Have you ever considered how much it costs to keep unlimited clean water flowing into your faucets at home? Or how much water goes into growing all the food that you eat? Can you imagine our supply of water running out?
These are topics we explored during our interview with Robert Glennon, Professor of Law and Public Policy at the University of Arizona and author of Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It. He's on a mission to hold government and individuals responsible for true stewardship of our our most valuable natural resource: water.
Glennon explains that it took thousands of years for water to accumulate in our underground aquifers but we're pumping it out in mere decades. Consider these events that have occurred in the last two years:
- Lake Lanier, the water supply for Atlanta, a metropolitan area of 4.5 million people, came within 90 days of going dry.
- In the summer of 2009, California faced mandatory water rationing. Many farmers could have been entirely cut off, costing the economy more than $1 billion and putting more than 50,000 people out of work.
- Lake Superior, the earth’s largest freshwater body, was too shallow to float fully-loaded cargo ships.
- Decimated salmon runs prompted cancellation of the commercial fishing season off the coast of California and Oregon.
- Excessive groundwater pumping has caused sinkholes, earth fissures, and subsidence in geographic regions that range from California to Florida.
Glennon believes that America must make hard choices—and his answer is a provocative market-based system that values water as a commodity and a fundamental human right. He advocates creating legal and financial incentives to encourage conservation and smart re-use of water.
For example, because cheap water is essential for running factories and even the tech industry, he thinks companies should be charged for the real cost of what they consume. He also wants to support farmers in achieving more efficient watering methods such as drip tape irrigation and growing higher nutrient crops that are adapted to the growing climate.
He cites his home town of Tucson as an example of innovation because instead of getting rid of water that was used only once, the city diverts grey water into gulf courses, highway medians, parks and light industrial uses. But in most of our nation's cities, there's still a long way to go in preserving our water supply. Whether you agree that we should pay more for our water or not, Glennon's analysis certainly makes you think differently about wasting what comes out of the tap...
-Dorothée and Mark