Water conservation is pretty well supported and many people are working to make better use of water where supplies are limited. Government programs are pouring millions of dollars into water use efficiency improvements - including the irrigated ag sectors. It comes as little surprise to me that my efforts have been coming up seriously short to convince programs that irrigation efficiency improvements don't really conserve water very much at all - as this position is counter-intuitive at best. Maybe I'm simply not articulate enough.
However, the fact that these efforts have been going on in areas that have not yet prevented new water resources development remains astounding to me. What good does it do in an area of limited supply to conserve water and then allow more to be developed for new uses? Nothing is gained except the added social and economic stress that is going to make real conservation just that much more difficult a few years down the road.
In my mind, the Kansas Water Transition and Assistance Program (WTAP) had the perfect design. It paid a direct incentive per acre-foot of consumptive water use to permanently retire the water right and convert the irrigated acres to dry land production. It was only available in areas where no new water rights were available and was based on actual historic water use. No paper water rights were involved.
The next program in any limited supply area that professes to be conserving water should be asked a few hard questions. Ask if real or paper water is involved. Ask if new water is available that will compromise any conservation gains. Ask if pumped water or actual consumptive water use is being conserved. Only when all three of these conditions are met is there any real water savings.