Water Shortages - A New Solution
Why are we running out of water in many cities? Droughts are
pointed to, and there is waste and over-consumption. But perhaps
there is a better way to look at this problem of water shortages.
To begin with, we can see that if a city is dependent on an
aquifer, it cannot continue to deplete that supply indefinitely.
The result will be the loss of the water the people rely on,
possibly forever. On the other hand, we know that water can normally
be drawn from an aquifer at a rate that doesn't deplete it.
This is because the water in these underground supplies are
continually refreshed by rain and snow as it works its way down
to them. This only happens at a certain rate, of course, so if
we draw water out at that rate or less, we can use this supply
forever. To take it out any faster is not just dangerous, but
potentially disastrous. There will likely be new ghost towns
in our lifetimes simply because there is no more water for the
The same is true for other water supplies, whether lakes or
rivers. If we limit what is taken from them appropriately, there
is never a problem with the supply itself. But how we
limit it makes all the difference.
Often the water usage is allowed to grow and grow until there
is a serious problem. Then a city or water district rations water,
creating rules like no watering lawns or no washing cars in the
driveway. In places where these restrictions are most severe,
people's lawns die, and they sometimes paint them green.
A Better Way to Deal with Water Shortages
First, we have to face the realities. There is only so much
water available in some places, like in desert towns of the southwest,
for example. In these places it probably doesn't make sense to
have lawns for most people. This is why xeroscaping is the norm
in a place like Tucson, Arizona. This is landscaping done with
rocks and desert plants that require little water.
But who should decide who gets to have a pool or a lawn or
a flower garden? I vote for the individual making the decision,
not some bureaucrat. That is one reason I think it is better
to limit water usage with proper pricing rather than complicated
What do I mean by proper pricing? Pricing that motivates people
to monitor their usage, and creates a demand that is equal to
or less than the usage that the source can sustainably supply.
In other words, there is that limit beyond which our usage threatens
to destroy the source, whether it is an aquifer, lake or river.
Raise the price until usage is below that and the problem is
Let's look at a more specific example. First set a price for
water for a minimum level of usage, perhaps allowing 20 gallons
per bedroom per day for residential properties. This might be
close to the current price in most cities. Then charge three
times as much for each gallon of water after that. If this doesn't
reduce the demand to a level that is sustainable, make it five
times as much. Just keep raising the price until the actual usage
is where it needs to be.
Now if it costs $300 per month to water a lawn and some wealthier
citizens still want to do it, no problem. At that cost level,
of course, many people will start consider landscaping with rocks
instead of grass. The point is that survival needs are met at
a reasonable cost, while everyone pays the true cost for every
gallon beyond that.
The true cost is the cost that makes demand fit sustainable
supply. It is the point where an environmental resource is fully
used but not abused. That is what this system aims at. No more
Think about it for a moment, and you can imagine the water
conservation measures that will become common when that extra
water is six times as expensive. Low-flush toilets, short showers
and turning off the water while scrubbing the car down will be
This system also leaves people free to do what they want -
as long as they pay the price. A swimming pool may be worth $4,000
in annual water costs to some. There could still be beautiful
flower gardens and even green lawns, which we all enjoy as scenery,
even when they belong to others.
Currently, when cities restrict and regulate the kinds of
water usage instead of using pricing, what happens? Beautiful
lawns and gardens die while Joe Shmoe quietly lets the artificially-cheap
water run for hours in his backyard as he washes off car parts.
Doesn't it make more sense to let people be free to do what they
want, but make them pay the price? That is the way to cure shortages