Thursday 8 December 2016

Whatever water truly costs, it'll never be free

Once the challenges of charges are debated and resolved, the value of our resource will surge

Published 20/07/2014 | 02:30

DISPUTE: Jack Nicholson in ‘Chinatown’, the film inspired by the rows over water taken from the farmland of the Owens Valley, California, by the Los Angeles Department of Water
DISPUTE: Jack Nicholson in ‘Chinatown’, the film inspired by the rows over water taken from the farmland of the Owens Valley, California, by the Los Angeles Department of Water

NOBODY likes paying for water. In Arizona in the 1970s, councillors in Tucson became the first politicians in America to impose hefty charges for water after a two-year drought forced their hand. One year later, the entire city council was voted out of office.

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That, in a nutshell, is why citizens are almost never charged anything close to the full cost of water. It is also the reason why we are not having an honest political debate in this country. As Mark Twain supposedly observed: "Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over."

So what would an honest debate look like? It would probably begin with politicians on all sides of the spectrum admitting that valuable resources should in fact be rationed (step forward People Before Profit). Perhaps the most basic principle of economics - one that is hardly contested anywhere - is that anything scarce and in demand commands a price.

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