In Chile, the market primarily defines water allocation, as the State gives complete ownership of water rights to private companies or persons. This legal framework impedes the action of the State in issues of environmental sustainability and social equity. A clear example of this situation is that environmental flows are legally and operationally environmental externalities, as water is allocated to non-environmental sectors only. Thus, the environmental requirements must compete in the market with highly economically “efficient” sectors, but under very asymmetric conditions, because the environment is not even recognized as a water user (Bauer 2004).
As environmental considerations have become more recognized in water resources management, there has been increasing interest in the incorporation of e-flows as a conservation and restoration tool for Chile’s rivers. However, the legal framework is vague in defining e-flows, how they are estimated, and the potential implications of such an environmental policy. In addition, climate change projections for Chile involve extreme climatic variability acting over many time scales (seasonal, interannual, decadal), and with high spatial variability (latitudinal and altitudinal).
California is a terraformed space. I think we have accidentally become terraformers, but of course we are not gods. We don’t actually know enough about ecology, or even about bacteria, to do what we want to do here. We could make environmental changes that could do damage that we can’t recover from, so it’s dangerous. We’re more like the sorcerer’s apprentice. We can do amazing things on this planet, out of hubris, and partial ignorance, and yet we are without the powers to jerk the system back to health if we wreck it. If ocean acidification occurs, we don’t have a chance to shift that back. So we’ve accidentally cast ourselves into this role by our scientific successes, but we don’t have the power to do what we need to do, so we need to negotiate our situation with the environment. The idea that we’re living in the Anthropocene is correct. We are the biggest geological impact now; human beings are doing more to change the planet than any other force, from bedrock up to the top of the troposphere. Of course if you consider twenty million years and plate tectonics, we’re never going to match that kind of movement. It’s only in our own temporal scale that we look like lords of the Earth; when you consider a longer temporality, you suddenly realize we’re more like ants on the back of an elephant. By no means do we have godlike powers on this planet. We have a biological system we can mess up, a thin wrap on the planet’s surface, like cellophane wrapping a basketball. But there is so much we don’t know. You can do cosmology with more certainty than ecology.