resources | February 28, 2011

Free is Not a Good Price for Water: Revelations from "The Big Thirst" by Charles Fishman

Charles Fishman’s upcoming book, The Big Thirst, looks at the new age of water, and how this often overlooked and utterly necessary resource may come to define the next century. He recently sent us this list, entitled “Ways The Big Thirst Will Forever Change How You Think About a Glass of Tap Water, a Bath, or a Rainstorm.”

Here’s a brief snapshot:
1) Water is the oldest substance you’ll ever come in contact with.

All the water on Earth was made out in space, one molecule at a time. It was delivered to Earth during the planet’s earliest years. No water is created or destroyed on Earth. The water coming from your kitchen faucet is “original equipment,” and it is about 4.3 billion years old.

2) Most of the water you depend on every day is not in the liquid form you’re familiar with.

A typical American uses 99 gallons of actual water a day — for cooking, washing, and the #1 personal use in the U.S., toilet flushing. But a typical American uses electricity that requires 250 gallons of water each day. And a person eating a developed-world 1,700 calories a day is eating food that requires 450 gallons to produce — each day.

3) We’re entering a new era where we will use different kinds of water for different purposes — and the present era will seem clumsy and wasteful by comparison.

We tend to think of water as either “clean,” and usable, or “dirty,” especially in the developed world. But in the new era of water, there will be different varieties and flavors and qualities of water for different purposes — “fit for purpose” water. We’ll conserve by not doing silly things like using purified drinking water to flush our toilets and water our shrubs — but switching to inexpensive gray water.

4) Water infrastructure and issues can be overlooked in even the most prosperous economies.

Despite a booming and fast-modernizing economy, water is one of India’s key vulnerabilities. Not one of the 35 largest cities has 24-hour-a-day water service. In fact, the global, high-tech name-brand Indian cities — Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad — all offer their residents and businesses water service just an hour or two a day. 

5) Free is not a good price for water.

Low-cost, almost free water, hurts the quality of water supplies around the world, and ultimately hurts most those people who can least afford to spend hours a day seeking out potable water that is “free.”
Read more about keynote speaker Charles Fishman