The University of British Columbia
UBC Okanagan

Dr. Johannus (John) A. Janmaat

Dr. Johannus (John) A. Janmaat
Associate Professor of Economics
University of British Columbia
3333 University Way
Kelowna, British Columbia
V1V 1V7

Office: ART231
Phone: (250) 807-8021
E-mail: john.janmaat@ubc.ca

Research Ideas

An important element in being successful as an academic researcher is having a coherent research program.  While the ability to follow a particular track depends on funding and interested research partners (esp. graduate students), it is important to have in mind the core program.  Thus, both to help myself keep focus and to give potential graduate students some idea of where they will get the most support from me, I've listed a collection of research questions that I hope to find the time to work on.

I think it is safe to say that I am 'pathologically curious', which, according to V. S. Ramachandran, is one of the defining characteristics of a scientist.  To quote:

What is the single most important quality that suits you for a career in science? ... I would argue that you need to be obsessively, passionately curious. Or, as Peter Medawar once said, you need to "experience physical discomfort when there is incomprehension." Curiosity needs to dominate your life (V.S. Ramachandran (2004), "The Making of a Scientist", in John Brockman (ed) Curious Minds: How a Child Becomes a Scientist, Vintage Books: New York).
I am indebted to another pathologically curious individual who came to me to talk about potential graduate research projects for the term. This pathology is a problem, because it is very easy to become diverted. Thus, it is important to try and keep somewhat focussed on the core research program. However, diversions themselves are also part of the fun of being a researcher.

If your curiosity also tends towards the pathological, and if you are independent and highly self-motivated, then there may be some scope for working together. I am partial to projects that build on the research ideas that follow, but am not limited by that.

Detailed Project Proposals

  1. Water Governance

    1. Prior Appropriation Water Licences and Okanagan Drought Scenarios

      At present, and likely for the foreseeable future, water rights in British Columbia will follow the prior appropriation model (also known as First in Time, First in Right, or FITFIR). The key element of such water rights is that each right has a priority, with those with a more senior water right having priority in accessing water during a shortage. Within the province, the priority of water rights (most likely) applies to watersheds, such that senior downstream water rights have a claim on water used by upstream junior water users, even if those junior water users are on a different named source.

      This project seeks to understand the implications of FITFIR for different water users within the Okanagan watershed, and other British Columbia watersheds where drought is likely to be an issue, and to explore the implications of alternative water rights distributions and regimes. In particular, how would a different priority for first nations water rights impact on the rights of other water users? Also, how would different minimum flow requirements impact on different water users? Further, how would changes in precipitation patterns play out if the current rights regime is in place.

      Key elements of this project include:

      1. Build a database of water licences and water sources. Sources are linked together in a tree, with the root being that source which flows out of the province. Licences are linked to branches of the tree, and ordered along those branches by their geographical position.
      2. Build a system (likely in Java) which can run different water availability scenarios.
      3. Identify and analyze key scenarios for alternative water licence arrangements, minimum flow requirements, etc.
      4. Build a user interface that would enable policy makers to explore different water licence arrangements and different percipitation patterns.
    2. Evaluating an Agricultural Water Reserve

      Water is a critical input for almost all agricultural activities in the Okanagan, and in some other dry watersheds in British Columbia. Agricultural land in British Columbia is mostly subject to conditions of the Agricultural Land Reserve, which aims to protect agricultural land in the province. Recently, farmers have begun to call for an agricultural water reserve to parallel the agricultural land reserve. The agricultural land reserve is a fairly controversial policy. Some see it as a vital strategy in a province with relatively little agricultural land, while others see it as an unfair and unreasonable restriction on private property rights. Among economists, it is difficult to see how a policy like the ALR, which limits the ability of the market to allocate resources, can possibly be efficient. However, the policy is also widely popular in the province.

      An agricultural water reserve would be a novel insitution. It is unclear how such a reserve would be implemented. Water is fluid, and both its availability and utility are time dependent. Thus, one cannot designate a particular quantity of water as reserved for agriculture the way one can for a parcel of land. The first challenge then is to figure out how such a reserve can be implemented. The second challenge is to figure out the impact on the economic efficiency of resource use of implementing a water reserve.

      Key elements of this project include:

      1. Building a review of existing reserve style institutions - from the ALR through to fisheries management programs.
      2. Develop a set of possible water reserve institutional structures. These structures will include options for reserve adjustment, to reflect changes in needs and goals. It will also consider the appropriate scale for a water reserve, be it large watersheds or small watersheds, and whether adjustment of water in the reserve and between users is centralized or decentralized.
      3. Analyze these structures for their economic efficiency, equity implications, and political feasibility.
    3. Adaptations to Water Scarcity: Water Licences

      The first water licences in British Columbia were issued in the late 1800s. At the time, the analysis was rather limited, particularly as regards environmental and third party effects. In more recent times, water sources are increasingly being restricted. These restrictions may preclude any new licences, or allow a restriction on the types of licences and the duration of withdrawals.

      Water licence owners are not strictly passive actors in these developments. Rather, they can come up with adaptation strategies. One adaptation strategy when water becomes scarce and new licences are not available is to trade existing licences such that water rights are moved to the highest value use. Other adaptations include assembling portfolios of licences to mitigate against shortage risk. Portfolios would be formed by combining senior licences that have no restrictions attached to junior ones that do. Another adaptation may be to switch to well water for new demands, bypassing the licence system completely. Finally, water users in a restricted watershed may form agreements among themselves to share water in a way that is contrary to the licence heirarchy.

      Key elements of this project include:

      1. Continue building a database of water licences such that the history of licencing on all sources in the database can be analyzed. The preliminary system was build using Microsoft Access.
      2. Identify possible water trades or other water licence transfers or adjustments that have occurred, and relate these adaptations to the presence or absence of restrictions and the nature of those restrictions.
      3. Build an inventory of water wells, by date sunk, size, and location.
      4. Correlate rate of well drilling with presence of a restriction on surface water withdrawals, controlling for other variables such as population growth within the watershed area, etc.
    4. Water Governance: Participatory Processes (1)

      The currently popular sentiment around environmental management holds that stakeholder participation is key to effective environmental management. This view contends that the reason we have done such a poor job of protecting the environment is that we have not engaged with people and involved them in managing their environment.

      The criticisms of this perspective range from those that see it as little more than window dressing around already made decisions to concern that it is only effective for small groups. The literature is mixed. Most of the research into participation and collaborative environmental management focusses on the impact on the attitudes of those that participate in the process, not on behavioral outcomes. Those that do consider outcomes are particularly ambigous.

      The Okanagan Basin Water Board has operated a small grants program for a number of years, that aims to support projects which improve water management in the Okanagan Basin. Projects range from educational through to support for infrastructure investments like metering. This project proposes to use the OBWB small grants program to identify features of communities and sub-basins that are associated with applications being submitted, and features of those which are successful.

      Key elements of this project include:

      1. Develop a database of community and sub-basin characteristics. Variables will include Statistics Canada census information on demographic composition and economic structure. Department of Fisheries and Oceans, federal and provincial environment ministries, and health department will be consulted to generate a set of variables measuring the state of the sub-basin and threats there-to, etc.
      2. Data will be generated for a sample of communities and sub-basins which have and have not participated in the program, and which have and have not been successful.
      3. Regression analysis (e.g. ordered logit) will be used to model the relationship.
    5. Water Governance: Participatory Processes (2)

      The previous project outlines the debate on participation and stakeholder engagement. The objective of these processes is to encourage a change in behavior. The small grants program has funded education projects that are localized. Working together with recent recipients, the success of these education projects will be assessed in terms of self reported attitudes and behaviors.

      Key elements of this project include:

      1. Identify a set of communities and sub-basins where local education efforts have been undertaken.
      2. Identify a matching set of communities and/or sub-basins where local education efforts have not taken place.
      3. Construct and administer a household survey to measure environmental attitudes, awareness of local environmental and water conservation issues, and behaviors undertaken to protect the environment and to conserve water, as well as standard demographic parameters.
      4. Statistically analyse the results.
  2. Bioeconomics

    1. Valuation of Pollinator Services: Modelling

      There are a number of native pollinators in the Okanagan that are substitutes for the European honey bee. There is a tradeoff between these species, as the introduced honey bee competes with the native pollinator, with the latter typically driven to lower numbers. Supporting native pollinators requires leaving some native habitat or constructing habitat within farms, and reducing the competition from the honey bee. This project seeks to build on preliminary modelling efforts, in order to develop a means of measuring the value of native pollinators.

      Key elements of this project include:

      1. Survey the literature on insect behavior, particularly wild pollinator behaviour, to identify variables that can be impacted by farm management and can impact on pollination success and farm profit.
      2. Develop an analytical model that captures the key economic relationships between wild pollinators, the honey bee, and farm profit.
      3. Calibrate the analytical model with a numberical implementation that loosely captures characteristics of polinator behavior in the Okanagan.
    2. Valuation of Pollinator Services: Empirical Analysis

      The Okanagan provides a somewhat unique, all be it challenging, environment to examine the value of wild pollination services. The advantage of the Okanagan is the heterogeneous landscape, which means that many farms are relatively close to habitat that could support native pollinators. The challenge is that there are many other features of this heterogeneous landscape that may impact on pollination success, making it difficult to identify the contribution of wild pollinators.

      The aim of this project is to use grower and apiarist records to assess the contribution of wild pollinators to farm profit in the Okanagan. If apiarists keep sufficiently detailed information on hive location and farmers keep sufficiently accurate records on pollination success - or at least crop yield - then a coorelation can be sought between hive placement, proximity to wild pollinator habitat, and yield.

      Key elements of this project include:

      1. Contact apiarists and fruit growers to collect records on hive placement and crop yield and if available either fruit set or amount of thinning effort. Thinning effort is likely increasing in fruit set.
      2. Collect spatial information for each field with data, with respect to proximity to wild pollinator habitat.
      3. Develop indices of wild pollinator exposure, as a function of the amount of local wild pollinator habitat in close proximity to the field.
      4. Examine the statistical relationship between crop yield (or pollinator success if measured) and wild pollinator exposure, controlling for the presence of honey bees and other critical variables.

    General Questions

    1. Water Rights

      In British Columbia, water is owned by the crown and people can hold usufructary licences for various purposes.  When there is insufficient water to fulfull all licences in a watershed, allocation is based on the date that the licence was issued, with older licences having higher priority.  There are an assortment of issues that relate to the licencing system.
      1. Some countries have a proportional system, where water shortages are share between water users in proportion to the size of the scarcity.  Australia is a notable example. 
        • What would be the impacts of changing to a proportional system in British Columbia? 
        • How would different types of water licence holders be impacted? 
        • How could such a change be implemented?
      2. First Nations communities often do not currently have water rights that reflect their length of tenure on the land.  Some first nations are asserting that they have water rights that are prior to all other water users.  There is legal precident for such a claim in the US. 
        • What, if any, are the legal precidents in Canada for granting First Nations peoples priority rights to water resources?
        • How would granting some quantity of senior water rights to First Nations communities impact on other water users? 
        • How can these impacts be managed?
        • How would First Nations manage having senior water rights?
      3. Groundwater is currently (2010) largely unregulated in British Columbia.  There is a recognition that this cannot continue, with groundwater regulation as an important objective of the current Water Act reform process.
        • Groundwater often connects with surface water, and sometimes groundwater pumping is in effect surface pumping.  How significant an issue is this To what extent have water users turned to ground-tapping of surface water as a way to get around restrictions on the issuance of new surface licences?
        • How can current groundwater users be grandfathered into the current water rights system, particularly where they are effectively pumping surface water?
        • How can the environmental aspects of groundwater - particularly habitats supported by springs and seepage - be integrated into groundwater management?
        • How can groundwater quality be managed?  Can this practially be done using economic incentives rather than regulatory approaches?  How should surface activities that impact on groundwater quality be managed?
        • Is it practical to actively manage aquifers for water storage by forced recharge?
    2. Water and Agriculture

      In the Okanagan, water is essential for most agricultural activities.  However, most water sources in the Okanagan have been fully allocated, leaving little opportunity to acquire water.  Taken together with pressure from a growing population of urban residents, and growing demands to protect water for the environment, irrigated agriculture is facing challenges.
      1. It is fairly easy to measure the value of water in agriculture in terms of the impact on crop yield.  However, agriculture produces many services for which the farmer is not paid, and in the Okanagan water is required if agriculture is to provide these services.  These services include providing green space and visually appealing landscapes. 
        • What is the value of these agricultural services? 
        • How does this value depend on the type of agriculture being practiced? 
        • Is there any relationship to the type of irrigation? 
        • How can farmers be 'paid' for providing these services? 
      2. Recognizing that water is essential for agriculture in the Okanagan, the Okanagan Basin Water Board's Sustainability Action Plan recommends that an agricultural water reserve be established.  This reserve would ensure that there is enough water to irrigate all agricultural land in the valley for a range of different crops.  Such a reserve is seen as essential to protecting water from development pressures. 
        • How would such a reserve work? 
        • What would be the geographical basis of the reserve? 
        • How would additions and subtractions be made? 
        • To what extent is there already a reserve, by virtue of the fact that water licences must state a purpose? 
        • Is the problem with 'seepage' to development a consequence of a failure to enforce the terms of the current water act, something which an agricultural water reserve policy may do nothing to prevent? 
        • What are the economic efficiency implications of a reserve? 
        • Should there be other reserves, such as for the environment and/or for basic human needs? 
        • How would a water shortage be managed if there is not enough water to meet the reserve requirements?
    3. Water Pricing

      It is generally acknowledged that what people pay for water does not reflect its full value. 
      1. Many water utilities in the Okanagan serve both residential and agricultural customers.  Agricultural customers do not require water that is treated to the current drinking water standard. 
        • If the water being delivered to farmers is of drinking quality, how should costs be divided between irrigators and other water users? 
        • What is a fair difference in price between agriculture and residential customers, with respect to treatment costs? 
        • What is a fair price difference with respect to infrastructure costs? 
        • What is the political limit to price differentials?
      2. Water pricing can be centrally decided, by a government or a utility, or decided in a decentralized way through a market. 
        • Can a water market work in the Okanagan? 
        • What are the technical barriers? 
        • Can local markets be developed that are thick enough for competition to occur?
        • What are the legal and institutional barriers to a water market?
        • What are the political, social, and ethical issues that impact on moves towards a water market?
        • How do First Nations issues relate to a water market? 
        • Can a water market be used to acquire water rights which can then be used to settle oustanding issues with First Nations?
        • If it is formally recognized that First Nations water rights are prior to all other extractive rights, can a water market serve to minimize disruptions to current water users?
      3. There are a range of water pricing regimes used throughout the Okanagan.  The general sense is that people should be more conservation minded in their water use.  Economists would generally argue that the best tool for influencing water use is charging people based on the amount of water that they use.  However, others question the ethical basis for pricing a necessity in this way, and whether the price of wate really matters when the water bill makes up such a small portion of most budgets.
        • What are the different water pricing practices uses, and price levels, throughout the Okanagan?
        • Can differences in water use be found that relate to the pricing practices?
        • Are persuasion campaigns that attempt to influence peoples attitudes towards water more or less effective than water pricing?
        • Is there a public willingness to accept a move to volumetric water pricing?
        • What pricing practices are revenue neutral for water utilities?
        • How could scarcity value be incorporated into the water price?  Are there regulatory obstacles or political obstacles?
        • What is the scarcity value of water in the Okanagan? 
        • What is the scarcity value of water for different water providers?
        • What are the benefits and costs to water utilities and to the valley as a whole that come from greater water conservation?
    4. Water Governance

      Governance can be understood as the collection of rules and processes that determine what actions can and cannot be taken.  It is a very broad idea that goes beyond the strictly mechanical rules.  The Okanagan is simultaneously a watershed with multiple overlapping authorities with complicated interacting responsibilities and a unique and progressive effort at cooperative and engaged governance.
      1. Recent trends seem to focus on increasing stakeholder participation - giving more people a voice - delegation to the lowest possible level and in some areas increasing the role of economic incentives.  
        • How are the rights and responsibilities for water currently distributed among stakeholders?
        • What alternative governance models could be applied to the Okanagan?
        • Which stakeholders will gain and which stakeholders will loose under alternative governance models?
        • How can an alternative governance model be implemented in the Okanagan?
      2. Recently the province implemented stricter drinking water standards.  These new standards require water utilities to achieve and maintain specific drinking water quality goals.  The upgrades required are expensive.
        • Are the new drinking water standards economically efficient? 
        • If not, how far from efficiency?
        • Can greater efficiency be achieved by allowing communities or public utility customers to choose their own standard?
      3. The current governance arrangements make it difficult for water purveyors to secure low interest government loans for infrastructure upgrades.  In response, a number of utilities, particular smaller ones, have folded and become part of other levels of government.
        • Are dedicated water utilities with separate taxation authority more effective at delivering water?
        • Are there scale economies in water delivery available to regional districts that are not available to independent smaller utilities?
        • Is the unavailability of funds to small utilities consistent with delegating governance to the lowest possible level?
        • Absent earlier government funding, would smaller water utilities exist today?  Is it more efficient to shut down small utilities and make water provision the responsibility of residents?
      4. Challenges in governance in the Okanagan include differences of interest among local governments.  Each of the three main cities around Okanagan Lake have an interest in maintaining or enhancing their position relative to the others, and likewise each of the three regional districts covering the Okanagan have an interest in enhancing their position. 
        • What are the competing interests of the different levels of government around the Okanagan?
        • Is there a 'space for cooperation' that can be identified?
        • What are the barriers to greater integration of water management, and to the management of other resources that impact on water?
        • What would the gains to the Okanagan as a whole be if decisions that impact on water in the Okanagan were coordinated at the level of the basin as a whole?
      5. The Okanagan basin is part of the Columbia river system.  Thus, some governance issues span the border.
        • Water flow into Osoyoos Lake to provide flows in Washington state.
        • Shanker's Bend dam proposal, and Princeton dam proposal.
        • Expansion of mandate of the Columbia Basin Trust and/or integration of the Okanagan and Similkameen into a revised Columbia River Treaty.
    5. Water and the Environment

      Riparian and aquatic habitats are very precious in the Okanagan, and face significant pressure because residents wish to live on the lake.  There are also a variety of unique habitats throughout the Okanagan that depend on the particular mix of climate and water resources that exist here.
      1. Natural shorelines, particularly where it is easy to build, are heavily impacted by development around the valley lakes.
        • How can we encourage the protection of existing natural shorelines and encourage remediation of modified shorelines back to their natural state?
        • What is the value of natural shorelines?
        • How critical are normal seasonal water fluctuations to natural ecosystem functioning around Okanagan water bodies, and what are the costs of allowing such water fluctuations in terms of flooding damage, etc. to built structures and usability of the lakes for recreational activities?
      2. Recreational fishing is an important activity in the Okanagan.  Several lakes host populations of Kokane, a species of land locked Sockeye salmon.  Recent improvements in salmon runs have also seen salmon return to Okanagan River near Oliver.  Some attempts at fishery enhancement have, unfortunately, been total failures.
        • What is the value of recreational fishing in the Okanagan to the local economy?
        • What are the costs of restoring the fishery to a more 'natural' state?
        • What are the legal obligations to First Nations communities to maintain or restore the fishery?  Note that this has been an important issue in the US.
    6. Other Water Issues

      There are a range of other water issues that don't fit neatly into the above categories.
      1. What is the efficient scale for Okanagan water purveyors?
      2. Is it cost effective to mix delivery services, particularly for agriculture, so that agricultural water users receive treated drinking water from one supplier and irrigation water from another?

    7. Sustainability

      There are certainly many environmental issues in the Okanagan that are not strictly speaking water issues and/or don't fit neatly into the above categories.
      1. Issues around the south Okanagan national park proposal.
      2. Issues related to upland reservoir management.
      3. Issues surrounding share use of watersheds for forestry, ranching, recreation, and water storage.
      4. Issues around large scale development of resorts and their impacts on water use and natural systems.