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Six Experts to Watch on the Economics of California Water

The latest in our “Experts to Watch” series highlights thought leaders who are examining the economics of California’s water, including water pricing mechanisms and large infrastructure projects.

Written by Eline Gordts Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
Water flows through an irrigation canal to crops near Lemoore, Calif.Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

The economic impacts of five years of drought have been felt across California, from urban water agencies to the agriculture sector. As the state plans to increase conservation and efficiency efforts, pricing mechanisms may need to be changed for some water suppliers. Plans for new infrastructure – from big projects like desalination or water conveyance – to smaller recycled water and green infrastructure projects, will also have varying economic impacts.

Meet six of the top experts in the field of California water economics that are helping our editors and contributors understand the issue better.

Jay Lund

The principal work of Jay Lund, a professor at U.C. Davis’ Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences and an adjunct fellow at PPIC Water Policy Center, is in applying systems analysis and economic ideas to water resource and environmental problems. His work mostly involves integrating ideas from engineering, economics, hydrology and operations research to provide policy and management insights.

Lund has led several modeling and policy studies, including a large-scale optimization modeling for California’s water supply, and is currently chair of the Delta Stewardship Council’s Independent Science Board. He’s the author of numerous papers, reports and books on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, nitrate contamination of groundwater and water policy, including “Managing California’s Water – From Conflict to Reconciliation” with the Public Policy Institute of California. He’s also a frequent contributor to the California WaterBlog. He is on Twitter at @JayLund113.

Jeffrey Michael

Jeffrey Michael is a professor of policy at the University of the Pacific and the executive director of the Center for Business and Policy Research (CBPR). Michael’s areas of expertise include regional economic forecasting and environmental economics, including work on water resources, the Endangered Species Act, climate change, and regulation on land use, property values and employment growth.

At CBPR, Michael leads the development of triannual economic forecasts for California and eight Northern California metro areas in addition to special reports on current business and public policy issues impacting the region. Michael was the principal investigator for the Delta Protection Commission’s Economic Sustainability Plan, approved in 2012. In August 2016, the center published a cost-benefit analysis on California WaterFix, a plan for new water conveyance in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. He frequently blogs about the Delta and California water issues on his blog,

Tom Ash

Tom Ash, senior environmental resources planner with the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, is a water conservation specialist and recognized expert in water rate structures. Ash is a proponent of a water budget rate (or a conservation-based water rate) and has helped numerous water agencies adopt rate structures that can withstand a decrease in water use – whether a result of economic recessions or droughts or other factors.

“A successful rate structure covers all the costs, it drives conservation and it is as fair and equitable as possible,” Ash told Water Deeply in February. “We are not out of this drought yet. You don’t know when the drought will end until it ends. So being efficient all the time is important. And this is the kind of rate structure that can do that.”

Ken Baerenklau

Ken Baerenklau is an associate professor of environmental economics and policy in the School of Public Policy at U.C. Riverside and an adjunct fellow at the PPIC Water Policy Center. Baerenklau has worked on numerous environmental policy issues related to water resource management, including ongoing projects on urban water pricing and conservation incentives.

Past projects include the design of a bidding mechanism to promote decentralized urban stormwater capture by private landowners, an estimate of the nonmarket benefits of restoring the Salton Sea and an analysis of the effects of allocation-based tiered pricing on residential water demand.

David Sunding

Professor David Sunding is a well-known expert in environmental and resource economics, water resources, land use, regulation and law and economics. He currently serves as the chair of the Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics at U.C. Berkeley. Sunding was a senior economist on President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors and frequently testifies and advises on the development and evaluation of environmental and natural resource policies.

For the last several years, he has been studying aspects of the California WaterFix related to economics as a consultant for the state, including the benefits and the costs to different groups and the financeability of the project.

W. Michael Hanemann

W. Michael Hanemann is an internationally recognized expert who has made seminal contributions to the studies of environmental economics, California water resources and climate change. He is a professor of environmental and resource economics at U.C. Berkeley, where he has been a member of the faculty since 1968, and a distinguished sustainability scientist at Arizona State University. “I’ve been fascinated by water,” Hanemann said in a July 2014 interview. “To put it simply, I think California has the most dysfunctional system of managing water of any Western state. I’m feeling impatient, and I don’t want us to wait another century to do something.”

More in our “Experts to Watch” Series:

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