If water cannot be priced right in the “free-market capitalist” United States, then there is little hope that it is going to be priced right around the rest of the world. If you wish to be worried about an environmental problem, making good use of the world’s fresh water supplies is top of the list (maybe a close second to mismanaged ocean fisheries).
This observation has nothing to do with how abundant fresh water is (there is more than you think, but I am saving that for a post-New Year post), and everything to do with how to manage and steward the easily accessible water we have. Since it’s a Friday, I’ll leave you with a few points of data to sip on:
- Our family lives in Bushnell’s Basin, a suburb about 10 miles from the city of Rochester. It is nestled on the Erie Canal, a few miles south of the massive Lake Ontario, just a few miles east of the Genesee River, and just a few miles north of the finger lakes (11 of them) and nestled among a very vast amount of wetlands. Rochester is among the wettest and grayest and snowiest and rainiest places in America – getting 167 average precipitation days. My wife and two kids and I do not make a lot of use of water – we have no pool, we water no lawns, we do not wash our cars, we take normal showers, and so on. We obtain our water from the Monroe County Water Authority. How much does it cost? How about $2.57 for every thousand gallons we use. I think that’s incredibly cheap given how much value we really do get from water. We used a total of 64,000 gallons over the previous 12 months which means we paid something on the order of $200 for our water last year. In other words, I never thing about how much I am costing myself by taking an extra minute to wash my hair in the morning.
- If I picked up and moved my family to Las Vegas and used the exact same amount of water, our rate would be $1.16 per thousand gallons of water. If we used 64,000 for the year, our entire bill (excluding service charges) would appear to be $74.24. However, there is also about a $12.00 per month service and commodity charge, so our annual bill would be less than $200 anyway. Las Vegas gets less than 29 average precipitation days for a total of 4.5 inches of precipitation in total for the year. Rochester’s cumulative precipitation is 34 inches.
- In past research (I need to find the links, I am not in my office right now) I think it was the case that Western commercial users of water such as ranchers and farmers pay 1/10th of the real cost of having water provided.
There is perhaps no more important good than water to be priced properly, to be exchanged and to be produced for profit, and there is perhaps no other commodity that is as far from seeing that happen than water. You should not be surprised that environmental economists are in strong agreement that water is one of the world’s gravest environmental threats. You should also not be surprised to learn that the response of a lot of these same people is to give regulators and governments more control over water. That may be an OK thing to do, so long as those governments do not give into the allure of providing water below what it costs to deliver it. And no, this does not mean that the poor will die of thirst.
Much more water work to come in the coming months.