30 Jan 2015

Friday party!

The people of Antwerp know how to do a fountain!

Speed blogging

This is why we need deposits on water bottles (from Oman)
  1. Frank van Steenbergen and Michael Campana deliver their caveats on abusing and using groundwater, respectively

  2. No surprise: "manicured" lawns are planet killers

  3. 10 [reasonably interesting] Myths and Facts About Water. Related: This calendar [pdf] is not even close to the Water Smarts Calendar in quality, but maybe you want water conservation advice?

  4. This 2006 paper [pdf] on the origins, performance and evolution of public utilities regulation in the US gives insights on PUCs, regime change and corruption. I was pleased to find this statement in support of my earlier post on the public-private cycle:
    ...it appears that corruption, and the necessity to eliminate corruption when it gets too costly, accounts for the efficacy of regime change. In this context, the direction of regime change -- from public to private, or private to public -- is of second-order importance.
    The paper also discusses how state PUCs protected companies from exploitation by cities, how those PUCs were corrupted by their regulatees, how cities overstaff public utilities, and so on. Read it

  5. I also read the paper on food and virtual water flows in the Roman Era. It's mostly a modeling exercise, but they point out how the Empire grew vulnerable as it expanded demand to absorb "extra" water. A useful insight for today, given our propensity to over-burden water systems.
H/Ts to RM and BP

29 Jan 2015

Underinsuring and overusing

I'm combing two slightly related ideas in this post.

On the one hand, we read that Exxon has been fined $1 million for spilling 1,500 barrels of oil back in 2011. They also paid $136 million to clean up the oil and $2 million in compensation to victims. I'd have fined them $10 million at least, to reverse the "profit maximizing" behavior that led them to keep pumping in a flooded area (the competition shut down their pipelines), but I doubt whether any fine would have been necessary had they been carrying the "performance insurance" I designed [pdf] to put the insurance company on the line for losses -- and thus on the job to check poor behavior in the field.*

On the other hand, we read of a "report" that says [pdf] the Colorado River Basin (CRB) will suffer a 60+ percent decline in economic activity if no water arrives to the CRB. This study is flawed. First, it is hard to see how this decline would occur when the CRB supplies only 40 percent of the water used for ag and municipal uses. Second, it is even harder to believe that ENTIRE sectors would shut down, when (a) some water is still available and (b) it is possible to do a lot of business with less water -- even farming. I'm guessing that the authors may disagree with me on this, but so would their clients "Protect the Flows, a coalition of businesses that seek to maintain a healthy and flowing Colorado River system." Teachers should use this report as an example of propaganda (jobs created? really?)

Bottom Line: Businesses need water to operate, but that doesn't excuse them from damaging or depleting sources. Businesses should pay for the use and protection of water -- especially if they want to use it in the future!

H/T to MH

* Wow. Here's a nice paper [PDF] showing that oil firms produced less and shut down (two results of less "cowboy behavior") when forced to buy insurance against spills

28 Jan 2015

Global water crisis number one threat to society?

Let's hope indeed, as such headlines should draw more attention to water management failures and the need to reform -- in recognition, of course, of The End of Abundance.

But first one caveat (and a good one): There is no single global water crisis. There are, rather, a bunch of local crises (and non-crises), each with characteristics unique to their locations. That means that solutions can be found and implemented in each place without needing to coordinate with others (as is the case with nuclear warfare or GHGs).

Bottom Line: There's no global water crisis, and local water crises are not inevitable to those people who learn to live with water scarcity!

H/T to GE

27 Jan 2015

Anything but water

  1. The American Water Works Association has taken my advice, five years later, to open its future article archive to everyone. Now all they need to do is make past articles available. The world will benefit from knowledge and authors will benefit from the dissemination of their ideas. I doubt that the AWWA makes much on reprint charges (I saw this when my book went from five paid downloads per month to five-hundred-plus free downloads), so what's keeping them?
    Addendum: They are making the archive available for free late this year!

  2. I gave a talk a few weeks ago, "Russia's economic failures and geopolitical risks" (PDF slides and 40 min MP3) at LUC. Do you think Russia will implode silently, invade or turn into a democratic paradise?

  3. A fascinating article on drug addiction and its probable cause: social isolation

  4. The Yes Men (known for posing as businessmen or bureaucrats who announce major, pro-social changes in policy) have taken on the Dutch over the racism inherent to Zwarte [Black] Piet, announced a plan to move the US to 100 percent renewables distributed on a Native-American-owned grid, and exposed Transcanada's anti-insurgency citizen campaign of disinformation

  5. Coyote points out the "miracle" of gasoline (its low price compared to other liquids) before suggesting that gasoline taxes should be diverted from public transit to roads. He's right about the miracle, but wrong on his suggestion. Gas taxes should be set to cover road costs ("user fees"), reduce the negative impacts of pollution and congestion ("Pigouvian fees"), AND generate revenue ("progressive taxation"). The Economist, fortunately, makes the case for removing energy subsidies (cash and non-cash) worldwide

  6. A fascinating PDF with insights (?) on mega-projects in the Middle East (esp. GCC):
    On a cultural analysis level, the inferiority complex towards the West, with its roots in Orientalism, often inspire developing Arab countries to show that they are utterly modern in order to combat prejudices of Arab backwardness. Furthermore, and perhaps given less attention, is that these megaprojects are manifestations and legitimization of power in a somehow unstable political setting, for instance with threats from Islamists and democratic human rights movements. The projects can also be seen as articulation of the interior competition between the different emirates and other Arab oil states based on the traditional prestige society (i.e., the tribal kinship society)
    Related: US tolerance of corruption fuels resentment that increases retaliation and terrorism (in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere) -- as I said on 12 Sep 2001
H/T to EF

26 Jan 2015

Monday funnies

This cute video points out how silly it is to pay for "stuff you can get for free," but remember that tap water -- although cheaper than bottled water -- needs to have a price if (1) we're going to maintain water systems and (2) want to ration its use when it is scarce.

Indeed, this issue has been around for awhile. Just watch this campy but still-relevant take on "water privatization: exploitation or business?" from this 1958 episode of "Leave it to Beaver"

H/Ts to LA and EF

Bleg: Good science books on water and environment?

ZD asks "You have any favorite books that talk about the chemistry/physical science side of water? How it behaves and interacts with the environment?"

I am stumped, as I do most reading on human-water interactions.


What's water worth to you?

The January activity for the 2015 Water Smarts Calendar [free download] asks you to answer a simple question: what would you be willing to pay to get water, assuming you have none.

I'm looking for as many answers, from around the world, as possible. Please forward this post and answer the question. It only takes two minutes.

It's a great way to start your Monday!

[Here's the answer]

23 Jan 2015

Friday party!

This video from South Africa is interesting (and weird)

This one is more conventional, but beautiful

Speed blogging

  1. "The Water Project Toolkit application provides guidance and information on best practices for implementing water and sanitation projects in the developing world." Please tell me if this is useful

  2. "The Economics of Bulk Water Transport in Southern California" provides an analysis of moving water, via Spragg bags. Will Santa Cruz go for it?

  3. "Only Half of Drugs Removed by Sewage Treatment." The rest end up in the environment and your drinking water. On that note, I wonder -- seriously -- about the links between hormones, "genetic" homosexuality, and "intersex" people. If it can happen in fish, why not in us?

  4. World Bank economists look into "Agricultural Water Productivity" and see lots of gaps. Read and learn

  5. Lobster fishermen may actually be lobster farmers. That's not a problem for lobster eaters, but it is for (subsequently) unbalanced ecosystems

  6. CATO published my response [pdf] to Gary Liebcap's review of Living with Water Scarcity

22 Jan 2015

Everyday bounded rationality

I took this photo at a California supermarket. It displays the price for a 24-bottle pack of Nestle water.

Let's figure out which price applies to you...

This 24-pack is...
$3.99 if you buy one with a loyalty card
$4.99 if you buy one without a loyalty card
$2.99 if you buy 5 packs (120 bottles) with a card

...but make sure you add sales tax (8 percent in this county) and CRV (bottle deposit), which varies by container size. I'm not sure, but I'd guess that a purchase of a single 24-pack, without card, would cost $(4.99*1.08)+(24*0.05) = $6.59, or more than double the screaming $2.99 price...

So, is this normal? Let's look at the Dutch version of things:

It says € 1.67 for 6 bottles of 500ml water, at a cost of € 0.56/liter. (I can't even tell how many ounces or liters comes with the 24 bottles above.) That's the tax and (no) deposit-inclusive price, btw.

Bottom Line: In some countries, stores sell you goods. In others, they sell you a bill of goods. Perhaps that confusion explains why Americans are so (fatally) abusive of drugs (compared to the Dutch).

21 Jan 2015

Speed blogging

  1. This paper argues that the governance of land and water needs to be coordinated to increase food production. Although some would say this "nexus" should be added to the energy-water nexus, I'd disagree. Such coordination distracts from managing ALL the uses (or demands) on water, land, energy, etc.

  2. The Global Groundwater governance Project has released its final reports. Grab them and govern!

  3. Studies on water flows in Roman times, recently (unsustainably) and with climate change

  4. The one-percenters at Davos say that "water crises are a top global risk," but they miss the obvious: each water crisis is local in its causes and effects; each crisis can be addressed locally

  5. CU Boulder is running an online course -- "Water in the Western US" -- from 1 April. They still need to add my book as a reading

H/T to MV

20 Jan 2015

The 2015 Water Smarts Calendar is available!

I was able to complete this project with the help of my Kickstarter backers, many of whom got printed and bound copies of the calendar.

Now you can download a free PDF version for your home, office, school, etc.

Each month has an activity to help you learn more about the water around you.

This month's activity -- on the "value of water" -- will take you about three minutes.

So, please go to this website to download your copy -- and then tell all your friends, family, students and colleagues to get theirs!

Bottom Line: Water is complex, so it takes time to learn about all the different ways it passes through our lives.

19 Jan 2015

Monday funnies!

Go Canada! (but turn off annotations!)

H/T to CD

Anything but water

  1. The drop in oil prices represents an opportunity to scrap subsidies. Indonesia's cuts free $billions for poverty reduction. Here's the case for raising gas taxes in the US (if only to restore funding for highway maintenance). Think America's taxes are too high? They are $0.18/gallon at the Federal level and $0.70 in California but $5.50 in the Netherlands (!). Related: "The conventional wisdom on oil is always wrong"

  2. The OECD concludes that "increasing environmental regulations do not restrict growth," but their form (e.g., taxes good, regulations bad) can really matter

  3. Lobbying 101: "The forgotten history of how automakers invented the crime of jaywalking"

  4. It takes a genius to simplify: Richard Feynman in action. Related: How to approach difficult conversations. Step 1: Keep your cool

  5. The economics of Seinfeld in many short lessons
H/T to JN

16 Jan 2015

Friday party!

You know what time it is...

Power, autonomy or desperation?

About a year ago, I was working working with a company that wanted to sell "WaterSavr" (a product that reduces reservoir evaporation) to managers in California.

Just yesterday, I got an update on the product's success ("saving" water at a cost of about $200/af, details to come) in Texas and Turkey. How is it, I thought, that those places have put this product into use while California managers seems to be paralyzed in the face of the developing disaster?

Assuming they want to act, I came up with three scenarios in which they can take action:
  • Power: water managers in some places can just get stuff done because they can overcome interest groups trying to block or control change ("a tragedy of anti-commons"). I'd put managers at Metropolitan or Westlands in this category.
  • Autonomy: water managers only answer to themselves, so they can do what they want because their actions do not affect others. I'd put managers in many small utilities in this category.*
  • Desperation: water managers facing service cuts can basically scare overseers and stakeholders into action. This is how Santa Barbara managers raised prices to $27/ccf (and saw a 50 percent fall in use) during the last big drought.
These reasons are necessary for action, but they are not sufficient. It's also necessary to have a water manager who's willing to change policies. Not many of them are up for this, as the industry is extremely conservative and the penalty for a failed action (bad press, complaints) is far greater than the penalty for inaction. The manager can claim that he's "going by the book" as customers experience higher costs and greater harm than they would have under a better (but "new") policy.**

Bottom Line: Water managers don't just need freedom of action to protect customers from service failures. They need to be brave enough to lead everyone away from old, failed policies.

* They tend NOT to act because they often lack the expertise to study options or desire to get ahead (sometimes too far ahead) of the big guys.
** You know, like raising prices to get people to use less water instead of building a desalination plant in the hope that new supplies would be sufficient to meet "out of control" demand.

15 Jan 2015

Speed blogging

  1. I was interviewed in Oklahoma back in Nov 2013, but these clips -- on "Water Conservation" (7.5 min) and "Water Shortage" (6 min) --were just broadcast. They're pretty good :)

  2. I think that Westlands is playing chicken with the Bureau of Recreation, by planting almond trees that make them vulnerable to "$ millions in losses" if they don't get water...

  3. Using algae to clean wastewater, VietNam's hydropower industry -- part of a bad trend in the region -- is out of control, and too much fluoride in the water

  4. A nice update on the water impacts of fracking

  5. Aquadoc has two interesting posts (this and this) on the pros and cons of private-public partnerships. Like him, I see little to worry about compared to incompetent and/or indolent regulations, when it comes to performance

  6. Ralph Pentland warns of deteriorating US-Canadian relations on shared waters [pdf]

14 Jan 2015

Some notes from students

I get lots of unexpected emails, but the best are from students.

This one is in response to my UC Berkeley and/or Simon Fraser University lectures
Dear sir,

Hope you are fine. I got an A on my resource economics course thanks to you. Though I have always liked economics after watching your lectures I really got motivated and determined to pursue my carrier in resource economics. Since there is no scope for further study in Bangladesh, I am planning to study in US. My background is urban and regional planning. I am little bit worried since I am not a major in economics. Can you please tell me if there is any scope considering my background.
Given his worries, I sent this reply:
I am glad the lectures were helpful. US universities will take non Econ for BA BS. For masters it may be harder. You need good test scores and writing.

Your best bet may be to contact Bangladeshi economists for advice and mentoring.
Please let me know (or comment) if you have additional advice...

Coming from another direction, here's an update on an earlier request for advice:
One year following the submission of my graduate school applications for water resource management, I am one semester into my graduate career. As you may remember, I eventually chose to apply to the University of Michigan, Yale University, Duke University, and Oxford. I was eventually granted acceptance to the first three schools in that list. After quite a bit of internal deliberation, I decided that Yale was the best choice for me. The reasons for this choice are many but, eventually, I made the decision based on a combination of financial aid and the fact that Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies has no prerequisites or course requirements (outside of half of the courses taken during one's graduate school career being taken at Yale FES). I should note that at Yale many students believe that the water program at Duke is much stronger but Yale has a greater number of resources available for students to take advantage of, if they are so inclined. This means that I have a lot of time to explore my own interests through going to talks and taking courses outside of the environmental school; I am also looking to raise funds to attend a seminar in Europe this coming summer.

Thus far, the courses have been extremely interesting, although different than what I had imagined. Specifically, the student body and classes are interesting but are, in general, geared more towards the science and policy aspects of the water world than private industry. My course load in the fall semester includes one class on water chemistry, one on watershed management, one on sustainable corporations, and one statistics. Each provides an overview of the various issues that arise within the water sector at the moment and allows one to shape the course to mirror one’s own interests. For example, one of my final projects was related to the development of a sustainable desalination water utility while another was on the development of water reuse platforms within New York City geared towards decreased water usage. Personally, I am using one of my projects from this past semester and turning it into an independent study for the next.

Recently, because of my own interest in the private sector of the water business, I have decided to apply for my MBA at Yale and make it a joint MBA/Master of Environmental Management degree. Doing this should allow me to further my academics on the science/engineering side of the water sector while also strengthening my abilities on the project financial/capital raising aspect of the business.

In the end, though, I think that because I am switching industries from solar to water, my referencing of the fact that I am getting my Masters has led to a great increase in the number of companies that have responded to informational interviews and internship requests. For people looking to switch industries, then, a Masters degree seems to be a great opportunity to market yourself in a still maturing industry, if nothing else.

13 Jan 2015

Want to buy a Water Smarts Calendar?

The calendars are IN, and I have a few extra -- after rewarding the people who backed my Kickstarter campaign.

If you want to buy one for delivery in the US, then please send me $20 via paypal (dzetland@gmail.com) and then email your mailing address.

They will go out today or tomorrow :)

First four people to pay will get them!
Update (6p PT): Still four left. Deadline is tmrw 8am (oh, and y'all don't know what you're missing :)

Anything but water

  1. The Saudi government will try two UAE women who defied the driving ban in a terrorism court. (Saudi is the only country in the world prohibiting women from driving)

  2. Norman Lear talks about the "good ol days" of Americans working together, even among the sexists, bigots and idiots. Why? It was before echo-chamber political polarization. Related: "Top 100 donors give almost as much as 4.75 million small donors combined"

  3. The more we make, the less leisure we take. That paradox explains why American-capitalists are "rich" and harried while Euro-socialists are comfortable and (more) relaxed

  4. Afghanistan's opium (heroin) crop is larger than ever due to US tolerance of traffickers (as a means of maintaining political support) and US-supported drug bans that make the crop so profitable. I wrote about the economics of Afghan opium in 2003. Related, this excellent piece on corruption and its blowback: "U.S. support for despotic, disreputable regimes ends up fuelling radicalism"

  5. The Academic book mill publishes crap on demand. I gave them my thesis but also put it online for free. So far, they've sold three copies but people have downloaded my thesis over 1,000 times

12 Jan 2015

Monday funnies

For Sunday

For Monday

Rain doesn't fix long term problems

It's been raining in Southern California, and I suspect -- per my 2007 post -- that many policy makers and managers have eased off in their efforts to cope with drought. Even worse, there may not be voter support for action from voters who are now distracted by New Years Resolutions, terrorists, etc.

But there are two good reasons for continuing to press ahead, after witnessing these last three dry years (the same advice holds for anywhere in the world).

First, current precipitation (go here to plot the current water year against historic data) needs to make up for a few years of under-average precipitation. The dirt is going to absorb a lot (less runoff), reservoirs need to refill, and groundwater is unlikely to return to levels of three years ago.

Second, California and other western states really do need to focus on reforming outdated institutions for managing water, i.e.,
  • Deciding on the split between environmental and economic flows
  • Improving the design and function of water markets
  • Monitoring and regulating groundwater
  • Pricing urban water for costs AND scarcity (that latter price should be zero when water's abundant)

On these points, I'm not exactly optimistic (see the rush to buy SUVs while gas is cheaper), but that's not my job. My job is to be right... as far as giving advice is concerned :)

Bottom Line: California and other places facing occasional water scarcity need to push ahead with reforms focussed on long term economic, social and environmental sustainability.

9 Jan 2015

Friday party!

Time to stop "working" and go enjoy your weekend!

Some fascinating reading

These papers [all PDFs] will interest many of you.
  1. Swartwout (1992): "Current utility practice from an historical perspective" -- useful context and precedents
  2. Young et al (2000): "Interstate water trading -- a two year review" -- insights into Australia's water market development
  3. Bjornlund and O'Connor (2005): "Property implications of the separation of land and water rights" -- more ideas from Oz*
  4. Noussair and van Soest (2014): "Economic experiments and environmental policy" -- understanding real behavior
  5. McRae (2015): "Infrastructure quality and the subsidy trap" -- subsidies undermine water services to the poor (as I said on page 23 of my book!)
  6. Cicala (2015): "When Does Regulation Distort Costs?" -- Prices based on "cost of service" promote use of dirtier, expensive fuel
H/Ts to MD, JF and JR
* More: "Water markets as a vehicle for reforming water resource allocation in the Murray-Darling Basin of Australia"

8 Jan 2015

Speed blogging

  1. A fascinating profile of the guy who rescues ships from sinking, spilling and rusting in the wrong places

  2. The Dutch have piled up sand "equal to eight times the Giza pyramid" so nature can push it around, thereby lowering coastal erosion

  3. Excess antibiotics and arsenic drive the evolution of stronger (more deadly) bacteria, which threaten Kathmandu and other places

  4. Learn more about large dams, irrigated agriculture, land tenure or family farming in West Africa

  5. Some articles (best toooo worst) on benchmarking water utilities

  6. The Aral Sea has been "saved" by managing the North side and ignoring the dying South side

7 Jan 2015

What are they smoking in Colorado?

I was looking at the wikipedia article on the 1922 Colorado River Compact (CRC) to allocate 7.5 MAF of water to both the upper and lower basin states, or 15 MAF in total. (Mexico's "take" of 1.5 MAF was added in 1943.) Then I saw that the 2007 Interim Guidelines for allocations under water shortage conditions will reduce flows to lower basin states down to 7.167 MAF ("light shortage") or 7 MAF ("heavy shortage"). What blows my mind is that these sums, assuming upper basin and Mexican rights are left intact only reduces withdrawals -- under "heavy shortage" -- to 16 MAF in total. This doesn't make sense to me, given the Colorado's long term average total flow of around 14 MAF.

Current agreements, in other words, continue to assume there's more water there than exists! That's a recipe for conflict or disappointment, some time in the future.

Bottom Line: John McCain was right. The CRC needs to be renegotiated into percentage shares (to allow for annual variations) to prevent accounting dilemmas. THEN, the CRC needs to be amended to allow water trading among states on -- better -- among holders of appropriative rights to make sure that the scarce and totally depleted waters of this river are put to highest and best use.

6 Jan 2015

Anything but water

  1. This blog claims the "uber economy" depends on class exploitation, when it really works because technology allows people to disrupt cartels (taxis, hotels) whose big profits were protected by state power AND barriers to entry. Coming from the other direction, worry about automation making us dumb. Use your brain, even for the "boring stuff" (Related: people living "off the grid" think much more about their use of resources and the case for banning laptops in the classroom, as a means of forcing more critical reasoning)

  2. A fascinating TED talk by an Indian man whose "hole-in-the-wall" computers allowed children to teach themselves

  3. Michael Lewis is right: turn Wall Street over to grandmothers

  4. Opportunity or Threat? Detroit by Air

  5. Many free pirated books

5 Jan 2015

Monday funnies

Groundwater jokes are deep.

Ivory Tower -- the review

This documentary "questions the cost -- and value -- of higher education in the United States."

The main focus is on how students are going into debt as costs rise from additional administrators and vanity projects like fancy dorms, climbing walls, etc. (The extra money is not going to higher professor salaries.)

The film looks at the usual suspects (Stanford, Harvard) as well as other models -- Wesleyan (small liberal arts), Cal State San Jose (large public college), Deep Springs (very small, free, two year), and Coursera/edX/Udacity (online).

The films spends a lot of time at NYC's Cooper Union as a perfect example of a worrying phenomena: a school deciding -- after over 150 years of free education -- to charge tuition to students due to "costs" that include a president making $750,000 per year and a $175 million building that was supposed to generate rental income.

Although I found the "poetic" side of the film (the future of our youth) to be compelling, I would have added more on these issues:
  • The way that many universities have raised their fees to absorb additional financial aid meant to lower students' financial burdens
  • The lack of demand for more graduates with unmarketable degrees
  • The impact of slow graduation rates (and drop outs) on universities and student debt
In response to this film (and its familiar themes), I would give my standard advice: young people should think long and hard about why they want to go to university and what they want to study. Many could benefit from a "gap year" after high school. Then they should choose a university that will deliver what they need (not 10x what they need) at the lowest financial and logistical costs. Once they matriculate, they should finish as quickly as possible to minimize their debt and get themselves into "the real world" to put their knowledge to work. If they think they need a masters degree, then they should get 2-5 years of experience so they know what topic to "master."

Bottom Line: I give this move 4 STARS for drawing attention to a serious problem in which schools rip off kids (and parents) who have trusted them with their future.

3 Jan 2015

What's your favorite water date?

I'm putting some "dates of interest" into the Water Smarts Calendar, but it's hard to find good ones.

I'm particularly interested in non-USA dates...

Here's my list as of now:
  • 01-11 Boundary Waters Treaty establishes International Joint Commission between US and Canada (1909)
  • 03-22 World Water Day
  • 03-26 Aguanomics founded (2008)
  • 06-22 US General Survey Act promotes national road and canal networks (1824)
  • 06-22 US Flood Control Act (1936)
  • 07-06 Water Act privatizes English and Welsh utilities (1989)
  • 07-09 US President Nixon announces formation of Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (1970)
  • 07-15 New Croton aqueduct brings water to New York (1890)
  • 07-15 Bridgewater Canal (first ``true'' canal in England) opens (1761)
  • 07-21 Aswan High Dam completed (1970)
  • 08-15 Panama Canal opens (1915)
  • 09-08 Earliest existing US patent for wooden fire hydrant (1838) --- others destroyed in a fire!
  • 09-23 John Snow's letter on cholera published (1854)
  • 10-26 Erie Canal completed (1825)
  • 10-23 Perrier's debut at the New York Marathon starts the bottled water craze (1977)
  • 11-03 EU drinking water standards adopted (1998)
  • 11-05 Los Angeles Aqueduct opens (1913)
  • 11-17 Suez Canal opens (1869)
  • 12-08 Great Lakes Compact enacted (2008)
  • 12-17 US Safe Drinking Water Act enacted (1974)
  • 12-28 US Endangered Species Act enacted (1973)
If you have any -- the day and month are important -- then please list them here. It's also helpful to have a documented source (URL) to support the date.


2 Jan 2015

Friday party!

Party like it's 2015!

Please help improve the calendar!

The 2015 Water Smarts Calendar has one theme per month, based on chapters from Living with Water Scarcity.

Each theme comes with a short blurb on context and an exercise designed to illuminate another way in which water flows though your life.

I'm now setting the digital file to print the calendar, but I'd love to get corrections or suggestions on how to improve wording and -- especially -- the exercises.

Please leave your suggestions in the comments, or -- if you're a markup kinda person -- in this Word document using "track changes." I'm especially worried about vague or unclear "activities."


Price, value and cost. Benjamin Franklin said "we know the worth of water when the well is dry, but most of us have never experienced such scarcity. We may thus assume that water is abundant until it's gone. Read more in the Introduction of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Pretend you have to leave your house and walk 5 minutes to get clean water. How much would you pay to get 10 liters (2.5 gallons) delivered to your home each day? How much for 10 more liters? Compare your values to others in your house. Lesson: Value of water.


One choice is no choice. Water utilities try to supply enough water to meet everyone's "need," but needs differ among customers. Utilities group customers in "classes" to determine charges for service and use. Read more in Chapter 1 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Call your local water provider (or look on their website) to find your customer class. (Most residential customers are grouped according to the size of their piped connection, i.e., 0.5-0.75 inches or 15-20 mm.) Compare your service and water charges to those in other classes (other residential, commercial, etc.), paying special attention to unit prices of water. Lesson: Customer service.


Subsidies anyone? Urban water systems are expensive to build, so their costs are often paid back over decades. These costs fall unevenly on customers for reasons that vary from sensible to unfair. Read more in Chapter 2 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Get your water bill* and fill in the calculator at watersmartscalendar.com to compare your water use and charges with those of other people. Lesson: Water price and consumption.

* Renters often “pay for water” in their rent. Your landlord may show you the master bill if you say you're investigating ways to reduce water use (and thus their costs). It may take some time to find “your share” of use and charges.


Who's the boss? Elected or appointed regulators oversee water utilities to ensure that customers get the best service at the lowest price. Their job is complicated because they are outsiders with other responsibilities. Read more in Chapter 3 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Find the regulator for your utility. Municipal "public" utilities are usually overseen by people from city government; Investor-owned "private" utilities are usually overseen by a separate commission. Read the paperwork from a recent meeting on charges and services (or attend the next meeting). Lesson: Who you depend on.


How clean? The quality of water at our taps and is usually better than the quality going down the drain, but quality can change as water moves through pipes and natural channels. Read more in Chapter 4 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Get a water quality report from your utility to find the levels of allowed and measured contaminants in the water leaving the treatment plant. Extra credit: test the quality of the water from your tap (some utilities will do this for free, but you can pay for kits or lab testing). Lesson: Water is rarely pure.


The water in your food. Water is used to grow and process food. In some cases, water consumption is "sustainable;" in others, it is not. Read more in Chapter 5 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Find a food or drink you like at waterfootprint.org/?page=files/productgallery. Now go to www.wri.org/applications/maps/agriculturemap (alternative: http://www.wri.org/our-work/project/aqueduct/aqueduct-atlas) to see if it comes from a region facing water stress. Lesson: Your distant impact.


Your water comes from our water. People share water in many ways, sometimes without knowing. Read more in Chapter 6 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Find the largest source of water (river, lake, groundwater, etc.) for your utility. Now identify other users of water (cities, farms, ecosystems) from the same source. Lesson: Who uses what.


A right to water. Some people do not have enough money to pay for water services that cost money. Who will pay? Read more in Chapter 7 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Call your local water utility and ask how to get water service if you lose your job (source of income) and cannot pay. Ask how the cost of your service will be financed. Lesson: Rights cost money.


Expensive pipes and dams. Water infrastructure is expensive to build but lasts for decades. Who pays for what, when? Read more in Chapter 8 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Identify a major project (treatment plant, network extension, dam, etc.) at your water utility. Compare its cost to how it will be financed (e.g., bonds repaid by monthly service charges) over its service life. Lesson: Small payments add up to big money.


Water conflict. Politicians decide who gets water, but it may not be clear if recipients represent the public interest. Read more in Chapter 9 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Find an example of conflict over water allocation (e.g., water for irrigation or a river; water to one city or another) and assess the claims of why each side deserves the water. Lesson: Subjective opinion or objective truth?


Where's your environment? Our water does not come “from the tap” but from local ecosystems that may be under stress from urban and agricultural demands. Strained ecosystems mean fewer fish, less clean water and other undesirable impacts. Read more in Chapter 10 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Where does the water come from near your house? Find your "watershed" on a map. Now find the largest river in the watershed. How much water does it hold? Where does the water come from and go to? How much is diverted before it reaches its end? Lesson: The ecosystem that supports your life.


Lessons learned. Water flows are complicated by the many ways different people use water.

Activity: Reflect on what you've learned and considered over the past year. Go to watersmartscalendar.com to write what surprised you, what you still want to know, and where action is needed in managing the water flowing through your life. Lesson: Water issues are local.