Thursday, April 8, 2010


There is a well researched problem regarding the the matching of costs and usage of public goods. This lack of cost appropriation can have big implications on the usage and supply of these goods. Nowhere is this mismatch more evident than in the supplying of a necessary staple, such as water, where the price needs to be accessible for lower income individuals, but if the price is too low, more affluent individuals may over-use water because it is supplied so cheaply. Activities such as lawn watering and golf course maintenance may be over-utilized due to the seeming vast supply and low cost (especially in areas like Minnesota where water is viewed to be an abundant resource).

Differences in natural endowments of water have forced municipalities to pursue different types of financing structures for supplying water. For instance, poorer countries may not be able to bear the burden of the cost of major infrastructure improvements, so they are turning to private companies to bridge the gap. This privatization of water is a charged debate. Public Citizen lists many reasons for the opposition of privatization, however the CATO Institute lists positive attributes of private water.

Minneapolis has the good fortune to have the ability to fund improvements to its water infrastructure and provide water as a public good to its citizens and some surrounding communities. Their distribution area includes Golden Valley, Crystal and New Hope, among others. The city recently opened a new ultrafiltration plant, which replaced a treatment facility built between 1913 and 1918. It's actually relative common knowledge that Minneapolis city employees are strongly discouraged from drinking or serving bottled water, due to the large investment in the ultrafiltration system. The mayors of San Francisco, Salt Lake City, and Minneapolis proposed a resolution at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in 2007 in support of using municipal water, and ridding offices of the bottled alternative. The resolution passed.

Perhaps not all cities benefit from natural abundance of water. Western states struggle to provide sufficient water to their residents. Public private partnerships have emerged, trying to provide water (and subsequent wastewater treatment) to residents without overburdening local governments, but also not completely turning the power over to private corporations. Perhaps a good middle ground.

The words of my Physical Geography professor are ringing in my ears, "You should go into water, that's where things are going to get really interesting in the future." Perhaps she was right. It's hard to imagine insufficient water, living in the land of 10,000 lakes. However, water IS a scarce resource that has historically been supplied publicly; perhaps this tide will turn in my lifetime.

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