Why we should pay for water

Opinion: Privatising water appears to make it cleaner, but more expensive

‘The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2030 across every sector there will be a 40 per cent global shortfall between the forecasted demand of water and available supply.’ Photograph: Getty Images

‘The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2030 across every sector there will be a 40 per cent global shortfall between the forecasted demand of water and available supply.’ Photograph: Getty Images

Mon, May 12, 2014, 12:01

How to be unpopular: agree we should all pay for water. Water costs. It’s running out. Water security is going to be one of the biggest concerns over the next three decades. We should pay for water, as long as the money it generates goes back into building a decent, reliable, safe infrastructure that’s worth paying for, along with a clean supply that doesn’t have to be boiled within an inch of its life in order to annihilate cryptosporidium. In several pockets of the country, such unacceptable inconveniences are still the case.

A PR disaster coupled with an angry public and small local protests are distracting from the topic of water security. Of course, Irish Water and the Department of the Environment have done everything possible to put themselves into the public’s bad books by tossing the entire process around with butter fingers, fumbling it all the way to its conclusion. But the broader context is a global issue that is hugely worrying.

American in hot water
If you want to know about the future of water, the US is a good place to start. In the American southwest, the Colorado river, which supplies water to about 40 million people in arid spots such as LA, Vegas and Phoenix, is drying up.

The water source region has experienced 14 years of drought, a remarkable occurrence. The reservoir Lake Mead, created by the Hoover Dam in 1935, is the biggest problem. Some 90 per cent of Vegas’s water comes from the lake. Soon, one of the city’s two main intake pipes could actually be above water. Nevada is rushing to install another pipe, digging a three-mile tunnel 650ft underground.

The city of Las Vegas has paid homeowners $200 million to dig up their lawns to curb water usage. Parts of California are looking west for solutions, namely San Diego, banking on a desalination plant to be operational in 2016, converting Pacific ocean water into the city’s water supply.

Remarkably, 15 per cent of Americans supply themselves, taking water from their own wells. The more rural you get, the more likely a local co-operative will be the supplier. But 11 per cent now receive water from private companies. American Water, the largest private supplier, has 15 million customers. United Water, the second largest, has seven million. United Water is owned by the French company Suez Environment, a global giant in the privatisation of water, supplying and treating water in Spain, Slovenia, Canada, Mexico, China, Indonesia, Morocco and elsewhere. Bigger still is the other French behemoth of water supply, Veolia.

The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2030 across every sector there will be a 40 per cent global shortfall between the forecast demand of water and available supply. In the next 15 years or so, it’s possible this lack of water will create a global food crisis with a projected shortfall of up to 30 per cent in cereal production. Giant corporations have been putting their heads together to try and sort out this problem since 2008 when the 2030 Water Resources Group formed, featuring the World Bank, Coca-Cola, Standard Chartered, Nestlé, and our French friends, Veolia.

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