Not Just Water

… also resource economics, policy analysis and why not, music!

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When water meets behavioral economics (or: it is not all about money!)*


Water engineers do not like people; we are better with numbers, equations and models where people behavior is only a variable, usually constant, or in the best case a probabilistic approximation. On the other side, most economic studies relate to people’s behavior, and when economists develop engineering-based models, engineers usually think that econometric approaches are too simple to represent complex systems that engineers like to work with.

Besides this simple-minded cliche, there is a lot of field to explore in the intersections of both disciplines. Even though the development of infrastructure cost-benefit analyses after Dupuit’s work, or the more recent growth of hydroeconomic modeling, we are still missing a lot of potential synergic benefits from integrating behavioral economics and water infrastructure design and management.

To present a simple example: urban water infrastructure design is based on water peaks, so reservoirs, pump stations and pipe dimensions have to be built to serve these peaks; water-related energy assessment studies have shown that there is a lot of energy used for every drop of water used in our houses, farms, and industries, and energy peaks are even larger that water peaks, creating expensive troubles for energy supply; and all this energy consumption means greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore we agree that reducing water peaks might create a lot of benefits, but could water customers change their behavior? Which incentives do they need? It is only about money, or it may be managed with better information?

Beyond this example there are many other promising economic topics that could help in our daily water problems, such as: game theoretic approaches to understand decisions; science-based agent models that help us to understand the performance of a system as the sum of agents’ actions and interactions; or the analysis of institutional-driven management to avoid the tragedy of the commons that depletes groundwater resources globally.

And no need to remind that all resource scarcity problems will increase with population growth, so it would be better to begin work sooner on these problems.


*Abstract presented to the “Special Students Pop-Up Talk Session in Water Sciences” of AGU Fall Meeting 2014.


Data! Data! Data!

“Data! Data! Data! … I can’t make bricks without clay.” Sherlock Holmes
exclaimed in The Adventure of the Copper Beeches (Arthur Conan Doyle)

A few weeks ago I was invited to the kick off meeting of a new effort in Fresno (CA) that tries to get together water people from academia, business and government agencies in order to develop a water tech hub in the Central Valley of California, taking advantage of the current knowledge about water infrastructure and technology that they already have and trying to enhance their economy highly dependent on water management. One of the main points that would characterize this endeavor will be water data releasing from public agencies and private firms in order to attract the attention of researchers in a clear win-win strategy where scientists will obtain raw material to research whereas the agencies and firms will get the results from these investigations, and the final benefits from better understanding of water, environmental and economics problems will impact in the whole society.

Word Cloud "Big Data"Even in this 21st century when we are witnesses of the Big Data boom in many fields related with public governance, water scientists have to deal with the problem of harvesting data to test their hypotheses as Dr. Maximilian Auffhammer pointed out clearly in this other blog.

The emphasis in data availability that the people from Fresno are proposing brought to my mind an episode happened a few months ago: I found a very interesting research done by a spanish public agency and totally completed and I got so excited that immediately contacted the authors of the research to try to get the data from the survey and as you might be expecting, they just answered me that they cannot share that data. I do not want to seem naive, and probably if they do not share the data they must have very good reasons because previous problems or because they are still exploiting the results from this dataset, but I am looking beyond this concrete event: in Spain (and in many other countries I guess) we are wasting many opportunities because the private treatment that we give to data that has been collected with public funding. I completely understand that it has to be a given time to the researchers that are collecting the data through surveys to complete their studies, but after this comprehensive period the data must be released publicly and furthermore it is necessary to make it easy to access and download it in order to multiply the potential benefits.

As an example of that the government of the United States has established some laws (or amendments to previous laws) as the so called Shelby Amendment to the Freedom of Information Act that “mandated the Office of Management and Budget (…) to require federal agencies to ensure that all data produced under a [federally funded] award will be made available to the public”. To the same conclusion arrived the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in a report released in 2006. As far as I know, the Spanish government does not have any law following the same concept, and just looking hard helped by google I found a short reference in the 2013-2020 Spanish Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy.

This is a very easy move, a small regulation modification that does not bother any politic party, and from these kind of small steps sometimes the world makes a jump ahead. And it is well known that we need some new fresh air right now in Spain… let’s breathe!

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WEC Mexico 2014 Presentation: Modeling residential water, energy, GHG emissions and costs in California.

This is the presentation that I gave at Water, Energy and Climate Conference organized by the International Water Association, on May 23rd, 2014, in Mexico City.