announced that if Labour are returned in the upcoming general election every school will be required to teach the history of Magna Carta. He is keen to ensure that ‘every school child is taught the medieval past and modern power of this heroic charter’. Unsurprisingly, this declaration caused a variety of responses from those within his own party and those on the left more generally. For a number, Magna Carta should not be celebrated in this way, for it was nothing more than a tool of oppression, which merely entrenched an elitist system that cared little for the people. Others have supported the initiative, often arguing that what it did is not important, it is what it stands for that is significant. As such, Magna Carta should be seen as a potent symbol of the long struggle for the rights and freedoms of the British people. Clearly, for those on the left today, the charter’s legacy is a highly contested one. The Charter has thus come to mean many different things to many different people, embodying a wide spectrum of beliefs and ideas (see Peter Linebaugh’s review of the new Penguin edition of Magna Carta in this series for a contemporary example of this). Moreover, this debate is not new, with the nascent labour and socialist movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries contesting both the legacy and the contemporary relevance of this historic charter.

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The general election and constitutional reform: A look at the manifestos

One of the central problems with studying the politics of constitutional change in the UK is that the public does not care about the constitution. Unsurprisingly, constitutional reform does not figure prominently in the party manifestos for the May general election. That does not mean that these documents tell us nothing at all: they show that parties stick with their old policies; that the Conservatives seem to avoid any explicit reference to the constitution; and that all political parties appear to be willing to use the constitution to their own advantage.

In this blog post, I distil some of the constitutional issues in the party manifestos of the three largest parties in Westminster in the last parliament: the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats (if there’s time, I will do another post on the smaller parties’ proposals). I define ‘constitutional’ issues as distinct from ‘distributional’ ones, which involve reallocation of resources (and the regulation of behaviour). Constitutional issues are about how decisions are made, not about the outcomes themselves, and should be neutral between, say, more or less progressive (or conservative) substantive policies.

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The Cambridge Election Podcast

From the University of Cambridge comes ELECTION, a weekly politics podcast; asking the questions that no one else is in the run-up to the British General Election with the most interesting people inside and outside the political arena. Here below are the eighth, ninth and tenth podcasts.

#8 – Robert Tombs on Britishness, Britain’s place in Europe & the NHS

What makes our politics uniquely ‘British’? Why is there no EnglishIndependence Party? How did the NHS become a sacred cow? And will Britannia ever rule the waves again? David puts these questions to Professor Robert Tombs – historian and author of a new epic history of England – to discover the impact of culture and foreign affairs on British political life. The team also review David Cameronand Ed Miliband’s favourite books, the pros and cons of the fixed-term Parliament, the neglected but extraordinary Nigerian election, and what to expect between now and polling day.

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Between Nation-State and Ummah’s Appeal: The contradictions of Islamism in contemporary India and Bangladesh

Generally, Islamists believe in the Universalist concept of Ummah (Islamic community of believers), a supranational or transnational union. The Islamists’ call for unity of the Ummah is based on the belief that Muslims throughout the world should have a sense of solidarity among them cutting across the borders of the nation-state. In this respect, Islamism has justifications to oppose the concept of the nation-state. The Islamist ideologue Maududi (1993) was opposed to the idea of the nation-state, and citizenship based on nationality, considering nationalism to be divisive and as such incompatible with Islam (Maududi 1992).

Conceptually, ‘Ummah’ incorporates the Muslim community in the world as a whole. Therefore, Islamism always tries to claim itself as a ‘mass ideology’ instead of a ‘class one’. For a mass ideology, it asserts the unity of ‘Ummah’ where persons across class, national, linguistic and gender divides can become a part. As an effective tool of political mobilization, the universal concept of Ummah is absolutely crucial in Islamist political ideology. In Laclau’s (1996) terms, one can argue that in Islamist politics, Ummah acts as an ‘empty signifier’ around which different particularities are organized to claim a common universal identity. The idea of Ummah provides the ground for Islamists to take the challenge of rallying the entire Muslim community under a single political project, a project I call Islamist populism.

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Against Ad Hocery: UK devolution and the need for consultation, consensus and consideration

The newly published report on the Future of Devolution after the Scottish Referendum is a worthy attempt to bring some order to an often confusing and conflicting debate concerning where devolution goes after the election. Strikingly, the Committee notes that since the September 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, rapid developments have been made in bilateral ways which pay little attention to the overall nature of the Union.

What the Committee has identified is the extent to which devolution is happening in the UK in an ostensibly ad hoc way. The sizeable body of evidence underpinning the Report highlights the extent to which the process so far has been piecemeal, rushed and segmented. All deterring from a reflexive and joined-up approach. Its recommendations include calling for a commission to review proposals for further devolution, a Convention for England to ensure representation of the public view and greater oversight of the intergovernmental machinery.

For historians of constitutional reform, such ad hocery comes as no surprise. It bears the hallmark of the British way of doing things. The absence of strategic thinking is explained away as a manifestation of the flexible British constitution. Of whiggish-like adaption to new circumstances, seeking out pragmatic ways that take account of the different requirements of the four parts of the Union. We would suggest that this approach to devolution is highly problematic for three reasons.

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Forecasting the 2015 British general election: three weeks out

Forecasters, academic experts, journalists, pollsters and the betting markets have long been forecasting a seriously hung parliament with both major parties not only short of the 326 seats required for an overall majority but even forecast to get less than 300 seats. Meanwhile, an SNP landslide is expected in Scotland which would be hugely damaging for Labour and have major implications for the government formation process. If the forecasters and betting markets are right in their central forecasts then Con+LD+DUP combined will be short of a majority and so a Labour led government should form if they can secure the support of the SNP and probably others, including the Liberal Democrats, will be needed too: a potentially messy and unstable situation but also one where there is sufficient similarity in ideological perspective for policy agreement on plenty of issues.

But there is uncertainty associated with all the forecasts and some forecasters are trying to estimate the extent of that uncertainty, which in turn can be used to calculate probabilities of particular events (hung parliament, largest party, etc.)

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The Loser Takes It All – The SNP after the referendum

If a political party were ever lucky enough to find itself in the SNP’s current position in Scotland, but across the entire United Kingdom, it would be heading towards the biggest landslide in British political history. The Nationalists are predicted to win around 45 per cent of the Scottish vote, giving them between 71 and 91 per cent of Scotland’s MPs.

The SNP offer candidates in only 9 per cent of Westminster constituencies yet are currently the British political party most certain of playing a role in the formation of the next government. The party’s current success comes against a backdrop of winning only 6 MPs in 2010, having as little popularity as the widely-loathed Scottish Conservatives as recently as 2013 and, in September of last year, leading a losing referendum campaign that forced a change in party leadership.

However, it is the referendum question that is now benefiting the SNP. The referendum campaign greatly increased support for independence, which is highly correlated with SNP voting in the General Election, as well as further dividing the Scottish party system, which was already split by attitudes towards independence. The closeness of the campaign has not extinguished hope amongst ‘yes’ voting Scots that independence remains a realistic possibility. Indeed, supporters of the SNP have become ever more fervent in their partisanship since September’s referendum.

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