Dirt cheap water

The thing about bumper stickers is that you can only put so much information on a narrow strip of adhesive plastic.

Say no to Nestle water grab. This from the conservation group Our Santa Fe River.

Nestle’s bid to take a million gallons of water a day from Ginnie Springs, on the Santa Fe River, and pour it into little plastic bottles is the literal definition of highway robbery. Aside from permit fees the company gets the water pretty much for free.

It’s almost like picking money up off the ground. Or in this case, siphoning it from deep below the aquifer.

If that water wasn’t diverted into plastic it would be nourishing the Santa Fe River.

“As water levels of the Floridan aquifer continue to drop, and the flow of the Santa Fe River continues to decline, Nestle’s false claims of sustainability fall flat.  The river is sick and in recovery,” notes OSFR on its web site.

And I’m with them so far as that goes. But here’s the thing.

We can say no to Nestle, although out politicians and regulators don’t like to say no to any corporation. But let’s say we do.

The fruit of our victory will amount to, well, a drop in the ocean.

Because Nestle is just a symptom of a much larger problem. And it is simply this.

We treat our water like dirt because our water is dirt cheap.

As the New York Times notes, most water use “regulations do nothing to address the main driver of the nation’s wanton consumption of water: its price.”

Why don’t farmers use drip irrigation? Because cheap water. Notes the Times article. “about half the 60 million acres of irrigated land in the United States use flood irrigation, just flooding the fields with water, which is about as wasteful a method as there is.” But it’s cheap.

But wait a minute. If we raise the cost of water, won’t the poor be deprived of this life giving fluid?

No, but our lawns might. It is an act of national insanity that nearly 60 percent America’s household water supply ends up being poured on the ground – back into the dirt – to keep our lawns green.

“The pricing is wrong,” reports Atlantic. “We Americans are spoiled, we wake up in the morning and we turn on the tap and out comes as much water as we want for less than we pay for cellphone service or for cable television. So we take water for granted.” This from Robert Glennon, a water expert at Arizona University and author of Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It. “We all pay a ridiculous amount of money for the water.”

The thing is, Nestle’s get rich for nothing scheme only works if they are getting the water for, well, nothing.

If they had to pay the people of Florida, say, 30 cents for every $1 bottle of water they sell – if it were a source seller’s market – Nestle likely wouldn’t do it. Problem solved.

But if it did pay, it would create a source of revenue that could be used for water preservation and conservation.

But here’s the thing. Nestle is not an aberration. If Nestle goes away Florida will continue to vastly over-pump. To feed urban growth, to serve Big Ag’s needs. Our water is just too cheap to allow it to sit unused in an aquifer.

Do you want to stop farmers from doing this?

Right price water and they will do this.

This is the price we all pay for dirt cheap water in America.

And this.

By all means, let’s keep the bare liquid necessities affordible.

“Since drinking water is a human right, experts all agree that the base amount a person needs to survive, about 15 gallons a day, should be subsidized,” notes Atlantic.

But beyond that, let’s make our water too expensive, too precious, to treat like dirt.

“It’s the issue of how to price water for swimming pools, lawns, and agriculture that’s tricky and politically thorny,” Atlantic adds.

“From an economist’s standpoint, modern urban water shortages are almost always self-inflicted wounds” Richard Carson, economics professor University of California at San Diego.

We treat our water like dirt because our water is cheaper than dirt.

We really ought to start treating water it like it is coming out of the aquifer already bottled.





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