23 July 2007

Dirty Water, Fake Water

With water, it's not what you see is what you get. Contaminated water can make you sick. Humans have understood this for millennia, which is why the public water system was such a triumph: clean, cheap water inside the house marks the difference between a developed and developing country.

Marketers understand the psychological importance of clean water. They have built multi-million dollar brands on "pure, clean water". Consumers have drunk deeply of this propaganda, paying 1000x the price of tap water for bottled water that may not even be as clean as tap water. (A curious loophole in regulation subjects tap water to more and stricter standards than bottled water.) Although some would trust "the market" to sort out propaganda from genuine value, driving out excess profits on the way, consumers' fear---that switching water brands will harm them---subdues competition.

Competition then takes other forms, such as Fake Water or badmouthing the competition . The water industry, as a whole, suffers from this bad publicity, but the biggest damage comes from consumers' continued willingness to buy bottled water. By doing so, they waste their own money, waste plastic and waste energy. (A good analysis on how bad Fiji water is.)

Bottom Line: While people are willing to pay 1000x the price of tap water for re-filtered tap water, businesses will serve their demand. Earth suffers.

18 July 2007

Do farmers "get it" about water?

We take as given that Sex, Drugs and Water are not commodities to be bought and sold without consideration of their cultural, psychological and social dimensions. That doesn't mean they will not be bought and sold. Exploring that tension is our task.

In a recent, brief letter, Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition pleas for the chance to study water transfers.

Those who oppose studies may do so for two reasons: (1) they cannot stomach the thought of a trade, or (2) they don't want water to leave the area when they might use it themselves. These Baptist and Bootlegger reasons probably coexist for the farmers Wade wants to persuade, but Wade makes the good point that the study, per se, is not evil. With more information, farmers can decide how much their emotion and/or "cheap supplies" are worth. (Those who want to sell their water may also change their minds with more information.)

Bottom Line: Farmers will not "get" water until studies are routine, and the cost/benefit of water trades are part of farmers' everyday decision-making.