When that happens, our water meters may cause us as much financial pain as the gas pumps do now. Indeed, water may soon be trading by the barrel just like crude oil if we do not carefully plan for the possibility right now. Recently I heard water referred as “Blue Gold”. That got me looking around for people or companies who might be already starting to speculate in this most precious and necessary of resources. We can drive less, we can turn our thermostats down even more, someday technology may even free us from any dependence on fossil fuels at all. But, we will always need water. We can conserve, and even better, industry and agriculture can be forced to conserve, but we humans will always need a certain amount beyond what we drink, just to survive in a modern world.
It is not really news that shortages are already evident on many parts of the globe, but this may be only a glimpse of what is to come in the near future. Parts of the western U.S. are a water catastrophe waiting to happen. Water shortages right now are increasing the price of some food crops. While we hope for solutions like desalinization plants, others are planning for a future world with water as a commodity. People like T Boone Pickens are buying up water rights wherever they can get them. A recent eye popping Business Week article on this is a great read. Hear is an excerpt, but be sure to check out the entire article.
He, (T. Boone Pickens) has spent $100 million and eight years on his project and still has not found any city in Texas willing to buy his water. But like many others, Pickens believes there’s a fortune to be made in slaking the thirst of a rapidly growing population. If he pumps as much as he can, he could sell about $165 million worth of water to Dallas each year. “The idea that water can be sold for private gain is still considered unconscionable by many,” says James M. Olson, one of America’s preeminent attorneys specializing in water- and land-use law. “But the scarcity of water and the extraordinary profits that can be made may overwhelm ordinary public sensibilities.”
It may be that water will come to be considered as natural and salable a resource as oil or natural gas, but something about the whole idea really bothers me. It is especially disturbing that certain wealthy individuals and companies are seeing this future of water shortages and buying up as much of the existing water resources as they can. In my perverse way of thinking about these sorts of issues, I can even envision a day when the financial interests of the huge water resource holders will buy influence to prevent the development of more cost effective desalinization facilities, or more efficient water delivery and storage technologies. Sound crazy? It has happened with energy technology, some say it is happening with agriculture, and at least one filmmaker made a good argument for it having happened with the electric car.
What do you all think? Should water be regulated and protected from speculation? Or should the free enterprise system and the forces of supply and demand be allowed to regulate availability and price of water much the same way it does now with oil, corn, soybeans, or pork futures? It is a tough question for me. I can easily see the problems that sometimes arise from to much government involvement and regulation. Sometimes it works however, and sometimes as unpleasant as it may be to some, it is necessary. A few argue that private water entrepreneurs are the future’s best hope of supplying much needed water to urban, industrialized areas of the world.
A future when T. Boone Pickens, or men like him own most of the water supply may seem like the stuff of fiction, but Pickens is know to spend his money wisely, and he is spending it big time right now, on water.