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Old 09-14-2008, 08:46 AM
 
268 posts, read 942,307 times
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There is a looming danger that water rights will be the next reason to go to war.

There are those who think that water should be considered a commodity. The argument is that the delivery of potable water makes water a commodity and as such can be used to acquire profit.

The counter arguement is that water, much like air, is a necessity of life and should be considered a human right and not at all correlated to one's economic abiltiy to acquire it.

This battle is getting fiercer. Water companies are lobbying governments to make the collection fo rain water taxable. Canada and the United States are locked in debates as to whether the waters of British Columbia may be exported, same debates go on as to whether the waters of the Great Lakes can be bottled and sold (Great Lakes Water Wars).

And the battles are not only between countries, or between companies and countries. Within the United States, states at the bottom end of rivers are battling against states that are on the top end of rivers - if Colorado builds dams to acquire water for itself, Arizona and New Mexico suffer for it. Similarly, Georgia is in a battle against the sale of its water to Florida (Georgia Water Coalition (http://www.garivers.org/gawater/july20savdurango.html - broken link)).

Discuss please.
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Old 09-14-2008, 09:52 AM
 
Location: NY
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This is an interesting question. Without knowing more about the topic, I would guess that a lot will depend on the percentage of areas having the different types of water sources, the percentage of areas that import their water from other places or whose use affects other areas' water supply, plus the percentage of people who get their water from their own wells. I have no idea what those numbers are, though.

Where I live is a good example. Here on Long Island, our public water supply comes from the underground aquifer directly beneath us; so we do not import water from anywhere else. The majority of people here are connected to the public water supply, for which most households pay an average of $40-$50 every 3 months (usage goes up during the summer months for lawn watering, swimming-pool filling, etc). So, water here is relatively cheap, and abundant. Some areas, mostly in the hilly rocky parts where it's difficult or impossible to run public water piping, do obtain their water from wells on their own property. Thus, we are totally water-self-sufficient here.

However, NY City which is less than 50 miles away depends entirely on water being brought in from areas farther upstate and also from the Delaware River system.

I think that if water does become a focus of contention, those areas like Long Island that depend on sources entirely under their own control (and areas where the majority of the population obtains water from their own private well) will be the most fortunate: They will be able to choose to stay out of the 'water wars' entirely, unless some governmental authority steps in and mandates that one area's water supplies be shared with others. THEN we would surely see the fur start to fly..!!

FWIW, I think that any decision relating to what to do with the water supply should be made by the entity governing an area's primary water source (aquifer, lake, river, etc). If that entity is a private person or company (e.g. the company that owns Poland Spring Water) then it's up to the owner or board of directors. If the entity is a town, county, or state, then any critical changes should be put before the public for a vote.
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Old 09-14-2008, 10:10 AM
 
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Both water and oil are essentials of modern life. They are both of fixed supply, and increasing demand is beginning to raise questions over whether that fixed supply will be sufficient to meet demand. One of them has been traditionally marketed through a public monopoly model, and one through a private quasi-monopoly model. Which one has come to cause your wallet more problems over time? Maybe that's the only quesion that really needs to be answered here...
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Old 09-14-2008, 12:14 PM
 
Location: San Antonio, TX
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I think you already addressed the answer in your question: because water is essential for human life, it is a public good. No single person or entity should be able to deny another person the ability to get water. Taxing the collection of rainwater would be like taxing the air we breathe. It's just stupid. If I can come up with a way to legally collect water that doesn't infringe on another person's property rights, then I ought to be able to do it freely, and without fear of retribution. Freely flowing water sources that are not owned by any single person or entity should be free to use by everyone who wants to use it, within reason.

Now, groundwater rights, springs on private property...those are other issues, but living in South Texas, I have seen firsthand what happens when too many wells are drilled taking groundwater that ultimately comes out somewhere else. The San Antonio river is no longer fed by a natural spring, but by a well to keep it flowing because so many wells have been drilled that the natural spring only flows in times of heavy rainfall.

Oil, on the other hand, may be considered essential by some, but it is not a basic element needed for human life. We can find other ways to get ourselves from one place to another, and alternate means to power our transportation. Our ancestors got by just fine without gasoline powered vehicles, but they had to have water to survive.
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Old 09-14-2008, 05:42 PM
 
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@slaleman:

I think we can all agree that, as you put it: "water is essential for human life, [therefore] it is a public good."

But the problem, as always, is in the details.

Case I: A corporation provides the infrastructure to deliver water to a group of people. By economic principles, the corporation should be able to charge for that delivery and that infrastructure (it would be like coca cola selling bottled water). But, let's say that the corporation -which has a monopoly on the infrastructure- determines that water can be safely charged at $4/gallon (like gasoline) and still maximize a profit for the company . . . the question then is, what happens to people who cannot afford water at $4/gallon?

Case II: The lower Mississippi River is fed by three main tributaries but by the time it gets to Memphis it is now one big river all the way down to New Orleans. Does Memphis own their part of the Mississippi? Can they dam it up and dry out everything south of them, reduce the New Orleans delta into a trickle?

Case III: Canada owns part of the Great Lakes. Suppose they start bottling that water and selling it at profit. Does the United States have a right to intervene on the doings of a sovereign nation?

Case IV: Houses in the US Virgin Islands are all equipped with rain water collectors because the islands do not have a source of ground water. If there should be a drought and a company then is willing to build a pipeline from the mainland to the islands but requires that, as part of the cost of building the pipeline that the rain water collectors should be taxable (so that the company is assured of profit in the future) - is this legal (not a question of morality here, since companies are not bound by morality). And what about the state from which this water will come from? Are they allowed to sell their water for profit?

The point I'm trying to make here is that, unlike certain commodities, water is, excuse the pun, fluid. It's not something that stays on my property and free for me to exploit. It connects us all and what someone does elsewhere affects me ultimately.
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Old 09-14-2008, 06:16 PM
 
Location: The Woods
16,454 posts, read 21,465,702 times
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There are two different systems of water rights in this country: here in New England, traditionally, any water source on your property, you have a right to it. It can get more complicated with rivers and such because of more recent laws intended to protect the environment, but with basic groundwater sources and such that's the case. In states like CO and even Alaska, water rights are allocated by the government. So, in CO it's illegal to collect rainwater, (even a barrel under your roof is illegal) drill a well, etc., without the government granting you the right to it. Not all such states are so strict though. In Alaska, water rights is less of an issue most of the time as it's fairly abundant. Most people don't bother to pay the fee and buy the water rights on their property, and with the exceptions in the law for "small" non-commercial users it's perfectly legal to do so. In some states, like VT, there are efforts by some to prevent or regulate the sale of VT's water. Some people are getting worried about bottled water companies sucking our aquifers dry for profit, leaving homeowners and farmers without their water. I think water will be a bigger issue than oil in the future. We can find alternatives to oil if we try. We'll always need water. I think water is a common resource but CO style laws are not the solution to ensuring everyone gets it, and allowing for bottled water (let's face it, some water doesn't taste good for drinking, so I think bottled water is around to stay, but more attention could be paid to the environment).
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Old 09-14-2008, 07:45 PM
 
Location: NY
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Quote:
Originally Posted by coldwynn View Post
Case I: A corporation provides the infrastructure to deliver water to a group of people. By economic principles, the corporation should be able to charge for that delivery and that infrastructure (it would be like coca cola selling bottled water). But, let's say that the corporation -which has a monopoly on the infrastructure- determines that water can be safely charged at $4/gallon (like gasoline) and still maximize a profit for the company . . . the question then is, what happens to people who cannot afford water at $4/gallon?
That's a good question. In my area, most of our public water is delivered by the Suffolk County Water Authority which was formed in 1951 and is designated as a "public benefit corporation". Despite the name, it is not a branch of our county's government; it's a corporation which as you aptly described, has a monopoly on the infrastructure within the towns that it serves. If you buy a home within an area that the SCWA serves, you must set up an account with them in order to get water service. Considering that the SCWA not only delivers the water and services the mains but continually monitors and tests the water and is extremely active in water-source protection, IMO we get extremely good value for our 'water dollar'. We pay $1.46 per 1000 gallons (that's .00146 cent per gallon) of water, which is such a low rate that to be blunt, anyone who cannot afford to pay their water bill is not going to be able to afford to own a home (the median home price here is approximately $500,000) , so it's a moot point. In fact water is so cheap here, it is one thing that is always included in apartment rental rates! Electricity and heating fuel (oil or gas) is almost always paid by the tenant because those costs can be significant.... but every landlord here can afford to "throw in" the water bill for free, and does.
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Old 09-15-2008, 09:44 AM
 
Location: The Netherlands
8,567 posts, read 14,514,836 times
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As long as something is easily available it will be classified as a public good, but the moment a public good becomes rare and / or not easily available it automatically becomes a commodity.
I mean nothing in life should be free, right?
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Old 09-15-2008, 09:50 AM
 
Location: Pinal County, Arizona
25,107 posts, read 34,357,433 times
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I "get" my own water. Through my own well. And, my property came with water rights. There are millions of other properties across our nation in similar situations.

Is anyone suggesting that I, or millions of others, be forced to allow others rights to use my water?
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Old 09-15-2008, 03:19 PM
 
472 posts, read 627,503 times
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I don't know if water should be considered a public good or a commodity, but Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska have been involved in water usage lawsuits for many years.

There in an old saying in the high plains "In the East water is for drinking, in the West it's for fightin' over".
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