18 Jun 2014

The list of shame: bad water policies

Here -- for your future reference -- are a few popular policies and their drawbacks. I'd prefer to see less of these and more of the policies that are more likely to deliver targeted benefits.

A national water strategy is usually inappropriate because it's at the wrong governance scale. The largest useful scale for governance is a watershed or catchment, which may cross national or political boundaries. When in doubt, make strategies and take actions according to local water conditions, aggregating with neighbors where necessary.

Increasing block rates are confusing, unfair and worse for conservation than just raising prices on all units of water.

The discussions around a human right to water often imply that laws, once made, will be implemented. But that won't happen if corruption (the real culprit) must be addressed first.

The energy-water nexus is simultaneously too narrow (add food-climate-transport-etc. to the nexus) and too broad (few people can understand the energy or water system, let alone how they interact). It would be better to manage each sector separately (e.g., dealing with water stress, from all causes) instead of linking them up to make management hopeless.

Water footprints are a good way for consultants to make money, but meaningless for sustainability. A carbon footprint is meaningful, as your carbon emissions have a global impact, but the same water footprint has different impacts in different places (e.g., cows raised on rainfed grass versus irrigated hay). Sustainable water management (="can continue indefinitely") will result in an "appropriate" footprint.

Subsidies for efficiency may result in equipment upgrades, but they do not limit total use and cost money. Higher prices will tackle both AND generate revenue.

Do you have any BAD policies to add to this list?