Water: contamination v. consumption

If one allows mining of a nonrenewable source, it is disingenuous to argue that the source should never be polluted if the economic activity causing the pollution is necessary to sustain employment. Suppose that two individuals proposed to extract water from a nonrenewable aquifer. The first agreed he would farm and by doing so dry up the aquifer. This use would generate 100 jobs over 45 years. Suppose the latter agreed he would utilize the water for industrial purposes, consume none of it, and reinject it into the ground after he was done. This use of the water would generate 4,500 jobs over 45 years. When reinjected into the aquifer, however, the water would be mildly toxic and, given current technology, unusable for other purposes. In which case is the public welfare best served? The debate over nondegradation versus measured rates of degradation rages on….

From DuMars and Minnis, New Mexico Water Law: Determining Public Welfare Values in Water Rights Allocation, 31 Ariz. L. Rev. 817 (1989).


  1. I’d much rather have a farmer water his crops with fossil water than an oil company or some other manufacturer waste it.

    I can’t eat a cheap gewgaw (yes, we all eat oil, but we also suffer for the emissions).



  2. Good point. Thanks.
    To evaluate these choices, as well as Dano’s, we need an agreed upon metric by which to make the choice. That metric, at least to me, has to explicitly state the worldview on which it is based and, probably, take the unsustainable part of that world view out of the metric.
    One metric that was proposed to me on water use would lead to the diminution of the world’s population from 7 billion to 100 million. This world would be ‘natural.’ I asked why the 6.9 billion would be happy to die for the 100 million. I never got an answer. On water, I want a holistic view and discussion, preferably one in which the unintended bad consequences have been spotted and minimized.

  3. Pingback: Another Week of GW News, December 23, 2012 – A Few Things Ill Considered

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