Water Should Cost More: An Unpopular View

Editor’s Note: The Pure Water Gazette has long supported the maintenance of excellent, well-funded public water supplies and opposed the privatization of water. We must protect our water from ownership by for-profit agencies, and we’re going to have to get beyond the silly notion that water is free. It isn’t, and we must greatly increase the price we pay for water so that superb public water systems can be maintained.

The piece below is excerpted from an informative article about the state of the current water treatment industry, A Flood of Challenges – A Sea of Opportunities by Steve Maxwell. –Hardly Waite, Editor, The Pure Water Gazette.

There is no substance more critical to life than water – we cannot live without it for more than a few days.

Modern water treatment techniques and extensive distribution infrastructure have allowed the development of our advanced industrial economies, and have enabled dramatically increasing standards of living for many of the world’s people. Modern irrigation techniques have made it possible to feed a rapidly growing world population, and to turn deserts into productive farmland and sprawling metropolises. Yet we continue to deplete and pollute our limited water resources at an alarming rate – and we steadfastly look the other way while our water treatment and distribution infrastructure begins to crumble.

We are rapidly reaching the point at which we will no longer have sufficient clean water to support our current lifestyles. Half of the world’s population is expected to suffer from severe water shortages by the year 2050. Yet, much of our population still seems to simplistically believe that water falls out of the sky and that it should be basically free, forgetting that it costs money – billions and billions of dollars a year – to collect, clean, store and distribute water.

Many of our treatment plants, reservoirs, and distribution pipelines were built fifty to a hundred years ago and are rapidly decaying, with leakage rates as high as 50% in some older cities. More ominously, many of our underground underground aquifers and surface water sources are irreversibly contaminated, or are drying up from decades of overuse.
Nonetheless, political leaders are typically rewarded for minimizing public spending rather than insuring that their communities will have access to vital water resources in the future.
City councils are loath to raise water rates, even though big percentage increases would only amount to a few dollars a month for most Americans.
At a fundamental level, the main reason for this nonchalance and lack of attention is that water remains truly – actually absurdly – cheap relative to its real value. Americans today pay an average of a quarter of a penny per gallon for the clean drinking water that seems to magically flow out of our taps – about $25 a month for the typical family. One simply cannot find another product whose real value so far exceeds its price – or for that matter, one whose price is often so unrelated to its true cost of delivery.

Eventually, we will all bear the costs of correcting the water pollution problems that we have created, and rebuilding the infrastructure that we have allowed to fall into decay – huge costs that current water prices do not properly reflect.

Hollywood starlets pitch all manner of natural spring waters, vitamin waters, energy waters, smart waters, holy waters and various other so-called specialty beverages right up to “Bling H2O” – which proudly calls itself the most expensive bottled water – all now available at a cost of only a hundred to a thousand times the price of the tap water from which they are virtually indistinguishable. Also this year came breaking news that Madonna spends $10,000 a month on specially blessed water, with cartons of it shipped to wherever she is staying at the moment.

There seems to be no end to the appetite of the American public to pay ridiculously high prices for essentially the same thing that comes out of their taps, while simultaneously a $10 or $15 increase per month in tap water fees can generate a political firestorm.

But the fad may be moderating – some upscale restaurants are now promoting the virtues of tap water, and no less a water authority than the National Association of Evangelicals has said, “Spending $15 billion a year on bottled water is a testimony to our conspicuous consumption, our culture of indulgence…. drinking bottled water may not be a sin, but it sure is a choice.”

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