Green Imagination

Your Blog for Sharing Green Ideas.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

A Waste of Water

Richard recently suggested tying some of my posts more heavily into Green Values, so today's post has to do with Value #1: Ecological Wisdom.

My family and I had walked to a nearby park this evening. On the way back, I noticed one of my neighbors had turned a sprinkler on. It was past 7, so it wasn't the typical waste of water (you know, when it evaporates as fast as you can spray it on a hot summer day?). What was a waste was the area this neighbor was watering.

I live in a townhouse complex with only 17 units. In front of each house is a one-car driveway and a concrete walkway bordered by two garden areas about 3x7 feet or so. As you might imagine, using a sprinkler for this minute parcel of land is ridiculous. the sprinkler sprayed more water on the street, the driveway and the walkway than on the area that needed it the most: the gardens!

It gets me riled up when I see wasteful behaviors like this (I should add that my neighbor was nowhere in sight, and judging by the amount of water everywhere, the sprinkler had been left on for a considerable amount of time). Not only is it unecological and selfish for someone to abuse our water source like this, it's expensive. The cost of water in our area has risen pretty steadily over the last few years (something like 20-30%). Since our community association pays the water bill, I don't know exactly how this has affected my pocket.

Think about this: We now pay an average of $1.10 for a single 20 oz bottle of water at a convenience store (at least, by my estimates). Imagine if this was the only drinkable water available (putting aside home filtration systems); how much would that bottle cost? $10? $20? The more we waste now, the more we'll be dying of thirst tomorrow.

So, what practicle policy could the GP advocate that would possibly prevent people from wasting water like this? How about permanent water restrictions? We in Maryland have only just recovered from a draught. Places like Colorado have been in a drought for over 10 years! They're getting good rainy weather this year (leading some people to call for an end to their water restrictions), but that doesn't mean they're out of the clear yet. A friend in college once told me that in LA, the water restrictions are so serious that people can only shower at certain times of the day.

Surely this isn't freedom. Then again, I'd rather be able to shower when I want/need to and drink that vital fluid when needed than be able to water my garden whenever I want. Water restrictions, however, will not change the "lawn culture" in this country that drives my neighbor to over-water something that isn't even a lawn but mostly concrete.


Blogger Hanno said...

I think a Green approach to the problem would be to give yourself, and your neighbors, and everyone else, full freedom to use water as they see fit, because we treasure diversity and don't want to micro-manage people's lives. (One of many key differences between Greens and socialists.)

But it costs something. The cost to society is considerably more than the price being paid. There are artificial subsidies that hold down the price of water, and that means of course people will act more wastefully than they otherwise would.

If we did "true cost accounting" and simply charged a high enough rate for water, then we would be sustainable ecologically, and people could make water use decisions based on reality, not outdated illusions of infinite cheap safe water.

Let's make sure that the current price of water includes costs of transportation, infrastructure, maintenance, insurance, safety, and provision for future human beings. Then our neighbors' water use, whether thrifty or flagrant, won't be harming anyone else.

7:29 AM  
Blogger Daniel said...

Interesting idea, but don't you consider that a bit regressive in nature? After all, rich people would be able to squander water much more easily than those who can't afford exorbitant prices.

Since water is one of those necessities in life (except for those who swear by drinking cola), I'm of the mind that we should all have equal access to it. It's the idea of the common good. This might be a bit of a socialist comment in nature, but hypothetically speaking, if water is priced according to its true market value as you suggest, then wouldn't it be possible that some people simply wouldn't be able to afford it at all?

Where's the balance between ecology and the responsiblity to meet human needs? Moreover, what would be an effective control mechanism to ensure that water (or any other resource for that matter) is used efficiently and not wasted? I suppose the argument could be made that Ecology (big E) is the control mechanism, it's just slow to show its effects.

11:29 PM  
Blogger Hanno said...

All prices should reflect their true costs, especially including environmental costs. We need everyone to know the full cost of actions so that they can make informed decisions.

Yes, for some things that will mean higher prices, and all price increases are regressive. But that is a separate problem. We still need honest, transparent accounting.

To deal with affordability problems when something -- water, for instance -- is expensive, we may need a specific program to deal with that. Instead of paving over the problem with hidden subsidies as we do at present, let's find out the exact extent of the problem and then look at some options for dealing with it.

Some affordability problems are dealt with privately, by families and friends and changing one's habits. Some problems are dealt with by private charities. Some are dealt with by nonprofit agencies. And some require government programs. I don't pretend to know which is best in each case. But I am certain that we can deal with the "cost of water" problem more effectively when we find out what the true cost of water really is, and start basing decisions on that truth.

11:10 AM  

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