3.19.2009

Water is Not Free


I know there are people out there that wonder aloud about high water bills. It falls from the sky, right? My answer has always been that it takes sophisticated purification systems to make that "free" water usable in our homes to drink and bathe in. Not having to pay for that water would disincentive us from properly conserving it, given its finiteness and the cost associated with preparing it for us.

But even water that doesn't need to be treated for human use can bear a steep price. Take my home state of California, where rain on the Sierra Nevadas in the northern part of the state is needed to offset a deficit of water in the southern parts of the state. This article from this week's Economist tells of a water market for southern farmers, to deal with the core issue of water availability in the parched south: not that water is too scarce, but it is too cheap.

Even at triple the price from last year. farmers are going to have treat water as the precious resource it is. More will install drip irrigation systems, and more will shift from water-heavy crops to water-light crops. Few will unthoughtfully squander away something they've paid so much for. This is very rational behavior, stimulated by a free market. Imagine that, coming out of California.
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