Virtually every product and service we purchase has its supply and demand match by prices. Higher prices tell buyers they should conserve, and tell suppliers to expend extra effort finding more.
Except for water.
Every water shortage you ever read about is the result of refusing to let prices float to dynamically match supply and demand. And more specifically, are the result of a populist political desire to keep water prices below what would be a market clearing price (or perhaps more accurately, a price that maintains reservoir levels both above and below ground at target levels).
So, some groups in Arizona are offering a$100,000 prize to help solve the water shortage. And what is it they are looking for? A better price system? Nah:
A $100,000 prize awaits the group that comes up with the most innovative campaign to push water scarcity into the forefront of public conversation...
The competition wants to create a public-service campaign that raises awareness about the challenges facing Arizona's long-term water supply so residents will feel an urgency to start working on them now.
If Arizonans don't change how they consume water and start brainstorming new solutions for dwindling supplies, shortages won't be a choice, they will be an unavoidable reality. Planning for the future of water now will help ensure there is enough water for future generations, Brownell said.
The message isn't new; it has been taught with puppets, posters, television spots, brochures and landscape-design classes for years.
But experts, researchers and industry workers agree that as long as taps gush clear,drinkable water, it's hard to keep water scarcity part of public conversation.
"One challenge is getting people to take ownership of their decisions and how they contribute to the demand side of the equation," said Dave White, co-director of Arizona State University's Decision Center for a Desert City, which studies water use and sustainability....
Possible solutions to meeting Arizona's future water needs include:
• Desalination of sea water, which requires large financial investment and collaboration between government agencies and possibly Mexico.
• Rebates for water-efficient systems. Tucson offers up to $1,000 for households that install gray-water recycling systems to reuse water from sinks, showers and washing machinesfor irrigation.
• Increasing the use of recycled or reclaimed water. Arizona already uses this water to irrigate landscaping and recharge aquifers, but not as drinking water.
• Cloud seeding. The Central Arizona Project has spent nearly $800,000 to blast silver iodide into clouds to try to increase snowfall in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, where the snowpack feeds the Colorado River.
I will say that it is nice to see supply side solutions suggested rather than the usual demand side command and control and guilt-tripping. But how can we possibly evaluate new water supply solutions like desalinization if we don't know the real price of water? Accurate prices are critical for evaluating large investments.
If I find the time, I am going to tilt at a windmill here and submit an entry. They want graphics of your communications and advertising materials -- I'll just show a copy of a water bill with a higher price on it. It costs zero (since bills are already going out) and unlike advertising, it reaches everyone and has direct impact on behavior. If you want to steal my idea and submit, you are welcome to because 1. The more the merrier and 2. Intelligent market-based solutions are never ever going to win because the judges are the people who benefit from the current authoritarian system.
PS- the site has lots of useful data for those of you who want to play authoritarian planner -- let some users have all the water they want, while deciding that other uses are frivolous! Much better you decide than let users decide for themselves using accurate prices.