Water: It’s All About the Governance

I sometimes feel a twinge of guilt about the water issues that so obsess us here in the Southwestern United States. Most of us have running water in our homes. It’s remarkably free of contaminants and pathogens. The arguments we have are generally about how to distribute this bounty, not whether we have it at all. Today’s reminder, from the Economist:

Pigs rootle fastidiously through the foothills of the mountain of rubbish dumped at Tuol Sen Chey on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. A few metres away, cross-legged amid the clouds of flies and shaded from a fierce sun by a broad-brimmed hat, Tim Chan Tha is sifting and flattening used plastic bags for recycling. A widow with three children, she earns about 6,000 riels ($1.50) a day for this. She lives nearby down muddy dirt roads, in a cluster of ramshackle huts of corrugated iron, salvaged wood and tarpaulins. Ms Tha’s life seems as miserable an example of urban poverty as could be found anywhere.

In one respect, however, she is lucky. Her home has a constant supply of running water, drinkable straight from the standpipe outside.

The substance here, if you’ll allow a pivot to the underlying issue we and Tim Chan Tha have in common, is that our success or failure in dealing with our respective water issues is a matter of governance.

(h/t the Water Wonkette)


  1. …and water governance in Phnom Pehn is famously good. You need to extend your excerpt:

    …Perhaps just as remarkably, she pays for it. The provider is a government-owned utility, the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority (PPWSA), which actually makes a profit and pays tax.

    Water in the SW is not managed as well.

  2. It’s All About the Governance.

    yep. which makes determining whether a policy is successful much more difficult.

    What is the appropriate governance policy? Universally available, safe, affordable and reliable water is what most water districts seems to work towards. But that asks as many questions as it answers.

    For example, what is the optimal rate structure? Should water agencies be unregulated utilities, regulated utilities, departments within a municipality or separate public agencies? How should shortages be allocated? How should major infrastructure be financed? What role should the private market play? How should water rights be held? Should water play a lead, lagging or co-equal role with land in long-term land use planning issues? How?

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