Monday, January 16, 2017
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
The Ely Shoshone Tribe (EST) needs to focus on projects that promote self reliance, sustainability, adaptive potential, and profit potential.
There is a world-wide “maker” movement developing a set of fabrication processes that help on all of these issues. However, most makers are individuals, without the time to fully realize all of the possible potential of a small factory.
I recommend that the EST consider helping start a facility utilizing a number of small, relatively inexpensive tools together to create a fabrication facility for custom and small factory output.
The parts built could be made of various plastics, aluminum, copper, brass, silver, gold, and other low melting temperature metals.
80% of the plastic made today does not get recycled.
Which means there is a huge potential free feedstock for recycled plastic components.
Those components could be cast, milled, or 3D printed – and castings made from them can be used to cast metal parts. (Moreover, the aluminum parts could be made from aluminum scrap.) Home-built tool designs exist online that inexpensively accomplish these tasks.
As it may sound; this is too big a project for any individual to handle on their own. It should be done as a cooperative.
I can help.
I am willing to purchase a LulzBot TAZ 6 3D printer (cost $2500) as part of my buy-in to the cooperative.
But I need a facility, help collecting recycled plastic, help building the plastic recycling tools, resources to build those tools, and help operating the facility.
This should not be a substantial burden on the EST. But I need the help of Tribal members and/or students to realize this dream.
If there is an interest, please let me know.
Preliminary Technical Overview
I would like to see this project function as a cooperative. So, rather than tell you what to do, I'd prefer to point out the issues and we can work them out together.
1. First things first; a fabrication shop needs needs a location. I think one of the buildings behind the Charter School would be ideal. In part, because we could work together with the students.
2. A fab shop needs something to fabricate. And used plastic is free. If we could explain what we were doing to the school, the students might be willing to bring us their waste plastic for recycling – and help us sort it by putting each type of plastic in its respective box.
3. The plastic needs to be processed for storage and use – shred. That means we need a shredder. The website PreciousPlastic.com has plans for building a thermoplastic shredder. The design is rather straightforward, but welding skills and fab shop tools are temporarily required. I believe someone in town has a plasma cutting table. So, cutting the components is something that can be outsourced. I can help by sourcing components and assembling the shredder assembly. Or, we could buy a shredder at retail price from Filabot.com for $4200.
4. At this point, we pretty much have to figure out what we want to make first. PreciousPlastic.com also has instructions for building a compressor oven, an injection molder, and an extruder.
a. A compressor oven works best on large and more solid objects. Additionally, those solid objects could be later carved into masterpieces in a CNC milling machine.
b. Injection molding can create many complex parts quickly, but require molds. One option is for a CNC milling machine to cut these molds from aluminum. The other option is to “lost wax” cast the molds from hand-carved foam, CNC milled wax, or 3D printed PLA plastic. This gives us an option to save money. We can make complex injection molds with either a CNC milling machine or a 3D printer. Initially, we don't need both.
c. An extruder could make filament for 3D printers – which might make us money the quickest and/or save us a lot of money on our own 3D prints. But we would have to buy a spooler. A spooler from Filabot.com costs $1200. And if we don't want to build our own extruder, its retail cost is $2500.
5. Now it's time to brainstorm. What would you like to build?
I would like to build:
an aluminum bracket to mount a ski to the front fork of a fat mountain bike (combined with an electric hub motor, this would be a hybrid human powered snowmobile).
aluminum bicycle, kickbike, and scooter lugs (that could be glued to any tube material to make custom fitted rides right in a retailer's store)
Custom designed jewelry
lego/puzzle designed plastic components to construct custom recycled plastic furniture (bookcases, desks, drawers, and cabinets)
custom shoe soles
aluminum components of suspensions attached to frames of a hybrid human powered ATV
brass and recycled plastic belt buckles
hollow translucent greenhouse bricks
Go ahead and be artsy.
For instance; melted aluminum can be poured into the cracks of wood to make beautiful furniture, picture frames, etc.
The people who buy recycled plastics often want to show it off.
Some plastics can be used in place of wood.
Existing physical shapes can be 3D scanned.
Anything designed with CAD software will be easier to modify.
Some 3D printed designs cannot be replicated in castings.
Anything 3D printed or CNC milled will take significantly longer to produce.
Neither the recycled plastics nor the recycled aluminum will be as strong as materials specifically made for the item. (Which means they will have to be designed slightly heavier.)
Anything cast from metal will require a kiln.
6. Which brings us to the subject of how to fire the castings and melt the metals. I think a kiln in the far back end of the parking lot behind the buildings behind the School is a great location. Far away enough to not be dangerous, but close enough to conveniently utilize in school projects. It would be fired by propane. But I have seen wood fired rocket stoves online. (And maybe someday we could make our own hydrogen to fire it.) A kiln could also be used to fire pottery. (If someone local has experience with kilns, that would sure be nice.)
7. Components can be designed on anyone's computer with free CAD software. Which means build requests could come in from anywhere. Moreover, many designs are available for download.
8. By having the capacity to construct our own components gives us the capacity to build our own machines. OpenSourceEcology.org has collected what they call a “Global Village Construction Set” - a set of easy fabrication DIY plans for 50 low cost industrial machines. They are sharing these designs online for free – with the hopes that we can build small, sustainable civilizations with modern comforts.
Proposed Business Structure
As with most businesses, there will be no income initially. Tools will need to be purchased. Work will need to be done. And on top of that, we will need to organize into a functional group.
Unlike most businesses, cooperatives are democratic institutions. Which means, without someone to order us around, we need to write by-laws before we can start. But of course, that means there has to be a “we.”
If EST tribal members are interested in forming a limited liability corporation manufacturing cooperative, please call me, Rick Spilsbury, at 775-235-7557.
I hope to run the Fabrication Shop something like a library. Use of the shop will be shared amongst cooperative members. Non-members can pay rent to use the Fab Shop. Contracted work will have to be figured out as needed.
As with most cooperatives, there will be a buy-in fee to provide the cooperative with start-up funds. And as with most cooperatives, you don't have to be a member to help out. But if you help out enough, your labor counts towards your membership fee.
The ultimate pay off for this project should be self-sufficiency and respectable long-term earnings. But initially, we will need help from the EST. We have no money for rent. And building the machines to recycle plastic and cast aluminum will take money – even though we will be making them from “junkyard” parts.
If there are talented people in the EST who want to help with the welding and construction of the machines and kiln, we're set. But if not, we will have to either find others willing to help, or pay others willing to help.
I estimate initial costs will run in the low thousands – depending upon what tools we invest in. To make complex parts, we will need either a 3D printer or a CNC milling machine. However, initially; we could carve simple parts out of wax or foam by hand – and then use lost wax casting techniques to make molds.
Which means; with a little help and a lot of participation we could be fabricating parts and arts up to a little bigger than a basketball – out of plastics and low melting temperature metals. The profits will be shared fairly. And not only will some EST members be employed, but they may also receive on the job training.
This project will promote self-reliance by setting up manufacturing on Tribal land.
This project will promote sustainability by recycling unused plastic and aluminum waste.
This project will assist our adaptive potential by providing tools to build most anything solid (within it's size and material limits).
And this project will assist profit potential for artists, mechanics, inventors, and manufacturers.
We can turn trash into treasure, make money, and maybe even export goods from White Pine County. The technology to do this is now affordable. The skills required to draw a CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) description of your part are not that hard to learn. And moreover, we can have fun making things we cannot buy.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
The United States has become a banana republic. The mainstream media won't report it. But there is a pattern to the disintegration of our democracy. This has happened four times now since the year 2000 – where the frontrunner Presidential candidate, who had committed to do something about Climate Change, has lost due to cheating (such as gerrymandering, poll closures in poor communities, purging of voter rolls, likely remote control of vote counting, and essentially every other dirty trick in the book). Those unfortunate candidates were Al Gore, John Kerry, Bernie Sanders, and now Hillary Clinton.
Allow me to quote the Palmer Report about the 2016 election:
“In order to believe that the official vote tallies are legitimate, you have to accept that all of the above legitimately happened: African-Americans in the south went from turning out in droves for Hillary Clinton in the primary to not caring if she won the general election. Donald Trump got sixty-something percent of the same-day voting in Florida. The polling averages were wrong for the first time in modern history. Trump beat his poll numbers despite having spent the primary season tending to fall below them. Clinton fell below her poll numbers despite having spent the primary season tending to beat them. In every state where Trump pulled off a shocking upset victory, he just happened to do it with one percent of the vote. And in an election that everyone cared particularly deeply about, no one really turned out to vote at all. I can accept any one of the above things happening as an isolated fluke. I cannot accept all the above happening. And so for once in my evidence-driven career, I’m left to believe that the conspiracy theorists are right: the vote tallies are rigged.”
Want to know who's behind all of this? Follow the money. What giant industry has the most to gain by electing Climate Change denying Republicans? We all know the oil companies have pumped huge sums of money into the elections. We all know the oil companies spend huge sums of money advertising on mass media (obviously to manipulate our news). And we all should know that this is our money being used against us.
They now have the capacity to steal a landslide election. And they may have had that ability for quite a few years now. Maybe that's why Obama's energy policy pretty much up until the end of his second term has been “all of the above.” Maybe that's why pro-renewable Energy Czar Van Jones stepped down without a fight. Maybe Obama suspected that there was literally no way he would ever win an election if he tried to do something about Climate Change – no matter how many people voted for him.
It's now blatantly obvious that the oil companies care more about keeping their multi-billion dollar income streams than the truth, our democracy, or even the future of life on the planet.
A recent study, published in Science (Advances) has concluded that if carbon dioxide emissions continue on their current trajectory, the U.S. West will have a greater than 90% probability of a megadrought. This is very serious. A megadrought decimated the Anasazi civilization – and there are millions more people now living in the Western States. Need I remind you that the most recent drought death toll for trees in California now is over 100 million trees.
Twenty years ago, everyone (Republican and Democrat) agreed that we had to do something about Global warming. Yet today, with the scientists' most dire climate predictions literally coming true (or worse); there is controversy. It's so blatantly obvious that money, not common sense, has changed the politicians minds.
As former President Jimmy Carter recently said; America has become an “oligarchy with unlimited political bribery.”
Subsidies and tax breaks are the only reason fossil fuels are still competitive with renewable energy – and there is no end in sight for these subsidies – no matter how many billions the oil companies make.
Fracking is essentially trading fresh water for oil and gas.
Deep water oil drilling is so risky we're practically guaranteed more big spills.
And going to war over oil hasn't made us safer. It has only driven us further into debt.
Nonetheless, for another four years, we can expect a repeat of Bush/Cheney oil politics. Which means there will likely be even more war.
(There has recently been a revolution in biology, and for the first time in history there may soon be biblically effective biological weapons. Which means that the election cheaters have likely given an obvious racist access to weapons that might be able to kill off whole races of people.
But do the oil companies care? The First World burns most of the gas. So, if the poor of the world were to die off, that would just mean the First World could burn more gas.
I'm not saying that a biowar is inevitable. But the destruction of our democracy is well under way. And the consequences of that could be far worse than we ever imagined.)
We now know that government really is the problem – so long as it is a puppet of the fossil fuel industries.
Fortunately, we can do something about the destruction of our democracy, the addictive dependence of our economy on oil, and the mass extinctions already happening in our Environment. This too, is obvious. We can stop buying oil products. That's it. Without as much money, they won't be nearly as powerful. Stop feeding the beasts!
This won't be easy. But the alternative appears to be living in a fascist state with a failing economy due to a collapsing Environment – or worse.
I already drive as little as possible, keep my earth-bermed house below 60 degrees in the Winter, installed solar panels, and grow a garden so I won't have to import all my vegetables from the other side of the planet… But that just isn't enough.
So I've decided to do this:
(Will it be enough? Of course not, but I've got to do something.)
I'm designing an electric scooter – that will hopefully replace some (maybe even many) cars soon. It will be different from all the scooters now available – especially how it will be marketed. I hope to start a local cooperative to help in making components for it from recycled materials. And then I plan to provide custom frame kits that can be assembled right in the local bike shop. I'm convinced that this fair marketing concept could provide promotable value to local manufacturers and independent bicycle retailers. We might even change Capitalism a little...
Thursday, August 11, 2016
I'll warn you now that I will be writing about death. But my intent is to write about life. Actually, I intend to write about maximizing my experience of life. And the best way to maximize our experiences is to live them healthy. And the healthiest way to live is with humility.
I have learned at least twice now in my life how vitally important humility actually is.
When I was young, I had bad sinus allergies. During allergy season, my sinuses were running all the time. There was constant sneezing. One sinus or the other was plugged up most of the time. And of course, I was miserable. This lasted for a few weeks out of the year, every year, since about the time my brother died.
I hadn't really thought about this until I just wrote that…
My bother's death was a tragedy.
Tragedy results in fear. Fear leads to overreaction.
The classic coyote story conundrum... I wanted to control the uncontrollable.
I wasn't religious. So, I couldn't just pray and wait. I had to do something. And that something was to be prepared for any circumstance. I wasn't a gun nut or anything. But I was always on alert. Always trying to be aware. Always a little afraid.
I wasn't paranoid. Actually, I thought I was doing just fine. In the eyes of society; was. Good at school. Never got into trouble. I was afraid to even hang out with the bad kids. (Of course, that might have turned out to have been a good decision.)
My point is that I wanted to control the uncontrollable – my life. And I was smart enough to think that maybe I could.
But it would take a lot of effort. Emotionally, I never rested. I was over-stressed (quite a common condition, I hear.) And, of course, I had sinus allergies, which added to my stress.
But one day, when I was about 14 years old, the stress and the illness were just too much for me. I wasn't about to put up with the sinus problems any more. I had to mow the lawn that day. I was expecting a sinus event and I was not looking forward to it. So, I was desperate enough to try something different.
I accepted my vulnerability, summoned my inner peace, and confronted my issues without fear… and instantly I no longer had allergies any more.
It was amazing. It was as if I had just decided not to have allergies – and it worked.
But I never documented what I did. And since there wasn't a problem any more, I ceased to think about it.
At least, I ceased to think about it until my late 40's – when my sinus allergies came back… and I couldn't repeat what I achieved back when I was 14.
I guess watching my parents getting old was freaking me out.
I dread the anguish of them passing. I dread the loneliness.
There it was again – that urge to control the uncontrollable. There I was again – wishing I could do something to prevent death and dying – rather than accepting death as a part of life.
As I look back at it – it seems silly. We might be able to extend our lives – but we all will eventually die. Nonetheless, somewhere deep down inside of me; I did not want to accept that. I wanted to believe I could avoid the pain. So, I constantly worried about it. And I suspect that because of that; my stress levels rose. And because that, I wasn't living at optimum level. And I suspect because of that; my sinus allergies came back.
I tried for years, every Fall; to repeat what I had achieved back when I was young. It helped. But I couldn't quite go back to that mental state I had had for decades. It was so frustrating – which, of course, made it worse.
Last Fall, my allergies got bad enough that I ended up with an ear infection. Fortunately, antibiotics took care of it – but there's something very scary about having an infection so close to my brain.
As I write this, it is mid-July – just about the time my allergies come back. I wasn't looking forward to it. But I thought at least I could go outside for a while before things got bad again. So, I decided to go backpacking.
I love the mountains. I love to spend time in them. I love the feeling of being away from it all – while at the same time being right in the middle of what really matters.
My plan was simple – four days, out and back, alone.
This would be the first time I'd ever been backpacking alone.
I'd camped alone, and it felt a little lonely. So, I haven't really gone out often alone.
(Good news: I never felt lonely. But more on that later…)
As I said earlier; I healed myself when I was young simply with an epiphany. I don't believe it's necessary to go out on some kind of walkabout alone in the wilderness to rid yourself of an allergy – but it worked for me. I needed time away from the distractions.
I now know why I wanted to be away for a while – alone.
I was holding onto irrational fear.
I needed to let it go.
I needed time to myself to learn about me.
As I look back; I've always been a little edgy outdoors – almost to the point of being jumpy. I've always tried to be alert – maybe a little too alert. If a bug touched my skin, I'd immediately jump. If a leaf touched my skin, I'd immediately jump. If I saw flowers, I'd be worried that maybe they would stir up my allergies.
Of course, none of this kept me indoors.
But I could have had a better time outdoors. I could have been happier.
On the first two days of my hike, my nose ran and ran. I was too late. It was allergy season already. I did what it seemed like I always did, I put up with it – hoping it would go away. Which, of course, it didn't. (Probiotics have helped. My favorites are Natures Plus ear, nose, & throat lozenges and kimchi. Of course, I didn't have any kimchi with me.)
By the morning of the third day; I was beginning to feel good with sleeping on the ground, exposed and vulnerable. It was then that I noticed that my sinuses weren't quite as bad as they had been. I had slept in a meadow... and I wasn't a wreck.
This inspired me to take the next step:
I was siting on the branch of a fallen tree under the shade of another tree at the edge of a meadow. I didn't have my shirt on and the tall grass was rubbing lightly up against my bare back. I could see there was no risk, but up until then being touched by these grasses made me feel uncomfortable. But it was my choice to sit there. And for the past two days I had been reminding myself that these plants were my friends (and that I just didn't know it yet). So, I decided to treat them like friends. I let them rub lightly against my back until I felt truly comfortable with it.
And almost instantly I was healed.
This experience reminds me of the Christian “Serenity” prayer.
Actually, this prayer is not from the Bible. It was written in the 1930's by an American theologian. Which means these common sense words were not written in stone. So I created my own version:
I grant myself the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
...Because, for the most part; I'm the one who decides whether to be serene, courageous, or wise.
And now I know: I've tried being too courageous, and it's cost me serenity. That's wisdom learned the hard way.
I had found my “happy place” and I had been right there all along.
When I learned to feel at peace with the world, I suddenly learned how to stop fighting it unnecessarily.
It felt like I was home out in the wilderness.
And now; the flowers are more beautiful to me than they ever have been before.
At my campsite on the fourth morning, I heard a cry out from behind the brush and trees above me less than 100 meters away. It sounded like a fawn. And it sounded like mountain lion was trying to kill it. Then it cried out again. And again and again. It was a terrible sound I won't soon forget. And it reminded me of something.
I am going to die. I am going to die someday. No matter what I do. My death will happen. It will probably be painful. It will likely involve a lot of anguish and grief. I might even be screaming in pain like that poor fawn I could hear – calling out, over and over again for a rescue that was never coming – for an option it didn't have – for a chance to change the past.
I imagined it was me. I imagined myself screaming in anguish. I imagined this as an allegory for my future – and that it was inevitable.
In some ways, my life is no more under my control than the ants I had carelessly stepped on while I was hiking.
The thoughts were awful, but liberating.
In a way, I had been lying to myself. Somewhere, deep down in my almost subconscious thoughts; I believed that I could defend myself from the inevitable.
While I've been preparing for the worst, looking everywhere for ghosts, and fighting windmills; I've been missing out on life. I could rest now.
Later on, I also realized that everyone I care about is destined to die. It is likely I am destined to hear some of them screaming in anguish too. That is my fate. And though I could probably change things for the worse, I won't be able to change things for the better.
Since my epiphany; I noticed (while on a somewhat frustrating mountain bike ride) that when I started feeling overly vulnerable, I started to sneeze again. Stress from the fear of crashing my mountain bike and the pounding of my body against the rocks appears to trigger a mild allergic reaction in me. Apparently; I'm allergic to crashing. Actually I'm allergic to the thought that I cannot control my actions on a mountain bike – and that I cannot avoid trauma. I occasionally spaz. Even though I've been riding for 30 years now, I still seem to forget everything once in a while. That leads to an almost mild panic attack. I can still ride, I just don't ride as well – or enjoy it as much... Stress does that.
Humility is now my best defense from stress. I have to admit to myself that I cannot keep myself perfectly safe. It isn't possible. It isn't even worth the effort to try. I'm not a perfect rider, and therefore I will make mistakes. If there wasn't a risk, it wouldn't be as exciting. And if I'm not willing to get scuffed up once in a while, go find another sport... I'm not willing to quit. So, I have to accept that someday I will likely fall... and it's not worth worrying about. I have to accept my vulnerability – and own it. And when I relax, I ride so much better.
About a couple of weeks after my epiphany, I woke up one morning with my sinuses all stuffed up again. It took me the rest of the day practicing what I had learned to get back to a well state. Apparently, I had somehow dreamed about something that brought back my allergies.
And oddly, when I first got my allergies back as an adult, it started when I witnessed someone else with allergy problems. It was as if I caught her allergies. But I think for me it was more like I caught a yawn that wouldn't go away. I guess, in a way, empathy can spread disease. By empathetically feeling her pain, I must have somehow copied her painful process.
The word psychosomatic comes to mind – but only for me. I make no assessment of anyone else's allergies. I also am not bothered to be labeled as once having a psychosomatic illness. I did nothing wrong – except to unknowingly overreact to a perceived health threat. I learned from the experience. And now I feel healthier in multiple ways. We all have health issues throughout our lives. What's important is that we heal.
Now, when my sinuses act up – which they sometimes still do a little; I repeatedly remind myself not to fight it… and I don't – and neither does my body. That's not only peaceful, it's empowering.
Though I made it sound like I accomplished all of this by myself, I had a lot of help:
I want to thank chiropractor Joseph D. Kepo'o for the balloon treatment he performed that opened up my sinus cavities.
I want to thank Chinese medicine doctor Robert Cozzie for helping me understand how to turn what Western doctors condescendingly call the “placebo effect” into my primary health strategy.
I want to thank life coach Carol Reynolds for giving me permission to be this honest with myself.
And I want to thank my Native ancestors for living a healthy sustainable life in this beautiful place so that I too could enjoy it now – more like they did than I ever have before.
Friday, April 29, 2016
This was my second "public comment" at the Legislative Commission's Subcommittee to Study Water on April 22, 2016:
One of the biggest faults of Nevada Water Law has been with us since it was originally written. And looking back, the reason is obvious. Back when the miners, ranchers and farmers got together to divy up Nevada's water; they obviously didn't want to share any with the Indians. So they defined water “use” as not what Indians did with water. In other words, Nevada Water Law essentially does not define truly sustainable water use as “use.”
This is a crucial flaw that has ultimately led us in the misguided direction and over-appropriated condition we now find ourselves.
In my opinion; Nevada water law, at it's very core, promotes waste.
Because Nevada water law considers truly sustainable use as waste.
The irony is terrifying.
Essentially, here in the desert; the only legal use of water is to expend it.
My ancestors have lived sustainably here for over 10,000 years. But with over-appropriated water use, many parts of Nevada could be uninhabitable in less than 200 years.
Nevada water law needs to more rationally consider sustainable use, the environment that supports sustainable use, and future generations that will depend on us sustainably using what water there is.
We critically need to start thinking long-term while that option is still available to us.
This was my first "public comment" at the Legislative Commission's Subcommittee to Study Water on April 22, 2016:
Please don't commodify Nevada's water.
I warn you now; we will not want to pay speculator driven “market” prices for our water.
We already have hedge funds investing in Nevada's water. Obviously, they're hoping that the “market price” will go through the roof. In Australia, where the commodification of water has been called “unbundling,” speculators have drastically driven up the price of water for water users. Consequently a huge number of farms have been driven out of business, urban users have faced severe restrictions, and Australia's environment has suffered dire consequences.
In Israel, where there is no legal doctrine of prior appropriation rights; some Israelis have claimed that they have solved their water problems with a free-market solution. Of course; most Americans have now realized that the term free-market actually means; the freedom for the powerful to take from the rest of us. Part of Israel's “solution” is to take water from the Palestinians. There are places in Palestine where the Palestinians and their crops go thirsty because the water under their feet is being exported to Israel. As a Rural Nevadan of Native American heritage, I don't want to be treated like Israel treats Palestinians.
I can see where the SNWA would want to change Nevada's water laws so that the water from the ranches they bought can be exported. But commodification is not the way to do it. The cost to everyone in the State is not worth it.
In the end; if all that matters about water is the price, only those with money to pay the over-inflated prices will have water.
Monday, October 12, 2015
When the appointments to the Nevada Drought Forum did not include anyone from Rural Nevada areas at risk of having our water taken, we in Rural Nevada were suspicious. Now we know why. The Nevada Drought Forum has recommended that we cast aside Nevada water law (that has served us for over a century) and start over with a new set of rules – which they call the “unbundling of water rights.”
Again and again we have seen in America that when the law doesn't allow the greedy to take what they want, the greedy try to change the law. They usually try to do this behind the scenes – with the least amount of democratic process. And they try to convince us this is all for our own good – by wrapping themselves in the “freedom” flag of “free” trade. But for decades now, we have seen that “free” trade has nothing to do with “fair” trade. Follow the money. The filthy rich are getting richer, and the rest of us are not.
Over a decade ago, we saw the world reject water privatization as an instrument for price gouging, anti-competitive behavior, corrupt practice, and fraud. But being discredited doesn't stop the greedy. They just repackage the scam, come up with new terms, and try to change the laws again.
It's blatantly obvious that “unbundling” of water rights is an intentionally obscure term for the commodification of water. And commodification is the key to unrestrained exploitation. With commodification there can be speculation. With speculation, expect high prices. But that's just the tip of the exploitation tsunami.
The Michael Young – Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions/Duke University report Unbundling Water Rights: A Blueprint for Development of Robust Water Allocation Systems in the Western United States proclaims that “the key difference between the current and proposed governance systems is the appointment of boards that take over many of the responsibilities currently undertaken by the courts.” Now think about that… an appointed board (The Nevada Drought Forum) recommends that appointed boards take over the duties of the courts. This “take over” implies that the greedy have been losing in the courts.
Repeatedly, the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) has been losing in the courts in their attempts to take water from Rural Nevada with their Groundwater Development Project (The SNWA Watergrab). One of the primary reasons Nevada Courts have ruled against SNWA has been the potential detrimental effects on senior water rights holders. So; now we have an appointed board (The Nevada Drought Forum), essentially headed by SNWA General Manager John Entsminger, recommending that we effectively get rid of senior water rights and the courts. The implications are obvious.
But we don't have to speculate. Unbundling has been practiced elsewhere. There are examples worldwide. The Michael Young/Nicholas Institute/Duke University Unbundling Water Rights report cites Australia as a successful example. But not everyone considers the “unbundling” of water in Australia to be such a success. In fact, ABC Australia reported that “The water market conspicuously failed to live up to the expectations of the National Water Initiative, driving down water storages in the Murray-Darling Basin to critically low levels at a time when conservation should have been paramount. The dire consequences for the environment, communities and economy of the Basin were clear for all to see… For eight long years the nation's most vital river was not allowed to flow into the sea.”
Now wait a minute. The Michael Young report repeatedly uses the word “robust” to define unbundling. They even define “robust” to mean; “that the resultant water rights, allocation, and governance systems are designed to work well during times of extreme stress.” Of course, they didn't define what “work well” means. Allow me to help. It appears “work well” in Australia's case means outside investors made lots of money.
A large number of offshore players have been quite active in Australia's water market. But the greedy have been keen on covering their tracks. Australian water law prohibits public access to details on water rights holders.
Back in the days of water privatization; foreign companies came in and bought up water companies and did a poor job of delivering water to consumers at hyper-inflated prices. Now, with unbundled water rights, foreign companies can simply buy up water rights and sell them back to consumers at hyper-inflated prices. The big difference is that now those companies don't have to deliver any water. All they have to do is speculate. In other words, unbundling is actually easier to exploit than privatization.
And what about the Michael Young/Nicholas Institute/Duke University Unbundling Water Rights report that claims that unbundling will “improve environmental outcomes”? The claim sounds impressive, but there wasn't any explanation of how this would inevitably happen because of unbundling. Moreover, Adrian Walsh of the University of New England, in The Commodification of the Public Service of Water: A Normative Perspective, states: “Commodification will, in most cases, be at odds with commonly endorsed environmental values and will limit any government's ability to act in an environmentally sensitive and sustainable manner.” Admittedly, the Unbundling Water Rights report did mention that the environment could be protected if Nevada writes separate “plans” (laws) to protect the environment. But don't expect any significant environmental protections in a State with a Republican Governor, Senate, and House. (Of course, we didn't expect the Democrats to protect us either. The last Democratic candidate for Governor was a former head of SNWA.)
So, after Australia's environmental misery with unbundling, commodification's bad reputation, and no foreseeable responsible environmental legislation in Nevada; could Michael Young be whitewashing the potential environmental risks? It certainly looks like it. And if so, this casts doubt on the whole Unbundling Water Rights report to Nevada.
Michael Young recommends in the Unbundling Water Rights report that these new policies be “rolled out quickly” in Nevada. And why? So that we can be “leaders”. He also recommends that; “Rather than preparing a single integrated water resource bill for consideration by the Nevada's Legislature, it may be more appropriate to prepare separate bills”. And why? No reason given. These look like “Shock Doctrine” tactics – which are to wait for a crisis to ram through exploitative laws that benefit only the greedy. And if they separate these bills, it will be even more difficult for Nevadans to fight them.
Astonishingly, Nevada's State Engineers haven't simply waited for this “Shock Doctrine” water crisis. Actually, they have historically enabled it by over-allocating water rights in Nevada. In defense on the Nevada State Engineers, they haven't really had the political power to say no. But in places like Diamond Valley, where the USGS claims that sustainable use is about 35,000 acre feet per year, State Engineers have allocated 70,000 acre feet per year, and actual use may be as high as 100,000 acre feet per year! Disastrously, this water crisis was enabled by those who were supposed to protect us from this very thing.
It appears that Nevada bureaucrats have created a water crisis which our politicians are now being enticed to make worse by passing bills to further enable unrestrained exploitation.
...But it's even less democratic than that. The Michael Young Unbundling Water Rights report states: “Under existing legislation… the state engineer could declare a groundwater resource to be a critical management area and could require preparation of and implement a water resource sharing plan… the state engineer would appear to have sufficient authority to pilot test the proposed right system in the Diamond Valley and the Humboldt Basin.”
In other words, initially, we the people don't have any say in this comprehensive change in Nevada water law. Of course, the Michael Young/Nicholas Institute/Duke University Unbundling Water Rights report explains that an election could be held after five years – where a majority of water rights holders could change things back to senior/junior water rights. But there isn't even a mention of any options for those with minority opinion. It's like the lamb and the pack of wolves voting on what to have for dinner. If senior water rights holders realize they've been taken advantage of; they likely won't be able to go to court, they will likely be in the minority in the valley, and if foreign speculators buy up junior water rights in their basin, senior water rights holders could eventually be in the minority to foreign water investors, hedge funds, or even big cities.
But the water users most likely to suffer from unbundling are the small family farms. Anthony S. Kiem's article Drought and Water Policy in Australia concludes; “there are also some significant limitations and the people and industries that are negatively impacted by water trading are hit hard.” And; “However, these benefits are limited to the larger, well-informed irrigators at the expense of the smaller “family farm” organizations”... I wouldn't vote for that. But nobody gets to.
In the Humboldt Basin, the Michael Young Unbundling Water Rights report recommends; “the existing authority (the 15-person Humboldt River Basin Water Authority) be disbanded and replaced.” Now I'm pretty sure no one on that existing authority voted to be reduced to an advisory position on a “community reference panel.” This takeover is unnecessary. It is effectively a coup d'état that seizes power away from local control and puts it in the hands of the State politicians and bureaucrats that got us into this crisis!
...But at least the former board of the Humboldt River Basin Water Authority will still have some input – unlike environmentalists and Native Americans – that didn't even get mentioned.
Of course, the Michael Young/Nicholas Institute/Duke University Unbundling Water Rights report did include some good ideas. Nevada's water resource plan should:
“Allow water account holders to carry forward as many unused water allocations as desired from one season to the next.”
“Require all significant water use to be metered and recorded in a robust accounting system.”
“Discourage intentional overuse by setting the penalty for a water account deficit of more than 21 continuous days at three times the cost of restoring the account to a zero balance.”
These are good ideas. But we don't have to unbundle water rights to accomplish them.
Nevada has been offered three spoons of sugar to go with our tainted Kool Aid.
We need to realize the obvious: The long-term answers to our water issues do not include selling it off to anyone who wants to buy it.
Allow me to speculate for a moment:
What if this “unbundling” process is really a surreptitious effort by the big cities to buy up Rural water rights for cheap? What if the big cities and the speculators have devised a way to copy the Los Angeles buy up of Owens Valley water by purchasing those water rights on the open market? What if this whole unbundling scheme is all a scam to force the hyper-exploitation of Rural Nevada?
For some unexplained reason, the Michael Young/Nicholas Institute/Duke University Unbundling Water Rights report states; “Well written plans give priority to the water needed for conveyance.” And they define conveyance as; “water delivered to other systems or states”. This one statement reveals the blatant bias of this report. They want us to accept that water to be shipped out of a basin should have priority over water that stays in the basin. A basic understanding of sustainability dictates that exported water should have the lowest priority. One can't sustain an environment, or an economy, when the highest priority is shipping out the deserts' most valuable resource – water. So, why would Michael Young want to give priority to the water “needed” for conveyance? He didn't say. But maybe it has something to do with the financial support he received.
The Michael Young/Nicholas Institute/Duke University Unbundling Water Rights report was funded by:
Bechtel Foundation – founded and funded by Stephen D. Bechtel Jr., co-owner of Bechtel Corporation. That's right, the company known for big engineering projects, including water pipelines. And most telling; the same Bechtel that was thrown out of Bolivia by rioting citizens for their privatized water company that was accused of price gouging and deficient water deliveries.
Pisces Foundation – works closely with Bechtel Foundation
Walton Foundation – known to support ALEC (a corporate bill mill)
These foundations have done many good deeds. Their general intentions are good. But there is no guarantee that these foundations are above reproach on every issue. These are not grass roots organizations. And it only makes sense that the best place to hide bad intentions is in an organization delivering on good intentions. Considered separately, these financial supporters (excluding the Bechtel Foundation) don't arouse many suspicions. However, when considered together (along with the unrestrained exploitation recommendations of the report), one might feel compelled to question the integrity of those who donated money to support this report – and of course, the integrity of those who wrote this report.
There is potentially big money in water – the 21st century's oil.
Yet water is life.
We had better be very careful who's advice we take.