Friday, November 5, 2010

Water Everywhere

Thinking about water can make your mind expand into many directions.  Clean water is necessary for healthy life.  The human body is 55-60% water.  Water can even be viewed as a basic right, like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; although many nations and companies do not agree with this proposition.  If water is a right in life, then why do people own water and force others to pay for it?  Rights are required, but not free.  Water is a valuable common “free” resource that can be hoarded and defended, making it easy to sell.  The ownership of water has been a critical question for several centuries, as human populations have grown and experienced water shortages.  Wars have been waged over water, as suggested by the saying “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.”  When ownership is asserted, then marketplaces can be established and prices and profits set and extracted.  This question of ownership of a basic right in life is not easily thought about or answered.
Water is freely available in its natural forms as it falls from the sky as rain, as it flows in creeks and rivers, and collects in ponds, lakes, and underground reservoirs.  No one can own these forms of water, except indirectly by land ownership and restriction to access.  Water rights and ownership of water arise when infrastructure for water collection, treatment, and distribution is created and maintained.  Water ownership and rights are also exerted when water is used for disposal of waste and heat for sanitation and industrial processes.  Water rights are a complicated and ever-developing area of legal study and enforcement.  
So we all need clean water every day and it is not always available to us.  Poverty in the world is often dependent on the lack of clean water.  Often people cannot pay for water that is available, or pay for building infrastructure that supplies clean water.  Lack of water forces people to spend long hours in back-breaking work to obtain water; hours that could otherwise be used in other life-sustaining activities.  Without water, crops cannot be grown, sanitation is difficult, and health and life are impaired and destroyed.
How do we reconcile the right to clean water with the supply of water for a fee?  Local, state, and national governments have been responsible for supplying clean water and sanitation.  These services have been funded by grants, taxes, and fees to users on a non-profit basis.  A new trend in recent decades has been the transfer of water infrastructure and supply functions to international companies, which supply water for a price, on a for-profit basis.  In either case, water is not considered a right, but rather a product that is obtained for a fee.  Every time you walk into a store and buy a bottle of water, you are supporting the notion that water is expensive and profit-making.  At $4.00 or more per gallon, water in a bottle is more expensive than gasoline.  Bottled water companies have a great profit margin on this product.   
In these deliberations, questions of responsibility for the common “free” resource are necessary.  We may not be able to depend on the power of nature to supply what we often overuse and abuse.  Are governments and private corporations that use the common water resource responsible for its replenishment?  Lack of consideration for climate change and overuse of groundwater supplies has resulted in desertification and loss of historic water supplies.  Governments and corporations often neglect conservation of water resources and fail to account for the effects of climate change, industrialization, and human population growth on “free” water resources.  Sooner than later, we will be enslaved by our absolute need for water and the ever-increasing price that must be paid to companies and governments that may not have our best interests in their hearts.  If water is a basic right in life, then special considerations should be given to its conservation, replenishment, and distribution.  
Posted by michael      

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