Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Why is Water so Cheap?

Water is one of the most vital resources required to sustain life and it is a resources we often do not think about and take for granted. Water news has been in the headlines recently, most notably in California where they are in the midst of a four year drought and their water supply is dwindling. Recently, Governor Jerry Brown ordered a 25% mandatory reduction in water use and agencies that do not comply could be fined up to $10,000 per day.  California has a state control board that issues monthly statements on water conversation rates using year-over-year comparisons. 

In a recent blog post in the Washington Post by Megan Mullin, an Associate Professor of Environmental Politics at Duke University, outlined five challenges traditional faced by local water utilities and one of the more surprising ones to me was the fact the traditional water management measured success by the ability to meet not demand, not conservation.

There may need to be a change in approach as to how we view water as a public good. It is easy to see water as an infinite resource that costs very little. We seem to be using water faster than we can replenish our aquifers. In Minnesota, White Bear Lake has been suffering for low lake levels in recent years for multiple years. One of the main reasons, is the pressure on Prairie du Chien Aquifer that provides water the White Bear Lake and six surrounding communities, that aquifer is depleting and in the last ten years the lake has lost one quarter of its volume. In December, a new plan was unveiled to divert water from the Mississippi River to provide water for White Bear Lake and surrounding communities to relieve pressure from the aquifer for a cost of $623 million.

This all leads me to this question, why is water so cheap? In the city of Minneapolis it costs $3.37 to use 748 gallons of water. I live in an apartment in Saint Louis Park and my utilities are included in the rent so I do not see a water bill, consequently I have no price incentive to conserve water. So if I want to take an absurdly long shower I can and it will not cost me any more money. In the country there is an overall trend that the price of water is increasing but it may not be enough secure safe water in the future.

Cities and States are only forced to deal with this issue in times of severe drought or exceptional circumstances.  However, this is an issue may become more commonplace as more pressure is put on out aquifers and the impacts of climate change are realized. National Public Radio’s Marketplace is currently doing a series called The High Price of Cheap I would encourage everyone to explore that series it is very interesting. The first part of series examined Waukesha, Wisconsin and how they went from abundant pristine drinking water to fighting over the right to divert water from Lake Michigan. 


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