OMG, we’re running out of water!

My current water policy obsession is the question of what actually happens – agency by agency, water user by user – when the water starts to run out.

Much of the “OMG, we’re running out of water!” discussion plays out in the form of graphs of the future that extend projected supply and demand curves, pointing to the gap, and running around with our hair on fire. But to the extent that the gap between supply and demand equals negative water, we can’t do that, and individuals and institutions will change their behavior in some way, and the question is how. Who will use less and how, or who will run out?

As one watches the Midwest discussion right now, perhaps the “how” involves reframing our basic approach to water:

“Water has been viewed as a basic commodity, a basic right,” said Les Lampe, a water expert with consultancy Black & Veatch. “You turn on the tap and water comes out and you don’t pay very much for it. That has to change.”