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Commentaries and editorials

Seeking Balance

by Brett Crow
Letters, The Idaho Statesman, November 3, 2003

We should consider dam, reservoir and water arguments by separating the structures from their function, for the issues center on water use rather than dams.

Consider an existing reservoir that produces 1,500 units of one industry output annually, provides 10,000 annual recreation days and inundates potential deer habitat on up to 8,000 acres. Then suppose these items are valued at $1 apiece. How might industrial effects be measured?

We might measure relative to an empty reservoir site, as if industry completely fills the site every year. Then we get $11,500 in industrial and recreation benefits and forego $8,000 in habitat opportunity costs. On balance, we are $3,500 ahead annually.

Or we could measure relative to a partially full reservoir that industry merely tops off. Topping off might provide 3,000 recreation days and prevent habitat recovery on 2,000 acres, after netting reservoir effects against gross industrial effects. In that case we are $2,500 ahead annually.

Seeking balance requires knowing the measurement method and understanding these tradeoffs. Industry and policy leaders must not seek profits and protect water by measuring benefits with the first method and lost opportunities with the second.

If we properly measure industrial effects, then we have some hope of finding out whether current reservoir operations are best for the future.

Brett Crow, Boise
Seeking Balance
The Idaho Statesman, November 3, 2003

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