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🗣️ "Water's Cheap... Should It Be?"

The Indicator from Planet Money

Photo by Kenny Eliason / Unsplash

Hosts: Sally Herships & Darian Woods
Guest: Robert Glennon | Water Law & Policy Expert | University of Arizona
Category: 🗣️ Opinion

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[2:17] SH: “Flush toilets are responsible for 30% of all the water we use in our homes. They are the single biggest water uses in our houses. 2 trillion gallons of water a year. And here, I just want to reiterate that the water you use to flush your toilet is actually clean enough to drink. So we're using like the cleanest thing to get rid of the dirtiest thing like this high quality product, which is kind of crazy, when you think about it.”

[2:58] DW: “According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American uses around 88 gallons of water per day per person. But at the same time we pay less than a penny per gallon.”

[3:11] RG: “One of the big problems in water [is that] you're not paying anything for water. You may have a bill from a water department or maybe something from your condo […] or not. Water is so undervalued that in many places […] landlords don't even try to collect it from individual units.”

[3:33] SH: “Bottled water can cost up to 1000 times more than tap. And fun fact, 25% of the time bottled water is tap water.”

[3:53] RG: “Even your landlord, who's paying the ultimate bill, your landlord is simply paying for the utility to provide clean water. It's the cost of service, there's no premium added for the water itself.”

[4:07] DW: “Imagine you're going to the gas station and you don't have to pay for the actual gas, just the cost of the pumping. That's what we have going on with our water. And because we have underpriced this precious resource so much, we've got this whole other set of water problems on our hands. One of them is leaks. According to a study from Stanford University, we lose an estimated 20 to 50% of our water every year in the US from leaks. And in a place where water is scarce, like much of the West, that can be an expensive loss.”

[4:56] DW: “Water pricing can be really complicated. The rules and the regulations around water ownership in the US pretty are cumbersome, so much so that the transaction costs are immense. And Robert says that all these rules and regulations just get in the way of a clear price signal for water.

[5:20] RG: “We never think about water. We turn on the tap and out comes as much water as we want for less than we pay for cell phone service or cable television. When many Americans think about water, they think of it as the air, is infinite and inexhaustible. When for all practical purposes, it's quite finite and very exhaustible.”

[6:51] DW: “A couple of years ago, Los Angeles announced that they would take water from one of their big treatment plants and reuse it. And water is recycled around the world already. It's been happening for years in countries like Israel, Namibia, Singapore, and also in the US. But here it's only a tiny fraction of the wastewater that we produce. So in the meantime, if you're in the US and really dedicated to conserving more water, there are steps you can take like installing an incinerating toilet […] [that] is not hooked up to water. It uses electricity or gas and it burns your waste, turning it into a pile of ash.”

[8:28] RG: “Robert says we need conservation, we need to reuse water and we need market pressure for water to be valued at its true worth. […] What he's argued for is encouraging a water market with government oversight. But sadly, if water is priced correctly, I imagine there are some people who can't afford it.”

[8:46] SH: “Here's Roberts argument. He says there are already millions of Americans who don't have access to water. But if we start charging more and for the water itself and not just the service, it would help us to stop abusing water and wasting it and hopefully we would have enough for everyone.”

Rating: 💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 10 min | 🗓️ 09/01/2021
✅ Time saved: 8 min

Additional Links:
Book: “Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It” (Robert Glennon, 2010)